Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Death by Living

buy it on Amazon
I was given a free copy of this book for purposes of review. All opinions are 100% my own

Death by Living, a book by N.D. Wilson, is a rich experience for the imagination, for soul and mind and spirit.  The writing in this book is so beautiful and powerful that you find yourself wanting to agree with every word.  This can, of course, be dangerous. Let the the reader be advised to carry his brain along with him if he allows his soul to be moved by these words.


I would make one addition to this book, and it is a matter of emphasis. To live in such a generous, poured-out way as the author describes is impossible on our own, if our own hearts are the wells from which we draw. We must abide in another, live with hands open, ready to receive from God.  And we do receive, as the author so beautifully describes, through the daily blessings that surround us. But even more than this, we are told to receive God where He has promised to meet us: In His Word.  This seems to be assumed, and is occasionally demonstrated in this book; yet, it is such an important concept, I think it needs to be stated explicitly.


Life is Meant to Be Spent (so says the subtitle of the book,) and Wilson makes his case not by preaching or argument, but by engulfing the reader in a new way of seeing.  


Through his eyes I saw the floating specks of dust, the cosmos, and my grave, and I was made tiny.  Through his eyes, I saw the thread of grace and of Providence that began at Adam and runs right here to my kitchen table. I saw The Story, the Body given for me, the God who stoops, and who even now, fills my hands and gives me my lines.


Through his eyes, I saw my children, hungry for story, for soul-food, which I am now eager to give.  I saw the wet concrete of today poured out before me, drying quickly.  I saw God’s spoken words, his art, everywhere, and I meditated on His meditations.


He showed me the river, the one I can’t stop from moving, the one that refuses to allow me to put down my anchor. He understands why I gather moments, and knows it is both futile and necessary.


And the finish line: he made me look at that, too.  Though his eyes I saw death’s color over all of life, the threat and the inevitability, the grief, the dust; and I saw the Conqueror and the triumph, and the resurrection.  I heard the whooping and the music from the parade.


Then, Wilson left me back in my kitchen, here in today.  But my vision has been corrected, and his words linger.  Arms in the dishwater, I am living my story, and I can still hear this challenge:
Live fully and loudly; live receiving and giving; live as created, loved art, made by God who gives, God who stoops.  Life for and in and towards Jesus who died and lives for you.  And prepare to die, because you will die. But today, live.


Lord, we flail.  Forgive the lies we tell from purple thrones on TBN. Forgive the lies we tell in shrines. Forgive every attempt at self-redemption, the holy efforts we call our own, all the clawing we call resurrection. Bury us. Take us to helpless dust. Then roll away the stone and call us by our names. Make us all Lazarus. (125)


By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whores made brides and the thieves made saints and the killers made apostles. We are the dead made living.
We are His cross. (167)


Bear us home, Jesus, and may our stories in your Story be written well.


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Monday, August 26, 2013

Weak and Lovely: Rebellion

He had been hostile to the idea, until the day he wasn’t. That day, he saw the older kids flying around the church on their two-wheelers, and he said to me, “I want to go fast like the big kids.”

“Great,” I said. “Let me help you learn how to ride your big boy bike.”

He did not hesitate this time. What once caused him terror, he embraced with his jaw set.  I gave him one boost, and he panicked, but he quickly shook away the fear and put on his brave face again.  I let him keep his honor, and pretended I hadn’t seen behind his mask. Yes, son, the ground is a little bumpy here.  I gave him one more boost, and the connections connected. He had his balance, and he raced away.

Of course, that was only lesson one. I jogged alongside him, pointing out details like brakes and curbs, and trying to explain to him how to steer.  But he only wanted speed.  “Another boost, mommy!” he said after he worried himself to a stop near the corner.

