When Mugs Break: Lessons in Fear


Photos courtesy of Unsplash.  

I sink into my friend’s cushy new loveseat with a grateful sigh. The eight-hour drive from my house to hers has left me exhausted—I don’t have great stamina as a long-distance driver, but today Cassidy and I have braved the long country roads between North Carolina and Georgia, just the two of us, for the rare treat of a mother-daughter trip to visit friends.

With a smile, my friend’s husband presses a steaming mug of tea into my hands. “You are the best,” I say. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for at least 200 miles. For a few seconds I cradle the mug, savoring the way warmth travels through the pottery, into my fingertips, down into my soul. My friend asks what I want to do tomorrow. I lift the mug to my lips, gathering thoughts.

In the silence between sentences there’s a strange little crunching sound, and suddenly I’m burning. Scalding tea is everywhere—drenching my hands, spattering my arms, filling my lap, soaking the chair. I yelp and leap to my feet. In one bleeding hand I hold the mug’s handle; in the other, I’m struggling to balance the now half-empty mug. My friend and her husband come running, our daughters come running. The next moments are a blur of shrieks and towels, Band-aids and blood. When pain stops and chaos settles, we register what happened: The handle separated from the mug, sending tea flying and pottery shards digging into my hand.

Eventually, when we realize that there’s more blood than actual injury, that my thick winter clothes have protected me from true burns, and that my friend’s forethought in stain-protecting her new loveseat has kept the furniture from total ruin, we dissolve into relieved and shaky laughter.

I change clothes, we clean up, and after a while we are back where we started, settling in to chat on the couches. My friend’s husband brews a fresh cup of tea and holds it out to me. For a heartbeat I hesitate—a hitch of anxiety stops my breath—and I slowly reach out to take the mug. As my friend launches into a story, I find myself holding the mug tighter than I should be, pressing it hard with both hands. I cast nervous glances at the handle, studying its width, weighing its strength. In spite of the rational voice in my head insisting, “This is so stupid, hold the dang handle,” I can’t bring myself to let go and hold the mug by the handle.

The next morning, my friend offers me coffee. Coffee, beloved coffee, sweet nectar of life. She pours me a cup and holds out the mug. A fluttering starts in my gut, and I find myself swallowing hard as I reach for the mug with my still-bandaged hand. She looks at me funny. “Are you okay?”

I nod my head yes. Shake my head no. Set the mug down. Confess with a laugh, “I’m afraid to pick up the mug!”

My friend laughs, then looks slightly wounded. “You don’t trust my mugs anymore.”

“Not just your mugs,” I say with a guilty grin. “Mugs in general.”

She assures me that the mug in question has been a reliable vessel for coffee and tea for many years and is worthy of my full trust. She holds it herself, waves it around to prove it. We laugh, I pretend to feel better, and I pick up the cup, hoping she doesn’t notice that I’m using two hands, unwilling to risk the handle.

Several days later I return home—home to my own coffee pot, my own familiar mugs, dear companions who have faithfully served me coffee and tea during countless prayer times, phone calls, and writing sessions. But even so, when I pour my first cup of coffee into my favorite mug, the “Our nest is blessed” bird mug my mom gave me, I find myself staring it down with eyes narrowed, suspicion rising: Are you going to fail me too? Are you hiding some unseen crack, some weakness in construction? We’ve lived a lot of life together, shared a lot of coffee and good memories, but now…I’ve been burned. I’ve changed—have you changed too?

mug-in-garage


Want more from Lizzy Life? Click here to sign up for Elizabeth’s quarterly newsletter, and you’ll receive a free download: 7 Two-Minute Devotions to do around the breakfast table with your family! And you can order Elizabeth’s next book, When God Says “Wait,” by clicking here! 


Over the next few weeks, I keep drinking coffee, but always with two hands, just in case. It’s weeks before I can lift a mug without pause. Months before I can enjoy coffee or tea without a twinge of bad memory pulsing somewhere in the back of my mind. The two-hand mug-hold becomes an unconscious habit. Even though logic tells me I’m being ridiculous—In all your thirty-eight years you have had three million positive experiences drinking from mugs, and only one bad experience with mug malfunction—the odds are totally in your favor!—every time I lift a mug, some primal instinct rises up to defend me. Keep me from getting burned. Keep me using two hands.

