The Puff of Plans: My Calendar Lies to Me

Today I was reminded how my calendar is actually a mirage. It doesn’t tell the truth about the future. It looks like it’s going to be something in particular, but it won’t be what says. It never is.

I keep checking all the days, looking ahead to next week and next month and envisioning what it will be like and what work needs to happen to get there. It’s not wrong–it’s a good thing to do. If I don’t plan for it, it’s guaranteed not to happen. But if I do plan for it, it’s 50/50 humanly speaking. It may or may not come to fruition.

I don’t have control over throw up and fevers, over seizures or headaches. I can’t prevent a car accident or a traffic jam. I don’t make hail fall from the sky or storms blow shingles off of a roof. I have no say over flat tires or dead car batteries. I can’t ground an airplane or make one lift up off the ground. I actually have no real control over the actions of others whatsoever, no matter how influential I may be.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14 ESV)

Everything I do can only be done one way: in faith. Faith that whether the little guy throws up in the car again or not, God’s got a plan. Faith that whether the storm kills all of Spring’s new growth, God’s got a plan. Faith that whether we end up in the hospital or on a road trip, God’s got a plan.

Vanishing flowers
Vanishing flowers

There are people whose plans do seem to all work out. They’ve got a calendar and a schedule and it just works. It’s easy to wish for that. But when I think honestly about the disruption of my plans, I know deep down, it’s grace. My sin is exposed and my reliance on Him increased through thwarted plans and unmet expectations.

His plans aren’t like mine. Everyone of His comes to pass. Mine wither and fade like the grass–which is part of His plan.

So, I’m going to keep making plans. And pray for the faith to watch them go up in smoke.

“This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
‘For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?'” (2 Samuel 22:31-32 ESV)

Jumbled Up Thoughts on the Gift and Grief of Disability

I’ve been wanting to say something about disability and abortion, in light of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but haven’t been able to put it together.

I think my pastor summed up the scattered thoughts I’ve had when he said something to the effect of, “When someone discovers their unborn child is disabled, it’s the one time abortion isn’t just a choice, it’s considered by many, the right thing to do.” That’s not a direct quote–it’s probably not even close–but I think it represents the gist.

Disabled kids are just plain de-valued, both in the womb and out of it. Most pro-choicers view abortion as a necessary tragedy. One helpless life is being sacrificed at the hands of a bigger, stronger person. It’s a horror and I think most people’s consciences are at least pricked by it. But many people view the abortion of a disabled child as a kindness to the person they’re killing. They think it’s better for the disabled person to die than live–that their quality of life wouldn’t be worth the effort.

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about it except, it’s a big fat lie. Disabled people are made in God’s image. It’s not OK to kill disabled people in the womb or any where else. I call them people. Children. Babies. Human Beings. They are NOT vegetables. Not less important than your dog. Or a whale. Or the environment.

The truth is even cognitively impaired, non-responsive people without voluntary movements or the ability to communicate represent to us people of mystery at the very least. No one can pretend to know the extent of their understanding or love or responsiveness. Why? Because they can’t tell us. (Except this man can: Ghost Boy.)

Disabled people are a gift.

Having a son with an abnormal brain has only convinced me further that every human is made in God’s image. We have more to learn from the disabled among us than could be imagined–especially the cognitively disabled.

So, if disabled people are gift (and they are), if their lives represent something incredibly important for us as the body of Christ, why this nagging grief? Why not just celebration? That’s been knocking around in my head for a while.

I think it’s because we want for our children the same joys that we’ve experienced. We want them to know things in the way we know them. We want to protect them from sin and there is deep grief in realizing that sin has had it’s impact from the moment of conception, in cases of congenital disability. It’s sad. It should be sad. It is not easy or simple to show people the simultaneous sadness and celebration–not because it’s too hard to understand, but because it’s hard to live.

Disability brings with it little and big griefs and little and big joys. Even the happiest times can be tinged with some heartache. Our Titus is doing so well the last 3 months. This has been a time of celebration. And I want to declare, “We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming!” I want to do everything to make life as “normal” as possible. At times, it seems like I’m really succeeding. Until I find myself learning how to remove a button from my son’s stomach and replace it by inserting a deflated balloon through the stomach wall and then inflate it to hold the button secure. Something about that just isn’t normal, no matter how much we get used to it.

