Christmas Stress

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When I was growing up, Christmas was by far my favorite time of year.  Decorations came out, music played, it was the only time we ever had candles burning.  My minimalistic mother even had a throw on the couch, and the decor loving domestic seven year old in me just felt all warm inside.  As I have moved on into a life of being the one to make Christmas happen, I have always tried my best to make it as big and as festive as my budget would allow.  We have had big parties, progressive dinners, presents for all the siblings and spouses, and as our children have joined us in life our celebration has shifted to them.  We don’t have big parties as often now, but we love to go on lots of Starbucks dates and drive around looking at lights after dark and build ginger bread houses and cook together and decorate cookies and partake in all forms of sugar.  We fill the kids stockings until they are bursting and we buy as many gifts as we can afford.  We watch all the Christmas movies with mint Oreos and candy canes and I find myself scrubbing my couch for days.  We want Christmas to be fun, the most fun.
But somehow in all that mix, Christmas has become less fun for me.  I am often so busy trying to make it fun for everyone else that I don’t have many moments feel fun.  I enjoy seeing everyone else enjoy it.  I love watching their concentration as they decorate sugar cookies and watching their excitement build on Christmas Eve and listening to them recite the story of Jesus to me.  I enjoy all those moments, but to be honest I enjoy them while I am still hoping for a nap and halfway remembering all the things I need to do and running through the budget in the back of my mind.

I found myself alone the other day, sitting in the dusk living room with a glass of wine, staring at the sparkling tree and the pile of presents next to it.  I couldn’t find a pen so I had stopped making lists for a few minutes.  I wanted to recreate the sentimentality of Christmas, to feel the excited fuzziness that I did when I was a child, to have all the joy and none of the stress.  I guess what I really wanted was a Hollywood Christmas, not the real one.

The real Christmas involved a woman who found out she was pregnant while still unmarried, whose fiancé was suspicious of her purity and didn’t want to marry her at first, who had to travel while nine months pregnant to obey a census law, who had to give birth on a bed of hay and somehow figure out how to cut the cord (I guess…I have no idea how they did these things then, but I imagine it was messy).  The real Christmas story involved Herod issuing a decree to slaughter all the baby boys.  Can you even imagine what it would be like if military officers were breaking into our homes and killing our baby sons?  That is certainly much more stressful than anything in my life.  But in the midst of the all the crazy stress, angels filled the sky on Christmas and they sang a song of hope and peace.

Even though in the story of Christmas there was great turmoil and a birth in a stable and babies being killed, heaven rejoices.  I want to echo what the angels say, I want to look to the hosts of heaven and see what they see.  They saw the joy shining through stronger than the trials.  I want to cling to the joy of the shepherds and the angels, singing because the world was being redeemed, the course of history was changing.  While I work so hard and so tired to make a great celebration and a fun and joyful time for my family, I should not be discouraged that I bear stress.  The angels  said not to look at the stress of the world, but to rejoice, rejoice greatly!  Even if I feel tired and overwhelmed, that’s ok.  I am in the weary world.  It is part of the story, and it always has been.  But heaven is not weary.  Heaven is full of joy, heaven sees the whole picture.  I want to see the whole picture, rejoicing even in the midst of the tired.

 

 

The Rough Places Plain

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“What’s the fastest route” he asks me as we quickly come to a stop behind a sea of red brake lights.  I pull out my phone and map all the options.  Every way is red with traffic backed up.  Deep down I must be a small town girl because traffic annoys me more than almost anything.  We settle into a long wait.

“What do you think about the Syrian refugee crisis?” I ask.  We haven’t been on a date in half a year, so discussing politics while sitting in traffic still feels like a luxury.

We inch our way through the clouds of dust coming from the road construction and finally make it downtown.  We pass the beautiful brick cathedral, looking for parking.  People are rushing up the stairs.  Three old ladies in fur trimmed pea coats walk by us quickly, and I wonder how many years they have attended this performance of The Messiah.  Jon pulls the tall wooden door open for me and we crowd into the foyer with all the other late comers.  A lady in a long black skirt and short hair firmly holds her hand over the door of the sanctuary, waiting I think for a pause so she can let us in with minimal disturbance.

