as the fog clears

It seems like we’re always coming out of a rough stretch. For the past year, what Brigid Schulte calls “the Overwhelm” has hovered thick and fog-like. I felt the daily, dreaded mix of chaos and boredom, overwhelm and aimlessness. The fog is just now beginning to clear, and I am nearing the end of a long weekend with my husband–a weekend spent defining our family values and wrestling with their implications in our daily lives. We are tired of being tired; we are tired of the weight of constant failure. Yet we are aware of our reality: we are in the season of life with little people demanding all available time and attention. Our ambitions outweigh our current capabilities and we are sick of doing everything halfway. So we spent our time away pondering changes to implement and what it looks like to embrace a life marked by rest instead of chaos, presence instead of distraction.

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A few months ago, we moved out of our 100-year old farmhouse back into civilization and away from 8-foot snow drifts and dying cats, and we thought this change would begin the slow and steady process to reclaiming our sanity. Instead, it marked a new level of Overwhelm. In what was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever made, we closed our foster care license and said goodbye to our foster daughter of 10 months. In the midst of that grief, and as we began home renovations and transitioned to homeschooling, we learned that my mother-in-law has untreatable, stage 4 breast cancer. Suddenly the stress of the last year paled in comparison to what stood before us.

Praise God for a community of people who rallied around us, bringing encouragement in the form of meals and paint brushes and table saws. Praise God that what felt like it might kill us has instead profoundly revealed to us (again) that He is good and faithful and wise and loving.

As I reflect on the last year, I’m not impressed by how I’ve handled our constantly-changing circumstances. I found myself responding poorly at the smallest trigger. With four children underfoot, there was never a shortage of needs or laundry. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so angry, so stressed, so exhausted. I struggled to sleep well, was always rushing, never felt like I was doing enough.

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Anger, discontentment, stress–all of these point to my control issues. Somewhere along the way (all along the way?) I started to believe the lie that it was up to me to hold it all together. I would strategize and make plans and then become furious when things did not go my way. I wanted to be in charge and pretended it was actually possible for me to assert this level of control. After all, what if I don’t like what God comes up with? What if His plans are not my plans, His ways not my ways?

The reality is, of course, my expectations of control are unfounded. My control is like that of the farmer–I do what I can, but ultimately I do not control the weather.

So I am reminded once again of this: God is God; I am not.

Living with a settled conviction that God is in control suddenly changes my perspective on interruptions. Believing that He is working all things for my good and his glory doesn’t keep me from analyzing failures and disappointments for areas of learning and growth, but it does stop me from beating myself up or raging against whoever “got in the way,” because I can rest knowing that even this failure–even this disappointment–is accomplishing something in and around me that I do not see.

My inability to live this way betrays something worse–I am clinging to control because, deep down, I wonder if God is really good. Is he really for me? Does he really care?

I’ve written before about the importance of believing in God’s sovereignty and goodness. As I went back and re-read that post, I was struck by its date: March 17th, 2014. What I didn’t know then is that the next day, we would accept our foster care placement. The next day, our lives changed. The. next. day. How sweet the Lord is, that he would remind me of the truth I would need to cling to in order to survive the next year.

How forgetful I am.

One day in January, I was drowning. Grieving our foster daughter, my mother-in-law, and a house in shambles, I couldn’t get through the question, “How are you?” without bursting into tears. It was one of those rough stretches where you wonder if you’ll ever just feel “okay” again–one of those days where, instead of embracing the rain, you curse the clouds.

That day, we sang Amazing Grace at Bible study. I couldn’t sing through sobs but these words settled in and became a comfort through the months that have followed:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

The fog does clear. Not because circumstances are guaranteed to change, or because we will suddenly get everything we’ve been hoping for. Not because we can suddenly anticipate and control everything that will come–what we fear the most may actually come to pass. Our house is still unfinished. Homeschooling is still way over my head. I’m still sad that our foster care story didn’t end as I’d hoped. My mother-in-law is still very sick.

But the fog clears as I remember that I am not in charge. And the One who is? He is good. So good that He saw me like this–doubting him, questioning him, forgetting his goodness, desperately fighting for control–and he sent his Son to die for me anyway.

The fog clears because it descended upon Jesus as he hung on that cross.

And even though I know I’ll probably forget it time and time again, I will head home, back to the Overwhelm, preaching this truth to my failing heart once more: God is God. He is good. And he is everything I need.

 

when “being transparent” is really just complaining

It has been a challenging eight months.