After a while it occurs to me that I’ve done this before, only not with mugs. With people. With God. Most of my life has been filled with love, kindness, grace—ten million wondrous memories—but along the way I’ve also experienced a few shocking hurts and disappointments. Wounds I didn’t see coming, from places I’d never doubted.

Sometimes things break on us—not just mugs, but things that really matter: Health. Friendships. Finances. Churches. Parents. Marriages. Families.

Things we thought were a given, things we trusted without question—my mug will always hold my coffee, my friend will always be there, my church will always be a safe place, my parents will always love each other, my guy will always be faithful, my body will always be healthysuddenly let us down. They break without warning. One minute we’re sitting on a couch with a friend—happy place, familiar comfort—the next we’re gasping in pain, world spinning, and it’s ages before we can even register what happened.

When we’re surprised like that, when things break on us, sometimes we break too. Trust, overcome by fear. Love, overshadowed by suspicion. Openness, overwhelmed by hurt.

We don’t want to be broken. We’re not doing it on purpose. Logically, we tell ourselves that our newfound fear makes no sense—in neutral moments we even laugh at ourselves—but every time we face situations that somehow remind us of that one terrible time, the fear comes roaring to the surface. Taking over. Commandeering our thoughts, our feelings, our reactions. Making us curl into a self-protective cocoon where we can hide safe inside, safe all alone.

mug-winter-girl

Fear does this to us even when we are no longer in any real danger—it takes over based on mere memory. We may be sitting safe and snug—different chair, different day, different mug—but if our mind flashes back to the one bad experience with the one evil mug, suddenly we’re right back there, in danger, and it’s time to flee. Or time to fight.

We who used to live free, love hard… we become guarded. Protective. Isolated. Maybe angry.

We’re not crazy, not making it up. Some broken things, like my friend’s mug, are beyond hope and have to be thrown away—those losses hurt beyond words.

Other broken things can be repaired, but repair is scary. Imperfect. Risky. Even if we manage to glue the handle back onto a mug, we still see a seam. A scar. A weak place that, if we prod it and test it too much, we fear could break again.

Friend, if things or people have broken on you, if you yourself are broken, these words are for you. You feel pain, suspicion, fear—so do I. I’ve felt it in my own ways, through the lens of my own experiences, my own people. I understand the deep, visceral spring of pain that gives fear such ferocity, such control, such long life.

I understand it, but from one burned person to another, one broken soul to another, I’m asking you to let it go. I’m telling you that with God, through Christ, it’s possible.

I’m asking you to take away the power of fear—fear that warps and cripples and binds—by seeing through it. By seeing it for what it is: a fear that wants to distort the way you view people, do church, trust God, experience life, face the future. It is a hurt that wants to haunt you. An injury that seeks to change you. A wound that wants to keep wounding you—not with realities from the present, but with memories from the past. A fear that wants you to live trapped in an invisible box of your own creation. The wounds may have come from others, but the box you built and locked yourself—and friend, you still hold the key.

I’m asking you to use that key. Climb out of that box. Stand free in God’s sun.

I pray you find a way to heal. To forgive, as many times as it takes. To give your hurt and fear to God, and to trust that his hands are big enough to hold them. That Christ’s blood is thick enough, pure enough, to cover all and wash it clean.

I pray you find courage to breathe through the panic, reject the memories, reach out your hand, and take hold of that mug once more. To lift it up and drink it down.

I’m proud to say I have learned to trust mugs again. (Now there’s a sentence that’s never been said before!) It helped when I realized: Sometimes memory distorts reality. Inflates horror. Exaggerates pain. Over time, my memory of the heat and pain became more powerful, more dramatic, than the actual incident itself. Yes, for a few seconds I was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t truly burned! The cuts were mere scratches! Some experiences truly are as awful as we remember, but other memories grow over time—taking on heavier weight, accruing pain like interest.

