Friday, December 29, 2017

Quempas echo

Christmas eve, and the lights in church are low. The saints hold candles and sing of Jesus, they circle the church, singing from all corners, echoing praise back and forth as if from every corner of the world.

I snuggle a sleepy little saint while they walk by with the candles and their Quempas Carol.

The song itself is light in our darkness, but it’s not so bright that it wakes the sleeper. Not yet.
God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled.

Each saint who goes by, each familiar face made even more lovely by soft candlelight, inspires affection, gratitude, prayer in me. I join their song, grateful that the average pew sitter is invited in as part of the echo. I envisage God’s great gathering of us all; how our lights will shine then; how my own voice will be more lovely, more confident.

But when he walks by there is more affection, more hope, more aching prayer.
For he’s mine, my husband, him whom I have loved in this life.  
It is with a mix of deep affection and selfish possessiveness that I use the word “mine:” God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is pastor, he is daddy, he is many things to many people, but at the end of this day, he is mine.

He walks by in his robe with the candle, singing with the saints as we are all  being gathered
The sheep are safe, He will indeed take care of them.

Safe. The sheep are safe. How his shepherd heart must ache for that day when all God’s sheep are finally safe and gathered in. I ache for it with him.

I try to imagine it:
He’s part of the heavenly choir, and I see him walk by singing sanctified praise, but with the voice I know, the smile that I have loved. There is more joy in his smile.
He will not be mine, then, not exclusively to possess as husband.
With others I will love him, see him, and rejoice in what God has done.

Will I still be allowed to speak of him with the “mine” of affection?
Will there be an amused “I told you so” in his glance, or in mine?
Will there be a silent mutual apology for not loving better? If there is, surely there will be mutual grace to consume all regret or pain, to swallow it all up in forgiveness.
Will we share a glance that nobody else could possibly understand, rich with memories and tearful nights and joys and fears we shared in this life, amazed to see how God has redeemed every bit of it all?

“Confirm for us the work of our hands:” we have prayed  this many times.  Will we someday see God’s answer?  It will all be done by His hand, we will see clearly then.
And yet He has used our hands to “help,”
Used pastor’s words to convict, comfort, heal, uphold
And mine too, in my own way, though all of the grace and the beauty were borrowed.
Will we get to trace the paths of His Words on our lips, see how God took our imperfect efforts and (miraculously!) watered and grew and reaped a rich harvest?

I have shared his burdens in this life; will I get to be with him to see those burdens made beautiful?
These saints we walk with and their griefs, will we see the finished artwork when they are finally healed?

We cannot picture, cannot fathom what is to come. So for now, light candles together, we join in song, and we receive glimpses of hope from our God. And we wait until the new day dawns.

Image may contain: 1 person, sleeping, sitting, baby and indoorThe sleeping saint in the pew stirs under his coat-blanket.  I try to coax him into holding a candle and joining the song but he is too weary. It’s ok, son, we will sing for you, for now.

Rejoice in his goodwill; The Savior came in meekness
For you, for you, to bear your flesh in weakness.
God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas snapshots 2017

Four services in 24 hours: a marathon, and we attended every one. Solidarity with pastor-dad, Praise to the Lord, Joy to the World, and so forth.  I gather an amalgam of Christmas moments, shared in no particular order:

Everyone knows where their shoes are this year. It’s a miracle, made possible in part by my willingness to overlook the fact that Peter’s are slightly too big. If his brother doesn’t care, I don’t care; we’ll call it a win.

Snow falls, and the cold rush as we leave makes us all excited and invigorated. They squeal; we put our faces up to receive its cold shower. I quote a song we know, “Isn’t it love? This rain that falls down on the sinners and the saints!” but the snow is grainy and cold; it doesn’t feel as pretty as it looks.  Lorraine laughs as I sputter and wipe the “love” off my cold face. The walk to church is quick and cold.

