Saturday, December 31, 2011
We love to begin afresh, embrace the new and breathe in redemption. This is, after all, the very essence of the longing that brings us to the place of surrender.
The Lord, so gracious and revealing, has placed new beginnings in our paths as we live these broken lives. A quiet sunrise speaks to the power of a God to make all things new. The fact that the same sun goes down every night speaks to His power to remove the struggles and sins of that day...as far as the east is from the west. The mistakes, the pride, the outbursts, the hardships are erased as the sun rises. If we only we will see and be cleansed.
And now...this day...another picture of a new beginning. A brand new year.
Many people will make resolutions that will only be broken. They will commit to try harder, wake up earlier, be more productive. But what we all really need? Not to make a promise we can't keep or a goal that will ultimately lead to failure.
We need the new beginning. We need the promise that comes with January 1. The promise that says...no matter what kind of year you've had, or what kind of day you have tomorrow, or what happens to you this week, or what in the world plagues you and keeps you up at night...the sun will rise again.
No matter how you've been hurt, no matter how you've been failed, no matter how hard or how far you have fallen...take heart...for your redemption is nigh.
Time passes and it plagues us. It causes us to look backwards and lament its passing. It forces us to remember the temporal state of our world. It begs us to walk the path of regret and remorse. If only...
If only we will look forward instead of backwards. If only we will receive the promises of a Loving God. If only we will count our blessings instead of our failures. If only we will choose...yes choose...to see the hope that looms ahead of us.
The new year begins...the old one ends...and the Lord speaks silently in this spinning orb He has created. He speaks of brand new.
He reveals Himself through creation and every year and He begs us to see the Glory in the redemptive power of new beginnings.
If you've had a good year, a great year, or a horrid year...you get to start over. And not just on January 1...but every day. He makes beautiful things out of the wondrously miraculous, the nothing special and the resolutely abhorrent.
Beauty for ashes. It's why He came. And it's why the sun rises. Every. Single. Day.
Monday, December 19, 2011
This year, we wrapped up some cookies for a few of our neighbors. I mentioned to the girls that our next door neighbors worship a different God than we do...that it would be a good witness to give them some cookies.
My five-year-old daughter...the one who hits her sister but cries about the orphans...the one who asked that I please stop talking to her about Africa because it's too sad...the child who requested that we all fly to China to hand out Bibles. That child. She states the obvious. "Then we should give them a Bible."
I cringe inward...just a little...and her sister pipes in and agrees wholeheartedly. "Yes! What a great idea!"
I am no religion scholar. I know a lot about what God is teaching me...but not very much about the ins and outs of the Godless religions that mislead His creation. Will they be offended? Maybe they'll be upset with us? Isn't this a little pushy?
I end up at Wal-Mart that week and decide to stroll through the books. Maybe I should buy a book...a Bible is a little much...maybe a good Max Lucado book about the Savior.
I become frustrated with myself and wonder why in the world I am hesitant to give someone an unsolicited Bible? I know the transformative power of these words. I understand the love story contained. Why the uncertainty?
Because I know the world hates the Bible. I know Jesus is hated because He is love. He is hated because He is just. He is hated because He is radical.
The world hates Him for the same reasons I love Him.
I buy the Bible and bring it home.
The girls painstakingly wrap their gift, full of excitement and anticipation.
I get one of our Christmas cards and, at the advice of my knitting mentor...a beloved woman and lover of Christ, I write a note.
We wrap a bow around it and the cookies and leave it on their front porch.
The next day, the neighbor marches over and hands me this:
"Thank you for the cookies...but we cannot accept your Bible. We are Hindu and cannot accept this gift."
Dumbfounded, I mumble something that might resemble an apology and close the door. The girls ask who was at the door...I (again) mumble something to the effect of, "It was the neighbor thanking us for the cookies..."
I still haven't told them.
As this plagued me, I found it was tempting to shake my head, and mutter, "What do you expect from the world?" But I couldn't go there. What I'm learning...through this journey called motherhood...is that the lesson I think someone else should be learning is usually mine.
Then, it happened. The Lord...never willing to let me perish in the bowels of self-contemplation, revealed a truth and put me in my place hours later.
I was filing up a sippy cup tonight for about the...I don't know...10,000th time over the last 7 years? And I muttered, "Lord, I'm really tired of filling up sippy cups."
And just like that, the image of the Bible amidst torn up paper flashes bright.
My complaints over the years tumble forth and the truth paralyzes me.
"I'm tired of never sleeping all night. I'm tired of cooking meals. I'm tired of teaching math. I'm tired of being touched all day. I'm tired of holding children. I'm tired of finding shoes...zipping coats...sacrificing...self-denying...loving unconditionally...serving...fighting for my kids' hearts...
Why don't I just say what I really mean?
This gift, Lord? The one you've given me to become more like you? This holy life of sacrifice You've given to me to live? I don't want it...you see, my religion is self and I cannot accept this gift of becoming more like You every day. It's offensive to my god...she trembles beneath all of this and is waning away. This life I live...daily sacrificing all...it's killing her.
The Lord smiles. "Exactly."
To sacrifice daily...self-deny completely...love unconditionally...hug freely...fill sippy cups endlessly...it kills self. And isn't that our goal?
His gifts are sometimes (usually?) wrapped up differently than we might expect. A Savior in a trough...a King at the thief's table...a Redeemer on a cross...the Murdered among the living.
