Refuge

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Another post from the past. One of my garden-related favs.

My husband has long extolled the virtues of winter interest in the garden. I remained unconvinced for quite a while. After all, once the thermometer reaches a certain point, I consider the backyard hostile territory, inhabitable only by feeder-raiding squirrels and children who don’t know enough to be cold. Who needs anything to look at outside when I have seed catalogues and hot tea inside?

My husband, however, just took the wrong approach.

I’ve finally discovered a reason for winter interest gardening that appeals to me. Basic laziness. The winter garden, it seems, is supposed to remain untidy. Forget deadheading those coneflowers and rudbeckias. Never lop down those fading grasses until spring. The birds and bunnies will thank you profusely. When those perfectly manicured lawns and gardens die or are cut back to the ground by zealous horticultural perfectionists, winter animals must look much farther afield for the seeds, berries, and protective cover they still require. They need a place of refuge.

Refuge is real

Thus, the gardener who neglects her seedheads and procrastinates her trimming finds herself rewarded by a yard full of thankful cardinals and finches, flaunting their colors at nature’s buffet. What a lovely license—untidiness in my yard can actually make it more hospitable to others. My backyard brambles draw those who need shelter from coyotes and cold. I can provide a place a refuge for those for whom the winter winds are too harsh.

I’m finding that can also hold true in the rest of my life.

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When my children were small and my husband working 12-24 hours a day, I discovered an awful demon in my quiet, retiring heart—uncontrolled anger. My inability to handle conflict had been well-hidden for many years (even from myself). I had easy-going friends, and I had married a man who rarely did anything I could get angry about. (OK, we did have a few discussions about empty cereal boxes on the counter and improperly aligned toilet paper rolls, but they didn’t exactly rock our marriage.)

Then we had kids.

Children, by their nature and seemingly by their firm desire, cause conflict. I had few coping skills for that kind of loving struggle. The day I found myself red-faced, screaming at them, “Why can’t you learn some self-control!” I knew I had a problem.

As God healed and taught me, I discovered something else—an awful lot of women felt the same way. They hated themselves, doubted their ability as parents, longed for someone to understand how they could have so much love and so much anger all at once.

Yet an embarrassed silence reigned over them, because talking about fears and shortcomings opens one up to further misunderstanding and pain. Only one who understood could break the silence and minister to them. Only someone who had an “untidy” life herself could extend a hospitable ear to hearts that needed nourishment and shelter.

Choking on Perfection

In the western suburbs of Chicago where we live, perfection reigns. It also chokes. Perfect-looking people in perfect cars commute to perfect jobs, then come home to perfect children and perfect houses. Deviation from the script isn’t allowed.

Yet, at times, I recognize the desperation behind those masks. The heart that cries, “Just let me see that you’re not perfect—then I can stop trying to prove that I am.” These people search for hospitality for their souls, and they don’t find it in the manicured perfection of our self-protecting masks. They find it in our untidiness, our inability to make all our pieces fit, our willingness to admit our weakness.

That surface-manicured standard reflects not God’s perfection but my pride. “My (God’s) grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What an intriguing paradox of what I’m supposed to be. Transparent enough so that His grace shines through my cracks and blemishes. A pointer for hungry hearts to the only one who can make order of their chaotic lives. To do that, I must be willing to admit to my own chaos.

Vulnerability is the start of becoming a refuge.

Honesty and grace keep us that way. If we all truly believed that, “There but for the grace of god go I,” what kind of shelter could we offer to people for whom the winter winds of perfection and criticism are harsh and hurtful?

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I love the grass heads bowing under snow outside my sliding glass door. I appreciate the beauty of rudbeckia seedheads, lovely in their own right without the starry golden petals. I glory in the cardinals, goldfinches, and juncos that find my untidiness so inviting to those in need. When the lawn services come one last time to “clean up” my neighbors’ yards, I’m glad to remain a place of refuge.

In the Weeds

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Weeds are the supreme challenge for an enneagram 5.

You simply cannot accomplish the elimination of weeds. You can’t feel capable when surrounded by waist-high thistle. You cannot prove your worth by becoming the master of every errant dandelion.

I have a problem with this.

Back to Work

Mornings around here have evolved into their common summer patterns. First thing, I go out into the yard to spend an hour or so working in the yard, before the sun has had its chance to turn this acre into a sauna and me into a sweaty, dirty sauna-ee.

Usually, it means pulling weeds. Giant weeds. Weeds that are taller than I am, if they’ve been left too long.