Lorraine looks gorgeous in her gold dress; she takes my breath away. I’ve heard some moms feel like their teenage daughters have stolen their beauty, but I'm not one because I never had that kind of beauty in the first place. Hers is a beauty all her own and I just smile as I watch it shine.  She is wearing my high heels- the ones I am not graceful enough to wear.  She walks into church, a tall, elegant, a lovely young woman, but her heel slips, ankle twists, and she barely catches herself. Her smile says, “I meant to do that” and we both giggle like crazy in the front pew. “Did you see that banana peel someone left there mom? How rude!”  Her light heart is gorgeous, too.

Sitting next to me, Marcus keeps forgetting to listen and follow along. I nudge him, point to the hymnal, direct my spoken responses to his ears so as to verbally pull him along with me into the story God is writing in us. He steals my pen and decorates his thumbs. “Mom, I’m ready for the next thumb war, now, look they have faces!” as if I’ll be proud. I’m not, but I’m not mad either.

Sitting by Aggie is at Christmas is like sitting by Elf. After communion she has so much to say; I hide in kneeling prayer as long as I can, but I can’t hide forever; so she loud-whispers to me about the gifts she will give and her band schedule and straightening her hair and then she gasps “oooh this hymn is my favorite!” Her song is strong and sincere, and she is focused, until it ends and her stories begin again. Finally I say, “Can you please stop taking for a bit honey?” She does, but the organ plays a tune she knows and she bobs her head and taps her foot, and I am amazed that she can make even silent movement so loud and joyful.

Pictures by the Christmas tree: Peter farts and everyone makes a huge deal about it. And Seth doesn’t want to be in the picture; I use my mom voice and when that doesn’t work I threaten to get dad involved.  “We can do this now or we can do this later but you’re gonna do this.” He does begrudgingly, and as soon as I say “now, a silly one!” he runs. Later, I follow him with the camera and take action shots to make up for it.

We have a crazy idea this year: Let’s let (make?) the kids stay up until late church: 11pm. Dad is sure they can do it. Of course, this same Dad also takes a nap a 8:30. He has to preach, after all.  Home Alone and Christmas snacks sustain them for a time.  I drink tea and record moments.  Come, Emmanuel.

It’s hard to stay awake. Behold! God has sent buckets of snow from heaven! Eldon and I go for a night walk; we make the first tracks, running tracks, laughing at the way the wind has made just one side of our faces cold. I promise to snuggle him later, and I do: we keep each other warm for all of the late service. The tree, the candlelight, the beauty of the late service is overpowering. But Peter is asleep before the opening hymn. Seth and Marcus stare sleepily ahead. Aggie joins the quempas carol and shines bright.  Lorraine plays handbells, and experiences wonderful moments of holy goosebumps. Heart-overflowing tears are my Christmas gift; I blink long and grateful.

Christmas morning:
Daddy wakes first and makes coffee: the best in the world, oh how he cares for me!  A few gifts, excitement, arguing, and breakfast. And the snow is still falling, just like grace: it’s time for another service.

Another service: I am grumpy about the clutter closing in at home, but I don’t want to be; annoyed the the wiggly boy next to me distracts me from the sermon, but pastor tells of  a welcoming God, welcoming even me. Pete lifts my arm to snuggle under-- my arm rebels in annoyance-- then gives in and tries to be welcoming like my God. My imitation is weak, but the boy rests his head on my lap and finds rest there.  Big sister’s lap is welcoming to another little boy; the sight softens my heart further.

Pete knows how to follow along in the bulletin now; he argues with me when dad forgets to tell everyone to stand. I whisper, “He’s the pastor, he can overrule what’s in the bulletin.”  He finds the songs in the hymnal for us and sings along; we both sing the wrong verse and he giggles. He makes sure I’m folding my hands when it’s time to pray.  He who has been managed by so many in his life is now managing me.

Seth has Official Business to do: he runs the sound board and does well. He’s looking quite handsome in his gray suit.  I hemmed it for him, as his dad suggested-- I almost didn’t though. I recall Josh’s input on the right way to hem, Seth’s anxiety that I would do it wrong, so many suggestions from those two chiefs, and me finally snapping, “Do you two want to do it yourselves?”  And I felt like my own mom in that moment; today it makes me laugh.