This gift? This one He's given us? It's Life wrapped up in a whole lot of giving. The peace for which we long...the Christ-likeness we strive so hard to achieve...it's buried deep in the trenches of self-sacrifice. In the well of motherhood, there is Living Water.
We can refuse His gift. We can lament, complain, dig in our heels and renounce it. Or we can abandon our lifeless god and dive deep into the mire...into the well...wade in the trenches of self-denial and give thanks all the while. Then...and only then...will we, mothers on a path toward holiness, be set free.
Friday, December 16, 2011
As I was scrolling through the pictures, I began to wonder why I am so enthralled with mountains. What is it about the high peaks that cause my head to spin and my knee to bend? Then it hit me...
Because they make me feel small.
The mountains put me in my place. In a flesh-ridden body that is continually self-seeking, self-fulfilling and self-worshipping, I am pushed low.
Have you ever tried to take a picture of something enormously amazing, but in your camera it continues to look insignificant? I have countless pictures of mountains...but it isn't until you take one with a person in the shot that you see the enormity of God's creation.
Perhaps it is the same with God's redeemed and their Redeemer.
Could it be that the height of God's glory can't be known until it's revealed through the lives of tiny, insignificant us? That perhaps the full weight of His majesty isn't clear until a picture is taken with us standing alongside?
Next to this Landscape so Wondrous, we look tiny and...dare I say it...insignificant? Isn't that the point of a Christ-centered life?
Now, don't get me wrong. He doesn't need us. To be sure it is we who need Him.
It is I who need to embrace this God who was made low for my sake. This God who created the mountains that reach toward the heavens and the valleys that cascade down deep. This God who traded His crown of Glory for one of thorns. It is I who need the God whose tomb is empty and who has made me whole.
Could it be, however, that His glory is only truly manifest in the lowliness of His creation?
And just as I walk alongside the mountain, highlighting the glory of its heights...so, too, I walk hand in hand with a Savior...my humility magnifying this God-Man come down.
And there it is...one more reason to bow low, self-deny, and take up our cross. To take part in the glorification of this God of creation...the God who created these peaks that caress the heavens...it's the pinnacle of all our reasons.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Every morning, the sun rises. Every evening, it sets. And most days I miss both in this mad rush to live life…and live it on time. A counter-productive race that ignores the Bearer of Life for the sake of living it.
Camera to my eye, I ponder why the stillness eludes me. The Light of the World brings me a sunrise every morning and every day I cry out for stillness…while the color-filled sky is hung by the Master like a canvas backdrop to my morning. And I fail to pause.
The elusive pause...
True life exists in the glorious moments of pause. The sunrise. The lone robin on a limb. The eyes of a child.
Serving Jesus…denying ourselves…means stopping. It means, bending down and looking into eyes of an expressive child, chattering away. It means stopping to notice the bird and his song. It means admiring the sunset…capturing the beauty and tucking it away to help carry us through the less-beautiful moments of our day.
I turn from the window and catch a glimpse of the laundry piled up...the evidence of a week spent rushing about, succeeding at half-tasks.
I hold my camera and smile.
Suddenly the tasks at hand seems less daunting. Suddenly I feel like a bird in flight, a woman...a mother...prepared to tackle the day. And not because I'm worthy or capable. Not because I suddenly have it all figured out. And definitely not because the tasks are less work that they were 10 minutes ago. But because in my hand, I hold the evidence of a sacred moment. A moment I chose to pause and receive the beauty handed to me every morning by a Savior who longs to see us find life in the stillness.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
The three-year old is crying. The seven-year old needs help with math and the five-year old wants to read me a story. Who am I in this moment? To whom do I respond and with what hat? Mother? Teacher? Listener?
If I fail to be one, I fail to be...for which one of these things exists outside of myself?
How do I exist in an environment where I seek to be so much to small beings who need me to be all? How do I lay my head down at night feeling as though I did not, in fact, fail to be everything they need...everything God has called me to be?
As I struggle through this complex issue in this chaotic, redeemed life I have grown to love, I feel the Lord pressing upon my heart a simple truth that can set me free if I choose to embrace it. If I choose to ignore the world and exist in a moment to moment life of clinging to the very heart of a Savior.
Mother first. Everything else follows.
As I strive to be mother first, the all of whom I am created to be, the rest follows with a great amount of order. Any day I strive to be a teacher first, or cleaner, or cook, and choose to ignore, even for a moment, the call of mother, it all falls apart.
In the chaos that seeks to consume, it's easy to forget my first love and tear through the day with my list and my books and my food. The child sits, math completed and phonics accomplished, with a heart hungry. The three-year old weeps for the mother while she remains vacant in this foolish race.
Race for what? For what and whom am I rushing? Through my precious moments? Through this precious life, redeemed by the Father and blessed with His mercy of small, smiling faces?
I think...I have to think...there is enough time to be mother first and teacher second. Because, in the end, the mothering is what facilitates the teaching. Without a comforting, loving heart that is turned toward my children, their hearts are not open to instruction. As I mother my children and feed their souls, the rest of the pieces start to fall into place. More teaching is done. The meals are prepared. The house is cleaned as we work together...mother and child. Isn't the essence of this very truth the miracle that led me to homeschool in the first place? The fact that the mother holds the heart?
When I comfort the small child and the others remain patient. When I help with math...a smaller child on my hip. When I listen to a story...the little one snacking on my lap. When I hug the math student for a job well done and praise the reader for all she has learned. When history gets postponed for a moment or even (gasp!) a day while I read to the smaller child, hungry for a mother. Will not God honor these more than a curriculum completed perfectly or a checklist marked off completely? Will not God fill in my gaps when I honor Him by being mother to my children? Is not God's grace sufficient?
