Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Out of the Cul de Sac

In a recent post I mentioned  the circuitous, 'broken road' God has used to guide to various ministries in the last 10-15 years. Someone reached out and asked me to elaborate. Although this is a bit longer than usual, I did want to record this for future reference...as a reminder to myself (and anyone else who could use it) that our God wastes nothing, especially our perceived failures and inadequacies.

In 2002, impacted by the unplanned pregnancies of two people close to me--one who chose to abort and one who chose to parent as an unwed Mama--I volunteered with a crisis pregnancy center in Charlottesville, Virginia. The training and subsequent encounters with clients opened my eyes to the complexity of the issues facing young, often impoverished, women. 

Some I counseled elected to carry their children to term. Others did not. This ministry was pro-life and we were trained to represent Jesus to these women regardless of their choices. We spoke with truth and love about the sanctity of life--and offered small group Bible study support for those who terminated, as they dealt with the emotional consequences of that choice. I learned a lot about compassion, grace and that life is multi-layered and a lot more complicated than most of us care to admit.

It was compelling work until I received my own infertility diagnosis. Frankly, having these women weep and fret over unplanned/unwanted pregnancy when I couldn't conceive was brutal. They weren't ready--emotionally, financially, circumstantially. I felt that Ryland & I were. It didn't seem fair. God's economy surely didn't work like mine. Feeling much like the Prodigal's frustrated older brother, I realized that perhaps it was no longer my season. I wasn't mature enough to represent the grace of God to this women at that point in my life. My heart was simply too tender to love them and not make it about me. A couple of months before we moved to Georgia, I stepped away from the ministry. 

As much as I felt like a failure walking away, my heart knew it was the right thing to do at the time. It is so interesting, looking back at how God was setting me up for His next step. During my hiatus God used different experiences to turn my heart to how to support vulnerable, ill equipped Mamas and their children.

We moved to Georgia and within weeks of our arrival a co-worker took me to visit a local home for foster children. One brief lunch time visit and I was hooked! I have spent the last decade serving as a board member, Bible Study leader, and various volunteer roles. As my own children have aged, the schedule of after school time with the group home kids has been harder to maintain.

I have loved dozens of 'system' kids through the years, growing particularly close to 6-8 that I remain in contact with to this day. I am watching them start to have their own children...praying the cycles of poverty and abuse don't repeat themselves.

This is the social issue that breaks my heart. When I am immersed in this work, I feel alive. Even when it exhausts me, it is the best kind of tired. This middle aged lady is finding her ministry groove one God placed twist and turn at a time.

One of the more surprising things I have observed over the years of working with foster kids is that NO MATTER how terrible the circumstances and stories these kids have been rescued from, they feel an unbelievable pull to return to their Mamas. Many of their mothers are addicts or mentally unstable and these 'kids' want to rescue, protect and return even when their Moms haven't necessarily done any of those things for them. The instinctual pull of family is astounding. Watching this story unfold time and time again has left an indelible mark on my heart. 

Last Fall I was at a foster advocacy meeting when I heard someone speak of a new ministry designed to serve the parents who the court system is hoping to reunify with their children. The idea is to give these parents supportive Christian mentors to walk through life with instead of simply returning to their old haunts when times are tough. This is it, I thought...a way to impact generations by digging in deep and loving hard on one family.

I have only recently been called upon to volunteer but I am already learning so much. The first 'assignment' I had was to drive C and her baby to the pediatrician for a check up. I cleared my calendar one day while the children were in school to allow unrushed time--but alas, life happened. As I was on the way to pick up C & her baby I received a call about an appointment change for one of my own children. The doctor had unexpectedly been summoned out of town so I needed to get my son in within two hours or be postponed a week. I arrived at C's apartment, started loading the car seat and explained to her that my schedule had imploded. Then I laughed. "We will work it out one way or the other."

I was embarrassed. This was my first go at being a "mentor." I was supposed to have it together, right? Instead I was running late, in a kid-dirty car and having to adjust my schedule unexpectedly. As I was mentally calculating how to pull off everything that needed to happen, while still giving C my best she tilted her head to the side, looked at me and said, "It's cool to know someone who can laugh when it all turns out different than you thought. My old friends just throw in the towel when things get complicated and go back to using (drugs)."