What kind of mother could simply boost without continuing to teach and encourage? Not this kind. As I pushed, then jogged, my mouth spilled wisdom.  “ Careful on this little hill, now. Look everyone, cheer for Marcus!  Ok Marky, lean just a little to turn. Watch the corner. Good, Marcus! Go Marcus Go!” I skip, clap, sing for him.

“Mommy, could you stop singing for me please?” He was so polite about it, so mature.  I smirked, but I stopped singing on the outside.

Speed, he wanted speed. His turns were hesitant, but as soon as he hit an open stretch of pavement, he pedaled with his whole heart.  I tried to give him a little space, jogging slightly behind instead of at his side.
An empty church parking lot was the perfect place to learn. There were few obstacles. Only one place made him nervous: the “tricky spot,” he called it.  It was a corner of the church that required him to turn just a little more quickly, so as not to run into the elementary school. And as he turned, he worried about the hill on his right that leads down to the back of the school. His face pinched with worry, as if the hill could suck him in. “Steer, honey. You’re the boss of this bike,” I told him.  But he’d get nervous, and walk his bike around this particular corner.

Yet, the boy loves speed. And as he rounded the bend later that day, speed carried him away, and he forgot to worry about the impending “tricky spot” with the scary hill.  I jogged behind, but too far behind.  I saw his body stiffen as he suddenly realized where he was. “Turn, Marky, turn!” I yelled, running faster. But his arms were locked, and he did not think to break. Instead of turning, he went straight--straight towards the school; straight towards the railing and the bushes next to the school.

The railing was just the right height. It would have tried to take his head off. At the last second, he broke free from his terror freeze, and he grabbed the railing with his hands. His bike kept riding, hitting the school.  He swung from the railing, and I congratulated him. “Great catch Marcus! You could have gotten really hurt!”

He did not accept my congratulations.  He left his bike and ran to the other side of the church. He would not look at me, would not hear me.  He was mad.  Was he mad at himself? Was he upset with his bike? No. He was mad at me—his mother.  He curled up on the grass in a ball of anger and humiliation, refusing to speak to me.

I’m happy to report that my son has “forgiven” me for his bike wreck and has now mastered the tricky spot, and many other tricky things.  But this story made it in to his father’s sermon that Sunday.  Pastor-daddy spoke about anger, and the way we often misdirect our anger at God. 

I hadn’t seen it when it happened- myself in his misdirected anger. I was the wise one, calmly taking the anger, swallowing it, encouraging him regardless. But as I relived the story through the sermon, I saw myself on the bike, and my smirk became a little less smirky.

My life is pretty good right now. What is there to be angry about, you ask?  Let me tell you about just one (there are more, but, another day.)

I, also, like speed; efficiency, productivity, and gettin’ ‘er done. I like to feel good; I like that I can play volleyball with my daughter; wrestle the boys; bounce on the trampoline in the rain. I like having lungs that breathe and fingers that type and a body that can whip this house back into shape every so often.

But I live in a body, and this body, to maintain optimum performance, requires certain things. There are rules to follow, vegetables to consume, and worst of all, there are tasty things that must be avoided. 

And often, I don’t avoid those things.  And I get angry with the implication that I should. I get angry with a body that holds on to weight despite my awesome activity level, angry that it pretends I am still feeding it too much cheese.

So I wrestle, and resolve and I stop for a coffee with every intention of avoiding added sugar this time. But at the last second I rebel, and I ask for the sugar.  The woman who takes my order doesn’t criticize me; she tells me to have a nice day, and I enjoy that first sip, fully intending to do just that, so there.

Self control is hard. Food has consequences. Sugar negatively affects my body in ways that it might not affect someone else. It’s not fair, I pout. I’m angry at the rules, angry that it’s hard to keep them. I’m angry that my lack of self control reveals my selfishness over and over and over again.

Self control, this is required of me, and is it really that much to ask? No, I cannot have what I want whenever I want as much as I want.  When my kids whine about this I laugh at them, at their blindness, at the way they whine about only having 6 chocolate chips in their pancakes instead of 10. Is God really so unfair?  He gives me countless pleasures of taste and body and soul every single day.  But I want more, always more, and I expect no consequences.

