I’ve long known my best writing comes from my personal experience and for weeks I’ve been thinking about grief and loss. Two weeks ago, we were able to share with our kids that we are going to Disney World in December (a trip I literally prayed for because I knew we could never do it by our own means but had hoped to shower our kids with all that Disney magic and Kevin’s mom and stepdad turned out to be the means of God’s gift)! After the news, Molly Kate began systematically listing off the events of this past year. In part, I think she was surprised our year could end on such a good note…on the other hand, I think in her own small way, she desperately wanted to prove to herself that this year had more good than bad.
But, in truth, the bad of this particular year has felt heavier and harder and never-leaving in a way that makes it always seem to outweigh the good. Enter grief…grief over the hard parts, grief over so much death, grief over so much loss. Loss of actual people who either left our lives, moved or changed so drastically that life with them doesn’t feel like it used to, loss of a dear pet who spent so much life with us that life doesn’t feel the same without her and I’m beginning to assume it never will, loss of a season of life where my children all seemed little (not just some of them) and the sin issues were so much simpler (don’t touch, no fuss, do everything without arguing or complaining). Here lies grief…grief for death, grief for the loss and grief over change.
And the thing about grief is that it doesn’t just magically go away. “Time heals,” they say and maybe it does a little. Or maybe we spend the rest of the journey heavenward grieving what this life was never meant to be so that we hope in a much, much better one. I prefer the latter 🙂 I find it much more comforting to know that a life is coming when there will be no more loss, no more change, no more seasons gone by. I prefer an eternal home where joys are found at my God’s right hand and there are pleasures forevermore. And in a week where my grief has felt like it was hovering over me, I have often heard God whisper “keep trusting me, Laura…take your eyes off this passing world and put your hope in Me.”
In the spring, our family started studying Shakespeare together (for anyone interested, I highly recommend Ken Ludwig’s “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare“). The first lines we have begun memorizing are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream…”I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.” Every time we recite it together I’m struck by the idea of “wild thyme blowing”. Shakespeare truly had such a way with words. I think about actual “time” in this world and how bound it is…only twenty-four hours, only seven days in a week, only fifty-two weeks in a year. There will never be more and never less. And yet, thyme growing in the wild is unfettered, undisturbed by boundaries, free to just grow and flourish and spread. It blows gently as its stems move closer to heaven and receives even more freedom to enjoy the sunshine, the rain and the breezes.
I want my time to be more like that thyme. God’s boundaries are beautiful, the psalmist makes clear they have fallen in pleasant places. I’m not saying to throw the boundary of time out the window! Instead, I want my time to be spent well. I don’t want to be so chained to the clock that I can’t stop to rock my fussy baby or comfort a child who was just randomly injured by a chip clip (both happened in our home today!). I don’t want to choke time so tightly that there isn’t room to have sweet new friends over for several hours on a Sunday evening just to hang out and fellowship and feed one another’s souls. I don’t want my Google calendar to have every color coded category staring me in the face each day, so much so that I am unavailable for gospel needs, unable to stop and show compassion and mercy to someone who is hurting. I don’t want my days to feel so long that I am not able to grow and flourish and spread because there doesn’t even seem to be enough time to feast on God’s Word daily and converse with Him in prayer. If I am not careful, the boundary of time can all too easily become an evil snare, a greater opportunity for sin and a barrier that blocks the sunshine, the rain and the enjoyment of those beautiful and refreshing breezes.
Friends, let’s be careful with our hours, with our weeks, with our years. We know time is fleeting and tomorrow is not promised. God’s Word makes both truths clear (Psalm 39:4 and James 4:14). Busyness does not equal godliness. Let your time blow a little…let it blow wild and free and see if God doesn’t do something marvelous as you yield your hours to Him.
Why is it so hard to find time to do something I love? Writing, writer, one who enjoys word and paragraph and thoughts…I feel like that’s me and yet I regularly struggle to do this thing that I love. And I struggle because of time…time gets away from me, there is never enough time, time moves too quickly and the hours become weeks before I can even blink.
