A New Endeavor

I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the gifts. I love everything about it. But mostly I love the story. Quite honestly it has all the elements of a great story. A protagonist that’s impossible not to root for, an antagonist that you love to hate. Scandal, suspense, unlikely heroes and just enough mystery to keep you guessing.

The problem is that far too often the story gets lost in the lights. The gifts under the tree trump the greatest gift and the real message is left crumpled and forgotten amidst the wrapping paper.

As my children have gotten older, it has become more important to instill in them the truth and impact of Christmas. So last year, I looked for some tool, a book or website, that would help in my efforts. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. And then in quiet whispers and eventually loud shouts, God prompted me to create something. So with an obedient but trepidatious heart, I embarked on a writing journey and came up with a family advent devotional for the month of December.

After test marketing it last year, I am proud to present it to all of you. The devotional, “When Love Came to Earth”, is a deck of 25 table cards to be read and discussed as a family. It was written for families with kids ages 8 and up with special emphasis on middle and high schoolers. Each set is $18 with an extra $2 for shipping if you don’t live local. If you’re interested, feel free to comment on this post, message me on Facebook, or shoot me an email (bugndoodle@mac.com).

Christmas is almost upon us dear friends. Let’s get our hearts ready.

 

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I Need a “Life Party”

Well, it’s Election Day and I really need a door #3. While I’m unsettled by the lack of honesty, compassion and selflessness I’ve seen in the last several months, it’s not entirely about the candidates. My dilemma is actually much bigger than that. My problem lies in the hypocrisy and inconsistency both parties exhibit when it comes to the issue of life.

You see, I am for life. I am for life from conception all the way to the grave and every moment in between. The truth is, that even with all our knowledge and ability, life is still the one thing we cannot create. We can prolong life. We can improve life. We can clone life. We can take life. But we cannot create it. We cannot, where there is no life, call it into being. We cannot take something inanimate and breathe life into it, giving it growth and verve. From the beginning, this has been a job solely for the author of life. With that truth in mind, what right do any of us have to take it? It feels irresponsible, callous and careless to take something that we have no way of replacing. If I steal a car, I can replace that car. If I burn down a house, with time and effort, I can rebuild that house. But if I take a life, there is no repairing that. There is no way to correct that theft.

I am against abortion. At any stage. Of course there are exceptions and at this point in the game, no one argues that. However, I am sickened by the all the efforts of policy makers to justify snuffing out life before it ever has a chance to take hold. As a woman, I find it insulting that our choice has been reduced to this. I find it angering and sad that this is the choice we have rallied behind. Somehow, we have spent all our energy and money protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion while we have conveniently ignored all the other options women have. What if the money that’s been poured into the pro-choice movement was reallocated to support other choices? What if our money went to improved sex education and accessible birth control? What if we took our resources and devoted them to reducing all the crippling red tape in the foster and adoption system? What if we valued life and found ways to ease the weight of pregnancy rather than remove it?

I also can’t support the death penalty. I know the prison system is flawed and overwhelmed. I’ve read about heinous crimes and I wonder sometimes if those crimes don’t deserve death. But at the end of the day, if I value life, I have to value it without condition. I am not the judge and certainly don’t want the role of executioner. Life is life.

Furthermore, my conviction also causes me to call into question a variety of things that threaten life. For instance, how can I hold life above all else and support unchecked gun ownership? It seems awfully duplicitous to say one values life while lobbying for the very mechanism responsible for so much death. Regardless of the arguments on either side, there is no getting around the fact that guns were designed and created to threaten life. Whether in aggression or self-defense, their purpose is singular.

So I am stuck solidly and immovably between a rock and hard place. Sadly, there is no “Life Party”. The democrats shout for curbed gun rights out of one side of their mouth while spewing pro-choice rhetoric out of the other. Meanwhile, the republicans wave their flag supporting the unborn with one hand and use the other hand to wave their unrestricted guns.

So what now? I don’t know honestly. I am left sleepless trying to weigh my choices. It seems whatever I choose I am compromising my convictions and that’s not something I’m comfortable with. For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to Romans 14:12

“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

Ultimately, I have to do what my God has put on my heart to do. I have to be obedient to His Spirit in me. I am accountable to Him. While I love my country, I love my God more. I am a proud American, but I am an even prouder child of the Creator. For me, this is the greatest right and privilege I have. Elections will come and go. Presidential candidates and parties will blow through like chaff in the wind. But the spinner of stars and weaver of life is eternal.

