The Vine

Ya know what I miss?  I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I miss “normal”.  This week in particular, I really miss it.  I miss sitting down at the dinner table with my husband and my kids.  I miss going to church as a family.  I miss routine.  I miss regular.  I miss day-to-day.  I just miss normal.

Ya know why I miss it, because a couple of weeks ago my husband was home for a whole week and I got a little taste of normal.  Or at least what society says is normal.  For a whole week, I didn’t have to answer questions as to what part of the country he was in, where he was playing, or when was he coming home.  When asked, I could just say – he’s home.  For a week, we could just be us with no questions asked.

Sometimes, “normal” is the hardest part of this journey.  Nothing in my life is really what society deems normal and on most days I’m not only fine with that – I love it.  But, there are those days when I feel the pressure of normal and finding the strength to live off the beaten path seems impossible.  It’s kinda like middle school and wanting to sit at the “cool” kids table.  It’s like everywhere I go I see the typical American family – 2.5 kids and a dog – playing baseball and eating apple pie.  Then there’s me …

I have two great kids and a dog, but as a family we’re a little different.  First of all, my husband is waaaaaay cooler than me.  He brought me lunch at work this week and I literally busted out laughing when I saw him.  Here I was in scrubs, hair in ponytail and a labcoat – ya know, boring and regular –  and he walked in looking like a cross between LL Cool J and Johnny Cash.  His whole persona from the crazy t-shirt, bracelets, necklace, and hat screamed chill. Sometimes I still can’t believe that we ended up together.  But hey, it works.

Then there’s our schedule.  He is gone about four days a week on average.  I’m off when he’s working and visa-versa.  He travels the country, living out of a suitcase, every day in a new city.  And, I travel from an elementary school to work and back again.  The kids and I try to keep a schedule as much as possible, but we’re always a little off balance. I like to call it controlled chaos.  So it’s easy to look at others and feel like a fish out of water.

If I’m honest, however, my problem is not really in my chosen lifestyle, my cooler than me husband, or all the other perfect families – the problem I sometimes encounter is comparison.  If money is the root of all evil, comparison is the root of self-destruction.  Theodore Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy”.  Comparison takes all my insecurities and pits them against everyone else’s strongest attributes.  My unusual lifestyle no longer looks unusual, it looks less-than.  When I compare me to you, I stop living me because I’m looking at you.  Then, as to be expected, I feel like a failure because I can’t be you and I’m no longer me.  Sound familiar?

So, how do I stop the comparison game?  How do I keep my joy and regain focus?  I abide in the vine.  John 15 teaches us about the “true vine” found in Jesus.  He teaches us to “remain” or live in him.  I’m talking about a connection, literally.

Do you like fresh cut flowers?  I do, but the problem with flowers in a vase is that they are no longer connected to the vine and they will wither and die.  Sure, you can add all sorts of stuff to the water to make them last a little longer,  but the end result will always be the same.  This is how I lived my life for years.  I was a Christian but I lived very defeated.  I filled the space with religious activity – I could talk the talk, I went to church, I tithed, I even read my bible – but there was no connection.  Those things are not bad, but without a connection to the vine what’s the purpose?  I did a lot to modify my behavior but I found that God was much more interested in modifying my heart.

Then one night about six years ago, I found myself lying on my bed with nothing left to give and decided to give this Christian thing one last chance.  It would take days to tell you the full story but what happened over the next year changed my life forever.   I began to learn that Christianity is not about behavior modification at all.  It’s about love.  “For God so LOVED the world, that he gave his one and only son” (John 3:16).  Pure, perfect, unconditional love.  I began to accept grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Then, and only then, was I able to give those things freely.  My behavior did change, but in ways of love and not obligation.

Slowly, I’m learning to abide in the vine.  Personally, I believe this looks different for everyone.  For me, I have a few things I try to do on the regular to keep me connected like quiet time on my morning commute – listening to favorite speakers – reading devotionals – praying like a human instead of an old testament scholar.  Things that will help me stay personally connected.  This is not about rule keeping, modifying behavior, or checking boxes off a list – it’s about connection. Your ways of connection will be completely different.  But, the end result is to “remain in my love” (John 15:9).  Then guess what?  John 15:11 says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.  Yep, that’s right – Joy, and not just any joy – God’s Joy!!!

When I abide in the vine, I know where my strength comes from – the vine.   The vine is almighty, everlasting, the beginning and the end.  The vine is joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, and love – the vine is life.

I don’t know about you but that’s great news for me and provides unbelievable relief.  Ya know why?  Well, because, I’m fully aware of my limitations.  I know where my personal strength ends and if I’m honest it usually doesn’t end well and leaves me empty.  But, when I’m abiding in the vine, I have one job – to abide in his love.  I don’t have to be supper mommy, perfect wife, or better than you.  I have one job – abide.

So my advice to you (and to me) when the pressure of “normal” weighs on your soul – abide in the vine.  When you feel the need to compare – abide in the vine.  When life becomes too much, when you’re heart is heavy, when you’re lost – lonely – and broken… abide, abide, abide.  And, guess what?  If you get off track like I did this week, he’s waiting for you with gracious, open, and loving arms.  You’ve got one job – abide in the vine.

Mary Ann

 

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