Most Great Accomplishments are won at great cost: The Good and Hard!

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My first Mom Heart Conference staff! Joel, Sarah, Nathan and Joy! 

This was about the age our family started mom’s conferences, 18 years ago! And this was our staff–book box carriers, registration team, those who handed out chocolate. They came cheap–and some of their friends helped, too.

I was thinking this weekend that running our conferences for countless women over the years, has been one of the biggest blessings–and yet, hardest things, we have ever done. Literally hundreds of nights in hotels with hotel food, suitcases—the dirty laundry at the end of the trip, different time zones–yet, definitely eternal work accomplished with much faith, together–and now I can see that it was the years and years of serving Him together that was one of the life-changing components for all of our children.

How interesting it was to find that Sarah was also pondering this and wrote a blog about the hard–very hard, but very good events that make life so worthwhile.

So, let me know, what does your family do–that is hard but good?

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I write this from 35,000 feet up in the free blue air. A grey quilt of clouds obscures the earth below, but sometimes the cloud down frays and the earth winks up, a brown, wry face patterned with laughter lines and the rutted gullies of old tears. I never get tired of having the window seat on an airplane. My awe at technology is usually spoiled by my suspicion that it might be ruining my imagination, but I still have a tiny girl’s wonder at the fact that we humans can fly. Airplanes feel a little like magic to me. I could sit here, nose pressed against my window, reveling in my rare, eagle’s eye view for hours.

At the moment though, I’m also just glad to be sitting. I can feel the dark circles under my eyes. For the third time in four weeks, I have gotten up far too early to lug a half dozen suitcases and crates to various airplane counters. I have packed and unpacked, washed (and, well, “unwashed”) more loads of laundry in the past months than I care to mention, changed time zones, chased rental car shuttles, and stumbled up, hair awry and eyes slightly wild to quite a few hotel desks. I have a bag of cherry tomatoes in the bottom of my bag, because I couldn’t stand to throw out good produce one more time, but they sit next to a bar of chocolate because travel season wrecks my healthy intentions. My carryon is stuffed with the speech I haven’t yet gotten by heart, the insurance papers I haven’t figured out, and the manuscript I still haven’t edited though the deadline is this weekend. In order even to write this, I must ignore the ten, urgent, unanswered emails sitting on the next tab over.

I tell you all this because in this rare moment of (literally) suspended calm, I find myself contemplating the worth of doing hard things.

Everything in my life of late seems hard. Conference season is hard. It comes as a mix of marathon, disaster, and holiday. Writing is hard. My brain at the end of a working day feels like a mental sponge squeezed dry of every word, and my heart rate spikes at thought of all the work I have yet to do. Integrity is hard. To write about beauty is one thing, to make it amidst exhaustion and laundry with nerves frayed and tongue sharp is harder. Health is hard. To eat good food, to walk long miles, to seek out natural instead of processed food takes time, and thought, and a mighty dose of discipline. (Especially amidst travel.) Even loving God is hard. Turning my mind away from the many lists of things I need to do, the countless desires, the endless distractions in order to sit with my Bible and listen, listen to his whisper in the silence is one of the most difficult habits I have ever undertaken.

Hard, every bit of it. Hard every single day of my life.

Yet undeniably, unequivocally… good.

In the past months I have watched myself complete a manuscript I never thought I could manage, and impossible deadlines were the grace that helped me to do it. I finally managed to articulate my convictions about story because I was forced to spit them out in the last-minute, white heat of speech-writing the hour before I was due on stage. The countless vegetables I’ve chopped, and lettuce I’ve washed for daily salads has paid off in a health I haven’t known for years. The friendships found and renewed in these conference weekends have kindled my heart, deepened my conviction, set me on my feet to work for yet another year. Life burgeons around me, good work flourishes, the soil of my heart is rich with new ideas and I know that the endless work of writing, of health, of love to which I have given myself with freshened vigor this year is worth every bit of what it costs me.