I can still hear the soloist through the etched glass doors …

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

One of my favorite verses.  All the crookedness will be made straight: the crookedness of my own heart, the crookedness of injustice, the crookedness in the hearts of others, the crookedness of cancer, the crookedness of abortion, the crookedness of terrorism.  Sin contorts and makes everything rough and crooked.  But He came to make it straight, to make it smooth, to take away things that are tough and painful, the small hills and the huge mountains.

We sneak around the back of the orchestra and grab some of the last seats.   The church is beautiful, with tall stained glass windows and white pillars trimmed with gold.  The ceiling is painted dark blue and speckled with gold stars, and the majestic wooden organ covers the back wall.

“Is he awake?” Jon whispers, motioning at the percussionist with his white head nodding off to the side.  He does look like he will slide right out of his chair.

The music is crisp and clear, the soloists on point with every note. Jon puts his arm around me.  “Why don’t we go to things like this more often?” he whispers.  “Because you are wearing a hoodie.” I say and we both laugh.  I scoot my chair closer to his and he tries to convince me in a whisper that suits are totally inappropriate for 40 degree weather.

The percussionist comes alive suddenly as his part comes in, and he acts years younger than he looks, bouncing his head to count the notes.

And then the alto…

“Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I scan the sanctuary of the beautiful church, looking out over hundreds of bored faces.  Some look half asleep, others look intelligently as if analyzing the music.  Did they hear it?  Death is swallowed up…in victory!  Do they know it?  Can they imagine it? Death, the worst enemy, the thing that breaks our hearts, the ultimate separator of love, the most crooked, the most rough of all the places, even death is made straight and plain, demolished in the resurrection.

The gospel sung is a beautiful way to remind yourself of its truth.  It is sweet to live in a story where you know the ending, and you know the end is all things made straight, the ugliest of all enemies is swallowed, engulfed by righteousness.

We file out of the church with the crowd, thanking several of the musicians as we pass.  The night is cold and I grab Jon’s arm as we try to remember where we parked our car.

The song of the chorus still rings through my head.  So many of my friends have felt the sting of death this year, very closely.  And living through the normal parts of life, like Christmas, is so hard when you are in a valley.  My prayer for them in this season is that they would find great hope and comfort and peace as they cling to the promise of valleys being raised, and of crookedness being straightened, and of hardships being healed, and of trumpets calling the righteous to spring up out of their graves, and of every single causation of fatality in the world melting away like a long lost memory.

Happy Birthday, June!

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Happy birthday to my beautiful June Annwyn Marie.  She is the first one in the family to have curls in her hair, and that seems very appropriate.  She is bouncy and fun and loves to laugh and tackle her brother.  We are big fans.

The name Annwyn is thought to have come from the Welsh word referring to a world void of disease, where the food is unending.  In many myths it is associated with heaven.  I can’t think of a more appropriate middle name for our girl.  She has always been a bright light in our stories.

A few months ago June made up a word: “Labba-doo”. It means “don’t worry” or something like that.  Whenever someone is crying or upset, June will say “Just snap your fingers and say labba-doo”. It always reverses the situation and most of the time we all end up laughing.  That phrase sums up June perfectly.  She is always trying to make people laugh, especially her brother and sister.  She is the first one to turn a grumpy attitude into a joke.  When she gets hurt she quickly wipes away her tears and says “it’s going to be ok!”  with a big smile.  I hope someday she understands how much I need her laughter.

June is always bright, she is our light. She is our June in November, our sunshine in the winter, our little sparkle of hope.  She is so full of joy, and I am very much looking forward to another year with her!

Happy Birthday, Miles!

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Today we celebrate one year with our Peter Miles.  I feel like I am on a merry-go-round and I keep trying to grab onto things that are stationary, but life just keeps spinning.  Time is flying, but here we are with another one-year-old.  Here we are, blessed again.

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Whenever I look at this chubby little guy, I remember seeing his tiny beating heart on the ultrasound screen for the first time.  The technician was very quiet during the exam.  She told me there was a problem and my doctor would explain when I saw her.  My doctor showed me the pictures of the ultrasound, and the large portion of the placenta that didn’t seem to be functioning.  She told me that she expected this pregnancy to end in miscarriage.

Days and weeks passed by.  Daily I offered up this little life to the Lord, slowly learning to open my hands and let go of what I wanted.