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I sat in Titus’s neurologist’s office last week, eager to be told that my baby boy is somehow better, that his problems are mostly gone, that the MRI’s findings were a bad dream. Instead he carefully reminded me, “He’s doing wonderfully, but you’ve got to remember that he does have something really significant going on in his brain. He’s not out of the woods.” Why does that sting so badly, if disability is a gift? Because it’s a loss, that’s why.

How can something be a loss and a gain? How can disabled people be so essential to our understanding of God and love and each other and also be a reminder of the incredible loss that sin has wrought? This truth has been helping me see it:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18-25 ESV)

And what if that truth meets with this incredible statement from Joseph after the sin of his brothers sent him on a journey of awful trial after awful trial:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV)

Satan desires evil against us and our children in disability, but God is writing the story and He is planning it for glory. Subjected to futility in hope.

I have to remind myself that there is both gift and grief in disability. I keep falling off either side. Different people emphasize one over the other, and different seasons allow one to take center stage, but both are true, whether the gift feels huge and the grief tiny or vice versa. Making space in conversation and life for both will surely bless any family who’s walking through the happy heartbreak of disability.

Some dear friends have lost their baby to Trisomy 13 after nine months in the womb. Their story will tear you up and hold you together all at once. The only hope in life and death is our risen Savior.

The Risky Business of Bible Reading

The Bible isn’t like any other book. To read it is to be confronted.

It confronts us with the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. One thing we learn as we read it is that reading it is not necessarily a holy act. Reading the Bible may be the most sinful thing you could do, if you use it, rather than come under it in humility.

Reading the Bible to gain standing with God or other people is one way we use it sinfully. Reading it to know God, to be taught by him, to receive from him, is the only way we can read it rightly. There is a sense in which the study of the Bible can itself become a god. We can read it in such a double-minded fashion that we believe because we study it, we know the One whose book it is. To read the Bible and not be changed by it, is risky. To read the Bible in order to look smart, is to profoundly reject what it actually teaches.

The Bible’s purpose is two kinds of knowing. Knowing the information and stories in the pages, and knowing the Person. You can have the first without the second. You can’t have the second without some amount of the first.

As I reflect on how I’ve read the Bible, there has been much of the wrong kind of reading over the years. There are so many temptations to read it like a cookbook, or a self-help pamphlet, or fix-it manual, or to look holy. Yet, in all that, there has been profound grace. In all the mis-use and tainted motivations, the Person in the pages has been revealed. The evil motives have been confronted as the reading rolls on. Repentance has been taught. Forgiveness has been given.

Reading the Bible will always be risky business and we shouldn’t take it lightly. A healthy dose of humility and fear should accompany our reading. But NOT reading the Bible is whole different kind of frightening. Taking it for granted, ignoring it, assuming we know it all already, avoiding the confrontation we know it will bring–that’s as close to soul suicide as I can think of.

Do you have a Bible? Are you willing to have your life crushed and reborn? Do you want to know God? Then read your Bible and ask the Person in the pages to meet you there.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4 ESV)

Embracing Life as a Succulent

Life around here continues to be chapter after chapter in The Chronicles of the Sleep-Deprived. We’re actually on chapter 11, but who’s counting.

This state of affairs has me pondering succulent plants, at least for the few moments of the day when I am coherent enough to do such a thing as ponder.

North Shore succulent
North Shore succulent

Succulent plants are quite amazing. Their thick fleshy leaves retain water. They’re basically like a pregnant lady’s ankles. They can survive in very dry climates and make use of dew as a water source. They grow between a rock and hard place. They are unusually beautiful.

As there seems to be no quick fix to our sleep troubles, I’m praying for God to sustain us like succulents. Through bleariness, may we be storing up water in our leaves and apportioning it at just the right time. It can be challenging to be deep in the Word when my ability to focus lasts approximately 2.8 seconds. It’s challenging to read anything at all, which I dislike, because I love to read.

Trying to focus on reading is like trying to focus on the big E on the eye chart during a rock concert with the fog machines on full blast. I know it’s an E, but am I supposed to say “E”? No, wait, I think it’s about what direction it’s pointing. Is it left or right? Well, my left or the E’s left? Wait, if it’s pointing up, that’s North, right? What’s this book about again? And why am I still on page 3 after a month of reading?

At this point in our lives, it’s time to take the truth that’s been written on our hearts, planted and rooted over many years, and apply it. This may not be the time for learning and deep study. But, a short children’s memory verse is enough to uphold a weary heart. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “I am watching over my word to perform it.” And so He is. May His simple truths go deep into our fleshy limbs. May the water of the Word be stored up in every nook and cranny of our being, giving life even in the dry, sleepless seasons.

