Monday, September 30, 2013

What if we could see? A thought so scary it reminds me to pray.

The woman who runs through her day on her own strength, short on patience and full of resentment;

The woman who plans, so carefully, what she will eat and not eat, and then at the end of the day still finds herself a slave to her stomach;

The mother who is weary, and allows weariness to turn to anger, and allows anger to spew from her lips and wound those she loves;

She is blind.

She is blind, and she is a little child who has run away from her father on a busy street. She is trying to dodge and weave through the temptations, to love and serve from her own empty heart.  She exerts all of her effort trying to make life work, trying to keep herself safe and happy, even though she cannot see nor avoid the dangers that surround her.  She has run away from safety.

busy road photo: Busy road IMG_2846.jpg

"Spiritually speaking, we are blind. We walk through life on an unseen journey, since we live by faith here on earth. There is an unseen world all around us that we can sense but can never see, a world of radiant splendor and of abysmal darkness, a world that surrounds us like a fifth dimension and more.  That world is not an imaginary world. In fact, it is much more real that the world we know from our senses. Our access to that world comes to us via our ears rather than our eyes, ears that are attentive to the Word and Spirit of God." (Grace Upon Grace, p42)

Can you imagine what you would see if you could see the spiritual things that happen all around us every day?  Can you imagine seeing every angel’s rescue of your child, every prayer answered and comfort sent to you in your sorrow?  Can you imagine seeing your own wounds, the ones from other people’s sins? Can you imagine seeing the carnage left on your baby’s heart after that last tongue-lashing?  Can you imagine uncovering the secret where you keep your “little” pet sins and discovering it is infested with maggots?

Thinking about this makes my knees shake.

The truth is, we are often more comfortable in our blindness. We don’t want to see our own sin, and we like to imagine that most of it is not only unseen, but unseeable.  We don’t want to see the wounds and the holes in the people around us. We would be terrified if we could see the cosmic battle of good vs. evil happening right now in our community, in our homes, in our own hearts.

We would be terrified.

We might even be so scared that we would remember to pray;
To cling to Jesus;
To hear His Word, and to learn to see by listening;
To abide in Him, to hold his hand tightly, like a blind little child on a busy street.

Praise be to God, who restores sight to the blind.
Praise God who chases after his daughter, who sacrifices Himself to save her.

Father, restore us and carry us again.  Teach my hand to grip your finger and hold tightly. 
Teach me the sound of Your voice through Your Word.
Abide me in you. 

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119

See also John 15

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why the silence

Why have things been slow on the blog lately?

Here's one reason:

My dining room looks like this.

And when my outsides are like this, there is simply no creative room in my insides.

We're eating on paper plates, and I can't find my potholders or the spoons. But we're surviving.

I will love the kitchen when it's done, but for now, we're surviving! I'll blog again someday!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The skeptical child: Why won't he just take my word for it?

My younger son questions and second guesses us way more than our older son did. Really, he does this to everyone. He wants to check things out on his own, make sure that people won't let him down, etc. It took me a long time to figure out what about his questioning and micro-managing bothered me so much. It dawned on me yesterday with glaring clarity. He questions his parents for the same way we question God (1st commandment stuff). He worries that we haven't thought of everything. He wonders whether we will be sufficient. When I realized so suddenly why I get so irritated with his questioning and reminding and second-guessing, I simultaneously had two thoughts. First, I felt utterly convicted of doing the exact same thing to my Heavenly Father. Second, I wondered "well, what about Christ's exhortation to have faith like a little child?" Maybe 8 yrs old (really, not even that because my son has done this since he could talk, really) is beyond the pale of this "child-like" phase.
question marks photo: question marks question-mark.jpgSo, I was wondering if you had ever written about this conundrum.
-- Haleigh Morgan

