Finding Peace

Overpacking

Have I mentioned that I’m a planner?  Yes, I want to know where I’m going, what I’m doing, and how I’m going to get there waaaaaaaay in advance of any and every event.  I also like to have a contingency plan for my plans.  If plan A doesn’t work out, then I can easily and confidently resort to B, C, or D.  Options are good.  I like them.

This compulsive need to plan ahead for all contingencies is evidenced by the gargantuan size of my suitcase when we travel.  I must have several options for each day.  What if it rains?  What if I don’t feel like wearing athletic shoes?  What if an unexpected blizzard pops up right smack in the middle of July? What if we meet European royalty and get invited to a costume ball while hiking at the Grand Canyon?

I’m totally kidding about that last option, but you get the picture.  I need choices and alternatives.  Picture an enormous, hard-shell suitcase large enough for an entire wardrobe, with an interior compression system and removable laundry bag – and that’s just what I take for a weekend away.  😉

But all that luggage can really be a pain to deal with.  There’s the loading and unloading of it from the vehicle and the wheeling/carrying of it into hotels/lodging.  If I’m flying, there’s the potential for extra charges if it weighs more than 50lbs.  There’s the hauling of it up onto and down from the luggage racks on various parking and rental-car shuttles.  If I’m not careful, all the planning for options can really weigh me down on a trip that is meant to be fun and relaxing.

Winston Churchill once said, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”  This statement has been my unintentional motto for most of my life.  I combat the bothersome tendency toward worry with precise planning.  I manage anxiety about the unknown in knowing what my options are.

As the years pass and I grow closer to the Lord, I pray more and plan less, but there are still some situations in life where I like to know my plan in advance.  When people ask me questions, I like to have answers.

I’ve recently hit a situation that is the proverbial wall in my compulsive need to have a plan.  This isn’t some wimpy sheet-rock wall through which you can punch your fist or swing a bat.  Instead, it’s the equivalent of a 12” block wall, reinforced with steel rebar, poured solid with concrete and faced with brick.  If you know anything about construction, you know that this wall is NOT going anywhere.

Earlier this week I was sharing with a wise friend all the nuances of my current circumstances.   She listened raptly, and after I was finished, she said, “Jennifer, it sounds like you are on The Potter’s wheel.”

I quickly followed up her statement with a nod of my head and a witty quip about it being someone else’s time to take a go round on it, but later that day I took time to really ponder her words.

A quick word search on BibleGateway.com for “potter” and “clay” yields several verses, but I felt these two from Isaiah 64:8 and Isaiah 45:9 really jumped out to me:

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
We are the clay, and you are the potter.
We all are formed by your hand.

Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it,
saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’

I was struck with a mental picture of me, a clay figurine atop a spinning potter’s wheel, frantically trying to keep hold of my gargantuan, overweight pieces of luggage.  My Potter was gently and lovingly trying to mold me and make me into something useful and beautiful, yet I was holding on to all these oversized plans and options.  As the wheel turned, objects were escaping from my suitcases and flying away into the oblivion.

My grasping struggle atop the potter’s wheel was creating this unnecessary friction and discomfort for me while delaying the masterpiece My Potter was trying to create.

If I would let go of my carefully packed, yet burdensome luggage and surrender to The Potter’s expertise, the extra friction would cease and peace would come flooding back.

What insight this is.  What freedom this brings – this letting go of every single thing.  Arms up high as I surrender to the loving hands of The Potter.

Father God, I lift up my circumstances to you, as they are beyond my control at this time.  I let go of my plans and options.  I will defer to your expertise, your ways, and your purposes.  I will travel light.

Finding Peace

Permission Needed

Coffee cup in hand, I sat down on our leather sofa with a loud sigh of relief.  An unfolded mound of clean laundry was piled up beside me.  A dozen tasks were pressing down on me, their urgency increased by the impending arrival of guests for tonight’s dinner.  I needed to be moving, doing, prepping, accomplishing, but, instead, my soul desperately needed a respite.

