The one ingredient for wherever you are

It's funny how you can think you've failed at something before you're even half done. My children are beautiful, transcendental almost, smart as whips, hilarious, easy on the eyes, little gemstones of people. But there are days when I think I've failed them hopelessly, and a good friend of mine similarly gifted in sarcasm laughs with me over an old joke: 

They are only 8, 7, 5 and 4. There are many years to set right the chaos and the lost chances, the depression, the days I've spent wandering the floors of this house walled up in my own brain, the days spent studying for my PhD, the days spent grieving things maybe too hard, the days spent trying to be perfect and the days lost giving up on perfect and giving in to totally way less than perfect instead.

There have been many days redeemed already, but a struggling perfectionist often fails to remember those, and Satan crowds in and threatens to steal small joys all the time. There is a revolutionary out there who is beating a strange new drum, marching like the Pied Piper, singing a strange song that captivates and it truly teaches us, the recovering perfectionists, and we drop everything and climb this alien hill listening to her song with only one verse: COUNT JOY. She doesn't say, forget sorrow. She doesn't say, life will be easy. She doesn't say, you will not fail. She doesn't say, it won't matter that you fail. She just says, COUNT JOY. 

I started, this simple, paradoxical, and yet difficult practice, first on paper and now mostly in my head. It is odd to me still, how it whips my head the opposite direction, away from the mesmerizing power of grief, shame, dirtiness, failure, imperfection, poverty, and questions without answers. A bird flits by silent, and a day full of failures is lost in the splendor of one moment. A daisy on the lawn, and I forget about the unmown long grass in the symmetry of six white petals and one yellow center. I turn my swing around, and the fingernail moon catches my eye and a dark night of depression is light again and the tentacles of a nightmare loosed and forgotten. Yet a little verse nags at me - "weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth..." (2 Timothy 3:6b) - oh, let that not be me! A love of knowledge, a women always with many pans in the fire, head easily turned by this new theory or the dozen books on the nightstand, a new way to cure poverty or another way to bring peace in this war-torn region of Africa... How do I fight this? Not with more of anything. But with less. 

I don't need more answers. I don't need more faith. I need a certain kind. Faith like a little child.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (Matthew 18:1-5)
I find my answer on a bookmark in the book I've been reading for months, the one in the bathroom that I can't swallow unless I read it a page at a time. It's a picture Rosy drew for me, one of hundreds she's delivered to my bedside table, and on it is my answer about how I'm parenting and my answer about how I am to live this torn and tattered life of questions without answers. On one side of an imperfectly cut paper heart, in black and white, is the word HOPE. And on the other, in a rainbow of colors, is the word LOVE. This child, at age 7, knows.

You may be a missionary far afield, holding the beauty of a fragile orphan in the palm of your hands. You may be on Wall Street, juggling millions and striving for integrity in a business plagued with character demons of all shapes and sizes. You might be a nurse trying to slog through a dozen patients and still provide loving care to that one individual that tugs at your heart strings through your overworked shift. Are you the Starbucks barista who hands desperate soccer moms love in a steaming cup with a smile and a "have a nice day"? Do you check peoples engines or sell them used cars to help them make it to their next big payday? Or are you the mom down the street who's slogging through mountains of dirty laundry, mapping out Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum and trying to make good choices about organic food for your brood?

Wherever you are in life, you are commanded to be like a little child in faith. Close your eyes and jump. I remember two glaring details about being a child: being horribly afraid and being dangerously adventurous. I was, at the same time, plagued by fear and amazingly immune to it. I was afraid because I was small and vulnerable, but I was often unafraid because I had no idea what to be scared of. Looking back, it's a miracle any of us survive the jumping from high places, pummeling down steep hills, and racing across monkey bars, bleachers, logs over streams or anything else we dared to do in childhood. Yet in Psalms 116:6 it says, The Lord protects those of childlike faith. So squeeze your eyes shut, just like you used to do, and let go. You don't need the kind of faith that moves mountains. You don't need to be the sage that fills commentaries or writes an amazing blog filled with nuggets of knowledge, answers to poverty, or solutions to world peace. You simply need to hold one little truth, a Holy piece of truth, always in the palm of your hands, always deep in your heart, and always on your lips. The King James Bible said it this way:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think [dwell, fix your mind] on these things. (Phillipians 4:8)
Rosy Thul, at age 7, simply said, HOPE; LOVE. Ann Voskamp says, Count 1,000 gifts. An old hymn says, Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.

I may fail at a million things a day. Some days it feels miraculous to clothe, feed, and love my children enough by days end. To greet my husband with a smile and a kiss, and sometimes yes, I'm still in my pajamas when he walks through the door at 5:30. It's a stretch to get the cats some cream and let the dog out the door to run the woods by 9 a.m. I drink cold coffee many mornings. I don't even crack my Bible by noon on a good day. I have no idea what I'm going to do about homeschool curriculum for the fall. All my plans for kids sports, hobbies, pool dates, and our already struggling home chores are on serious hold until we find out if Amelia will be in chemo in July.

But I am not a failure. I am just a child. Loving. Learning. Counting up joys. And holding fast to the only thing I know for sure. That Jesus is God, He is my hope and my rescue, my peace and my provider, and He will keep us and help us until the end of our days, whatever comes.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will fail; where there are tongues, they will cease; where there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13 NKJV/ESV exc.)