Life is sacred. It is powerful but fragile. It is resilient but vulnerable. It is beyond my understanding and beyond my ability to create. But it is not beyond my ability to value and protect. I am for life.

Exceptional

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

I just read an article that connects helicopter parenting to binge drinking. It was sad and tragic and an awful indicator of where the next generation could be headed. The article divided parents into 2 categories: Good Parents and Get-Real Parents. Good Parents teach abstinence and consequence while Get-Real Parents accept the inevitability of teenage drinking and opt to keep their kids safe instead of sober. Often times, the Get-Real Parents might host parties and collect keys in an attempt to control consumption and limit any resulting damage.

As I read the article, I was proud to fall into the Good Parent category, but it also brought up some anger in me. I have three kids and my two sons are a junior and freshman in high school. From the start, my husband and I have established high expectations for them in terms of life choices. Not academics, not vocation, not athletics. Life values. The stuff that counts. The stuff that can define who you are and what your path is.

Don’t drink before you’re 21. Period. And once you can drink, don’t drink to excess. It only brings regret. Don’t smoke. Don’t even try it. It will turn your lungs to black slime. Don’t do drugs. Any of them. Don’t smoke pot even if your best friend is. Furthermore, remove yourself from any situation where any of these activities are happening. Blame us, blame teachers and homework, blame your coach, blame the dog. Just get out. And don’t have sex before marriage. The idea of sexual compatibility is a lie the world has fed a hungry generation. Find your soulmate and be true to them. To only them.

There are obviously lots of other things we try and instill. Love. Honesty. Kindness. Wisdom. Forgiveness. Compassion. It’s a long list and nearly all of it can be found in the pages between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22. But those aren’t as controversial. After all, doesn’t every parent want their kid to be loving and kind? Don’t we all want our kids to tell the truth?

But the other stuff. The drinking, drugs and sex. That’s a little more contentious and debated. And that’s where I take some heat. I don’t have conversations about it very much anymore, mostly because of the reaction it can illicit, but when I do, it’s usually a nearly scripted response.

“Every kid drinks.”

“They’re kids. They’ll try stuff.”

“They need to experience life.”

“It’s just a stage. Just be supportive.”

And I call bull. Not every kid drinks. Not every kid needs to try destructive or damaging experiences in order to feel joy. They do need to experience life but why does that have to include alcohol or drugs or sex? I will be supportive. I will be supportive of the goal to make wise choices.

Perhaps my favorite argument is the one I hear the most. “That’s just unrealistic.” And again, I call bull. It is absolutely realistic. I know. Because it was my reality. Call it a miracle, call it luck or call it what it actually was – awareness, perspective, determination. I was a good kid who didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or have sex. I studied hard but also had a ton of friends and went to lots of parties. Somehow I realized early on that fun could be had all on its own without any help. And while I don’t have stories about wild nights or crazy weekends, I also don’t have regrets.

All that said, when I tell other parents even just a glimpse of my story, I get another classic response. “Well, you were the exception.” Exactly! I was the exception and I’m asking my children to be exceptions as well. What I find ironic is that every parent I know is asking their children to be the exception, but not in these areas.

“Study hard. Take honors and AP classes. Be an exceptional student.”

“Go to practice. Work your butt off. Be an exceptional athlete.”

“Show up on time. Respect your boss. Be an exceptional employee.”

“Be selfless. Be an exceptional community servant.”

“Be an exceptional friend.”

“Be an exceptional person.”

Why do we so badly want our children to be exceptions in every area but this one? Why do we encourage and expect them to rise above and stand apart from the crowd when it comes to academics, athletics and vocation but we give them a pass when it comes to life choices that are just as, if not more important? We expect them to handle academic and athletic pressures with adult maturity but we chalk up their poor choices to immaturity and let them slide. More to the point we give them permission to slide. We drill them on grades and performance but then assure them we will look the other way when they make decisions that could cause permanent and irreversible damage.

Let me add one more thing. My children know the bar is set high. They know what we expect and they know that poor choices will bring disappointment and most likely, punishment. However, they also know they will be loved. They are confident in their forgiveness. As many times as we tell them to make wise choices, we follow it up with hammered-in truth of forgiveness and grace. If they fall, if they fail, we will always catch them. We will love them through the consequences and we will never stop believing or wanting the best for them.