The truth I find is that every good thing I know requires hard work. It requires, not just a dose of effort to get it started, but the grit to hold fast and keep on when the inspiration fails. Day in and day out, a life that is in any way good requires steady labor, something I don’t always factor in when I am dreaming about the lovely things I’ll make and the heroic deeds I’ll accomplish. The good life – here in a fallen world where what was meant to be good was broken – is a hard life. We fight fallenness in every atom of existence. But every bit of the goodness we we make proclaims the someday new heaven and earth. And somehow, brings the kingdom come, even amidst the shadows.

I write this to remind myself to endure, because my idealist self often lags in the midst of all the effort. When I’m tired, as I am today with the hum of the plane around me, I wonder if its all worth it. I write this to shore up my will to endure, to strengthen the conviction that grows feeble when all I really want to do is lounge in my chair and drink five cups of tea.

But I also write this because I’ve been thinking of late about one of the hardest but best creations I have ever experienced: my family.

In conference season, I am always made keenly aware that many people watch my family. The parenting ministry that my mom and dad carry out means that we Clarksons are somewhat in the public eye. We are a family marked by our ideals, and our ministry is, in large part, to hold those ideals forth to the world and challenge others to follow them as well. But I wonder sometimes if the strength with which we state our ideals leads people to the mistaken assumption that we live an ideal life. That goodness comes easily to us, and hard to others. That somehow we were born with harmonious hearts and quiet tempers and curious intellects.

By the time we show up at conferences, feet padding the plush carpet of yet another hotel, we strive to look grown up in our Sunday clothes and polite (if not well-rested) faces. We do, of course, try to have good things to say. We strive to articulate all we believe and present a gracious face to the world. But a whirlwind of hard work and sore shoulders, heartache and heart-searching lies behind us. Imperfect attitudes, impatient words, and discouragement are the shadow side of the inspiration that propels us forward. We struggle, we grapple, we cry. We also laugh and cook and sing. We wash a thousand dishes and cook a thousand good meals and light the candles every evening and play our classical music. Behind every conference we throw or speech we give are countless quiet days of hard work and hard choices. I’m not saying that we live differently than the ideals we hold forth. I’m saying that we fight like wild men to attain them and we have been fighting for as long as I can remember.

These thoughts all began two nights ago when my Mom and I strode out to walk off our adrenaline in a purple and windy dusk. Our talk was of family, that hardest and best of works, and my talk was of the struggle I find to love. We spoke of old  frustrations and the grief they still cause. Of quirks and personalities that tax and bless us all at once. We spoke of the arduous decisions required by faith, the tough endurance required by real love, the never-ending forgiveness it demands and the ever-fresh friendship it brings. And when I had finally spit all the struggle out of my mouth in a torrent of irritation, I took a deep breath and listened to my mother teach me once again to love. To open my hands. To open my heart. To endure. And to do it all over again the next time.

As we pounded the last road home, I realized that we Clarksons are who we are – idealistic, fiercely loyal, writers, musicians, tied to each other at the hip and convinced we can help to bring God’s kingdom to bear on earth – because we stayed in the fight when the fight got hard.

Our fantastic relationships were formed in part by fantastic fights and spectacular disagreements, but we endured them all, rode the high, hard winds of strife into the safe harbor of affection.

We did not turn back and we did not let go. We did not withdraw from loving when loving got hard, but neither did we let hard things make a large and silent wedge between us. We took issues head on whatever they were and argued them out until they were gone. Jesus said of the woman who washed his feet that “she who is forgiven much, loves much.” And I think that principle is part of what forms the fellowship and ideals of my family. They who fight much, who endure each other’s quirks, who ride out the tempests of difficult circumstances and personalities, who laugh and weep and watch each other’s creation know a comradeship that can only come from the brotherhood of battle. The victory we have, the love that knits us close was only to be forged in struggle.

The truth is that we Clarksons have wrestled with God over and over again, every one of us, just like Jacob in the wilderness grappling with sin and pain and the strange presence of the Almighty. In striving to create new things, to live our ideals, to keep communion, we wrestled with God in our hearts and we wrestled with God in each other. Every inch of ground we gained in love came with years of hard battle. But we fought forward, knowing that to fight was to hope and even to love, because it was a kind of journey. We were fighting our way back to each other and not away. We were grappling toward beauty and we wrestled until we were blessed. We strove until we overcame.

