Red Vine Spirituality

Taylor K. Arthur balances Bipolar 1 Disorder, marriage, and motherhood with a nitty-gritty faith inspiring a twisted, blissful life.

Category: Christian living (page 1 of 15)

When you need someone to walk beside you in your grief

Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; Luke 24:15

To my dear, grieving friend,

Hi. I wish we could get together today, past this screen, and sit down in a coffee shop to talk today. I wish we could hold hot steamy cups to our lips and allow the tears to trickle and the truth of deep grief to eek out. I wish for you one good friend to do this with today, since I can only reach you with words. But with these words, I hope you feel that you are not alone. I hope you feel my hug of friendship and love for you.
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# 3 Nitty Gritty Faith Friday Post of 2014

Counting down your favorite Nitty-gritty Faith Friday posts of 2014. This is #3…

THROW THE PANS! SAVE THE MARRIAGE!

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:1-4

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry . . .
Ephesians 4:25-27

Anger is an under-rated, highly suspect emotion we like to avoid at all costs. It’s not nice or predictable. Sometimes it seems to come from nowhere; other times, it builds slowly like a cancer. But why can’t we move through this “negative” emotion the same way we move through happiness? Why can’t we find a means for expressing our anger and move on with our lives?

Anger can be a good thing. Anger is energy.It can move us from a state of paralysis or fear or depression into a state of action. Anger inspires political and social movements. Anger clarifies our focus. But it has to be addressed, or it turns to poison. It can poison our spirits, our bodies, and our foxholes.

Foxhole living requires getting a handle on anger. When you’re in the foxhole and shells are flying, there is no where else to go. Even if you’re angry at the enemy shelling you–trying to kill you–you’re stuck looking at just one face, dealing with one person’s annoying noises and habits. Anybody with me?

The funny thing about anger is that it is so easily transferable: boss gave the promotion to someone else, girlfriend made a snarky remark, I come home and transfer that anger to the way my spouse is making a mess on the stove while she cooks dinner or how he didn’t close the kitchen cabinets or how he chews too loudly or how she forgot to recycle again or . . . Pretty soon a lovely night at home after a hard day at work becomes a hard night at home after a hard day at work. Hmm.

I know that when life gets difficult (is that the right word? How about horrendous, push-you-to-your-crazy-point, horrifying, unfair and cruel?), it is so easy to throw your partner under the bus. I’ve done it: I’ve taken all of my anger and hurled it at him and watched him double over. But what I have learned is that if I’m hurling meanness at the one person who’s promised not to leave when things get tough, what’s going to be left of him? What kind of partner can I expect to have if every time I need him, I tear him down?

Then, a lightning bolt—or, I think, the Holy Spirit—slapped me upside the head with some serious insight. I was pregnant for the first time and very depressed. One Monday morning suffering a severe migraine for the majority of the weekend, I felt well enough to go down stairs. There, on the dirty stove, sat the dirty frying pans from the meals Jack had cooked for me over the weekend.

Why couldn’t he just clean the pans? Why, while I lay up in bed in excruciating, immobilizing pain, couldn’t he just clean the damn pans?

I wasn’t thinking about each and every thing he had done for me over the weekend: bringing me every meal, providing every dose of Tylenol and glass of water, calling my doctor on my behalf, folding laundry, canceling plans, staying home to keep an eye on me. His many acts of love escaped my mind; only the dirty, stinking pans remained in focus.

As I stared at the dirty pans on the dirty stove–he hadn’t cleaned the stove either–rage almost knocked me over. I wanted to run up the stairs, charge into his office, and scream at him for everything. It wouldn’t be the first time. I searched within myself for a handle–anything–to keep me from drowning in this anger. I knew that the dirty pans were just the tipping point. I was angry for so many reasons; little could be pinned on my husband who had lovingly taken care of me . . . but there is always something to get angry at him for if I look closely enough.

So I did something crazy. I took those pans and I hucked them as hard as I could into the back yard. Yup. I took all of my anger out on those pans, and the grass, and I left Jack alone. I sat down on the couch as the anger dissipated. Damn pans.

And, even though he was seriously concerned about my mental state when he noticed all of our cookware in the back yard, all I could think was at least I left you in tact.

I have used my marriage as a giant, recyclable coffee filter for the problems of my life. Everything that is wrong, hard, unfair, unexplainable, everything that incites anger, everything outside that I can’t control is thrust into this filter. Then I pour the gushing emotions teeming from my out of control heart through that filter. And I wonder why our marriage blows up sometimes? I wonder why the pressure is too great? Why there are little bits of my anger and splinters of each of us in every bitter cup we drink?