I have years to teach them and they have a lifetime to learn. A child on my lap is fleeting and the picture books fade fast. I want to never miss a chance to mother my children. I never want to discount the mothering for a lesson completed more quickly or a house a little cleaner. And as I feed their souls and hold their hearts, I teach them the most important lesson of their childhood...the lesson of sacrificing all for the sake of the little ones. The lesson of pouring out a life for the least of these and of wearily holding a child, with a still heart, in the midst of chaos.
A still heart in the midst of chaos is a gift that can only be given by a mother who hears her call and embraces it completely. Wholly. Putting aside the pressing matters of now to invest in what is eternal.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
"The candle-end had long been burning out in the bent candlestick, casting a dim light in this destitute room upon the murderer and the harlot strangely come together over the reading of the eternal book."
The murderer, in his attempt to alleviate discomfort...or perhaps in an effort to bring another being into his suffering, seeks out the good-hearted harlot and confesses. He then asks her to read to him from the book of John...the story of Lazarus.
She reads. The candle burns. He confesses. She weeps.
She enters into his suffering and he, not yet able to fully connect, is shocked by her empathy.
This scene stands out in my mind as the catalyst of the rest of the book. Following this moment are many encounters and a myriad of emotions that border on insanity. He breaks from reality...deep in his thoughts...but always comes back to the most forceful thought of his existence: He...unlike the great men of history and war...is not able to kill and forget. He is incapable of murdering and counting it to the greater good of society. While regret does not border on the forefront of his mind, a certain kind of discomfort seeks to consume him.
It's hard to know what type of discomfort he is experiencing. I took him for a criminal...an anti-social man who is not truly able to enter into the arena of sympathy, regret or even deep contemplation centering around the well-being of another. His entire existence is centers around himself and the angst of his soul. The angst, being more at the frustration at his inability to kill and exist free of inner-turmoil than being from the regret at taking a human life, is not exactly an angst of nobility. Human life, to him, is nothing but existence...and his existence, if he is able to kill a "louse" of a woman and move on, unheeded by social norms and conformity, is more important and noble than that of any common person. Just like Napoleon and all great men.
So the discomfort...the inner turmoil...what is it exactly, if not a full-fledged regret for his crime? What is this inner turmoil and from where does it stem? It's all rather ambiguous and it quickly becomes circular. A man free of convictions exists in a world of torment after a crime he committed...a crime he does not regret! My head spins and I am torn and I am taken to a place of deep contemplation. And I relish in it.
The story continues. He confesses. Truly confesses to authorities and he is shipped to Siberia. An existence, less noble than any common person, complete with cockroaches in his soup.
The harlot follows him to Siberia. She no longer exists under the crushing empathy and responsibility of her younger siblings...so she leaves her lifestyle which was always for the sake of providing for those weaker than she. She becomes a seamstress and spends her days sewing and investing in the murderer who chose her. She visits him. She withstands his contempt and trusts her meek, quiet, loving spirit will redeem him.
And just when I think he is beyond redemption...when it becomes clear he is incapable of love and connection...he is resurrected. The author uses this term to describe his transformation...or the beginning of what would become his transformation.
They sit on the bank...and he falls at her feet and weeps. And...in that moment...it's as if someone has called him forth just as Jesus called Lazarus that day the candle burned in the dirty, barren apartment.
The history of his soul...the selfishness of his spirit. The incessant rambling of his mind that bordered on insanity and took him to places of egotism amidst self-loathing. All of it was, in fact, representative of a spirit, an existence, that was...dead. Without life. He was not living...merely existing...and for what, he knew not.
Until the hour he killed, confessed and was resurrected.
Did he ever learn to truly regret his deed? Will he always be a man who wanders and wonders? Will he ever feel love for anyone, other than the harlot who so selflessly beseeched his devotion? Is he capable of killing again or will his transformation become complete?
As I ask these questions internally and turn the last pages of this thought-provoking narrative, the words stare at back me:
"But here begs a new account, the account of a man's gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto, completely unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story-but our present story is ended."
And so it ends...with the hope of a new beginning.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
It's become my mantra.
"I don't feel like doing laundry." It's not about you. "I REALLY don't want to cook dinner tonight." It's not about you. "I don't want to be a teacher today." It's not about you.
Selfishness. We live in a world that esteems self and stresses the importance of "taking care of you." Even Christian leaders today fuel the idea that you must take time to invest in yourself. I simply cannot find this advice anywhere in scripture. The world says to take care of yourself. Jesus says to take care of the orphans and widows. The world says you are entitled to down time. Jesus says lay down your life. The world says to follow your heart. The Bible says to take every thought captive. The world says live for yourself. The Bible says you have been crucified with Christ. The world tells you your children are a burden. The Bible says they are a blessing. The kings of this world sit in a palace and are protected by servants. Our King washed dirty feet, dined with thieves, touched lepers and healed prostitutes.
Selfishness rears its ugly head in all of us. It's the pride of self...the voice that tells us we are entitled to something. It's easy to see it in someone else...a little harder to pinpoint in ourselves.
My daughter yelled at her little sister today...over a lost toy she let her borrow. My response? "What's more important: the toy or your sister's heart?"