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And for any of you praying for us, pray for Titus and his sleep and night time comfort. We love him so. He is a happy boy who delights us all the day, and, continues to want our close company all the night. This has worsened with his starting baby food as he seems to be uncomfortable. We very much appreciate all the prayers and care that we have received. They are a cool cup of water in Jesus’ name!

The Garden in the Grave

For a number of years I’ve wanted to start a vegetable garden, but circumstances prevented me: too pregnant, too tired, too clueless, and finally, no good place to put one.

This year we went for it. That’s not to say that I am no longer clueless or tired, but I have no excuse regarding pregnancy and we’ve got a good place for one and I’ve got a ten year old who’s got loads of initiative and zero fear. Which probably explains how we ended up with three vegetable gardens instead of one, so much for starting small. There’s the kids’ garden (actually Eliza’s garden according to the ethics of the little red hen), mom’s garden (that’d be mine), and The Big Garden (planted on a wing and a prayer in the rain, thanks to the help of a friend and their tiller).

As Eliza and I were showing our work to my mom, she commented that Eliza’s garden looked a bit like a grave. And she was right. Eliza had hauled rocks up from the creek on a sled to make a border for her garden. With nothing growing in it and only the plant markers visible, I hadn’t realized how strange it looked. Whenever I looked at it, I was thinking of all the seeds we’d put in the ground and what it would be like to see sprouts or actual food there. It disturbed me to think of it that way, yet, verse after verse bubbled up in my mind, reminding me that a grave is the only place where a garden can grow.

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Eliza's Garden
Eliza’s Garden

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26 ESV)

It can be discouraging to look at the garden of your life and wonder where the fruit is. But perhaps instead of looking for the fruit, we should ask ourselves if we’ve done any dying lately. There’s no harvest without death. The very death that Jesus died on our behalf, enables us to die to sin as well. He suffered in his body so that we could turn from bitterness, envy, and strife. Then He takes the death of our bitterness and it falls into the ground and unleashes the sweetest fruit the world has ever tasted. Our envy is buried in the darkness and springs up a tender shoot of love in the light.

Bean Sprouts
Bean Sprouts

When fear and worry about the future have us stuck, unable to move, the death of Christ compels us. And through His death, we die to fear and are raised with roots of confidence that go down so deep in Him and His promises that they cannot be pulled up, blown over or scorched.

Do you know a fruitful person like this? Someone who has love, joy, peace, patience and all the rest in all the nooks and crannies of their life? Someone whose daily life is brimming with faithfulness? Does imitating it make you feel like a fake? Could it be because all that faithfulness and fruit is the result of their daily death to sin and isn’t something that can be replicated apart from death? You cannot be like them, just like you cannot be like Christ, without dying.

Fruitful people aren’t smarter or better or more organized or more free-spirited or prettier or plainer or keener about productivity than you. They’ve made a practice of dying. They love to obey their Father by following in the steps of their firstborn brother, Jesus.

But what do we do when the seeds are planted, yet the garden looks eerily like a grave? We look at it with the eyes of faith. The eyes of faith can peer through the soil and see the garden that will overtake the grave.

Garden growth
Garden Growth

Faith is planting a seed and covering it in blackness, with the hope that life will emerge. Faith does not demand fruit, it does not insist on fast gratification, it hopes and hangs on, so that when a sprout pushes through, faith tends and keeps in hope, that a tiny sprout could actually bring forth a giant pumpkin, that a weak simple-minded child could actually bring intense glory to God.

someday pumpkins
Someday Pumpkins

Of course there are weeds. In one sense, all of life is weeds, whether we’re fruitful or not, we can be assured of weeds, some of our own making, many not. When I first took inventory of the plot of The Big Garden, it was frightening: stinging nettles, thistles, creeping charlie, you name it. It was the curse on steroids. I came out of out of there with scrapes, thorns, bug bites and sweat many a time (not to mention the friend who helped us). Now there are shoots of sweet corn emerging.

The Lord takes the most ugly, painful places and transforms them into the kind of usefulness that will benefit ten or one hundred fold. He did it with His Son and by grace, His Son will do it through you, to the praise of His glory.

 

 

Signs of Life

Around here I’m looking for signs of growth both outside and under our roof as I watch our son and try to get a read on him. In some ways I know everything about him, in other ways I’m so in the dark!