This last year, really since Mallory graced our lives with her presence, I’ve been in a hamster wheel of life and dying to break free. With six kids and a pastor-husband, freedom can seem impossible. So impossible that you end up at your doctors office in need of meds because you have hit the bottom of a dark well called depression. The meds helped, at least in order to be able to see straight again and put one foot in front of another. But meds never fix sick hearts and my heart has been pushing deeper and deeper into dangerous waters for a while now.
February of this year could be called a breaking point. Annie, our beloved chocolate lab of 12 years, somehow got lost and hit hard on a busy road behind the woods that our house borders. Talk about the hamster wheel stopping and feeling like the biggest failure ever. While still thankful it wasn’t my child, I know deep down I still haven’t forgiven myself for not keeping eyes on her that evening. Everyone can tell me it wasn’t my fault, but it was…I was so busy spinning that I dropped a very big ball and it cost our family a huge love. On top of losing Annie, Kevin and I hit one of our biggest marriage speedbumps yet…the kind that does damage to the underside of your car. And when it hit, I sunk.
But the beautiful part about sinking when you are a daughter of the King is that you will never drown. You might swallow some big gulps and you might feel like you can’t breathe. But the King is there, He is watching and protecting and preserving…and He pulls us up at just the right time, never too early and never, ever, ever too late.
His rescue was oddly a new job for my husband. Not quite what I had envisioned and yet, as I am learning, exactly what I needed. I loved and still love our former church…I love the people, I love the building, I love the prayer e-mails I still receive. But I also see that the church needed more of me than I could truly give. They need a pastor’s wife who can lead the women and disciple several younger believers and take meals to the sick. And while I absolutely love all of those things and am happy to serve God doing them, I’m recognizing more and more that this is not the season for such service.
So, I recently began a book titled “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist…a title that sounds like she opened up the insides of my heart and put my deepest longing on the cover of her book. And in it she says “If I’m honest, I let words like responsible and capable govern many of years. And what good are they? Words that I’m choosing in this season: passion, connection, meaning, love, grace, spirit“(p.104). Earlier, she wrote “I’m committed to a particular, limited amount of things in this season, and if what’s being asked of me isn’t one of those, then it stands in the way. That’s why knowing your purpose and priorities for a given season is so valuable — because those commitments become the litmus test for all the decisions you face” (pp. 54-55).
If I’m honest, I let the word “godly” govern many of my last few years. But what I considered to be “godly” was meeting the expectations of everyone around me, not necessarily going before the Lord to see how I should spend these days, when my life is full of raising babies and toddlers, and grade-schoolers and now a pre-teen. “Godly” was leading a women’s bible study and having church members into our home two times a week and overly helping in the children’s ministry and having visitors over for Sunday lunch and on and on and on. Oh sure, I was also shepherding hearts at home and teaching my children God’s word and educating them and making sure they were involved in extracurriculars. But…and this is a big all caps BUT…I haven’t been “present” in this home in a very long time. I’ve been shuffling people around and needs around and crossing all my t’s and dotting all my i’s. But, at the end of the day, I don’t know that I ever sat and just held Mallory simply to gaze into her big beautiful eyes. I don’t think I really heard that story Maggie told me about her baby doll…what was it she was saying? I missed Madden’s cool new idea (because he is always coming up with the most imaginative ideas!) because I had to shoo him away so that I could vacuum the floor…we had guests coming…again! And Mikias really needed a heart-to-heart…I actually saw his heart hurting, but I couldn’t get to him because I had not prepared for the bible study I was to lead in an hour and women were counting on me.
Godliness is the goal for every believer…but not when that word is distorted into something God never meant for it to be. And now, it is September. Fall (and my favorite candle of the year) is just around the corner and I am learning new words. Kevin is settling into his job as a young families pastor. People want to know me but they aren’t expecting anything from me. So I’m using this season to learn “rest, grace, play and joy“. I’m saying “no” to things that don’t fit this particular season…they may indeed be great priorities for a season yet to come. But, at this moment, I am called to be a disciple of Jesus, a wife to Kevin and a teacher-mom to six beautiful little treasures. That is my whole purpose and they are my priorities.