"I've told you a hundred times not to do that!" What's more important? "Why don't you listen to me?" Making your point? "Stop touching that!" Demanding blind obedience? "Come here right now!" Or their hearts?
Speak kindly. Serve wholly. Admonish gently. Shepherd lovingly. This is the life of a servant. A life modeled after a King who came to show us what selflessness really looks like.
We serve our families...and thus serve Jesus. This is what turns our children's hearts toward the Savior. This is what opens their soul to the loving, corrective wisdom that comes from the heart of God.
Harsh words and selfish desire never won anyone to the Kingdom.
I pray God will bless me with a lap that is open, ears that are keen, eyes that are loving, and a smile that is turned toward the blessings in my home. I pray for tireless hands, a selfless spirit, a pure heart, bent knees and raised hands.
Thank goodness it's not about me. I am sin and I forget all too often the call of selflessness. I never want to forget the way it feels to look into the eyes of my Savior and say, "I will." I will teach these children what it means to follow you. I will love them every day. I will lay down my life for the least of these. I will work tirelessly doing Your work until You come back. Because none of this is about me. It's about You. Redeemer. King. Messiah. Servant.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
We praise the same King in a pew on Sunday morning...with our hearts cleansed and our heads turned upward, we worship.
A short time later, the same crowd that waved the palm branches now shake their fists and cry, "Crucify Him!"
And hours after we leave our House of Worship, we blaspheme our God with our tongues and our actions.
We weep at the Cross and we mourn the tragic death of a King. We rejoice in His resurrection and gaze deep into the eyes of the women at the empty tomb.
Then we live like He's dead and we hammer the nails further and deeper as we serve ourselves and defile the empty tomb with our tongues of malice.
We crumble under the pressure and we cry out to a God we reject over and over. We scream "Crucify Him!" and sing "Hosanna!" all in the same breath. We look in the mirror and weep.
Then...the Lord speaks. The nails can go no deeper. The tomb cannot be defiled. This is why I've come. You can't. I can. It's not about you. It's about Me.
We fall on our knees, weep...and give thanks.
Friday, October 21, 2011
There is something about being outside that nourishes me. It is essential for my growth and survival. The air blows past me and carries with it my frustration and anxieties. The birds chirp, echo my song and the stress dissipates. The trees rustle in the wind and their music soothes. The sun shines and reminds of all that is right in my life....the warmth covers me and I soar once more.
And my grass is green. In the midst of the gray...in the midst of an approaching winter...in the midst of a life of sacrifice...in the midst of the storms...I see Jesus. His sun shines and His wind blows and His birds sing...and I am caught up in the beauty of it all. I hold my children and give thanks.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
We grabbed our Bibles out of the backseat and began walking. Slowly, deliberately we ambled into a large, old brick building. We were greeted, given bulletins and a handshake. In front of us, the entryway opened up into a large room full of men, women and children. Strangers. The plaster was separated from the brick walls and the stability of the building, in general, seemed...shaky. People from all walks of life milled about. They walked, talked and congregated together. A congregation. A family. The first one I would know as an adult.
There were two aisles, both sloping downward toward the stage. The room, having been built in a time when teachers taught with no sound equipment, echoed. The walking, talking and clamoring for seats filled my ears. Something behind the pulpit caught my eye. A dove. Wooden and mounted on the wall. I made a mental note to look into its meaning. Two, now archaic, tv screens sat on opposite ends of the 100-year-old sanctuary, where the lyrics to worship songs would scroll. The pews were shallow, the seats of which had recently been upholstered with green. The aisle creaked when we walked upon it...down to an arbitrarily chosen pew. I opened my bulletin and the words stared back at me...black and printed...etched from this day forward onto the surface of my heart:
- We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their over-emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.
- We believe that the only true basis of Christian fellowship is His (Agape) love, which is greater than any differences we possess and without which we have no right to claim ourselves Christians.
- We believe worship of God should be spiritual. Therefore, we remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship.
- We believe worship of God should be inspirational. Therefore, we give a great place to music in our worship.
- We believe worship of God should be intelligent. Therefore, our services are designed with great emphasis upon teaching the Word of God that He might instruct us how He should be worshiped.
- We believe worship of God is fruitful. Therefore, we look for His love in our lives as the supreme manifestation that we have truly been worshiping Him.
The strangers became family. Some of them, close family. We became fixtures in this delapitating church and we grew together.
Things changed throughout the next couple of years. The tv screens were replaced with a big screen on the wall above the pulpit and speakers and a projector were suspended from the very high ceiling. I worried about the safety of such a placement until someone informed me that a brave soul had hung from it and, therefore, it had to be perfectly safe. I was never fully convinced but as far as I know, it has never fallen. Two small buildings were purchased across the street for further use and we were working on obtaining an FM radio station to take the gospel to people who couldn't come to us.
I loved my church. I loved everything we stood for, everything we were about, everything that was so much different from the more "traditional" churches in town. I loved that a man could walk in off the street in flip-flops and cut off jeans and hear the gospel. I loved that the tattooed sat with the straight-laced and that the redeemed drug addict was no different from the redeemed man of pride. I loved seeing the alcoholic rub elbows with the counselor and the business man shake hands with the prison inmate. I loved to see the evidence of a redemptive God at every turn. I loved the worship. I loved how alive my Bible was becoming. And I loved my family.
Through a series of events, it all began to unravel. The believers were at odds with each other. People were angry. Hurt. Sad. Frustrated. The family began to split up. Finding new homes. New families. It felt like divorce to me. And I, desperate to cling to what I knew to be true and real, hung on for dear life. My husband, who is steadfast in his demeanor and scarcely quits anything, hung on for dear life. We prayed. And prayed.
