Tag Archives: Faith

welcome to the suck.

I had the *best* week ever.

It started off right with a baby-less due date. Things did take a very promising turn when my friends snagged me away for a morning of pedicures, lunch, coffee, and window shopping.

And then.

Then.

Then I pissed off my husband in such a way that it’s a wonder he acknowledges my presence.

I don’t say that because I want sympathy or I want to talk about why our fight started. I say that because married people mess up. They hurt each other sometimes. And they argue. And they don’t always see eye to eye. And they make mistakes–or in my case, failures. And they lose their tempers. And they get annoyed and upset and sad, and every other emotion that you can think of.

Being married is not always fun or romantic. It’s really, really hard to be a godly wife or husband when you’re seething mad at one another. It’s even harder when you have to put on a smiley face and go out into the world and be around people together, or worse–out into the living room and be in front of your kids together.

We’re going on day 6 of crankiness, snappy-attitudes, frowny-faces, and crossed arms. But God has a wicked sense of humor–I know for a fact that He has fun jacking with me and Caleb. Case in point: yesterday afternoon we discovered that we had lice all up in my house–specifically on me and one of my children. And also the dogs got sprayed by a skunk. Again.

Awesome.

So guess who stayed up until 2:30 a.m. greasing and de-licing my head? Through his anger, straight through his disappointment and irritation–Caleb tenderly and patiently picked nits and bugs out of my slimy hair for 3 hours. You know–kind of how Christ loves the church and stuff.

Pretty sure God is laughing so hard He shot Cherry Coke out of his nose. I’m also pretty sure God drinks Cherry Coke.

It is purely by His grace that the two of us are still married. The short version of our life together so far? 5 horrible years of an alcohol-fueled hell, followed by weight gain and weight loss, anxiety and depression, craniosynostosis and skull surgeries, medical bills and layoffs, 2 lost babies and several royal screw-ups by yours truly.

We are here.

Sometimes it feels like we are out in the deep, deep ocean and the waves are slamming us down under the surface and we’re getting saltwater shoved up our noses and our eyes sting, and whenever we’re able to come up for air, rain is coming down as hard as it can, and we can barely breathe or stay afloat.

Sometimes the waves are just choppy enough to be adventurous and fun.

And sometimes the ocean is calm and glass-like and we can see our toes underwater and enjoy the sunset.

Our marriage is always changing. We are always changing. I can’t say I don’t hope the worst is behind us. Hard times suck. But we don’t call it quits when we’re in a storm–we hold onto each other tighter.

For better or for worse.

….

So to recap, my husband is aggravated with me, my parents will be here in a week, I have lice, and my house smells like skunk. This is real life. One day, when the water is calm again, I’ll laugh my head off about it.

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picking stupid weeds

We got these awful stickers in the yard–the kind that are more painful than a thousand poisoned darts made out of jagged razor blades, if you get stuck by one. They’re the worst things in the entire world and there are approximately 3 million lining our back porch.

If you’re fancy, you can get a weed hacker and slice those puppies down. The only problem with that is, they’ll go all over the place and just spread the problem of the stickers.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll try to tackle each and every sticker–pulling them up one, by one, by one, until after 4 hours of hunching over a tiny clump of weeds, you look up to see that you still have 17 more feet of sticker-pulling to go, and you cry out to the Lord because good gravy it will take a decade to pull them all. And even then, you won’t get the ones that are way down in there, deep.

You could try to ignore them; but you’ll have to wear shoes, all the time, in your own backyard. And you’ll have to jump over the weed patches and you’ll probably still get stuck. And so will your kids. And that makes them cry. And your dogs will try to eat them and they’ll sit there and drool and schlomp and schlack their tongues on the roof of their mouths because they’ve got stickers in their gums. And then the stickers spread and get thicker and thicker, and become highly visable, until there’s just no avoiding them at all ever.

