Eyes on Jesus

There’s a phrase I hear a lot around my house. And by a lot I mean, “if I had a nickel for every time I heard it, I’d be a millionaire.” My three kids have a variety of responsibilities around the house: homework, setting the table, putting away toys, folding laundry, etc. Without fail, I have one dawdling and hemming and hawing, trying to delay the inevitable. When I prompt them with a reminder, “Buddy, it’s time to fold the laundry.” The common refrain is, “But so-and-so isn’t doing it!” Every. Day. Most of the time is exasperates me, but occasionally it hits me as quite profound. Is it any different than the question Peter asked Jesus in John 21:21, “Lord, what about this man?” Is it really any different than what we do all day long in our prayers?

God, why was she able to get pregnant so quickly and I remain infertile? Why is that marriage blessed even when it sprung from an unhealthy start, while mine failed despite the best intentions? Why do I have to have such strong convictions while someone else seems to feel no guilt? Why do I have so many illnesses while someone else seems to always be healthy and strong? Why are my efforts to grow a business never successful and others seem to have the Midas touch? Why are some people called to extraordinary sacrifice in their Christian walk while others seem physically blessed beyond measure? Why was I born into wealth and privilege and others starve to death? Why can’t I eat whatever I want and not gain weight like so-and-so? Why are people born with disabilities and with struggles that will make their life so much harder than mine? Why are some asked to remain single and held to celibacy while others enjoy the gift of marriage?

Why her? Why him? Why me? Why not me? Why, God?

The answer? Eyes on Jesus. Stop looking at everybody and everything else and look to Jesus. And as you look to Jesus focus on what he has specifically for you. What is Jesus asking you to do? It’s the same answer given to Peter in John 21:22 “As for you, follow me.” And in some ways, it’s the same answer I give my children. “Buddy, what did I ask you to do?” In that moment things seem unfair to him, for whatever reason. But I’m asking him to trust me. Trust that I have his best interest in mind. That I will make sure everyone gets what they deserve — that if the other child really is slacking, that they won’t get the same reward as the one doing their job faithfully. My kid’s vary in age from 3 to 8, which means the oldest often feels more weight of responsibility than the others. It often feels unfair to him, no doubt. But what I’m asking him to do in that moment is to believe I have his good in mind. Stop looking at the facts as they appear from his perspective and trust ME.

Now, I’m an imperfect mother. Even as I’m asking my son to trust me, I know that I’m going to fail him. But thankfully that is not the case with our perfect God. Not only is he trustworthy because of his character, revealed in Scripture: wise, loving, gracious, forgiving, unchanging, powerful, etc. We also know he is trustworthy because of his consistent track record of faithfulness towards people. Psalm after psalm recount the deeds of God, done on behalf of faithless people. How he rights all wrongs and rewards those who seek him all their days. So when he says, “trust me, look to me, follow me,” I have every confidence that he knows better than I do. That asking “why her” and “why me” is only going to generate discontent and distrust in my Lord.

As I attempt to parent these small children, I recognize all the ways that they cannot see the big picture. They see their small slice of the pie and it feels unfair. It reminds me that I don’t always know the whole story in my life either. The piece I can see appears unjust when I am not focusing on the perfect justice of my God. I don’t know why some people will have harder lives than others, but I do know that my all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful God does. I choose to trust him and keep my eyes on Jesus when life doesn’t make sense.

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It’s Time

I have attempted to be private about the details of my divorce and what led to it. I hope I have done right by protecting my former husband and by not airing laundry the world did not need to know. And yet, our marriage was very public in many ways. For those of you who have known me for years, you remember when we were writing publicly about Brian and I’s mixed orientation marriage. You remember seeing me post pictures at Pride Parades, having countless LGBT-friendly gatherings in my home, and may even know we were on track to writing a book on the subject. In my mind, I was trying to create a bridge between the two worlds I found myself in: the gay world filled with many people who were dear to me and the conservative Christian world I was raised in and continue to choose to align myself with.

