On Sunday night, David and Grace came through the door after arriving home from youth group. David had gone to pick her up while I stayed home with the younger six to make pizza for dinner. I heard David say upon entering, “Go tell her what you told me in the van. She’ll get a kick out of that.” Grace ran over to me with all the exuberance of a 13 year old and began to excitedly recount for me what had happened. You should know we attend a church that is a family. We share each other’s joy and we share each other’s heartaches. They have watched me through many seasons of life, including this new exciting one. Grace begins the story by telling me that the lesson that night was on peace. The youth pastor must not have noticed Grace come in because he said at one point, “Does anyone in here know who Ashley Harris is?” Grace raises her hand and says, “I do! That’s my new mom!”
I feel like I need to interlude here to tell you where we are on this. We are becoming blended. While David and I are not married yet, we are a family. When we got engaged, we committed not just to each other, but to each other’s children, that we would become one family unit. Life has us all together now (in our interesting little set up) so that we can save and be able to care for this bigger family. Goals we wish to accomplish has us waiting until December to get married. But we all love each other now. On the night David proposed, Grace and Hope pulled me aside as soon as we got back to David’s parent’s house. Together, they asked me if they could call me mom now. I called David over and we all talked about it. We decided to not dictate to the kids what they should call us. It didn’t make sense to tell them they had to wait until some (date not even decided at that time) ceremony for social norms to allow them to call me mom. They had been through a lot just like we had and their hearts yearned for restoration just like ours. So David’s kids call me mom and I now say I have 7 kids. They are learning to be and love like siblings. My kids switch back and forth with what they call David and that is also just fine with us. We want them all to be comfortable, and safe, and know they are loved. I feel, with God’s guidance, we are accomplishing that.
Ok, back the story. The youth pastor said “oh yeah!” and continued on. He told those who didn’t know that there are 7 kids here and that it is probably difficult to find any peace. We all had a good laugh. He is not wrong! Seven children, small house, one bathroom, not much peace. Often a kid will come to me and say they just want some alone time to which I reply, “You now have 6 siblings, there is no such thing as alone time.” or “Me too! Let me know if you find some!” (I would like to take this moment to refer you back to the need for “bathroom dates”.) There have been a few times where David has come home from work, taken one look at me, and just said “Whoa. Go take a minute.” Many nights, we sit down at the table and declare 5-10 minutes of silence before resuming the chaos.
There may not be the kind of peace we joke about, but at the same time, I have more peace now than I have known in years. I pulled out my old journal this morning to read some things. I like to look back at where I have been now and then and thank God for where He has brought me and what He was faithful to walk me through. I happened upon the last entry I wrote before the night my ex husband told me he was thinking about leaving me. The theme of that page: peace. I had no idea what was about to happen, but the theme on my heart that night was peace. The last line on the page was the ending of a prayer I had written, “Help me to be a source of peace for my family-or rather a reflection of Your peace.” I had then written two quotes:
“I will let God’s peace infuse every part of today. As the chaos swirls and life’s demands pull at me on all sides, I will breathe in God’s peace that surpasses all understanding. He has promised that He would set within me a peace too deeply planted to be affected by unexpected or exhausting demands.” Wendy Moore
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” C. S. Lewis
You see, when I say I have more peace now, it is not because I am in a better place now. It is not because I am in love again. It is not because I feel less alone. It is not because we are becoming blended. The youth pastor wasn’t wrong-it is chaotic here, and it is a lot of work, and there are exhausting demands, and there is little physical rest. Yet, I have more peace now because I have learned not to look at the chaos, but to look at the beauty. We don’t encounter God just in the moments where all around us is quiet and our focus is completely on Him without distraction. If that was the case I would indeed be in trouble! No, we encounter God in the mundane, day in, day out, beautiful chaos of life. He is there in all of it. There are no moments void of his presence and His peace. In a moment full of screaming, and crying, and running, and arguing, and “mommy, mommy, mommy!”, there is still perfect peace. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3-4 Are there moments that will feel like the complete opposite of peace? Of course! But the lack of peace in the surroundings of life does not cancel out the constant, ever-present source of peace that is our God.
As I sat reading pages in my old journal this morning, a folded pink piece of paper fell from between the pages and floated to the floor. I do not remember when it was written. I do not know who wrote it. The author of it begins by telling me that a meaning of my name is “Beautiful Meadow”. She then writes, “This made me think of Psalm 23, because when I think of a meadow, it is restful and peaceful.” A needed reminder-my very name represents a picture of a peaceful place of rest. She also wrote, “There is a rest for you. In the middle of complete chaos and undoing and hurt. Let your name remind you.” The same is true for you. In the middle of whatever you may be facing, whatever your life looks like, whatever your earthly reality holds: there is peace for you. Look to the giver of peace. And look to the beauty. The things that make my life chaotic and devoid of the world’s definition of peace, are the very things that give my life beauty! Choose to see the beauty. Look for it. Experience the peace of knowing it is there, and knowing He is there.
The same can be said of joy. I have heard so many people say “It is so nice to see you happy again!” I know what they mean and it makes me smile to know they are excited with and for me, but even in the darkest moments, my joy did not leave me. Joy was not dependent on my circumstances. It was harder to smile at times. And it was hard to remember to be hopeful at times, but I assure you I did smile. I looked at my kids and smiled. I got encouragement from a friend and smiled. My business grew and I smiled. I spent time with family and smiled. I had moments of feeling strong and smiled. I had moments of remembering beauty was going to come from the ashes and that even then there was beauty to be seen, and I smiled. Most of all, I turned my eyes to Him, looked away from the storm around me, and smiled. He never left. The joy of the Lord never left.
On the top of the same journal page (If you can’t tell, I write all over the place in these!) I had written: Season’s change-“And it is in the passing through them, the move from one season to the next, that true beauty is brought forth.” Again, this was written before my life changed unexpectedly. I had no idea the change in season that lay right before me. But it has proven true: true beauty was brought forth. A beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness, not just on the other side of it, but IN IT! The beautiful chaos that has been described in all the posts prior to this, and in all the posts to come, is one form of the beauty brought forth. The peace I learned I have, the joy I learned to see, the me I became, and my story of overcoming, are all other forms of beauty brought forth. This list could go on forever. Yours could too. My life always has been, and always will be, a beautiful chaos. And I am enfolded in peace.