I laughed again at the irony. I really wanted to glorify God by being an example to C. and He chose to humble me from the outset instead. The lesson God had for her was not in my perfection--far from it. The lesson was in my acceptance of and attitude around imperfection. 

A couple of months ago I was paired with my own mentee, but I think of her as a new friend. She has been sober over a year and is an amazing young woman up against some tough odds. Frankly, I am already learning a lot more from her than she is from me...about tenacity, faith, hard work and rising to the occasion. We recently had a situation where I really wanted to lighten her load, but circumstances again disrupted the plan. I showed up and waited outside her job as planned, but she couldn't get off work. I drove away feeling like my afternoon had been wasted and she texted that she was blown away at how valued she felt. "I can't believe you care about me enough to just sit in the parking lot for two hours."

Apparently that time wasn't wasted at all. It was an investment.

Presence, not perfection...it is really all people are really longing for.

Tonight I attended my first monthly support group meeting with these addicts in recovery fighting hard to rebuild their lives and regain custody of their children. I felt like I was in an episode of "which of these does not look like the others." Many of the women wore visible, outward signs of their challenging pasts. I was the outlier but they didn't make me feel different. I was greeted warmly and treated like one of the group. I sat around a table of a dozen women smack in the middle of accepting God's grace and making new choices every day to dig out of the holes old sin (and difficult backgrounds) got them in. As we talked about parenting, the differences subsided. We were women, mothers, daughters with much in common at the heart level.

It was so raw, so real and so refreshingly good for my soul.

God takes me out of my comfortable bubble to reinforce a truth that transcends all people. Show up, with love, humility and a willingness to serve with a flexible attitude. Remember that He is not looking for our perfection, He is looking for our obedience. God isn't seeking a picturesque performance, He is chasing our hearts.

Sunday at church my friend Ashley spoke about her experience with missions and ministry using the phrase "get out of your cul de sac." It has rolled around in my heart and mind for the last couple of days.

This world tells us to work hard so we can protect, insulate and move to suburbs, gated communities, safer ground...but, ya'll, this is NOT the Gospel. Jesus' ministry was gritty, vulnerable, raw, unpredictable, riddled with 'interruptions' and life upon life.

I feel torn between my life of airbags, insurance, security systems and private school and most of the places the Lord calls me to show up and serve. I am aware of the tension. I ask God if it is hypocrisy.

Frankly, it is often easier for me to go on short term missions to the local Soup Kitchen than it is for me to love other Moms in carline. Most days I'd rather stay windows up, seat warmers on, reading that get out and connect. I can enter in and bow out of that other world...sometimes the real gritty work is loving people who look and act more like me. God wants me to love them both because He does.

The women at my meeting tonight wore their issues on their sleeve, because once you hit rock bottom there is no hiding anymore. I was reminded that all the insulating, fluffing and dressing up some of the rest of us do to our lives is actually keeping us isolated not just from 'the dangerous world' but from the beauty of true community and love.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

These Two

Daddy Daughter Dance 2015

I think they like each other.

Her sweet Daddy melts me. 
Be still my heart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Old Dogs and Brave Love

In the first year of our marriage, Ryland & I lived in a little apartment in Virginia. We knew we were only there for a year of training, so our time was spent dreaming and planning our future. Purchasing a home with a yard and getting a dog were top priorities.

We obsessed over the adoption of our chocolate lab, Haley, as eager new parents. When she arrived 8 weeks after we settled into our home, we received her with great joy. As our first 'baby,' we doted on her to no end. It makes me giggle to think of the videos we made and photos we took of her antics.

Within six weeks of receiving her into our family, we discovered I was pregnant. Contemplating all the ways life was about to change for us, my ever-practical, realist husband observed, "The average lab lives 12 years, that means our kids will be around 11 when she dies. It's going to absolutely break their hearts."

At the time I had 1,000 other fears and concerns about having triplets, many of which seemed more pressing. In the years since, as I have watched the pure, unadulterated love between our family and this dog I have heard Ryland's words echo in my heart. "When she dies, it is absolutely going to break their hearts."

The words poke at the temptation in all parents to protect our children from hurtful things. (And, honestly, my own heart as I spend the most time with her each day.) But what if inevitably painful things are also gifts in the meantime?

As Haley ages, her personality becomes even sweeter and more endearing. We understand each other in the rhythm of daily life. She's an ever faithful friend--Sorry to see you go and delighted to see you return.

