Tuesday, August 28, 2018

In the Ceasing: Letting Go of All the Striving

“Cease from striving.” 

‘I’m not striving, I’m working.’ 

“Cease from striving.” 

‘These are good things!’ 

“Cease from striving.”

‘What does that even mean? How do I cease from striving when I have so much on my plate?’ 

“Cease from striving.” 

This has been my dialogue with God over the last two years. A simple whisper. Almost audible. Three words: Cease from striving. 

And I’ve fought it with every ounce of my being. I have held tightly to my plans in such a clinched-fist way that my spiritual muscles cramp and yet still I have refused to admit: this is the life that God has given me and it is His to plan, not my own.

Two years ago when we made the cross-country, cross cultural trek to where we are now, no one told me how to go from the high-energy, high-need, triage of life in the Amazon to homeschool mom in the aisles of Walmart. 

My proverbial tool bag was full of machetes and stitches and tourniquets for the many crises of life overseas and now I found those completely useless in the decision making tasks of grocery shopping and picking homeschool curriculum. 

And no one understood me. Including me. 

There, our home was full of people day in and day out, friends and strangers, like-minded and nearly hostile. But we sat and we talked and we shared and we lived and it was hard but good. A rich life of relationships. 

Here, we lived an entire six months at an apartment where I never once so much as saw my immediate neighbors. (Though I know they existed because we once received a noise complaint.)

It’s taken me two whole years to decide that maybe God was not telling me to cease from working (how I had been interpreting it) but to really cease from... striving.

(Imagine that. God meaning what He said.)

But still I am left with the resounding question of, “What DOES that look like?”
I’m learning it looks like this:

If that relationship is meant to be reconciled, He will reconcile it. 

If that goal is to be attained, He will bring it to pass. 

If I am to do anything at all, He will guide me... one painstaking step at a time. 

My role is that of obedience in the humdrum, not-a-soul-knocking-at-my-door day to day. 

My role is a step of faith across the street last night to my neighbor’s house. The one I’ve chatted with across the fence line a handful of times since moving to this house a year and a half ago but never truly engaged with because I was so unsure in this culture of closed doors and busyness of how I could relate to her. 

Imagine my surprise when she pulled up a chair for me and we sat for an hour and a half in the light of the flood lamp her husband used to diligently repair his truck. The fire ants bit my leg as I strained to hear her share her story over the sound of the train in the background and the airplanes overhead. Perhaps for the very first time it felt like a taste of home in this desert land. 

And my heart nearly skipped a beat when she said she’d lived on this street for many years and still didn’t know her neighbors because it seems as though here in this culture people simply come home and shut their doors. 

“And the saddest part,” she said with earnest, “is that no one seems the least bit bothered by what they’re missing.” 

It took great restraint not to leap up and hug her in that very instant. Instead I simply stated, “YES! I’ve been saying this, too!” 

She shared of her father leaving her when she was six along with her mother and younger siblings. How she took on a mothering role and worked hard, but relationships were always of utmost importance. When they moved here to the US hoping for a better future, she discovered that there was a lot of.... striving here. But little in the realm of genuine relationships among neighbors. 

Be still my soul. 

We talked and we laughed until 10pm. 

And this beautiful conversation came hot on the heels of a day of striving. Dear Jesus, I strove that day with every ounce of human effort I could muster. And to no avail. And I’m convinced that Jesus meant for exactly that to happen. For me to strive, fail.... and then find Him in the simple obedience of one foot in front of the other across the street. No expectations or goals. Just obedience. 

I had still been rummaging through this old tool bag, the one I had lugged back with me from a life overseas, convincing myself that these tools were indeed useful for this season of life.  How could they not be? But it turns out that a tourniquet for a scraped knee was a bit excessive. And this machete was of little value in this desert terrain. 

No, I would need to trade these more primitive (though once appropriate) tools in for more suitable ones. Like maybe a pencil and a notebook to process the journey thus far. Maybe band-aids and long walks behind my kids riding freely on their bicycles. Perhaps quiet moments with Jesus without the world falling in around us. All tools that were not readily available before, in the hostile and demanding terrain of jungle life. 

I can stop all the striving now and live here. I can be present and it doesn’t negate the past. My life can not look like I ever thought it would and yet I can find Jesus here, too, patiently speaking to me. 

Two years of Him whispering. 