Or: you can take those patches of stickers and face them, head on. You can cut them down and dig them up–all the way up–leaving nothing but dirt where all those green weeds once stood. And it will be bare and ugly for a while, but you’ve cleared them completely and you can start fresh and maybe even plant some flowers or some nice soft grass.

And even though it took a long time and even though it was hard work, you can finally enjoy your backyard again, to the fullest. And life is better with a sticker-less backyard.

Obviously, stickers are sin. Sin sucks and hurts. You can try to cover it up, but eventually it wears on you and everyone else around you. And it sucks the joy out of everything. And you can’t just trim them here and there, and you can’t pick out tiny little ones all on your own. Deal with the sin, because you’re better off in the long run. Even if it’s gotten seemingly out of control. Even if it’s more than what you think you can handle. God helps us with these things if we go to Him. He might recommend a painful course of action. And you’ll get pricked and poked and it take more time than you originally expected, and you might cry in the process. Grab hold of the sin and yank that mess out by the roots. He will see you through it.

Incidentally, we do have a crud ton of stickers in our backyard that hurt like the mother freaking dickens.


word on the street

Here was soccer practice last night: my team was running around like lunatics while they waited for their turn to shine under the bright team-portrait lights. I stood idly by watching the madness, and I guess I just look like the kind of girl to chit-chat with, and you know, share a life story–complete with political views and spiritual struggles–with.

People talk to me. Well, I talk to people. Well, actually I more or less run my mouth until I look like a total jackass, and then people feel comfortable talking to me since they figure they can’t possibly look any stupider than I just did.

It’s a gift.

Really.

I enjoy talking to people when I’m not totally wigging out (’cause I got the anxiety!) As I listened to some of these ladies talk, I realize that every person has so much baggage. We all struggle and strain and fight the work that God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes, if we’re particularly feisty by nature, we create our very own custom-made hell-on-earth.

It’s not just me.

The thought is both relieving and sad.

I’ve been there. I’ve been too tired to go to church. I’ve been so lonely I could just die. I’ve had the knock-down drag-out fights with my husband and I’ve screamed at my kids for a week straight.

I’ve also drank myself into a stupor every day by 3:00 in the afternoon for a good solid 3 years. I’ve cried in my closet partly because I was ashamed of being drunk and partly because I was too drunk to do anything else. I’ve given precious pieces of my heart and body to people who didn’t love or respect me. I’ve brought down mad dishonor on my parents. I emotionally neglected my daughter and I flat-out ignored God, saying things like “I’m just not into Jesus right now.”

But the whole time, Jesus? Was very much into Toni McClung. And He pursued me super-duper hardcore and He fought for me and when I was at my rockest bottom, He walked right in, paid the price for everything that I had done, and everything that I would do and everything that I haven’t even done yet. He redeemed me.

Say that with me: redeem.

I am worth something to Him. I don’t deserve it, I don’t fully understand it, but He calls me His own. He calls me Daughter.

I see these people, these moms and dads and these children out there on the soccer field and they talk to me and my heart hurts for them. It literally hurts, and I could cry over their pain. I know.

I know loneliness and fear and panic and anxiety and desperation and hunger and sadness and despair and depression and anger and rage and hurt and pain and loss. I know the frustration and the impatience and the feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless, and I have had the shakes for something that never fixed anything–only made it all worse, worse than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I still get the shakes, actually.

I always had trouble understanding that church term: my chains are gone. I used to think: “Chains? Really? My life is good. Really good.” (a Nacho Libre quote for the win!)

But I get it now. My alcoholism, my laziness, my pride, my sins: it was absolute slavery. Jesus wanted me to be free. And though those very human feelings still come up and temptations still rear their ugly heads, they don’t own me and they don’t define me, because He calls me Daughter.

It’s not about church or church activities or church people or the church building. It’s not about things I do or do not do or about acting right and avoiding wrong. It’s about loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength because He first loved me; He died for me and for all people.

And that’s…awesome. Awesome is what it is.


(More) Uncertain Times

As wars rage in faraway countries and U.S. battleships line up in foreign seas, let’s try doing something a little outside the box, a little crazy: Let’s….say…a prayer…for our president.

