Wednesday, April 30, 2014

nearer to thee



Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
 E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
(Nearer my God to thee, TLH 533)


Please tell me if anyone out there is able to truly sing this song without squirming?  Is there really someone who can consider the horrors of "cross," look God in the eye, and say, "Yes Lord, bring it on!  If it means it will make me closer to You, by all means, strip me down, destroy my comfort, bring on the suffering!"


I do not say this to criticise the hymn.  It is a beautiful hymn, and expresses a wonderful and holy sentiment.  I just wish that sentiment really took up my entire heart, and not only a tiny little part.  That part sings, and the rest puts on a phony little show, and I see how far I fail to keep the first commandment.  So often my prayers are basically:
Uh oh, that cross is coming close to me...  not that one Lord!  I'm good, thanks.  No cross today. Just comfort.  And joy.  And peace.  And blessing.

It is grace, again, that God shows to me, by not waiting until my heart is ready before He sends the next trial that will bring me closer to Him.

But please, God... just five more minutes?


originally published 4/17/11

Friday, April 25, 2014

Noticing

Photo: Thank you Jesus.

http://www.weakandloved.com/2012/05/just-add-water-and-gratitude.html

Springtime is a wonderful time to notice,
with a camera in my hands.

I will never tire of springtime noticing.  Every year, I am surprised by the fragrance and the joys.

Is there anything more precious than a flower picked by a little boy for his mama?
I usually shove it behind my ear, or "accidentally" drop it when he's not looking.

This time, I noticed- see those tiny curls? Amazing.



The art around me moves by so quickly, it is impossible to take it all in.

The children grow and the moments blow away in the wind.

Father, don't let me miss it!  Help me to see!



When my son saw the first fluffy dandelion of the season, he picked it for me, and ran to me with an excited voice: "Mama, remember these!?  We LOVE these!"

He knows I will appreciate the dandelion fluff with him. I smile.

Yes, I am doing something right.

Appreciating the art that surrounds us, the works of His hands, with the children of His grace...

we give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I dare you to notice

Lord, open my eyes, I pray as if my life depends on it.

The eyes of my heart do not naturally see this place as God sees, and even when they do see, they tend to shut again.  I am prone to sleepiness, to forgetfulness, to blindness.

Father, help me to see.

She asked me to braid her hair before Easter service, so I did, and it was not perfect but she loved it anyway.  She does that with everyone, everything, with the exception (sometimes) of herself. Lord, her eyes seem to see better than my own, but keep on opening them. Continue the work You have begun.

Photo

Beside me at church, she sings, "I know that my Redeemer lives."  Her voice always takes my breath away.  In it I hear such joy, and the joy has a way of highlighting the shadows. (Or is it the other way around?)

And she is grace, and her voice is grace, and this moment when I can see the grace in the gifts... that is grace, too.

Oh friends, there are so many things to be done!  It is no challenge to see the WORK in this place! And this seeing leads to doing, to conquering, or at least trying to conquer.   I excel at conquering. If fact, I can do it with my eyes closed.

I wouldn't recommend this.

The eyes of my heart: if they are not forced open, they see only the work that the children create, only the messes and the unchecked lists and the imperfections in this home.  They see ugliness, and proof of failure on my part, or theirs, or both.

These eyes see through a narrow tube, and everything is black and white.

Lord, open my eyes.

God gives me time-outs, and He forcibly pries open my eyes.  Sitting in a pew, or under a sick child, I am forced to SIT, to be still and open ears and eyes.  I fight the stillness, but not as hard as I once did. I know that stillness is soul medicine.

I am starting to learn when I need to give myself a time-out.  When I've been working blind and my head is sore from crashing into those things which I refuse to see... then, it is time be still.

Writing (and lately, painting) is a way for me to slow down and notice.  Making art is a way of collecting the gifts, tracing my fingers along the edges, savoring, and giving thanks.  My gratitude journal is open again.  There are too many gifts to record, but I capture a few, and they are precious to me.

Yet even creative expression can become narrow, if I merely look around me at the awful beautiful life in this world. Truly, I am surrounded by grace, but the greatest gifts give me by my lavish God are those I cannot see.

Paul prays for hearts unsatisfied and blind like mine:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe.  (Eph 1:18-19)

Our Jesus-- what He has done for us, what He is doing now, and what He plans for the future-- HE is what the eyes of our hearts so long to see.  He is the Gift to which all others point. He is the final proof that our God is a God of extravagant grace and boundless mercy.

There is often grief mixed in with the noticing, when I consider the flower or the daughter in bloom and remember the dust to which all things return.  The dust makes me afraid to notice, to open my heart to things that shall crumble.

But, stay with me. Look with me. Do not close your eyes.

