My mom used to say that spring and fall in Northwest Tennessee were the "in-between" seasons when the weather pinged back and forth between summer (hot) and winter (cold), until it finally decided to stick with one or the other. Earlier this week, we woke to patchy frost and we scrambled to find long sleeves and sweaters to wear. Today, we are peeling off the layers, back down to shorts and tank tops. Next week? The weatherman will probably be forecasting high temperatures in the 90s, with scattered snow flurries.
Gotta love life in Northwest Tennessee!
But on a more serious note...
We have started a marriage study/class at Grace on Sunday evenings. We are using Paul Tripp's book What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage as the foundation for our study, along with a weekly video presentation featuring Mr. Tripp himself. He is a fantastic speaker. He keeps us alternating between rib-cracking laughter and the kind of painful silence that results when your heart is squished so hard that it hurts for you to breathe.
We are only a few weeks into the study, and Mr. Tripp hasn't gotten to the Big Point of marriage, yet - I think he's getting there soon (maybe next week?), but I haven't read ahead in the book. At this point in the study, I'm not sure how it will compare to my all-time favorite book on marriage, Gary Thomas's Sacred Marriage.
One frustration I have with the study guide is that it assumes couples will go home and have serious, intimate conversations about the material covered each week. If your marriage isn't characterized by serious, intimate conversations, the homework assignment can be a bit of a downer. And what about those "couples" in the class where only one spouse participates? What if you see the benefit of a how-to-strengthen-your-marriage class, but your spouse cannot or will not attend with you?
Is there any encouragement for these people?
I think there is very great encouragement, and I am hoping Mr. Tripp will get to that soon, before some of our "lonely" class participants throw in the towel. Following are a few truths that have encouraged and strengthened me during some very lonely times over the years:
1. All marriages, even unhappy ones, have value. They have value because God himself established the institution of marriage, and because marriagedisplays to us and to the world around us important truths about God.Truths such as: God is a covenant maker; God is a covenant keeper; God is faithful even when we are not. Marriage is the stage where these truths are acted out in the drama of life.
2. Even if you are not happy in your marriage right now, God can use your marriage to grow you in holiness. A friend once described family to me as the crucible where our sin is exposed and burned away. If that is true, then within the family, marriage is where we feel the flame of God's refining fire at its hottest. Fire burns: growing in holiness is painful. But even in the most painful times, we can be confident that God is accomplishing his good purposes in us and that He is making us more like Christ.
3. Commitment to your marriage is an evidence of the gospel at work in your life. Years later, another friend made this statement: "The fact that you persevere through difficult times is a testimony to the power of the gospel." The truth is, we all have moments when we feel like giving up. It is only by the grace of God that any of us are able to persevere.
We may be tempted to think of "gospel witness" in terms of street-corner evangelism, social programs, or relief ministries. But commitment to our marriages, come hell or high water, is a powerful, silent witness to the power of God's grace and to the effective, life-transforming influence of the gospel in our lives.
4. Still not happy? You will be! The same friend mentioned in #3 (above) also said: "You need to get over the idea that marriage is all about your personal happiness. Stop thinking that life is all about your being happy right here, right now. After you die, you are going to be happy forever. FOREVER. In the meantime, what you need to focus on are obedience and holiness."
People, this life is short. Even if I live to be 90 years old, and even if every single day is filled with nothing but pain and heartache (which it isn't - there is so much joy and delight, even in the midst of much hardship!), all those years of pain and heartache will be redeemed and transformed into something glorious the moment I step into an eternity lived in the presence of my God and Savior.
I am often tempted to think that marriage is all about me and my happiness. The truth, however, is that while I do have a part to play in this story, marriage is ultimately about God.
A friend told me that whales can communicate with one another over distances of up to 1000 miles. When I asked him what the whales communicated over such a great distance, he answered, "Scientists aren't really sure, but they think the whales are saying, Can you hear me NOW?"
I love words. I love to read, and I love to write. I love to listen to what others have to say, and, yes, I love to talk (It's a Stricklin thing.) But communication is about more than simply reading or writing or hearing or speaking words. It is a two-way process where at least two of those things happen simultaneously. Communication is an interaction between a writer and a reader, between a speaker and a listener, between a performer and an audience.
Communication is tricky business. A person can say one thing, but actually communicate something very different from what he intends. A person can hear one thing, but actually understand something very different from what the speaker said.
I have a friend who frequently tells me that I have a knack for understanding words and for putting into words what I or others are trying to express. And yet often, when my friend tries to communicate something meaningful to me, if I respond with, "Oh, so you are saying such-and-such...," he replies, "No! You are completely misunderstanding me!"
Communication is tricky business.