Take a deep breath, because that really did come out of my mouth just now.

And all I know is that, like so many other points in history, this moment in time is meaningful. The government’s decision on whether or not to step into a situation that may or may not be our business absolutely requires our most fervent prayers.

It scares me that we live in a world filled with such ridiculous violence. I hate that I can sound off my half-informed opinion of it all from the comfort of this uncomfortable office chair, while real people–young, old, male, female–are literally ducking for cover from gunfire in dilapidated buildings. Gunfire, people.

I’ve never been shot at. The only times I’ve ever even heard gun shots were at my high school track meets. I’m beyond sheltered. And probably also beyond naive.

A part of me says, “No. Let’s not go to war; let’s not invade yet another country. Let’s not start this.” But another part of me says, “This is wrong. What they’re doing to their own people is wrong.” And still another part of me questions, “Was it really us that gave them the ability to hurt their own country like this?” And most of all, I think “What about our country? What about my children? What about gas prices? Food prices? What about my comfortability? When are we ever going to get a twirly cushioned office chair?”

It’s not all about the United States. It’s just not. We live in the world. The world has 99 unending problems. We can’t ignore them, and even if we try, it’ll all eventually come crashing through our front door.

I don’t say this because I think we should obliterate other countries off the face of the planet.

I don’t say this because I think the U.S. is morally and ethically superior to any other place.

I don’t know what the right answer is.

But I know who does. And I know that His plans are unstoppable. And I want on the side of Him. Because–*spoiler alert!*–Jesus wins.

Would God be on the side of our country? Let’s just say I’m hesitant to believe it. Shall we take a short look at pop culture, perhaps? Music that glorifies violence, alcohol, and drug use. Men who objectify women. Women who completely degrade themselves by grinding on teddy bears in front of a world-wide audience. Parents who let their kids get away with any fool thing at any hour of any day. Teenagers who go on random killing sprees because they’re bored. This is the stuff that scares me far more than the possibility of war on foreign soil.

But let’s keep in mind that none of this is taking God by surprise. This is not the first war in the history of mankind. Obama is not the first leader to mess up. (Can we agree that King David’s whole love-child/arranged murder scandal would’ve had Americans calling for his actual head on a stick?) Miley Cyrus is not the first girl to lose her damn mind. And this is not the first economic disaster we’ve endured (The Great Depression/Dustbowl days seemed pretty freaking bleak.)

I will admit, that although nothing is new under the sun, our current problems don’t exactly point us in a promising direction.

So now that I think about it, let’s pray for our president and our country. Let’s pray for the poor souls overseas who are in the midst of battle today. Let’s pray for the women and children who are powerless and scared to death. Let’s pray for ruined countries and countries headed toward ruin.

Let’s pray for the people across the world that don’t know Jesus. Let’s pray for those who can only think of hate and fear. Let’s pray for the people who don’t know love and kindness.

And pray for your neighbor. Pray for your neighbor’s marriage, and their children. Pray for the single mom walking in the hot sun to pick her kids up from school. Pray for the single mom at work, worrying about how her kids are getting home from school. Pray for the family in the car in front of you in rush hour traffic. Because guess what? If it’s not your problem now, it will be soon. And if it’s Jesus’s business, then it is your business.

And spread the word: You don’t have to be a slave of the world. You don’t have to give in to evil. You don’t have to be sexually depraved and addicted to drugs. You don’t have to seek negative attention. You don’t have to kill. You don’t have to fight.

There’s something so much better, and you are loved.

john 16


Dealing.

I am running again, and it feels awesome. Except for in the morning like before 7:00 p.m., or whenever the temperature is above 80 degrees, and also I don’t like to drip sweat. A little sweat is okay, but leaving a trail is just unattractive, as is the heavy breathing associated with this type of physical exertion. But I do love running.

I’ve cut down on coffee. For instance: instead of drinking an entire pot, I would have only, say, 8 cups. But then Caleb caught on to my little game, and now I’m down to 1 measly cup and excuse me but that’s bogus.

