Little Bear was born on June 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, and I think I received three bouquets of peonies in the weeks after his birth. The gentle flowers took their time to open up and every stage of the unveiling was glorious. They quickly became my favourite flower.
Last spring I received a delightful surprise in the form of budding peonies in our garden in Stockholm. I’m the sort of gardner who leaves the carcasses of rosemary and mint plants in her wake, so you can imagine that I had no idea we had bushes of peonies. This year I knew I was flying out on May 3 for six weeks in Sri Lanka and Australia, and I eyed the bushes hoping to see buds before our flight. It was sporadically warm but mostly cold in Stockholm. There was nothing, and I knew it: No peonies for me this year.
Last I wrote on this blog, we were in transition, figuring out what the next step was. Well, the transition phase is not done for us, in some ways it is only just beginning. We have made some big decisions, but there will be many more to come in the following weeks. And in the middle of this there are more decisions, the waiting, and our companions through it all, the many, many questions.
Can we miss the good plans God has for us? Have we missed it? What if we pick wrong? What if we hear wrong? How do we know for sure? When do we know that it’s right? What if we disagree with each other?
We flew back to Stockholm on June 16. When I left in May, leaves sprouted small and green, but now our street looks something like a suburban forest. The trees go wild in the early summer months with the almost 24 hours of light, branches stretch this way and that, sagging heavy with leaves. The grass in our yard, not mowed in three weeks, was up to my knees.
And there in the front was our peony bush with four pink buds on stems reaching up to the sky. Each petal folded up tightly waiting to be unfurled. For the first few days, I thought they were dead buds that were frozen unexpectedly on colder-than-normal May days. But in the past few days, the petals pushed out.
Today, the first flower.
Because this is the truth: He lavishes us with his love, we cannot miss the plans he has for our lives, he is not cruel, arbitrary, capricious or willful. We have a good Father, he has loved us with an everlasting love, yes he draws us, he draws you with his unmerited, unending, unyielding, beautiful kindness.
Now it’s your turn: What are the signs of God’s love in your life right now? What are they telling you about who he is and his love for you? In what ways can this help you to trust him?
I had my life mapped out in blocks of five, 10 or 20 years, and while that may sound organized, it had more to do with my mathematical disability. It was easy to say, Journalism until I’m 30, small kids and teenagers until 50, and on and on. I didn’t have detailed plans, but the big picture was always in front of me, this never-ending lists of necessary tasks and accomplishments each demanding my check mark. Done. Finished. Complete.
Whatever was out there was the thing I chased, the next big thing, the next accomplishment.
Snow blanketed our yard several weeks ago, thick, deep, powdery snow that fell in dreamy flakes and took ages to melt. Big Boy can get on his snow suit and gear all by himself in five minutes or less; he loves playing in the snow this year, but Little Bear officially hates it. Possibly it’s the snow jacket and pants that keep him from moving properly, and he’s still not so stable on his feet. Walking through snow is a big ask, and carrying him the whole time we are outside is a big ask for Mommy.
I was explaining to Big Boy one day that it’s tough to go outside with Little Bear, and I started saying, Just wait until – before I caught my breath.
I was going to say, Just wait until next winter, and then you’ll both play outside and love it so much. But another winter is not promised to us in Sweden, we could be here, but we might not. I was about to tell him to skip past now, to cast his eyes on my idea of the better thing to come.
We do this, all of us, keeping our eyes fixed on what we consider to be the prize, the better job, the bigger house, the smaller dress size, the higher grade or faster car. But here, right now, there is something else waiting for us.
The next step.
It’s the choice you have to make today about your attitude, your plans, your creativity, your time. Sometimes the next step is tedious or painful, other times it is a restful break or maybe something for which you are longing, but whatever it is, the next thing is most likely not going to be something glamorous or big. The next step is the thing staring at you, right there, right in front of you. It’s the laundry that needs to be folded, the onions you have to chop for soup, the email you don’t want to write, the 10-minute conversation someone in your life needs you to stop and have, it’s the 30 minutes you spend exercising or the five minutes you take to stop and paint for fun.
The next step is ordinary. The next step forces you to wrestle with the life that is right at hand, not the bigger thing that may be coming in the future.
My mind is constantly pulled into the future, the next five years, the 10 or 20 or 30 year mark. What is important to us? What is my legacy? Where does my focus need to be? These are all good, necessary questions all adults should ask themselves, but if the big picture is the only thing on our minds, we will miss the small thing in front of us, and it is the small thing, the next step that anchors us in a foundation.