Either way, isn’t it time to reach out and hold that handle again? The first few times will be the hardest. You might find your heart racing, palms sweating, head spinning. But with time it will get easier. And easier. Still easier. The more often you push through, the more quickly you will overcome. You may relapse every so often, but with focused effort you can keep moving forward. You can enjoy the things, the people, you used to enjoy. You can trust again. Love again. Live again. Yes, you may bear scars, but they need not define you.

My two-hand mug-holding habit took a while to unlearn, but over time, I have. (Mostly.) I now hold mugs with one hand, by the handle, the way normal, non-mug-ophobic people do, and most days I don’t think twice about it. (Although honestly, now that I’m writing this, I’m starting to feel a bit twitchy. Don’t judge me if you catch me relapsing with the two-hand hold for a few weeks.)

et-mugshot-1

et-mugshot-2

et-mugshot-3

Now I’m grateful for the lessons the broken mug taught me:

Most of the time, life is wonderful. But sometimes life hurts. People disappoint. Things change. Mugs break.

But you and I… we can move forward. With God’s help, we can heal. Forgive. In time, maybe we can even forget.

And you know what? Even if we can’t forget, even if we still bear the scar, it’s worth it, reaching out and taking hold of that mug once more. Scar or no scar, bad memories and all, the tea, the coffee, this life… they taste as good as ever.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

When They Can’t Find a Heartbeat

When Being a Grown-Up Means You’re Still Growing Up

When You Walk Through a Valley

When Life Poops on Your Party

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love

One Day, Somehow (A Promise for a Grieving Friend)


Share this post with a friend who needs it (and is scared of mugs like me, because I don’t want to be the only one): 


When You Walk Through a Valley


When You Walk Through a Valley

Images courtesy of Pixabay

Who doesn’t love Psalm 23? For three verses it’s all smiles and peace, all dancing through flowers.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters, 

   He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

We read this and we’re like, Woohoo! Christianity means I get to be happy, happy all the time! “Green pastures, quiet waters, restored soul”? Sign me up! “He guides me in paths of righteousness”? Yes please!

But then we hit verse four, and our happy dance skips a beat: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Wait, what? Valleys and shadows and evil? That doesn’t sound very Psalm 23-ish. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.

We back up and read verse four again.

            Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

Yep, we read it right. What’s Death Valley doing in the middle of Happy Land?

How does this:

when life is hard for Christians

turn into this:

barren-field-mountain-view

???

If the Good Shepherd Himself is leading us on paths of righteousness, how can we end up in the valley of the shadow of death—the dark place where evil lives? Did God’s GPS stop working? Did he abandon us mid-journey? Confused, we are tempted to hurry past verse four, eager to get to the “my cup overflows” part at the end.

But let’s pause here for a minute. Let’s take a good hard look at the phrasing, the way verse three leads into verse four (I’m using the NIV, 1984):

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

So we start out in verse three with God leading us. We’re cavorting down paths of righteousness. Life is good! We’re godly and happy! And then something goes wrong…or does it?

Notice that the psalm writer, David, doesn’t say, “And then we wander off the path and abandon God’s righteous ways, and that’s how we end up in the valley of the shadow of death, being punished for our sins.” No—one minute we’re following our loving Shepherd down paths of righteousness; the next we’re in the valley of the shadow of death.

Do you get what this means? Sometimes God’s righteous paths take us to the dark places. Sometimes God Himself leads us into the valley. We’re still on the path, still being righteous, still in the loving care of the Shepherd, but His righteous path is leading us where we don’t want to go—so close to death we feel its shadow.

It’s big, the valley of the shadow of death. Mile after mile of barren wilderness. The path through stretches long—no shortcuts across. The path of righteousness may wander around dark lands for days, weeks, months—even years.

Perhaps you’ve walked those dim paths before. Perhaps you’re walking them now. It goes something like this:

You’re graduating from college, faithful to God. It should be the best time in your life—the future stretching wide, so many options—but you? You have no plan. Not only are you jobless and date-less, you’re also directionless. Everyone else has a Great Life Plan—how they love revealing those plans in epic social media announcements—but you? You just feel lost. Lost and alone.

You’re sad. Endlessly sad. You don’t know why, and you can’t pull out. You pray, you work on yourself, you try to get help, but the sadness remains.