So, I ask…what have you been striving to live under that perhaps you have put on yourself and God never meant it to be? What is your word? And…what should it be?
Truth be told, I just don’t get ’em. God’s ways, that is…
I once heard that “articles,” such as those written for websites, are more intellectual in nature and blog posts are more musings of the heart.
Maybe she’s right. But no one has asked little ole’ me to write for a website and I still want to have a voice for God’s glory, so I guess my “mere blog post” will just have to do 😉 Plus, I do have quite a few of those musings of the heart!
But, back to the point…I’ve always, always been struck by this verse
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Funny enough, my favorite part is “declares the Lord“. I need some God declaration in my life…yes, Laura, you thought you knew best. Yes, Laura, you thought this church was permanent. Yes, Laura, you thought five kids meant you were “done”. Yes, Laura, you thought the last house was your “Atlanta” house. Yes, Laura, you thought you were done having to start over.
But…”DECLARES THE LORD”…He had other plans. He had a different house. He had one more baby girl named Mallory. He had me starting over once again. He had another church. He DECLARED. Guess there’s not much use in arguing 😉
So, here it is…on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, my hubby will officially begin as the Family Pastor at The Church of the Apostles (www.apostles.org). Life is changing again, friendships must be made, again. Kids have to start new, again.
Not my ways, but His. Aren’t I glad they are higher than mine. I don’t fully understand it…I’m excited for this next path and at the same time my heart is pretty down and broken. But, oh, this promise. It will see me through…His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. I am so, so glad.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. As women, that’s what we do. From the time we are little girls, we look for friends. We seek other girls to attach ourselves to, to play with, to journey life with. As we grow older and come to faith in Jesus, we find women to connect with, to enter into community with, to bring joy to our lives and to link arm with as we journey to Jesus. We look to our girlfriends for wisdom, counsel, comfort and encouragement. But, do we also look to them for correction?
As Christians, I believe we should possess a certain humility, one that stems from understanding that from the beginning, we have never ceased to get it all wrong and only Jesus got it all right. Who can be prideful about that?! And that humility should spill into all of our relationships as we recognize that we don’t have it all together, we are quite frankly a huge mess and we need God’s grace more today than even yesterday. And if we truly grasp all of this, we should readily find ourselves willing and even wanting our closest friends, those who know us best, to honestly evaluate our lives. Afterall, Truth has already told us that the heart is deceitful above all else. And we need people who can see us for who we really are and still love us enough to point out the weaknesses, the failures, the sins that we are often prone to justify, sweep under the rug or just plain overlook.
In my last 23 years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had all sorts of girlfriends. I’ve had those who almost led me astray, those who were willing to stand with me and go against the grain and those who came into my life briefly but then realized that I’m pretty serious about Jesus so they bailed. I’ve also had those who thought I was Jesus…this never works. I’m a wretch of a sinner and if you start looking to me to fulfill your needs, trust me…it’s going to all come tumbling down. Then I’ve had the girlfriends who truly know me…the kind that I can let my whole guard down and just be the truest version of myself. One of these is my sister…sometimes she knows me better than I know myself! These are the friends that are worth more than gold, the friends I pray I’m sitting right beside at the marriage feast of the Lamb. And these are the women that I regularly want to evaluate my life.
This past week I had the blessing of spending a couple of days with one such friend. On the evening before her departure the next morning, I asked her to be thinking about what she had seen the last few days and what she thought I could be doing better or paying more attention to or seeking grace for. The next morning we went for a run and she told me her exact thoughts…water to my soul! You see, I know I’ve got rose-colored glasses on when I look at my life. Sure, I can be hard on myself and maybe set unrealistic expectations but still, I’m pretty easy on myself at the same time. Really, I can justify my sin and laziness with the best of them 🙂 To have a friend who could honestly assess my life, give me areas to work on and encourage me in my faith…what a gift!
So, let me ask you…do you have women in your life that you look to for correction? If a friend sincerely approaches about sin in your life, do you immediately play the defensive or do you trust the Holy Spirit? Do you have people in your life who know the real you? Girls, this is important! If we long to be women who are being sanctified by the truth, becoming holy as He is holy, then we cannot neglect the responsibility of surrounding ourselves with friends whom God will use to carry out this great work!
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
I’m stuck on this verse right now and asking God to stick it in my heart (more like super-glue it to my heart!):
The longer I go on in this life and the longer I go on in my many roles, the more I realize how needy I truly am. I feel like I daily run in a deficit, below the bottom line, into the red. By 1:30 pm each day (which equals rest time/nap time here at Cuthbertson Casa), I’m well past empty and feeling it into my bones! So when Paul says that God has promised to supply ALL my needs, that’s a promise worth taking note of and memorizing and clinging to in my many desperate moments each day.
There seems to me to be a dangerous tendency among my generation to “out-do” one another. Pinterest, Facebook and even my beloved Instagram all have one deadly poison for us young wives and mamas…to show ourselves as the best possible version of ourselves and lie to the world that we’ve not only got it all together, we are also baking homemade gluten-free granola bars while we do yoga and our children listen to classical music before the whole family sits down to study the original Greek manuscripts of Paul’s letters! Yes, I jest…but I know you feel the tug as much as I do and I talk to women about this very issue regularly. True, there are many of us willing to put the worst of our lives out there for social media to see. But I wonder, even then, are we bringing the worst of ourselves before the One whose mission it is to make us His best?
I mentioned my break from Facebook in my last post (which, let’s be honest, is probably going to turn into a lifelong leave of absence…I’m quite sure when I stand before Jesus, I’m not going to regret never re-activating my FB account!). And recently, I read this post on Ann Voskamp’s blog and I was even further convicted that so much of my life revolves around my phone and this connection to “the outside world” that I’m often failing to enter the “real” world that God calls me to each and every morning when my feet hit the floor and I head to the coffee pot. Not a world of former Ole Miss friends and their beautiful children, not a world of beautifully decorated Pinterest homes, not a world of Amazon goodies at my fingertips. But instead, a real world…a world of fussy babies with snotty noses and a world of shouting siblings frustrated with one another and a world of endless dirty laundry and bathrooms that have tee-tee around every toilet base (you mamas of boys know what I’m talking about) and a world where I am never, ever, ever going to feel like there is enough of me to go around. That’s my real world…people all around me, wanting a piece of me and I can never even begin to be enough for them.
Ahem…enter Philippians 4:19…the great God of the universe, the very One who created me and holds all of me together, has promised to supply all of my needs according to His riches. He has and is all and more than I can even comprehend or imagine to supply to me in order that I may pour myself out. In order that I may be like Paul two chapters earlier and be poured out like a drink offering and still rejoice…yes…rejoice. God doesn’t want my feet to hit the floor and enter into my “real” world and then just spin all day in weariness and emptiness. Instead, He wants to fill me with every bit of the riches He has to offer me In Christ Jesus in order that I can meet “my world” each day with peace, joy and love. In order that I can meet my people with Himself.
I’m a constant work in progress…and when I hit those moments of the day (usually around 1:30 pm and 7:00 pm) that I feel myself running on empty and about ready to throw my hands up in the air and just give up, I’m trying to recall this truth, this beautiful promise and then lean hard into it. I’m trying to not be afraid to admit to my Father that I’m not pulling off this pastor’s wife homeschooling mother of six gig nearly as well as people think I am…but instead, to show Him my worst, admit my worst and then believe that it has all been forgiven at the cross. And that in the end, He already knows. He knows and He sees and He still wants to supply.
Last night Kevin and I had a “date in” which really just means we made actual time to sit and talk and work through all the random issues of life right now. There’s no question that raising six children and being a senior pastor/pastor’s wife has ripped us to shreds. Not a day goes by that we both don’t feel “overwhelmed”- though I’m trying to take that word out of my vocabulary 🙂 And I think he and I both have been running on empty for a while but alas, trying to find time to sit and discuss has proven easier said than done!
