14 Dec 2011

And then I woke up from the dream of having it all

A few weeks ago I sat in a circle of amazing women – college juniors and seniors – and tried to answer some of their big questions. Their hard nitty gritty questions. They asked about marriage and balance and how not to lose one’s self.

We sat in the student lounge where my husband teaches and had the lights dimmed down enough to invite candor and we shared more than just hot apple cider.

They asked questions that took me back to cross roads moments in my sophomore year so fresh in my mind I could still remember how the decision tasted – of cherry blossoms. I walked a mile of them when I chose Peter.

So I look at these beautiful women with so much of the future still gift wrapped before them and I tell them the truth.

I tell them that I was the girl who swore she would never marry. The girl who was so angry with the church who couldn’t translate the grief of a widowed husband or the loss of an 18-year-old daughter that she ran away.

I was the girl who ran away from every whisper of who she “should” be and determined she would write her own story.

It would not include children.

I tell them it’s ok if that’s your story. It’s ok for now and where you are and that the God who holds them gentle in His hands is not afraid of this twist in the plot. He is patient. He is kind. He believes all things. He bears all things. And He is gifted at surprise endings.

Mine came when I turned 30 and all I wanted for my birthday was a baby. I’d been married five years by then. And no one was more surprised than me.

I tell them when that baby boy was born in South Africa and they placed him on my chest as the sun was rising I’m certain I heard it – I’m certain I heard my patient God whisper to me, “See, I saved the best for last.”

And today when I sit surrounded by left overs and the dishes I should have wiped and loaded into the dishwasher hours ago I am at peace with where I am. But that the journey was a long one and I was usually in a rush throughout.

That there were broken nights of hacking sobs as I tried to figure out my place on the map of motherhood. That every minivan driving mom was a reflection of what I thought I should be, but wasn’t. I was certain they had it figured out and if only I could get in on the mystery of balancing it all, of having it all.  I didn’t even have the minivan, for goodness sakes.

I wanted to work and to mother and to have all my laundry actually put away on the same day I washed it.  And my failures felt amplified by everyone else’s seeming easy success.

But appearances are tricky imps and I let them run riot far too long in my un-perfect, day care-necessary, long-commuting, endless-laundry, upside down life until Pete put a stop to it. One night over our pock-marked kitchen table he just told it to me gently,

“But Lisa-Jo, no one’s got it all figured out. I don’t even think that’s possible. We live in a broken world. We bear the scars of sin. And this side of heaven I don’t think you’re ever going to find the perfect balance between every aspect of your life.”

I repeat that truth to 15 pairs of watching eyes. I hope they believe it. I hope they are freed by it. I hope they let go of desperately trying to arrive at a destination that’s not even on the map.

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
Madeleine L’Engle

So I sift through my stories and show them my dead ends and remember each and every step of the way that brought me to here – on this couch that travelled with me back from the Southern hemisphere.

Here where Jackson never remembers to put away his shoes and Micah’s snoring on the floor next to his radio.

Here where the baby will cry at 12am precisely.

Here where Peter will get up before the rest of us to catch the train and here where he will try to sneak home at noon for a lunch date with me if we’re both lucky.


Where being wide-awake to each moment of the desperately precious here turns out to be much harder and more wonderful than the dream of having it all.

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{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Love your wisdom, Lisa-Jo. I wish someone had sat down and talked the nitty-gritty with me when I was in college. And when I got married. Then when I had kids. I guess God knew I needed to learn through personal experience:)
    You have a real keeper with your Pete. What a treasure to have a husband who understands your heart so well.

  2. 2

    Like Kimberly, I wish someone had shared this wisdom with me 30 years ago! I love this: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
    Thank you for your beautifully written wisdom on the pages of this blog…especially today.

  3. 3

    Beautiful. Thank you. And Lisa-Jo, you do have it all. :) And your writing, it frees me daily to think that I also have it all. And that, even without the perfect balance, my life is full, complete and connected to a great plan. Connection to the moments and to those sharing those moments is what matters.

  4. 4

    Oh, I love this! The truth-telling, the raw honesty of desire shifted by reality, and the uncovering of His perfect plan. Your words are powerful–inviting freedom.