And the whole thing is covered in grace, all the memories and the moments, just like the junk in our backyard is covered with pretty white snow. I ponder these things in my heart.

Oh Come, Emmanuel, we sing, and we live His coming.  His songs on our lips when we wake, His Words in our ears on our way, His peace in our hearts as we sleep.  His grace that binds us up again after tempers are lost, that covers over the greed and the distraction of the season; His Son that dwells with us here, now. HIs light that shines and gathers us to Him along with all people. Come, Lord Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

grateful ache and home movies

We watched a few home videos this week, from the days when home was elsewhere and my babies were babies.

They were so little once. And it went too fast, those days when their tiny hands made prints all over my walls. I watch a video and hear their tiny voices; I remember, and I ache.

I ache; but for what? Do I want to go back?  At this moment, two sons watch a cowboy movie with dad; a daughter is discussing Algebra online with her teacher from England and friend from Nebraska; another daughter cleans the kitchen and sings. A frustrated son fights with his spelling homework, and the youngest plays piano upstairs; already he knows more than I do.  I look at these big kids and see what they have become, and I cannot wish it all undone.

And yet, I ache for when they were little. I wish I could know them as babies and as big kids all at once; to see the varied stages of their beauty wrapped up in the whole person in a way that transcends time. That wonderful toddler who wore cowboy boots with his shorts and always carried a slingshot-- is he really gone? It makes me sad to think that. Maybe he’s still somewhere inside the big kid. And maybe he’ll lie dormant for awhile, but someday when he has his own little daughter and she puts on cowboy boots and tries to ride her sled down the stairs, maybe that look in her eye will awaken that part of him, and he’ll forget to scold her, and he’ll join her instead.

On the screen: the littlest trying to walk, wearing those overalls that I used to grab from behind to make him “fly.” Oh babies, when I see you on the screen, in your tiny bodies, I want to hold you again. Did I hold you enough then?  And I wonder about the mommy behind the camera, the one laughing along. I wonder what you will remember about her.  I wonder where her heart was that day, and all the days.  I wonder… did she do ok?

The river beneath us keeps moving, and we ride it together (for now.) I want to ask the little ones on the screen; “Did I love you well? Did I do ok?”  but they’re too busy playing in sprinklers and wrestling the dogs to make time for my question.  Besides, we’re here now, not there. So I put my arm around the one nearest me, and we laugh as the yesterdays float by.  The days on the screen seem saturated with more grace than I remember; less exhaustion, more joy.

What is it that moves us forward?  Does a cruel river of time and fate push us along? Or are we carried, gently, by God; this God who pours out grace from heaven to carry us to heaven?

Tonight, they say goodnight while I work downstairs. “You don’t need to tuck us in, mom. Goodnight. Love you.”  And part of me almost got up to tuck them in anyway, as if tucking were an anchor that will keep them little and keep me young. Instead, I gave long hugs to each one, and then I sat down with my grateful ache.

Thank you God for yesterday.

And help me love them well today.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent morning

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of the night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs. “ 

(Bonhoeffer, Life Together p. 33)

Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Wake, awake my soul, a new day dawns,
a day your Lord has made. 

Look first to Him,
before the noise of the day begins,
stretch and yawn before Him,
stand before Him,
created before her Creator. 

Begin your day in repentant expectation,
hastening the coming of the Lord.

Remember your smallness 
and number your days.
Recall your need,
and open your hands for His provision.

Open, soul, like a flower
for you have been planted under an open heaven.
Your God showers down his mercies,
new, again, this morning.

This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Upheld (depression, again)

Let me tell you about a girl I know.
She has eyes that see the brokenness of this world and a heart that deeply hates what she sees.  She is burdened, maybe even suffocating with the grief she carries.  She wants to make it better, and she tries to, but her efforts don’t seem to make a dent in anything.  And what bothers her even more than being ineffective is that often, sometimes even as she works to right the broken parts of this world, she finds herself tripping over her own brokenness, her plans foiled by a mess that she made by her own self.

