He speaks grace

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We pull close to each other in the dark, in our usual way.  Legs and arms in a tangle, my head on his warm chest.  The hushed sounds of a sleeping home.  His breath is slowing as he drifts.  I am pressed heavy with the weight of a parenting failure.  I know I won’t sleep unless I confess to him.  The words creak out slowly.  He listens.  The tears come in a hot rush, the wracking sobs.  He holds.  He strokes my hair.

He speaks grace.  He speaks grace.

He tells me it is wrong, but that it is okay.  He forgives me.  He tells me the Gospel.  In my desperate fear that I will never overcome this, I will always keep floundering and failing in this area of weakness, that I will keep spiraling farther + farther down, he silences me.  He reminds me that the strength I have to obey comes from God who gladly gives me all that I need for life + godliness. He calls out the attack of the enemy on our family.  He commiserates with my weakness.  He, too, knows what it’s like to fail in this way.  He tells me the plan for the weekend, the plan in place to protect ourselves from falling into this ditch again.  We will take it a step at a time, he says.  We will do this together.  He loves me, even now.  Even as ugly as I am.  Even when I hate myself.  He loves me.  He holds me.  He doesn’t push away, he doesn’t hesitate to stay with me and to keep loving me.  He prays over me, he prays for me, he prays for us both.  He kisses me.

This is the beauty of marriage.  He can drive me crazy with how he leaves scraps of paper everywhere, how he leaves the laundry piled, how he forgets, how he moves so slowly.  I can drive him crazy with the disorganized refrigerator, my slow morning starts, my managing.  But in the dark of night–he is there for me like no one else.  He loves me at my absolute worst and my ugliest.  He doesn’t just love me at arms reach–he pulls me close.  He accepts me.

This is grace.  This is the Gospel.  This is the unfathomable gift found in an imperfect marriage between two ordinary sinners-turned-saints.  Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

This is the uncanny, inexplicable love that Jesus demonstrated for us when He gave up His life for us while we were yet sinners.  While we were still sinning, utterly undeserving.  He loved.  He bled. He gave.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
Incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
Hide me in the shadow of your wings,
From the wicked who do me violence,
My deadly enemies who surround me.
{Psalm 17:6-9}

When Your Faith Survives

The house is quiet.  Oh, glorious quiet.  The first hints of light are streaking across the sky, the earliest birds beginning their song.  Bleary-eyed, I try to gather my wits, my scattered thoughts.  I try to focus my mind on the words I’m reading instead of letting them run in and out of my brain like a stream of water while I keep fretting over the days’ concerns.

I hear the faint creak of their door open, the hushed padding of feet over the floor.  She always runs when she turns the corner and sees me in that chair, sucking her fingers, hair wild in every direction.  Warm legs as soft as silk, long and scrawny, slide under the blanket next to mine.  We sit there like that for a long time, me reading quietly (or aloud if she asks) and sipping coffee slow, her sucking fingers and cozied up, skin warming skin.

It’s one of my favorite times of the day, I think it is hers, too.

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When I held her for the first time 4 1/2 years ago, my heart burst wide open in love.  I know I’ve probably always struggled with fear, but a whole new world of fear opened up to me when I held that impossibly tiny, wrinkly warm little bundle.  This kind of love–it’s painful.  To love this much is be wide open to a world of unknown hurts.

We had perplexing growth/feeding issues with her from the start.  She always seemed okay, never titled “failure to thrive,” but never really thriving either.  Since she was my first, I figured a lot of it was normal.  Still, the niggling fear that something could be wrong, that something wasn’t quite right kept nagging me.  We pursued every medical option that could have been a possibility, never finding anything.  I would push the feeling down.

In the dark of night, fears would loom heavy.  Please don’t allow any harm to come to her, Lord.  Please keep her healthy, help her to grow.  Please help her to eat, to have an appetite.  (It’s funny how in parenting, you have no idea the battles you will face.  Never did I expect to pray so much over a child to eat and have an appetite and to grow.)  The desperate and anxious prayers of a mother over her child would roll over and over in my mind as I would try to quell them and get back to sleep.