I want my children to be better than the world tells them they can be. I want them to rise above the mire our society wants to tether them to. I want them to resist the lies that seek to reduce and define them. I want them to be exceptional.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

Morning's Joy

When each of my children was born, God placed a word on my heart that over time I’ve come to associate with them and their journeys. Inevitably, as their mom, those words have also become part of my story.

For my first son, it was hope. He was unexpected and there was so much uncertainty surrounding his arrival. But our gracious God gently prodded me to put my hope in Him and trust in His goodness.

For my daughter, it was faithfulness. After years of unanswered prayer and heartbreak, her birth was a glorious reminder of God’s faithfulness.

For my second son, Nathan, the word was joy.

The second half of Psalm 30:5 says, “…Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” I can’t think of another verse in all of scripture that more adequately embodies the journey of joy Nathan and I have been on.

For starters, there was Nathan’s birth. After a difficult time with pain meds during my first son’s birth, I elected to refuse an epidural and take my chances. It was brutal. The labor nearly broke me. After hours of backbreaking labor through the night, Nathan, weighing in at a hefty 9lbs 13oz, was born in the wee hours of the morning.  And as I held him to my chest there was a powerful acknowledgment that together, we had endured a tremendous struggle. I looked at him and whispered over and over, “That was so hard.” But soon, the difficulty of the previous hours melted beautifully into one of the purest joys life offers.

“…Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

 Fast-forward a few years. Nathan started having some struggles and there were no answers to be found. First we read books and tried simple solutions. When that didn’t work, we consulted pediatricians, then specialists. We moved on to counselors and psychologists. Everything came up empty. It was disheartening and frustrating. My heart broke a thousand times over as I watched my son wrestle with monsters no one could name. While I’ve seen time move like a freight train, during those years, fear and worry were the relentless second hands on a slowly moving clock.

But finally, a solution. After years of questions, hope was on the horizon. We embraced it like a warm blanket and things grew better. The cracks began to heal and there were promising glimpses of wholeness. I watched his shackles fall and realized that, yet again, we had sustained and survived a great struggle together. And as His world grew brighter, so did mine.

“…Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Then came middle school and it all fell apart. Nathan is a gentle giant and that makes for an easy target. While at home he can be strong-willed and contrary, at school, my 6-foot son has a hard time advocating for himself and fending off the attacks. Furthermore, Nathan doesn’t quite fit the mold of a middle school boy (which we love by the way!), and his quirks quickly drew fire. It started with veiled comments and grew to name-calling. Eventually it was straight up bullying and Nathan began slipping. As he succumbed to self-doubt and sadness, the nights grew long again. We pulled him out of school and began the excruciating work of healing his damaged heart.

That was two very long years ago. And after all of this, the sun is coming up. Just in the last few months we have seen our son resurface. He smiles more. He talks more. He laughs more. His eyes show signs of life and happiness that we have been desperate to see for years. We have survived yet another struggle and the joy is indescribable.

“…Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Every once and a while, Nathan’s birthday falls on Mother’s Day and I find it no coincidence that this is one of those years. After 14 years, through valleys, over mountains, in and out of days, our journeys have become inextricably entwined. And through it all, God has been so very faithful.

Looking back at our story, the truth of Psalm 30:15 is undeniable. There has been so much weeping and the nights have, at times, seemed unbearable and unending. But morning always came. Morning will always come. Every night is followed by day. Every sunset is followed by a sunrise. And with every sunrise comes joy.

Messy Love

I’ve often said that love is messy. Navigating the muddy waters of relationships rarely leaves us unmarked or unaffected. Having been married for nearly 2 decades and being the mother of 3 children, I can tell you that, for me, love has not always been a clean process.

But a few days ago, while sitting on a plane headed home from Merida, Mexico, the idea of messy love took on a whole new meaning. Last week, I spent my days and evenings ministering to a community of believers and it was anything but clean. It was messy. Not in terms of relationships, but actual physical mess. We hauled concrete and cinder blocks and found ourselves coated in cement by end of the day. We painted classrooms and went to bed still spattered in residual green and white paint. We sat in circles with local kids and made tie-dye shirts, resulting in hands that stayed colored for days. We played soccer on dirt fields and made cross necklaces on unswept floors. It was dusty, it was dirty, it was messy. But it was perfect.

There was something incredibly satisfying about laying in bed and seeing stains on my hands and paint under my fingernails. The mess was an indication that I had been fully present. It was a sign that I had engaged. It was a sign that I hadn’t skimped or held back. It was a sign that I had loved.