And her arms and legs and very heart are caught the web.  Any movement on her part is just wild flailing, but what else can she do?  She could give up in despair, try to sleep it off, and hope that she will wake refreshed and not with fang marks in her neck.  Flail or collapse, pointless activity or abject despair: these seem to be her only options.

This girl is me, when depression takes hold.  It hits me like a storm that comes suddenly and then passes over, It is ugly and dark and scary, but it is over (for now.)  And again, God has been faithful.  I am upheld.

I say that often to my close friends, when the question “how are you doing?” can’t be answered well in a word.

I am upheld.  What do I mean by that?

It’s complicated, this awful grace-filled life.  And when it’s not the time or the place to unburden my soul, to pour out the griefs and complaints, to recount the the faithfulness of God mixed in, to divulge the tangled mess of a heart that doesn’t even know what’s good for its own self and yet is still carried forward by her Father to be at this job or doing this mom thing despite all these glaring weaknesses… I say, I am upheld.

Sometimes, I am a house of cards and I’m sure one more thing will knock me right over, but I haven’t fallen yet.  Every moment that goes by, every push against my house that does NOT make me collapse feels like a miracle, reminds me that God is my helper, and I am upheld.

Sometimes it means: I have just found my way out of the pit and I don’t even know how it happened. My head is lifted up, there is some light in my eyes, and this isn’t my doing. God has again been faithful and sent relief, and yet I know my weakness afresh and its scary. But God is holding me (and He was when I couldn’t feel it, too), and so, I am upheld.

I am upheld: I crawled my way to church (on the inside) and Jesus met me there: He held me and covered me in his own robe, like a soft blanket, he fed me and restored me, He listened to my complaints, and I am upheld.

It is by pure grace that God holds me up, and oh how I need it.

I am re-reading one of my favorite books with my Sunday night book club, Grace upon Grace. And it occurs to me that I am STILL fighting some of the same battles with myself that I was fighting years ago when I read this book.  I am weary of my own weakness.  I want to graduate. I want to say that I WAS weak and loved, but now I am strong and loved and independant, too! I grow weary of being a beggar, of being reminded that I am utterly dependant on God for everything.  I wish I had just one solid mature independent area in my own self that I could count on to be stable and right and GOOD in my own strength. I’d sure feel more secure, or at least happier, that way.  But that is not the way of faith, the way of grace and trust and reliance on the gifts He gives.

Insead, we are invited to be upheld. We are invited to be children, and to be held.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

I think of my son, who cries when he’s tired and takes comfort in being held. Tasks undone, questions unanswered do not bother him in the least: he is held, and so he rests.

This same posture is taken by one Benedictine sister retired from a university professorship on account of a debilitating illness who said, “For so many years, I was taught to ‘master’ subjects. But who can ‘master’ beauty, or peace or joy? This psalms speaks of the grace of childhood, not of being childish. One of my greatest freedoms is to see that all the pretenses and defenses I put up in the first part of my life, I can spend the rest of my life taking down. This psalm tells me that I’m a dependent person, and that it’s not demeaning.” (as quoted by Kathleen Norris, THe Cloister Walk p.106)

We have not outgrown childlike dependence on God. We have not graduated. But take heart! God does not demand that we graduate- He invites us to watch Him provide! He calls us as His children to trust in Him, to wait on Him in hope, to look to Him for provision.  We are his children, holding on to Him with our feeble grip, even as He holds us with the almighty strength of His love.

It is by pure grace that God holds us up, and oh, how we need it.