One rainy morning, we grabbed our Bibles from the backseat along with the children I had birthed in the last 5 years. We walked up the sidewalk...into the old building...through the entryway and into the large room with all the people. We marched down the oh-so-familiar staircase, transporting two girls to Sunday School. We climbed the stairs again. Back into the room...we sat down...third baby in my arms...and a lump in my throat. We glanced around the room and were faced with a stunning realization. This place...the creaks, the smell, the speakers hanging from the ceiling, the uncomfortable 100-year-old pews...it was home. Here we sat...in our home filled with people. But our family was gone. Almost entirely gone. Divorced from this place as we still sat waiting, in futility, for someone to come home.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
This is her story. His story.
A family sits at the bottom of a mountain. Their skin dark as night and their hands etched with the scars of a wounded life. A small boy rises and begins the long trek up the mountain...and then down he comes, slowly...deliberately. He stumbles. The rock he is balancing on his head almost brings him to his knees. He steadies himself...thinks of his hungry sister...and continues down the mountain.
At the bottom, his mother breaks the rock into pieces. No fancy equipment...just the resolve of a woman determined to feed the hungry mouths that stare at her wonderingly every morning.
The father. He peddles. Please buy our rock...take what we have to offer...it's not much but it's all we have and it's hope. My son carried it himself...my wife perfected it and my daughter is starving.
A sale...relief...gratefulness. One dollar and it's enough to feed the mouths today.
The sun sets. The family sleeps. And they awake to the picturesque view of the sun rising over a mountain of glory...but the glory whimpers under the crush of empty stomachs and souls searching for hope.
The boy gathers his resolve and begins again...up the mountain...down the mountain...stumbling but always balancing and marching forward. The rock is smashed and the mother carries it down the gravel road to the father. She limps as the fabric tightens around her foot bleeding with the cuts of the glorious mountain. A stranger approaches her and she stops. A white woman dressed peculiarly inquires about the fabric tied around her aching foot. She tells her story. The story of her life...the cuts of the mountain...the paradox of the beauty cutting deep into her as she survives on its sustenance.
The white woman listens and the wounds of the black woman cut deep into her own soul. She takes off her own shoes and gingerly hands them to the mother. The woman stares, incredulously at the gift. For me? For free? Every day I work tirelessly alongside my family to survive and you are offering me that which carried you into my world? For nothing? No work? Her eyes steady. The disbelief of it all melds with the grace and the sacrifice and she takes them.
She walks towards her husband. Stiffly...oddly...her toes scrunched and crowded. Her eyes gleaming and her heart rejoicing. Not in the day. Not in the mountain, full of glory in the twilight. Not in the dollar made. Not in the shoes. But in the gift. She rejoices in the story of a stranger bestowing a gift and ambling through the rest of the village barefoot. Just like the natives. Forsaking comfort and entering into the world of the meek and forsaken. Inspiring hope in a hopeless land. Just like Jesus.
"Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." - Matthew 25:40
Friday, September 23, 2011
Remembering the power of our God...
I stand in my kitchen, dinner unplanned, a heavy dose of bad parenting under my belt and fatigued beyond the point of no return. Schoolwork is done, but barely. And the aftermath of it all, intermingled with other various ill-placed items, is strewn about my house. I watch my kids playing outside the kitchen window and sigh.
I start to unravel the mess. School papers first. Checklists are piled up by the computer for later entry. I open the refrigerator and start to rummage around for something (anything!) to throw together. I contemplate. How did I get here? How in the world did I blow it...again?
I hear a little girl yell my name and walk outside. My middle daughter is reaching into the tree for more pieces of whatever-it-is-she-is-creating-with today. She asks, "What's it called again when you take something ugly and turn it into something beautiful?" She pulls hard and the thing pops off the tree. My eyes well up. I say it first in my mind. Redemption.
"You mean to redeem something?" I ask. She smiles wide. "Yes! I'm redeeming these little balls." I praise her for her efforts and snap her picture.
I walk back inside as the tears spill out and over. I say it again, softly. Redemption. I wipe my eyes and walk back into my kitchen. I have a Redeemer. Today, tomorrow...every day. Redemption.
I've spent a lot of time talking to my children about redemption. About the God we serve. The God of second chances. The God of new beginnings. The God of rebirth. Yet, here I stood, moments before, lamenting the loss of a day...the loss of my resolve. Is anything beyond the redemptive power of our Savior?
Sin. Today I am girded with many mistakes...but the truest balk at my Lord was the failure of my spirit to embrace His power. This day was not ruined when I snapped at my daughter. It was not lost the moment I ceased to plan dinner. It wasn't even destroyed when I hurried through lessons, not patient enough to savor the moments. Sinful moments, yes. But to participate in the of the desecration of a day by ignoring the power of a God who has redeemed me a thousand times over? To shun the ability of Christ to redeem it...redeem me? That is the sin that has corrupted this day and nearly crushed my spirit.
We serve a God who was resurrected from beyond the grave. He walked on water, calmed the storms and made the blind man see.
Lord, help me see.
Waffles. I make the decision. I get out the waffle maker. I put the house back together. I pray without ceasing...for forgiveness...for redemption. I walk outside to see what my daughter has created (redeemed.) She has braided the stems of the little "balls" and created bundles of beauty, nature inspired. The weather is beautiful. The sun is slowly sinking, but it's not gone. The day is still present. It is present and hope and joy abound as I shift my paradigm and consider the power of our God.
