Eden, a mythical land? Unattainable utopia? Perfection? Paradise? A place we long for? A place we try to re-create? Or are we trying to create Heaven on Earth?

Regardless, our efforts to create such a space often leave us frustrated. It is not possible here. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). This is Earth after all, the place between Eden and Heaven, devoid of perfection.

Most of my days as a Landscape Architect were sprinkled with a dissatisfaction that I couldn’t put my finger on. A disappointment at the end of each project. A letdown. Months or years of effort concluded, and left me wanting.

Without God, we want. And when we want, we often don’t even realize that what we want is actually God Himself. But when “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” or “I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1)

I think in those years, I was working for the wrong ones. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I was working for me, my employer, my clients, not my true Employer.

Now as a Play-at-Home mom (yes, I play doctor, nurse, coach, referee, OSHA, FEMA, teacher, guidance counselor, housekeeper, chef, etc. etc. etc.), I must rely on my true Employer to train me to fulfill all these roles I’m unqualified for. I must acknowledge the Lord as my shepherd, the One who gently guides me through this life, the One who trains me to listen for His voice, the One who protects me and provides for me.

Yet, I find myself wanting when I look around at the clutter that threatens to consume me. I want order. I want peace. I want quiet. If “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4:13), why can’t I stay on top of this mess?! Why do I lose my temper at my precious children and dear husband?

Is it because I’ve impatiently yanked the rod and staff right out of the Shepherd’s hand? Am I trying to force my home and family to be the green pastures and quiet waters I crave? No more! Right now, I give them back with a repentant heart.

I have misunderstood Phillipians 4:13, if I think that I should do all things, accomplish all things, do everything. Christ strengthens me to do all the things He’s called me to do, not all things I can put on a list. What’s the context of that verse anyway? Let’s look at the verses before.

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phillipians 4:11-13)

So He gives me the ability to be content no matter what… truly a Herculean feat. He also “makes me lie down in green pastures (He knows I’m weary), he leads me beside quiet waters (He knows I’m overstimulated), he restores my soul (He knows I’m depleted). He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2-3)

I have been in that green pasture of contentment briefly, one day when I let Him lead me to my easel. For me, art is one way that God restores my soul. I prioritized it that day, and found myself so filled and refreshed that it was nearly visible how the protective sheathing on my nerves had regenerated. My silly boys in the backseat on the way home from school gave me joy, instead of fatigue. I was able to laugh with them, instead of groan at them. Back home, the clutter on the counter did not bother me!

So those green, edenic pastures and quiet waters of contentment must be on the inside, “because the kingdom of God is within [me].” (Luke 17:21). An internal contentment “in any and every (external) situation”. Yet, I cannot access those pastures on my own, and I cannot create them around me. I must look to Him, and let Him lead me, for He is the only way, the secret to true contentment.

 
 
… is a phrase I could not shake last week. I was filled with it, up and over, brimming, beaming – on the anniversary of my daughter’s death. That is completely unreasonable, against all human wisdom, makes no sense.

And yet, it is a beautifully curious phrase. I am drawn to it, to puzzle and ponder. It is the third time in two weeks I had felt it. And each time it was contrary to the expected emotion. The first time, I was helping lead worship for the single mom’s group at our church. I was to speak for a minute or two before a particular song about why it means so much to me, and then I was to solo the first verse.

I had typed out my thoughts, but totally misplaced them! “I guess God wants me to wing it!”, I told the worship leader I was assisting. Consequently, my words were muddled and rambly (I like to make up my own words), and I started the song in the wrong key. Pretty. Normally, I would be embarrassed and replay the whole scene, focusing on my mistakes, feeling bad.

But no, unreasonable joy overtook me. I could see on the faces of the women in the room that despite my faulty efforts, I was resonating with them. And I knew that it was not me. It was God having an affect on them, encouraging them, inspiring them, using my story. And there was a connection there, even though I didn’t actually connect with them individually. It was God connecting with humanity, and this connection trumped everything. The focus was on God, not me, and I was off the hook for my so-called screw-ups.

I felt unreasonable joy a second time when I was scheduled to speak briefly to the women’s bible study groups. I had prepared my three to five minute meditation a week or more early. The night before, however, while putting a sick kid to bed, I thought I was going to have to cancel. I sent out the email letting people know I wouldn’t be there, ate a late dinner, and went to bed without reviewing my notes.

When morning came, the kid’s fever had miraculously vanished! I had prayed for this, so where was my faith? Why was I surprised? Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure whether to send him to school or not, and finally made the call (It’s a go!) about 20 minutes before it was time to leave. Lunches had to be made, snacks had to be gathered, the I’m-going-to-be-there-after-all email had to get sent, etc.

So out the door we went. Unshowered, unmadeup, in a thrown-together outfit, and wreaking of my husband’s super-ultra-mega strong man deodorant, I dropped off the kids, late. I *hate* to be late, and usually get very frazzled about it. But somehow, I have an odd, out-of-place peace. I don’t think too hard on it because I have just enough time to read through my notes once before I’m given my very own microphone.

And I think to myself, that God is up to something here. I guess he wants me to sort of wing it – again. Something about speaking from the heart? Something about sharing the real me, the messy me. And isn’t that who I relate to? The messy ones (the honest ones). Not the perfect, every-hair-in-place ones (are they hiding something?). I want to be the latter, but God isn’t letting me be who I think I should be. He’s showing me that “the light shines through better if the pot is cracked,” as a friend told me.