Be held, and upheld in Him today.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


            Every year those Christmas lights were tangled.  Every single year, when the boxes came out, the complaints started.  "How did these get so tangled?  This is going to take all day!"  I remember sitting on the carpet with lights piled in my lap, tackling the mess with impatient little fingers.  If my mother dared offer help to her frustrated little girl, I would refuse, and storm into another room with my project, determined to untangle at least one strand all by myself.
            As an adult, I still hide away when there is untangling to be done.  I have learned to accept help with Christmas lights, but when it comes to the tangled mess of my own heart, I often revert to childish methods.  I wrestle in frustration.  Offers of help scare me away, and I take my mess into a secret place where I can dwell on it in peace.  I set my problems on my lap, and I try to sort everything out.  I know I need to go to God for help, but I do not want to go unless I can get my thoughts organized first.  I imagine myself untangling things, lining them up, and sorting them into piles:

Let's see...   I’ll put the sins in this pile, the hormonal glitches over here, the good works over there, the medical problems here, the fears over there, the understandable weaknesses here, and the legitimate complaints I have against other people right there. 

Good.  Now, I have a nice organized list of things to bring with me to God.  Now, I can tell Him exactly what solution I need for each of my problems.

            Of course, it never works out that way.  As I wrestle, I feel more like the child who is trying so hard to untangle Grandma’s Christmas lights.  I pull and tug and make every effort, but I never find the beginning or the end.  I work, unceasingly I work, but my efforts only make things worse.  It is still a tangled mess.  The pile changes shape, but the knots are still there. 
            I do not bring an orderly list of concerns and requests before God.  Instead, I take the tangled mess, and I throw it at Him in frustration.  I demand that He sort it out, that He makes it right.  It lays at His feet, I sulk on the floor, and I wait.

tangled lights Pictures, Images and Photos

            He bends down low and embraces His tangled daughter.  The white robe He wears envelops us both, and it swallows up all of my tangles.  For a moment, I quit fighting, and I rest in the presence of Jesus.

"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, 
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; 
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, 
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, 
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."  
Isaiah 61:10

originally posted 11/26/11

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Be adjusted!

A little one prays: “Thank you God for this day and help us have a good day, and bless everyone who's sick, and Jesus? Please come back soon, like maybe today!”

Wait, what?

Jesus come back today please? What kind of a prayer is that? Sure, we day “Thy Kingdom Come” and “Come Lord Jesus” now and then, but when you put it like that... I'm not so sure. It sounds almost. . . threatening.

Why? What is threatened? Well, my plans. My pet sins. My comfort in life in THIS world, how it is right now. My sense of control.

Ha, control. Why in the world do I even have such a sense?
What evidence is there in my life, or in yours, for us to assume that we have control over ANYthing that matters, really?

A sense of control, of trust in my own hands, this is something God should threaten, and ultimately, destroy. There is no hope in my hands, only in His.

Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, even today.
Thy kingdom come, the church cries... kind of.

What if you heard the trumpet now? What would you run and hide under your mattress? What would you try and finally get done “real quick?” What would you repent of, real quick, for real this time?

What if God gave us one month's heads up that He was coming- how then would we live? What if we knew our time is short?

And why don't we know it already?

Our time is short! Security is not to be found in this place!

We are forced to face this when our comfort is shattered- when loved ones get sick or die, when tragedy strikes. Those things that destroy our illusions of control, our comfort in this world, have the effect of adjusting our perspective.

It's painful, this adjusting.
But it is also God's good work in us.
Let it happen, friend; let it happen, self.

Be adjusted.

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:6b-8

Be adjusted.

Isaiah (40) describes mankind as grass, nations as a drop in the bucket, as dust. You are called a grasshopper, a tiny speck under an all powerful God. We are small, indeed.

photo by Fred the Flyer

Be adjusted!
God's Word shouts to us of our smallness, our sin, or desperate need for redemption.

And God's Word also redeems.

Come, ye who are small, to God; your rock, your gentle shepherd. Seek comfort and security where it may be found!

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (Isaiah 40:28-29)

He gives forgiveness to the sinner,
bread of life to the hungry,
peace to the troubled,
freedom to the captive.

That which you seek is not in yourself, nor is it in the comforts of this world.

See those things crumble, and be adjusted.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith.

Even youths grow tired and weary
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Lift up your heart to the Lord,
this advent season, and join the saints in waiting with repentant expectation for our Lord's coming.

Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

originally posted 12/4/14

Thursday, November 30, 2017

a song in the night

It is advent, and the darkness gathers.
I walk through the yard, my way lit only by the lights from the school.

Within, only one room is lit: the cafeteria, where we meet for Bible study.  I'd rather go to bed early, but I have to lead this thing. My mood is also dark, and I am weary.

But God does what He always does; He meets us in the darkness and lightens while he enlightens.  

His Word never denies the hard realities of life in this world. The darkness is oppressive, sometimes suffocating.  Never once does He tell us to deny it, or to pretend it is light. 

Nor does He tell us to fight the darkness in our own strength. 

There in that small lighted room surrounded by a dark building, dark parking lot, and a dark and fallen world, a small handful of God's people come in to the light of His presence.

It is not entirely comfortable. Our weakness is exposed. Our part in the darkness is also exposed: we belong here, really, as we consider the darkness that we have invited into our own hearts. The light burns as it exposes.

But He wounds only to heal.  
Turn us, O Lord, that we may be healed, and grant us repentant hearts.

By grace are we healed; by grace we are called into His presence, and covered with the robes of Christ's righteousness. By grace, we are given strength to wait, strength to look forward, even as the darkness gathers, to the breaking dawn.

Come, Lord Jesus.  

(If your soul needs a song of inspiration to sing while you wait through the oppressive night, listen to this wonderful advent hymn)


The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14

originally posted 12/15/14

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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 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.  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?) 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.

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.

originally posted 4/14

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why store moments?

Why store moments?

I am a writer, a gatherer of moments. I look for things that inspire, for drops of grace, for moments of beauty around me, so that I can capture them and pass them on.  I see them often in my children. My mind takes a snapshot with a “click,” and I return to it later and paint it with words.

And then I stop and wonder, why store moments?  Why keep my eyes and hands open? What am I collecting memories for?

When I knew my husband was leaving for Iraq, I feasted on every last second we had together. I think I tried to “stock up” on him somehow, as if I could fill myself up with moments to avoid future pain. As if I would miss him less if I just had more of him to keep with me. I feasted on him, and still, he carried my heart with him when he got on that plane.  Moments stored do not lessen future pain.

Also, I’ve been a mama long enough to know that not every moment can be a moment. There won’t be a “moment” every day, or every week for that matter!  Sometimes all I can say is, “well, we got through the day and nobody died” and I stagger through the dirty living room, kick aside the laundry, not even CARE to investigate the weird smell in the kitchen, pick the nerf darts out of my bed, and collapse in exhaustion.

Motherhood is not all moments, but there are some, and they are precious.

My children are fluttering through their days with no thought for gathering, so I gather for them. I collect a few bright spots from their childhoods and save them with the other keepsakes. I’d like them to be able to look back through my eyes and see that they were loved and blessed and cared-for by God. They already know that, but I hope to help them know it even more.  Moments stored may age like wine and bless us later. We will be glad to gaze again on the faded beauty, and we will thank God even for the days of re-living. We will remember and re-thank.

But I don’t really gather moments for later. In picking them up, I savor them right now.

Moments gathered water my soul and help me to love. Living with open hands and open eyes is a way of keeping my antenna tuned to what is important: to God and the people around me. When those precious moments come, free and beautiful, like grace, I drink them in.

And as I drink, I remember:

I remember that the noisy, dirty creatures messing up my house each day are people, beloved by God, wonderful works of His hand.
I remember that I am a child of God—weak, and loved.
I remember that my Father sees me, knows me, cares for me.
I remember that I am here to receive love and to love.

No automatic alt text available.And the grace swallowed down waters my heart and makes it soft and grateful, even when my hands are in the dish water again.

Thank you Jesus, for this moment.

A few recent moments:
- When the little one said his memory verse, "Ceasar Augustus issued a decree over the entire Ramen noodle.."
- Evening church, and it feels like midnight. I stop singing the hymn: the voice behind me is too beautiful. My heart worships louder when I listen in silence, marveling at the miracles God is still doing- in my very own daughter.
- We're listing things we're thankful for, and my littlest baby writes "marriage." This makes my older son squirm and blush, and I am doubly thankful.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Aspire to breathe

“I’m good, just busy, you know how it is.”