For me the next step is often the real life I have to make with our small children. It means playing with trains, dancing, making food every few hours, and disciplining attitudes and behavior. These are the next steps in a long chain that lead me home. Today, there is the laundry and the playing and the cooking and the eating. That’s where I am. And this next step I take will lead me to the next step and the next step, one marker after the other, one decision after the other, one unglamorous choice after another that leads toward the destination: A full, beautiful life enjoyed in process, lived on purpose and created one step at a time.
I still didn’t take Big Boy out in the snow a lot this winter, but one glorious morning at 8am after I put Little Bear down for his nap, my oldest and I bundled up, left the baby monitor right by the front door, and we ran out in the snow. It came up to his knees, he looked like a farmer plowing a white field with his legs. We fell into the snow and carved angels with our arms, I pulled him on a sled around the bare apple tree, we lay in the snow and watched the snow flakes falling into our faces.
They fall fast and there is no break or stopping, one after another each fluffy flake descends down and down and down, landing on skin and outstretched arms. We didn’t say much, we just lay in the snow, quiet and warm. When we were finished, we went inside to get our crying Little Bear and play some more.
Now it’s your turn: Do you find yourself pulled into the bigger picture of the future? What’s the next step you need to take?
February has many significant dates for us as a family. It is a month that holds many Big Emotions, and 2015 did not disappoint. IF: Gathering was in the first week, and we had an beautiful time participating here in Stockholm, February 10 rolled around and I was ready to move on to the new, and then the new thing came to introduce itself to me and it looked a lot like writing and waiting. Big emotions, high intensity, lots of exhaustion, that was February. I’m ready to move forward deeper into 2015 – I think – but before I do that, here’s what I learned in the past 27 days.
1. My sister accidentally left behind A Long Obedience in the Same Directionby Eugene Peterson. Well, her loss is my very (very) great gain. It’s been my Sabbath reading on Sundays for several weeks now, and I can barely make it past the first two chapters. I’ve read and re-read those over and over again, jotting down notes, crying, writing. This book is working in a deep place in my soul. Highly recommend.
The title is taken from a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, and as far as I’m concerned, a book about following Jesus that is based on a quote from an atheist is going to be a good one.
“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
This book is teaching me one layer at a time about the pilgrimage that makes life worth living.
2. We hosted IF: Stockholm on February 7. It was a beautiful day, full of familiar faces and new ones. The event invitation said that it started at 8am, and wouldn’t you know, the foyer was full of women by 8:15, and our first guest was there at 7:50. Only in Sweden (where punctuality is a religion).
3. Your Redeemer lives, and he buys back what you lost, whatever you lost, a line from Jo Saxton that I will never, ever, as long as I live forget. It was probably the most personal moment for me of IF, and a truth that has taken over the various corners of my heart.
4. Am I enough? Are we going to be safe? What is it going to cost? Three questions Jennie Allen posed for us at the start of IF, and I am still asking myself, Am I living my life out of this story? Or am I living it from the place of God is enough, we will be fine, we have everything we need?
5. Calling, motherhood and family, these were some of the unspoken themes for me that came through at IF, even though it wasn’t mentioned specifically. I still don’t have answers or some sort of five-point plan, but it is deeply comforting to know that women all around the world wrestle with the same things.
6. She sees me as the man I’m becoming, Bob Goff on his wife, Maria. I loved this. How do I relate to Husband? As the man he was? As the man he is? Or the man he is becoming? The man he is destined to be? Come to think of it, how do I relate to anyone I know – my children, my friends, my family? I think it could transform the people in my life and my relationships if I treated them according to whom they are becoming.
(So that’s a lot from IF: Gathering; it was a huge day in my life, and there is still more to come. Probably a different blog post. And now we move on to other things.)
7. Whole30.I started it on the day after my birthday because I was going to have cake. Obviously. I’m on day 15 now, and it hasn’t been so hard to follow, but I can’t say I’m wowed so far. I was expecting to have lots more energy, but I don’t. I feel very tired – but this could be Swedish sun/no sun related as well – so let’s see how I feel on March 15, which should be the last day. The hardest part has been going without my Asian sauces like soy, oyster and fish. What I’ve learned so far? My grocery bill is a lot higher thanks to consuming more meat. In other words what I’ve learned is that Whole30, paleo etc. is the eating plan of highly entitled people who can afford it. Or maybe I’m eating too much meat and should be consuming more vegetables? More on this at a later date.