That, I suppose, it at heart of what I am striving to understand, to tell myself here and as I do, tell you too. If love is to be formed, if families are to stay close, if  stories or songs are to be made, if ideals are ever to be kept, hard work is the high and never-ending cost.

In a fallen world, where the good that was meant to be was broken, we have to wrestle every day to love God, to do justice, to love mercy, to make beauty. But God wrestles with us. His Spirit incites us to the fight with visions of the good that was meant to be. His Son joins us in the battle, brother and lover who suffers so that we may overcome. And the Father waits at the end of our battle, the “great rewarder of those who seek Him.” In him we live and move and have our being, and in him we fight the great fight, and in him we trust that the good we make here is just the beginning of the kingdom come and a beauty that will never end.

So courage, dear hearts, as Aslan whispered to Lucy. Courage, I whisper to myself as the plane dips its nose under the quilt of clouds and the earth reaches up to grasp me once more. The work is about to begin again, good and hard. I’m ready.

Please find all of Sarah’s inspiring thoughts and articles at: thoroughlyalive.com

2013 Family Day Mueller 109

Nathan (getting married this weekend!) Sarah, Joy and Joel

My staff–or children–now!

 

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Comments

  1. Michelle Clinton says

    Beautiful!! Loved the pictures too! Thank you both for sharing your family with all of us. It has made a difference in my home and I know in many many others. Thank you. Praying for Nathan & Rachael.

  2. Judy says

    Though it is a few years ago now, working together for vacation Bible clubs for a number of summers, comes to mind as one of those hard but good things. Another mom and I were responsible for planning and leading crafts for a total of two hundred children (twice a week made for 400 craft packages). My children not only counted out beads, tiles, packaged cut-outs etc. but joined me for a couple of picnics on the floor during the week leading up to the event when it was raining outside and the dining room table was covered in materials! They were wonderful assistants for the after club clean-up each day too. Interestingly, they now look back with as much affection on the time leading up to those clubs, the fellowship of working together to prepare something beautiful for others, with as much affection as the club time itself – so yes, it was hard, but good.
    I had previously seen Sarah’s blog post. It’s a gem – beautifully articulated truth spoken with wisdom and grace.

  3. says

    Ms. Sally, I can say with all honesty it is a blessings to read your blog post.

    At times when I feel like is it all worth it, the getting up early, the staying up late to start a business. Something my family so badly need, I read a post from you, like this one, and it gives me courage.

    Please keep writing.

    Praying for you and your family.

  4. says

    Just what I needed this morning–so nice to be reminded that it’s OK for the work to feel hard. Hard and good–I like that! Love the last three paragraphs, Sarah. Carrying them with me into my day…

  5. says

    This was beautiful Sarah! Thank you so much for opening yourself up to us. You blessed me and I already used one of the techniques you spoke about at the conference when I was homeschooling yesterday! Thank you and God Bless you! Keep writing and shining!
    Lots of Love,
    Courtney

  6. Nancy says

    I am amazed how God uses these posts each day to strengthen, encourage and turn my heart back to Him. Just this morning I woke to get on my knees and cry out about how hard things are in this life…and how weary I am. I then read this post and was encouraged to press on. Trying to raise 5 children for the glory of God on one income with endless frustrations is hard. I must keep my eyes on the kingdom that will soon appear. Thank you for the reminder of the good and sweet we do get amidst the hard is the foretaste of what He has for us in eternity. Thank you Sally and Sarah. Don’t stop writing!!

  7. says

    I read this on her blog the other day and enjoyed it immensely. She is gifted with words and the ability to articulate her thoughts beautifully!
    I’m so thankful for her willingness to do hard things. Her passionate talk on a story formed life was one of the highlights of conference for me this weekend and one of the reasons my suitcase was so heavy on the way home.