This unreasonable joy is the light of God spewing from my broken places. So I guess I have to accept myself as the crackpot I apparently am… which may be easier than I think, if my imperfections are redeemed when I allow them to become the very conduit of the blinding light of God’s unreasonable joy.

 
 
Picture
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
February 13th, 2006 forever changed everything. Death. Unexpected. Unexplained. Too soon. Not even three hours of life outside me. And most of that time away from me, in the NICU. Only a brief moment in my arms, eyes closed, breath shallow. I knew she needed help I couldn’t give. But I didn’t know the next time I’d hold her that she would be gone. Her precious shell. I tried to burn the image of her perfect little face into my memory forever. Her tiny hands with long nails. Small copies of Daddy’s toes on her feet. My little flower was wilting fast. Dear friend captured her, lovely, in photos. Pain erupted, lava tears flowed long… until the spew slowed to an imperceptible speed, revealing the new, remotely recognizable terrain of me.
August 2, 2007 forever changed everything. Birth. Two. Boys. Big! (6lb-7oz and 7lb-2oz) Expected. Anticipated. Relieved. Exhausted. Bell’s Palsy distorted my face, eyesight, and hearing. Only a few weeks early, the boys had trouble latching. Daddy can’t sleep if they are in our room. Mommy can’t sleep if they are not. Swaddled cozy, Baby B stares at the ceiling, content, intense. I just know he’s thinking up his first book. Another funny moment, ravenous Baby A leaches onto brother’s forehead. Too soon, it’s time to go home. Terrified. Not ready.
August 2010: Twins turn 3. Leave California. See this “sign” just days before departure. Arrive Colorado.

June 2011: Husband loses job.

March 2012: Husband loses mind (?) and suggests we store our belongings, buy an RV, and hit the road. Because this sounds so crazy and irresponsible, and yet we feel so compelled to do it, we pray hard for God to make it clear to us what we should do.

April 2012: Rental management company calls. Owner wants to sell. We have to leave.

June 2012: Belongings stored, we set out in an RV for an unknown amount of time. (Stressed out unemployed Daddy + two 4-year-old man-cubs + exhausted Mommy, all cooped up in a tiny space = a few volatile moments. AND/OR/BUT… A fun-loving Daddy with time on his hands + two 4-year-old man-cubs + caffeinated fun-loving Mommy = more than a few priceless memories.)

September 2012: After 79 days and 7000+ miles, we arrive back in Colorado. Within a week, we move into a big, beautiful rental in a great neighborhood.

April 2013: Husband gets new job! I can buy a coffee now and then again!

Today, February 2014: The 6-year-olds are at school. The husband is at work. I have the giant rental to myself. What sense of all this am I to make? I know about pain. I know about fear. I know about uncertainty. I know life is hard. I also know life is hard-er without God. Because of God’s grace, in the midst of this hard life, I know about joy; I know about peace; I know about security. I know about adventure! God is fun. God is funny. God is sweet. God just IS, therefore I am. And maybe that’s all the sense I need.
 
 
I’m wondering about stillness in motion. An apparent contradiction, can I have stillness of mind while body is in motion? I imagine serious athletes achieve this. Unwavering focus. The Zone? Tuning out the crowds, cheering, jeering. “Running with endurance the race set before me” comes to mind. (Some days I’d like to run away with endurance.)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

My “race” is not a foot race where I can just do my own thing. Put in my ear buds and establish a steady pace.

No, I am scrambling, addressing multiple people at the same time in person and on the phone, while cooking dinner, and doing laundry. I am Steven Segal, my lightening limbs striking everything in my path. Dinner, dishes, laundry flying. Husband and screaming children run for cover. It’s a bloody mess, and I can’t just leave the scene. I am not Steven Segal; I have to clean up the carnage.

During the most chaotic part of my day, 5-8pm (Un-Happy Hour, according to my cousin Jenny), how can I achieve stillness in motion?

1-”Lay aside every weight.” What can I eliminate from my evening race? My daily phone check-in with my Great Aunt simply must happen at some other time, despite the time difference. Figure it out already. To clarify, she is not a weight, but trying to talk on the phone while making dinner (and the kids are in full frenzy because Daddy just got home) is an unnecessary burden.

2-”Let us run with endurance.” Endurance comes with training and preparation. How can I better prepare for my evening race? Find the time, take the time, make the time to plan dinner before 5pm, way before. This makes a huge difference when I have done it. Do it more. Make sure what I need is thawed, and that I have all the ingredients. Make double batches (at least) of family favorites, and freeze them! Duh. I can do this with spaghetti sauce, what else?

3-”Looking unto Jesus.” I need 4pm prayer. Silence, and coffee, tea, or wine depending on the day. Maybe a little bread or crackers. A sort of communion. My private happy hour.

Pray for myself and my family and for the peace of God, that goes beyond human understanding. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:6-7) “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) I am the Lord’s people. Help me to act like it.

I feel better already. As I observe happy hour with Jesus, may He adorn me “with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4) – an inner stillness, unaffected by motion, that I can carry with poise to conquer the chaos.

 

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