Her face is a distinguished grey. Her kind deep brown eyes are beginning to cloud. Her run is a bit more of a bounce. But her wagging tail and happy grunts show that there is still a great deal of spirit in those bones!

Although she is healthy and happy now, at 11 1/2 years old she is not going to be around more than a couple additional years. Our whole family knows were are on the backstretch of life with her. I am mindful every time one of my people pauses to rub her or we sit and talk adoringly about what a good dog she is we are deepening our bond with her.

Our love for her is bittersweet. We know we aren't promised forever with her, but we continue to love her more every day right here in the present. Despite the loss and heartbreak her passing will certainly bring to us eventually, we are grateful for the gift of her now. The knowledge that the future is ticking has actually made us love her more rather than less.

Inevitable heartbreak: This is the risk of love, of friendship , of investment in anything in this temporal world. It is all passing.

It would be absurd to try to stop my family's bonding with Haley in order to protect their hearts from her future loss. I suppose we could have re-homed her years ago when the reality of our potential heartbreak was first contemplated---but, oh, what we would have missed. We are all richer for the love of this dog.

When I spend time with her lately, the reminder seems to seep into so many other facets of my life.

This is a scary world, fraught with pitfalls and obstacles--arrows that take aim at our hearts. It can be tempting to try and isolate ourselves from loss, hurt, difficulty, risk...but attempts to do so are in vain. Efforts to keep the pain out, keep deep love at bay too.

This is real life, not a fairy tale. Hearts can't be locked away in impenetrable towers. Hurt, loss, disappointment are an unavoidable part of the deal...but so is love, laughter, compassion, warm memories and countless other positive emotions when we open ourselves up to give and receive. I think it is a worthy trade that teaches us much about life, not just dogs.

Let us love courageously.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Marriage in the Middle

Today marks my 13th wedding anniversary. I am 40. My children are in the double digits. If life were a novel, we are currently in that middle section where people decide if this story is worth sticking with or they should move on to another.

I envision Donald Miller's metaphor from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years of an overnight kayaking expedition in British Columbia...there was vigor in the beginning and a visible, beckoning goal in the end...but several critical hours of the expedition were spent paddling in the darkness in the dead of night. Miller observed:

“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids ... But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.” 
― Donald MillerA Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Life gets tricky in the middle. All the starry eyed gusto that propelled us forward in the early days has faded. Our dreams have encountered reality. We don't have to imagine 'for better or for worse' because we can think of real life experiences with both.  I watch young friends starting their marriages and their parenting journeys with big plans, sweeping pronouncements of how they will and won't do things and Pinterest boards packed with ideas. I admire that sparkle and spunk, but compare it to my own daily life here in the middle which is 95% no glamour, no glory, just rowing through the middle.

Ryland & I strive to live with intentionality. And yet, as some of the shine has worn off we frequently  remind each other that even epic stories have a lot of mundane parts--days where we just need to do the work, not flake out,  finish strong. I can remember the warnings from couples ahead of us that sometimes marriage could be work and I scoffed. Work? What a terrible thought! This adorable man will never be work--and, of course, I won't be either!

Now I know that perhaps the better word choice would be that marriage requires paying attention and making adjustments--small ones constantly like a skilled sailor rather than drastic ones in an emergency because you've drifted off course. 

I adore my husband. There is no one else on the planet I could imagine partnering with for this journey of  life. And still, we are sinners--broken, inherently selfish and easily distracted.  The tide of the world, the current of circumstances can distract me and tempt me to  forget--especially out here in the middle.

Even though he is my favorite person and my partner, our daily lives are very different. My husband spends his days dealing with tumors, sterile equipment and diagnoses. I spend mine with children, disenfranchised people, Bible study & household chores. 

Some days we struggle to finish a simple conversation, but we don't stop trying because he is my person. Real life requires that we spend time in 'divide and conquer' mode, but we can't stay in that mode if we are to remain a unit.  Some days it is easier than others to  fight my way through the haze of bills, child discipline, household chores and other mundane topics to catch a glimpse that reminds me how I passionately love that man. 

 I am fascinated by the fact that otters  hold onto one another so they don't float away while they are sleeping. It is an adorable (and powerful) reminder for married people. 

Drifting may well be the greatest threat to 'good' relationships.

