Unraveling

Updated: Jan 20



In an attempt to find a rhythm, I have made repetition my master and driver. Instead of moving throughout my day with love, I have found myself methodically demanding the beat. I hear my words of impatience mounting...squeezing out life from my soul, my daughters, my husband. Insatisfaction seeps into my expression even.


I have felt my face dropping. It sounds ludicrous, but in the past few months, I have felt the corners of my mouth especially, sag. This realization periodically comes to mind and bothers me like a pesky gnat that will not get the hint. This morning as I sit with my thoughts, I cannot brush it aside any longer.


Constantly demanding....telling... has drained the life from my face apparently.


Make. Build. Produce. Show.


The drum beats on and on. The whip cracks. This isn't a tempo a want to live. This beat is beating the life out of me. However, this isn't the first time I have felt this familiar strain.


Circles.

I remember when my children were very young. All three were under the age of 4. One day it dawned on me that I no longer hummed. I no longer was singing as I went about my day. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time a song was on my lips.


Life was gray and circles followed me everywhere.


I got up every three hours...circle.

I washed the dirty clothes...circle.

I nursed...circle.

I followed my 4-year-old around to remind her to take the time to go potty...circle.


These circles started mounting in my life and joy left me. I was depressed. I couldn't articulate the sadness or formulate the thought that I might be depressed. Every ounce of energy I had I used to survive the endless days of circles. Round and round I went.

This isn't living.


Joel noticed of course. He could see the light and hope I once showed dimming to a mere flicker. I don't remember a lot from this time, but I do remember a concerned brow stepping into the shadows with me. A hand. A shoulder. Positioning himself next to me to steady me.


There was also a glimmer of light every Wednesday morning that I struggled to get to at church. Some times I went because there was always child care. But mostly, this group of women was all different ages and stages of life. I honestly can't tell you what we studied. All I know is there were other women who felt like they were just barely holding on, like me. There were also women who had been through difficult times and had come out stronger. I would position myself next to them and soak in this hope.


I remember feeling suffocated with despair.

Is there life for me here? Is there a future? Is this it? Hopelessness almost took me out.


But God...


God in his kindness and mercy whispered a phrase into my soul that rescued me:


"The joy of the Lord is my strength."


What does this even mean, Lord? Where is this joy?


These words pricked my bitter heart. Why do You speak to me about joy when I can't see it? I don't have joy. I don't have strength. I am in need..... THERE it is.


With time, as the phrase turned over and over in my soul, the Savior shone into my darkness. The joy of the LORD.


The LORD has the joy...I don't. I need Him. He is my joy.


As my circles continued and the needs of three young children rotated around me, I had one prayer: The joy of the Lord is my strength...Help! I didn't know what it meant, but I said it over and over again when hopelessness choked me.


Sometimes "Help!" was all I could muster. Yet He heard my call and He answered. It wasn't overnight. With light shining, color slowly came back. One not so special day as I changed baby's diaper as I looked down into her eyes a little tune escaped my lips. It felt good. Music returned to me. No more beat without a melody.


Process...


Last year a good friend took the time to teach me how to crochet. As I usually do with new hobbies, I take on a project that is past my beginner capabilities. I see a little success in my new skill and come up with something ambitious I simply cannot complete. This time it was turning recycled plastic bottles into baskets with crocheted tops to hold little toys. The crocheted piece being the top of the bottle.


I ran into a friend, Catalina, at the park a few days after beginning my project. By that time I had made a complete knotted mess. Catalina saw me with my crochet hook and asked if she could help. I reluctantly took it out of my bag and she smiled. She looked at it carefully. I showed her how I thought I had made a mistake in the beginning, but perhaps it could still be worked over.


Catalina's delicate hands took the string at the end of my work and she began to pull. As she pulled my heart leapt forward...But wait! But it was already unraveling. Once I got over the initial shock of seeing my work coming undone and disappear, a different feeling swept over me... relief. I found myself yielding to the unraveling with each row. I let go of what I had put together in haste. She took my broken project apart because it needed it. My friend's action showed me that it's okay to come undone and rebuild.


I watched her quick hands patiently stitch back what had been taken out. There is beauty in the undoing. With my head down I had lost sight of the process and the lesson.


In this season I am no longer knee-deep in diapers and toys. Right now I am knee-deep in teaching, ministry, and living cross-culturally. My circles have reappeared in different processes but the repetitive cycles are there. There will always be circles.


In my haste to build a life, an education, a ministry... I begin to look down and I squeeze. I crack the whip and call it "discipline" but what I want is control. I have begun to build with my head down and lost sight. Joy is gone because the process demands a result. When I realize what is happening I want to run away from the process. I think maybe that is the solution... run! But the Lord shows me that the process isn't the problem.


God made us to create, to work, to build, to organize, to plan. However, our eyes must remain on Him. It's my posture.


Help! must ever be present on my lips. If I'm honest, lately I haven't been asking for help. I have put my head down and begun laboring alone. My posture has changed.

Once again I must fall to my knees. I don't know what else to pray as the circles crowd in. My head tilts up and I squint in the light. Help.


His joy comes in like a gentle breeze. It softens me and I drop the whip.

My hands are open... I receive.


How many times must I take this posture? Daily.

I surrender my plans, my hopes, my ambitions with open hands. He unravels me, slowly. He whispers: I make all things new.


I answer: The joy of the Lord is my strength. My face lifted up to heaven and a new song springs up from my heart of hearts. This time the rhythm and melody making music.

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Joel & Angel Ballew

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joel@12degreesnorth.org

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