            How can I find it in my heart to forgive God for these horribly oppressive rules that are contained in my body’s operation manual?

I am a child. And my Father has every right to smirk, to ban all chocolate chips from all of my pancakes from this time forth and to eternity.  Yet he comes to find me where I am sulking, and He stoops low, loving. His grace breaks me, again. 

God deliver me from my stupid self!


We laugh at me together.

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 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. 
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. 

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For more posts on the exhausting struggle with the body and the grace of God, check out Weak and Lovely.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

More than A Drop (On miscarriage and nothing)


A man is a bubble . . .all the world is a storm, and men arise up in their several generations, like bubbles descending . . . from God and the dew of heaven, from a tear and a drop of rain, from Nature and Providence: and some of these instantly sink into the deluge of their first parent, and are hidden in a sheet of water, having had no other business in the world, but to be born, that they might be able to die, others float up and down two or three turns, and suddenly disappear, and give their place to others: and they that live longest upon the face of the waters are in perpetual motion, restless and uneasy, and being crushed with the great drop of a cloud sink into flatess and froth; the change not being great, it being hardly possible it should be more a nothing than it was before.




(Tayor, The Rule and Exercise of Holy Dying, 1651, as quoted in Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to read one, p. 117)




Surely all men are like grass.  We flourish and fade, but God remains: unfading, but not unmoved.

Some are mere drops, born (it seems) merely to die, sinking instantly into “the deluge of their first parent,” falling into a womb and quickly out again, to death, to nothing.  My friend is delivering a dead baby this week, her third.  Three times her womb has received life only to receive death.  And what of these tiny drops, never held, never beholding this earth’s sun?

I feel it, the temptation to despair.  I can feel below me the all-consuming flood, the dust that swallows us all; the “perpetual motion” that is my life in this moment will not save me from the washing-away.

What of these drops? Are they nothing? Are we nothing?  I am sitting in a park on the grass. Blades of grass, growing today; perhaps I have destroyed some in my sitting. We do not grieve for the grass.

Droplets fall, bubbles vanish. Who has the heart to grieve them all?

God is unchanging, but he is not unmoved.  

God knits together, wonderfully makes.  Those gone from this life are not lost in an ocean grave.  They are lost to us, to our senses, for now.  But just for now.

Water: by water, through water, God will wash this sadness away away for ever and for eternity.
Sins, death, despair, all washed away, drowned in the depths of the ocean, destroyed in the deep wounds on His hands, in His side.  

Yet God’s children will remain, when tears and sighing are past; cleansed by His blood, washed clean by Baptism.

It is not you and I and our babies, but evil, sin, heartbreak, brokenness, that will be washed away when all is done.

And then,  fellow Christians, we will not grieve but rejoice, as together God’s children behold evil, Death Itself...

“sink into flatess and froth; the change not being great, it being hardly possible it should be more a nothing than it was before.”


Remembering Delia today.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rhino Report: Reasonable Expectations

The Orange Rhino encouraged us to track our triggers, and as I pay attention to my own, I am learning.  Many of my frustrations come from my own unreasonable expectations.

Consider the most obvious factors:
It is summer.
I am a mother with SIX kids. It  might sound weird to hear me say this, but holy cow, six is a big number!

It is not reasonable for me to expect a break at certain times of day.
If I am going to let them let me sleep in, then I don't get to ease in to my morning. They will be hungry, and they will mob me as soon as they see me.  I will not get to drink my first cup of coffee before I feed them. (Though I have considered moving the coffee pot to my bedroom.)

If they are getting on each others' nerves, I need to take charge of the action. I cannot hide or just turn on the TV. I need to come up with a plan of action to lessen the conflict.
(In this house, that usually involves strategically pairing children and separating the pairs from each other.)

