19 January 2015

Of the Daily Battle

I was reading a book last week - one that had sat on and in and around my dresser for months (oh the perks of being the church librarian) with the bookmark stuck halfway through and me finding many other things to do (and read) rather than finishing that one book. But I finally trudged my way back to it, as an item on the checklist that just needed to be done (because oh how it hurts me to declare a book unfinished).

I wondered later if it hadn't been so delayed because the message I ran across, the token spiritual lesson in the cliche Christian Fiction genre, was so timely for one facing a New Year not knowing what will come.

As the main character faced a situation from which she saw little hope of escape, she was inspired to read of Jehoshaphat. As a king of Judah his story is found in 2 Chronicles. When Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah saw a great army, outnumbering them many times over, rising against them, they had little hope for escape - little hope, that is, apart from God - who is the greatest Hope there is. His response to them, "Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . You will not need to fight in this battle" (2 Chronicles 20:15-16).

For the main character of this particular book, there was great hope that in her weariness this battle was not hers to fight, but the Lord's. In the grand tradition of many a work of fiction, of course, the battle was won, and all worked out in the end.

But I do believe there is great truth here.

As we have firmly settled ourselves into this New Year, we still can't imagine what is to come. I looked over faces this past Christmas, in my church and my newsfeed, and my heart broke knowing that at that time last year, one woman did not know she would wake up in the middle of the night to a nightmare and her husband gone before she could say good-bye, another woman had not known her husband would kiss her good-bye on his way to work and never return home. A mother didn't know she would lay down for a nap and wake to find her baby taken in his sleep. These aren't the things people imagine would ever happen to them. And so often we don't know when it is the last Christmas or last day or last hour we will have with someone we love.

And then the New Year turns, and who imagines, at that great precipice of a whole shining New Year, possibly bidding farewell to a year that didn't look so great in our eyes, or simply hoping for more of the same, just a little improved, that only two weeks in those goals and plans we've set for ourselves are wiped away by a cancer diagnosis and a new battlefield of the unkown laid before them, of doctor's visits, treatments, hospital stays, bills. Who planned for that when they kissed their husband at midnight? I'm sure she didn't.

But these battles - even those which already seem lost or maybe just too hard to fight - belong to the Lord. And this year, this week, this day of unknowns, it all belongs to Him.

Let us have the minds of Jehoshaphat who humbly declared to the Lord, he and "all of Judah, with their little ones, their wives and their children" standing before the Lord (oh how it makes my heart happy to see them standing, even with their little ones - not one heart looking away), "For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chronicles 20:12-13). How often do we feel that - powerless, not knowing what to do? Yet, let us keep our eyes upon Him.

There are many battles we will face, some of which He will ask us to fight and some of which, like Jehoshaphat, we will come upon and find they were already fought for us, but in either case, with our eyes upon Him, the Battle belongs to the Lord. His victory may not look as we imagined, but His glory will shine.

Le us face this day, what mountain or molehill may come, with our eyes upon Him.

27 December 2014

Of Marriage

Marriage is so weird.

It's pretty much the only time in one's life (barring unforeseen circumstances) that you look at another person and say,

"You know what? I like you. And even though I haven't known you for an extremely long time, I know I like you so much that I want to see your face pretty much every. single. day. for the rest of my life. I want to hear your voice every morning and every night - I don't think it will ever annoy me.

"I want us to make tiny people that look just like us and will drive us insane - I mean, literally, we'll question our sanity - but, for the most part, should be fun. And then we'll somehow raise these little people to be responsible adults. You and me. Who are barely responsible adults ourselves. Yeah, we're gonna do that.

"And because you'll be breathing the same air as me every day, you're going to see me be pretty ugly. It's okay, though. I mean, I like you. And I trust you. And I trust that you'll see that ugly and still somehow like me. Most days. And you'll see me go through some really hard things - because life, itself, is awfully ugly at times - and I trust that you'll hold my hand when I cry and somehow still see beauty on that scrunched-up, red, blotchy, tear-stained face. And more than that, you'll somehow help me to survive those days. And I think I can do the same for you.