Yes, I know how it is. The never-ending rush from this thing to the next.  
It’s letting your house go and eating fast food and never stopping to take a breath or read a book so you can keep everyone moving, moving, moving. It’s the American way. Everybody’s doing it.  It’s feeling powerless, like someone else is filling up your calendar.  It’s never going to stop; we will never feel caught up.

Is this how it has to be?  What are we chasing after?
Our culture expects us to plan and schedule Important Things for every waking hour, for ourselves and for our children. But should we?

Imagine for a moment that your “How are you?” and was met not with the usual line about busy-but-good,
But something else, something like:

“I whittled down what’s on my schedule and suddenly I feel like I can breathe again. I have.. Free time. It’s wonderful.”

How would you react if you heard that? I posed this question to a group of women and they replied:

“I think I’d feel jealous.”
“I’d want to know their secret.”
“If I said that, someone would just say to me ‘Oh great, we’ve been looking for volunteers for ____.’”
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

It is really that weird.  We’d hardly know what to say if someone told us they were NOT busy and had space in their schedule and lives. WHY is it this way, everybody? It has not always been this way in the history of the world. And I’m not convinced it HAS to be, even now.  Consider this with me: could it be that the pace of our lives is suffocating us?

My husband and I have begun to ask this question: Is the benefit of this commitment worth the busyness we feel as a family?  (Or in other words, why are we doing this to ourselves again?)
If we cannot come up with a good enough answer to this question, that’s it. We quit. It’s off the list.

It helps that we have so many children. We learned early on that if we say “yes” to every good thing offered to each child we will be running in too many different directions and the whole thing will come crashing down. We also realize that a “yes” to one thing necessarily means a “no” to something else.  Is that “something else” important? This question must be asked. It is important to receive God’s Word together.  Isn’t it also important to play outside, eat together, interact as a family, and have unstructured time to breathe and imagine and rest?

Imagine a world where we said more things like this:
“I just sat with my kids and enjoyed them today. We didn’t accomplish anything- we were just together.”

What are you doing this weekend?
“We’re sharing a meal with some friends and just spending time together.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing this weekend- there’s nothing scheduled!”
“Nothing much: Breathing in. Receiving from God. Feeding my spirit and resting my body.”

I’m not advocating laziness, but rather, discernment. If I let the expectations of others or the world fill my calendar, it might be full of fun experiences, and I will definitely be busy, but I will almost certainly be neglecting the things that matter.

I’ve been pondering this Scripture:
Love your neighbor and aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands… 2 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Did you catch that? Aspire to live quietly. ASPIRE to live quietly!
Love your neighbor, work with your hands, and live quietly, waiting with joyful expectation for the coming of the Lord.  Receive from your God and live.

It is by the grace of God alone that we are here with beating hearts and breathing lungs.  His grace has called us into fellowship with Him, we are to be set-apart, and to grow in His word.

We pray often that God helps us grow ”in faith towards you and in fervent love towards one another.”
How does He give that help? He feeds our faith with His Word. He teaches us to love by drawing us into community where we spend actual time together, sharing meals and lives together.  These things take time. But do we have the time?

“Aspire to live quietly.” I hear this as an invitation, permission to say no to the things that choke out what matters. Nobody is going to say no for me.

But what does saying yes to this invitation actually look like?  This is something I am really wrestling with, friends. How do we keep the busyness from crowding out what matters?  Share your thoughts with me, please!

This is a day that You have made- help us rejoice and be glad in it!  May we aspire to receive your good gifts and make good use of the time you have given us here. Grant us wisdom in what we say “yes” to, knowing that every “yes” is a “no” to something else. Help us not get distracted by mindless busyness, but instead say “yes” to those things that are good for our souls and our neighbor, and live confidently and peacefully in your grace. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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