The feeling that something wasn’t right has never really gone away.  My second and third born children have not had any similarities to her eating/vomiting/growth issues.  Finally, at her 4 year check-up, we pursued some testing again.

It’s been a little over two weeks since we received her diagnosis:  Celiacs disease.  Finally it all makes sense.  Relief flooded in at the same time as a whole new level of fear.  I hung up the phone after receiving the phone call and my fingers flipped through pages desperate:

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Sure, in our day, we hear a lot about Celiacs, and the gluten-free diet is a current fad diet.  But to hear that my “perfect” little girl has an autoimmune disease–it shook me.  That trippy weird slow-realization that falls over you that nothing will ever quite be the same again.  A new normal will be found, but life as you knew it is over.  Part of me wanted to tell myself I was being a big baby.  This is awesome news, this is SO MUCH better than it could have been, there is so much to be thankful for.  And all of that is true!  Still, we are not ever helped when we push down our true feelings and scold ourselves for feeling that way.  No, we are to run to the mercy seat with those feelings.  We run to our God, who is a refuge for us and who urges us to come and pour out our hearts to Him, cast all our cares on Him, find mercy + grace in our time of need.  We let ourselves feel what we are really feeling about this news/trial/difficulty and we tell Him.  We pour it out in the safety of His company, the privacy of His all-knowing, already-knowing presence.  We let Him get to our hearts, tend to them.  If we don’t do this from the beginning, I think we risk hardening our hearts, cutting them off, and that is ripe ground for the seeds of apathy + bitterness to grow.

So when I was honest with myself, I felt betrayed.  We had prayed and prayed that God would work in her body, heal her body.  We had pursued multiple tests over the years.  We had fought the issue when friends + family were all saying to let it go, that she was fine, just quirky.

What do you do when God allows the thing you have plead with Him never to do?  

What do you do with that?

A few days after the diagnosis, we were driving in the quiet rain on our way to church.  A flood of words came to me, and I scribbled them as fast as I could into my journal:

Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us is the gift of betraying us.  The gift of the bad news.  The unsettling, scary diagnosis.  Because when our faith survives what we thought our souls could never survive–that is a gift worth more than gold.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

We are afraid of deep waters, resistant, and of course we would be.  But our God is a perfect parent–our parent who is more about perfecting us than pampering us.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43:2)

He will at various times in our lives lead us through deep waters.  How else can He teach us, how else can He allow us to experience His everlasting arms underneath that keep us afloat?

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.  (Deuteronomy 33:27)

We resist the fiery trial–but it is only in the fire that our faith is really tested, proved, purified.  It’s only when we come through the fire that we can know: this ground we stand on is solid.  Real.  Firm.  Unshakeable.  The mountains may move and tremble; He remains the same.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

We cannot hope to be unaffected by the brokenness of this world.  We cannot expect not to suffer as His children the same afflictions and hardships common to man.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

But He will carry us.  He will not change.  He is good, unfailing.

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Look at Christ:  what hand did His Father deal Him?  He was perfect, sinless.  Yet He had nowhere to lay His head.  He obeyed perfectly, was perfectly upright; yet He was despised, rejected by men.  The very ones He created, the ones He came to rescue hated + betrayed Him, cried out for His blood.  He plead with His Father to deny Him the cross, to take away that cup, but the Father did not.  And Jesus surrendered to His Father’s will.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Let’s measure His (immeasurable) love for us in the way He gives Himself to us unfailingly, continually–the way He remains with us.  The way He carries us.  The way He gives more grace.  The way He gives us JESUS–and all the rich inheritance of promises found in Him.