In 13 years of marriage (and 4 years of dating before that) there has been ebb and flow in our relationship. Ryland & I are both fiercely independent. The pull of the world, our own pride, calendars and external demands are such that we must stay tethered so we don't drift away.

And when we do start to feel the distance, it is absolutely worth the effort to reach out and reel each other back in.  This looks like making time together a priority, simple texts, or a stolen lunch date. And some days it is just a big hug and the words: "Hey, I'm on your team."

As much as I love those otters, when it comes to marriage, holding onto each other is not enough. Although if I were to float away with anyone, he would be my choice, we must also be anchored--to unchanging truth through a relationship with the Lord. 

Our very romantic gift to one another was an exercise rower--our aging metabolisms made that more practical than anything else, but since I've realized the tie in to the Donald Miller metaphor it seems especially appropriate.

This morning the alarm sounded at 5:40 and the love of my life kissed me and said "Happy Anniversary." It was just a moment of romance because there were pets to feed, showers to take, email to return, kids to wake, breakfast to make...but it was a moment that I have carried all day.

I've learned that the whirlwind romance stuff of novels isn't my thing anyway--it is the faithfully showing up in real life, laughing at ourselves, being quick to forgive and seeking & serving the Lord together that sweeps me off my feet.

This is the good stuff...not because it is easy, but because it is deep, true, real and absolutely worth pursuing.

As the kids were packing up for school a little later K slipped me a note with a grin. As I looked at her homemade anniversary card I was reminded that we are not only living out a huge ministry to one another, our marriage is telling a story to our children and to the world at large.

“Marriage is one of the most humbling, sanctifying journeys you will ever be a part of. It forces us to wrestle with our selfishness and pride. But it also gives us a platform to display love and commitment.” 

"We loved because He first loved us." -I John 1:9

God designed marriage. It is the most challenging and the most rewarding opportunity we have to practice Christ-like love in this life. God willing, we have a lot of years and their share of trials, triumphs and lessons ahead.

For better or for worse, I am incredibly grateful this man is mine.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

But what about...

Five years ago this Spring, after a brutal battle with metastatic melanoma, my friend Sweeney died. He was a bright star, full of life, doing meaningful work. To see his life on Earth end at the age of 35 rocked a lot of worlds in my circle.

Sweeney left behind a wife, Cabell, who is one of my most treasured friends.They had a beautiful marriage, a shared passion for ministry and a crazy awesome gift for loving people. As we dealt with the shock of Sweeney's terminal diagnosis and the disappointment that it did not appear God planned to heal him on this Earth, the focus of our fear and concern turned to Cabell.

They had been married 12 years, moved to our town (without any family nearby) because of a call to launch a Young Life ministry here and had not yet had children. As Cabell fought with Sweeney against the monster of cancer, her friends mourned for her too. Sweeney would go to heaven with Jesus, but she would remain here to deal with the loss of her best friend and mate, the death of her fairy tale and an uncertain future.

As my friends & I prayed in those days I asked God, "What about Cabell?" She was a faithful servant. She trusted God with her future. We boldly prayed for a Job-like turnaround for her life. We asked God to heal her heart, bring her another amazing husband and give her the gift of children. This was the picture of redemption we all had for her life. That He would "restore the years the locusts had eaten" with another fairy tale.

That was 2010.

Years have ticked by, a 40th birthday passed and no husband or babies have come. And, yet, we have all been witnesses to unbelievable life, growth, hope and redemption in Cabell's life. In her grief she dug deeper into God's Word. In her sorrow she turned out instead of in--constantly opening her home to opportunities for meaningful hospitality. She may not have been given a husband but she has a huge extended family that loves her fiercely. And the love that has been poured into her has overflowed onto countless others.

I have been blessed to witness the unfolding of her story one faithful, obedient step at a time. As life goes, we can sometimes miss the full, cumulative glory of a story this way...like noticing the growth of your own children that you see daily as opposed to observing it in someone else's from a distance.

Recently, however, a moment happened that demanded that I pause and build a metaphorical altar to the faithfulness of God. This is a story that has become a part of my faith life. I wanted to write this so I (or my children) do not forget.

Saturday, Cabell took the stage at Young Life's Sharptop Cove as the camp speaker, the same stage where Sweeney shared the Gospel while suffering from terminal cancer. He was baptized in the lake there, and it is the final resting place of his ashes. From that stage, Cabell delivered a message of hope despite circumstances to a packed house of over 600 people.