Painting has been somewhat therapeutic, although, to be honest, when I start painting, what I really want to do is just drop everything and everyone else in the world and just focus all my energy and attention to the canvas. And when I can’t do that–simply take 24 solid hours to devote to one painting–my mind obsesses over every little detail that I DIDN’T get to finish. Kids? They can open their own Capri Suns if they’re still up at midnight.

Of course that hasn’t been the way of it. I’m putting my kids to bed semi-on-time. I’m making them drink milk and read books. We go to swimming lessons in the morning and ride bikes in the evening. No one is neglected, and no one is becoming a tortured manic artist who forgets to shower or eat.

Because I certainly remember to eat.

I wish I could explain anxiety. My mind thinks rationally for the most part, but my skin crawls and my blood tingles and my head pounds. And I feel like I have to yawn but I can’t–and then the thought of not being able to take a deep breath makes me try even harder to breathe, and then I really do start to panic because–holy crap–I can’t breathe.

And sometimes I can’t get my words out. And sometimes I forget what I was saying or doing. And I can’t focus and I feel jumpy. And also loud noises and crowded hallways and traffic jams and people I don’t know freak me out, because what if I can’t breathe?

Caleb says that this is the thing that he hates the most: “What do you mean you can’t breathe? That’s ridiculous. Yes, you can breathe. Just breathe. Just do it. Breathe.”

Sometimes my husband knows just the right thing to say. But a lot of times, no. Just…no.

I kid.

No I don’t.

But out of all the people who deal with me on a regular basis, Caleb gets the brunt of my funky moods. He gets the shrill, worked-up rant over the scuff marks on my church shoes. He gets the tossing and the turning at 4:00 in the morning, and the “What part of ‘I’ve got a freaking headache‘ didn’t you understand?” He comes home after a long day to a strung-out, unkempt wife, who cooked burnt pancakes for dinner, and who forgot to buy syrup.

Bless his precious, patient heart.

My friends are awesome. My folks are awesome. And God is awesome, because of course during this past week’s Sunday School lesson, we studied David and Goliath: a little boy, fighting for God, and overcoming a seemingly undefeatable giant. Goliath was big, ugly, and mean. Anxiety is scary. Life is scary. I have to face these things. But God will see me through it, and He will use these experiences of mine for good.


Fear: Can I Be Honest?

Today was our big art day downtown. It was cool.

If by “cool”, you mean being so worried about getting lost in downtown Oklahoma City that the second you drive north of the Hwy 37 exit, you get a killer migraine. Cool, as in your anxiety disorder kicks back in with a vengeance, and suddenly your car is closing in on you, and giant 18-wheelers are for sure trying to run you off the road and you feel like you’re going to vomit.

And when you actually get where you’re going, you really do worry that that’s exactly what will happen: you have to breathe in slowly through your nose in order to keep from literally barfing, because here you are: out of your element and waaaaay out of your comfort zone, with folks you don’t know, in a place that–you’ve been told by dozens of people–is unsafe.

Did I mention my previous dealings with anxiety? It gets to me sometimes.

I’m ashamed of this. I am ashamed of my fear, however rational it may be.

It’s not like I’ve never been in neighborhoods like this before. Having kids, though, has changed my perspective on, well…everything.

The place looked pretty happy and wonderful, to be honest. Sunny little house on a quaint little street on a bright and beautiful morning. Painting with the world’s most adorable children in a shady and spacious backyard. Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches all around.

It’s no different from my everyday.

But what about the kids? Is it their everyday? Who paints with them? Who jump-ropes with them? Who sings and plays and makes lunch with a complete serving of vegetables, everyday, for them? Surely their parents, or a kind grandma, or babysitter?

Right?

And what about their moms and dads? Who invites them over for chit-chat and coffee, and who brings them casseroles when everyone in the family has the flu? Who comes over to their house and prays in their driveway after they’ve had a miscarriage? Who can they trust to watch their children in emergencies and who do they turn to in times of tragedy?