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

No matter what comes–our lives are hidden in Christ.  Our future is secure.  And it strikes me: this is the bi-focus of the Christian faith.  What are bifocals?  A pair of glasses containing lenses with two parts with different focal lengths.  Our focus in the Christian life must always be bi-focal: at once seeing the present and also looking beyond the present, through it really, to the future.  Let us look to our eternal future, our future grace and find strength in this moment of need.

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, How I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus
Oh for grace to trust Him more.

Making

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

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Lately I’ve been playing around with making things.  I think there are a few reasons why I suddenly feel the need to make more art, but one sticks out to me in particular.  When you are busy in the work of parenting + homemaking, when this life of laundry, meal making, dishes, discipline, training, playing, errands, and mundane rhythms is your everyday, it can feel sort of endless.  The long-haul nature of it can wear on a person who likes to see a finished product or an accomplished goal.  The reality is, we cross many things off our lists every day, we finish a lot of menial tasks every day, and that counts for something important and it feels GOOD.  Then, little feet jump out of bed in the morning and the tidiness and order gives way to glorious chaos once again.  It’s the reality of our work as mothers, bringing some semblance of order from chaos day in and day out.

Beyond the actual work of managing and running a home, the work of raising little people into adulthood is D A U N T I N G.  If we look too far ahead, we can feel entirely overwhelmed and underprepared for what lies in the future.  The thing about parenthood is, it’s a fairly thankless and inglorious job.  More than that, it’s a marathon not a sprint.  Not even a cute little 5k.  It’s long-haulish.  Because of that, we find ourselves parenting to our particular children’s individual needs + bents and we see little glimpses of progress, but more often than not (at least in our home) we slap our proverbial foreheads and think, “How many hundreds of times have I told you this?!?!”  (Or maybe we actually say it, if we are having a weak moment.)

It’s such a work of slow returns and slow progress.  Surely progress is happening, growth is happening right under our noses, but it’s often as imperceptible as our children’s physical growth.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been craving some crafty projects lately, things that I can start, work on, and F I N I S H and see that I have, in fact, accomplished something.  Not only is the work itself soothing and relaxing, but the end product reminds me that I am still able to accomplish something lasting.  It reminds me that one day, I will see all the days of labor that melted into weeks, into months, into years produce a great harvest.  It even whispers to me that much like my children are, in a sense, the masterpiece my life is working to produce, in the very process of this … God is making a masterpiece out of me.  All the intense ways that motherhood presses me–it’s shaping and forming me more into the image He is after, the image of His Son.  I am His workmanship, and His goal is for me to grow up into full spiritual maturity.

“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  (Ephesians 4:13-16)

When we grow weary in the seemingly endless and slow-producing work of parenting, let us remember He is parenting us and we are just as slow and stubborn and forgetful as our darling children.  And if it helps to alleviate some stress or to give you that sense of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing + finishing something?  Go make something.  It could be anything… a batch of cookies, a meal, a card, a bouquet of wildflowers, a hand-sewn or embroidered dress.  Enjoy the small steps, the small minutes of working with your hands, producing something, and seeing your effort come to fruition in the end product.  And while you’re at it, remember, you are His workmanship, His masterpiece, to the praise of His glorious grace.

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(The weaving pictured above was inspired by the lovely Beautiful Mess blog + you can find free tutorials for weaving here.  This weaving was my first and I’m already working on another!)

Keep Plowing

11172120 Every year I follow along with the Passion Conference via the live stream. Sometimes it’s just sheer piercing pain to follow along, to hear the speakers calling out to and calling up the next generation, speaking to purpose and destiny.  For the past three years I’ve followed along while nursing babies, while recovering from birth in the hospital, while washing dishes in the sink and surrounded by scattered toys and laundry basket.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  I cannot express enough how much I adore this season of being a momma.  It was always a dream of mine to be living THIS right here, babies and a house and just the ordinary work of the home.  Maybe you think that’s a small dream, I don’t know.  When Brandon and I found out our little firstborn was on her way, I didn’t have some big career I was leaving behind like so many of my momma friends.  I had been working service jobs for some time since graduating from college.  So it wasn’t a hard thing to switch to stay-at-home-momma mode.  It has been the greatest joy of my life!

