The Perfect Vacation for an Imperfect Family

We arrived at our campsite well after dark.  The rodeo had been a much-anticipated highlight of our cross-country trip, and no one was in a hurry to stop talking about it — or to crawl into our sleeping bags.

It’s a good thing, too, because standing where our tent should have been was a small gathering of fellow campers.  One was setting up our lawn chairs and three others were headed in our direction, dragging a pile of fabric that looked like . . . our tent.

The six of us piled out of the mini-van into the glow of our headlights.  My eight-year-old took my hand.

Kind neighbors informed us that while we were gone a tornado had swept through the campground throwing tents and camping equipment in every direction.  Our tent had been completely uprooted, leaving behind all its stabilizing ropes and anchoring pegs, and landing in a heap several sites away.

Beside me, a small voice quavered, “Does this mean we have to go home?”

Cobbling together a plan on the fly, my husband and I tag-teamed a way forward:

“We’re going to gather our sleeping bags . . .”

“We’ll pack up all our gear . . .”

“And we’ll find a hotel in town, back where we watched the rodeo!”

“Tomorrow we’ll buy a new tent, first thing.”

By the time we had loaded the last cooler, everyone was visualizing the luxury of a hotel shower.  (Especially me!)

Apparently when you show up in a hotel lobby at 1 a.m. with four dusty kids, they’re willing to bend the rules about maximum occupancy.  We arranged ourselves somewhere on or around two king-sized beds and, amazingly, we slept.

Fortified by a quick breakfast of yogurt and bagels, we bought a tent at a big box store and hit the road, because now we were not merely travelers.  We were tent-tornado survivors, and we would persevere.

Earlier in the trip, teenage squabbles might have derailed us.  Slow-drying beach towels twirling in tired campsite laundromats might have dampened our spirits.  The perennially squashed hot dog buns in our crowded mini-van might have seemed like an impossible hardship before, but post-tornado, we began to see ourselves as adventurers on the open road.  For this privilege, we could eat the odd squashed bun.

We had started our vacation behaving as if there was a “right way” to do this cross-country journey, a perfect itinerary to follow, and a “correct approach” to the family road trip.  We read every word of the historical markers, looked in every corner of every museum, and collected brochures for future school projects.  Please understand that this was not a matter of capturing teachable moments – this was a case of ambushing them and wrestling them to the ground.

Sometimes it takes a tornado to make you realize that you are driving your kids (and yourselves) crazy.  Intentionally, we backed away from perfect.  We began to get off the highway more often.  As our mini-van devoured the miles, we spotted our first cactus on the way up Scott’s Bluff.  We stalked cicadas that sounded like artillery fire in the muggy southeastern darkness, and we marveled at mockingbirds that apparently spend every waking moment fine-tuning their repertoire.

We made crazy Hail Mary phone calls to camp sites, hoping at the last minute to be able to pitch our tent near a place we had fallen in love with.  After all, if Mt. Rushmore is stunning at sunset, what will it look like in early morning light?

The unclenching of my fists around the idea of the perfect vacation signaled the opening of my hands to The Given.  Designed by a wild, incomprehensible, and totally-other God, we are, nonetheless, a family of imperfection – and delight!

We are museums, and we are rodeos.
We are McDonald’s hamburgers, and we are fresh Washington state cherries eaten alongside the road.
We are wild, whirling winds; and we are dark, peaceful night skies announcing that God really did “hang the earth on nothing.”

Our vacation was not perfect, but neither are we.

We had brought ourselves along for the journey.
And we were glad to have us.

//

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

//

If you are planning to read Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow  and to join us in the discussion, we’ll begin tackling chapters 1-3 on September 7th.  I’ll be sharing the full schedule on August 31 in my end-of-month musings post.

One of the prevailing themes of the book seems to be the nature of calling.  Jayber’s life takes some unexpected twists and turns, but even so, he had this to say:

“I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.”

 

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Healing the Divided Self

David Letterman described life as a late-night TV host with this reflection:

“Every night you’re trying to prove your self-worth.  You want to be the absolute best, wittiest, smartest, most charming, best-smelling version of yourself.  If I can make people enjoy the experience and have a higher regard for me when I’m finished, it makes me feel like an entire person.  If I’ve come short of that, I’m not happy.”

To some degree, we all know that vulnerability, and we are well-versed in the ways of frantic effort and self-doubt.  Regardless of income, profession, or educational level the pull toward frantic is an ever-present reality, exacerbated by scarcity of time.  Chuck DeGroat examines the roots of busyness and exhaustion in Wholeheartedness, pondering why those of use who are among the most well-resourced in the world “feel dirt poor” when it comes to the resource of time.  It turns out that the antidote to the epidemic of exhaustion is not simply more bodily rest, but rather a soul-ish rest that leads to wholeness.