As I sat in that place amidst a group of hundreds of silent, attentive teenagers listening to her share, I was overwhelmed with the echoes of my question to God during the hard days, "What about Cabell?"

I couldn't help but be struck by how my love and concern for my friend's future somehow translated into a distrust of the plan her Creator, Father, Redeemer had for her life all along.

Yet, through her faithfulness, God is using her and her story in mighty ways. So far that hasn't included a husband and babies, but Sunday morning it included 100 high school kids receiving Bibles for the first time--at their request. Their question wasn't "What about Cabell?" it was, what can you tell me about her God?

This experience left a lesson resonating in my soul because, honestly, I have a handful of people I am asking God not to forget about right now...

God, what about the Mama I know whose husband is currently battling a life threatening illness? Lord, what about the mentally ill Mama I know who is fighting hard to hang on? Lord, what about that toddler I know whose Mama is an addict? Jesus, what about that single friend of mine who longs desperately to be a wife? God, what about that friend whose husband just lost his job and faces an uncertain future? (I could go on and on.)

In all of it I hear God say, "I love them so much more than you do. I have plans you couldn't even begin to imagine. I specialize in redemption, resurrection, beauty from ashes. Trust me. I got this."

It brought to mind my daughter's new approach to Christmas. This year rather than laundry list wishes to Santa she asked instead that he surprise her. When I pressed her to see if she was sure she replied confidently, "Yes, he always gives things I love and wouldn't have even thought to ask for."

And so it is with our God. He knows us better than we know ourselves, has an eternal perspective rather than a circumstantial one and loves us beyond our comprehension. He is worthy of our trust.

I realize I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of "What about these circumstances?" I should have been asking, "What about our incredible God?"

Monday, January 19, 2015

This is Forty (a few of my new favorite things)

Turning 40 back in October was far less traumatic for me than all the black balloons and middle aged marketing would lead one to believe. Perhaps it is because so many of my friends had walked the road ahead of me. I didn't mind turning 40 so much.

Actually being 40 has been a bit more of a shock to my system. For the first couple of months the age felt a little weighty. I suppose it is fact that with a 4 in front of my age, I am certifiably, undeniably an adult. (As if home ownership, marriage and three children weren't enough to make that plain...)

Some days I step back and giggle at my middle aged self.
I now choose classical music, noise cancelling headphones, NPR and the National Geographic Channel.
I enjoy historical fiction when not reading non-fiction.
I dress in layers.
I am trying to actually use a purse and wear a few accessories.
I don't get carded when I purchase a bottle of wine.
I no longer prickle when I am called ma'am.
And my great aunt's old fur coat that has been hanging in my closet unworn for 10 years is actually starting to feel close to age appropriate.

I have realized there are some parts of being 40 that I greatly enjoy...and they are not things I would have guessed. Tonight I was thinking about my top three lessons from the first three months in my 40s.

1. Courage
Last month I had an opportunity to join my husband for a quick two night trip to Montreal for a meeting. He was busy for 9 hours the one full day we were there, leaving me alone in a French speaking city that I'd never visited. I brought lots to read and had planned on simply retreating in my hotel room, until I looked outside the window and felt that would be a shame. So, clueless and Francais-less I put on a coat and boots and went exploring alone. Much to my delight, it was OK. I figured things out. I got lost and didn't panic. I ate alone. I watched a parade by myself. And unlike a similar experience 15 years ago in Hong Kong where I gave up and went back to the safety of my hotel room rather than brave the unknown, I felt strong, competent & Ok with being a stranger. I didn't feel like a lost little girl, but rather, an adult adventurer.

This is the part of middle age I wish more people celebrated. Not the wrinkles, sags and grey hair but the moments of realizing the strength and confidence God has built line upon line in our lives. It presents itself in interesting places, especially as we navigate the often foreign terrain of parenting, marriage and the other responsibilities of adulthood.

I had some funny conversations with God as I wandered the grey, chilly streets of Montreal. I was a foreign stranger with a silly grin on my face as I walked, thanking the Lord for all the LIFE that had happened in 15 years that had taught me to trust Him and to be brave.

2. Perspective
I love having lived long enough to see the 'broken road' moments of life have really been forming a path. Especially in ministry, I am blown away when I step back and consider how God has used so many parts of my life that I thought were lows to equip me to love others decades later. Pausing long enough to look back always reminds me of His Faithfulness and that He's always had a plan.