Still, you get a bit in the trenches of it and then you tune into something like Passion and the other ambitions of your heart, the other ambitions for great kingdom work around the world are stirred up again.  They are remembered again.  Oh yes, that’s who I used to be.  I mean, that’s who I still am.  Somehow and somewhere, buried under the piles of laundry, bills, dishes, and dark-circled eyes. Somewhere beyond this little world the big world is still spinning.

It’s hard to not be set aflame with great desire to see the nations glad in God when you watch something like Passion.  And then you sit there amidst your four little walls and the temptation is to feel small.  What is this that I’m doing here?

And then the dangerous question, the question that comes up so often in my heart: Is this enough, God?

Is this enough, in light of all You’ve done for me, Jesus, to just be here cleaning toilets, filling tummies, reading stories, teaching manners, nursing babies, mediating sibling rivalries, folding clothes, running errands?  Is this a worthy way to spend my days?  Is there more I should be doing?  Something more important?

I think any momma who is honest will admit she asks herself that question.

Last night I watched + listened to Christine Caine speaking from 1 Kings 19.  It’s well worth your time to go and read the account in its entirety.  She was speaking about Elisha, how he got his beginnings in ministry.  Did you know that second only to Jesus, he worked the most recorded miracles in Scripture?  Elijah found him plowing, and he became Elijah’s assistant.

Did you catch that?  Elijah found him plowing.  There he was, just working his field, behind a long row of oxen’s rear ends.  A place of anonymity.  A place of slow progress and slow returns.  God found him busy working.  God found him.  While he was being faithful in the mundane, the unglamorous + irreverent, the dirty, the small, the stinky, and anonymous work, God saw him.  God came to him there and gave him a ministry.

Christine Caine was making the point that we simply cannot be resistant to work.  We must be busy working, right where we are, wherever we can be.  If we want to be greatly used in the kingdom of God, we simply cannot be afraid of plain hard work.

Are we looking for importance?  For a big name?  For a glamorous position?  For esteem?  Success?  Money?

As I’ve gotten deeper into parenting (while, admittedly, I am still quite the newbie to parenthood), I’ve gotten better at learning what I can feasibly take on and what is going to put too much strain on the family. It’s still so hard to say no sometimes. Yes, there is pressure and guilt, whether real or imagined, from a culture (even the Christian culture) that places such a high premium on productivity, activity, and busyness.

There are a lot of opportunities that I would love to be a part of. Even hearing about global and foreign needs can make me so restless at home. Is this really enough, God, when children are starving? When children are being trafficked? When there are so many who are still unreached? It feels wrong in some ways to just be investing into my own home and children when the need is so great. Yet I know it is “my field” right now.

My husband and I recently went on a little “visioning” date for the New Year and over the course of a few hours worked through Jennie Allen’s “dream guide” and then discussed it together. One of the things I am most convicted about afresh this year is to be wholly given and devoted to my primary field, which is Brandon and my children. I’m often busy mentally at home with girlfriends, fellow mommas, this blog space, and responding to needs in these spheres. While that’s all so good and important, it can’t be that I’m neglecting my kids in order to “minister” elsewhere. I’m so convicted that, as for me, the very best and firsts of my strength must be given to my immediate family (1 Tim. 5:8). If there are scraps of time and energy and resources left, then of course, I am eager to invest it in others as much as I am able. For me the struggle is often getting that backwards, and the result is a husband and children who are getting the scraps and leftovers.

But if you’re like me do you ever wonder, what, then, do I do with these burning desires in my heart to participate in these other kingdom works? When I’m aching to go to Africa but have no means? When there are needs at church that I simply cannot logistically work out a way to help with?

