Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Beauty of the Stretch

In a last-minute and strangely peaceful turn of events, both Miss Eight and Miss Six headed off to school this morning for their first day.

And here I sit, sipping coffee, watching a sleeping baby on the video monitor, listening to Miss Toddler hum while she colors in her highchair, and not homeschooling anybody. 

Isn't it funny, the little twists and turns that life takes?

Suddenly, I have an entire school year stretched out before me - just me and my two bambinos at home during the day. It feels easy. Peaceful. Slow.

And it reminds me of the stretch. That painful, difficult, uncomfortable, awkward place we find ourselves when we are expanding our capacity (or it is being expanded for us, whether we like it or not).

There was a period of stretch after my first baby was born. Sleepless nights. Spit-up in my hair. Changes to my body. I had no idea what I was doing. I was three months pregnant when my brother taught me how to change a diaper. Seriously. I didn't know how to bathe her. How to feed her. How to be alone in the house with her. It was all so hard.

Until it wasn't.

Suddenly I could change diapers in the dark. I could feed her without having to sequester myself in a bathroom stall for 30 minutes. I could care for her daily needs without really thinking about it.

And then another little blue line, another 9 months, another sweet baby girl. And I found myself once again in unfamiliar territory. Stretching beyond what I thought myself capable of doing. Balancing the feed-me cries of a baby with the hold-me whines of a toddler. Losing sleep at night and forgoing nap time during they day. Feeding myself was hard. Feeding a finicky toddler and a collicky baby felt impossible.

Until it wasn't.

We found our rhythm and our grace. I strapped the baby on my back, strapped the toddler in the high chair, and prepared our meals while singing to them both. Toddler brought me diapers and wipes for changing time. Baby entertained big sis while mom folded laundry. It became - doable.

Then baby three. Then baby four. Each time a stretch. Each time painful and difficult and uncomfortable and impossible.

Until it wasn't.

Because that's how the stretch works. It pulls and tugs and spreads us thin. It takes us just to the place where we almost snap. And in the meantime, all that new space gets filled in with strength, and grace, and ability, and even comfort. Until it's no longer a stretch. Until it's doable.

So where are you today? What area of your life feels painful, difficult, uncomfortable? Odds are, you're being stretched. And here are a few things you need to know...

1. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not God. On the contrary, the Lord often uses these seasons to grow our spirit man. Where our weakness is obvious, His strength is magnified. Where we lack, His grace abounds. And in the meantime, we are forced to rely on on Him. As my Memphis pastor says, "We hate these seasons because it feels like everything in us is dying, but God loves these seasons, because everything in us is dying." Less of us. More of Him. Sigh.

2. You can't do it on your own. Ask for help...
... from God. Prayer and His Word will strengthen you and guide you in the unfamiliar, uncomfortable places.
... from those who have gone before you. Find a mom who has been where you are. Seek out someone who has done this job before. Look for the pioneers, the leaders, the forerunners who have blazed this trail you now walk. And if their are none, turn to someone who blazed another trail and ask them how they did it. Iron sharpens iron, my friend.
... from those who love you. Let your mom wash the dishes. Let your friends keep the babies while you nap. Let your husband take care of you. Let your friends see you vulnerable. It's all okay. It's all lovely. 

3. Grace. Grace. And more grace. No one gets it right the first time. We often see quips about how our character is revealed during difficult times. If that's true, my character sucks. But God's grace is bigger than that. God's grace says our character is developed in the hard places. It's where we grow. It's where our capacity expands. And it doesn't happen overnight. We must extend grace to ourselves (and to those around us effected by our sucky character). And when you're done, throw on a little more grace, just for good measure. 

4. Take a moment to look back. Remind yourself of all the things you do now which once felt impossible. Remember when you couldn't run a mile without stopping? Remember when getting out of bed in the morning felt like it would crush you? Remember when you needed just one more drink? Or one more smoke? Or one more bite? You have done hard things before, and you are capable of doing them again.

It's painful and difficult and uncomfortable and impossible.

Until it's not.

So today, I'll sip my coffee and blog and tidy my house and remember that this - this right here that I'm doing today - once felt impossible. And the things on my horizon that feel daunting and uncomfortable - they won't always feel that way. 

And that's the beauty of the stretch.

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