And since all of that was very public, I’m sure many of you have wondered where I stand now. How do I look back on it all? Would I endorse the positions I held and wrote about back then? Do I agree with the ways we conducted ourselves? How do I feel about controversial events happening on a national level, with the Nashville Statement coming out this past week and LGBT issues in the news constantly? How do I feel when I see the kinds of views my ex-husband is posting publicly and everything he now stands for?

Well, I’m going to answer those questions to the best of my ability while continuing to preserve discretion where I can. I think we were wrong. Not for getting married, not for attempting to stay married, not for pursuing Christ and forsaking all others. Those things were right and I wholeheartedly believe our marriage could have survived based on that foundation. But we were wrong to embrace “being gay” as an identity. We were wrong to move away from the gospel and to move towards figuring out some new way to exist. When I look back on what we wrote, I think, “dear Monica, run to Jesus. He is ever and only the answer. There is no other way. Don’t succumb to pressure, don’t give in to what feels comfortable and more palatable. Cling to God and truth.” Brian slowly, inch by inch walked away from faithfulness to the Scripture. Our hearts can only serve one god, and he chose identity in his sexuality above all else. He eventually sacrificed everything on that altar: his relationship with God, our marriage, and our family.

When I read the Nashville statement, all I can think is “YES. Thank you.” I wish this was written twenty years ago and that I had never begun to depart from it. I obviously bear responsibility for allowing myself to be moved on a variety of topics, but I felt helpless to do otherwise. Like many, if not all of you, I had heard that because I did not personally experience these issues that I could not have a voice in the discussion. I trusted Brian. I trusted him to lead me and our family, and so I often deferred to his judgment. When he said “we don’t like what so-and-so is saying” I agreed. I didn’t bother to read for myself or figure out how things were lining up with Scripture. I planted my flag in the ground, defending him at all costs whether I fully understood why or not. That is my fault. I should not have done that. Now as I read the people that he did not endorse, I can see why. People like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan. People who were saying, “No. It doesn’t matter what your experience is, Jesus is the only answer and finding hope or identity in anything other than him will not work.”

I cannot say it any more clearly or emphatically or with as much authority as Rosaria Butterfield did in her recent blog. She is someone who has a legitimate voice in the discussion because of her sexual orientation. I am incredibly grateful for what she wrote and follow it with a hearty “amen.” I literally felt sick when I read the response to the Nashville Statement in the Christians United statement along with others echoing their sentiment. Because you cannot get away with calling sin “good”, just because it feels more loving. Because I know where attempting to find a middle ground leads. I know because I watched it happen first hand in the person I loved more dearly than any other in this world. I watched this man who loved Jesus turn into someone who I do not recognize. There is no middle ground. There are only two ways to live — towards and for Christ or away and against Him. I choose the former.

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Something Else

I’m a haphazard writer. I’m not very disciplined at writing when I don’t feel like it. But when a fancy hits me, BAM! I write most my blogs in less than 5 minutes and barely edit them. However when I’m without inspiration, silence. Three weeks ago a topic hit me: How badly I want to be able to write about something else, anything else. How I want to move on and write about positive things and cooking and growth and world issues and my children. And yet it seems all I can write about is grief and issues related to divorce and heartbreak.

The thing about being an undisciplined writer is sometimes when the idea presents itself, the time to complete the task does not also magically arrive. So inspiration had struck, but I didn’t get around to writing anything about it. Then, I went to Atlanta for a Shaklee conference and everything changed. I realized that the reason I wasn’t able to write about anything else was that I wasn’t really moving on. Being stuck wasn’t something that was happening to me, it was a choice I was making for myself.

It’s really easy to idolize grief. To let it own you and run your decisions and life. For a season, giving yourself grace and feeling what you need to feel is essential to healing. But then it becomes a habit. And then it becomes chains. And I was chained to my grief. Even though life was moving on and happy things were happening, I still felt stuck. Any small ache or pain in my life threw me right back into the pit of despair. It was as if those slight injuries were equal to the fatal blow that was inflicted on me over a year ago.