I don’t mind the work. The bigger issue is what it does to my mind. It’s created a problem with the way I see things. I can’t go out into my yard without seeing the weeds. There my be lilies and roses and coneflowers flashing and dancing all over the yard, but what do I see?

The weeds.

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No matter how much good overflows my yard, I am conditioned to look around and see all the work that needs to be done. Unless I make the conscious effort, I can’t enjoy the beauty because I’m focused on what isn’t perfect.

I know how long that to-do list is, and I know I haven’t reached the bottom of it. I don’t know why I’m convinced there is a bottom to it—we rationally know there never is. Yet we still believe there will one day magically be a moment when we look around and rejoice that everything is accomplished.

(I think that day is the one we die, so why are we do eager for it anyway?)

Meanwhile, weeds.

This might sound familiar to some of you.

Grace

I don’t do this in other peoples’ yards. When I go to their gardens or their homes, I see gorgeous flowers, delicious dinners, a house that looks welcoming or a garden that invites me into relaxation.

I don’t see their weeds first. (OK, I do see weeds—I have a tendency to almost start pulling them. Occupational hazard. But I don’t think they’re terrible people for having weeds.) I see what they’ve managed to do, not what they haven’t done.

Why am I so quick to see the flaws in my own world and not the beautiful pieces?

Why do I only notice what needs doing instead of relish what has been accomplished?

Why do I offer grace to everyone but me?

Take Time To See

I’ve been taking some time this summer to do that. To intentionally look around and see the wonderful places my hands have created. I’m looking first at the flowers, the patchwork of foliage and the different textures playing together in dappled light. The hues I placed next to one another on purpose—a purple-leaved heuchera here to catch the purple vein in a fern there. There is artistry. There is accomplishment. There is an unfinished canvas, to be sure, but there are corners of triumph.

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What’s required in my garden might be needed in my life, too. After so much time recovery from last winter’s injury, I began to learn this lesson, too. Look at the wins. The losses are hard, and they are to be grieved. But they do not define who we are.

There are corners of triumph.

Even in my date book, there are spaces for writing down “this week’s wins.” How wise is that? What would change in our joy if we habitually wrote down this weeks’ wins and focused on them, rather than this week’s items that did not get checked off the interminable to-do list?

I wonder.

So I’ve begin that practice, too. I’ve started looking at the list of tasks for church, writing, family, and life and started telling myself the truth.

What doesn’t get done doesn’t change my value.

What does get done is cause for celebration.

Whatever is left over can be done another time, or never at all, and the world will still turn, and I will still be beloved.

These are hard truths for an Enneagram 5 to believe, wrapped up in our need to feel capable. So I’m learning to turn over that need and focus instead on a more necessary one—the need to know who and whose I am. The need to offer and receive grace.

The need to accept weeds. But not see them.

5 Ways to Nail Motherhood. Kinda Sorta. As If.

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This is sometimes what motherhood feels like.

It seems kind of like cheating to write a blog about “Five Ways I’m Nailing Motherhood” (the prompt over at Mrs. Disciple today) when my kids are grown. Hindsight can make all kinds of things look better.

Also, though, hindsight can give insight into the ways I changed as a mom, and maybe, it can help those who are in the trenches daily. So, rather than five ways I completely nailed being a parent (as if), here are five things I learned and grew into as a parent. By kid three, hey, I had it down. Sort of. (Yeah, right.)

And by the way, I’m going to save the best one for last. Just in case you want to stop reading. Call it just one more thing I learned as a mom. (And as a high school teacher.)

1. I moved from thinking I had to police my children’s outsides to knowing I had to guide their insides.

My Personal Warning Label: Recovering Perfectionist. Handle with Care. Liable to attempt to fix your life or rearrange you dishwasher unless restrained.

I carried that label without the caveat of “recovering” for a long time. As a young mom, I valued what other people thought. A lot. Waaaay too much. (My kids took total advantage of this. Kids can manipulate better than Donald Trump when they see an opening.)

Because I cared so much, I wanted perfect little girls who could recite Bible verses on cue (more than your kid could), got stellar grades, and never even considered pitching a fit when they could not have Choco Tacos at the grocery store. Never.

God did not give me those children.

It came as quite a shocker when I made the discovery that I could not, in fact, control my children into perfection. I could not control them into anything. God didn’t give me controllable kids; he gave me the same kind of kids he chose to have—ones with free wills and individual hearts that could be shaped and molded by love but not by coercion.