If I rest or write during naptime instead of cleaning the house, then the evening will include more mess and chaos. This doesn't make it impossible, but I need to learn to expect it!

If I'm going to get distracted by the computer when I should be managing them, chaos will ensue.
It just will. Deal with it, self.  Mamas have consequences, too.

It is not reasonable for me to think I will never need a break.

Did I mention that six kids is a lot of kids?  Well, it is. 
But one kid is a lot of kid as well. Kids are just.. a lot.

It is not reasonable for me to pretend my job is (or should be) easy. I need breaks. I need quiet time. I need to take care of my body.

I need to spend those God-given moments of peace in a way that truly refreshes me. You know what I have noticed? Checking headlines and facebook and Pinterest does not typically refresh me when I am feeling stressed. Jumping from one distraction to the next is actually overstimulating and exhausting. It is necessary to live this way in a house with small children. But why do I continue to distract myself when they are asleep?

Many things do refresh me, and it is good to make time for these things. Exercise, writing, Scripture and prayer- these things are essential to my overall health. Lately I have been reading books, entire books, from start to finish (over the course of a few days or weeks, but still- entire books!)  Yes, we must balance our interests with the needs of our family and not become overly self-indulgent or lazy.

But we must also not pretend we are mommy-machines that can live from day to day to day without ever caring for ourselves. If I do that, do you know what happens?

I lose my temper.


If you are paying attention to your triggers, have you noticed areas that you need to adjust your expectations?

Do you know what refreshes you?

See also:
Yelling- on my mind
The Orange Rhino

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wookit!

100 times a day, Eldon says, “mommy come see!”


Eldon notices things. He notices the hummingbirds and the butterflies and the cicada shells. He notices the cloud that looks like an alligator.  He notices the single red leaf in our yard, and he notices that there’s a little bit of orange in it too.   He’s the one who hears me when I thank God for the sunshine. How do I know? Because the next day, he points it out to me, with loud joy, and his wild hand gestures and running feet sing praise God in his little way.

He makes sure I notice, too, as if it’s a task he’s been given by God Himself.
 “Mommy, Wookit!” (Look at it!)
“Mommy, come SEE this!”


Though I don’t always appreciate it—the interruption of my “work” to “lookit”—I see that he blesses me in this way. He is part of the answer to my prayer, when I pray, God, help me to see.




Do you need help slowing down? Do you long to see?
Please read these 2 wonderful blog posts from handsfreemama.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer, A Woman (motorcycle free write)

I return to the cottage with red cheeks and tangled hair; disheveled and wild.  


Will I ever get these knots of of my hair? Was it worth it? I ask myself, for the thrill of riding on the back of a motorcycle with my long hair down, letting it dry in the wind?  Of course it was worth it, I decide, as I always do. The thrill of life is worth the tangles.  Of course it is.  The life, the tangles, the work and the thrill; this house is disheveled and wild, but it is alive.


It was a terribly hot day for a motorcycle ride, even if I did start the ride with cool wet hair.  The seat was hot, his back was hot, and his shoulders were hot, but they are still my favorite shoulders in all the world.  Quickly we left the backroads, quickly he opened the throttle, and we raced toward relief from the heat.


I closed my eyes so that I could better feel the wind on my skin.  Gusts came from the left and the right, some stifling, some sweet and cool.  The temperatures seemed to fight each other. I breathed what was given.


The air was hot and alive.  The earth has grown from spring into summer.  She has put behind her the ways of the little girl- the sprouts, the playing of the fawns, the cheerful tulips.  She is fully developed now, a rich and fertile woman.  Summer is a woman and her embrace is warm.  And my long hair flew behind me, blown by her breath.


On the side of the road stood a man with a flat tire, in a small t-shirt stretched over his belly.  What did he see when we flew past him? Did he see a woman that looked a little like Summer, her hair dancing like the wheat?  Did he see the sexy young couple from a few years ago, the one we still feel like, the one we still are?  Or did he see a disheveled mama flying from her children, desperate for a moment’s peace?