Not long after we moved here, He gave me a verse

I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.” (Colossians 1.29)

I didn’t pay much attention to it, honestly. I read it and read it and knew it meant something for me, but I wasn’t ready yet to cease my striving so I wrote it on a chalk board and put it above the kitchen sink. I think only now it’s sinking in: 

It’s by His strength in me that anything is ever accomplished through me. 

How basic is that? (And how hardheaded must I be for it to take this long?) 

Oh, He’s a patient God. And from here on I choose to imperfectly cease from striving. To “let it be” as the Beatles so wisely admonished us. To take a step when I should and wait when I shouldn’t. Because one day I’ll need to trade out these tools for new ones as well. And He'll equip me anew. 

But for now, these are just the ones I need. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Behind the Picket Fence

She stood there, cautiously baring her heart to me. Her words said to me that she thought I had it together. She thinks I know what the heck I’m doing every day when I wake up and all the things from near and far are calling my name. 

Instantly my mind went back to a few days ago when I found myself weeping uncontrollably under the covers and pillows on my bed, my bedroom door locked to the demands of my kids, and my heart physically aching in my chest because I miss my jungle family so much and the loneliness is sometimes too much for me to stand under, so I cave. 

Turns out, I’m human like the rest of ‘em.

My house has a white picket fence. It’s quintessential irony calls to me every day when I check the mail or take out the trash or mow the lawn in the monotonous day to day. 

I gave this all up once, you know. Willingly. Joyfully. I turned it all in for a life overseas. All that I had been called to became my reality. 

And then Jesus said, suddenly and unexpectedly, it was time to sacrifice a different way. 

It was the harder to say yes that time. 

Now I find myself at Walmart and still, two years back on this side of the border, I fight another anxiety attack because the aisles seem so long and toilet paper options seem like a task of decision making prowess that I’m just not equipped for. 

But those are not the photos we put on social media are they? Of our struggle to reconcile broken dreams with the beautiful life given. Of not being able to relate or not being understood because suddenly you are thousands of miles from everyone who knows you best. 

I never post an instastory of me losing it with my daughter because the lies seem insurmountable and never ending and five years into this confusing and refining role of adoptive mom to a child with a hurtful past, I still feel as lost as ever many (most?) days. And there are harsh words and apologies and lies followed by truth revealed and lessons learned for both of us. Tears and hugs and another step forward after two steps back. 

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do to face myself in this mirror of adoption. And it’s a lonely road when others just don’t get it. 

And I have never snapped a selfie when I’m crying on the bathroom floor, shoulders slumped because I feel so inadequate and useless under the weight of raising awareness for the many tangible needs of our jungle family. I struggle to find the balance of here-meets-there, where kids are being abused on every corner and we need funds to reach them but also laundry is piling up and my own kids need me to teach them math and reading and how to tie their shoes.

These just scratch the surface of the social-media “non-worthy” items. 

All the while Jesus whispers to me every day, “Cease from striving.” I can almost hear it as though it were an audible voice calling to me. 

And I don’t know yet what it looks like to live that out. 

So I wake up early and lean in hard. I physically open my hands, achy heart and shaky knees, and ask Jesus to show me He is real here, too, in what feels like lonely loss. He wasn’t only real back when I thought I knew His plans for my life. My preconceived and naive ideas of who He is and what He has called me to isn’t enough. He is bigger and better and His ways are true and good. 

My calling is not to know all the things. It is to trust Him. To look to Him alone.

Even when I feel lost and inadequate. Even when I see another Facebook post that reminds me I’m here and not there or this way and not that. 

I shut out the voices that can't see my heart and I trust the One who can.

It still leaves me breathless in tears many days. It’s ok to grieve what was lost (or perhaps just reassigned). 

Most days, I choose to run back into hope and gratefulness. And you see it. 

Other days, I collapse in sadness, fear, doubt. And you don’t. 

So when I post a photo on Instagram and it appears that I’m living a perfect life, remember it’s my highlight reel. There is a behind the scenes, too.

But instead of focusing on all that feels taken, I focus on what is given. 

Rather than honing in on what makes my heart ache inside my chest, I hone in on what makes my soul glad. 

In place of what appears to have been lost, I look for what I know to be found. 

Because wouldn’t you know it, that adorable white picket fence doesn’t close properly. You have to lift it up and pull it ever so particularly for it to shut all the way. Life’s like that, too. No matter what it may look like on the outside, it’s always harder and more finicky than you think it should be. 

Don’t believe the lie that says anyone has it all together. They don’t. You don’t. I don’t. We are all just humans with struggles. 

And really, if you think about it, that’s good news... because it is precisely why we all need Jesus.
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