My husband pulls into the driveway. The kids run and jump and he asks what is for dinner. They screech it joyfully. He asks how our day was. I smile. The kids smile. The child in the middle shows him her creations. He oohs and ahhs and praises. She beams.
I feel my chest expand as the scent of fall permeates. The sun sinks lower. I thank God for second chances. And third chances. And a million chances to serve Him. I thank Him for redemption. And for the children who opened my eyes to its power today.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
I wrote this in my oldest daughter's baby book several years ago. Any mother can attest to the truth of the above statement. We sacrifice everything to care for our children...our sleep, our priorities, our clean house. Something to ponder: Are these sacrifices truly for the benefit of our children? Or are they put in place to mold us?
This week I received two entirely separate emails from two different friends who live on opposite ends of the state. They both held the same epiphany: "Perhaps God placed me in this place, at home with my children, for the sake of my growth and spirituality more than for the that of my children's? Maybe...just maybe...God is using my children to perfect me?"
I think about where motherhood has taken me thus far. Through an endless succession of sleepless nights...through days of crankiness, messiness and frustration...through weeks of feeling inadequate...through agonizing bouts of decision making...through an ocean of unending sacrifice. And I think about where I am now in comparison with where I was 8 years ago.
I turned 30 last year. Someone asked me how I felt to be turning 30. I contemplated for a moment (which I don't always do before I speak, unfortunately) and concluded the following. "Would I like to be 24 again? Maybe. But do I want to go back to being who I was at 24? A new mother with no experience? Being unsure of every decision I was making? Being immature in my faith? No. I'll take 30."
Motherhood, while the most joyous journey I've known, has taken me to the depths of sacrifice and back again. It has molded me into who I am and has grown my faith tremendously. Let's face it. I have not had ample time to study my Bible in recent years. I have not been on a plethora of Women's Retreats where I have been "recharged." Truth be told, I even spent most of the last 8 years of Sunday mornings in the cry room, listening to the sermon from afar when I could. You would think my faith would be weak with so little to feed it. Yet I feel strong.
I find this an amazing picture of God's grace. Why? Because it means that I am being perfected by God, not only during the most obvious times, but during the minutes I almost thought were wasted.
Sacrifice. It's the sole avenue by which we can become like Christ.
While walking my baby back and forth across the floor, God was weeding out self-service. While getting up again to nurse, the Lord was molding my heart. While holding a sleeping girl, Jesus was teaching me to slow down. While the laundry piled up, God was showing me what is important. He was, in these moments and many more to come, teaching me to be, as Ann Voskamp states in her book, all here. Right now. All here, right now, anchored to this moment. Anchored to a moment while an ocean of self-fullment, chaos and busyness torrent around me.
How many moments do I lose every day? How many life lessons am I missing as I busily go about my day, "serving my family" while I overlook their true needs in a given moment?
I strive to never miss a moment to be perfected. As we busily teach and care for our children, I have to think my two friends may be right. We think God placed them in our lives so we could teach them how to be selfless, forgiving, patient and humble. But maybe we are raising them so God can teach us how to be selfless, forgiving, patient and humble. And maybe...just maybe...that's how our children learn. That's how they grow. As we walk this path of Godliness, choosing to deny ourselves for their sake (for His sake...for our sake), our children walk beside us, look up into our eyes and see an ocean of sacrifice that is deep with joy. They see. And they internalize, embrace it and swim in it until they have their own babies. And they are perfected.
And such is the way of our Lord...using what we think is wasted, lost or insignificant and redeeming it for His glory.
Monday, September 12, 2011
I want to share something that might seem meaningless at first glance. It could potentially go without mentioning, but it was so profound for me (many things are profound for me that are routine for most, so take that with a grain of salt) that I feel I must pass it along to you.
During the winter of my second year of homeschooling, I read a delightful book by Karen Andreola entitled Pocketful of Pinecones. In it she referred to the time she spent teaching her children as “lessons”. We had always called our lesson time “school.” Two words, same implied idea, entirely different connotations.
School. The word brings images of brick buildings and, with it, a block of completely uninterrupted time wherein we would “do school.” Now, I had read enough to know the pitfalls of doing “school at home.” Our “school” looked a lot more like Karen Andreola’s lessons than they did like the school experienced by children sitting in classrooms across America. Yet school we called it. And uninterrupted I expected it to be. Imagine my frustration at expecting (rather subconsciously at times) such perfection from small children! The expectance of perfection, and the subsequent feelings of inadequacy when such perfection was not achieved, was a source of strife for me during my first couple of years as a homeschooler.
Lessons. Using this word has become freeing to me. (Silly, huh?) But hear me out! Lessons can be interrupted and picked up again later in the day. They are periods of learning spread throughout the week. Two lessons...help a child with a snack...1 lesson...take a toddler potty...and the week continues in this manner. Doing lessons, embracing interruptions, mothering our children. Using the term "lessons" also tells a more accurate story about homeschooling. Lessons are a part of what we are doing help shape our children into Godly, helpful, self-sufficient citizens. School brings with it a sort of connotation that assumes the full right of being all that is being done in the education of our children. Lessons are part of their education. The rest of it lies in other areas of the atmosphere of the home.
Yes, the more I write about it, the more it seems as though the semantics of these words may very well seem trivial. However, the word “lessons”, and all it encompasses, is a small part of what is inspiring me to create an atmosphere that mimics the lifestyle to which God has called us. Try it for a day. See if you feel set free!! If not, just write me off as a crazy, homechool mom addicted to the English language. I can live with that.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
The following is where my nocturnal musings took me.
After feeling somewhat stagnant for a few years, I finally feel as though I am growing. It is evident that God is speaking to my heart. That my spiritual growth is at unprecedented levels. However...I feel a pull back toward Earth. I can feel my spirit searching to thrive, yet it fails. The growth I am experiencing is not spilling over into every area of my life. In short, my spirit may be growing...but my flesh is lagging.
This all came to me in a moment. My eyes popped open. A ludicrous thought invaded my mind: "If only my flesh could catch up with my spirit!" Then, an almost audible Voice: "Your flesh will never catch up. It must die, or your spirit will never soar."
Inside every believer wages a war. Spirit vs. flesh. They cannot, will not, co-exist peacefully. The flesh must die for the spirit to thrive. Or the flesh will take over. It's a cancer that permeates every area of our precious life. The day the serpent deceived the woman, it was so. The fall. We know the story like a picture book we read to our children. But do we really know what it means for us today? Do we really believe our flesh (sin manifest) will destroy us if allowed to thrive?
The flesh cannot be controlled. It must be dismantled.
How do we feed our spirit and deny our flesh? I mean REALLY deny our flesh? Starve it?So it is weak and without strength and our spirit can soar?
The flesh prospers in our hearts first...then in our lives. I am completely and totally sold out on the idea that most of the enemy's battles are won in our mind. Most of the food we feed to our flesh is eaten in the depths of our hearts where no one can see. We choose others over self, but we resent the choice. We choose work over idleness, but we groan inwardly while we labor. We pick up our child, but feel no empathy for his tears. We speak kindly to our husband, but wish he were different. We choose not to gossip, but allow unkind thoughts to invade our minds. Once the battle is won in the mind, it is only a matter of time before it spills over into our actions. Our lives. Our spirit-filled lives that become choked out by an angry, self-indulgent, resentful, unkind flesh.
At first glance, it's a sad story. A bunch of weary sinners who, contrary to the desire of our hearts, continue to serve ourselves and stifle our spirit. Is it too idealistic to think we can starve our flesh? Are we doomed to a life full of mediocrity? I say no. I say no because the Bible says no.
Hopelessness is a lie fed to us by a slithering serpent who calculates our demise.
Truth. It's what sets us free. True: If we feed our spirit, our flesh will weaken. True: If our hope is in the Lord, we will not be disappointed. True: We can die to our ourselves. True: We can take up our cross and follow Him. True: We can choose righteousness. One caveat: Not on our own strength. All Truth reigns from the Father. You see, it's the Father who sets us free.
We draw near to the Father and our flesh crumbles. We pray without ceasing and our spirit strengthens. We spend time in God's word and our faith abounds. We receive, wholly and completely, the Grace of Jesus when we fail and we are re-born. (Do you hear that, mother-ridden-with-guilt? Grace is for you too.) We diligently serve Christ while denying ourselves and our emaciated flesh will weaken at every turn. Then, and only then, will our spirit soar.
"They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Why is it that Fall (and fall like weather) always turns my heart towards home?? It makes me want to be a better mother, wife, cook, homemaker, etc. I want to burn candles and decorate just so my family feels welcome and loved! I want to bake desserts and other homemade meals. I LOVE the feeling that fall brings with it! I'm just thankful I don't have to look at fall as the time of year I send my kids back to school. Instead, I can look at it as a time of year to make even more memories WITH them!
I loved this. As homeschoolers, we look forward to this season as a time of building memories, teaching minds, guiding hearts and loving little ones.
The sound of leaves scuttling across the sidewalk is akin to the pitter-patter of little feet. The smell of baked apple pie smells like home. The sound of laughter in the midst of housework eases the burden. The disagreements we settle with Biblical wisdom are opportunities to turn their hearts toward a Living God. The reading aloud of a book is a memory being made. The sound of a piano playing is the manifestation of discipline and beauty. The scratching of pencils on paper is the sweet sound of perseverance. And the hugs and kisses in the middle of the day are the invaluable reminders that we the only mother they have.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
That was my primary view of the Savior for years. I liked seeing Him on that cross. I worshipped God because of what he did. Not because of who He was. I kept Him in a box...a "suffering servant." I liked that. I understood that. And it made it about me.
Over the last couple of years, God has revealed Himself to me in an entirely new way. He has taken Himself out of the box and become bigger than I ever dreamed. God is holy. Righteous. Judge. Sovereign. Mighty. Powerful. I was hesitant to embrace that God. If He is a righteous Judge, how is He the same compassionate, merciful Jesus who saved me? Then God opened my eyes and I saw something I'd never seen before. How could He save me if He wasn't mighty?
He hung on that cross because He sits on a throne.
Consider the empty tomb. It's always been my favorite part of the Gospel. What good is the cross without the empty tomb? Yet I was missing the most important piece of the resurrection. It is God's strength exemplified. His power does not negate His compassion any more than the empty tomb negates the cross. It completes it.
These attributes of Jesus are demonstrated simultaneously in the healing of the leper. Jesus could have healed him without touching him. With a word...with a look...with a breath. His power is in the fact he was able to heal him. His compassionate is manifest in the touch. A man who hadn't been touched in years was touched by a wandering teacher from Nazereth...who just happened to be the Savior of the world.
I don't have all the answers. I can't comprehend how He's sovereign, yet it's our responsibility to choose whom we will serve. I can't quite understand why this Righteous Judge sought out the woman at the well. And I definitely can't wrap my head around the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-mighty God dying a criminal's death to redeem His children. If God were small enough to be understood, He wouldn't be big enough to be worshipped.
The cross. We wear it around our neck. We frame it and hang it on our walls. We mount it behind the pulpit at our places of worship. We hold it up as the principal symbol of our faith...and rightly so. For without the cross there can be no redemption. But without the Throne there can be no Redeemer.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
The girls and I were outside sitting under a tree a few weeks ago embarking on a "nature sit." (Don't judge me...it was 105 degrees outside and way too hot for a walk.) I had taken my phone outside with me, which I don't always do. We were enjoying the stifling breeze, listening to the birds and the wind through the trees. Then, I got a text. I looked at my phone and responded quickly. My oldest daughter looked at me dejectedly and said, "Mommy, there was a sparrow in the fountain but you missed it."
I missed it. I miss a lot of things.
We live in a world that esteems distractions as the principle purpose for our lives. "Where does the time go?" Oh, how many times I have uttered those words at the end of a day! The mere verbage of the phrase suggests that time is something that can, in fact, go somewhere. That is a lie. Time doesn't fly...we do.
Lately, I've felt a strong conviction about this. Time is fixed. We never get it back and, once wasted, it is no more. Quoted in Little Town on the Prairie is a solemn truth we should all take to heart:
Lost, between sunrise and sunset,
One golden hour, set with sixty diamond minutes.
No reward is offered, for it is gone forever.
Gone forever. Just like the elusive bird.
What a beautiful picture of the time with which God has blessed us. It makes me shudder to think I have used even one moment of that treasured time frivolously. Yet, every night I lay my head on my pillow and am seldom completely confident I used every minute to God's glory. I am rarely sure I have given my all to my God and my family. And, just like that...the day vanishes as I slumber...gone forever.
Our life is a series of moments, knit together to create a lifetime. At the end of that lifetime, all we have is the memories we have made and the mark we have left.
I made a list of my priorities last week. Guess what isn't on the list? Facebook. Texting. Now I believe these to be important tools that have allowed us to feel connected while at home. But true priorities in my life? Not really. Yet how many precious moments are spent checking in on how others are spending their days while mine slips away, unnoticed?
I want more. I want to honor God with my words AND my time. I want to lay my head down at night and feel a peace in my heart about the way I've spent that precious day. We all serve something or someone...what or whom we serve will be etched onto the moments of our life. I want to serve Jesus. Wholly. Completely. Righteously. Without blame. Without distraction.
Our children fly into our lives much like the sparrow into the fountain. They wash their soul in the water of our instruction and love. Then, they spread their wings and are gone. It grieves me to think I might miss it because I was looking at my phone.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Why it took two years for the full realization of this to hit me, I’ll never know. I called a dear friend who had been homeschooling much longer than I (every mother needs a friend like this) and confessed, “This is more self-sacrificing than I thought.” Her response? She sighed a little sigh of empathetic understanding and confided, “It’s just your sin.”
My sin? My sin.
After all, what was I worried about in that moment? Whom was I trying to serve?
What about me? It’s a question every homeschooling mother asks herself at some point. As with any work that is self-sacrificing, our flesh inevitably puffs up and demands of our spirit, “What about time for me? How can you survive without investing in me?”
To be sure, it is an instrument of the enemy. He slithers up, whispers into our weary souls and tries to convince us we are missing out. We aren’t participating in daytime moms’ groups. We aren’t doing our housework without interruptions. We aren’t attending exercise classes 3 mornings per week at the local gym.
What my friend ascertained was wise and I come back to it often. At any point in our Christian walk we begin to worry more about ourselves than our children or than God’s will for our lives, we can be sure we have lost our focus and selfish sin is creeping into our hearts. It is scary to think how quickly this can happen and, before we know it, we can become self-indulgent and resentful.
What I am learning, slowly, is that true Biblical mothering (whether you homeschool or not) involves hard choices. It means choosing to wake up every day and die to ourselves. It means choosing to live sacrificially week after week. It means learning, by God’s grace, to take “every thought captive” and give them to Jesus. This means the thoughts that creep in and tell you your kids are a burden. The ones that point out the seemingly unfair discrepancies between your life and that of your friend across town. The lies that attack your spirit and strip you of your confidence in the gifts God has given you. The thoughts that cause you to doubt a call God so obviously placed on your heart years ago.
As we embrace our call wholeheartedly and choose to take our wayward thoughts captive, the ones that distract us from the course upon which God has set us, we can find ourselves able to focus on our task at hand. When we prevent these invasive thoughts from taking root in our hearts, we can walk in freedom. We can fold laundry in the afternoon and thank God for the blessings in our life. We can do lessons with our children all morning, watch their little eyes light up with new knowledge, and answer their questions about life. We can choose to live a Godly life before our children without ever feeling as though we are missing out on more enjoyable endeavors.
Sometimes I wonder what I’ll look back on and regret or cherish when my children are grown. Will I wish I would have taken more time for lunches with friends? Will I pine for those missed exercise classes or sacrificed solitude? Will I wonder what I was missing during all those hours spent with my kids? My dear friend recently graduated her two oldest children from high school…and I think she’d tell me she didn’t miss a thing.