The harder life gets, the more I need to be mindful about how I am treating my partner. Anger and sadness and frustration are real and need to be dealt with, but that doesn’t mean they need to be hurled in the direction of my teammate. I need to take my anger and hurl it out the back door (frying pans don’t have feelings, after all!), and focus all of my energy on loving my partner. After all, the more I love him, the more I build him up, the better partner I’ll have. After all, loving him is loving myself, as we are supposed to be on the same team.

When I started to understand this, my marriage changed. Life has been hard, certainly. But some of our best moments have been in the foxhole together. We both make mistakes, but it’s funny how trivial an overdraft fee, a lost check, or a dirty kitchen seems now. I remind myself, whenever I want to sling mud in Jack’s direction, that even if I’m right, and he deserves a big dressing down, what do I deserve? Much more of the same.

God bless you all in your foxholes.

And, throw the pans!!!

Taylor

Thanksgiving Cup (for the Mamas)

Good morning!

I have been thinking of you all week, friend. And, wow! Was that one crazy busy week or what? Mine was filled with one last Bible Study night, a little bit of cooking every day so that I could sit on the couch this morning with a cup of coffee, my Jesus, and my darling husband and look at the fire instead of waking up at 5 am to run around as if I was the turkey whose head had just been cut off for dinner, and the joy-filled privilege to help celebrate Thanksgiving preschool- and kindergarten-style. Between the pilgrim hats and feathered head bands, chocolate cupcakes for 60 and the buttercream frosting that would not spread, turkey bowling, bracelet-making and finger painting, my exhausted mama heart filled to the brim with thankfulness.

I had you in mind all week, friend. I watched you run into the Thanksgiving party, frazzled-late, so desperate to spend time with your kindergartener, so full of love, so trying to do more than any one person should be able to (but somehow you do it all.) You’re making dinner for 28, baking pies for an army, balancing a baby on your hip, and arguing with a teenager. You’re waiting to see if every single member of your extended family is well so you can take your special needs baby to Thanksgiving dinner. You worked twice as hard at the beginning of the week so you could work every single moment on the day you take off to give your family a beautiful holiday. And I got your text from 4:56 this morning, I am exhausted. Babies up all night teething. And I treasured your willingness to share God’s word as you wheel in a beautiful new baby boy to share with us all, only one week later. I treasured your wisdom on Facebook last night, I’m sad that you’re already exhausted. But I understand it. As I worked on our thanksgiving dinner this week, I was flooded with memories of times past when I was a child and Mother and Grace worked for days on end. Then my children were babies and little ones and the house was filled with excitement. It’s always a lot of work, but you won’t trade the memories of these days for anything. I recall my last holiday with Grace and she was saying the same thing. At this point in my life, there is a LOT of bittersweet alongside my helping of turkey.

And this is what we’re doing, sisters: we’re offering ourselves up as living sacrifices, as a broken and willing vessel to pour out love and turkey upon sweet little faces and the weary brother-in-law and the hard-to-love uncle who always makes that one off-colored joke at dinner. We’re feathering our nest with the best of who we are–straight from the heart–and we’re laying it down so that others can grow strong and nurtured and whole on our watch.

And we’re grateful, straight down through our toes, that we’re still here, and that we’ve been given this shot on the stage of life to love, to stretch, to offer up our gifts and see our Father multiply them into a sea of blessings.

I know it’s hard. I’ve done enough Thanksgiving dinners, from the tiny dinner for four in our postage-stamped penny kitchen to my first dinner for the Arthurs when Mom was sick and I was first teaching and so tired I got into two fender benders in one day just doing the shopping, to Thanksgivings on card tables and serveware charged to credit cards, to the year the house had to be kept sterile, where I cooked until midnights and stayed up all those nights with a sick baby, a teething baby, a nursing baby . . .

And there have been years I resented and a year that I called it all off at the last minute, years I felt my back might break, years with no break. But as I grow in the Unforced Rhythms of Grace, I realize that these holidays are not about the striving. Whether there are five sides or one, whether the turkey is overcooked or not, whether the table looks like it’s been furnished by Pottery Barn or the Good Will, Thanksgiving will go on. Even if a pipe bursts and you lose water pressure and the only way to get water is to hold huge pots under the bursting spicket outside and carry it in the house (yup! that happened at the Arthur’s one year), Thanksgiving will go on. It will. I promise.