  8. says

    I wanted to tell you on Saturday (as I was sitting a table over), but I never want to “overstep my bounds”, so here will work…thank you so much for your speech last year and again this year. You are such a blessing! Oh, Exhibit A, I laughed out loud! The first night home from the conference I read Roxaboxen and Miss Rumphius to the kids, I think they were as good for my soul as for theirs. I didn’t grow up “with story” but I love to read now. You have really shown me the importance of putting these beautiful stories into their minds and hearts early on. I also thought of you often in the last year from a sweet story you told last year of your mother making cookies during a difficult time of you dad traveling, making cookies has become our new tradition when Dad is on the road. I’m going to pray for you right now to have the renewed focus and energy to finish editing your book during such a busy week. I’m excited about the new projects you shared and Storyformed.com! Blessings!

  9. Annette says

    Thank you for doing the hard work!!! My heart has been changed as a result of that hard work! Also, thank you for your amazing talk on Saturday! I love your heart for reading! Can’t wait for storyformed.com!!!!! Thank you Clarkson’s for all you do!

  10. Elliejoy says

    Sally,
    I love your books, and am passionate about other believing Mom’s reading your books in Israel. I would love to translate your books into Hebrew. We need heartfelt discipline translated. Is this something that you have thought about before?
    Please when you have time ,I know you are very busy but when and if you have time let me know your thoughts.

    Ellie

    • Sally says

      You can write Clay about having Heartfelt translated. We can only give permission for our books that we publish (Mom Walk, Heartfelt, 10 Gifts, 24 Ways, etc.) to be published in other languages as for our other books, people must go to our publishers to get permission. Would love to see peeps ministered to by our books. You can reach Clay at: Clay@wholeheart.org . I will mention to him!

  11. says

    Sigh. Yes. Beautiful encouragement today. Homeschooling my five (7th, 6th, 3rd, and two 1st graders) is stretching me hard and good:). Thank you for always helping me loom at the big picture of what God is doing in the middle of it all!

  12. Jacklyn says

    Thank you once again for a post that touched me exactly where I am…fighting the god fight in a fallen world where it seems like everything is hard. I know God is working in and through my family and those around us.

  13. Helen says

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful writing, it truly has spurred me on, I have found this year just tour hard, I’d run out of push but now feel encouraged to get up and keep on. Life is a precious gift and it is worth giving it our very best besides when I slump I really don’t feel satisfied anyway, while going to bed bone weary is a satisfying feeling. Thank you for always teaching us to bring beauty to our family, to really love and to fight the good fight. I value your input into my life.

  14. Michelle Clinton says

    A note of encouragement for Sarah: I first heard you speak at one of the Mom Intensives in CO. At the time I thought you were kind and sweet. I was thankful you had shared. The second time I heard you speak was at the MomHeart Conference in CO this year. WOW! I sat captivated by this beautiful dynamic woman sharing her heart about the story formed life. It left me wanting more…to hear more or to read more from you. How neat to see the gifts God has given you bloom and grow.

    No pressure ~ Just joy!!

  15. Janet says

    This is so so inspiring, and so beautifully written. Keeps me focused to keep doing the hard things now with my young family and little children…God will reward us in times to come. For me the hard things are just the daily chores of being a wife and a stay home mum to 3 young children 6,3 and 1. The daily grind and being consistent is sooo hard. Also working part time with my husband and on 1 or 2 small projects trying to earn the family an extra income. Life here in Kenya is very expensive. I find that a 24 hour day is always too short to do all I have planned …. and I have backlog many times. Just trusting God to help me get more organized. But more than that…. to truly bless the work of our hands and our intentional parenting that someday we too can write like Sarah and the entire Clarkson family of having been used in our generation for God’s goodness and Glory. Thank you so much for the inspiration. God bless you all and Nathan especially as he begins his life in marriage.

  16. Eve says

    Sally,
    What an amazing gift it was to me this past weekend to see you and your family in Dallas. Thank you for all the hard work you all have put forth to minister to others. Your story has touched my family’s life in so many ways. I continue to look over my notes each morning making sure I have not missed anything I want to take away from the inspiring discussions I heard in just the short time I was at the conference! I am so grateful that the Lord has used you to answer many of my prayers throughout this journey of motherhood.
    Enjoy this weekend- what a special time!

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