On our last night of Vacation Bible School, held at a small church in the poorest part of Merida, I struggled to hold in my emotions while I encountered a more familiar emotional mess. It was time to leave and the separation was anything but clean. Torn between missing my family and a fresh, pure connection with the people I had served, the lines blurred, tears welled and I found myself in murky territory.

Just about that time, I looked up and was struck speechless by the sky above the church. Amidst primitive concrete dwellings and makeshift homes, the sky radiated blood red. I immediately thought of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us, and I heard a quiet whisper that nearly brought me to my knees. “Love is messy. In fact, it is one big bloody mess.”

Who better than Christ knows exactly how messy, how complicated, how muddled and untidy love is? Who better than Christ understands the sacrifice? Christ came clean and perfect from heaven. He arrived on our dusty planet and after 33 years of wearing our dirt, he left caked in blood. To show love in its purest form, Christ became absolutely filthy.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a right spirit within me”

Psalm 51:10

I find it so ironic that when my hands are messy from ministering, my heart feels clean. That when I choose to enter into the often muddy waters of sacrificial love and service, my spirit comes alive and aligns gloriously with my God.

We were made to love and sometimes love demands that we get our hands dirty so our hearts can be clean. Sometimes, God wants to know just how willing we are to abandon our tidy lives and splash joyfully in the mud puddles. You see, God knows an important truth that I’m afraid we frequently forget. It’s fairly easy to clean our hands. The external dirt is temporary and quickly washed away. But the changes to our hearts stick. The shift that happens in our spirits when we love well and get dirty remains and draws us back.

All too often we spend way too much time trying to keep our hands and lives clean. We waste valuable energy maintaining a neat and tidy life while ignoring God’s beckoning to love amidst the clutter and chaos. If we look around us, we can find a mess anywhere. It’s certainly not unique to Mexico. There are messes in our homes and our neighborhoods. There are messes in our hallways and cars, next door and across the street. Loving our spouses is messy. Loving our children is messy. Loving our neighbor is messy.

Love is messy. As Christ knows all too well, love is, in fact, one big bloody mess.

Hope in a Bottle

We love science at our house. We tend to geek out about things like the stinging technique of the fire ant or the fact that elephants actually shed tears when they are sad. We love shows about black holes in the expanse of the universe and unimaginable mysteries of the deep. So it came as no surprise when the other day my seventh grader crushed a water bottle, put the cap back on, and gave it to my second-grader, challenging her to “uncrush” the bottle. As much as she tried, she could not restore the water bottle to its original shape.

My son then explained in detail the specifics about force. He told her that because there was nothing inside the bottle to equalize the pressure that was being exerted from the outside, it would stay crushed.

All of this science was on my brain when my Bible study brought me to 2 Corinthians 4:7.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

ESV

While jars of clay is obviously a good picture for us to go off of, in the original Greek, the term used is earthen vessels. For some reason, this conjures up a little more meaning for me. When I looked up the Greek word for earthen, ŏstrakinŏs, I discovered that it means “earthenware; by implication, frail.”

There you have it. We are earthen vessels and we are frail. Truth be told, we are very frail. We crush and crack so easily don’t we? Most days, it takes far too little to compromise my strength and shatter my resolve. A difficult morning with my children starts a small crack that grows over the course of day, eventually becoming a gaping chasm. A disagreement with my husband creates a miniscule nick that deepens and leaves me feeling empty and injured. An unkind word or misplaced judgment. An unexpected expense or a last-minute addition to an already packed day.  All minor things, really, but enough to call into question my structural integrity. Things don’t go as expected or planned and I begin to crack. Sooner than later, I feel utterly crushed by the weight of life’s difficulties that inevitably pile up.

It’s not chance or bad luck that God created us to be frail. He meant for us, when left to our own limited strength, to collapse under the pressure. It is this truth that brings us full circle back to the water bottle experiment. Just like that plastic vessel, when we are empty, we are utterly unable to combat or overcome all the pressures that surround us. With nothing to help us withstand life’s stresses and demands, we simply can’t hold up. The forces without are exponentially stronger than the forces within.

Unless…

Unless we aren’t empty. Unless we make sure what we’re filled with outweighs and counteracts what’s pushing in on us. The truth is, we were never meant to be empty. “We have this treasure…”

Eugene Peterson’s translation of Romans 15:13 offers a wonderful picture of exactly what that treasure is.