Well, really it hasn’t been an easy three-and-a-half years. Between figuring out marriage, 4 pregnancies, 2 babies, 3 foster care placements, 1 puppy come-and-gone, 9-foot snow drifts, that skunk, challenges in friendships and ministry, and so. many. cats. (among other things), there’s never a dull moment at The Dahl House. Uninterrupted sleep is a distant memory and most days I feel like my mind is barely hanging on. Marriage is hard. Foster care is hard. Parenting is hard. Oftentimes, I’d rather just stay in bed and dream of the days when I drank coffee that was still hot and read books from beginning to end and remembered enough to actually talk about intelligent things with other grown-ups.

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And this probably isn’t a secret to most of you. I have a high value for transparency. I’m over the Super Mom facade. I will tell the ugly truth because it needs to be talked about. I will tell you that my husband can make me angrier than anyone in the world and yet sometimes I want him to be my everything. I will tell you that I didn’t always dream of motherhood–that it’s really hard for me. I will tell you because I need to know, too, that I’m not alone. I’m not the only woman who feels constantly torn between her dreams and reality. I’m not the only mom who’s ever yelled at her kids, who’s ever done things just because she thought she was supposed to, who’s ever tried to be good enough to make Jesus notice. I’m not the only woman with a shameful past who lives redeemed and free yet sometimes still a little sad and broken. I’m not the only one who sometimes finds herself trying to make up for it all.

As women we are so prone to comparing and competing and I want to force myself to be uncomfortably transparent because it is so much more natural for me to hide and pretend like I have it all together. I’d rather you think I’m awesome than be honest and tell you that I just blew it with my kids. I’d rather you think my family has it all together than confess that lately there is little peace among the chaos.

But I choose to be real because I want you to be real with me.

Because I think being real is evidence of a life lived before the cross.

When we live before the cross, we are humbled. We see that there is no one righteous, not even one. We see that we all have a great debt.

And Jesus paid it all.

I want to live my life before the cross. And part of that is realizing I have nothing to prove to you. So I can tell the truth about the hard because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. And with Paul I will boast in the things that show my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), to show that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to [me].” (2 Cor. 4:7)

However.

I’ve been starting to wonder if my transparency has merged with complaining.

I don’t think it’s a fine line to walk. I don’t think I tiptoe up to the edge of complaining and try really hard not to fall over. No, I think the way of Christ is that radical middle–the yellow and not the gray. So I started to wonder what that could look like. And I began to pray and ask God: What does it look like to be transparent about what’s hard without just complaining? Do I think I’m complaining just because people are clearly bothered by my transparency? Am I fearing people instead of fearing the Lord? Is that their problem or mine? Am I sinfully grumbling and need to change something? But what if it really is just…hard? Do I lie? Skirt around the truth?

Last week at church, my husband and I stopped on the way out the door for a quick conversation with a friend holding his brand new baby #3. We asked how he was doing, and while I was mostly distracted with the balancing act of two two-year-olds, a purse, and a diaper bag, I caught some things about rough sleep and the usual new baby hard things. As I began to push Jordan forward, ready to wave goodbye and get out the door with our stressful brood, he said something that caught me off guard: Yes, it’s hard, but you know, the blessings outweigh the hardships.

The blessings outweigh the hardships.

There it was. Answered prayer in the form of a two-minute passing conversation. The radical middle. Transparency rooted in gratitude.

Our friend did not pretend that it wasn’t hard. He told the truth. But he was awed by the blessing of the new life he held in his arms–by the life of his other two littles wiggling beside him as he talked to us–by his sweet wife who was enduring the hard with grace–and he couldn’t just stand there and complain to us in the name of transparency.

And I think his gratitude stretched beyond the tangible blessings surrounding him. I think this friend realizes that even if life is hard, even if everything is going wrong, if he has Christ, he has all he needs.

Last Thanksgiving, I wrote about that. If I have Jesus, I have all I need.

Oh, how forgetful I am.

When we live before the cross, we are humbled, yes, but if we are only aware of our need and not left breathless with wonder at God’s gracious provision, we have not stood there long enough. 

The cross levels us all and frees us to be transparent; but the cross ought to also provoke us to thanksgiving so that every ounce of transparency is rooted in gratitude.

So we tell the truth about what’s hard, but as we do we can declare with confidence that God is Good. And it’s not a pithy platitude but rather a settled conviction that even if all seems to be going wrong, we know that God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1). We know that he has promised to work all things for our good and his glory (Romans 8). And we know that he has already met our deepest need at the cross.

It’s cliche to write about thankfulness at Thanksgiving. But I’m thankful for the lesson nonetheless. And for the God who is patient enough to teach it to me over and over again.

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