The questioning and second-guessing… is this really sin (when it comes to God?)  I think the answer is both yes and no.
I think some children are simply less trusting than others. I have a daughter with an incredibly open, trusting heart. If I tell her I love her, she believes it. If I tell her some person she’s never met loves her, she’d embrace them like a sister, immediately. Then, there’s my son: he wants evidence to back up every claim. He does not simply take my word for it, does not ever trust what I say simply because I am his mother.
Is this sin, or a character flaw, or neither? I think it depends on the spirit behind the questioning.
(See the stories of Zechariah and Mary in the beginning of Luke. Two questions- two very different reactions from the angel.)
Is it a request for evidence?
Healthy skepticism is a good thing.  With this, we are not carried away by every wind of doctrine. We test, question, compare, investigate.  And, we serve a God who provides evidence. We must always remember this! We are not called to have blind faith, to trust our feelings, or to take someone else’s words.  God gives us evidence of His goodness, over and over and over again, throughout Scripture, and most importantly in Jesus on the cross, and risen from the dead. 
Are the questions an excuse for disobedience?
As in, “You must answer every one of my objections to my satisfaction or I refuse to obey (or trust, or move from this spot.)” This is the kind of questioning we also do with God, as it seems to provide us with an excuse for continued sin. We do not understand His ways in a certain situation, therefore He cannot be trusted, therefore we can do whatever we want.  This is sin, of course.  God’s ways are not our ways, and we will not understand all of them.  Yet, because of what He has given us—evidence of His love in Jesus—we can trust, even with some questions unanswered.
So with my son, I have tried to bend myself to his personality somewhat, giving more details and explanations to him than I would with the other children, when it is possible and/or convenient. However, he also is expected to submit, even with questions unanswered, in situations when he does not fully understand “why.” He does not have the right to demand answers, and withhold respect or obedience until he gets them, but he can request them.
And I will say, he tends to give his daddy more trust on most things- probably because his father has proven himself to this guy time and again- proven that HE does not just take things on authority but researches them, figures them out for himself!  These two people are simply built this way: analytical, skeptical.  And this very easily can appear to be arrogance and pride (sometimes it actually is, to be sure.) But I am not convinced that this is always the case.
Life is more complicated, and child-like faith more difficult, for the analytical person, in my opinion.  They will not stop questioning. I don’t think they can. Yet God made them this way, and these become His historians and systematicians and apologists! And God bends Himself to them, by providing evidence and proving Himself. . . and forgiving their arrogance.

It really *is* such a nuanced situation. It often calls for great discernment and almost a seeing into the heart. That is such a difficult task. It leaves me to wonder how often I have assumed he was demonstrating a lack of trust and was really just expressing his God-given desire for precision and evidence. See, this right here, is why I am so glad that the Cross and absolution is at the center of everything. If I misjudge his intentions, it is not unforgivable, just as it is not unforgivable if he truly is being sinfully obstinate.
I think I like the idea that perhaps he is just one to want evidence. I think that if that is so, it will serve him well in the future, especially if he can learn to rein it in when the situation dictates and tolerate ambiguity when it is required.

God, grant us wisdom and grace with our skeptical children! Wrap us both in your forgiving love, and stoop down to meet our needs of heart, soul, and mind.  In Jesus, Amen.

What do you think?

Have you been challenged by a skeptical child?

What advice would you share with other mothers?

photo credit photobucket

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weird prayers from my lips: On praying for specific graces

Blessed are we, when we see our weaknesses, and they remind us to go to God for strength.

With little kids underfoot, I amy faced with my own weaknesses constantly. My flesh that wants to sink into selfish luxury is simply not allowed to do so in this place. No, says my vocation, you may not have five minutes alone to organize your thoughts. Not yet.

But I need. . . five minutes peace, but no, even more than that—the help of God to order my thoughts and desires, calm my spirit, and teach me to love.  Teach me to pray.

Eternal Spirit of the living Christ,
I know not how to ask or what to say;
I only know my need, as deep as life,
and only you can teach me how to pray.

First, the Word of God, His love for me; His love in me;
And secondly, my vocation; this work laid out in front of me, where neighbors live for loving: these things make up the content of my prayers.

Heavenly Father, as I live as your loved child today, please give me the love I need for the specific challenges I will face.  Equip me for challenges both without and within, that I may be your hands of grace to those around me.