Your biological clock is sending off insistent daily alarms—BABY TIME BABY TIME BABY TIME—but every month, your own body betrays you.

Or maybe you have a family, but your family is struggling. You’ve tried to instill faith in your kids, but they’re fighting you, fighting God.

In times like this, fear rises. Confusion reigns. You start doubting God, doubting yourself: What did I do wrong? Is God mad at me? Does this suffering mean I’m being punished? Did I accidentally wander off the path of righteousness?

Psalm 23 says no. God says no.

There is more to Christianity—and life—than quiet naps by gentle streams. There’s deep comfort for dark times. Living under our Shepherd’s protection and care doesn’t mean we will never wait, never suffer, never experience disappointment, decay, or delay. God doesn’t promise us an escape from hardship; He promises to guide and protect us as we go through hardship, all the way to the other side. No matter how dark the path. No matter how long the journey. That’s the real message of Psalm 23.

 

The more I think about this truth, the more beautiful this psalm becomes. Because who lives beside quiet waters all the time? Who experiences a life of constant peace and endless blessing? Not me! Sometimes I have, sometimes I do, but not always. Not today.

Psalm 23 doesn’t promise a life of never-ending peace and happiness; it promises strength and help and hope through all life’s ups and downs. We have a Shepherd who loves us and meets all our needs. He knows when we need rest, and He knows how to provide it. And when He leads us down into the valley, He does not leave us alone. His rod and staff—His presence—are there to comfort and guide us all along the way.

We may have times when we’re wandering, but we’re not wandering alone. We may have times when we’re sad, but we’re not sad alone. We may have times when we’re waiting, but we’re not waiting alone.

He is for us, He is with us, and if we will just keep to the righteous path, He will guide us all the way across the valley, however long it takes. Eventually, He will help us find our footing as the path climbs back up the mountainside. We may be out of breath when we reach the top, homesick and road-weary, but He’ll urge us to rest beside a bubbling mountain stream. He’ll ask if we’d like some water, and we’ll hold out our cup and say, “Yes please.”


Want more from Lizzy Life? Sign up for my quarterly newsletter, and you’ll be the first to preorder my new book, When God Says, “Wait,” releasing from Barbour Publishing in March, 2017. New subscribers also receive a free download: 7 Two-Minute Devotions to do around the breakfast table with your family! 


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

When Life Poops on Your Party

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love

When You Want to Have Faith but You Have Questions

13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts

13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter

Flawed Yet Called: an Interview with Author Andy Lee


Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: 


Flawed Yet Called: An Interview with Author Andy Lee


Author Andy Lee

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Andy Lee, author of A Mary Like Me: Flawed Yet Called.

Author Andy Lee

Isn’t she the cutest? And I have serious typewriter envy.

Andy is humble, honest, insightful, compassionate, and funny—the kind of woman you want to have deep talks with over coffeeI loved reading A Mary Like Me. Andy dives deep into the lives of the Marys of the Bible: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene. Andy’s fresh insights into their stories and personalities cover such modern topics as women’s role in ministry, mental illness, grief, messy motherhood, and strategies for in-depth Bible study. In her interview, Andy shares more about who she is and why she wrote this book. I know you’ll love getting to know Andy (and the Marys!) as much as I have.

A Mary Like Me book cover

You wrote this book in part to inspire and empower women who have been called to ministry. What are some of the inner obstacles women may have to overcome when choosing to answer God’s call for their lives? What obstacles have you had to overcome?

Andy: Oh my, so many obstacles! The enemy of our lives is threatened by us, and loves to discourage us in our calling. A huge obstacle is comparison. That’s why I wrote this book. If I compare my speaking, teaching, writing, mothering, cooking (which I’m not a fan), decorating, gardening (which I don’t do), cleaning (which I don’t want to do), etc. to my friends’ and virtual friends’ cooking, writing, speaking, mothering, etc. I’m sunk. Comparison throws a blanket of discouragement over my soul, and I want to quit. I fight comparison by admitting my imperfectness and thanking God for the opportunities He puts in front of me everyday, and I ask for grace to do my best for Him, not for Pinterest or Facebook or the Mother of the Year Award.