And God played with the clouds.


I closed my eyes again, waiting for more insight, inspiration.  But this time as I breathed in summer, my mouth opened slightly.  The wind grabbed my lower lip and forced it down, out, exposing my bottom teeth.  My mouth received the forced air, and my cheeks flapped. I wanted to smile at the silliness, but instead I let the wind continue to play, and I thought of my dog at home and the way she loves her truck rides, and her jowels flapping.  


Suddenly the air gusts cool, much cooler. The sky is a wonderful gray.  Already my eyes are relieved, my skin is refreshed.  Suddenly, a rock strikes my cheek, then another my arm, and I realize it is only the rain.  I try not to flinch, try not to recoil from the gift.  But it stings, and I curl myself small, behind his back (my favorite back). Times of refreshing can be painful.  I am grateful for windshields and husband-shields.


The shower was short, and my hair is dry again when we park the motorcycle.

I return to the cottage with red cheeks and tangled hair; disheveled and wild, refreshed, alive.


I write before I bother to brush.

Small (five minute friday)

Five Minute Friday
The word: SMALL
Big kids are back to school this week, and I am home with the small ones.  Tiny shoes, tiny problems.  I am small with them.

Our days are full of simple joys: collecting bugs, watching clouds, discovering their little shadows on the black top.  I am the mommy, the manager, the shadow cleaning up after them and trying to stay ahead of them.

Surrounded by small people, my world is small, too.  And like them, sometimes I get tired of being small; I look at big people doing big things and I wonder if my work and my life should be bigger, too.

But I know my eyes do not see rightly, do not really know the difference between true bigness and smallness. The little man who conquered the potty has done a big thing.  And what of his mother, who took the risks with him, who shadowed him and cheered him and protected his pride when he failed?

Tiny bodies do not contain tiny souls. 

Small bodies fed, bathed, wrestled and dressed; they are cared-for.

And souls, fed and sustained by the very Word that brought life out of nothingness blessed by the Big Love of God, -- we are cared for together, and this is not small.


For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
 your faithfulness reaches to the skies.




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tweeting in my kitchen

So this week, I got a bird.

It was an unusual thing, and not just because it was a bird.
It was a purchase I made, for ME, just because I wanted to.
(My mother understands how weird this is.)

So what, you may be wondering, is going on with me, that I wanted a BIRD?

What, in this back-to-school, kids-getting-bigger, everyone's-potty-trained life of mine would possess me to do this thing?

Did I feel like my life was getting too easy and I wanted to make it more complicated?
Is this the direct result of me holding someone else's newborn baby last week?
Because the kids are getting bigger, do I suddenly have room for PETS in there?
(Plausible: I have actually been showing affection to our dog this week!)
Is this how I cope with the kids getting bigger, 
with me realizing that I cannot keep my own babies caged at home?
Do I need someone to talk to in the kitchen to replace the counter-sitting baby?
Do I just miss my mom and my grandma, and being a kid who plays with their birds?

No. Yes. I don't know.
I just wanted one.
Isn't she cute?




Friday, August 9, 2013

Underwater freewrite

The evening sun will soon be pink.

The girls do not care to watch a movie, and they know this pleases me. Instead, we swim. My muscles are weak, but they remember, and my movement is easy. Just below me-- my shadow. She is graceful and light.

An underwater squeal- I turn my head. My girls are not girly. They see fish,and they are delighted, chasing.

Aggie chases fish like she chases butterflies. She will never catch one, yet nonetheless, for her, it is still all joy. Joy in the discovery, joy in the chase, joy in the letting-go-- joy even in her smallness-- it is all joy for her, and I see it shimmering, rolling down her face, and shining from her big toothed smile.