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

The Message Bible

We are meant to be filled. But not filled with just anything. Filled with joy –the joy that comes from anticipating the fulfillment of Scripture’s promises. Filled with peace –the peace that abides when we take God at his word and trust that He is faithful and good. Filled with the Holy Spirit – God’s very Spirit breathed in us to comfort and equip. This joy, this peace, this gift of the Holy Spirit leads to a founded hope. As Christ believers, when we are filled, the result will be an overflowing source of hope. Hope that our circumstances will not define us. Hope that our trials and difficulties will not doom us. Hope that the mishaps on this earth will not hinder us. Hope that the God of the universe knows our name and calls us child. The best news in all of this is that, over and over, Scripture tells us that our hope is never in vain. Our hope is in a God who always delivers.

“…in  hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…”

Titus 1:2 ESV

Life can be so hard, can’t it? We rush around just trying to keep our heads on straight and not lose our keys. The pressures are unceasing and most days we are holding it all together with filaments no stronger than dental floss. Our earthen vessels crack and ding and dent and some days it feels as if one more hit will burst us and everything we’ve been working so hard to harvest will be lost in one fell swoop.

Leading up to this post, I had a doozy of a morning. My oldest son, who has increasing struggles getting out of bed, missed the bus and needed to be driven to school. Meanwhile, my middle child announced at 9:30 last night that he had lost a flash drive that contained an elaborate project that is due today. In an effort to recover it, I planned on getting him to school early to look for it. So at 7:44am, I realized that I had precisely 16 minutes to get my highschooler to his destination, return home, pack a lunch and get the next one to middle school. It couldn’t be done. Unless the sun literally stopped rising and time came to a pause, it wasn’t humanly possible. And a crack began to form.

Returning home after the frenzy, I knew it was time for some patchwork. My jar of clay was in danger of being compromised and unless I acted with haste and intention, the inevitable demands of the day would surely cause collapse. So sitting in my favorite spot in my sunny kitchen, with my canine buddies lazing on the floor, I prayed for an outpouring of God’s spirit into my day. I prayed that, despite the forces without, He would fill me and shore me up within.

We were never created to be empty. We may be jars of clay, but we are His jars of clay and the full measure of His grace, joy and peace are readily available to fill us and encourage us when life presses in. Take heart, dear sisters and brothers, our earthen vessels hold a marvelous treasure that brings abundant hope for a glorious future.

Something from nothing

This last week has been a little rough in our house. With 3 kids, 3 different schools, sports practices, orientations, meetings, PTA responsibilities and an endless pile of papers to sign, I’m having a hard time staying grounded and calm. I have always been a high-capacity person, but this week is throwing me for a loop. I simply can’t keep up. I am stretched as thin as I can possibly be and the stress fractures are becoming painful.

In addition to the logistical challenges I’m contending with, there are two major changes in our house that are further compromising my ability to cope. First of all, my oldest son began high school this week and the transition is exponentially harder than I anticipated. Of course I knew it was coming and he has been ready for months. Still, my heart is wrenching as I watch him walk out the door each morning and realize that this is the final chapter of his childhood. It’s as if the door has been slowly opening over the last 14 years and he is finally crossing the threshold. And I want to go with him. The reality that I have to stay behind as he makes his own way seems so counter intuitive. In what other job, do you give every bit of your blood, sweat and tears only to relinquish everything you’ve worked for? Mothering is such bitter irony sometimes and in these last few days, that truth has stung and festered in my fragile heart.

Secondly, my 7th grade son is beginning a new school this year. He will attend a small hybrid school two days a week and work from home the other three. The anxiety I have over this new course is living right under my skin. There are so many unknowns and my controlling nature is reeling from the uncertainty. I am afraid that it will be more than I can handle. I am afraid that it will be more than he can handle. I am terrified that he won’t connect with the other students and will, again, be marginalized and left feeling alone and unimportant. I am fighting to stay positive and keep resentment at bay over the time I will inevitably have to surrender to his instruction.

Truthfully, I am not handling all this change with nearly as much grace as I’d like. All of the emotion, the apprehension, and the anxiety are so close to the surface that almost everything seems to set off a disproportionate reaction. I am fighting tears more hours of the day than not. I can’t find peace no matter how hard I try and joy has been elusive and unattainable. I’m simply finding it impossible to rest with all the chaos and adjustment around me.

In response to all this turmoil, God quietly gave me Romans 4:17.