Zoom out.

Consider the whole picture. Consider the God who created the world and entered the world and died for the world and is making all things new. Consider His Story, and our small place in it.  Consider your life given, by grace, and the new life we have in Christ, by grace, and the promises of life eternal that are ours, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Suddenly, the shadows look smaller. And we see that they are temporary.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up in Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:4-7)

What does God want to do with us?
He wants to use us.
To conquer the world? To overcome sin and death?
No, He has done that in Christ.

He wants to use us to show the world the surpassing riches of His grace. 

He wants us to live with open hands and open eyes, and to receive.
To see.
To take Him in.

He is the great gift, and each one of His other gifts are a drop from the same fountain.
Be still today, and notice.

Trace your fingers along the edges of the gifts.
Write, paint, sing, or knit about it if you like.
The laundry will be there when you're done.

My laundry was there yesterday, after the sick little boy finally fell asleep.  It is undone, because he just "really really needed mommy snuggles." I rested with him, on top of the covers, but he knows me too well. He knew I'd get up and run away the second he started snoring. So he moved closer, put my arm behind my head, and nestled into my breast.  He would not allow me to leave unnoticed.

I noticed his noticing, and I did not run away when I heard the sleepy snores.  I lingered in the noticing, staying close to the needy little one for just a little longer.  In my mind I saw him grow from baby to toddler in a blink.  I zoomed out, and saw God's hand forming him, taking care to give him that adorable pinky toe and those deep dimples.  I saw his spirit come alive in the waters of Baptism, the flood of grace waking his deepest parts.  I saw soul food in the form of a sunday school picture of Jesus, and I heard a little voice learning sing-song praises.  I saw God's sustaining care, from birth to the moment he needed "mommy snuggles," and I saw how God gave them to Him, granted him rest in this moment, in my imperfect arms.  I thought of our sabbath rest to come, and I rested then.

The tasks truly can wait while you let God restore your sight.

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which He lavished on us.  (Eph 1:7-8a)


Lord, open our eyes, we pray, because our lives truly do depend on it.




I dare you to notice.




This is the sixth post in the series: 


Will you (re)learn how to be a child with me?
I double-dog dare you.

--------------------------
If you liked this post, consider sharing it with a friend!

You may also enjoy my published works:

an inspirational story of God’s grace

and for Mothers who tend to everyone else— May Jesus Himself Tend to YOU. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's not safe here.

I'm holding my little guy down so daddy can take out the slivers. He screams throat-tearing protests, while I stroke his wet curls and whisper prayers. “It's almost done, sweetie.” I say as I kiss tears. Except that it wasn't. Daddy found nearly twenty slivers there in the softest part of his tiny foot. How could this have happened?

"Mommy why are you doing this to me?" he screams.
“Oh honey,” I held him tighter, no words to say, only tears, tears mixed with anger and questions. Tears falling for more than just his tiny aching foot.


I hate this place today, Lord! Some guy stealing kids right from their mama's side at the grocery store so he can do awful things to them? A random sniper on the interstate?

And now slivers? Is this supposed to be some lesson to me? Am I supposed to trust you in the suffering, to somehow be OK with the pain from the shrapnel of evil in my heart? It's not OK. If there's a lesson for me to learn, send me an email, or use a felt board or something. My child is suffering real pain, screaming real screams.

This hurts my real heart. 
I do not understand.

Later, I hold his hand tightly when we go to the library-- much tighter than usual. I look to the left and right, again, and again. I notice the other children, the run-down car, the unfriendly face on that man. I keep my son close to me.
It's not safe here.

I am like Sister Bear. Remember her? She was a happy little girl bear who trusts everyone, until one day her Brother warns her about stranger danger. Later, she returns to park-- the familiar, friendly park. But everything is different. People are suspicious. The man behind the newspaper is hiding something. The sky is darker. The birds' beaks are sharper.


It's not safe here.
I know, Father, it's not You that does these things, I know. But why don't you stop them?

I have no answers.

So I set my shoulders back, I clench my hands, and I prepare to fight. I will use my concealed carry permit. I will be more aware, more vigilant. I'll buckle them and warn them and make them wear helmets.

No way, not my babies. I won't stand for it.

I'll stand in front of the wave of evil and absorb it all so it never hits them.
Except that … I can't. I'm not enough.

It's not safe here, and we will not leave this world unscathed.
I will not.
My babies will not.


God did not.

God deals with this broken world in a strange way. Instead of destroying it, He enters it. Instead of abolishing the law, He fulfilled it. Instead of punishing the sinner, He welcomed the full weight of the punishment onto Himself on the cross. Instead of pouring out the cup of His wrath on the earth, He drank it Himself.

Instead of somehow erasing death, He suffered it.