8. When Husband entered our lunch destination into our GPS on my birthday, I guessed immediately, IKEA!!!! So yes, I know the address of one of the Stockholm IKEA’s by heart. And if you’re thinking Husband messed up by taking me to IKEA for my birthday, well you don’t know me. IKEA was one of my most favourite places on earth before I ever thought about living in Sweden. IKEA in Sweden? The greatest thing ever. I had a wonderful lunch of meatballs and mashed potatoes with a gravalax salad on the side.
Now it’s your turn: What did you learn in February? How did you change?
Two weeks ago on February 10, I wrote and published these words at 3pm in Stockholm:
Yes, today is Tuesday February 10 again, but I mark it in a different way. Today is the day I move forward, the day I turn my eyes to the new thing. Can you see how it springs up? There is a way that opens up in the wilderness, the renewing stream gushes in the dessert. My heart is ready, my pen is waiting. It’s time to write a new story. It’s time to sing a new song.
Two hours later we received some unexpected news. It seems like the new story I wrote about here was put in motion immediately. This is vague because I cannot write about the details (or the big picture) at the moment, but there were certainties that are now not certain, and there are many question marks. This post is written in process, I am not at the finish line, I have no bow with which to wrap this up neatly. We don’t even know what we are hoping for, but we are hoping. We are dreaming.
We talked that evening, we prayed, we allowed our hearts to open up.
Maybe you’re reading this as a man or a woman, older or younger, or perhaps you’re a teenager, and you are entering a transition time, you do not know what will happen tomorrow or the day after that. Consider this a dispatch from the field.
Write it down. Wait it out.
Husband and I have been scribbling in our journals more, going back over our notes from the past weeks and years, looking for clues. How have we been led? What has God been speaking to us? What do we love? In which direction has he been turning our hearts?
And we are writing words down. The promises we hold in our hands. The visions he casts in our hearts. The longings of our souls. Writing down the process gives it life, value and importance. These are the stones we put down, we write down in the middle of life happening, before the beautiful package, when it is still a messy muddle, so we can look back and say: Yes, God is faithful.
If I read over the archives of this blog, a lot of it would be chaotic and painful, blog posts written in the middle of life with a newborn, in between fights and making up, in between moving and settling down. There are unhappy, truthful words here, but there is a lot of holding-on-to-God here.
Whatever stage of life you are in, write down the promises, write down the visions, write down the dreams, and yes, write down the hurt and the anger and the pain as well.
And wait it out.
Waiting is an act of war in a culture that demands everything right now. The world tells us that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, that we deserve to have everything immediately, that we are so awesome we are entitled to our desires.
In the middle of the mess when everything inside of you craves a decision and a form of stability, wait it out. I reach across the table to myself and say these words, Devi, wait it out. A decision seems like stability, knowing what comes next, it seems like security, but this is the lie of the world, it is the deception of our culture. The more you see, the more you know. The more you know, the more stable you are. The more you know, the more you can plan. The more you can plan, your future can be secured.
These are lies, and we feed it with our wasted time, money, energy and life.
Security, stability, it comes from knowing who you are and to whom you belong.
I know who I am – I am loved and treasured by the God of the universe who has done everything for me and will continue to do everything for me. I know that nothing in my life is wasted, and that every evil thing that happens to me, God will turn it for good. I know this after the years of exhaustion and sadness and loss and fighting and confusion and anger. I know this because he found me in the wilderness, took my hand and led me out with chords of kindness. One step at a time.
I know to whom I belong. I am a child of God, I belong to him, and he is fierce in his love for me, he is devoted to protecting me and leading me. I belong to my husband and to my children, we are in this together, we are walking together, our lives are knitted together by a divine hand who put us together for a reason. It is not an accident, we are not lucky, this is not chance. Our lives together are part of the perfect plan set in motion before we were ever born.
I know who I am, I know to whom I belong – these are two truths I can stand on, this is solid rock that cannot be shaken, these are truths on which I build my life because it can never be taken from me.
I don’t know what our current puzzle is going to look like, you don’t know what your puzzle is going to look like. But hold on, my friend. Write it down. Wait it out.
One day when we see it in full, it will be beautiful, and this beauty is only available to the longing heart who waited, who believed it would be beautiful, who saw with eyes of the heart before it made sense. He is good. He is faithful. It is well with my soul.
Now it’s your turn: What are you waiting for? What have you been writing down (if you feel comfortable sharing)? Can you look back and see the benefits of waiting?
I see you there with the grey book on the floor, you’re buying tickets to see a movie in a few days, giggling nervously or excited, going with friends or boyfriend or husband.
And I want to tell you, stop. Put the book down. Don’t watch the movie. You were made for more than this.
Daughter, you were woven together by the hand of God, uniquely crafted, individually made, specially designed. You are glorious, so glorious, can’t you see it? The brushstrokes of grace that perfectly coloured your skin, the handprint of love that shaped your face and your limbs and your hands and your hips.
Sister, your mind so full, so unique, you’re going to change the world with it, can’t you see that? You were made for books full of ideas, for stories that tug at the deepest part of you, the one that longs for redemption, the story that lifts you up and shows you a better way to a life of meaning, purpose and passion. The one where your hands create and build, the one where you repair the breach in the walls of your broken society. Where you stand firm at the gates and declare truth to the evil in the world, to the evil in yourself. Evil cannot stand in the face of truth. Sister, your voice will be heard on behalf of those who need it, but will you speak? Will you tell the truth?
Sister, will you turn your privilege into a voice for the abused and the oppressed? Put down the book. Don’t watch the movie. It’s only a privileged, bored woman who can hold to the notion that whips and beatings are desirable, but you, you are more than that. You know your innate worth, you shake when you see the glory inside of you, placed there by the hand of the divine, and you know – oh you know – that you were made for more than this.
Sister, what are we going to tell our daughters that we read? What are we going to tell them we watched? Will we chart a path for them among rich ideas and words and thoughts? Or do we lead them on a path of intellectual and emotional destruction?
She was made for more, your daughter, she deserves better.
Wife, you love him, I know you do, the man on the other side of the bed, the one who is snoring or gassy or boring, and he takes out the trash and sometimes doesn’t. He cleans the kitchen, rubs your back, tells you that you’re beautiful. Or maybe he doesn’t. You’re restless, I can see that, maybe the life you have is not what you expected, perhaps time takes its toll on communication and intimacy. Maybe your imagination provides a safer resting place. A pretend woman’s life seems more attractive, her man is wealthy, powerful and knows what he wants. It feels good to you as you turn page after page. Connection is what you long for, intimacy is what you need, but I see you there, you’re alone turning page after twisted page, each sentence pushing you further away from the one who shares your heart, your love, your bed.
Stop. Put down the book. Don’t watch the movie.
He didn’t manipulate or seduce you into a relationship. You’re an equal partner, not a naive work of fiction. Your life and your body isn’t for domination and control because you know you can choose and you’ve made your choice. Him. He is your choice. You have a covenant. A covenant made between equals, and his promises were made in public before God and before witnesses that he would love and cherish you until death, whatever would happen. And you make it work, don’t you? When it’s tough, when it’s low, when it’s good and when it’s great. You make it work. You keep telling him what you need, you say thank you, you listen, you cry, get angry, scream. This is what you were made for, this love that lasts because it gives and sacrifices and listens and lays down his life and works through the tough times and patiently puts one foot in front of the other one beautiful day at a time so that the only way to see the result is to wait until the quiet end when you can look back and see footprint after footprint of a covenant lived out over decades.
Mother, I get it, I really do. The life of yoga pants and sippy cups and hormones left you wanting more. Your children used your breasts and stretched out your midsection. You were a Venus once, rising, rising, and now all you see is a shell of the siren you once knew. Your trying to find your spark again, and the tawdry titillation takes you back to a place where you’re young, wanted, physically intact. But the way back isn’t through the imagination of a woman making millions off of your pain and boredom. Face your pain, Mother, count your costs, mourn the lost years, and then move on. Find your new groove – it’s out there waiting for you. There is yet beauty waiting for you, aching to inhabit your spirit, there is yet freedom and richness in life and experience at hand. It doesn’t come from a man who knows everything or demands everything, but it’s in the hands of a God who knows you, he will not take you back but he will move you forward, to a place where you know yourself and can love yourself again.
Sister, what will they say about our generation? We were the ones who heralded My Freedom, My Consent, My Liberation. But freedom doesn’t come in chains. A whole woman, a strong woman, a woman so confident in her innate worth and intelligence consents to what is good, to what is noble, to what is honorable for her but also for her society. She knows that her liberation cannot be found in the hands of subversive slavery. She will be controlled by no one because she belongs to the One who knows her, who loves her, who fought for her and rejoices over her.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, my friend. You were made for more than this. You were designed to thrive and to flourish under the tender touch of love, the hand of grace, the bonds of covenant. You were made to run free, you mind enriched, your body protected, your whole person completely, totally accepted and loved just as it is. And your soul? Your soul prospers.