    So blessed by your candor. Truly.

  5. 5

    Funny, my website is about finding that balance. And through my journey I discovered this exact same thing. I hope those that heard this truly did take it to heart. I still struggle with the idea of perfect balance sometimes, but I know what’s important. It lies in the love for and of my family and how well I do at showing them my love. Nothing else matters more than that. I wish I had read this a few years ago…but I’m not sure I would have believed it then. I’m a “learn the hard way” kind of girl I guess. Those of you struggling with this, reading this post now. BELIEVE it! It’s a life saving truth. Thank you for this.

  6. 6

    Um, have I told you how much I LOVE your writing. Yep. And this post right here, tears and all, takes that love to a whole new level. Maybe one of these conference days, I’ll get to hug your neck.

  7. 7

    “Where being wide-awake to each moment of the desperately precious here turns out to be much harder and more wonderful than the dream of having it all.”

    This statement sums it up, nicely.

    Too often, we get so frustrated by life not being what we think it should be that we forget to enjoy the beauty of how life is.

    The reality of life is always both harder and more wonderful than the dream of how we think it should be.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. 8

    “So I sift through my stories and show them my dead ends and remember each and every step of the way that brought me to here”


    I wonder what it would be like to see things from God’s vantage point. To see us get frustrated about how things aren’t they are supposed to be when, in reality, we are in exactly the spot He has led us to. So much of our happiness with this life is related to how open we are to what God is doing compared to what we thought He should be doing.

    I was once challenged to create a sentence prayer to repeat for throughout the day as I breathed and walked and lived my life. I breathed “God, ungrip my hands so that I can hold onto Yours.”

    I’m glad God has led you here, to write your wisdom and share your stories with us.

  9. 9

    “And He is gifted at surprise endings” – oh yes He is! Wisdom and beauty – your words are filled with both.

  10. 10

    Thank God there are women like you speaking truth in love to young adults! Oh, yes, we need more, more, more. May your tribe increase. This is the beautiful ugly, isn’t it? NO, we can’t have it all and no, life is never perfect. Why would we need God if it were? Preach it, L-J. Preach it. And, of course, WRITE it. Thanks so much.

    And that L’Engle quote? One of my all time faves. Merry Christmas, Lisa-Jo. May the Baby born into the mess bless you and yours as Advent takes us to Incarnation.

  11. 11

    Love those college women . . . such sincere, moldable, fervent intensity. What a blessing that you were able to give them the perspective of years.
    Not long ago, I was with a first-time mother in her early twenties, talking about that ever-elusive balance. You nailed it. What we need is not an organized, well-planned life, all accomplished by the power of the flesh . . . but a life filled with the Spirit — flexible as the Wind that blows where He pleases.
    “Blessed are the flexible, they shall not be bent out of shape.” (my friend, Dina)
    Thanks for your well-written story!

  12. 12

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I was definitely a “get married on my own terms — if I decide to” type of girl. Then I was hit with one of God’s surprise endings, and married a man I didn’t see myself marrying in the beginning, but later knew it was meant to be. And now, as a newlywed, I still struggle with letting those appearances of “seeming easy success” run riot. But your words are helping free me.

  13. 13

    What great words of wisdom. I wish there had been someone like you telling my college self these things. The message of, “You can have it all, make it look easy, be happy and be a size 4,” just isn’t one of the Spirit-filled life. What God gave me is so much better, no one had taught me to recognize that back then.+

  14. 14

    Yes. You captured it exactly. The Here that looks so very different than what I had planned or imagined, but has beauty and wonder all of its own.
    Thank you, dear Lisa-Jo! You are just wonderful. :)

  15. 15

    True words, these. There are so many times I have struggled with the self-comparisons that the enemy would throw in my face as he whispered doubts. This week especially. I’ve definitely been awakened to what I need to see and what I need to change. And reassurance that God loves me anyway. Thank you for sharing.

  16. 16

    Beautiful! As we pursue the so-called perfect life…somewhere, someday we realize that perfection is not attainable. When our lives are broken it is when we find Perfection. It is that broken life when we pursue Him that life becomes perfect. Thanks for sharing your heart. I just found your blog!