Maybe it’s not revolutionary to you, but the realization hit hard last night while watching Passion. “PRAY the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matt. 9:38) Send the workers into the harvest, Lord! My field here right now may be very small, very tucked away on an obscure little anonymous and unseen plot of land. But I can pray. I can pray the Lord of the harvest to equip and send workers out into the field. I can pray for souls to come to salvation, for all nations to be made glad in Him. I can pray for daily opportunities to plant seeds while I’m plowing this little muddy field.  I can trust that at some point, I will be the worker He sends into that field.  But in the meantime… this right here is the field I’ve been sent to: DSC_0068 DSC_0072 DSC_0081 For the one so desperately wanting to contribute, you are contributing to the work by raising children up in the fear + admonition of the Lord. God has entrusted you with these children, these precious lives, and you, in all the world, are the best equipped to love, to suffer long with, and train up these little lives.  That’s why He gave them to YOU.  If you don’t invest in them, who will?

Don’t miss this precious and most important work right in front of you because the global need is beckoning and your former freedoms haunt.

With that said, let’s not discredit prayer as a major contribution. But, see, it too is unseen. It feels small. It feels unimportant and, once again, anonymous. God sees. God hears. The God who beckons us to pray for Him to send out workers, He will honor that prayer with a harvest. A harvest of workers in fields where we cannot work.

If we are not willing to grow smaller in our labors for Him we can never expect to be used greatly by Him.  It is the humility of our plowing the prepares us to serve Him in more public endeavors with humility.  You see, while we are busy at our plows, He is also turning the soil of the hardened ground of our hearts, breaking up the hard clods of pride there, making us soft, broken, pliable, ready, available, open.  Preparing us, accustoming us to decreasing, that He might increase.

What an incredible God we serve, who both calls and enables us to co-labor with Him.  What an incredible God, who always reminds us that the servant cannot be greater than his Master (John 13:16), who takes us from one place of serving to another.  In the end, no matter what plow He has sovereignly placed in our hands, let us serve Him there with great humility and joy.  Let Him find us working!

Provoke not your children to wrath

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“‘Provoke not your children to wrath.’  Easily said; but how are we to avoid it?  Strife between old and young seems inevitable.  Today the world changes fast and inconceivably fast; in pastoral and agricultural times, what a man knew was of use to his son, but in the industrial age Father’s knowledge is out of date before the son is half grown up.  We should be more than human if the result were not bitterness and conflict.  Then too there are just too many people on this teeming and screaming earth for us to welcome a new man with whole-souled enthusiasm.  Our God-given biologic nature, which rejoices in parenthood, and our fallen self-seeking nature, which hates it as the creator of responsibilities, are at war with each other; and if we cannot make peace with ourselves, how shall we make peace with our children?

The ideal solution, of course, would be to remake our jerry-built, precarious society into a sound and safe one.  But, let’s admit it, we don’t know how; and if we knew, we have not the power; and if we had the power, as long as we are sinners we should lack the love.  There is only one thing a man can really remake–himself–and that only with the aid of God’s grace.  Laws and organizations and schools are good things, creches and social services and youth groups may be admirable things.  Yet–a reminder obvious, trite, but necessary–none of them can replace the love the guidance of father and mother.  Our problem then, pending reconstruction of the world, is to reconstruct our lives so that we give our children as much warmth and attention and time and teaching as the present world will allow.

At least we might give them our leisure.  Let us drop the disastrous cant that persuades women, often against their own hearts, that they have a ‘duty’ to neglect their children for civic affairs, or broadening cultural activities, or even, heaven help us, for ‘realizing their creative potentialities through self-expression in a rewarding career.’  Let us drop too the curious theory that the care and teaching of children are entirely women’s work, and that their father should have as little to do with them as possible.  Most of all, let us remind the innumerable Americans who don’t seem to know it that begetting and rearing a family are far more real and rewarding than making and spending money.”

– Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountains