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

One Day’s Trouble Met With One Day’s Mercies

Today was our first day of school. It went well, overall. We dove in, there was nothing else for it.

After a pep talk given by me (and for me, if I’m being honest) about committing our year to “work heartily as to the Lord,” even in multiplication tables and lamentable fractions, and encouragement that we’ve been given a Helper and Comforter called the Holy Spirit who helps us turn from anger and frustration to working heartily as to the Lord, we began.

Sometimes when things go well it’s as daunting as when they go poorly. The kids did well, and in that, they showed me what a “good” day is going to take. It takes a lot–a lot of time, a lot of patience and a lot of sticktoitiveness. By the end, I was sapped and wondering what a bad day might do to me.

Then I remembered Matthew 6, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” A day’s worth of trouble is all I can do, even if it’s only a good day’s worth of trouble. And I remembered Lamentations, “His mercies are new every morning.” New, clean mercies for old, rotten troubles.

The troubles just seem to recycle themselves and I just keep being troubled by them, even knowing there is nothing new under the sun. But the mercies aren’t recycled. They’re new–fresh mercy and grace from the cross everyday. God grants “grace to help in our time of need.”

There are times when I’d like to short circuit the whole thing and and have the two somehow cancel each other out in perpetuity, so that I don’t have to deal with the trouble or applying the mercy! But that’s not the Christian life. The Christian life is day after day, step after step, a plodding (sometimes racing! whee!) kind of life–not coasting, legs going up and down.

Trouble is part of the deal, so is mercy and grace. So today I face the trouble and triumphs of today and I receive the mercy  and grace for the present moment from a God who makes the earth spin around everyday, and causes the tides to move everyday, and makes flowers bloom everyday, and makes our hearts beat every second and does a million other repetitive glorious things.

I imitate His constancy in the repetitive everyday work of facing trouble and receiving daily grace and mercy. Make this sinner faithful, Lord, because of your steadfast-everyday-fresh-repetitive-irresistible love.

1st Day of Homeschool 2012. Elianna-K; Eliza-3rd; Seth-1st (Evangeline, not pictured, in the School of Napping and Potty-Training par Excellence).

grace on difficult days

Everybody has rough days.  Hard days.  Painful days.  Difficult days.

It’s one of the things every human has in common, isn’t it?  It’s easy to become myopic on these days.

Lately I’ve been trying to recognize what God’s grace looks like in my life on these difficult days.  Intellectually I know that God’s grace may very well be the difficulty.  But in the midst of it, I rarely feel this.   Although knowing it does make a huge difference.

Anyway, today I’m making a small list of how God’s grace is felt by me in the hard moments.. sometimes moments that string along for days or weeks.

1) I feel God’s grace when my 5-yr-old daughter sees my difficulty and ministers to me by offering to play with her younger sister in the other room.  Thank you Lord.

2) I feel God’s grace through a husband who’s willing to do whatever it takes to make sure his wife is well-cared for.

3) I feel God’s grace when phone call from a stranger jars me out of some unhelpful thoughts and unwittingly reveals that my life is really a string of blessing upon blessing.

4) I feel God’s grace in Advil Liquid Gels.

5) I feel God’s grace in a messy house that is evidence that we have friends who like us enough to come to our home and stay for a few hours.  I wish it lasted longer.

6) I feel God’s grace in a schedule that is empty today, but full tomorrow, and keeps me from drowning at home.

7) I feel God’s grace in the ministry of His Word.  It is powerful.  It is active.  It contains the power and Person of the Gospel, which I need.  Everyday.

8) I feel God’s grace in the gift of prayer.  The Spirit and the Lord Jesus make it possible for me to pray to God the Father.  They cover me and utter for me.  They bring me to the throne of a Tender Father, not a wrathful one.

9) I feel God’s grace in the sun heating up my back as I type this.  And a house with many windows that lets it stream in.  And when I’m done I will turn around and soak it in on my face and my eyeballs.

10) I feel God’s grace in that, when I sat down, I only had 4 or 5 things to list as His felt grace for today, but He is faithful in showing me many more.  More than I could ever record.

How are you experiencing His grace today?

note to self: be a drop-out.

I sporadically participate in a competitive world of comparisons.

Note to self: drop out.

This is a plague for moms of every stripe.  Especially young moms with young kids (I think anyway, but who knows maybe it infects the moms with older kids too).

It’s as simple as seeing another child do well at something and, instead of rejoicing for them and moving on, we check to see how our child measures up and are either happy or disappointed at the result.

Or perhaps we see the deftness with which another mom disciplines her kids and we immediately begin to think of what we would have done and find that we fall very short.

So, I say it’s time to drop out of the competitive comparison rat race.  I’ve only dropped out a ga-zillion times before.  But somehow, without realizing it I find myself re-enlisted.

I need to love my kids more by not basing their success on the observation of other individuals who are very different from them in every respect.  Instead  I should focus on who God has made my children to be and expect growth, not perfection.

The same goes for myself.  Concentrate on growth in who God has made me to be.  Cling to Jesus’ sufficiency.

And the dirty little secret is that when we base our children’s success or worth on a standard outside the Bible, such as the measure of other children, we are not loving our kids, we are using them to fulfill our own need and desire for happiness in them through their good behavior or achievement.  We are observing what we think will bring us happiness in the behavior or achievement of other people’s children and applying it to our own kids.

The Bible tells us our children are valuable because God made them.  They are gifts to us.

Plus, the standard of “other people’s children” or the way “other parent’s parent” will never be a high enough standard.  We will be selling ourselves short of the biblical mandates that are the BEST for us and come with the power of Christ working in us to help us in our weaknesses!

I will make a disclaimer here, however, that not all comparisons are bad.  Only the bad ones are bad.  The ones that make you upset with who God has made you and your children to be.  The ones that stir up discontentment and produce smugness or condemnation or apathy.

There is a type of comparison that stirs us up to love and good deeds, that inspires, strengthens and convicts.  I know this kind of comparison because it happens when we are surrounded by people who want the best for us and our kids and who we experience unconditional love with and for.

This good “comparing,” or observing, models for us Biblical commandment-keeping in action.

It happens when I see the families in our small group lovingly parent their kids towards Christ and obedience and I’m inspired and grow in my love for God and for my kids.  Or when I see another mom, humble and lowly, not using her kids to show-off (Lord forgive me for the times I’ve done this), simply nurturing them in the instruction of the Lord.

Comparisons are complicated.  If we’re engaged in them in order to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, the opposite will eventually happen; we’ll feel deficient and we’ll see our children as deficient (and if we don’t smugness and ugliness will overtake us).  But if we look at what godly brothers and sisters do with an attitude of humility, love and learning, we will learn and grow and love.

So, yep, I’m a drop-out.  But just of that bad, competitive kind of comparing.  The other kind I’ll keep: it’s valuable stuff!

have you heard the good news?

If you have spent any time at this blog, I hope you’ve noticed something.  I hope you’ve noticed an inescapable theme woven through and shaping all my thinking and writing.  The theme is the Gospel.

I have opinions about many things, and I can say with certainty that many of them are flawed.  Sometimes our opinions are a reflection of ourselves, they’re subjective and based on subjective life circumstances.  But there are times when our “opinions” are really beliefs, beliefs based on a reality.  

I think that what I believe about God and His Son, Jesus, and the Bible is one of the latter things.  It is a belief based on a fact, a reality, a truth.  

If I said I believe Lincoln was the President during the Civil War and gave the Gettysburg address and was assassinated while watching the opera, that belief would be true.  It is based on actual events that happened.  

I believe the Bible to have the same sort of historical factual information, and much much more.

Here are the nuts and bolts of what I believe:

God made the earth and Adam and Eve.  They lived in harmony with God, until they sinned.  After they sinned they were separated from God and they and the earth became cursed as a result of their evil.  

The sin problem plagued every human from then on.  It has been life’s biggest, most serious problem.  Their sin, and ours, is against a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate it and must send sinners to eternal punishment.

For hundreds of years, God’s people, Israel, tried to make peace with God by sacrificing animals to atone for their sin.  God was gracious in forbearing with these less than perfect sacrifices.  

Prophets like Isaiah foretold the coming of a man, called the Messiah, who would save the people from their sins.  And that this Savior would save more than just Israel, but would be for all peoples.  He would be the perfect sacrifice needed to bring peace with God and overcome sin and death.  He would, in fact, be God incarnate.

This God-man, the Messiah, named Jesus, was born of a virgin Mary, he was begotten of God the Father, and He lived a perfect life.  He loved everyone perfectly and was good and just and all the things we might try to be, but fail.  

Eventually He was hanged on a cross.  This was the will of His Father.  It was part of a plan that the Father had to bring reconciliation between Himself and sinful people.  The same sinful people that crucified Christ, would now have the opportunity for peace with God through the very death they enacted.  Jesus was crushed for our iniquity.  

And after He was murdered on our behalf, He rose from the dead after three days, thereby defeating death forever.  

When He rose from the dead, He was seen by many witnesses and even ate a meal with His disciples.  Then God took Him up to heaven.  

This all happened over 2000 years ago.  You can read about it in the Bible.  The Bible is God’s Word.  This means that what is written in the Bible is not simply an historical account (although it is that too), but God’s very words to us, that He inspired mere humans to write.  Everything in it is True and for the benefit of sinful people to come to God and know God and glorify God.  

For me, this is good news.  

This is life-changing news.  It is Life for my dead heart. It is Light for my dark mind.  It is Bread for my hungry soul.  It is the Way, when all ways were shut.  It is the Good Shepherd, when all had gone astray.  It is the Truth, when lies were closing in.  

Does this sound like good news to you?  

Do you sense God’s Holy Spirit beckoning you to taste and see that the Lord is good?  Do you long to cast your burden of sin onto Jesus, gaining for yourself freedom from sin and joy in loving God in this life and forever in heaven?  Do you want to give thanks to God for this gift?  Do you desire to see His name made great, because you now see that He is Great?

I hope you do.  I hope you want to run and find the nearest Bible to learn more about this thing called Christianity.  I hope you decide to find a church that believes the Bible and is depending on Christ for their salvation through faith alone (trusting and believing God), by grace alone (not depending on good works). 

If you want to hear the good news again, in someone else’s words.  Here it is:

Please contact me or a Christian in your life, if you have turned from your sin and are now resting in Christ’s Righteousness.

tips on praying for the children in our lives

Who knew that when I became a parent I would be catapulted into a world of desperate prayers?  

Nowadays they range from the urgently practical (Lord, I pray that Eliza would have flushed the toilet and put the seat down, as Elianna heads for the bathroom) to the ridiculously selfish (Lord, please make my children good readers) to the deep inward utterings (Lord, please save their souls, keep them from evil, don’t leave them to their own devices, help them love You!)

I found this list on the desiring God blog and thought those of you with little ones (or big ones) might appreciate it.  Or if you are a friend, uncle, youth worker, grandparent, these could be helpful.  

I can’t think of a better gift to give to children and their parents than to commit to pray for their children in this way.  

That Jesus will call them and no one will hinder them from coming.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)

That they will respond in faith to Jesus’ faithful, persistent call.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

That they will experience sanctification through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and will increasingly desire to fulfill the greatest commandments.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

That they will not be unequally yoked in intimate relationships, especially marriage.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

That their thoughts will be pure.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

That their hearts will be stirred to give generously to the Lord’s work.

All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35:29)

That when the time is right, they will GO!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

What do you pray for your kids or the beloved children around you?


10 things I hope to emulate about my mom, on her birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday.  There are lots of things that I love about my mom.  Here are a few things about her that I hope to someday emulate:

1) She is generous and holds onto material things loosely.  More often than not, if you admire something she has, she will give it to you.  Even special, big things.

2) She adopts people, and not just for a season.  My mom included some of my friends like family when I was growing up.  Not that they were just allowed to tag along.  She loved(s) them (probably more than I did at times), and, even now, she holds them very closely in her heart, prays for them and misses them.  She does this with lots of people, more than just my friends.

3) She is feminine, yet very very capable when it comes to all things electronic, fixing things, yard work, handling a chainsaw, and just hard work in general.  

4) She handles large life-changes with determination and grace.  Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after 50 is a pretty big shock to the system, but she has persevered, throwing herself into the new lifestyle, and barely missed a beat.   

5) When she has guests over, she makes them feel like they are doing her a huge favor by being there.  As though, changing the sheets and making the food for them is a big honor for her.  

6) She is the best Nana I know, possibly the best the in the whole world.  She cares about and nurtures her grandkids’ spiritual development.  She babysits tirelessly.  She has a special and distinct relationship with each of her 12 grandkids.  They all feel very loved.  

7) She is in relationships for the long-haul and isn’t afraid of a messy one.  If you’re a hopelessly flawed person, my mom won’t be scared off, she’s in it for the duration.  She gives grace as she’s received it.  

8) She has the right perspective on things.  Things are meant to be used for a purpose.  If they break in the process, no sweat.  It means they were getting used.  She doesn’t protect her things, she protects people.

9) She has never apologized for being first and foremost the manager of her home.  She stayed home when we kids were growing up and she stays home now.  She understands the value in it.  

10) It is her glory to overlook an offense.  This probably happens much more than I know. 

Well, as I read through the list, I know it falls short.  But it is a glimpse of the things I see and hope to be.  And, if you know my mom, you know that, for her, talk is cheap.  So, while she will appreciate this list, she is a woman of action.  So, if I write the list with admiration, but don’t treat her well, it means little.  And she’s right.  That’s another thing I could add to my list. 

Happy Birthday, Mom.

biology and behavior

I found this quote by C.S. Lewis when I was reading an article about the biological basis for behavior on Adrian Warnock’s blog.  I find it to be a very compassionate and ultimately loving take on our biology and bodies and choices.  It’s one more reason to be humble.

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends.

 Can we be quite so certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with a bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler ? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.

 Most of a man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be some suprises.”

I believe that having this attitude towards others in the church could transform our relationships.  Instead of being comparison-oriented, one-upping, superior-in-our-own-minds, judging people, we could be, simply, loving.  Slow to judge, slow to think of myself more highly than I ought (I’m preaching to myself here).

What a liberating thing to know that some of our problems and our neighbors’ problems are not solely due to our individual choices.  What a sweet incentive to rely on God all the more.  Works will never get me there, because I am not in final control even of who I am. 

Everything good in me is grace.

Whether grace in upbringing, grace in biology, grace in easy pregnancy, grace in a considerate husband, grace in sweet kids.  Everything good is grace.  I can’t make anything good by my self-wrought trying and works.