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At my twelve week appointment, we heard another strong heartbeat.  My doctor was surprised to see me and to see my son so strong.  She sent me to  a specialist in another part of the city, who talked to me about my high risk for a repeat placenta abruption, about accreta, about preemie baby care and at what gestational age he would be able to survive.  On the ultrasound we saw a strong, healthy boy, squirming and growing and heart pumping.  She said I must have many praying for him, because his situation almost always prevented healthy growth in utero.

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Each appointment continued to be a surprise.  Each time our boy measured bigger than expected, and each time the doctors were baffled by his ability to continue growing.   They made sure that I knew that at any moment the placenta could detach and I would need medical care immediately.  They made sure I knew that the risk to my baby’s life would be high if this were to happen.  They made sure I knew that it was likely he would be nutritionally deficient.  I told them I understood.  I understood that this life was entirely dependent on the Lord sustaining my body each day, and I understood there was nothing left in my hands.

Each week brought more peace as each week meant my son was a little bit stronger, and we made it all the way to 38 weeks before labor started.  Peter Miles Taylor was born at 9:00 pm on a warm October Tuesday, weighing in at 7 lbs 11 oz.  My biggest baby, and my earliest.  We named him Peter after my father, Taylor after Jon’s grandfather (who entered the presence of the Father just this week) and Miles because he has been a strong soldier and fighter since his first heartbeat.

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Miles has been such a wonderful addition to our family.  He gives the tightest hugs and eats more than I do.  He weighs as much as his three-year-old sister.  He is strong and doesn’t give smiles easily.  There were so many months last year when I did not know if he would be healthy, when I would get into my car after every appointment and whisper “this life belongs to You, Lord, sustain me to do Your will without fear.”  Every time I hold my son I remember that it is it Lord who formed this strong young boy despite all the dangerous appearances, and I am thankful every moment.

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Faith and Authority

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When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”

Jesus saith unto him, “I will come and heal him.”  

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”

When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And Jesus said unto the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the same hour.” (Matthew 8)

I often hear faith equivocated with being bold, with putting everything on the line and not being afraid to take risks.  I hear people talking about faith as a lack of worry when things aren’t looking so great.  I hear of faith as a reassurance in your heart and soul that you have been bought with His blood.  Faith has many facets, and faith manifests itself in our stories in many different ways.  In His interaction with the centurion, Christ gives us another angle on faith that many of us miss.  The centurion tells Christ if He will just say the words then his servant will be healed.  How does he know this?  Because he understands authority and submission and obedience, and he believes that Jesus is God the Creator, which means that Jesus has authority over words and bodies and “the palsy”.  Jesus says this is the greatest faith he has seen in all of Israel!  It is so easy to skip over the centurion’s explanation of his own ranking in the military line of authority and think that his faith is praised because he believes Christ is a healer.  But that is not what is happening here.  Jesus praises the centurion’s faith because the centurion understands authority, and he understands that if Christ is in authority of heaven and earth then His words cannot return void.  He merely has to speak the word and the servant will be healed.

We are drowning in a culture that has no idea how authority should function.  We are a people who dishonors parents, who disrespects teachers, who humiliates pastors, who pokes fun at political leaders, who complains about bosses, who tears down husbands.  We think we have a right to disrespect men or women in authority because we disagree with them.  It is possible that the only place where we even begin to properly recognize authority is within sports, on the ball-field, with coaches and umpires and referees, but even then we feel it is our right to scream and yell if we do not get our way.  Perhaps the military has a small grasp on how to respect an authority, which was the case with the centurion.  Of all the men in Israel, Jesus had found no one else whose faith was as strong as the centurion’s.  His understanding and respect of Jesus’ authority was attributed to him as faith.

How can we even begin to understand faith when we are so confused on what it means to respect authority?  Christ is our King!  I think we spend more time meditating Christ as a servant than meditating on being obedient to His marching orders.  We focus so much on the cross (which is wonderful!!), but we forget that our faith is not only believing in that event.  What happens next?  Christ says that if we love Him we will obey His commands.  Our faith is manifested in following His lead, in obeying Him, in recognizing His authority over all words and events.  Our faith is manifested in joyful submission to whatever He is doing in our lives and however He has chosen to tell our stories.

And what has He done in your life?  Has he given you parents? Honor them, speak kind words about them.  Has He given you a husband? Praise him, defer to him, obey him.  Has He given you a pastor? Treat him with respect, listen to him, trust him.  Has He given you a boss?  Obey them, work hard for them, speak kindly of them.

We are quick to think of exceptions, aren’t we?  We are quick to say “yes, but what about when an authority is mistreating you?  When an authority is not acting wisely? When your boss really does overwork you and underpay you?  When your parents act selfishly?”  We are quick to think we are all Abigails and it would be Godly to call our husbands fools.  We are quick to compare our authority figures to Sisera and think of ourselves as Jael. We are quick to think that because an authority figure has made a mistake or has a weakness it gives us the right to speak out against them and demand an apology.  We are quick to say that because it is possible to abuse authority, therefore no one should have authority, and we mock and start name calling so everyone knows that NO AUTHORITY IS ABSOLUTE.  It is very possible that we are focusing on the wrong end of the spectrum.  Christ equivocates the centurion’s faith with his understanding of obedience under authority.  Maybe we should spend more time looking for ways to respect authority than looking for exceptions, and maybe this would be accounted to us as faith.  Maybe the faith that Christ is asking us to show is faith in the ones He has placed in authority in your story, faith that He wants you to honor and respect them, faith that He knows all their faults and shortcomings and He knows how obedience to them will work in your story for your good.

There will be situations where authority is abused, where husbands are lazy and ask too much of their wives, where parents are selfish and put ridiculously restraining rules on their children, where governments tax too much.  Remember David?  When his King and father-in-law was chasing him through the Desert of En Gedi trying to kill him and Saul fell asleep in the cave?  David’s men were urging him to kill Saul, but instead David just cut off a corner of his robe.  And afterward “David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD. So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul.”(1 Samuel 24)  David was on the run.  He fled from Saul multiple times.  He did not put his own life in danger or the lives of the men with him, but He refused to harm the one that God had chosen to put in authority over Israel.  That was the Lord’s decision, and David’s faith was manifested in recognizing that he had no right to harm one whom the Lord put in authority over him.  There is obviously a time when fleeing from an authority is right, when disagreeing with an authority is wise, and turning an authority over to a greater authority is prudent, but we often think that this is a free pass for disrespect.  We are often more interested in making sure everyone else knows about how we were wronged than about forgiveness and having faith that the Lord is the judge and He will not let our righteousness be overlooked.

For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.

The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.

The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.

The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.

Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.

Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.

But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.

And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him. (Psalm 37)

Perfect

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We have just concluded our fourth week of homeschooling for the year. My class is made up of one Kindergartener, one busy potty-training toddler, and one baby who thinks he wants to climb. There have been too many moments when I am frantically bouncing a crying baby on my hip, while telling June to stop dancing on the table, and simultaneously trying to teach the concept of how a nickel can equal five pennies. Trying to get a five-year-old to sound out her phonograms while her sister is rolling around on the floor pretending to be an injured puppy is an impossible feat. I need three of me.

If there was ever a time to let go of perfectionism, this is it. You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at my house, but I am a super perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect -my home, my meals, my budget, my schedule, my body, my sleep cycles, my diet, my children, my hair, my throw pillows, my attitude, my prayers. I could go on. If anything has been a part of my life, I have pushed it to become perfect. I have tried different ways to mold and refine and create the most perfect schedule or the most perfect menu plan. But as the Lord keeps heaping blessings in my life, I have slowly been learning to let go and open my hands and let things get messy.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus reveals something about being truly perfect.

““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I want to be perfect and I think I know how. I have a lot of pins on Pinterest that look perfect to me. I want things organized and scheduled and beautiful. I want good behavior always rewarded and bad behavior punished. But that is not what Christ is talking about when He says to be perfect. I am wrong. He says that being perfect like the Father means that we are loving those who do not love us. It means that we are greeting people who do not greet us. It means rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Being perfect doesn’t mean that we have found a life balance that is fair and easy and simple. Being perfect means that we are loving enemies and rejoicing in suffering and smiling in the midst of the toddler chaos. It means that we are showering love and kindness and mercy where it is deserved and where it is not.

Jesus spent His ministry healing people, making their bodies perfect. One time the disciples asked him whose sin had caused a man to become blind at birth. Jesus answered “Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Perfection is Christ turning our disabilities into glory.

In Matthew 19, Jesus says to the rich young ruler “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Perfection is giving up all we have for the sake of Christ.