My privilege is to love him, care for him, help him, push him forward, and with that the difficulty of the necessary evaluating and wondering. How often do we say things about our babies’ future like, “Just wait till he’s crawling!” or “He’s going to be a handful when he’s older!” or “In a couple years she’ll be talking your ears off!” We can say things like that and it’s completely appropriate. Being experts on our kids is part of the gig, which is part of what’s hard to bear about this. It’s not knowing if he’ll be here in ten years, or what he’ll be like if he is here in ten years. It’s not being able to answer the questions about him, because I just don’t know, and as his mom, I want to know. I’m learning a whole new kind of parenting, the kind that doesn’t assume anything about the future and yet is fully invested in its possibilities. I’ve got a long way to go.

Day by day and sometimes hour by hour I’m asking God to help me know the hope to which He has called me. I want to be so full of that hope, the hope that I have because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Maybe you will ask God to make this hope known to you as well. There are so many people who are deep in grief and suffering. Or deep in sin. The only balm for grief is the resurrection balm and the only cure for sin is the resurrection cure. Here’s Paul’s prayer:

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:17-23 ESV)

May our hope be in the immeasurable greatness of his power and his great might that raised Jesus from the dead and can forgive our sins and make us alive, forever. Sunday’s on its way.

Running water
Running water

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The Hostas Underneath the Snow

Spring matters more than ever at our house, because the resurrection matters more than ever.

Lewis calls spring the “waiting room of the world,” a “nothing time.” I have felt begrudgingly similar toward my least favorite season. I’d take the known cold of winter over being jerked around by the seemingly false promises of spring. I love warmth and buds, but every year I find myself in a malaise of disappointment, wondering if it will actually come round.

Yet, spring is reminding me that God does keep his promises. Even when it’s April and a snowstorm. Or, May and a snowstorm. Even when it seems like death wins. I must not mistake the hints of God’s goodness and promise-keeping that are all around in the thaw/freeze/thaw/freeze cycle of spring, for the taunts of the enemy, who’s hoping I don’t notice the hostas underneath the snow.

Think of Jesus and the thaw/freeze cycle of his final week. Triumphal entry=thaw. Cleansing the temple=freeze. Lament over Jerusalem=freeze. Teaching and explaining parables=thaw. Plotting of Pharisees=freeze. Last supper=thaw. Gethsemane=freeze. Questioned by Pilate/Herod=freeze. Release offered by Pilate=thaw. Crucifixion=freeze. Resurrection=thaw. Humanly this is difficult to grasp in the moment, but this is all one massive thaw, just like spring. It seems back and forth, but it’s really the trajectory of resurrection, and the freezing is necessary for the ultimate thaw.

Winter is the setting and the stage for redemption. It is the stark backdrop to the glories that are coming.  And for those who have gone deep into that winter, those for whom winter has been the bleakest and coldest, who have refused to take the road of bitterness and have thrown themselves on the grace of God, perhaps the glories will be all the brighter.

We bid farewell to winter as the big melt was underway on Saturday. Tom took the kids for the last sledding trip down the hill.

four kids, a dad and a sled.
four kids, a dad and a sled.
Whoops, falling off.
Whoops, falling off.
All set!
All set!
And they're off!
And they’re off!

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Goodbye winter.
Goodbye winter.

 

Loosening the Noose and Matching Socks

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just the next thing.

We live out our faith by matching socks, instead of recounting our pain. We mock death and Satan by doing the dishes instead of crying in our soup. We pick up our sword by laughing at suppertime instead of staring off into the what-if’s of the future. We trust and obey by kissing fat cheeks.

When all of life is winter, what’s left to do but take the hill? Put on boots, walk in the snow and let the wind burn my cheeks on the way down. Be exhilarated, chuckle when you realize the snow went all the way up your pant leg. Go so fast that the tears of living run sideways out of your eyes.

take the hill
take the hill

I’m not commending some kind of pull yourself up by your boot straps and shove the pain away kind of getoverit-ism. Real people have real sorrows and they need to really grieve. I’m simply saying: what then? We must live.

Sin is like a noose around our necks. It wants to tighten and tighten and paralyze us. Sometimes trials act the same way. God gives us something big: a hardship, an unasked for difficulty and it just squeezes us so tightly that we can’t think about anything else! Pretty soon, it starts taking over our identity. Our trials can become badges we wear that let everyone know: this is who I am. It’s a precaution really, it’s like we want our fragility to be acknowledged, upheld. So we wear our suffering. We hold on to it and protect it. We dare not smile or talk about the weather or people might think we’re OK.