I had to make it my job to teach them to love Jesus more than to obey rules.

I had to let go of caring what others thought. You can’t care about what others think and still prioritize guiding their hearts. It’s crazy- making. Guiding hearts is messy, slow work, while creating perfect behavior for others is fairly easy. Also very dangerous. It is much messier down the road. Trust me on this.

I would rather have kids that love Jesus and people than kids who look good in the Christian comparison parade.

I had to learn that. I hope you embrace it now.

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This is sometimes what motherhood feel like.

2. I moved from talking to them about being good Christians to living like Christ.

I am a preacher. I preach a lot. I like it. I can, if I’m not careful, give my kids plenty of sermons.

My kids do not need sermons. They need a living object lesson. Me.

I talked plenty about obeying God and being kind and loving you neighbor. (Unless he was weird and scary.) It wasn’t until they saw me have to decide if I meant those things that it stuck. (Fyi, not loving weird and scary people is definitely a sign of NOT meaning it.) I got caught up in teaching the truth more than living it.

Living it was hard with three little kids. Where was the time to volunteer to help someone? Where was the assurance that we would not have to sacrifice if we really DID some of those things? There wasn’t any. That was the point. All the talk in the world didn’t amount to much. Small areas of sacrifice, kindness, and moving out regardless of fear amount to a mountain of truth without words being necessary.

3. I moved from giving my children things to giving them life experiences.

We never had a ton of money, but I loved showering our kids with Christmas presents. Giving means a lot to me, and being able to give felt good. What didn’t feel good was the frenzied need we developed to go from one thing to another, from toy to game to craft kit, just doing and not caring. It didn’t feel good to be inundated with more stuff than one play room could comfortably handle, despite the giant toy box my husband made himself. Our house is not big. Our ability to handle overstimulation is even smaller.

Then we went on a mission trip. And another one. We started toning down on the things. Taking classes together. Going on expeditions and volunteering together. Also,the travel bug bit us all. Hard. Every one of our kid would prefer to travel somewhere they’ve never been over almost any “thing” they could get. (Although I suspect they would take new cars. And computers. They are now old enough to know things do come in handy when you have to pay for them yourself.)

593ba-july24th2010mom012It doesn’t get any better than raising kids who want to be with you when they are grown up.

Do life together—don’t do things side by side.

4. I moved from being a perfect mom to being a normal human.

I did not have to keep up a front for my kids. I did not have to pretend I always had it together. I did not have to prove I was always right. To this day, I struggle to apologize and admit I’m wrong. Why? Kids know. They are pretty smart little creatures. They know when we’re not being straight. But when mom puts up a fake image like that? It makes kids believe that negative feelings are bad and not to be discussed. I was raised like that. I never intended to repeat it. But I did.

It’s OK to let them see that I don’t know the answer. I make mistakes. I (gasp) sin! I didn’t realize that I was putting my girls in a prison of perfection just as surely as I had been put into one by refusing to admit that hurt, anger, and forgiveness were holy subjects to talk about and respect. We’re a work in progress on this one.

Hurt, anger, and forgiveness are holy subjects to talk about and respect.

5. I moved from thinking my job was to protect my children to believing it is my job to release them.

This is so hard. From the moment that little slimy kiddo lands on your chest, you would die for your child. You would almost certainly kill for her, too. God gave us momma love for a reason. But it gets a little out of hand, right?

I kept my kids from everything I could think of that might harm them. Bad language? Check. Violence? Check. Bullies and school shootings and too much high fructose corn syrup? Triple check. There is family lore that I would not allow them to watch Arthur because the siblings in it fought too much. (Our girls grew up rarely fighting so, hey, who are they to say my highly arbitrary gatekeeping wasn’t responsible? But seriously, Arthur?)

Overprotecting kid teaches them a few things. Things like: You are not strong enough to handle this yourself. The world is scary and the best you can do is wall it off. You don’t have the judgment to choose between what is good and what is bad when things try to enter your heart and mind. You see where this is going, right?

The fact is, it’s God’s job to protect our kids. It’s my job to make them disciples that will batter the gates of hell in this world. This is not safe. It is not for the faint of heart. It is scary as hell itself. But it is my job.

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They have their own journeys to make.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned about nailing parenting. I have to leave it to the Ultimate Parent who knows the plans he has for my kids and can be trusted to accomplish them. Accomplishing them will almost always mean risk. For them or for me. I have to be OK with that.

Nailing motherhood? It’s a moving target. It’s a good thing we have years to hone our skills.