Colossians 3:14 says “And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” Perfection is loving one another.

Living a perfect life has very little to do with figuring out a perfect homeschooling method. Perfection means accepting what the Lord has given with contentment, letting His glory be made manifest through my own weakness. Perfection means giving away my own life for others. Perfection means showing love. Perfection means working as hard as a I can to keep the house clean, but being perfectly happy to let the children pull out all the playdough again. Perfection means creating a schedule that will help the family, but graciously laying it aside when the baby starts cutting a tooth.

I offer my life to the Father every Lord’s Day, and I want my offering to be perfect, spotless, without blemish. I consider it a good week if the schedule seemed to work and the house stayed clean and I managed to keep the refrigerator full. I am wrong. Can’t I let Christ be the only one with a perfect life that he gave as the spotless sacrifice? Being perfect means that I move aside, I raise my open hands to the Lord and let go of my life so that Christ can be perfect, and I can find my perfection in partaking in His blood. I say with David every week and every day “God is my strength and power: and he makes my way perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:33)

Confessing Their Sins

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Sin is contagious.  I’m sure you have heard the saying, “bad company corrupts good morals”.  Sometimes we think we are strong enough to be salt and light, to be the good example, and a witness to those in sin.  Many times the Lord uses our faithfulness to lead others to himself.  But if we are dragging sin around with us, our saltiness can lose its flavor.  Remember the first time a woman sinned and how easily, how quickly, her husband jumped in after her.   It isn’t just the visible sin that is contagious, it is also the secret sin.  Sin clouds and confuses and creates all sorts of blindness, not only for us but for those around us.

We have had a seriously rainy season here in Louisville.  I can only remember five or six sunny days since February.  Maybe there have been more, but my point is that we have had days upon days of rain.  In this area of the country we also have thunder and lightning with our rain.  Being a Georgia born girl, I love a good, loud thunderstorm.  I love the smell of the rain, the rumbling thunder through the clouds, the sudden black cloud cover as the storm rolls in, and the freshness in the air as it rolls out.  My daughter does not feel the same way.  She is terrified.  It started with a fear of the being struck by lightning.  We never ventured out in storms.  Her fear escalated over the months to the point where she would close the curtains if she saw a cloud, or refuse to go to the park if she saw a thunderstorm warning on my weather app.  We prayed, we talked about being brave, we read books about weather, and researched how to stay safe.  But still, if a cloud appeared the poor girl was curled up in the corner of the house afraid to move too close to a window.

It became apparent to me that things were getting a little ridiculous, and the issue was far beyond thunderstorms.  Her fear was very real to her and she was fighting with learning to trust in the midst of fear.

I pray for my children often, for their futures and for their present struggles.  I prayed for my daughter to have courage and to learn trust.  But what I kept realizing was that I was making the same request for myself.  My own struggle with worry and fear and forgetting to trust a God who has always cared for me is constant.  My sin, although silent, was contagious and contaminating my daughter.  Instead of praying that she would have courage, I began confessing my own lack of courage.  Instead of praying that she would learn not to be afraid, I began confessing my own fear.  I cringe when I realize how many thoughts I have wasted in being afraid of things that are not happening, of being worried about possibilities.  If I do not confess my own fears and worries, my children will not be able to conquer their own.  I will keep infecting them.

We opened the front door to watch the lightning last week. She sat next to me on the stair, squeezing my hand, but she did not cry.   She hasn’t checked the weather app in days.  Her courage is growing.  The root of the struggle is being uprooted, beginning with the uprooting of my struggle.  The speck in her eye is coming out, beginning with the plank in mine. In the spiral of confusion as I tried to lead through this struggle, I found my foothold in confession.  People say that children are like mirrors, and people are right.  They do not just mimic our outward personality traits and our open struggles, they also mirror our inward sins, our fear, our discontent, our silent disobedience, our dishonesty, our worry, our disrespect, our ingratitude, our envy, our bitterness.  Sin is contagious even in silence.

We have been talking a lot about the Israelites on their first visit to Canaan.  They peared over the wall and were afraid of what they saw.  Their fear was legitimate.  The Canaanites were strong, they were many, and they were powerful.  In comparison the Israelites were like tiny grasshoppers.  From a practical standpoint, the odds were against them.  But they forgot how full of power their God is, and that He can make a city fall with only the sound of a trumpet.  THe Lord was not happy with their fear and He sent them back into the wilderness to live the rest of their days.

“Do not be afraid” I tell my daughter every day.  “Do not be afraid.” I tell myself.  I could spend a long time explaining that the fear of a thunderstorm is unfounded, but that is not the point.  She will eventually find something to fear that is real, something that can actually hurt her.  So I tell her not to let fear control her actions, to have courage, and to believe that the God who has crushed enemies with their own city walls holds her in His hand and we are very safe.

Who Is My Neighbor?

When I was expecting my first child, an older woman gave me the best nugget of parenting wisdom that I have.  She told me to always remember that my child is my sister-in-Christ before she is my daughter.  I have clung to these words in so many situations as I am learning to be a mother, and found this to be an extremely helpful perspective to have even when my children are young.

For this season, the Lord has handed me the authority to teach and train these people.  But this season is temporary, and ultimately these children belong to Him.  Their lives are a story that He is writing, not me.  As much as it feels like they are just part of me, they are not.  They are God’s, and they are my neighbors.

Many confusing moments in parenting can be solved with remembering to treat my children like they are my neighbor.  It is not my responsibility to make sure that my children are perfect.  I gave them to the Lord, and He has them in His hands.  He told me to train them, to teach them, and to love them, but their personalities and their characteristics are created for His purpose.  This perspective influences my decisions, my words, and my attitudes.

When my children are continuing to disobey after many corrections, I am called to be patient, just like I would with any brother or sister in Christ.  Instead of sharing embarrassing stories or sins that my children have fallen into, I am called to kindness.  I am called to be self-less, to consider them more important than myself.  I am called to protect them, to hope in them, to persevere with them, to believe in them, to love them.  I have witnessed many parents being more kind to strangers than they are to their own children; yelling at their children, but speaking kindly to everyone at church; giving time and resources to others, but being stingy with their children; giving encouragement to friends, but criticizing their own children on every front; showing compassion and understanding to other children more than to their own.

I recently read an article entitled “The 10 Most Annoying Things About Kids”  The list was something like this…

  1. They are always there
  2. They never stop asking questions
  3. They are sticky
  4. They never listen
  5. They are loud
  6. They are always whining
  7. They are perpetually covered in snot
  8. They are filthy
  9. They are the kings and queens of inconsistency
  10. They are clumsy

Maybe this is why parents have such a hard time treating their children with the love they would show to a friend.  But isn’t this what I have been called to in Christ?  To love the unlovely?  To take a snotty-nosed, whining, loud, clumsy person and show them love?  To wash them and feed them and fix their hair and buy them pretty clothes and teach them patiently and correct them kindly?  When Christ was asked “Who is my Neighbor?” He answered by giving a story about a mess of a man who was cared for by a kind Samaritan.  When my children are throwing fits and refusing to swallow bites of meat and annoying each other, when they are generally just a big mess that is getting in the way of my quiet, clean life, can I take them up and care for them with limitless generosity like that Samaritan?

Obedience has a funny way of carving the path of our perspective.  The more I obey, the more I love, and the more I pour myself out for these people, the more my perspective changes.  I don’t see them as snotty-nosed, whining, loud, sticky, clumsy, selfish people.  I see them as princesses and princes of our King, the King we both serve.  When I obey, I see them as my sisters and my brothers in our Lord.  Although they are helpless, when I am kind to them, the annoyances of caring for them quickly melts away.  And what is left?  Gratitude for the years we have together, and with gratitude, love.

Gratitude for the Undone

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Some call it mom guilt.  I don’t know what to call it, maybe just the list of today’s failures.  Whatever it is, almost without fail, I finish my days slumping into a remembrance of all the things I wished I had done but didn’t get to.  Going to the library usually finds its way to the top of the list every night, sometimes it is just the pile of laundry that I still didn’t fold, sometimes it is the dozens of emails that I never managed to respond to, or the fort that I wanted to build with the kids but never found the time for.  Some of these things can be fixed with organizational tweaking, but most of the days I am running around doing one thing after the other, helping one person after the other, and I never make it through my list.  It’s a terrible way to finish a day- completely exhausted, falling into a bed that was never made and letting my mind cloud over with all the regret, the regret of the undone.  But regret cannot stay alive in a heart that is full of gratitude.  Thankfulness can quickly choke regret, replacing it with contentment, contentment with my hours and contentment with my assignments.  If I have really been lazy and disorganized and unkind, then that is another problem that needs to be confessed.  But so many days I try my hardest and still come up short.  Can I just be thankful for the shortness?  Thankful for my finitude? Can I be especially grateful because it usually means I have spent my time serving others rather than checking off my to-do list?  The Lord has given me a life where self-sacrifice is not optional.  Can I be grateful for all the things I do not have and all the things I am not?