"Don't get me wrong. There will be days we'll get pretty angry with one another. We're not going to agree. And we might get to the same page, or we might have to agree to disagree. We'll get so bitterly angry on some days that if you were anyone else, I'd probably stop responding to your facebook messages or I'd just decide we're better as arm's-length friends. But since it'll be you, I'll have to remind myself that I really do like you and that we're stuck with each other, so I'll try my best to see things from your point of view or at least to admit that, while you may not be right, you're not necessarily wrong, either. And that will have to be okay.

And then we'll do this. Every. Single. Day. Until we die.

I mean, really, how does that sound? Sound good? Want to do that?"

"I do."

Really. It's crazy.

If anyone else said that to us, we'd run away and maybe file a restraining order. But when we wrap it all up in a pretty white package tied to a shiny ring, we're okay with it.

It's clear to me this is a God-created institution. Because only a man in a different kind of institution would have decided we were capable of such a commitment. Yet our Creator created us to love - in the same crazy, unconditional way He loves us. And He welcomes us into this kind of relationship with one another to show us just how crazy and unconditional that kind of love is. How hard and, yet, how unbelievably worth it is, too.

Which is why the only reason this insane institution works is when we choose to let Him show us how it's done.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

15 December 2014

Of Fading Beauty

I saw a portion of a fashion show on-line this morning - just a snippet, really. I was drawn in because something about the fashion/modeling world has always intrigued me, so I didn't necessarily go in with a critical eye, but with one that appreciates a certain artform, really, to the whole production of it all.

And in that clip of the final moment, all these beautiful young women, standing on the end of the catwalk, laughing, holding hands, smiling - as if this were the culmination of the best time of their lives - I was struck by the reality of it. Rather than envying their solid thighs and flat stomachs, I saw their future laid out before me.

They will spend the rest of their lives trying to hold on to this moment.

This moment where beauty equals flawless make-up and zero percent body fat. The world, too, will do nothing to make them believe they should not do all in their power to cling to their youth. Aside even from the barrage of "beauty" messages flung at all women daily, it's just the fact they have now displayed themselves for all to see - as icons of beauty and perfection. And when the worldly definition begins to fade in their own bodies, outsiders will hold up their photos - the fallen angels who maybe have bags under their eyes, imperfect skin or (gasp!) cellulite - and do all in their insecure power to be sure we all see how they have faltered. They've "let themselves go" - as if it's the personal responsibility of the individual to stop time or the aging process altogether.

And I pitied them. Because they most likely have little reason to believe this endless pursuit of youth and beauty which has been their livlihood, their world, is nothing but a passing shadow. That maybe there is a beauty in aging naturally. That maybe they have more to offer the world than a perfect body. And that, maybe, there are things in this world (and most certainly above this world) that are worthy of so much more attention, of grasping, than what they have been told.

And I pity us - and every girl at home - who sees this culminating moment and feels maybe they lack something and maybe they, too, given the right make-up or clothes, can achieve this form of perfection and this defining moment of joy that comes from reaching the summit (a peak which comes far too early in life, if youth is truly the goal).

There is just so much more to this life than the world will allow others to believe. Who will tell them?

05 December 2014

Of My First Daughter

Dear Micaiah,

I loved watching you dance in the leaves last weekend. Or, rather, twirl while waiting. Waiting for them to fall so you could dash to catch them. Jumping through your imaginary hopscotch board on the driveway. Waiting. Just so you could catch a bit of autumn in your hands. I delighted in watching you, my beautiful daughter - way bigger than I ever gave you permission to be.

It occurred to me - you are the first little girl with whom I've stood in the front yard, watching for leaves to tumble through the air.