But my mind and heart have been swirling and for weeks, I have heard the gentle whisper beckoning me to a more simplistic life, one that holds peace amidst a world of chaos, one that provides shelter and refuge for the six babes sleeping under our roof and one that ultimately pleases my Master. Two weeks ago, I pulled a plug and deactivated my Facebook account. I might as well have deleted it because I’m fairly certain that I’m never going back. For months, maybe even years, I’ve entertained the idea. I hate the feeling of having to keep up with a thousand people when just keeping up with the seven that live in this home, plus my precious neighbors, plus my dear church family plus my mom, dad and sister is more than I can even do apart from gallons of God’s grace. So I finally gathered the courage and I hit that button and I’ve never felt more liberated, save when Jesus saved me. But where am I going with all of this?
I realized last night that I’ve never been one content to sit in circumstances that are within my realm to change. Yes, certainly there are trials and tribulations that God orders for each of us that are entirely outside our control and His main concern is our surrender to His sovereign will and plan for our sanctification and His glory. But, as He has given us free wills to think and act and do, there are also plenty of times when what we are doing or how we are living isn’t quite what we know it should be and so we have the beautiful freedom to do something about it! Halellujah! So, as I explained to my handsome man last night…when my life isn’t quite what I think it should be or something needs to be different, I change things. When my sophomore year at Ole Miss got the best of me and I took on one too many responsibilities and I couldn’t come up for air anymore and I realized that I was choosing sin more than I was choosing obedience, I changed things…I transfered to Mississippi College for a semester, found rest for my weary soul and then saw the Lord provide a way back to Ole Miss but according to His will, not my own. When my children weren’t responding to a certain philosophy of education and I noticed that we seemed to be on a sinking ship in terms of schooling, I changed things…I reached out to a dear sister in Christ whose model of homeschool I’ve always admired and begged for her wisdom. And the Lord led us to the wonderful truths of Charlotte Mason and my kids are flourishing and our family is happy. I’ve never been afraid to break the mold, go against the grain or upset expectations if if means in the end, I’m following God’s call on my life. But, as of late, I’ve found myself in this odd monotony of life that has left me most unhappy, unfulfilled and really just ready for Jesus to come back and put an end to it all!
So, back to Friday night…I sat down with Kevin and finally had “time” to convey all of these thoughts to him and this is exactly what I said. “Kevin, when I don’t like the way my life is going or I don’t feel like I’m doing what God has called me to, I change things.” But as a married person, we can only change to the degree that our spouse is on board and ready to support that change. Thankfully, it seems God is showing Kevin many of the same things (He’s pretty amazing like that!) and we ended up talking for hours and even pulling out the old pen and paper to jot down some immediate goals. Nothing super religious or super enlightening…just a few things that we both know we need to not only survive but to actual thrive and be useful to the kingdom. Things like exercise and Scripture memory and game nights with our family. Things like prayer as a couple and music that lifts the soul playing throughout the day. Sometimes we just need to take the paper and write it down and let God work as He wills.
Monday morning came and went…actually it went downhill fairly quickly as Molly Kate woke with a fever, Miles had wet the bed, Maggie and Mallory were both fussy and tired from Sunday and Madden’s toe (that got horribly slammed in a door over the weekend) was throbbing. Kevin woke with his back thrown out and it would have been fairly easy to throw my hands up and crawl back into bed and let the kids just watch Netflix all day. But the little bit of the heavens that opened up over the weekend in this home was enough to calm my heart, still my soul and allow me to just laugh. I mean, “seriously Lord?” The only happy people in that mid-morning moment were Mikias and our dog Annie, who thankfully just keeps loving me in my craziness. But if I can’t laugh about it and trust God’s grace in these made-for-television moments that are my actual life, then I’m just going to end up a miserable mess of a woman and I just don’t want that. So, I’m changing things…I’m removing the distractions, the non-essentials that just eat up space in my heart and I’m turning back to the things that ground me. God’s Word, prayer, nutrition, nurturing a family, time alone with my husband and lots of time outdoors playing with the people that make me, well, me.