I don’t know.

I do know that the people who put on this week-long day-camp for the kids in this area did it for a reason. A block away from where we played, women walk the streets, selling their bodies. You can see them at any given time of day. There’s trash, and bars, and hypodermic needles, gangs and violence and abuse.

There are predators. There are people who would seek to “groom” some of the beautiful 10-year-old girls that were painting smiley owls with me today.

And it makes me sick to my stomach. It brings tears to my eyes. I can paint and play and eat lunch and leave it all behind. I will go back to my “lily-white world” 30 minutes away. But what about the people who live in the other houses on that same street? What about the children? What happens to them, when the sun goes down? Where is their retreat? How do they live in fear?

I have to wonder this: They are either 1. miserable, or 2. not afraid.

And if they are not afraid, I wonder if 1. they are distributors of fear, or 2. they have taken every precaution necessary against those that would hurt them, or 3. They are at peace with God and they believe that they are right where they need to be. Or two of those. Or all of them.

I prayed hard on the drive in. I wanted to be calm, cool, and collected. I wanted to be. But I was scared, I really was. I’m about as maniacal as a box of kittens. My street cred is so low that a hardened thug would probably bless my heart and give me a sticker. (I’m counting on that, in fact.)

I didn’t want to drive down a street where mean, haughty eyes stared me down. I didn’t want my hands to shake. I didn’t want to feel like I was an outsider, or worse–an intruder, an easy target. I tried to call to mind a verse that I love, and was surprised when I actually remembered it–and even more surprised when it actually comforted me:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

If God told me to paint with these kids, then He was in my car with me today, warding off evil semis and vanquishing my highway enemies. His hand was on my shoulder as I navigated those city streets and He opened the door to the house just as I was about to faint on the front steps.

And if He called these other people to minister to the men, women, and children of this neighborhood every other day of the year, then He is with them when they put on their tennis shoes and hit the streets. He passes out nail polish and encouraging Bible verses and He hugs the prostitutes. And He has the strength to do it all again the next day.

If you couldn’t already tell, today was the first real day I stepped outside of my comfort zone for Jesus. (I should mention that my comfort zone consists of…my house, and maybe the church as long as I’m surrounded by people who I’m used to, and maybe Target–but only the new one, in Norman.)

But I pray that it won’t be the last. I hope they’ll have me back despite my awkwardness and my utter lack of leadership during the painting session.

I also pray it won’t be the hardest place I go. My sister had this to say in response to my idea of one day doing an art camp in Africa or South America with my friends: “What about those people on ‘Locked Up Abroad’ ? You know, you just can’t go to a place that’s not safe.”

(Honestly, I was more concerned with the zombie apocalypse breaking out on the plane ride over the ocean.)

I get it, I do. But I can–I can go. I might be meant to do just that. And when are we truly safe? We could be killed anytime, any place. No one knows what tomorrow brings.

It won’t matter to God in Heaven that we were super smart and graduated from really good colleges. It won’t matter that we stayed away from gluten and drove cars with high safety ratings. It won’t matter what the balance was in our savings account, and God won’t care about our chevron-patterned throw pillows. God will say: “I made you strong–did you help people who were weak? I gave you the ability to speak and write–did you tell people about Me? I put a sadness in your heart for orphans–did you adopt? I made you creative–did you share that gift with others?”

I so often waste my gifts and blessings and strengths. But today, I was right where I needed to be. We sang songs. We played games. We ate lunch and painted pictures, and we hunted eggs. Mia and Merrick popped confetti all over themselves and me and the other kids. People were smiling, laughing. It was a good day.

IMG_1428 IMG_1431 IMG_1434IMG_1437 IMG_1438

We'll be picking confetti out of our scalps for years to come.

We’ll be picking confetti out of our scalps for years to come.