  17. 17

    I had to learn contentment one day at a time while waiting for the family I longed for….13 years in the adoption process. My children are gifts beyond words, but I wouldn’t wish the journey on a friend. I share this because so often we stand on this side of motherhood and marriage and forget those women who long for both and yet they are still waiting and longing at 30, 33, 35, 4o, 45 …. If you are one of those women, I know that waiting. And I know you long for dirty dishes, laundry piled high, a midnight cry or a husband who sits across from you at the kitchen table. Today, I needed to be reminded of those years after a long day with a son who has Tourette’s and wishing I could do the day over again. This is my stop to remind myself that I live one day at a time by His grace.

  18. 18

    Oh we have soooooooo much in common.
    Not only the “never wanted to marry” to the not wanting children (and now I have four!) to the waiting 5 years before having my first too, but the reflection of what I keep thinking I’m “supposed to be” and the wanting the laundry COMPLETELY done. folded. and in dressers drawers.
    Why is it so hard to allow OURSELVES grace?
    I’m right there with you. I agree. It is much harder to fully live in each moment.

  19. 19

    I’m sobbing, uncontrollable, hiccup, hyperventilating sobs. Somehow your posts leave me this way.

    And I’m so grateful.

  20. 21

    Trying to reach a destination that’s not even on the map…. that’s me. And I know it’s not there and yet I still think if I try hard enough somehow I can get there. Your words encourage me so much. Thank you!

  21. 22

    Oh how wonderful & familiar. I remember that feeling of lopsidedness all too well – can I get it all done, should I even want to, can I throw it all away and start over? Was it last year or last Tuesday? We are but weary travelers longing for home and trying to find our way in the dips and curves of sin & grace. So happy you’re sharing your journey with others – community, relationships, encouragement and sharing our brokenness are weapons of truth for a hurting world – I’m convinced of it.

  22. 24

    “It’s ok for now and where you are and that the God who holds them gentle in His hands is not afraid of this twist in the plot.”
    There’s something there in those lines that I just can’t quite shake. I don’t know if it’s the part where I’ve decided to start saying okay God if you’re writing this without a husband, kids, or africa then I might as well embrace what you’re writing or if it’s the element of you just never know what He’s writing. Either way, great post and definitely made me think!

  23. 25

    I, too, had dreams far ‘bigger’ than children. I married at 24 ( in Zimbabwe) and also, at 30 all the sudden had a desire so strong that it hurt. I wanted those babies…babies that I had never baby sat for nor had any desire to hold. And they gave my life a meaning I could never have grasped before. I gave up many dreams to raise my children and have never had any regrets.

  24. 26

    What a lovely post. It reminded me of the movie Family Man, one of my favorites of all time. You are a wise woman and those girls were lucky to have you in the room with them. We all think we know what we want at those ages don’t we? God must just have a good chuckle about some of our maps that lead to nowhere!

  25. 27

    How lucky are those girls to get and chat with you about surprise endings and the grace that comes with the struggle? How lucky are we that we get to listen to you as well? :)
    Thanks for these words today.
    Today – the day of the preschool Christmas program for the little boy that is growing up too fast.
    Today – the day after the Christmas party for the husband that is most assuredly a surprise ending…but it’s not ending. :)
    Today – the day of God’s grace in the midst of unfinished Christmas cards, packages that won’t arrive at their destination before Christmas, laundry baskets filled with clean (but unfolded) clothes and dust bunnies galore.

  26. 28

    I nodded and “yessed” my way through this whole post. I never wanted to marry or have children and here I am…married with a 2 1/2 year old. Both my daughter and husband have changed my worldview. Brilliant post. Very touching. You have a beautiful voice!

  27. 29
    Jennifer H. says:

    love this post. it’s a reminder i need to hear on a regular basis. thank you!
    i still remember when you told me you were expecting; it brings tears to my eyes even now.

  28. 30

    There here-and-now is ever so much better than the dream I used to have, of what I thought would/could/should be….

    Thanks so much for the precious reminder!

  29. 31

    What a beautifully, refreshing story to start our day. It’s so good to drop in.
    Thank you Lisa-Jo.

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