Visibly, and Invisibly, Human

It was the first time I didn’t even get the dust off of the furniture.

There are some baseline standards I like to reach before guests arrive at our home:  floors swept and mopped and vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, dishes washed, toys and paper clutter put away, furniture dusted, a candle lit, and something tasty baking in the oven.  It’s mostly about my pride and somewhat about my guests.  I want to create a welcoming space, yes, and I want approval.  Scads of it.  No, seriously, tell me everything you love about my home.  Sigh.

See, I want you to see me without my failures sprinkled about.  And since I can’t talk about my promotion at work or my new exhibition at a local gallery or show you pictures from my latest overseas jaunt, I dust.  I bake, I clean like mad the half hour before you arrive.  This home is my canvas and I want you to approve of the effect.

It’s childish.  And not in the cute way.

“She’s patiently waiting for you to notice her new dress”, whispered my friend to me, as her young daughter shifted her weight from foot to foot in the hush of the church lobby.  I smiled; how I know that feeling.

“Wow!  Your dress is so beautiful!  Is it new?”

She beamed, she smiled down at her frock with a look of sheer pleasure and nodded.

We all want that, don’t we?  Crave that approval, that admiration.

Well.  It’s probably a good place to be right now; with dusty furniture and other humbling markers of domestic failure all about.  The last few weeks have seen us adapting to our new little Tobi (and worrying through two health scares with him) and each of the children coming down with nasty colds.  It feels like I never stop moving; I’m like a pinball being ricocheted from the laundry room to fold a load, to the diaper changing table to change a poo, to the bathroom to wash it out of the diaper, back to the table to throw the sopping diaper into the diaper bin, which I see is now full, back to the laundry room to start a load of diapers, running back to the dining room to stop Henri from plummeting out of his highchair, back to the kitchen to get a dishrag to wipe up spilled milk, detained there by the overflowing soup pot, and on and on.  Dusting the furniture has been bumped WAY down the list of priorities.

untitled (20 of 28) untitled (21 of 28) untitled (23 of 28) untitled (24 of 28) And I realize anew that I can’t do it all.  I have no new frock to display, just a tired old dress smeared with spit-up.  I am oh so visibly human.

And I’ve got it all backwards.  Because you see, I was getting my house in order and beautiful so that I would be perceived as “in order” and “beautiful”, soul-deep.  Like my home was an inanimate extension of, and physical evidence of, a put-together me.  Why wasn’t I going straight to the source and working directly on beautifying my soul, rather than on the rooms that contain us, eternal us?  This is, after all, just a house, but the souls within it?  Eternal.

I am chronically short-sighted.  I focus on the don’t-matters and leave the truly-matters to flap in the wind as they will.  I see this in my parenting, and I shudder.  I’ve hustled the herd to bed so that I could mindlessly scroll through the news feed; reading about other people’s lives and “liking” cute pictures of their kids while my own went to bed without my attention to their end-of-the-day thoughts.

Oh.  So.  Human.

It’s tempting to end this with a rousing appeal to my dear readers to join me in some challenge to become more holy and less prideful and some such.  But God sometimes drops a heavy stone into our laps because He wants us to sit with it a while; not just figure out how to best roll it off without pinching our fingers.  Let the heavy thing sit; learn the lesson deep and true; let the weight sink right into you.  The weight for me?  Seeing how much of me is still governed by securing the good opinion of others, and relatedly, how little of me is governed by securing God’s approval, God’s smile.

How is the dust laying round about the soul?  Has anyone been mindful of the clutter in there?  Is it in fit condition at all?  Oh that I would care half as much for the daily maintenance of the eternal as I did for the temporal!  Lord, have mercy!

 

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On Daily Kicking

It’s like finding a stiff wad of forgotten used tissue in a jacket pocket.  Or a moldy container of leftovers in the back of the refrigerator.  It’s the hair in the drain and the frightening herd of dust bunnies under the bed.  Gross and unwanted bits in our lives that we weren’t aware were lurking about.

Sometimes it’s as though God shoves a mirror in front of our soul and we can see them then, those awful blots, things we thought we’d long since gotten rid of.  Out of sight, out of mind, so God helps us see.

It hurts.

In the last few weeks we’ve been vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and spending time out in Montana.  We’ve caught waves, dug our toes into sand, enjoyed family, hiked, rafted, kayaked, and fly-fished.  We are all brown and heart-happy.  But God came along too, as He is wont to do, and He showed me some things I’d rather not see.

Sticky pride, for one.  Superiority. A judgmental spirit.  Just as I’ve been seeking to grow in humility and wisdom….oh Lord, have mercy.  Will I ever learn?  Will I ever have a pure, humble heart?

My soul recoiled at the sight of my sin; it would willingly explain away or slap some blinders on, anything but fully see.  “I’m sorry, God, I’m so sorry.  Please restore a right spirit within me, please forgive my proud words and thoughts.  Help me to walk in humility.”

Light bends around the corner and I remember that victory in the Christian life isn’t about giving sin a kick in the face and walking triumphantly away, never to deal with it again.  It’s seeing our sin, confessing it, seeking forgiveness, and then being attentive day by day to just how it gained a foothold in the first place and drawing a line there.  Defending that point of entry and daily kicking, knowing that the Enemy is wily and will try other doors when one is shut. Just like when we’ve emerged from the sin of selfishness and have begun giving to others, we might find that we stumble into yet another mire, of pride in what we’ve done, which is stickier yet and harder to detect.  It flies below the radar of our self-evaluation at days’ end; it takes God’s Spirit to reveal it, it takes God’s mercy and love to sustain us as we see all that black within us when we thought we were finally making progress.

So I thought about my gardens and how I prune back my plants because I care for them and want them to be healthy and not unruly.  An unkempt garden isn’t the work of a loving gardener, but a lazy, disinterested one.  So I must endure the Lord’s pruning, chastising, and training.  I must remember that the Enemy would wish me to grow wild and thick and choked on my own fullness, a breeding place for disease and rot.  But my Father lovingly prunes me for my good and for the good of others.  I have to bear seeing the black, knowing full well that He’s bringing about the white.

So we kick, yes, we bite our tongue when that critical word wants to sail out, we resist the pull of selfishness and go wash the dishes rather than curl up with our book.  We listen to our spouse’s grievances against us without giving vent to an angry retort.  We kick.  And we fail too, when we kick with just our own willpower, our own strength, when we forget that God is ready and willing to strengthen us, to go before us, to fight for us.  That there’s a difference between holy kicking and petulant flailing or proud stomping.

It is so humbling, how deep and frequent the pruning needs to occur.  I hesitated to write this post, because my humiliation is so deep that I wonder that any of my words could be trusted to be of good use.  I feel not quite ripe enough to speak.  Not faithful enough.  Not holy enough.  I am a plant clipped back and bare, all my pretty foliage and flowers carefully stripped away.  But, I thought, as my leafy mask fell to the ground about me, maybe it’s helpful to speak from the place of brokenness and shame to the others who are being pruned too, disciplined too, loved fiercely too.

It’s okay to be the vessel being formed, the wet clay being molded, to not have arrived yet, to be in-process.  It’s okay as long as the hands are trusted that shape us, that we lean-in to the Father’s loving correction and not away from it.  That we live transparently and honestly and humbly, and that we speak from an awareness of all the work yet needed to be done within us, which kicks our pride most injuriously.  IMGP4162