When I was going through the thick of things, I thought a lot about what pain does to people. That it really only has two outcomes: making people bitter or making people better. Pain can distort you and fashion you into an ugly person. Or it can mold you into someone who is beautiful. I’ve known people on both sides, and it isn’t the circumstances that dictate their responses. I’ve walked arm and arm with women who’ve lost handfuls of children to miscarriage, who’ve endured years of infertility, who have been sequestered to their room for months or years due to debilitating diseases, who’ve held their children through countless rounds of chemo and radiation, who’ve lost their marriages, who’ve lost all their possessions. And yet these women are gloriously beautiful. You feel their trust in Jesus in every conversation and their light cannot be dampened. And I’ve known people who became bitter at their circumstances; people who essentially followed Job’s wife’s counsel to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

Grief is impossibly hard. It is a world of its own that is incoherent to those who have not been there. It requires intense tears, sleepless nights, physical pain from grief, and the ability to mourn in sadness and anger. But in every grief-filled situation, there will come a moment when the mourner must get up, wash their face, and worship God (2 Sam. 12:20).

And for me, that moment came while I was in Atlanta, at a conference with the theme of “breakthrough”. During the first session, I wrote in my notebook, “I have never in my life been more in need of a breakthrough.” And with that overwhelmed and broken thought, Jesus met me. I am not miraculously healed and now no longer struggle with sadness, but there has been a shift. A shift towards movement, towards gladness, and towards greater trust in God’s incredible plan.

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Of friendship, waiting, and gardens

We sat on the hardwood floor of my 1920’s bungalow. We folded laundry while my toddler ran to and fro. My baby boy, just learning to pull himself up on furniture, squealed with delight at his new skill. She was waiting on the birth of her first child. We talked about childbirth. About how she hoped it would happen naturally, the way mine had. About how each day felt so long when the unknowns loomed large. Nine months. Overdue. Still waiting.

A year later I found myself waiting. After enduring a hard pregnancy, I was longing for the end. Longing for my baby girl in my arms. I sat in her warm living room after a routine check-up. I remember tearing up with exhaustion over the waiting. She patiently cleaned up the food her baby had tossed out of his high chair. She fed my boys. I looked out of the window, staring at the apartment building immediately next door. The pressures of life and all the pain felt interminable.

That winter was a hard one. We ventured out into the inclement weather, even by Chicago’s standards, and spent the day at an aquarium. We basked in the warmth of the amazon room. We marveled at glowing jellyfish. We pushed strollers and struggled little arms into puffy jackets. The day passed quickly, amidst endless days of snow and negative degrees. My heart was happy and my arms were full. She was sad, enveloped in darkness. We talked that day. Really talked. We prayed. We waited.

We planted a garden together in my backyard. The extra garden plot was ideal for her tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and one rogue potato from last year’s harvest. We shared vegetables. We talked about the ethics of tomatoes. I taught her how to can and we made salsa from the last green tomatoes, once the seasons had changed.

She moved while I waited for my house to sell. For 18 months, I waited for it to sell. For 18 months, she lived in another country and lived a different life. We each became victims of very different assailants. For six months, we both began to drown in our pain. PTSD for her. Divorce for me. We unexpectedly found ourselves together again, together in this darkness. I brought her groceries when she could barely move. She prayed for me and wrote me letters when I didn’t want to live. We sat on a park bench in the green of summer, watching our children play. Therapy? Medication? Vitamins? Was there any hope for us?

We cried many tears on the grey couch in my living room. We still folded laundry. She watched my kids so I could shower. We made lunches together and greedily scooped up our salads, squeezed together on the piano bench at the end of the table. Our very full table, full of children and their laughter. Our pain so foreign to them. They were no longer alarmed at our tears. The tears were more common than our smiles.