For women called to preach and teach and perhaps pastor, there will be many obstacles. All I can say is, “Trust God.” Trust that He will open and close the doors. Go where He leads. Know that He is creative with His calling. It may not, and probably won’t, look like you envisioned when you first knew He was calling you into full-time ministry.

Finally, don’t despise small beginnings, the hidden places. God’s economy is not ours, nor is His timing. Live and serve right where you are with the people He has put in your life. They may be smearing jelly all over your television with chubby fingers. Pray for grace. Kiss those fingers. Thank God for today, and use the hidden places, the small beginnings to grow deeper into Him. Practice His Presence. And practice your calling right where you are now.

We tend to read Bible characters as flat, unrelatable characters, distant from us because of time and cultural differences. How do you hope your book helps modern women to better connect with the Marys of the Bible?

Andy: Oh . . . this is such my heart. Yes, they were from a different culture and spoke a different language, and they lived so long ago, but I am convinced that all of the biblical characters, men and women, dealt with the very same heart issues we do today. We see it easily with Peter and Paul, but for some reason, the “good girl” biblical characters have a holy glow when we read their stories. This detaches them from us, which distances God from us in our hearts because we don’t think we could ever serve Jesus as they did. It’s that comparison thing again. But when we find someone who can relate to our struggles, we are no longer threatened by them. Camaraderie encourages us and draws us closer. I also think that once we connect with the Marys’ human hearts, the thousands of years, language, and cultural barriers disappear, and the Bible becomes more real and applicable for today.

I love the way you incorporate the Bible’s original languages, Greek and Hebrew and even Aramaic, into your study of these women. Your book gives great pointers on simple, non-intimidating ways anyone can add this kind of study to our own Bible reading, even without a Bible degree. What does it add to our Bible study when we explore the original languages?

Andy: Oh my gosh! It adds LIFE to our Bible study when we study this way. It is incredible. My husband says that my goal is to turn everyone into a Bible nerd. It’s true, but only because digging under our translation has brought so much excitement and joy and life into my walk with God. Nuances have been lost in translation that can be discovered by word studies, and exploring the ancient language also brings a fresh understanding into familiar scripture. If the Bible seems dull or hard to understand, you’ve got to try studying this way. You’ll never read the Bible the same, and you’ll find the truth of Hebrews 4:12, “The Bible is alive and active . . . .”

You use the Marys’ experiences to address deep topics like grief and mental illness, with stories from your own life and ministry. How can an encounter with the Marys in the Bible help Christian women who are grieving a loss, or wrestling with mental illness?

Andy: It goes back to camaraderie. You aren’t alone. We find comfort when someone shares what we’re going through. It also takes out some of the power of the grief or depression when we realize someone else knows our pain. But what I really hope the reader sees in these stories is how Jesus interacted with these grieving, mentally ill women. He was loving, caring, and desired to heal them. He cried with them, and He understood their human heart. What kind of God does that?

I love what you wrote about Mary the mother of Jesus: “Mary wasn’t a perfect mother. This gives me hope. . . . My mommy failures won’t wipe out my kids’ destinies either. And neither will yours.” What advice can you give to moms like me who are painfully aware of our own shortcomings—we are striving to grow as Christians and moms, but sometimes we long for perfection and feel overwhelmed by Mom Guilt?

Andy: None of us are perfect mothers. None. Of. Us. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. I knew I’d be a better mom when my kids were teenagers than when they were babies. (And I was.) It’s probably a miracle they came out as good as they did. I prayed a lot. I prayed for God to redeem my mistakes. And He has. Comparison gets us here too. If Pinterest makes you crazy and depressed, don’t do it! I remember watching a friend get up from where the mommies were sitting and walk across the yard to whisper into her son’s ear, and that day I thought, “Oh! What a great idea. Instead of yelling at my kids I should get up, walk over to them, and talk to them.” It took energy. Everything about being a mom takes energy. So, I prayed for energy and creativity in the discipline department, and I did my very best to enforce quiet time in the afternoon so that I could do my Bible study while they were resting. The kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes, but I was a much better mama when I had my time with the Lord.