That—being God’s hands of grace to those around me—seems utterly impossible sometimes. I could more likely win the Chicago marathon than rise to that standard. To love and serve and give of oneself all the time; to see as God sees, and not with selfish, tired eyes: the standard is high, indeed.

Yet God welcomes my prayers, and is pleased when I see my deep need and run to Him for strength. He loves me first, gives me forgiveness and eternal life by grace, and then (grace upon grace!) He provides the specific graces I need to live as His child in this place each day.

I’ve begun to pray for those specific graces lately. And my prayers sound quite strange to my ears, but it cheers me to know God hears them.

I need skin grace.
God, grant me grace to be driven on, poked, fondled; grace to carry a child on my ankle, to be hugged, kissed, often, at weird times, and in odd places (My calf, really? My arm fat?); grace to have a lap fought over that does not turn to a lap CLOSED in frustration.  I need grace when he puts his matchbox car down my dress during the Lord’s Prayer.

I need grace-filled ears.
Father, grant me ears that interpret things graciously; ears that hear individual needs and do not simply react m to the cacophany of noise and needs blaring through this house.  I need ears that can distinguish disobedience from exhaustion or frustration; ears that hear the real hurt behind the cry, ears so sharp that they can hear even the worry behind the silence.

I need open, nurturing hands.
God, give me hands that consent to be held even when I’m carrying ten other things; hands that don’t grab shoulders in frustration, but hands that are guided by a heart in control of itself before it tries to control the little people. I need hands that wash dishes quickly, and dry quickly so they can be used to scratch a back, read a book, or brush a tangled head of hair.

I need a mouthful of grace.
Lord, grant me a mouth ready to speak Your Word, to sing Your songs.  Teach me to faithfully share Your Word in this house, both Law and Gospel, that we all may grow in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.

I need on-the-spot grace.
Lord, provide for the unexpected and changing needs of this day.  Please give me patience for the spills and the lost shoes; muscles that can handle a trampoline wrestling match; compassion for the owies; a strong spirit to fight defiance; a quiet heart for storytime and snuggles; and a charged Kindle for the waiting room.

Into Your Hands
Father, this is my body; may it be given for those around me; for this family. My stretched belly was only a beginning.  As they grow, so does the burden of this work of love.  Too often I pull back; I count the cost; I attempt to conserve something meant to be given.  Yet as they grow, Your provision grows. Oh, give me eyes to see, and a heart to love!

Thank You, Father, for loving me first, and fully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Come, pray in me the prayer I need this day;
help me to see your purpose and your will
where I have failed, what I have done amiss;
held in forgiving love, let me be still.

Come with the strength I lack, the vision clear
of neighbor's need, of all humanity;
fulfillment of my life in love outpoured;
my life in you, O Christ; your love in me.

What specific graces do you need this week?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Two birds

Peanut butter and bird seed,
on a child's finger.
Taming our bird.

Peter thinks it's a good idea too.

(Sheesh mom, maybe you should focus on training your son, not your bird!)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The strange dance of grief and hope

A few weeks ago, we danced an odd dance.
It was the dance of grief and hope.

We danced with our friends, with our children, at a messy rainbow party.

"We're going to a party to get messy?!"
They were all thrilled, of course.

Yes, children, we will celebrate, and we will make a mess. We celebrate in the mess; we celebrate despite the mess. We celebrate Delia's day: her birthday, her death day. She would have been two. 
No, children, she is not here with us. We gather to remember.

"But mommy, that's so sad," said my daughter, munching Skittles.

It doesn't make sense to have a party, does it? For a moment she felt it, the hole there, in this family; the missing sister, daughter, held only for a moment.

Oh yes, it is sad dear; sadder than you can comprehend. In all your ten years, your heart has not been so deeply wounded.  Not yet.

We grieve and celebrate, and if it doesn't make sense to you, know that it doesn't make sense to me either.  Grief is nonsense, but it's a nonsense we must deal with in this place, with its brokenness, sin, and death all around. And we can't explain it away; we can't clean it up; we can't paint over it.  Death creates large, gaping holes, and  yet we must go on living with them.