And then He rose.

He entered into our dying, hate-filled world, and He did everything backwards. He loved. He suffered. He died. He lives.

He lives.

And by His glorious resurrection, He proves to us that He is not of this world.
And, by grace, neither are we.

It is not safe here. There are dangers on every hand. The world is suffering, dying, and we share in that suffering. And we scream throat-tearing screams and we ask heart-tearing questions. And we are not OK.

And yet, by grace, we are being made new in Christ.

We are set apart, heirs of life.
Today, we are merely far from home.

We don't belong here.
Praise God, we belong to Him.




photo credit educationdiva

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Not for sissies: On teaching violent love to children

"Mommy, it's so sad."
"Yes, it is sad honey. And it hurt really bad, too. But He did it because He loves us."


I think, a few kids ago, this kind of conversation with children might have been impossible for me. I probably would have been the one sitting quietly with a kid on my lap, letting daddy talk about the hard stuff, while I sat there wishing I could shield my babies from all of this.

(Read more:  Is Easter too violent for kids?)

What changed?
Well, Aggie got sick. And I tasted some real suffering. I held her, blue-lipped. And I considered the possibility of a sister, left without a sister. I considered myself, standing at a graveside, knowing in my bones that there is something horribly, violently wrong with this world.

Violence has no place around my babies.
Nor does death.
Nor does sin.
And yet, I sin against them, and they sin against each other, every day.

We live in a broken world.

Yet the broken God-man... He gives us hope.



So we talk about Him. We talk about His great love for us, which we see in His healing and His teaching, but most of all, we see in His death on the cross.


Jesus is not just like us. 
He loves us with a fierce love. 
A violent love.
He loves us to death.


But we preach Jesus crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. 1 Cor 1:23

One morning, my three-year-old took the cross off the table.
Then, he laid on the kitchen floor with Jesus, like this:


I tried to put the cross away.

"I want Jesus!" he protested. 


May you, too, find rest 
in the shadow of His cross today.


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, 
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
 but in order that the world might be saved through him. 
John 3:16-17


Holy Week Recommended Reading:
Hunger Games and the Happy Exchange
He's Still Working

(originally published 4/16/12)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

but does it work?

Quit complaining and be grateful!  Focus on the positive!
If you want to have a friend, be a friend!

I say these things to myself, to my children.  And there is certain logic to this way of thinking.  Call it common sense, or the "law of attraction," or the "Secret..."

Like this:

life is an echo


You will get what you give. If you want life to work, then get to work.

I was recently challenged to think more critically on this topic thanks to our book club (we are reading Broken by J. Fisk.)  He describes the "law" of pragmatism--

You can find God with your mind and or feelings- whatever "works." Or if not god, then at least you can create the type of world you think he should have created in the first place.

There is such an appeal to this way of thinking. It assumes a few things, things that I tend to assume.
1. Life should work.
2. If it isn't working, I can and will find a way to make it work.

If life "worked," what would it look like?
Well, for me, it would look like mothering children that never fight, and handling all challenges with wisdom and calm confidence. It would look like never feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, but always feeling accomplished, fufilled, and successful. (And I'd also have the body that I had in high school.)

When I find that life is not working, what do I do?
I turn over every stone, looking for ways to fix it. Or, I try to solve the problem by forcing my feelings to change.

In many cases, THIS WORKS!  Of course it does! It makes perfect sense!

So what's the problem?

If the worldview of Star Wars was marketed as a real religion, would people buy it? Fisk argues that it has, and we do.  We humans so badly want to control the forces of the universe with our minds, we are eager to listen to those who tell us that we can.

From the popular book "The Secret" -

"Our thoughts dictate the reality we receive."


 "The law of attraction is that our thinking creates and brings to us whatever we think about," she says. "It's as though every time we think a thought, every time we speak a word, the universe is listening and responding to us." (Louise Hay-- The Secret)

Personally
I do not believe our feelings create vibrations that expand and attract either good or bad things back to us.  But Fisk's description made it clear to me: I do fall into the error of pragmatism.

Does it work?

I can't seem to help but ask this question. And I can't seem to help wanting all things to WORK in my life, by which I mean be easy and pleasant.  Isn't that the purpose of life? Avoid suffering. Be happy.  Sieze the day.

Further (sin upon sin!) I even approach God in this way.  I make Jesus "practical" in the worst way.
 "Hooray! Jesus loves me!  Now that I know this I can make life work! I'll avoid suffering! And I will be happy!"

But God...
But God does everything absolutely backwards.

He sees us fallen humans, turned in on ourselves, obsessed with making ourselves happy.  He sees us, stuck in suffering and unable to make ourselves free, cursing Him and hurting each other. He sees those who hate Him, who reject His Word.