“…in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Can I just tell you how much I am in love with my God? I have in my corner a power that is able to “call into existence the things that do not exist”. Just as God called forth the sun and the moon, the sea and the land, he can bid far more personal things to come rushing into my life.  Things I am desperate for and things that are definitely nonexistent in my current condition. Where there is only fear, he can bid peace like rivers and it will flood into my anxious heart. Where there is only unrest, he can name rest and it will come forth and offer refuge. In the presence of great anxiety, he can simply call joy to come land and live in my parched spirit.

The Greek word for call is kaleo and it means to bid or call, properly aloud. This is exactly what I need. Isn’t this what we all need? We need Jesus to stand in the middle of our chaos, in the middle of our pain, in the middle of our burden and call aloud the things only he can produce.  And it is high time that we claim this promise. It is time for all of us to petition our God to call into existence what we simply cannot create on our own.

In Matthew 7, verses 7-11, Christ encourages us to pray and ask for what we need. He challenges us to ask, seek and knock with the promise that what we ask for we will receive, what we seek we will find and what we knock on will be opened. Furthermore, he challenges his audience with this statement: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

God wants to give us good things. And what could be better than peace? What’s more desirable than joy and rest?

Far too often, this world robs us of our peace. It steals our joy and leaves us flat-out exhausted from spinning in needless circles. Too many evenings find us emotionally spent and void of rest. Thankfully, there is one who can change that. There is one who can stand when we can’t, who can see when we are blind, who can speak when we have no words. This God of ours, with great love and compassion, can call into being all the things we are desperate for. What is nonexistent, but absolutely essential, he can bid forth with a simple whisper and meet us in our greatest need. All we need to do is ask. He is ready and waiting. He is eager to shower grace and call into existence the things that do not exist.

Footnotes

My sister-in-law has a saying that comes to mind at least once a week.  “There are no free t-shirts when you’re a stay-at-home mom.” That couldn’t be truer. Devoting myself solely to raising our kids and managing our home brings little, if any, tangible reward or payment. There are no paychecks, no bonuses, no incentive trips or awards. While some of my friends are receiving promotions or accolades at work, my “employees” reluctantly do chores and grumble over my requests. My lunch hour is usually spent either taking bites of leftovers between laundry loads or it’s delayed until 2:30pm when the errands are finally complete. While I know this is what I chose and I have no regrets over my decision, sometimes the reality of that choice is difficult and discouraging.

The truth of the matter is that I often wrestle with a dull but consistent fear that I am merely a footnote in other people’s stories. That I am invisible. I am my children’s mother, my husband’s wife and my working peers’ friend. I find myself being identified by my relationship or proximity to those around me. I even wind up in conversations extolling the successes of my family and friends, with little to mention about my own accomplishments.

It is so difficult because I am ready. I hear about my peers that are in the throes of pursuing their dreams and I want that. I see them going hard and fast after the next chapter in their journeys. I watch them chase and achieve, learn and accomplish. And I have the same tug in me. With all of my children now in school full-time, I sense glimpses of my potential future. I feel undercurrents that hint at what might be coming for me. I am eager to be a major plot point rather than a footnote.

But for now, God has made it clear that any pursuit will have to wait. For now, God is calling me to obedience. I will be homeschooling my 7th grader this year and it will encompass a great deal of my time and energy. It was a necessary decision and something we are confident will be rewarded. But it is still a bit paiful. Instead of building something new for myself, I will be neck deep in algebra and Spanish I. Considering what is before me, my footnote seems to be growing smaller while everyone else’s story looms larger.

Reflecting on the idea of being a footnote, however, two thoughts occur to me. In my last post, we got to know Moses’ mother, Jochebed, and we marveled at the depth of her faith. You may remember that there is little mention of her in scripture. Aside from the narrative in Exodus and a couple genealogical references, she is essentially a footnote in a much larger story. However, when she is extolled centuries later by the author of Hebrews, we learn a valuable and glorious lesson.

God reads the footnotes.

No matter how tiny the print or how brief the mention, God reads every word of every story. He studies not only the major plot points, but each seemingly minor detail as well. The bibliography, the index, the acknowledgments. And the footnotes. He misses nothing. So while I may feel like a footnote, there is amazing grace to be found in the assurance that my God is intimately aware of my comings and goings and they are highly significant to him.

Secondly, as I sit quietly and wrestle with the feeling that I am irrelevant and invisible, God quietly whispers the most important truth there is. “You are the center of my story.” Regardless of what role I play in the stories of my family and friends, my significance ultimately comes from the fact that I play a central part in the greatest story ever. I am at the very heart of the epic tale of Christ. I am the target of his sacrifice and the object of his affections. I am the reason he came and he has great plans for me. And that is no small thing.