Oh children, we would be lost without God's grace in this place. We would be lost if He did not uphold us, and give us hope by His promises.
We would be lost if we had not been found.

But we have been found, rescued, redeemed by our God through Jesus.  I know, it is still hard, and we are still waiting, but while we wait, we cling to the promises. We can look forward together, to the day of promises fufilled and grief ended.  We cling to God-- our trustworthy, powerful, loving God-- and in anticipation of His Kingdom Come, we celebrate.

Meanwhile, we practice.  I am grateful that this party helped me practice this conversation with the children. Because this week, the dance of grief and hope has come into our own home.

Years ago, when I was on my face in grief and fear, under trial with Aggie, haunted by her illness and horrified by the depth of my own sin, my Aunt Julie wrote to me:

People say, "be strong." I say, "be weak and be loved."

And her words became my heart-song.  That year as God proved His love to me over and again, those words became for me my theme, my story: I am a child of God, weak and loved.

This week, Aunt Julie was called home to heaven.

Aunt Julie on the left. I'm the baby.

I do not remember the last time I saw her. Was it a wedding? A New-Years party?  My children have been praying for her, but they never really got to know her. She is my dad's sister-- one of eight in their family.  And I think of them, and my 19 cousins, and the summers at the lake, and I ache.  I am not ready for these chapters to end, not ready to say goodbye, and more goodbyes as the years pass.  I am six hours away from my family, my dear, grieving family, and I ache for them terribly.

I am reading "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" with my older three children right now. Last night, we read through one of the scary parts. Edmund had betrayed his siblings, and the Witch made her claim on his life. And then the lion, Aslan --strong, good Aslan-- made a deal with the Witch, and rescued him.

And the children smiled softly, almost as if they had known the story would end happily. Stories usually do. But how would Aslan rescue the traitor?  They were sure he would simply attack the Witch, kill all the bad guys, and announce the beginning of happily ever after.

As they listened, they began to see that Aslan chose the way of suffering. And oh, how they fought against it.  "But he can't die!" they insisted.
"Why doesn't he just bite the bad guys' arms off?"
"If I were Aslan I would scratch them up, I'd make them stop!"
Suffering? It makes no sense! It can't be!

On we read, and good Aslan, he suffered. It was brutal, ugly, and humiliating.
And then... Aslan died.
He really died.

The children looked at me with horror, and a million questions.  It was late, and we really must go to bed, but there was no other option: we had to keep reading.

In the next chapter, grief got heavier, but only for a moment. Then, with the sunrise: ressurrection, joy, and renewed hope that all shall be well.  The blood and love spilled in the atoning sacrifice burst forth into new life, stronger Life.

And with that, they could sleep.
All shall be well, dear children.

This morning, as I hunt for shoes and help toddlers go potty,  I wonder how my dad is holding up. Prayers for him and the whole family ascend with the steam from my coffee cup. This place in the story is such a hard place to be; here in this chapter, the one with the suffering and the questions.  Here we sit, thinking of cremation, funeral arrangements, and never-agains. And we do not get to see promises fufilled before our eyes, not before we sleep.

The fog of grief can so easily consume.  None of us want to sit in it, here between chapters. Yet, here we are, with the hole, and the suffering, and the questions.  And we ought not try to paint over the ugly parts, or to pretend the grief is not there.

But even through sad eyes, we can look to the One who gives us hope:

Jesus on the cross.
Jesus risen.
Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who will complete the good work He has started in us.
Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us.
Jesus, who welcomes little children, and sinners.
       and you. and me.

His life, death, and life for us: this does not answer every question, but it is enough.

Toddlers, loud, happy toddlers, filled my home today.  It is hard to live in toddler world with a heavy heart.  But I thought of Shel and her rainbow party, and the promises of God, and I set my mind to remember my place in the story. I am in-between chapters. Death has not won. The waiting is hard, yes. But our God has not abandoned us here.

We wait, and we look forward.

So I got  out the chalk, the bubbles, and in the camera. Death, you cannot have this day.