The darkness of our hearts should repel God.
It should separate us from Him.
But His compassion draws Him right into it.

He comes right here, right into this suffering, that which we were born into, and that which we willfully brought on our own heads.


It makes no sense.

The pounding nails, and the reply: "Father, forgive them."
The heart clenched in a hateful fist, cooled by gospel rain.
The law-breaker, not broken, but pardoned by the Broken One.

Jesus is Jesus for me, but not to help me make life "work." He wants more for me than ease. He wants to kill my old nature completely, and nurture the new. He wants to draw me deeper and deeper into Himself, into his crazy backwards love, into his love that loves the unlovable and makes them lovely.

In this chapter, Fisk exposed one of my idols, the one called "I deserve a life that works."

I am reminded of two things, things I should already know. But these things change everything.

1. In light of my sin, I do NOT deserve a life that "works."  My attempts to force the universe to make life work are pathetic and probably sinful.
2. God in his great mercy has given His Son to die for me and I am forgiven.

Zoom out.
Look at the bigger picture.
Why worry so much about whether life seems to be "working" or not?
Your biggest need has been met. You are reconciled in Christ to the God that made You.
He is making all things new, even you.

When life "works," thank God.
When it doesn't work, know that it is working, because He is working.

No need to seek Him in your thoughts or feelings or circumstances.
Embrace Him where He is- in His Word.



"Lord help us to remember that this life is not about being perfectly happy 
nor is it about being well. 
It is about waiting in hope for you to fufill all things."







Related links of interest (if you want to hear more nonsense!)

Larry King Interviews Oprah on The Secret
A nice summary of The Secret on Oprah's website
Celebrity testimonies
How to use the Law of Attraction
Law of Attraction on Pinterest
A rebuttal to Be Positive or Be Quiet (From Fighting for the Faith)
(There is a nice thorough podcast here from Lutheran guys, which is worth listening to if you are interested in this topic!!!)



Friday, April 4, 2014

Writers gonna write

Haters gonna hate; writers gonna write.
Haters Gonna Hate (26 pics + 1 gif)
I am a writer, and I can't help it. It is something that happens all the time, the thinking, pondering, trying to make sense of things, playing with words to make them reflect reality, or to escape it.  Whether or not it gets on a page, wheter I publish or delete, still, always, I write.

There is something so gratifying in finishing a project, especially when it's a project that comes alive in book form.  The books I have nurtured have grown up, spread their wings, and left home.

Every now and then I get to hear how they are doing. I spoke at a local group this week, and I met a woman who just moved here, who found my book who knows how who knows where, and it blessed her through one of the most difficult times of her life. It's amazing to me, that what was a mere project to me, one that is dead and finished, still lives and grows and is used to bless others in ways I would not have guessed.

Writers gonna write, and I can't wait to tackle that next big project.
But not yet. Not today.

I will not be setting my gifts on the shelf, but I will use them in smaller ways in this season. I'll write my own children and in this little space, right here.  And for the sheer joy of it, when time allows.

With a prayer that my hands and feet and body and words may be used to bless those God sends as He wills.

----
This post is part of Five Minute Friday at http://lisajobaker.com/
The Word is Writer.


Weakness, how I hate you.


And then, there's this:

No God Craves a Weakling

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reach for the sky!

Last year, we broke our trampoline.

It was so incredibly sad. And humbling, because yes, I helped. Apparently me plus everybody = too much weight.  We will pretend it's because these kids are growing so much.

So, spring has finally arrived, and I really want to go buy another. I would like it here, set up, now.  Right now. I miss bouncing, and I miss the hours of exercise and giggles for the children.

After my husband agreed that we could spend the money, I got an idea.

It was a horrible, awful idea.



 I got an idea that would make my life more complicated, create more work for me and all of us.  It would require creativity, and persistence on my part and theirs.  It would be exhausting.

But it would be good for us.

Behold the trampoline project.

We're eyeing this one, unless I find a better deal locally.  I have time to shop around, because they won't earn it all in one day.

They have money from pet sitting, so I deducted that from the price.  $150 remains to be earned.


Because my kids are so given to destruction, I figured they'd like destroying something to mark their progress, rather than coloring in something, or checking off someting.

Every time they work to earn $1, they get to grab a cloud, crumple it up, and throw it in the trash.

They rip those clouds down with gusto.

They also made their own little people for the trampoline.  They like being able to move their own people up as the clouds disappear!


The day after we started this, my youngest two children shocked me: they got out of bed and immediately asked me, "What can we clean?" One had the broom and the other one had the dustpan!

Will they learn teamwork? Perseverance? Will the trampoline be that much more wonderful after they've worked for it?

I'll let you know, assuming we survive this project!


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