When my whirling head finally meets the quietness of evening, Lord, thank you for my headache today.

When my dishes are high and my laundry is spilling over, Lord, thank you that I didn’t get to these today.  Thank you that You required self-sacrifice of me today instead of self-serving.

When I didn’t have time to read to the kids, when I did not make a blanket fort, when I did not get on the floor and do puzzles like I was hoping to, Lord, thank you for my hours, give me grace to do better tomorrow.

When my bathrooms are still not clean, Lord, thank you.

When I have skipped my workout too many days in a row and my skinny jeans still don’t fit, Lord, thank you for this body you have put my soul in so that I can have life.

When I have set a meal on the table that the whole family pushes around with their forks, Lord, thank you for these little failures that chip away at my pride.

When we are going on a week or more of too little sleep and I have drunk my weight in coffee, Lord, thank you for coffee.

When I see the stack of books by my bed that I still have not cracked, Lord, thank you for books and thank you for teaching me without them during this season.

When I’m pacing the halls during service every Sunday, and I hear about 1/8th of the sermon, Lord, thank you for this baby that keeps me from worship, and thank you that you offer me grace even in the hallways.

When my house still isn’t looking very cute and we have lived here a full year, and my Pinterest boards that were meant to inspire just leave me wishing I had the time for a project, Lord, thank you for this house and for all the happens here, for all the games and the meals and the learning and the snuggling.

When I miss another get-together with friends so that I can spend the evening tucking my kids into bed and cleaning up their daily messes, Lord, thank you for my kids and for my friendship with them.

When I have over-spent and under-planned and missed too many phone calls and stretched my time too thin and pushed my body too hard, Lord, thank you for my weakness.  Thank you that I can’t be perfect.  Your power is made perfect in my dog paddle life.

Grandma Leithart

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She would have turned 96 on Monday, but she has been with the Lord for almost eight years. Although we never lived close, our annual visits engraved their way on my childhood. She always told me that she wished she was a boy, and that when I grew up she hoped I only had boys. I told her that was crazy and asked to paint her nails, and she always let me. She would never allow the bright colors, usually it was clear polish, and always something muted and sensible. She would let me “style” her fuzzy gray hair, and I loved standing in front of her vanity in her maroon tiled bathroom. It was like stepping back in time. She never threw anything away.  People always told me I looked like her, and I hated it. She had a big German nose and very long arms and kind of a crooked smile. They were right though- I look just like her.

I can’t shake the memory of her old hands and exactly the way it felt to hold them as I sat on her bed while she gave me things. She was always trying to give me her jewelry from around the world (what was left of it) and old funny things, because she said she was going to die soon. I never remember a visit where she didn’t say she was about to die, and I remember 18 years of visits. The Lord kept giving her more years and she kept playing organ at her church and making spaghetti when we visited and serving breakfast on the screen porch and refusing to buy new clothes and giving away anything fancy and clapping for our silly plays and faithfully walking through life when she knew she was ready to be finished. She always told me to stay close to the Lord, and that you can’t serve God and money, and that being a wife and mother is a full time job and I should treat it like one when the time comes.

On my last visit before she died she sang for me, as she always did before we left, “God be with you ’til we meet again, ’til we meet at Jesus’ feet“. But that time I knew it was really true, it was really the last time we would see each other until we are both with Jesus. When I visited again a few months later, I cried when I saw her hands. Those were not the hands that I loved and the hands that I remembered- those hands had no life and were not serving. But my grief was short and the sadness overshadowed by the hope in her words to me. When she passed on I felt more pride than sadness, pride that she had lived a faithful life, relief for her that she was finished with her race, proud of what she left behind and proud to hold the memories, proud of the boy she raised into my father, and most of all I felt privileged to live a life in the shadow of her faith.