So, sit down and drink a cup of coffee or a glass of wine today. Make a fire and cuddle your babies. Watch the Peanuts’ The Mayflower Voyagers if you really want a great kid-friendly account of the first Thanksgiving. Forget being perfect. All perfect gets you is a charged up credit card and a frazzled, crazy-eyed Mama. Wait for your guests to arrive and set the table together. Hug your family, look into their faces, and be grateful for your people today.

This life can be so hard, friend. But today? Today is gravy.

Be blessed, bless. And above all, sing praise to Jesus as you baste that turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving, Sisters. I am so very grateful for each one of you.

And, just to hint at your guests, you might want to hang this up in your kitchen:

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 1.03.43 PM

Right?! Ha!

Love,

Taylor

Dog-paddling Mama Relaxes into His Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Sometimes you don’t know you’re missing something until you’re mid-leap. Lately, I’ve been leaping a lot: quaking in my boots as I submit guest posts and applications to blogging groups, attending my church’s SHE retreat for the first time, enrolling the boys in a new school, agreeing to be a Bible Study leader for a multi-generational group of women most of whom I had never met before . . . most of life, lately, has been engulfed by new. If I’m being honest? It’s been a little scary.

I feel my life changing, the current shifting. I stand chest deep in these river waters, and my natural inclination has always been to swim. Paddle. Dive in, fight the current, strive. For the past few years, I’ve been dog paddling like crazy just to keep my own head–and my family–above water. My prayers have mostly been what I could manage in between spitting out water and breathing in enough to keep afloat. And I’m tired.

I have asked God a hundred times when would my break come? When would the waves stop pounding, when could I actually stand up and make my way off the shore and into the hills of His promised land? My prayers begged for rest; my heart longed for peace.

With a flurry of emotions on their Mama’s part, Abraham and Samuel started school this fall. For the first time in years, I have time to myself: an actual six hours and 45 minutes per week! For the first time since Abraham was born, There is some give to my schedule, exhale, Selah, breath. But do you think this dog-paddling mama was actually going to give herself a break?

Not exactly. After a half-celebratory, half-mournful first-day-of-school breakfast date with Jack, I ramped up my writing expectations. I planned to have all of my blogs for the week written on Mondays, and to use Wednesdays and Fridays for finishing my book. How many blogs could I do in a week? Certainly, I could do more than I’d been doing. And the book should really be done by Christmas. And–

Oh, yeah. I have basically been in serious pain for the past five years, so I did make an appointment for a doctor finally. After explaining to him that I’ve been getting massages, going to a Chiropractor, and getting acupuncture for a long time with little relief, he prescribed physical therapy. He literally said my pain is from chronic stress. Wow.

And so, for the past three weeks, I’ve been spending the majority of my alone time in physical therapy, getting more massages, and doing my exercises at home to get out of pain and to get back in shape. Did I mention the pain has been so debilitating that I haven’t been able to maintain a consistent workout routine? Yeah.

There hasn’t been a lot of time left for writing. I haven’t been getting ahead at all. And that’s been frustrating. That is, until I went to the first meeting of the Bible Study leaders. The other women prayed over me, and what they said changed my view: that God wasn’t going to sacrifice my well being or the wellbeing of my marriage or my children for the sake of the ministry He’s calling me to.

Stop. Anybody else just have the lights go on? I walked out of that meeting CHANGED. You see, all this time, all these years, I knew God loved me. But somewhere I started to think that I was just some old wine skin he was going to use. I was for His use. I guess I felt like He was this slavemaster who just wanted to press out my talents and energy for His purposes. I didn’t think it really mattered to God if all that was left of me after His purposes was pomace. I think I’d make great fertilizer . . . And maybe I thought being obedient was letting Him, submitting to fodderness. Because isn’t that what I am without Him anyways?

Down deep, even though I love Him, even though I want desperately to serve Him, all of this “use your pain for His gain” has felt like I was being used . . . even if I knew God loved me. I didn’t think it mattered how broken that made me. And even though I know scores of scriptures that argue against that concept, my experiences in real life ministry and relationships have often left me feeling used, and dirty, and very irrelevant. I’m not trying to create a pity party for Taylor here; I’m just admitting that this willing heart has been crushed enough to start believing that that’s all she was made for.

But, after being prayed over that night, I know that His will is not for me to feel used, but cherished. He wants me whole. He cares about my health: spiritually, mentally, and physically. He cares more that I spend time nursing myself back to health and going to physical therapy, than He does about my blog or a book or any other service.

Just this week, I rediscovered Jeremiah 31:

Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit . . .
I will satisfy the weary,
and all who are faint I will replenish.