Being the oldest, you have had to struggle with Mommy and Daddy as we bumble through this parenting thing. As we determine how we're going to discipline and when. We've expected so much (at times too much) from you because we still don't know what we can expect from a little girl your age. As the big sister, we expect you to set a good example and, let's be honest, at 6, you still need a good example. And we fail so often at that. And let's not even talk about the ways we've failed you at potty training.

But despite all the difficulties and weighty expectations, I want you to know, I treasure you. I fill with joy at all the moments we've shared, because being the oldest doesn't just mean you the first child in my womb or the first baby of my own flesh held in my arms.

Yours were the first tiny hands I held as those precious legs learned to stumble their way over this earth. Yours were the first bedtime stories I read (I was so eager, I started on your very first night at home - with, appropriately, "In a People House"). Your feet were the first I tried to squish into tiny shoes. You were the first strapped to my grocery cart - the first little hand waving, "Hi!" to every stranger I passed, melting them with your endless smile - you are still melting hearts at the grocery store.

You were the first I buckled into a stroller and the first for whom I stirred together baby cereal. Your head was the first little bald baby head I washed. You were my first pint-sized cookie-baking partner and the first arms I wrapped around a squirming baby brother. Your toes are the first little nails I painted and the first to dance on top of Daddy's.

Yours were the first little hands I taught to roll dice on a game board or how to hold a hand of Skip-bo cards (your great-grandma would be so proud). You were the first little dancer I've driven to class. You're the first one I ever packed up for a sleepover at Aunt Dayla's or whose hair I pulled up into a princess bun for the local parade (in fact, your hair is the first little girl hair I have ever successfully pulled into any hairstyle that was passable).

You are my first daughter and I have learned so much from you. Thank you for your patience, your smile and your sweet innocence. I love you so much.

Love always, Mommy

05 November 2014

Of My Dark Night of the Soul

Lately I have been enduring what a friend and associate minister at our church referred to as "the dark night of the soul" in a recent sermon. At the time I did not recognize how aptly the term referred to me. But in later weeks, as I sobbed into my pillow over the apparent meaningless of life, I came to recognize the truth. While simultaneously suffering new joint pain that seemed to come with a vengeance the minute I turned 30, I half-joked to my husband one morning, after a particularly straining night, having awoken with a new God-given perspective, "I feel like I was wrestling with God - and I have the hip to prove it."

But, of course, the symptom wasn't my hip - it was a genuine soul-wrestling with the question, "Is this all there is?" Is this evil world where babies die too early and husbands leave this life without saying good-bye or even a farewell kiss. Where people destroy others, intentionally and unintentionally, and the endless pressure of social etiquette and friendly smiles hide hurting hearts. Is this where we're really stuck until God chooses to take us home? And why? What is the point of all this? If true joy is found in Heaven why are we stuck here? Because I'm looking at the future from a summit of a decent life and feeling the pain is going to hit much closer to home before I'll ever be ready. And I'd rather not. Thanks, but no thanks. Just take me home and let's leave this world behind.

And for the first time, I felt the truth of Paul's words. "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Death, from this perspective, seemed nothing but gain - something to hope for. Now, don't misunderstand me - I was never on the precipice of calling the game early, but I didn't fear that final buzzer, either.

In my wrestlings and angst, I felt the answer from God that if I'm still here, it's because He has me here for His purpose. I came to Paul's conclusion, "But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account," In this instance, I knew I was here for my family more than anything. "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith" (Philippians 1:24-25). I was at peace with that answer at the time.

But for months I continued to wrestle with a deep aching. A depression of sorts, that left me feeling there had to be something deeper. I sought doctors and counseling, knowing there must be a fix for this emptiness I couldn't shake. My counselor asked me what I hoped to accomplish through our sessions, "I just want to feel joy in the moment." It was that joy I was lacking. My mother reminded me, "Joy is only found in Christ." And I knew that. And I actually felt closer to him than ever before, but the joy was still gone.