I could write an entire other post outlining some of the ways this has come together incredibly lately...I continue to see how nothing is wasted in God's economy and so many life experiences I would not have chosen have molded and shaped my story into something that can encourage and support others in unlikely places and ways.

3. Quiet
I have always been a communicator. Always. I am a talker, a writer, a verbal processor...but lately I have realized that the more strongly and passionately I feel about something, the more cautious I am in speaking about it. Once upon a time I would have considered quiet a cop out or complacency. I am in a season where I increasingly see it as wisdom.

I was recently watching a youth basketball game with a player who dominated ball possession. Each time he got the ball he shot--it didn't matter if it was a good shot, he just took advantage of every single opportunity. It was frenetic and although there were 3-4 dozen opportunities, he missed every single one. It occurred to me that this has been my approach to words at various points in my life. I have them. I should use them. Every single time I get the chance.

The young basketball player and I share similar issues, immaturity and a lack of self control. This is expected at 10 years old and annoying at 40. Ironically, it is equally ineffective at both ages. In the next game he was more selective in his shooting. He shot less and scored more. I keep thinking about the lesson I learned from that kid. He wasn't the MVP of that particular game, but he left a powerful lesson in my heart.

There are stories I want to share-- much happening in my life I don't want to forget--but like Thanksgiving turkeys that must roast for hours, these birds aren't ready yet.

So this middle age lady is learning to watch, wait, ponder and exercise some self control in when I decide to shoot with my mouth or my typing fingers. And it is good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dealing with the Messy Spots

In November I noticed a couple of spots on my dining room and foyer ceilings. I planned on a quick and easy cover up before the holidays--a bit of flat white ceiling paint at best and a small tub of spackle at worst. But, of course, it wasn't that easy.

My house was built in 1950. The ceilings are plaster. They get lumpy, bumpy and crumbly. Repairing them correctly is a dusty, messy all day job. My efficiency-loving self sighed in resignation. I wasn't up for the hassle and decided to ignore it during the already busy holidays.

The holidays brought plenty of distraction via a busy schedule and festive home adornments. Each time I walked through that part of the house I tried to look at other things. I wanted to pretend the problem didn't exist, because acknowledging it meant dealing with it and I didn't want the mess. As I packed up the Christmas decorations the lumpy bumpy ceiling seemed to mock me. I am part of the infrastructure of your house. Are you going to continue to avert your eyes every time you walk through? When are you going to deal with me? 

Ignoring it had postponed, not solved the problem. So, yesterday I welcomed a couple of workers into my home to deal with this yucky spot. I was busy in another part of the house, but when I came in to check on the progress I gasped.

Dealing with this relatively small ceiling spot had impacted 4 rooms of my home.  Furniture was moved, drop cloths were placed, rugs were covered. What a mess! Furthermore, a closer look had revealed other areas that needed repair. Why does it have to be so complicated?

I was reminded of a fundamental truth of repairing and restoring...you generally have to make a big mess before things can get any better. Whether you are cleaning out a purse, a refrigerator or a basement there is a lot of unpacking before you can make progress. Things seem to look a lot worse before the restoration can begin.

And the same is true of relationships.

I felt the Lord tugging on my heart regarding a tender conversation my husband and I were currently working through. So much of me wanted to treat this little place in our marriage like that spot in the ceiling. It's really just a small thing. I'm tired and not in the mood to deal with the mess that might come from a closer examination. What if it reveals more junk? Lord, can't I just keep focusing on all the other perfectly lovely parts? 

My heart knew the answer. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, face the mess and do the work.

By 4pm order had been restored in my home and my relationship is making great progress too.

Maintenance is required to preserve beauty and structural soundness in everything of value.To ignore it is folly--eventually the truth will come out as things begin to crumble. May we not be so fearful of a little messiness that we miss the bigger picture.

As I took the after photo of the house this morning I was reminded of something else: When you see order in other people's lives it is foolish to believe it has always been (or will always be). Sometimes there has been a patching/whitewashing for the sake of appearance--and other times there may have been major reconstruction. It is generally not our business to know.

Instead of trying to dissect the appearances of other people's lives, we are advised to keep an eye on the homes, hearts and lives God has given us to steward. May we be wise enough to examine them and courageous enough to deal with them--willing to do the work with grace and love.