He means to rebuild me. He purposes me for wholeness: healthy, rested, joy-filled. He means for me to once again make merry, to once again dance, to once again work and enjoy the fruits of my labor. He means to make me a new vessel, a new wine skin to hold new wine:

Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. Matthew 9:17

He means for me to relax into a new way of living. When I trade my old way of desperate dog-paddling in for His new path for me, time unfolds for the life-giving smalls of my life. There’s time for decorating the house with pumpkins and maple leaves, for propping up scare crows and planting mums in the front yard because they make me so happy I giggle. There’s time for me.

When Jack’s mom volunteered to pick the kids up from school (thank you, Oma Janie! Thank you, Oma Janie!), my natural inclination was to use the time to work more. But, now that I am taking up residence in the URG (Unforced Rhythms of Grace), that hunk of a man I get to call my husband and I are sitting in our sweats and watching reruns on HULU, or sneaking out for a quick lunch and a one o’clock movie, giggling and holding hands like a couple of teenagers cutting class on Friday afternoons.

It’s been a long haul. Sitting here writing this I am overcome with gratitude and relief for a God who loves me so well and so completely. He doesn’t purpose us for frantic, friend. He doesn’t plan to run you into the ground and then trade you in for spare parts. He made your needs for small wonders, for date nights and bubble baths, for a coffee date with your best friend, for a good night’s sleep, and wide open spaces. Our needs are not meant to be beaten out of us. He means to fill each and every one.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

I just keep thinking of Crush the turtle in Finding Nemo:

Come into the URG, dude! It’s awesome!

Letting His current carry and restore this heart of mine,

Taylor

Saint Wannabe

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Romans 7:19-20

Since I was a little girl, I aspired to holiness like my brother aspired to be a professional football player. Religion seemed so simple: follow the rules, life goes great, you go to heaven. And, I was great at following the rules! It just came naturally to me, kind of like a talent. But there are by-products to a character fastened to rigidity: a prideful heart filled with more judgement than empathy for others, for starters. At fifteen, however, everything began to shift when I fell in love as a teenager and was plunged into a battle to the death for my chastity. I knew the rules, but had no idea how to keep them. Who tells you how to be young, in love, and chaste? When all I want is to do God’s will, why does it seem so difficult to discern how? Furthermore, who tells you how to survive mental illness, infant loss, and all manner of tragedies that we endure on this earth?

There is something left out in the whole spirituality/religion equation. We are all given the rule book. We are told, “you’ll get through,” “God never gives you more than you can handle,” blah, blah, blah. We play with a rudimentary knowledge of the game, but without any idea of what to do when the third baseman has the ball and we are caught in a rundown between 2nd and 3rd. Do we run back to second, or charge third? How about when your heart is shattered and you have to pick yourself up off the floor and charge back into the world? Know one can really, truly tell you what to do when you’re in a pickle.

I’ve survived enough pickles now to know that the reality of the Christian, human experience supersedes any rule book we may have adopted. I’m not perfect, and I certainly strike out more often than I hit a home run. I’ve been trying for over thirty years now to figure out what “holy” means. People are holy, I’ve noticed, after they die, or from afar. They are hardly ever holy up close, unless holy simply means “full of holes,” allowing Jesus to shine through all the more (my favorite definition). Maybe defining holiness is only possible when we can look at the whole of a person, balance the scales, see the stats of a career and not just a single game?

The problem for all of us living saint wannabe’s is that we’re still in the game, and our game is messy. We drive to church and pray piously in the pew after screaming at our families to get ready. We pray for the children in India and neglect our neighbors. We rush to do the holy things and forget to nurture and care wholly for ourselves. We hold fast to our religious beliefs, then judge and gossip and envy behind the closed doors of our own hearts. We all fail miserably so much of the time and yet can still soar to lofty heights of self-sacrifice, courage, and love.

I struggle to balance my failings with my fervent desire for the right. I struggle to define healthy boundaries within which I can give but not give myself away in the process. I still grapple with the rulebook, to flesh out black and white commandments. I scrutinize myself with my knowledge, and then am frustrated that I don’t know more. This life of constantly being imperfect can drive a perfectionist crazy! But it is in all of my failings, my flaws, my humanity that Jesus abides and fills and pours Himself out of me. I must be emptied, hollowed-out of my perfect to be filled up with Jesus.

I hope this blog can be an honest reflection of my struggles, as one thirty-something Catholic wife, mother of a son in heaven and two on earth, daughter, sister, and friend, trying to live an authentic, Christian whole life . . . not as a saint, but certainly as a saint wannabe.

AMDG,
Taylor

Origininally published September 7, 2012

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