I took this moment to lean my head back and breathe deeply, trying to relax into a rare interlude of silence purchased by husband’s willingness to allow our daughters to accompany him on an errand.  With less than 2 hours before our guests’ arrival, I knew a variety of tasks would remain undone, but as I weighed the cost of my stolen moments, I realized that none of them would result in my guests’ discomfort.

These “pressing” tasks were more about my comfort, my need to appear to have a perfectly presentable household.  As the tension in my mind and body loosened a little, I realized the true need of my soul in this moment was just to BE still.

It is astonishing to me that this very act of doing nothing actually requires my own consent.  But it does. 

You see, I’ve become aware of this constant mental measuring of my own usefulness.  I’m not actually keeping a written score by physically grading each day or event, yet there IS a tally being calculated just below the surface of my consciousness.

This subconscious scorekeeper can be my worst enemy.  Sadly, for many years, I mistook this inner analyst for the voice of the Holy Spirit.  (More about that in a future post.)

But in this moment, I gave myself permission to rest despite all the demands (both legitimate and otherwise).  I embraced a stillness in body AND soul.

Be still, and know that I am God!  

Psalm 46:10a

You know, sometimes, it’s okay just to BE.

I recently made this statement to a group of adults.  I could see the immense emotion of this simple statement reflected in the eyes of several women.  We, especially as women, can have such a difficult time with this.

Who told us that we must DO… in order to be of value?  in order to be worthy of love? in order to be useful?

I know we all have responsibilities, and I’m not endorsing laziness or neglect of our families.  However, I’m asking the Lord to give us His wisdom about what we can let go of (big or small) in order to embrace His rest.

This will look different for each of us, but let’s drop that measuring stick and throw away the mental score card.  Let’s stop using it on ourselves and on each other.  Let’s acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay just to BE.  BE you.  BE still.  Just BE.

What would it look like to give yourself permission to embrace a season of stillness?

Whether it is a few stolen moments on a weekend afternoon, a whole day or week, or an entire season of embracing this state of BEING rather than doing, I pray that you will find true refreshment from the ONE and ONLY who can provide that to us, Jesus Christ.

…Don’t be afraid. 

Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. 

Exodus 14:13a

On a funny note, I was so relaxed after just BE-ing, that I completely forgot to fold that laundry and put it away before my guests arrived.  In fact, I didn’t realize that I had forgotten about it until after everyone had gone home.

Now, before you get all judge-y on me, you should know that the adults spent most of the evening in the dining room and kitchen.  It wasn’t like we were chatting while sitting next to my husband’s undies.

But still, I can’t even believe I forgot this.

I’m so thankful for my grace-giving friends and for my grace-giving God.  Most of all, I’m thankful for this journey that is enabling me to take hold of grace for myself.  I’m marking this down (laundry pile included) as a major accomplishment in my journey toward vibrant living.

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Finding Peace

Love Note

I had just settled into the driver’s seat and was pulling the seat belt across my shoulder when my phone buzzed.  Before backing out of my garage, I glanced down at the screen.  It showed a text from a friend who lived in a different city.  We didn’t talk that often, so I was immediately intrigued.

The message said “God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray….”  I smiled but stopped there thinking I would read the rest later.  My youngest daughter and I were hurrying to an appointment, and my focus was consumed with arriving on time.

It’s certainly nice that she’s praying.  She has no idea what is going on today with me, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I can’t wait to get this over with.  I wonder, do I need extra prayer right now?  Does she know something I don’t know?

Then I quickly shoved it all to the back of my mind for future contemplation.

You see, we were on our way to a local elementary school for a comprehensive assessment and evaluation by the school’s psychologist.  This is something that my husband and I had known was coming for the last several months.  We had delayed it once, trying to give our daughter time undergo and recover from a minor surgery.  Then it had been delayed a 2nd time due to an unexpected school closing (due to illness) a few weeks ago.