I am certainly not going to propose that these two revelations change everything. They don’t minimize my yearnings or squelch my ambition. I still look forward to my next steps and anticipate the upcoming chapter in my story. But what these two promises do for me is to remind me that I am seen and that I am important. That my story counts. That it is worthwhile and valuable. And perhaps, most importantly, that it is not over.

Forced Faith

My second son’s birth was difficult. Due to an awful experience with the epidural for my first son, Joshua, I opted out of the procedure for my second son. Joshua was 7lbs. 13oz. and, convinced by the doctor this sweet baby boy would be about the same, I figured I could manage the pain. As it turned out, the doctor was slightly off on his estimate. Two pounds off to be exact. Nathan was 9lbs. 13oz., which equated to several hours of sheer misery. Much of the labor pain was in my back and I remember looking at my mom at one point and whimpering, “I can’t do this.” Without missing a beat, she looked straight at me and responded, “You have to.”

Fast forward to last month. Nathan had been floundering in middle school since his first day last August. He struggled, without success, to fit in and acclimate to the student culture he encountered every day. But over the course of seven months, it became apparent that it just wasn’t working. He was bullied relentlessly and called “nerd” or “geek” nearly every day. Needless to say, it wore on him. Slowly but surely, it whittled down his spirit and bruised his heart. Finally, when the bullying turned to threats one day, we made the difficult decision to pull him out of school and homeschool him.

When people around me got wind of our decision, I heard words like “brave” and “courageous.” I was routinely told how impressed people were by my boldness. But the truth is, I wasn’t feeling brave. I’m still not. I simply did what was necessary for my child. If I was truly honest, I’ve never had any aspirations to be a homeschool mom and I still don’t. I don’t have a fire or passion for it. But what I do have a fire and passion for is my son, and in that moment, that was enough.

As I walked out of the middle school that day, terrified of the reality I had just created, I whispered in my heart, “I can’t do this.” Immediately came the words I had heard once before, some 11 years ago; this time, however, they were uttered by my Heavenly Father. “You have to.”

There is another mother who must’ve no doubt wrestled with an exponentially more heart-wrenching decision. Exodus 2 tells us that a Levite woman conceived and gave birth to a son during a time when every Hebrew baby boy was being sentenced to death by a jealous and fearful pharaoh. So that woman hid her son for three months. But according to verse 3, “when she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket … and put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.”

I can only imagine the agony she would’ve experienced as she knelt by the water’s edge and gently placed her infant son in a basket, not knowing what would become of him. I picture her, head lowered, tears streaming down her face, uttering the same words I did to a God she prayed was listening. “I can’t do this.” But somehow, perhaps hearing the same “You have to” that I heard, she pushed Moses into the river and into the hands of God.

I think we would all agree that Moses’ mother personified bravery like few others. Being a mother myself, the act of releasing your child with no guarantee of their safety or even survival, seems inconceivable and would require an unimaginable level of courage. And yet, I imagine that if we were able to have a conversation with her, Moses’ mother would dismiss our accolades and praise. She would insist that she simply held onto her faith in God with a death grip and did what was necessary. The truth is that to keep Moses in her home meant certain death. Her only chance to save him was to release him.

As the story goes, her faith not only saved Moses, but also made quite the impression on generations to come.

Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Moses’ mother. We learn a few chapters later, amidst a lengthy genealogical account, that her name was Jochebed. She was Moses’ father’s sister and she also bore at least one other son, Aaron, and a daughter, Miriam. But generally, that is the end of her story. And yet, centuries later, the author of Hebrews felt led to include her in a list of the greatest faith heroes of the Old Testament. Sandwiched between tributes to Joseph and Moses, there is a beautiful, straight-forward verse extolling Moses’ parents for their faith.

 

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

Hebrews 11:23

I doubt that Jochebed set out to be a hero of faith. I’m sure, wading in the Nile River, kissing her son’s forehead for what she thought would be the last time, she simply longed for her child to be okay. Her entire world was floating in that basket and, like any mother, she must’ve wanted nothing more than to keep him from harm.

I don’t know about you, but I find that often times my faith is forced. As was the case with my son, I had no choice but to put my faith in God. Out of alternatives and fearing for Nathan’s emotional safety and security, faith in God became my only option.