 

See? I told you Andy was amazing! I know you’ll love reading A Mary Like Me as much as I did.

To stay connected with Andy, visit her website and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Tell her Elizabeth sent you!) Andy offers a free chapter of her book here after you sign up for her newsletter. You can purchase A Mary Like Me on Amazon and at your nearest Lifeway Store.


Other posts you might enjoy:

When Life Poops on Your Party

When Life Is Uncertain

When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up

13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter

13 Back-to-School Scriptures 

Freeze-Frame


When Life Poops on Your Party


emotional control during crisis

Adorable guilty dog photo (my dog-nephew, Huckleberry) courtesy of my sister Alexandra, of A Loves J

 

The minivan smells like French fries.

Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome looks at me from the driver’s seat and pulls into our driveway. “Home sweet home! Are you ready to unpack?”

I grunt. (Translation: No. Eight hours of road-tripping have left me too exhausted to unpack. But seeing as our household servants only exist in my Downton Abbey dreams, I have no choice.)

Mr. Positive grins. “If we hurry, we can get them all in bed in an hour, and just… sit on the couch. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

Yes. Yes it does sound amazing. Amazing and impossible, considering all the unpacking and laundry-ing and removing-of-gas-station-bathroom-grime-from-children’s-bodies that lies ahead. But we can fantasize. I take a deep breath and match his grin. “Let’s do it. You. Me. Vacant expressions on the couch. One hour.”

He punches the button that opens the minivan doors. Four children, eighteen suitcases, and thirty-seven empty Happy Meal containers explode onto our driveway.

A tornado of luggage and flip-flops, we stumble into the garage. The children are giddy: “Let’s go see Cole! He’s missed us so much!” Cole, our graying black Lab, has had fun with dog sitters in our absence, but even so, he hates it when we leave.

The kids sprint ahead of us into the house. Their supersonic shrieks make me smile as I wrestle with suitcases—Aw, they’re so happy to see Cole, how sweet—and Kevin goes in ahead of me. I hear more shrieking, but now it’s Kevin’s voice: “No no no no nooooooo!”

Kevin never shouts. Heart thumping, I drop my bags and race inside. Kevin heads me off in his office, boxing me out, blocking my view. “It’s bad—the dog—it’s so bad. You don’t even want to look.”

Horrible scenes flash though my mind on fast-forward: What’s so awful I can’t even look? Disemboweled couch cushions? Vomit? Gore? Has the dog chewed off his own paw in despair?

For a moment Kevin just stares at me, mouth working, eyes huge, trying to find the words. It’s Avery, the extremely loud and descriptive seven-year-old, who bursts in, shrieking: “Poop! Poooooooooooooooooop! There’s dog poop EVERYWHERE!”

I’ll spare you the details, because Avery has told you all you need (and want) to know. (I’ll just say this: Avery chose the word everywhere for good reason.)

Kevin and I have a longstanding deal: He handles pet poop and vomit; I handle human. I have never been more thankful for that arrangement than right here in this dark moment.

So poor Kevin quietly shuffles to the laundry room for a bucket and rags while I sprint past the Disaster Zone, shielding my eyes, trying not to see. (If I don’t see it, maybe it didn’t happen.) I start unpacking and de-gas-station-germing the children, while he sets about de-poop-ifying the carpet.

An hour later, as I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the youngest child, I hear him announce, “Well that was awful, but it’s done.” I shout an encouraging yay. I hear the door squeak open and the dog gallop back inside. Two point five seconds later—I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit—I hear Kevin shout again: “No no no no stoooooooooop! Coooooooole!”

I don’t ask.

I don’t want to know.

But Kevin calls the update through the house: “Cole just threw up on the carpet I JUST CLEANED! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”

I shout something sympathetic back at him, close my eyes, and dream of Downton. Where oh where are Bates and Anna when we need them? I wait, expecting more shouting and moaning, but all is quiet from the Disaster Zone. Poor Kevin has shut his mouth and gone back to scrubbing.

Somehow, an hour later, all the kids are in bed and Kevin and I are sitting on the couch as planned. The carpet is hopelessly stained but semi-clean—as clean as carpet can get without professional help (which, by the way, we called the next morning).

As we prop up our feet, Kevin starts chuckling to himself. He is laughing—laughing!—about the absolute horror of the evening. At first I just sit there twitching and trying to breathe only through my mouth—my house’s new aroma, Eau de Bleach with Lingering Hints of Poop, has my head spinning—but then I sit there pondering what an amazing man this is, sitting beside me on the couch.

I learned something from Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome that night. A lesson he’s taught me a thousand times in our marriage, but I still never seem to master as beautifully as he does. What’s the lesson?

When life hands us a mess, we can choose how we respond. We can choose how we respond.

Me? My first response to mess is not pretty. It usually involves some kind of emotional mess of my own: frustration, anger, self-pity, catastrophizing (What’s catastrophizing, you ask? This poop on the carpet incident is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere. No human has ever suffered like this. Moreover, this moment represents my entire life: all my life, every day of my life, people (and dogs) have been pooping on my party. But wait! It gets worse! It’s not just me! It’s everyone. Whenever any poor soul on this rotten planet tries to be happy, look out, here comes poop! Life stinks. LIFE IS POOP.)

I know. It’s sad, this brain. Probably the worst brain, ever, in the history of—wait, there I go again.

Kevin? Well, he pretty much thinks the opposite of the way I think. Kevin assures me that he feels most of what I feel in any given life crisis, but he chooses not to act or dwell on those feelings. Sure, some of our differences come down to personality, hard wiring, and—ahem—hormones, but most of it is a matter of perspective, attitude, and choice.

Perspective. Attitude. Choice.

Three things we can control, no matter how our brains are wired.

Kevin’s example shows me that when we face a mess, we face a choice. We can freak out, stomp around the house, wail, shout, and abandon our Christianity for a period of temporary insanity. Or we can choose a better way.

When life poops on our party, our initial emotions and thoughts will be all over the place, because we are normal human beings and we hate poop and we feel things. But with practice, we can learn to maintain control even in the middle of a crisis. We might not be able to tame our feelings at first, but even in the heat of the moment, we can tame what we say and what we do.

A simple strategy that helps me mid-crisis is to find one simple truth and repeat it to myself until I calm down. It could be a Bible verse, like Be slow to speak or Love is patient. Sometimes I need something more convicting: Don’t say something you’ll regret. Don’t say something you’ll regret. Or this humdinger: Your children are listening. Your children are listening. (That one always gets me.) Sometimes I choose something that gives me perspective, like, This will be funny later. THIS WILL BE FUNNY LATER.

When it’s all over, we get to choose how long we dwell in darkness, how quickly we start climbing toward light. What perspective will we hang on to? What attitudes will we allow to linger? What will we dwell on when the dust settles?

Maybe one day, if we practice long enough and gain enough big-picture perspective, we can find a happier viewpoint even before the crisis ends. Maybe we can learn to laugh our way through the mess: at the mess, in spite of the mess, in the middle of the mess—even kneeling there on the carpet, up to our elbows in filth.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as even-keeled in a crisis as Kevin is, but I’m working on it. So far, I am learning to shut my mouth when I want to say very un-Jesus-like things. To recognize those moments when I should not take my own roller-coaster feelings seriously. To give all the poor people in the potential blast zone fair warning: Hey, I’m having a MOMENT here. Let me go hide in a corner and get this thing under control.

Kevin makes me laugh when I want to cry. He makes me want to be better, and shows me the way. I’m not all the way there yet—I may never reach his level of self-control—but with his help and God’s help, I’m making progress.

P.S.

The next morning, our wakeup call went like this: four kids storming into our bedroom shrieking, “Cole threw up! AGAIN!”

Which just goes to show you: Do not leave your dog home when you go on vacation. The dog will get the last poop vomit laugh.

Want some scriptures on this topic? Try Philippians 4:4–8, James 3:1–12, and Proverbs 25:28.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love

These Days of Small Things

When Life Is Uncertain

5 Bible Stories Boys Love

When You Want to Have Faith, But You Have Questions


Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: 


When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Firefly Nights

The Promise I Can’t Keep

When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up

These Days of Small Things

Outshine the Dark

13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter

Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: