Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What is Up At That School?



**I wrote this post last October, published it, then took it down after a few hours. It felt too real and too raw and I was a bit of a mess that week. Ok, a lot of a mess.

But then today, I sat down to have a quiet moment and read this in my current devotional, Savor, by Shauna Niequist:

"And when we tell the truth about our lives - the broken parts, the secret parts, the beautiful parts - then the Gospel comes to life, an actual story about redemption, instead of abstraction and theory and the things you learn in Sunday school."

I also sat down to put together the fundraising page for the older two girls, who will be raising money for this school I write about here. But this is not a plea for money. It isn't. I was just praying about our school because of my morning activity, and this post came back to the front of my mind.

So I felt led to put this out there again, to share what I was feeling back when I was in a bit of crisis mode, when I was broken and questioning what my purpose was and my identity was shaken because what I thought I was good at was called into question instead of lodging my identity firmly in my Goodness because of the One Who Made Me and Redeemed Me.

And in the interest of total disclosure, we are now a mere 7 weeks away from summer break, and I still cried a bit this morning when I dropped off the girls. Kindergarten is hard, people.

I was tempted to edit this and remove a little brokenness, but it's here in its entirety.** 

October 31, 2015

I had every intention of sitting down yesterday morning writing a funny blog post, but I pretty much had a crap day, so I didn't think anything was funny.

Actually, the past ten days have been pretty crappy.

And if I'm really, deep down, bare bones honest, I have felt crappy since the end of July.

I was pretty wrecked by the whole "all the girls are in school" thing.

And again, deep down honest, I'm still pretty wrecked.

I was talking to my parents this week about the Days of My Life, and when I tried to talk about the days when the girls are gone from 8 am - 3 pm and I have the days I used to wish for, a quiet house to get All The Things done, I couldn't speak. Mom smiled and said, "Those days just aren't you, are they?"

When I was talking to a friend about it, she said she thought she must be missing a chip because she loves those days.

So I'm wondering what is wrong with me? Am I the one missing a chip? Have I forgotten who I was before? 

I don't know. 

But because I have lots of free time, I have been spending a lot of time at my girls' school (harassing everyone) which is good and heart-and-gut-wrenching at the same time. 

You see, we have great public schools in our area. Preston teaches in one. Good stuff goes on there. We also have amazing college-prep schools where great things go on as well.

But we really desired a school where the focus is the Gospel, and the reason we learn the stuff we learn is because He created all of it. Grammar? God came up with that. Color wheel? His idea. Even Math is of Him (despite my in-head cursing when I am presented with a second grade word problem I feel sure must be of the Evil One).

So we chose this school, a school that at the time had been around for about 15 years. I remember being in high school when the church we attended started talking about it. I loved it then. I knew I wanted my kids to go there someday. When my nephews started going there and Preston witnessed the stuff that goes on there, he fell in love with it, too. We never really considered anything else for our kids.

A new acquaintance recently asked me, "What is up at that school?"

Well. 

That is complicated. 

It's mission is to provide an excellent, Christ-centered education with a special emphasis on making it available to low-income families. This means about 40-50% of the student body receives financial aid. 

The mission also includes racial reconciliation, so were you to visit this place you would see many different skin tones and hear many different dialects. God created all that, too. 

On paper, pretty much any believer can get on board with that plan. Reconciliation? Good. Christ-centered education? Good. Help the less-fortunate? Good. Meat? Good. (Sorry. I just love a good Joey Tribiani/Friends reference.)

But reading about it and living it are two totally different things.

To borrow a word from the author of Momastery, Glennon Doyle, it is a brutiful place. Isn't that the best word? I love it. Like, love it. Preston asked me to try to use more words than that one when I speak. I can't. It's my fave. It's so accurate. About so many things.  

I think it's particularly descriptive of this little school. It is sort of a microcosm of the world at large.  

And sometimes I struggle to see the beautiful in the mess of the brutal. As I do in the world when the news is so depressing every time I turn it on.