Another winter passed, more waiting for healing. Waiting for light. Some days we still cried, but we smiled too. We laughed. I would watch her lean back onto my orange pillows and stretch her legs across the cushions. We began to feel whole. But what’s next? Where do we go from here? Could she return to her new home? Could I move forward in a new relationship? When? How?

In May I asked for her help in my garden again. We ripped up weeds and plowed the claylike soil. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, strawberries, potatoes, jalapenos, and herbs. She told me about the summer she worked in a nursery. How the best part of her day was watering the thirsty plants each morning. I thought about that every time I watered that garden. After weeks of taking care of the plants the produce was abundant. She returned to her new country. I brought home a new husband. As a new family, we ate many meals comprised of the fruits of my labors, and of the labor of love from my dear friend.

The season has passed and the plants have wilted. I spent an afternoon in the hot sun tilling the soil and carefully planting new seeds. Seeds for a fall harvest. Planting seeds seems like utter foolishness. Hoping that these small bits can turn into something flourishing and worthwhile. I spend my mornings watering these invisible seeds, thinking of her and how we made it. How we cried, laughed, despaired, hoped, gardened, and cooked together for nearly six years. How the seasons have come and gone, how waiting has turned into doing. How there’s always life after death. And how we have hope because of Jesus for our days that remain.

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Memories are Tricky

I’ve heard them a thousand times. Haven’t you? Those stories that from your family’s history that have become legend. The time Great Great Grandmother Ocie was arrested for making moonshine in West Virginia. How Great Grandfather Lonnie was decapitated by a barbed wire fence during a tornado in Tennessee. How Grandfather changed his name to Lee on the spot, the night he met and proposed to Grandmother Jean. How my Mom has never been able to drive on family trips because of the “driving in neutral down a hill” incident on their honeymoon. Real people’s lives, turned into legend.

It’s happened to things that happened in my childhood. Events that were traumatic or upsetting at the time have become family jokes. When my sister and I had our hair butchered at a salon, and my dad famously remarked, “who traded my girls in for boys?” Or things I said as a child that have been repeated to infamy by every family member. The roadside pit stop in Costa Rica that resulted in my reply, “I just skimmed the top.”

History has a way of improving upon the original. What once was a gruesome story has become a story we all gasp over at dinner parties. The world’s most embarrassing moments make for the most hilarious entertainment after the fact. Over time stories change in so many ways. History is revised by whoever tells the story for the longest amount of time and whoever is speaking the loudest. It makes me wonder how much truth is in those stories. Or are my favorite memories more myth than fact?

It’s moments when I’m lost in these thoughts that I become curious about what my kids will remember. What tall tales will they tell of our life together? What will they even recall of our short time together with their dad? How will they remember me and the way I survived? I can only hope that I’m a hero of some of these stories, and yet I fear I am the villain. It’s easy to romanticize someone who isn’t there all the time. But me? They have me in all my bloody and bruised glory, daily displaying the full range of my humanity. Can they possibly remember in a positive light?

And yet children always seem to be little optimists. One of my parent’s favorite memories of my sister and I involves a rent-by-the-hour motel room in Las Vegas. We were a camping family and very rarely stayed in anything other than the pop top of our silver Volkswagon Vanagon. After a long day of driving my parents decided we’d stop in and see what all the fuss was concerning Las Vegas. We had a fun time walking around Circus Circus and watching all the various spectacles on the strip. By the time the evening rolled around there was “no room in the inn.” Or hotels. Or even upscale motels. So we ended up in the last dingy place available. The Sue Linda Motel.

But to my sister and I, this place was the Taj Mahal. We couldn’t see the nailed down television, bolted to prevent the questionable clientele from taking it. We didn’t notice the plastic mattress pad under the sheet to protect the mattress from a variety of unsavory fluids. We didn’t hear the doors slamming all night, along with the rotating customers coming and going. All we saw a glorious room, spacious and with a real bed. We raved on and on about how wonderful it was and my parents, with knowing looks, just laughed at our naivete. (In my parents’ defense, we left not long after arriving and just drove the rest of the way home in the middle of the night.)