We rebel.

Trace me, trace me!!!
I have set the LORD always before me.
       Because he is at my right hand,
       I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
       my body also will rest secure,
 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
       nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
 You have made known to me the path of life;
       you will fill me with joy in your presence,
       with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:8-11

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

trampoline + chalk = joy!

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

For he "has put everything under his feet."

1 Corinthians 15:19-27

"rainbow popcorn"

2 Peter 3:13
But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth,
in which righteousness dwells.

   "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
         And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
    "Even after my skin is destroyed,
         Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
    Whom I myself shall behold,
         And whom my eyes will see and not another.
         My heart faints within me! "

Job 19:25-27

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory?
      Where, O death, is your sting?"
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians15:51-58

For more about Delia's party, read Shel's beautiful post: Oh, we painted.
The last note I sent to Aunt Julie contained a copy of this post: Just Come
Perhaps it will lift your spirits, too-- especially the hymn.
Sad and angry, too? See A beef with God: The dance

Monday, September 9, 2013

Not getting anywhere?

Does it ever feel like you are making no progress whatsoever in your battle against the flesh?
Are you shocked to find yourself a sinner, still? Even after all you've been through, even after all God has done for you?
Do you learn the same lessons over and over, lessons of your weakness, your inadequacy, your shocking selfishness? And are you always surprised?  

Yes. My answer to all of the above: yes.

Yet, as much as I learn and relearn these hard lessons, I learn and relearn the lessons of grace and the love of God for me in Jesus.  Over and over, my hands are emptied, I am stripped. . . and over and over, I am filled, restored, forgiven, and I am clothed by His righteousness.

His ways are not our ways.
My checklist is not His checklist.
He is the author and perfecter of this faith.  He will finish the work He has begun.
I know this, yet when it's done, I know I'll be surprised. 
His ways are not our ways.

Refresh me, Jesus. 

As we mature in faith, we move away from pride in ourselves and our own achievements to a gradual awareness of our spiritual failure and Christ’s work in us as we entrust ourselves to Him. We move away from the conviction that we are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy.  We move on from delusions of our spiritual importance to a growing sense of our utter insignificance and the glory of God.  We move on from delight in our own power to the painful recognition of our spiritual weakness.  We are brought from our self-righteousness to the increasing consciousness that we are sinful.  In each of these painful realizations, we recognize the glory of God.  Christ fills our emptiness and justifies us by his grace.  In short, the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

(Kleinig, Grace upon Grace, p 33)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More important than what I do...

This is of great importance, to watch carefully---now I am so weak--not to overfatigue myself, because then I cannot conribute to the pleasure of others; and a placid face and a gentle tone will make my family more happy than anything else I can do for them.

- Elizabeth T. King

Rest, friend.

For your good, and theirs.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Any work that takes the place of worship, no matter how honorable or important it might otherwise be, is idolatry.  When we’re so busy we can’t pause to hear God’s Word, we can hardly turn around and ask God to bless what we’re so busy doing. Repent. Worship isn’t about us serving God. That’s what much of what passes for Christian music today does. Worship is about God serving us. Divine serve us. Christ for us. That’s why we pray, praise and give thanks. Gift given and received. Amen!

The Fake FamilyA laugh out loud, gritty, wonderful, motherhood post.

Just call me Mrs. Deadman

We have been relieved of the need to defend ourselves.

Slaves to Happiness
It's a viscious cycle.

Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids?
Are we raising "good little boys and girls?" at the expense of the gospel?

The Divine Overachiever

Here is the truth: we have gained more in Jesus than we lost in Adam. We lost human perfection in the first man’s fall. We gained perfect flesh-and-blood unity with God in his Son’s incarnation. We lost the fruit of the tree of life, but we gained a meal wherein we eat and drink of God and with God in the body and blood of our Savior. We were banished from Eden as Adam’s offspring but embraced by heaven as adopted offspring of the Father himself.

O, Alma Mater
"when a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture."

And just for fun...

Seth needs more pencils. I think he likes to use the pencil sharpener. 

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