Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Gift

A dear friend of mine is in Africa this week.  I have been in contact with her via email and she has shared some of her stories.  One such story is of a village where the families make a living by running a primitive rock quarry.  The feelings it erupted in me are fire-like in intensity and crushing in their empathy.  I am reading Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts and have been steadfast in searching for beauty in everything as I turn the pages of this transformative narrative.  Then I read the story of my friend.  Of the quarry.  Of the hungry children.  And I balk at presumed beauty and inside I scream at my Savior, "Where is the beauty?!"  Almost audibly, He whispers into my soul, "It's in the gift." 

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's not much but it's all we have and it's hope.  My son carried it 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 meThat 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

Beauty for Ashes

"You have taken me to a place of self-sacrifice I didn't know existed."

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 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

On Wings Like Eagles

I had an epiphany, in the dark, while searching for slumber.  That seems to be when all of my most humbling and intriguing thoughts come to me.  My mind, searching for rest, finds more to ponder.

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

Autumn Reflections

I received an email from a dear friend this morning that read:
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

A New Jesus

A beaten, bleeding man struggles up a mountainside.  A King too weak to carry His own cross.  He is mocked.  Abused.  He weeps, saves a thief, prays for his transgressors...then dies.

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

Before the Sparrow Flies...

The girls and I were outside sitting under a tree a few weeks ago embarking on a "nature sit."  (Don't judge 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

What About Me?

I’ll never forget the day it really hit me.  I had been homeschooling for a couple of years when, quite suddenly, something became crystal clear.  I was missing out.  Other mothers were going to lunch, doing housework or grocery shopping in solitude, getting pedicures and so on.  At this particular moment, I was folding laundry on my bed and had just spent the morning doing lessons with my children.  I became almost paralyzed with the realization.  Fear and doubt seized me and, in that moment, I became a little less sure about my calling.

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.