I knew this was something more than the stress of having a house filled with children who still can't wipe their own bottoms or just the transition to a new home or the sorrow over friends and family enduring tragedy. This was a deep spiritual ache. And no amount of scheduling my life, making lists of happy moments or attempts at self-focus was going to appease the longing. I needed more than just an honest look into me.

Fast forward to yesterday.

Or, first, back up. As a part of the women's Bible study I attend, we have been working through a book titled "66 Love Letters" by Dr. Larry Crabb. A book written from the perspective of a man having a conversation with God as He travels through each book of the Bible, attempting to draw out the actual purpose of each individual letter God placed in His Word.

With a heart freshly torn open I have found myself feeling the true emotional roller coaster of the relationship between God and His broken people. Every turning from him hurt my heart, every filled promise lifted it back up again. The calls to turn from idols dug deep and pulled out my own.

I have truly felt every word in these letters God has written to us and packaged together in this book of His Word. This story of His patience, anger, and redemption have hit me in ways I had never known in all my years of Sunday School, VBS and short-term missions.

Now we fast forward . . . All the way to Letter Twenty-One: Ecclesiastes.

Please, no.

I actually dreaded opening up the book. Ecclesiastes, I knew, was that depressing book written by Solomon at the end of his life. I was already broken and messed up enough - I wasn't sure I could handle the tone of such a heavy book. I knew the hopelessness in his detailing the futility of life and I did not need to feel that to my core as I had felt the rest of the messages in this Word.

But I'm a rules-follower. A homework-doer. Someone who can't walk away from an assignment. And this was my assignment for the week. So I turned the page.

The author speaks, "For several months now, God, I've wondered if I'm clinically depressed. . . . I'm feeling emptier than ever before. And confused. More cynical too. Nothing really brings me deep joy. All day long I find myself asking, 'So what?' or 'Why bother' I do what I have to do to get by . . . but I'd prefer to do nothing. But that prospect bores me too" (p 100).

I sat up straighter, clinging to this cliff-hanger. This is me. How could he know? And what does he have to say to that?

"God" responds, "Hear Me well: Until you fall into the dignity of despair where these words about Me mean nothing to you and where service for Me seems futile; Until the wisdom that comes easily fails to stir you with hope; . . . Until time with friends doesn't energize you as it once did; . . . Until you have nowhere to turn for the satisfaction of your soul's desire, not to the Bible, not to prayer, not to music, not to friends, not to church; Until all this happens, you will never dance to heaven's music as I designed you to dance. You will not hear My song of love as clearly and beautifully as I sing it. You will not know that every moment of your life is a perfectly tuned note in the eternal harmony" (p 101-102).

And as I read these words - this conversation about the heart of Ecclesiastes - I saw my heart. Everything I had been feeling for months but had been inadequate to express. I wanted to pick up my book and give it a big hug. It understands me, I thought. And, more importantly, maybe I'm not just crazy.

Maybe this is a place God has brought me so I can recognize there truly is no life apart from Him. Even when life is going well, it will not satisfy my soul. And though I knew that on a head level, I had not felt the empty despair of a life that wants nothing, nothing but to cling to Christ for all of eternity. I had wanted Him before - but I had wanted Him with everything else. And now there is no deeper longing of My heart than to know Christ and to be with Christ.

And this is the place He had to bring me before He could lift me into His joy.

I know these words would not have reverberated with everyone who read them - but from where I am at in my journey, I now find a hope in the despair of Ecclesiastes. And I cherish the conclusion of Solomon,

"All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13 AMP).

Fear God. Keep His commandments. Accept His salvation. All the rest is just a prelude for what is to come. Savor it.

03 November 2014

Of Our Scientist

Remember when I told you Emmett was our sponge? Our questioner, our scientist, the one voted most likely to push this homeschooling momma to learn a lot more about everything just to satisfy his insane desire for knowing exactly how the world works.