Part One of Wholeheartedness examines the divided life in brutal detail along with its deep dissatisfaction, shame, and perfectionism.  In his first book, Leaving Egypt, Chuck refers to a “Stockholm syndrome of the soul,” for our “mindless self-sabotage” of poor choices often perpetuates our fragmented and scattered condition.  We avoid taking on the hard work of change that comes with a right response to our “Inner Critic” — the voice that keeps us in a perpetual state of not-enough.  Shame is the fuel that powers perfectionism and stifles self-compassion.  The wholehearted response to the voice of our Inner Critic is, in fact, to embrace our imperfections as a gateway to grace that heals and redeems the messy parts of our lives.

The Apostle Paul described his own feelings of un-wholeness in Romans 7, an intimate journal entry that invites me to embrace my own inadequacies and to receive the grace of God in exchange for my imperfection.  Following an enlightening analysis of the neurobiology of wholeness, Chuck urges his readers to pay attention to what’s going on inside the amazing brains God has made, for mending our inner terrain will bring clarity to the big picture.

The poets have always known what the rest of us are just guessing at, and in Part Two of Wholeheartedness,  Chuck has harnessed the strong words of poets like Mary Oliver and Gerard Manley Hopkins to light the path toward wholehearted living.  Derek Walcott portrays steps toward wholeness as a homecoming, “a holy reunion with our deepest self,” in which you “greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome and say, sit here. Eat.”

It is in this way that Wholeheartedness distinguishes its offering of wisdom, for authentic living is not the same as a narcissistic rummaging around in our emotional entrails — nor is it a “live your best life” campaign that feeds my already well-fed selfishness.  Instead, it is a road map that points out the obstacles to wholeness and then marks out carefully considered detours that resonate with Sermon on the Mount priorities and Pauline wisdom:

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

What a lovely juxtaposition:  holiness and wholeness, and Chuck spends a considerable amount of thought in that place, reminding his readers that:

  • purity is about being put together again, being made whole.  No wonder Jesus said that the pure of heart are blessed!
  • wholeness implies that the inner life matches the outer life.
  • God will do the purifying work through our brokenness, which is an unshackling from the “exhausting holiness project,” that starts out strong but ends up becoming an obstacle to wholeness over the long haul.

Part Three moves away from theory and into the practice of cultivating wholeness amid our scattered selves.  The “trinity” of wholeness is awareness, story, and relationship, and through the use of questions, guided exercises, and observations from his counseling practice, Chuck encourages his readers to rejoice in the truth that God invites us to be curious about our emotions and our body cues.  “What’s happening here?’ is a healthy question.  The awareness that this fosters will spill over into the living and the telling of our story and the longed-for sense of wholeness that follows finds its way into a vulnerability and unselfishness that is foundational to healthy relationships.

Finally (and ironically), it is in a community of believers that one is most able to realize and express ones wholeness.  C.S. Lewis observed:

“It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

What if we were to wake one morning to the realization that wholehearted living is a life of union — and also of unity?  What if our churches, families, workplaces — all the sources of our division and fragmentation headaches — became the places where we began embracing our own brokenness and extending grace in response to that of others?  And what if the promise is really true?  What would happen if we really did release our burdens — the endless do-list from the Inner Critic, the searing brokenness from childhood hurts, and the crushing awareness of our inadequacies.  What would happen if we really brought them to Jesus and found that, in doing so, we had come home to ourselves?

//

This book was provided by Eerdmans in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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New Girl. New Song.

During their years of captivity, the people of Israel needed encouragement.  The prophet Zephaniah reminded them of God’s presence in their midst, His power to save, and the fact that He rejoiced in His love for them, a joy that was expressed in song!

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)

Memoir, biography, and cautionary tale, Girl in the Song by Chrissy Cymbala Toledo encourages readers to be the girl in God’s song, bringing joy to His heart.  Daughter of Jim and Carol Cymbala of the New York’s Brooklyn Tabernacle, Chrissy’s life journey began in a loving home surrounded by a vibrant community of believers.  However, by the time Chrissy entered her teen years, she ached to be written into all the wrong songs, was finding her significance in all the wrong measurements, and was giving her heart to a relationship that would lead to darkness and disaster.  Obsessed with her appearance, Chrissy was a slave to the voice of her mirror’s daily message:  “Not good enough.”  The patterns of deception that fed her destructive behaviors eventually alienated her from her family and led to a humiliating existence of poverty, instability, and deep misery.  Tough love and the power of prayer opened Chrissy’s eyes to her own desperate situation.  God, in His faithfulness, demonstrated His unfailing love and forgiveness.

Parents of prodigals will find hope in the Cymbala family’s journey, but, more important, young women who see their own harmful patterns reflected back to them in Chrissy’s story may recognize and repudiate the lies that hold them captive:  that their happiness depends upon becoming someone’s fantasy-woman; that they can achieve perfection in their appearance; that their wardrobe and possessions define them and give them value.

When love for God became Chrissy’s powerful heartbeat, her music became a road back to rejoicing.  Her story is proof that even those who lose their way can find freedom and can rediscover the love of God who cherishes them, who accepts them, who rejoices over them with singing.

This book was provided by Tyndale in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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