I’ve had this little song in my head that we used to sing growing up, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” It always struck me as simplistic, cliched even. But God’s not afraid of a cliche, when there’s truth to be mined from it. Sometimes a cliche is just the thing to keep us from taking ourselves and our suffering too seriously.

Obedience and trust bring so much freedom. Trusting God that He’ll hold onto this trial for me. That I can come up for air and shock my 6 year old with my air guitar skillz and let out a belly laugh in the face of something scary. So often, I’ve no idea what to do in this unchartered place, but there is security in obeying.

I won’t presume to tell someone else they should be happy in their suffering. There are different kinds of trials and different kinds of people. There is intense acute pain, and there is the chronic long haul, of which we find ourselves. Wisdom is knowing that love is a tailored thing. But I will presume to tell myself to be happy. And there is one way for me to get to that happiness: trust and obey.

Trust God, trust His plans, His love, His commands. Match socks, do dishes, get a cup of coffee and explain long division, again. Laugh. This is your life, your portion, your work, your joyous children, your special child. Trust and obey and LIVE because that’s what Jesus does. Sing it with me, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow..”

facing winter
facing winter

Moving Houses, Keeping Home

We moved. Not a far away move, but a move nonetheless. We’ve been in our new home 4 weeks.

4 weeks is long enough to know that changing houses can feel like a whole new world, yet it’s also long enough to know that all the basics are still the same.

Children still love to gather flowers for their mom.

wild flowers
wild flowers

Mantles must still be dusted. Dusting is no respecter of mantles or anything else–it applies itself quite broadly.

wpid-mantle.jpgLaundry waits for no one. Clothes get just as dirty here as they did there. Sheets still have to be changed. Even with the joys of a laundry shoot, the clothes don’t put themselves away at a new house.

wpid-laundry.jpgFlowers still need watered. Grass needs mowed. Weeds need pulled. Kids need to help out. Parents need to keep on keeping on.

wpid-mowing.jpgThe old iron horse head still must have his place on the deck, keeping guard, watching us eat, getting pooped on by birds.

wpid-ironhorsehead.jpgAnd our little family has moved, but we haven’t changed. We still need the Lord as much as ever–even more. We still need Him to grant life and faith and repentance and growth. We still trust Jesus for all He’s done for us and for His steadfast intercession. We still depend on the Spirit to be our daily Helper, our Guide, our Groaner. We still ask for His fruit.

What a surprise to notice that, before the old blossoms have died, a new and promising shoot has sprung up on my orchid. He has supplied new life–fruitfulness multiplied. May it be so in this home.

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In 4 short weeks the Lord has proved, again, that He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, forever. He doesn’t forsake His children when they change homes. He doesn’t leave them alone or cast them out.

When He gives a gift, even a physical one, He gives it as a loving Father who delights in His child. Our response to the gift says something about us, not Him. Our suspicion, our stiff-arming, or on the other hand, our clutching and grasping, our gorging for more, all reflect on us. But His gifts are good and a child in the secure arms of Jesus simply says, “Thank you,” and gets to work making good use of the talents on loan.

May you do that for us, Lord. Put us to work for your kingdom, through the gift of a home on loan from you. What joy is found in these small renderings, for from him and through him and to him are all things. He gets the glory while our joy knows no bounds.

We have changed houses, but our home will always be kept in Him.

When the House Cries

Our home has been crying for two days.

wpid-housecry.jpgIt started with the hot tears of disappointment. Yesterday morning, out on the pond, there were ducks. By early afternoon the storm had started, the ducks were gone and the window panes were covered with tears.

wpid-housecry2.jpgThe following day, the hot tears had become ice cold streams of sorrow. Unrelenting and dimming every view.

wpid-housecry4.jpgAfter a while, the cry started to wear itself out. The sadness was there, but the tears were stagnant. They’d lost the volume, but not the ache.

wpid-housecry3.jpgAt last and almost by disguise, light started to creep in the windows. A single color presented itself. And our house sighed and silent tears started. Tears of gratefulness, of heartache soothed, of melting. Tears that taste all the more sweet for the time of bitter.

P.S. Anyone else feeling morose and wordy in the wake of this weather?! Forgive the melodrama!