Sometimes, faith is a conscious choice. There are situations where we stand before a fork in the road and we can either follow God or follow our own inclinations. And other times, God pushes us to the very edge of a cliff and all we can do is jump. Standing before an infinite abyss, we cry out to God, “I can’t do this.” But knowing there is no going back, the Father whispers to our soul, “You have to.” And gathering any courage we have, no matter how little, we close our eyes and leap.

In those moments, I have found that every single time God brings me to that place, one of three things happens: God catches me, He reveals a bridge, or He gives me wings. You’d think by now that I wouldn’t be surprised by God’s provision and yet, in my smallness and humanity, I am continually humbled and amazed by the lengths God will go to in order to save me.

I don’t know what this next season with Nathan will bring. I am uncertain and want nothing more than an assurance that my child will be okay. I feel ill-equipped and unable. But thankfully, similar to Jochebed, I have just enough faith to leap. Just enough faith to wade into the river and trust that God will provide the right current to take us where we need to go.

Finding Rest

I am going through a study about King David and this morning, I sat down to read the first half of 2 Samuel chapter 7. I couldn’t get past the first verse. I tried but I just kept coming back to it. “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies…” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Did you catch it? “…rest from all his surrounding enemies…”

Do you need rest today from your surrounding enemies?  I sure do.  My husband does. My children do. So do my extended family and best friend. We all do.  Our enemies are relentless, aren’t they?

I don’t know about you, but this time of year, I find that my enemies are stronger, more persistent, less forgiving. The irony is that during the advent, I somehow believe that my enemies should be more manageable and farther away. After all, my heart is softer, my faith burns strong and bright and my spirit seems lighter as I raise my awareness of the birth of my Savior. But no such luck.  As busyness crowds my days and I try desperately to cram as many moments into every hour that I can, my enemies circle, ready to strike.

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I’ve also realized that my enemies this season are so much different than those I encounter the rest of the year.  Every December, what used to be just a mall becomes a new and nearly impossible battlefield.  Merely walking through the doors, I encounter an endless onslaught of foes, ranging from greed and temptation to impatience and discontent. I visit friends’ houses, see their flawless holiday decorations and jealousy silently sidles up to me and whispers in my ear lies about my inadequacy. I hear about Christmas gatherings I wasn’t invited to and a heavy coat of rejection appears comfortably on my shoulders.

I could definitely use rest from all of that.

And those are just the invisible enemies. There is a whole list of adversaries that are so much more visible and difficult to disguise.  Divorce, death, financial hardship, depression, wayward children and innumerable other sorrows. Trying to navigate the holidays with such crushing burdens feels like going to war every morning.

In the New Testament, Jesus invites us “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In both the Old Testament and New Testament verses mentioned here, the word rest has the same meaning: to take ease, to refresh, to cease, to be quiet.  Can you imagine what it might be like to truly rest today, tomorrow, this week, this month? To be quiet in the midst of all the noise filling our lives?

Jesus came to give us rest, to refresh us, to quiet our spirits and our hearts. 

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I have several nativity scenes around my house. Thinking about each one and visualizing all the key players in the scene, not one of them looks frazzled or frightened. Granted, they are figurines and therefore products of human minds and hands. But still, we all take for granted that on that one night, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, they all rested.  They ceased their own chaos and they were quiet. Two years later, the wise men left whatever business they were attending to, fled their impending enemy King Herod, and searched for the one who would bring them rest. They chose to pursue the giver of rest at any cost.

Do we pursue rest at any price? Do we intentionally say no to the unceasing string of demands and to-do’s and choose quietness? Do we take time to be refreshed, to take ease? We need to. We desperately need to. Our enemies are numerous and ruthless.

This morning, I am praying for rest from my surrounding enemies. I am requesting the Lord grant me what I so badly need but often forget to ask for. As my husband is away, working to provide for our family, I am praying that he receives rest from his surrounding enemies. As my children walk the halls in their schools, I am praying that they find rest from the enemies who wish to destroy their gentle hearts. I am petitioning for my friends and family as enemies lurk around every corner.

Holy God, give us rest from our surrounding enemies. Help us cease. Refresh us. Deliver us from the daily foes of demand and hardship. Remind us to be a shepherd, to rest from our toiling and visit the manger. Grant us focus like Mary and Joseph and let us be consumed with only you. Rain on us wisdom like the wise men, forethought to cease our daily laboring and vision to see what is most important. As we draw near to the manger, hold our enemies at bay and grant us rest.

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