So, perhaps my kids will tell the story about the road trip where Avery threw up and mommy cleaned her all up in the middle-of-nowhere gas station. And how we all spent the night in a spectacular hotel room (in reality, dingy and cheap), giggling when someone tooted after we were all supposed to be asleep. And the time mommy slammed on the brakes on a rainy day to rescue a toad from the middle of the road. They might be more legend than truth by the time they are passed down to my grandchildren, but I hope the feeling behind them conveys my love for them.

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Bittersweet

There is perhaps nothing more American than the guarantee of happily ever after. We’ve become proud owners and champions of Disney’s dream. Old stories that had complicated endings, or sometimes downright gruesome ones, have been shined and tidied up to fit our palate. Our addiction to all things sweet extends from our diet to our taste in entertainment. We like to wrap things up in beautiful packages: simple, elegant, and most of all happy.

We like nothing better than a comeback story. If there has to be sadness in life, it better be rounded out with a glorious story that gets you off your duff and cheering in the stands. Winning a trophy may fill all previous gaps left by pain in a movie, but it does not in real life. Life is much more complex. Sad and happy often are hopelessly intertwined.

Ever since I remarried I feel like I no longer have permission to grieve. No one would tell me this, but its implicit in the excited and hope-filled comments people impart. “I’m so happy that things aren’t hard for you anymore.” “God has redeemed this situation so beautifully.” “What a good thing that you aren’t alone and your kids have a dad again.” Yes, yes, and amen. But also no.

Things aren’t as hard as when I was a single mom. I don’t spend the night awake in an empty bed wishing I could disappear. I don’t spend evenings trying to figure out how I’m going to provide for my family and how I’m going to be in three places at once tomorrow. I have help at home and I have a partner in life. It is good. But seeing others celebrate their anniversaries still sting. Dealing with the fallout of having a broken family still feels painful. My life often still feels like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My kids are unbelievably blessed to have my husband. His love for them is truly a gift from God. It was given to him full-grown and ready to be active. From the first moment they met, my kids were ready to have him in our lives and the feeling was absolutely mutual. And yet they still don’t know what to call him. I still feel stings when others assume he’s their dad; and daggers when I have to refer to their last name as different than ours. We won’t ever be the Allen Family. We won’t ever have “Allen Family Rules” proudly on display in our kitchen. Their dad will always live somewhere else and need to be explained away.

I still lost eleven years of my life. That hasn’t changed. Some of the happiest memories I’ve ever made have turned sour. I share the most intimate of moments, of making and birthing children, with a complete stranger. Much of my day can feel dishonest. I’m so often reminded of stories and things that I’d like to share with my husband, but I know they can hurt so I keep them to myself. I often think of people or things that I want to talk about, but then remember he doesn’t know because he wasn’t there.

Bittersweet is perhaps the best description for where I am in life right now. People spend a lot of time extolling how happy they are for me, so pleased that all wrongs have been made right and I am whole again. It feels ungrateful to disagree, to remind people that I still have loss. That I will always have loss. I’m an amputee. I’ve lost my arm and no amount of new things will ever cure me of this missing limb. Remarriage isn’t a cure for divorce, any more than a successful pregnancy cures a miscarriage.

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Purpose

Purpose. It’s the thing I most want in life. More than happiness, more than financial stability, or a skinny figure. Which is saying something because I want those things quite a bit. But meaning? Nothing holds a candle to that. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to have meaning, how to make my days meaningful, how to find meaning in the things that happen to me. It is often my harsh taskmaster, enslaving my every move to the god of purpose.

Never has this been more clear to me than in the midst of suffering. Finding purpose in my pain was the only thing that kept me going on some days. If my pain could just grow some legs, go out into the world and do something worthwhile, maybe then I could breathe again. If it isn’t all pointless and I’m not just a victim of random molecules colliding, then maybe I could be okay.

I think the natural question to ask when searching for meaning is why. Why is this happening to me? Why did God allow this? Why is there no justice for the person who annihilated my heart? But there are many problems with the Why question. It gives rise to more questions and various speculations, with very little meaning. I don’t want vapors of ideas, I want firm footing for my rapidly sinking heart. I need a thoroughly tested anchor, a life-saving peace to protect me from the storm.

So if I can’t find that in Why, I’m left with For What? I may never know why things happened to me. Why I had to marry Brian and why he had to suddenly depart after ten years of marriage. But I might one day be able to figure out what good has come from it. For what am I to endure this? For the glory of God? For the love and support I could provide the church? For the faith it will grow in me? Possibly all these things.

These questions and answers bounce around in my head on nights where I’m haunted by my ghosts. They circle my mind like buzzards, trying to signal the death of my anxiety. But they often fail. Because although answers and purpose are gods that I serve willingly, they cannot comfort me the way I long for. They are no better than carved images, too dumb to listen and to inept to help.

At last my mind finds rest in Christ alone. In the wealth of peace that he pours out. No questions, no speculations, just himself. I don’t know Why and I can barely offer a satisfactory For What – but Jesus is. The only purpose, the only reason, the only peace in a chaotic world. The I AM ever over me.

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The Mark of a Mother

“Please get your feet off the wall, they leave a mark.”

“Don’t lean back in your chair, you could get hurt.”

“Please push in the piano bench when you are done.”

I hear echoes of my mother’s voice every time I say these things. It’s a strange thing, motherhood. To be raised by a woman, to become one yourself, and then to train up others. It can still surprise me that I’m a mom, even seven and a half years into this whole gig. Sometimes I’m still taken aback when I see my reflection on the way into the grocery store followed by my three, small people. How did I become a mother? I feel like I want my own mommy most of the time.

I have had the privilege of learning how to be a mom alongside an armful of mommy friends. I don’t know a single one of them who thinks they’re doing a great job at mothering, and yet I’m constantly amazed at how all of us are finding our own way as mothers. Perhaps the biggest marker of motherhood is selflessness. This week when I walked my kids’ home from school, I passed my friend carrying a child-sized umbrella while her daughter sauntered behind her, hoisting an adult-sized one. I laughed at the sight and she just sighed, smiled, and explained, “She said she was getting wet.” It struck me what a powerful thing that small selfless moment was, and how many of them occur on a daily basis for moms.

I’m reminded how often my own mother saved the last cookie for me or let me chew the last stick of gum. When I was still a relatively new mom I was visiting back home and we all had to pile into a car for a long drive. There was an incredibly uncomfortable, hard seat in the middle that had a belt buckle digging into my fleshy post-pregnancy side. I remember complaining about how uncomfortable it was and my mom offered to take my place without hesitation. Moms never stop mothering. And they never stop wanting the best for their children.

Mom’s don’t stop wanting good things for themselves. They don’t all of sudden stop minding uncomfortable seats, stop wanting to stay dry in a rainstorm, or stop desiring the last serving at dinner. But they love their children. And love often means going without so the person you love can go with. But we aren’t perfect in our selflessness, obviously. We see the thousands of times a day where we put ourselves first and most of us feel guilty every single time. Even if we die to self and put our kids first 9 times out 10, that one time is enough to derail our confidence and make us feel like failures. That’s why we can all tend to feel like we fall short as moms.

Thankfully, we aren’t supposed to be perfect. And the measure of our success as mothers isn’t in the quantity of our selflessness. It’s in the little moments that we offer up ourselves, press on through our weaknesses and keep choosing to give of ourselves for our children. I’m pretty sure the mark of a good mother is one who thinks she isn’t that great at it. Because she’s still sensitive to the areas she needs to grow and wants to keep doing better, being better for the people entrusted to her care.

I’ve tried all week to finish this piece. For some reason, it just doesn’t feel like it’s coming together like I want it to. I think it’s because I feel too close to it. I’m very much in the thick of mothering and in the midst of feeling like a failure at the end of most days. And yet I want to say something about it. To let my friends know I think they are doing a fantastic job. To tell my mom I’m astounded by how she mothered me when she was my age. To let moms everywhere know they are not alone and we are all trying to figure this out together. And to maybe in those moments of my own failure to take a deep breath, offer myself some grace, and trust that my love for my kids will outweigh my weaknesses and moments of selfishness.

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Glass Beads


I used to be better at being a perfectionist. Somehow over the years I’ve started taking shortcuts here and there. Shhh. Don’t tell my mom. It’s funny how sometimes in an effort to save yourself a step you end up adding way more. Like today. Me and the jar of decorative glass. 

The lilac trees blossomed early this year. And oh, how I love lilacs. It’s become part of my spring ritual to clip the light purple bunches and to arrange them on my table for as long as they last. But they don’t last long. Three days usually. Then they start to shrivel and wilt, so I replace them with the next bunch. I’ve created a bi-weekly habit of washing out the vase, which is really a small hurricane for candles. Then comes the clipping, arranging, filling with water, and admiring my creation. But lilacs are floppy and need support to look their best. Enter the glass beads. 

I fill up my jar, past the halfway point, with these clear beads that I’ve had since I was first married. Most likely something I picked up at Michaels, trying to spruce up our first one bedroom apartment. Being a first-time homemaker filled me with such glee in those day. At times the beads have been covered in candle wax, after a candle or two has been left burning for too long. They’ve even been used at the bottom of a fish bowl to our ill-fated Beta fish. But mostly they’ve served as a base to countless bouquets of flowers. Flowers for birthdays. For anniversaries. For no reason at all. 

When you go through a divorce, after sharing a life with someone for ten years you have to make decisions about every little thing. You can’t scrap everything you own and start over, atleast I couldn’t, not on my budget. So you prioritize. You get rid of the jewelry and the photo albums and the framed vows. Then you slowly replace the gifts of wallets and watches. You rotate out clothes that you wore to special occasions as new clothes fill your closet. But things like these glass beads? They are the sort of thing that are too meaningless to throw away, even though they’ve been present for thousands of meaningful days. 

Today my lilacs were wilted, time to start the cycle of replacing them with new ones. The vase water had taken on a strong slimy odor, so I knew it needed a good scrubbing. The smart thing would’ve been to get a sieve and pour out the beads. But no, I wanted a short cut. Just fill the base with water and a squirt of my favorite dish soap. Swirl the beads around in my hands and then slightly spread my fingers, holding it against the top of the vase, allowing the water to drain. But the rim is wider than my hands and I spread my fingers too far, the beads slipping through and pinging against the stainless steel sink. 

A smarter gal than I would stop. But not me. Determined to skip that step, I persist in my endeavor. The soap bubbles continue to rise to the surface with more water added. I pour out the water again and again, more beads sneaking through my fingers each time. The dishwasher had been full of clean dishes, so this morning’s milky breakfast bowls are now sharing the sink with an ever growing pile of glass beads. 

I don’t know why life has to be so hard. I don’t know why we deliberately make decisions that make it harder. I don’t know why we persist in those decisions, why we refuse to change course for our own good. I don’t know why cutting corners and cleaning those glass beads nearly brought me to tears today. Or why it felt healing to watch them slide through my hands. Years of memories being scrubbed clean, and falling away. 

I’m not as good at being a perfectionist as I used to be. Life is messier than I ever imagined. But sometimes on the round about route, the one that is complicated and filled with missteps, you find yourself.

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The Mystery of Contentment

Contentment has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Since I was in high school, all I wanted was to be happy. For years that meant living for the next thing. The next boyfriend. The next dance. The next academic achievement. The next holiday. The next concert. Eventually those things weren’t enough. I needed the next stage of life – college, a good job, marriage, health, kids, a house, financial stability, etc. The list goes on and on. Because nothing ever manages to fulfill the way you think it will.

I’ve rarely met a situation that didn’t leave me disappointed. Every event I’ve looked forward to had an ounce of hollowness to it. A feeling of is that all?

It’s strange that it took losing almost everything I ever wanted to find contentment. I lost my marriage. Something I put my identity into, my heart and my soul were invested into loving that man. I nearly lost myself in the process of loving and losing him. For a while I thought I might lose being a stay at home mom, and even though I’m privileged to work from home, my life is still a far cry from my days as a carefree homemaker. I lost my house, my neighborhood, and my standard of living. I lost my ministry and my ability to be a hostess, no longer able to create safe places in my home for others. I lost my mind for a while. Grief really does drive you mad. And yet in those days and months that I found myself losing everything, I was content.

It’s easy to cling to Jesus as your one and only when he is the only thing that isn’t failing you.

But life has a way of righting itself after a disaster. I have a new home, a new way of life and pattern of living. I’ve grown accustomed to being alone in the evenings and to parenting on my own. I’ve fallen in love again and am starting a new life with a godly man who makes me incredibly happy. I have a modest income and God has provided beyond my imagination in my times of need. I’ve found strength and grown in who I am. I have deeper friendships than I ever imagined. In short, I’m happy.

And yet I find that old familiar companion slowly creeping back into the corners of my life. Discontentment. I know that “blah” feeling well. That feeling of, what’s next?

Turns out, it’s harder to cling to Jesus when life is pretty great.

But it’s so incredibly necessary. Putting my hope for happiness in my future marriage will doom it to failure. It will place an incredible burden on my fiancée to be my everything. Relying on finding fulfillment in my career will only leave me feeling empty and cause me to strive ever more for the next achievement. Resting in creating a comfortable home with happy children will cause me to resent every aspect of my day that conflicts with those ideals.

Clearly this world is not my home and it will never be able to give me meaning and purpose the way I want it to. It cannot. Only Jesus. Ever and only Jesus.

I learned how to immerse myself in Jesus when my life was hard, so how do I enjoy Jesus when my life is good? How do I enjoy the good gifts of the Creator without expecting them to actually make me happy? How do I get off the endless cycle of looking to the next big thing? I honestly don’t know. But I have an inkling it has a lot to do with gratitude. Because the heart of discontentment is saying, “this isn’t enough, I want more.” That sounds a lot like ingratitude to me.

When I work five jobs to make ends meet for my children and decide to splurge on a gift for them, it hurts my heart immensely when they ask for more. Don’t they know? Can’t they see how much I’m sacrificing for them and how hard I’ve worked for this one little thing? More than just lacking thankfulness, it makes me feel like they don’t understand my love. Could it be the same with Jesus? When we focus on the gift and all the ways it seems to be lacking, does it say something about how we view God? Instead of focusing on the gift and trying to muster up a list of “ten things I like about this thing”, what if I spent my time reflecting on how this gift is a symbol of God’s love for me?

Every gift from God says something about my relationship with him. The gift of suffering shows his desire to be close to me, to help me rely on him only and worship no other gods before him. The gift of children shows his desire to teach me about the way he loves his children. The gift of hunger or lack shows me how he provides eternally satisfying water and food. The gift of marriage shows me a picture of how Christ loves the church. Each gift says something about Jesus.

There are so many names for God in the Old Testament, each with a slight nuance: God of peace, God who provides, God who heals, etc. Instead of getting stuck in a cycle of “never enough”, what if each gift pointed me back to the God who is always enough? Always loving, always teaching, always patient, always kind. May my lack of fulfillment in the things of this world constantly move me towards the one person who always satisfies.

Every moment of discontentment is an opportunity for praise. Every time a gift doesn’t satisfy or circumstances don’t bring complete and utter joy, it’s a chance to worship. I’m thankful for the unsettled feeling that accompanies my happiest moments because they offer me Jesus. Ever and only Jesus.

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