Questions that have me honestly answering, "You know, I actually don't even understand how that works - I just know it does." Questions like "How does the other phone know you're calling it?" which leads to "How do phones have their own numbers?" Follow-ups as simple as, "Why?" are not good enough for this guy. He literally thinks through my answers and comes up with legitimate inquiries based on that new knowledge.

So then we had Daylight Savings Time.

Blow this kid's mind.

The poor guy, as the days have been getting shorter through the fall, has begun having mild breakdowns when the sun begins to set. "It's already bed-time and we haven't even had dinner!" Now, on the one hand, I totally want to work this "sundown = bedtime" misconception - especially now, post Daylight Savings Time: "Oh look, Daddy just got home from work, but, bummer! It's bedtime! See you guys later!"

But I do tend to have issues with lying to my kids. Darn conscience.

Thus, I've been trying to explain that the sun just starts setting earlier during the fall. Thus, Saturday, as we were at the grocery store, pre-dinner, while the sun was setting and he was crying, again, about not having eaten (eating is REALLY important to our kids), I went so far as to explain that the next day, it would even be dark when we went to evening church/children's choir.

Lo and behold, as we're gathering children into the car to head to choir, the remainder light of the day was glimmering through the twilight. "Momma, did you tell me it would be dark before we go to church? How did you know it would be dark?"

"Well, it's something called Daylight Savings Time - we had to change the time on the clocks, so now it gets dark earlier."

"How do you change the time?! That's silly!" "Well, we just change what time the clock says." "But how do you change what the clock says?" "We just do." (aka the Lazy Mom's way of saying, I can't explain it right now - we were in the car, so it wasn't exactly an option to pull out the clock and show him how it works.)


"Momma?" "Yes?" "How do the clocks control the world?"

Bam. Well, now that's a good solid question from a four-year-old.

So, then I have to go into dynamics about how the world itself does its thing without changing - the only thing that changes is what time the clock says, which affects when things like children's choir starts.

But really, I'm just grasping at straws, trying to describe this crazy world in a language a little boy can understand.

And somehow he's soaking it all in, despite my worst efforts.

All I know is google was invented for such a time as this.

28 October 2014

Of the Ways They Interrupt

Every morning (or as best fits into the day's schedule) we read an excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, after Momma has finished her eggs and while the kids continue to munch on their cereal. We've cycled through the story of God's people a few times by now, and each time we finish, we just come right back to The Beginning.

Today was the most serious of the readings. The Crucifixion.

As I read about how He carried his cross and the soldiers mocked him, trying my best, with my voice, to portray the gravity of the moment, each of my children clamored for my attention. Emmett, sitting closest, placed his hand gently on my arm. Joseph shot his arm in the air, Micaiah's hand also stood raised.

I finished the page and turned the book to show the pictures as I addressed them each in turn.

"Yes, Emmett?" I acknowledged his gentle waiting hand.

"Um, in the song, they call it a 'tree' - or, I mean, in the story at church. And, um, also . . . Not now, but on the next page, I mean the next chapter it's coming, they're going to put Him in the Tomb."

"That's right, Emmett. What did you need Micaiah?"

"Um, I think we should go Me, Emmett and Joseph to pray for breakfast, lunch and dinner." That's right, before the story started, the kids had been arguing over who would pray for the meal, just as always.

"Micaiah, it is up to Mommy and Daddy to decide who will pray and when. You will not make a chart or set a schedule. We will decide for whatever reasons we choose."

She pouts and I turn to Joseph, still waiting with his arm up.

"Yes, Joseph?"

"Um, Jesus - monkeys like bananas!"

"Yes, yes they do."

Those are my children in a nutshell. Emmett, the sponge - always listening, soaking things in, making connections and asking questions. Micaiah, the planner - with a solution to every problem and a plan to make things right (what else from the girl who arrived on her due date - right on schedule). Joseph, well, Joseph.

Man, I love these kids.