In Sunday school this past week, Deon began the class by asking us, "What things do you get passionate about? How do you generally express that passion?"
At home Sunday afternoon, I commented that a better question might be to ask other people, especially those who know us well, "What things do you think I am passionate about?" Why? Because like Walter Mitty, we can perceive ourselves to be one way, living in strange little worlds inside our heads, while communicating something very different to the people around us through our words, our actions, and our lives.
I know what I think I am passionate about, but have I effectively communicated that passion to those who know me best? That is the question that Deon's Sunday school lesson triggered in my mind!
The kids were gathered in the kitchen, helping me get Sunday lunch on the table. I had to ask, although, honestly, I was afraid of the answer. I was afraid because the things I am most passionate about - the things I think I am most passionate about - they are so important to me that it would grieve me to learn that I had not communicated that passion effectively, especially to my family. "What things do you think I am passionate about?"
"You, Mom? That's easy. You are passionate about Jesus..."
"...and about the Bible..."
"...and you are passionate about your kids..."
"...and you are passionate about writing..."
Yes! Yes, yes, yes!
I don't always communicate clearly to others. I don't always understand what others are trying to communicate to me, either. Thankfully, concerning the things about which I feel most passionately, the message seems to have come through loud and clear.
What about you, Dear Reader? What things are you passionate about? If you asked those who know you best, what things would they say you were passionate about?
- originally posted Monday, October 24, 2011
Underlying the monumental endeavor of rearing and schooling a house
full of kids, there exists a constant tension. As a mom, I want to push
my children to do their best, but I don't want to be overbearing. I
want them to strive for excellence...but don't want them to be enslaved
by perfectionism. Structure to our day and to our activities is
essential...but I must not be obsessively bound to a calendar or a
clock. I want to respect their personalities...but I don't want to
cater to their personal sins. Add to all of this the struggles I have
with my own sinfulness, my own wrong attitudes and motives.
in the back of my mind, there is the question, "Am I doing what's best?
Am I asking too little of my children, or am I asking too much?" This
question is a thin blanket over the fear that all my prayers and good
intentions and hard choices and personal sacrifices and lifelong labor
are working not
to build up my children and encourage them on the path to godly
adulthood, but rather are warping and twisting them into self-absorbed,
perverse, angry malcontents who know nothing of the holiness, grace, and
mercy of God.
There are good days and bad days in this mothering journey.
makes a particular day "good" or "bad"? Maybe it's just that today is
gray and cold, whereas yesterday was warm and sunny. Maybe it's the
anticipation of a fun weekend ahead, or the emotional come-down after a
holiday. Maybe it's a particular day in my monthly cycle. Maybe it's
that we all are well-rested and well-fed...or exhausted and due for some
comfort food. Maybe it's unresolved issues with my husband, or
undesirable influences of my neighbor.
So today is a
bad day. Oh, we got all our schoolwork done. The laundry is caught up.
Dinner is in the oven. I even got to go for a walk back on the farm -
but I spent most of it crying, wondering what on earth I'm doing, and
why am I doing this, and did I just totally misunderstand what I thought
was God's direction in my life so many years back, and am I just
screwing up all the people I love most? Praying, God help me! Make something clear! Show me what You want, and help me to obey!
What's to be done with the bad days? With the heavy emotions?
starting supper, I checked Facebook. A dear sister had posted this
quote from Lydia Brownback as her status: "Real prayer includes letting
go of your insistence on a particular answer or timing. If you have
really prayed, you can simply rest and wait for God. Trust Him with
your concern, and your anxiety will clear away."
Rest. Wait. Trust.
it comes back to that again, to the Gospel. Where I have erred, Christ
must redeem, in His own way and in His own timing. He died to cover my
wife-ing, my mothering, my home-schooling...because I just keep
smearing those precious things with sin. But, yes, I am confident that
His grace is sufficient to redeem all of this.
must trust that His grace is sufficient to redeem the children that, as a
sinful and twisted woman, I am mothering with a fallen, broken heart.
When I was a kid, there were these cool markers that wrote with magical disappearing ink. You could write a secret message, then watch the words on the paper vanish right before your eyes. To make the words reappear, you simple colored over the apparently blank paper with a different magic marker. Voila! Your secret message was revealed!
And then there is the reverse kind of magic. Instead of disappearing until summoned forth, a thing reappears spontaneously, no matter how hard you try to remove it. Like the blood stains on Lady Macbeth's hands: "Out, damned spot!" No matter how thoroughly she scrubs, the spot reappears.
That second kind of magic is the kind infecting all my housework.
I washed all the laundry today. Washed, dried, folded, put away...all the laundry baskets were empty. Were empty. Now, magically, before the day is done, dirty clothes again occupy the baskets in the laundry room.