Today I finally met the kids that I have been thinking about and praying for since March. Only now I will be praying for them by name, with their beautiful faces in mind.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this painting party possible by participating in art lessons this month. We earned enough to buy supplies for today and for Friday, with some canvasses and paints left over for the community center to keep on hand. Art for you=art for them. Great job!


My Dog and Art Students and A Visitor

Today Merrick stood at the back door yelling out Darcy’s name about 3 times before he realized she wasn’t out there. When it him, his shoulders slumped and his eyes filled with tears, and we’re going on day 3, folks.

We had to put sweet Darcy down. In the 5 days it took for the vet to get back to us with her initial test results, Darcy went from a vague health issue, to complete and total shutdown mode. Her lymph nodes were rock-hard and ridiculously swollen. Poor little thing couldn’t bark, couldn’t eat, couldn’t go to the bathroom. She didn’t feel like moving much and it was getting tougher and tougher for her to breathe. Her cancer just ate her up. I was doubtful that she’d make it through the weekend. So we took pictures:

Our best friend.

Our best friend.

The sweetest dog in the world.

The sweetest dog in the world.

Our family dog.

Part of our family.

So fluffy and beautiful! So loving and wise!

So fluffy and beautiful! So loving and wise!

Definitive proof that Noah came from outer space.

Also, definitive proof that Noah is a freaking alien.

And we said our good-byes.

Darcy, in happier, healthier times--in front of the house that didn't exist yet.

Darcy, in happier, healthier times–in front of the house that didn’t exist yet.

Wednesday night was hellacious. Merrick was beside himself: “I can’t sleep when Darcy’s not alive!” This morning he insisted on paying tribute to Darcy, in the form of vocalized song. “Okay,” I said. “What song shall we sing?” thinking he’d choose something amazing, like Kenny Loggin’s “Meet Me Halfway”, his current favorite.

Instead we sang 50 choruses of “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” to our dead dog.

It was less than epic.

Other than us adjusting to life without Darcy, things around here are good. Caleb and Mia are at camp. Cheyenne is still in Maryland. And I am giving art lessons like a fiend:

This little thunderbolt forced me to learn how to draw sharks.

This little thunderbolt forced me to learn how to draw sharks.

IMG_1387 These cousins were dead set on trees and sunsets.

And I’m having a blast. I hope the kids are, too. My Thursday girls went home and put on an impromptu painting party of their own:

Behold these gems: the kids in my town are going to put me out of business.

Just look at these gems. The kids in my town are going to put me out of business.

I love it. This was my wildest dream: kids spreading art around. They did it! It happened! It worked!

Shut up.

Nobody will ever know how much these children bless me.

And speaking of being blessed, I had the privilege of spending time with a beautiful young woman who came to stay with me yesterday. This girl had a sparkle in her eye and a permanent smile on her face, even though this year has been so tough for her. We talked about loneliness and making mistakes and helping others and loving God. Her take on these things brought tears to my eyes; I tried to come up with advice but everything I said felt miserably short of anything remotely wise. I searched for words of encouragement, but my mind mostly drew blanks. I had paid my dues in high school, but maybe I was just too old and too far removed from the life of a modern teenage girl to be able to relate much.

Last night, I read this in Angie Smith’s I Will Carry You:

“We aren’t going to feel whole in this life, and we will long for something we don’t have. Something that will fill the nagging void that intermittently stings and knocks us to our knees. And all the while, Satan taunts us, telling us our faith is small. To hurt so deeply is a sign that we live in a fallen world, not that we serve a small God.”

…and I almost leaped out of bed at 11:30 p.m. to share it with her. But I didn’t because I am restrained like that, so I’m sharing it now.

I’m still reading books about miscarriage and death. That’s my pain right now. I am so, so lonely for my baby and it still hurts. I have so many questions. I doubt myself. But I do serve a God who is big and in charge; I’ve got to remember to turn to Him in my loneliness.

We might think we’re oddly matched up with random people for no apparent reason, but there’s always a purpose. This sweet girl did much for me yesterday, and I hope that she realizes how special she is and how much God loves her.


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