Sunlight dancing on the seaweed, the rocks, watery silence just below the surface, arms and legs gracefully buoyant, wonders of the worlds below passing before my eyes--oh, how my soul breathes in this place!-- the peace of the underwater world, just the girls and me, swimming along the shore, floating.




Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wordy Poetry about the Word


My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all thou sayest, but thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy dimunition), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too, a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane authors seem of the seed of the serpent that creeps, thou art the Dove that flies.

(Donne, Devotions 1624, as quoted in Fish, How to Write a Sentence p 142)


Monday, August 5, 2013

Just a little more time...


Oh Father, these children! Did I let them into my heart only to have them taken out again? Each year brings more letting-go. Kindergarten took three days a week. Then first grade took all of our weekdays. Then activities, friends, and camp take more and more. If this is hard for me now, what of then? What of the day when we live in different states, and get together, maybe, on holidays?

first day of kindergarten
Do you feel it mothers? Do you feel the urgency? Do you know how fleeting these moments are? And yet, even we try to pry our hands and our eyes open so that we can receive and hold as many as we can, we know the task is impossible.

Can we fill up with moments like we can food? Can we be filled, satisfied, stuffed to the point of sickness? My belly is full of moments, but I am not ready to get up from the table. I am not ready to sell the crib.

Even if we refused to blink, if we pried our eyes open and took every moment into our hearts, they would still grow. And they would stretch out their arms, and they would move away. My greedy hands want to keep them, if not forever, at least for now. I do not want them to go to summer camp. I do not want to share them with grandma, with teachers, with spouses.

But, sister in Christ, these feelings are of the old nature. Our grasping, worrying, pining- these things expose the sin tangled in our mother-love. These things are not born of trust in God. We are not seeking the good of our children when we keep them prisoners in our greedy hands, when we demand that they satisfy our needs with their presence. May God forgive us making them our gods, and for trying to be their gods.

Yet a day is coming, mothers, when even the sin that taints our love for our children will be gone. Christ’s forgiveness burns away the fog in our hearts. The Spirit strengthens our new hearts and teaches them to love with a better love. And we hear the promises of God, given to sinners, given to us.

Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24

Eternal life: think on this with me. Because of God’s grace given to us in Jesus, we have eternal life. Our stories do not start at birth and end with our physical death. God has changed our story arc. We have been freed from that awful ending. We have been given more time- eternity, even. We do not have to seize the day. We do not need to hoard moments. We can let go of their hands. The separation that we experience now--whether they go to kindergarten, grandma’s, college, or the grave-- it will seem like a mere moment, like nothing, when eternity is spread before us; when the fog has been burned away and we see all things by the light of Christ.

Father,
Forgive me for the sin that stains my mother-love. Forgive me for trying to satisfy myself in my children, and for trying to be that which satisfies them. Open my hands, that I may receive the good moments as blessings from you, and keep them open, that I may be ready and willing to share these children with the world. Lift my eyes to You, and fasten my heart to Your promises. Teach me to look forward to that day when Your Word is fufilled in my sight. Sustain me until then, Lord, for I am weak.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.



Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  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.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 peter 1:3-9



Friday, August 2, 2013

A stiff drink

We're not the only ones who forget God, who get swept up in the world, who lose our bearings and have to be resuced like lost sheep.  We're not the only ones who receive God's gifts wtih greedy hands and make ourselves sick on them. 

Do you ever laugh with delight when you discover sinners in the Bible are so much like you?

[Noah is] told by God to be “fruitful and multiply” [Genesis 9:1,7] which, Noah translates to mean, “Get blind, staggering drunk.” Noah is an outstanding example of where the pursuit of daily bread leads sinners. It pits man against God. Man against himself. Man against his own family.

Indeed, this daily bread distracts and devours us. And yet God seeks and finds us, feeds and cleans us.  For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25)

And this Shepherd feeds us with wild grace, good wine, and rich food.  Read, sinner, read and relate; read and rejoice in God's extravagant grace towards us.

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