I washed dishes last night before I went to bed. This morning, magically, there were dirty dishes in the sink.
I cleaned the bathroom last Thursday. Today, toothpaste spatters the mirror and soap scum rings the bathtub.
I swept the floors Saturday evening. This evening, the floors are crunchy.
In the words of Gilderoy Lockhart, "It's just like magic!"
Last night for dinner, we ate meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green peas. It was delicious. I ate more than I should have. As I began cleaning dishes afterward, I thought, "Okay, that's it! I am so stuffed! Starting tomorrow, I am going to eat less!"
Has anyone besides me noticed that it is SO EASY to decide to eat less right AFTER a big meal?
My resolve lasted all the way until this morning. Actually, I completely forgot about it. Fortunately, I remembered just in time to not eat second breakfast. I forgot last night's resolve again about an hour before noon, when I caught myself reaching for a bag of tortilla chips to hold me over until lunch.
Ergh! Not overeating would be so much easier if I always felt as stuffed as I did last night after dinner!
I have noticed that a similar thing happens concerning housework. I spend half an hour digging through clutter to find something I need, or I shift piles and boxes when company comes over and then shift them back again when company leaves, or I haul a ton of junk off the floors so that I can mop this week, only to haul all that same junk off the floor again next week. While I'm digging frantically or hauling boxes, I think, "Okay! That's it! Starting tomorrow, I am going to begin decluttering!" And when tomorrow dawns, I forget.
It would be so much easier to remember to de-clutter if I could maintain the feeling of frustration that sets in when I am searching through junk for something I need or when I am moving boxes again so that I can mop the floor.
I have adopted a small thing/one thing strategy that has helped a little. I really want to get a lot done at once, so that I can step back and admire the fruit of my labor. Doing a little at a time produces such slow, underwhelming results. It is difficult, sometimes, to persevere.
Today, I emptied a laundry basket that has been sitting on my bedroom floor for over a year. It was full of clothes that needed to be ironed, clothes that no one wears because no one wants to iron them.
People only iron their favorite things, those items that float briefly at the top of the basket for a day, two days at the max - that one pair of pants, those two shirts. Everything else gets piled in the basket, pressed down, buried, forgotten.
My house doesn't look any cleaner for my having emptied that one laundry basket. I am not any thinner for skipping the tortilla chips and eating a salad for lunch. I can't point and say "Ta Da!" and no one else is going to say, "Wow! You cleaned out that laundry basket!" or "Your pants look the tiniest bit less tight! That is awesome!"
So, I'm telling you HERE, right now, because I want to celebrate. If I don't celebrate small accomplishments, I may not get to celebrate at all!
My "baby" is seventeen years old. It has been several years since I had a small child living in my house.
I remember those days, though - the days of endlessly cycling through meals and laundry and playing games and picking up toys and reading storybooks and naps and meals and more laundry and...At the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted because you've been on your feet going full-throttle for 15-16-18 hours, and you're disheartened because, as tired as you are, when you look around at your messy house and the unfinished ToDo list, you feel like you haven't accomplished one darn thing!
I remember...except that I don't. Not really. Time has erased some of the fatigue and much of the sense of futility.
I kept baby Lizzy yesterday while her mom attended a class in Martin.
On my Monday ToDo list were: Write two articles (one, 2000 words; one, 500 words); research marketing; read other writers on writing; catch up on emails and write two letters; clean out email inbox; catch up on laundry; exercise;...
What I actually did was: play with Play-Doh; color; read books; fix snacks and lunch; make multiple trips to the potty (I lost count); play outside in the yard; swing on the porch swing;...
When Lizzy and her mom finally headed down the driveway toward their home yesterday afternoon, I headed back inside and pulled out my neglected ToDo list. "I did not get a single thing done today!" I lamented.
But then I caught myself. "No, that's not right," I corrected myself, "I got a LOT done today!" (Just not anything on that ToDo list!)
Later, I was talking with my youngest - the seventeen-year-old - and I commented how easily I had slipped back into that wrong thinking that says play and parenting (or grandparenting) aren't "real" work because they don't enable you to check off boxes on a list of objectives.
That got me to thinking about how tired I so often felt as a young mother of many children, and how so often I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything visible/measurable at each day's end. No matter how hard I worked, there were always more dirty clothes in the laundry room floor, more dirty dishes in the sink, more books and toys scattered over the living room floor, more noses and bottoms to wipe, more boo-boos to kiss...
So today, fresh on the wake-up call I received yesterday, I want to say to all you young mothers out there:
Yours is a high and holy and honorable calling. It may not look like it, and it often won't feel like it, but you are accomplishing great and glorious things in your messy, ordinary, exhausting, day-to-day existence. You are nurturing eternal souls and raising up a new generation of warriors and warrior-princesses.
Young mother: you are a queen among women.
Yesterday, I did not accomplish anything on my ToDo list. No, I had far greater things to do instead.
Lizzy found Uncle Thomas's cool sunglasses. "Take my picture and send it to Mamaw!" she exclaimed.
You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, training them up in God's fear, minding the house and making your household a church of God as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts. - Charles H. Spurgeon
In no particular order, here are ten things I am thankful for today:
1. Sunshine and cooler temperatures.
2. Morning coffee and time to read my Bible on the front porch swing.
3. I have gas in the van and groceries for the week ahead.
4. Helen and I knocked out some overdue schoolwork this morning - woohoo!
5. My wonderful next-door neighbors.
6. Dennis, Justin, Abby, and Carly - because you love my children well, and
because you are awesome people.
7. Geneva, Lizzy, Felix, Jules, and Baby P - blessings upon blessings!
8. Opportunities to write - not just for myself, but for others, too.
9. The encouragement and support of my children - Wow. Just, Wow.
10. Friends and family who have crossed over to Glory, whose memories
tug my heart toward home.
TAG! It's your turn now - what are you thankful for today?
"Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." - Exodus 20:12
I had joined my youngest daughter and a couple of her friends for lunch on campus yesterday. We were sitting around a conference table in a large study room that opened into the main hallway of the science and engineering building.
A man passed by the door, then stepped back and looked into the room. Crossing to where our lunch group sat, he looked at me and asked, "Are you Benjamin Kendall's mom?"
He smiled and thrust his hand toward me. "I thought so!" he exclaimed. The engineering professor told me his name as he shook my hand. "It is a privilege to meet you, Mrs. Kendall!"
(Yep, I'm the mother of a celebrity!)
* * *
"Honor your father and mother..."
Dad and Mom and I have been through some rough patches over the years. There have been times when I've thought, "Yes, I love my parents, but how on earth am I supposed to honor them? What does that even mean in light of present circumstances?!"
During one of these difficult periods, a friend challenged me this way: Honoring your parents, he explained, does not mean always agreeing with them. When you are an adult, it does not mean always doing what they say or want. What it does mean is that you strive to live in such a way that others assume very good things about your parents. It means, you endeavor to be an honorable person, one whose life reflects honorably on her parents.
My friend's words were so freeing. At the time, I couldn't "fix" what was wrong in my relationship with my parents. I could, however, try to live in a way that brought my parents honor.
As if to confirm my friend's counsel, God blessed me soon after in this way:
Dad had just arrived at our house from out-of-town for a visit. Stopping by on an errand, my pastor pulled up in the driveway right behind Dad.
When I introduced the two men, my pastor's face lit up and he held out his hand. "It is such an honor to meet you, Mr. Stricklin!"
"You shouldn't say that, young man," Daddy teased, shaking the younger man's hand. "You don't know a thing about me!"
"No, but I know your daughter," my pastor explained, "and so I can truthfully say, it is a great honor to meet you, Mr. Stricklin."
I almost burst into tears on the spot, grateful that my pastor thought well of my dad without having even met him, simply because of the things he assumed about my dad from having known me. It felt like I had both been given and been the giver of a precious gift.
* * *
"Honor your father and mother..."
My own kids have honored their mother greatly - not by always doing exactly what I would choose or by giving me fancy gifts or by winning prestigious awards, but, in a strange sort of way, by covering my nakedness.
I have failed abysmally at times as a mother, as a teacher, as a mentor, and as a friend. But instead of letting my failures define how they relate to me, my kids have chosen to relate to me with forgiveness, gratitude, and affection. Out in the big wide world, they have lived in such a way- in all their great variety of ways! - that others assume (not always rightly so) good things about me and incredible things about my role as a mother.
I could go down the entire list, name my seven children one by one, and tell you about all the times someone has said to me, "You are ------'s mom? Oh! It is such an honor to meet you!"
No. The honor is not yours, dear person that I just met - oddly enough, and not because I merit it, the honor is mine. I am overwhelmed.
Wish You Were Here: Letters From the Foot of the Cross
It is difficult to imagine that someone with an ideal family, a Ninja body, and a six-digit income can relate to my messy life in the middle of a hay field: my pants are too tight, my marriage is stressed, and my closets are a disaster.
But the truth is, life is messy...whether you look like you have your act together or not. If you are struggling in the trenches of life with muck up to your eyeballs, then you and I have something in common. Welcome!
This collection of "letters" explores the practical implications of the gospel for the nitty-gritty business of everyday life. Join me on a journey to discover strength for the day, encouragement to persevere, and flashes of joy to brighten the way.