Wednesday, December 24, 2014
It is the first night I've sat quiet under the Christmas tree. The kids are tucked snug in their beds, the house is still, the lights dim. This is my favorite part of the season, the reward at the end of my to-do list, the reason I (try to) start planning for the holidays early. There is something peaceful and reflective and cozy about this setting, something that seems absent or overlooked the other months of the year. Perhaps this peace is always available and it's seeming allusiveness is my own doing, as I'm distracted by the glitz of the TV or the false need for noise, oblivious to the fact that I'm exhausting my soul rather than feeding it. Or maybe it's that God in flesh seems so much tangible this time of year, the reality of a mighty God entangling Himself in human flesh to free me from the entanglement of sin.
And so I sit under the tree and reflect, consider the life God has given me. I am blessed beyond description, although sometimes it's hard to recognize the blessing in the normal without stepping back and looking with new eyes. The weight of the day-to-day tries to overshadow the grace God weaves through the mundane. Tonight, I am keenly aware of that grace as I look at the ornaments on the tree, recognize the passage of time each represents.
When I was a new mom, strangers would stop me, and they all offered the same message: "enjoy it, they grow so fast." And I'd smile and nod and wonder if they had any idea how exhausted I was, how tired I was of wiping noses and bottoms and sticky floors, how time must be treating me completely different than it did them. And then suddenly twelve years have passed in an instant and instead of wiping noses and singing lullabies, I'm having tough conversations that range from sin and atonement to mini-skirts and the opposite sex.
As I sit under the tree tonight, I realize that while I was deep in the toddler trenches longing for sleep, I was wishing away precious moments. In retrospect, I see that those strangers were trying to tell me to embrace even the mundane moments; to slow down, ignore the piles of laundry and cheerios on the floor and be fully present with my children. I regret that often times I felt I had nothing left in me to do just that, to have the conversations at bedtime, to laugh and be silly and enjoy the chaos that was my life ... ultimately to find beauty in that chaos.
While I'm out of the toddler trenches (and admittedly, it's hard not to say that without doing a bit of a happy dance), life comes so fast, it is easy to let the moments pass and simply ride the momentum. As I see the rate at which my children are growing, I'm trying to get off the ride. I'm discovering the value of playing Legos past bedtime, of postponing my to-do list to address the deep questions, of reading to them while they still want me to. Part of me feels like I'm starting all these practices a little late. But regret will accomplish nothing, so I push on, thankful that God is opening my eyes and rearranging my priorities before I lose any more time. I know I will have setbacks, nights that I go to bed frustrated with myself. But my prayer is that next year, as I sit quiet under the Christmas tree, I will be able to look back at a year full of seized opportunities, deep conversations, and abundant laughter. That God's grace will be woven through our chaos with a scarlet thread proclaiming His intimate involvement in our lives.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I pulled into the gas station this morning, the 5 miles 'til empty light daring me to test its accuracy. Rolled down the window to place my fuel order with the attendant, only to realize I had parked with the wrong side of the car facing the pump, testimony to my distracted state. I was running behind. The gas station attendant was not. He could have been on vacation-time at the rate he ambled across the expansive station to get to my car, the only customer. I tried not to be impatient. I had just left Bible study, after all.
When he struck up a conversation I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I needed to slow down, and gave the moment back to God. He asked me if I had just gotten off work and was heading home. It was one of those split-seconds filled with 100 possible answers. Should I tell him where I had been? "I've been at Bible study," I responded. His eyes lit. For the next 15 minutes he talked about his new relationship with God. He had just started reading his Bible. He had started praying. God was answering his prayers in miraculous ways. He couldn't wait to tell me, a stranger. I tried to wrap up the conversation several times. I had a coffee date with my Bible study friends to get to. He had no interest in me leaving and ironically no other customers arrived to distract him. I allowed the chat to continue.
In the end, I missed my coffee date. Yet while disappointed, I was at peace. I couldn't ignore the fact that God gave me something in its place -- a reminder that His agenda is far superior to mine ... if I'll give Him the reigns.
The other day I was listening to author Ted Cunningham talk about marriage. He made a profound statement that has kept returning to the forefront of my thoughts. He said marriage will always be frustrated as long as we're looking to our spouse for our source of life. While definitely true of marriage, I can see how this truth applies to so many additional aspects of life.
Since hearing that message, I have added a new inner dialogue. When the kids are growly and complaining I say to myself "they aren't my source of life. Christ is my source of life. My joy and contentment come from Him not them." When my spouse is out of sorts I say to myself, "he is not my source of life. My joy and contentment are found in Christ. I don't have to feel weighed down because he is." When my body is dragging and I'd rather curl up by the fire than fix dinner, I say to myself, "God, You are my source of life. Please help me serve my family joyfully even when I don't feel like it." When my agenda is interrupted, I say to myself, "as much as I like to have a tidy little world with predictable schedules and marked to-do lists, my agenda is not my source of life. God may have something better if I invite Him into my schedule. Slow down. Be flexible."
I could have missed an opportunity today. Had God not been reminding me to be plugged in to Him, I could have easily rushed on my way, frustrated by the slow service at a gas station. Instead I made a new friend, encouraged a brother in Christ, and went away encouraged myself. God is good.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
"Why couldn't the reprieve have lasted a little longer? " I was throwing myself a five-star pity party, confetti and all. We had finished a much needed week just the two of us, the kids farmed out to grandparents. No sooner had the little one gotten back, and she was complaining of a sick stomach. I watched the days' plans of me and sunny berry fields dissolve as she curled up in bed. It seemed like all the relaxation and rejuvenation of the past week vanished in an instant, and I was frustrated. Yet in those frustrated moments as I whined in the shower (all the while knowing I should be surrendering my plans to Him), I recognized something in myself. During the vacations of life, it's easy to get caught up in the fun and ease and put God on the back shelf. Frighteningly easy.
As I was working on my summer study of Nehemiah this morning, it struck me how the Israelites suffered the same malady. Nehemiah 9 gives a rich, concise history of God's people, a history that seems to be a cycle of God's blessing, Israel's rebellion, God's discipline, Israel's repentance, God's forgiveness and blessing, Israel's rebellion .... repeat. Verse 28 says, "...as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in Your sight..."
As much as I don't want to see myself in that cycle, I admit I can. I'd love to say that I feel closest to God during times of ease and smooth sailing. Sadly that often is not the case. While there are easy times in which I am overwhelmed by God's provision, rest, reprieve, I usually walk closest to God when times are challenging because I'm forced to press into Him. And somehow He miraculously infuses a sweetness into trials that makes those difficult times stand highlighted in my memory far more than the periods of calm waters and favorable winds.
Perhaps God does not allow the reprieve to linger for my benefit. Perhaps it is one of the mysteries of His sovereign love for me. As contradictory as it sounds, He's doing me a favor. Protecting me from the pride (Deut 8:12-14) that lurks behind a life of ease. In his sovereign and omniscient way, He's balancing mountains and valleys to strengthen my spiritual muscle, to shape this lump of clay to resemble His Son.
Somehow I think when we read about the abundant life Jesus promises, we see it through the lens of American culture, lumping together Jesus' abundant life and the fulfillment of the American Dream. Surely, in so doing, we commit a grave error, one that results in some measure of doubt and second-guessing when trials come and we're left reeling. We'd be doing ourselves a favor if we soon welcomed the speed-bumps. Like a splash of lemon juice to a berry pie, those sour times accentuate the sweetness of God in our lives, delivering true abundance.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
"Behold, how independent of outward circumstances the Holy Ghost can make the Christian!"
I read those words last night before sleep claimed me. Still worn from the events of last week, my soul needs extra nourishing and I read Spurgeon's devotion several times, willing his wisdom to sink into the deep places.
This morning the boy has returned to his spot on the bathroom floor, and I am frustrated with my own Eeyore self. After all, we've been dealing with this monster for two years. You'd think I wouldn't have to climb out of the pit every time the kid has an episode, that I'd be able to "keep calm and carry on," and all that. Does feeling sucker punched have to be the natural maternal response to hearing your child moan in pain?
Charles Spurgeon's words flit through my mind and I return to last night's devotion:
Behold, how independent of outward circumstances the Holy Ghost can make the Christian! What bright light may shine within us when it is all dark without! How firm, how happy, how calm, how peaceful we may be, when the world shakes to and fro, and the pillars of the earth are removed! Even death itself, with all its terrible influences, has no power to suspend the music of a Christian's heart, but rather makes that music become more sweet, more clear, more heavenly, till the last kind act which death can do is to let the earthly strain melt into the heavenly chorus, the temporal joy into the eternal bliss! Let us have confidence, then, in the blessed Spirit's power to comfort us. Dear reader, are you looking forward to poverty? Fear not; the divine Spirit can give you, in your want, a greater plenty than the rich have in their abundance. You know not what joys may be stored up for you in the cottage around which grace will plant the roses of content. Are you conscious of a growing failure of your bodily powers? Do you expect to suffer long nights of of languishing and days of pain? O be not sad! That bed may become a throne to you. You little know how every pang that shoots through your body may be a refining fire to consume your dross -- a beam of glory to light up the secret parts of your soul. Are the eyes growing dim? Jesus will be your light. Do the ears fail you? Jesus' name will be your soul's best music, and His person your dear delight. Socrates used to say, "Philosophers can be happy without music;" and Christians can be happier than philosophers when all outward causes of rejoicing are withdrawn. In thee, my God, my heart shall triumph, come what may of ills without! By thy power, O blessed Spirit, my heart shall be exceeding glad, though all things should fail me here below.
Today I have a choice. I can sit at my desk, head in my hands, and wonder how we are ever going to tame this monster. I can make myself crazy considering unanswered questions and an uncertain future. Or I can choose to stand. I can choose to take God at His Word. To trust that in the trials, God is planting roses of content, consuming my dross, and making His name my soul's best music. May it be so.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
"Mom, it feels like God has betrayed me." He looks at me, hair mussed with sweat, questions in his pain-reddened eyes. And my heart squeezes because I get it. I remind him that God allows pain in our lives to make us stronger. He declares he'd rather be weak and avoid the pain. Oh yeah, I definitely get it.
Eight years old seems young to be faced with the task of making faith his own. Seems like he's still the age of singing Jesus Loves Me and believing it because he has no reason not to. But as he's curled tight on the bathroom floor, knife-pain slicing through his gut, exhausted from hours of dry-heaving, the happy Sunday-school stories collide hard with reality and a boy is grappling with questions that mature adults struggle to make peace with. If God loves me, why am I in pain? I prayed; why isn't the pain going away? Why is He letting this happen to me?
In the last 24 hours, the boy and I have had theological discussions I never imagined having with an 8 year old. They're questions I'm still working out myself. Ironically, it seems such poignant, deep conversations occur in the oddest places. Maybe because there's not much else to do in the wee hours hanging out on cold linoleum. Honestly, I'd much prefer them worked out over a cup of chai at the kitchen table in mid afternoon, than spoken between moans at 2 in the morning. But maybe when life is easy, we forget to ask the questions, are too busy to hear the answers.
And so we talk about sovereignty and suffering and refinement. I remind him that Jesus asked to be delivered from pain too, but ultimately trusted God's will for Him, trusting His love and perfect plan. That He commiserates with pain, understands wanting it gone, understood it enough to endure it in order to conquer it once and for all. I say all the things I am supposed to say, and then slip away to let the hot water run over me. I repeat my sermon to myself, begging the Holy Spirit to help me live the words I've just preached, to stand firm. A verse whispers in my ear, "for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross." He was able to endure the pain because His focus was on the joyous prize: the purpose in the suffering.
Can I not follow His example? Does God not enable me to endure the pain of this world by giving it a glorious purpose and reminding me to set my eye on the prize He has for me? Is that not part of being crucified with Christ, sharing in His suffering?
As Easter approaches, I'm aware how easy it is to glibly say "I believe." But if I really do, how does that belief translate to the knife-in-the-gut moments when it feels like God has betrayed me or turned His back? Does it bring hope to the trenches? Does it give me the ability to declare with confidence "if God raised His Son from the dead (!!!) surely He's big enough to handle this!?"
His pain easing, the boy hangs up the phone and smiles at me, tells me he has lots of people praying for him. I turn the music loud as saints sing ancient words they have proven true and I close my eyes and sing along because truly, it is well with my soul.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!
Monday, January 20, 2014
"Mom, for lunch I want something special. Like when I'm bored .... so I clean my room .... and to surprise me you make me a sandwich shaped like a butterfly. Only I want one of those cheesy pizza things with only cheese ... and bread shaped like a dog."
And as she waxes eloquent in her 6-year-old-stream-of-consciousness way about special animal shaped lunches, my brain is scrambling to recall such a monumental event as her cleaning her room out of boredom. Not to mention me creating a butterfly-shaped sandwich!
Later I'm cookie cutter-ing doggies and teddy bears into cheesy flatbread, congratulating myself on my cool mom moment and bemoaning the fact no one is there to appreciate my awesomeness. How many amazing mom moments go by, day in and day out, that receive no thanks, let alone accolades or Employee of the Month awards! Not that I want a spotlight on me because my parenting skills fall flat more often than not, but sometimes just a simple thank you would be nice.
.... sometimes just a simple thank you would be nice. Hmmm. I wonder if God ever thinks that about me. Because my kids' tendency to take me for granted resembles my own attitude toward my Father .... my excited receipt of the goodness and blessings, a hurried "thanks" and on to the next thing. No time taken to dwell on the Giver or consider the depth of love that compelled the gift.
Today, I run a bath for a boy with a stomach ache, give some ginger ale, say a prayer. Feeling better later, he finds me. "I love you so much, Mom. I try to thank you ... but ... it's just too big ... I don't know what to say." And I smile because I know the feeling of a heart overflowing with gratitude, awakened to how much I have to be thankful for.