The time for this event had FINALLY arrived.  And our youngest daughter was ready to be evaluated… I hoped.  Certainly, I was ready to know what issues we might be dealing with concerning her apparent learning delays and struggles.

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Fast forward to a little over an hour later, and I found myself feeling rather differently.  I had just completed a verbal questionnaire with what seemed like a gazillion questions that seemed to clarify the fact that my daughter was truly struggling in some areas.

These same feelings of grief, sorrow, and complete vulnerability had hit me at her annual speech/language IEP meeting back in the fall of last year.

It’s really hard to describe the intensity of this environment.  The rawest of maternal emotions are triggered when you are asked numerous, exhaustive questions by almost-strangers concerning the areas of your child’s weaknesses.

When you answer these questions OUT LOUD, the difficulties become concrete.  Declaring with your mouth has an imitable effect.  It takes the knowledge from your mind and brings it into the deepest places of your heart and being.

The professionals who conduct these meetings aren’t mean or cruel.  They are polite, kind, even sympathetic, and thank goodness they are thorough.  The process itself is just brutal.

So as I sat in that swivel chair waiting for my daughter’s portion to finish, I felt wrung out.  In an effort to quiet my swirling emotions and stifle the tears that threatened to spill over, I dug my phone out of my purse.  I began to sort through my unread texts when I saw the one from my friend.  I clicked to open the whole message.  It said:

“God put you on my heart this morning and led me to pray Matthew 11:25-30.  Be childlike and in rest dear friend.”

Childlike.  It instantly struck a chord within me.

During that evaluation, I had let the weight of my youngest daughter’s future press down on me.  I had been analyzing and thinking about all the things I could have and should have been doing differently.  I didn’t even have the evaluation results or a diagnosis, yet I was immediately jumping to the worst case scenarios and trying to mentally work out my next 5 action steps.

Instead of Simple, Innocent, Trusting and Uncomplicated, I had defaulted to Anxious, Pessimistic, Doubting, and Worried.

I opened the bible app on my phone to the verses she mentioned.  They were not new to me.  I had read and studied them many times over.

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Despite the familiarity of the passage, its words connected with me instantly.  I felt like I was reading a love note from my Heavenly Father.  It was so timely, so personal, and  precisely what I needed.

How could my friend have known this?  She didn’t.  She couldn’t have.  But God knew, and she listened to Him.   

My mental gymnastics halted.  I began relaxing into God’s gentle care of my youngest daughter.  I let Him lift the burdens from my heart and mind.  I placed this entire situation back into His hands, and I immediately felt secure, cared for, loved, and protected.

I read the verses again.  I noticed that He was also reminding me that our human powers of intellect could be detrimental to success in God’s kingdom.  The Father reveals things to those who are childlike- meaning trusting, enthusiastic, unsophisticated, uncomplicated.  It was like He was saying to me:

Jennifer, your daughter can and will be effective in MY kingdom.  It’s the one that really matters and will never pass away.  Isn’t that what is important to you, after all? 

Yes, Abba Daddy, you’re right.  You’re so right.

A few silent tears rolled down my cheeks, not from grief and sorrow, but instead from thankfulness and joy.

My perspective had done a 180-degree turn in just a few short minutes.  I sent my friend a text saying how much I appreciated her prayers.  I thanked her for listening to the Holy Spirit and sending me that message.  What a blessing she had been in that moment!

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So let me ask you, what situation are you facing today that could be entrusted to our loving Heavenly Father?  Could you benefit from releasing your worries, fears, and doubts?  Would you be willing to take those steps of trust necessary to find rest for your soul?

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would make that trade: Your heavy junk in exchange for His light and easy.  May God grant you the grace to entrust Him with the hard things.  Release that anxiety and receive His exquisite peace that saturates the deepest recesses of your mind and emotions.

It’s a good trade.