I drop my children off at 7:55 am, and they disappear into the bricks. I return at 3:00 pm, dying to see them and kiss their adorable cheeks and smell their heads.

What happened in between? They were with someone else for 7 hours! 

School. Is. T O U G H!

This is not a theory. Ask any adult who made it through to the other side, and they will easily be able to recount a story, a year, a teacher, a kid who made school miserable for them.

And school at the school we chose for our kids seems to be especially tough. 

There is so much brokenness. There is so much to learn. There are people who think totally different thoughts from mine. We are not all the same. 

And some days it feels too hard. 

And I am really struggling, so I know that is making it worse. 

I want to bring my babies home, draw in, cocoon ourselves on the couch, deactivate all my social media accounts and just be safe. (That's what I told Preston yesterday when I was a mess, and he asked what would make me feel better at that moment. But then I remembered that one girl had Latin and if I picked her up before Latin she would hate that because she loves Latin. Who the heck loves Latin?) 

So I'll homeschool. I'll get to be with them all day. I'll be able to choose who their friends are. I'll control the curriculum. There won't be any misunderstandings because if there are I'll just do the easy thing and end the relationship. 

Or we will go to a different school where people think like we do, vote like we do, socialize like we do, worship like we do, look like we do. Where the brokenness (which is surely there) isn't on display. I'm more comfortable with that. That feels better.

Oh, it does feel better. 

And it goes through my mind. 

But then my daughter's teacher tells me about how my daughter sacrificed for the child who is struggling with something I cannot wrap my adult brain around and is disrupting the class. And she is learning to love that child.

And another teacher talks about how the Holy Spirit shines out of my child, how she is kind to all the children, even the one who is bullying her and when given the opportunity for a play date, she chooses to invite that child and I really question that decision, kind of trying to change her mind, but she stands firm. And when that child arrives she says she has never ever been invited on a play date. No wonder she bullies.

And the child who befriends and takes care of the new girl, who doesn't speak English. 

This does not come from me, or from Preston, even though I think he is exponentially a nicer person than I am. We have a tendency to just stop when things get hard. 

I want to be more like my children.

The Holy Spirit is the driving force of anything good in the girls.

And I think the biggest thing the Holy Spirit is using is this school.

This school. 

Teaching them to love through all that difficulty. 

Just to be clear, I think homeschooling, and private schooling and public schooling are all awesome choices. In one way shape or form, Preston and I have been involved in all those. And if you enter in, there is plenty of brokenness in those places, too, even though people might have the resources to hide it. So dare to enter in and find it. It's there.

I was discussing all my thoughts recently with a dear friend who reminded me, 

"This school isn't a school. It's a mission. People who choose to go there have to whole-heartedly believe they are on a mission."

So we are missionaries. Everyone who goes there is a missionary. Every parent. Every teacher. Every child. Every administrator. Every office worker. (especially the school secretary) On mission. Here in this ridiculously wealthy area of the world.

And even though it's been hard, and even crushing, knocking me off my feet, we are choosing this beautiful hardness.

Someday, we will move on from this place. Maybe in a year; maybe in seven when the grades available at our little school run out. 

But I really hope the things we are learning (pursue the broken relationship, love the unlovable, forgive and then forgive again, apologize, have the awkward conversation, ENTER IN, allow others to enter into our brokenness) will be permanently impressed on our hearts. (like the tattoo Preston won't let me get) 

These are lessons I am learning as a 36 year old.

My children are learning them as a way of life. 

And it's due to this brutiful place.  

So when we move on, we want to be attentive to where God is leading us next.

To which place of brokenness.

Because it all is. Everywhere, everyone, every place is broken. 

Jesus has completed the work of redemption. But The Great Commission is out there for us. And until He returns and makes all the sad things come untrue, to heal the brokenness forever, to wipe away the tears, we, through His power alone, will continue to enter the brokenness and to let people enter ours. To hopefully show Jesus with our lives. 

And that is what matters. I am constantly having to remind myself that I can't fix it, I can't do it, I do not have the resources. All I can do is continue to live, and live in such a way that shows Jesus, and ask for forgiveness when I don't.

And hopefully, every day, we are leaning a little less towards the brutal and a little more towards the beautiful.

Until He comes, when it will all be the beautiful.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Grace,
Martha
















Thursday, March 10, 2016

Wait, There's More to Marriage Than the Dress??



It has been FIFTEEN YEARS since those sparkly-eyed babies took that photo. I know, you can't believe it because I still look like the 21-almost-22-year old child I was that day. 

Humor me, OK?

I think this post is going to be a little bit reminiscing, a little bit advice, a little bit pondering and processing, a little bit random. So not unlike all the other posts. Also lots more pictures than I planned because I got sucked into looking at our wedding-album-that-could-be-a-coffee-table and am going to share more than you want to see. Quit reading now if you choose. I understand.

Last fall a dear friend was preparing to lead a devotion at her brother's rehearsal dinner, so she asked if I remembered any advice we got way, way back that held true and stuck with us, or something we wish we had known before we wed. 

Someone told us to always sleep together; don't go to the couch, no matter how mad you are and how much you loathe (yes, loathe) the other person.  I can't remember who that was, but if you are reading, well done! Good advice! There is healing in the bump of the knees, the facing each other on the pillow, the flinging of the arm across the other's stomach; the things that naturally occur when two people sleep right next to each other.

I am ashamed to say about a year ago I spent a night on the couch. But that is the only time in 15 years. 

Preston has never gone to the couch, mostly because he is somehow magically wired to shut off his mad and actually GO TO SLEEP and doesn't care that he is sleeping next to the maddest person alive. How does that work? I will huff and puff and throw myself around so he knows I am still awake and still very mad, and he is already asleep, missing my dramatic presentation. Which usually makes me madder. But he has never gone to the couch.

The other thing I kind of rambled on about to my friend was how much better it gets as the years go by. And the reason it gets better is because you know so much more about how awful each of you is!

Hang with me.

On our wedding day, at ages 21 and 24, we thought we knew everything about each other. After all, we had known each other for 2 1/2 years, which is exactly enough time to go through nothing at all, but we knew each other and knew it was going to be amazing. Leave out the "for worse" part please, because it's going to be all sunshine and unicorns over here. We will discuss our disagreements and come to a consensus without ever raising our voices and we will be more in love than ever whence the conversation hath endeth, and we will spend evening after romantic evening gazing into each other's eyes all the way to the depths of our souls, and have meaningful conversations, and we will save a million dollars by the time we are thirty, and we will be The Couple Everyone Else Wants To Be because we will have The Relationship Everyone Else Wants To Have. 

Right.

Except not.

Doesn't he look a little like, "Yea, this may not be a good decision..."

What seemed like marriage at age 21 - the dress, the dancing, the prime rib, the cake, the pipe organ, the veil, the tall dark man at the end of the aisle - all the things I dreamed about since birth...that was the wedding. Duh. I had no idea what the marriage would entail. Marriage is more ripped jeans and mac-n-cheese and baseball caps and falling asleep before the dance starts.





I do not care if you marry a giant, do not wear 3 1/2 inch heels on your wedding day.





I can't remember what our first married fight was about, but it was not long after the fairy tale day, and I remember thinking, "Well, this is it. Divorced before our first anniversary. Probably some kind of record." (Actually, I think Britany Spears holds that record with like 50 hours or something, but I did NOT read that on People.com which I do NOT check every single night like it's my job.)

But when the fight was over, we decided to stay. After all, we'd been together, like, 1000 days, and were already in our twenties, for Pete's sake, so if we left our life was over anyways. Might as well tough it out. 

Not a great advertisement for marriage so far.

Have no fear, young, newly engaged, dewy-faced couple.

Because it has ended up so much better than my wildest dreams. 

How, you say? What with the uncivilized fighting, the sleeping on the couch, the tears and the flopping in the bed, the walking (stomping) out, the watching "King of Queens" reruns instead of any conversation, much less meaningful conversation, the driving around town at 1 am so mad you couldn't stay in the house one more second...how is that better than what you expected? The fantasy on the wedding day sounds infinitely better! Unicorns! Sunshine!

Well...

When I left to drive around, he watched out the window until I came home.

When I slept on the couch, he crept downstairs and brought me my pillow and covered me with a blanket. 

When he lost his job, I walked beside him and encouraged new dreams.

When we spent our savings, we cut out all but the essentials and learned to appreciate those.

When he didn't know the next step, I supported him and helped him and gave him his confidence back.

When I threw up constantly for 2 1/2 years, he held my hair while praying for it to end, and he lay beside me on the cold bathroom floor while I waited to throw up yet again.

When I was so tired all I could do was sob at the sounds of a waking baby, he dragged his equally exhausted self to the kitchen and warmed a bottle.

When I was desperate and couldn't see a path out of the hole, he came into my sorrow, and then walked out with me. 

When he was desperate and couldn't see a path out of the hole, I came into his sorrow, and then walked out with him.

We have been in the pits with each other, and we have stayed.

That beaming bride up there thinks she really isn't too bad, basically a nice person, and her groom is pretty darn lucky to have her. Married up, in fact. 

But what this bride of fifteen years knows is that I am so much worse than I ever imagined

And Preston stays.

If that isn't grace, I don't know what is. 

Preston has seen me at my dead worst, the very depths of depravity, the innermost part of my soul laid bare, when instead of a helpmate I am in fact a liability. He's been here as the years have passed and three babies have caused stretch marks and scars, and gray hairs,  and a tummy that could never be described as "taut," and the only six-pack is in the fridge. (Come on, Jesus! I am soooo ready for my heavenly body!!!) And by the grace of God, he is staying. Even on the days, or in the weeks or months, when it feels hard, and I have nothing good to offer him...the "for worse" part that wasn't necessary...he stays. 

The beauty of the past fifteen years is so much deeper than the smooth sailing through life I imagined on that perfect March day. So much more beautiful, because of the things we have seen together, and experienced together, and lost together. Beauty I could not have imagined on the day I thought would be the most beautiful. 

I wish I could say the girls made this, but those are all my skills on display there. Don't 

call me for all your cake decorating needs. 

And tonight, as we celebrate fifteen years with the three little lives the Lord has entrusted to us, I pray that should they choose to marry someday, they choose a man who will share the beauty of the ordinary days with them. A man who will stay when they are at their unloveliest, when they are in the throes of post-partum, or when they gain 50 pounds, or when he comes home to a sink overflowing with dishes and toys all over the floor and all four females are crying, or when they lash out when he leaves gum in his pockets which then gets melted onto all the clothes, or when they are bickering and struggling to connect at all, and he will love them anyway because that, that love, that commitment, that staying, is what will show Jesus to them. That is how Christ loves His church. And that is what Preston promised to me in our vows. He actually said it. "I promise to love you as Christ loves the Church." And by God's grace and clinging to Jesus, he is doing it. 

Romantic dinner for five, please.

(Sidebar - Preston isn't perfect and some days I think it's pretty miraculous that I'm staying. If he had a blog or shared his feelings or spoke words I think he would would tell you he feels the same as I feel.) 

All the sparkle and a lot more wrinkles. And a lot less hair. For one of us.

What a picture of the sweetness of the Gospel God laid out when He designed marriage. We are worse than we think. We have nothing, nothing, to offer the Lord. And Jesus says to us, "I have seen all that. I know your worst. Not just the bad stuff but the very worst, ugliest parts of you both. Bring it. Bring your empty hands. I choose you. I love you. I cherish you. And I will always stay." 

What an amazing Bridegroom. And one day, what a wedding feast we will have!

Grace for Newlyweds and Golden Couples,
Martha

P.S. The advice portion: the thing that really makes me stay is that Preston brings me coffee in bed every morning. This makes me feel loved beyond almost anything else he could do, as I cannot function or speak words or do all the things or any of the things until I have had coffee. A simple act that means so much to me. Everyone has one. Find your honey's "coffee."