Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stay For a While

I can't remember when I stopped singing lullabies to the boys. It had to of happened sometime since our move to Georgia, but I can't place the point in time. It never would have been a conscious decision, of that I am sure. I would sing them lullabies for the remainder of their days of they would permit me. Was it when I took that job at the preschool and came home so exhausted that I could barely keep my eyes open much less manage a stanza of some sweet melody? Maybe it was during the summer when they were staying up so late that sleep just seemed to drift over all of us at various intervals without a great deal of forethought? But the other night the realization washed over me like the rain that has poured over us the last few days after long drought--I haven't been singing to the boys. I wondered if they would even want me to sing again. After all, I am the mother of the very child who poked his 9 month old chubby pointing fingers into the holes of his ears when I got a little carried away with O Danny Boy one evening. Maybe they'd outgrown the pitchy scratches of my karaoke quality voice. I risked it. Beginning with my youngest seemed the best choice given that he still likes to be coddled and nuzzled at bedtime in particular. Before I knew it he was making requests and by the time I left the bed of my eldest, I'd sung six songs and both were resting peacefully. How is it possible to forget to sing your own precious little ones a lullaby at bedtime? I'm not guilting over it--they're 8 and almost 6--it isn't that they've been deprived of anything or that they even really still need me to sing to them. But it is such a sweet ritual, a tradition that cushions the ending of a day filled with triumphs and struggles, with hurts and happiness. Last night my husband had a few things to do after giving the kids their Bible time and so I lingered there with nothing else on my agenda. I ended up reading to them for over an hour. We are a reading family and do that quite a bit throughout our day, but generally at night time, I leave them to read by themselves if they wish. Corton, my youngest said, "This is unusual for you, mommy." "What?" I asked him knowing what he was going to say. "You don't usually stay for a very long time and keep reading and reading. I like it." Again, I'm not saying I should read every night for an hour and sing them thirty songs--but somehow we had been missing something and neither the boys nor myself had ever noticed. Somehow in the middle of building a house, managing homeschool, family gatherings, sports and summer holidays I had stopped lingering in my sweet little boys' presence--even if only for a few moments. And they had missed it. And as any momma knows, so had I. I can't help but think about God--how wonderful it is to linger with Him. To sit, to stay, to remain longer than what seems "enough" and just bask in one another's presence is like hot cocoa after shoveling a driveway filled with snow in Ontario. Sometimes I play a worship song that is very meaningful to me on repeat and listen over and over again, allowing it to soak into the dry places in my heart. Other days I take a verse and write it on a sheet of paper. I leave it in a location that I will be in and out of on that particular day. On errand day it goes in my purse or wallet. On a standard day of home school it goes near the computer we use for some of our schooling. If I'm reading a really good book that I am dying to finish, I'll use the verse as my bookmark. I came across one of those slips of paper just the other day and was reminded again of a full month of basking that I did. "The one true God acts in a faithful manner, the Lord's promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take refuge in him." (II Samuel 22:31) That passage is so packed with power and truth that I am convinced I could live on it for an inconceivable amount of time. The first four words are enough to cause me to pause and ask myself the question: am I living like I believe God is the one true God? Do I believe that He is Supreme over everyone and everything else? Do I treat Him like He is the source of supply for all of our needs? When I need parenting wisdom who is my one true God? When we aren't sure about financial decisions, who is my one true God? When I struggle with some relationship who is my one true God? Where do I run? Lingering doesn't have to mean that I stay still before my Bible for endless hours while the laundry piles high and the children school themselves. Lingering before God is remaining still before Him in my heart. Will you linger with me today? My prayer is that my heavenly Father will never whisper, "This is unusual for you, Sarah." He's so worthy of our time--He is indeed faithful in the midst of every single detail of our lives. He is indeed reliable. When others falter, He remains steady. And He is indeed a shield to all who take refuge--who linger--with Him. Stay a while today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Act of Remembering--Unpacking the passage part 5

After blatantly disobeying some specific instruction or standard set in your household, have your children ever responded with the excuse, "I forgot." Like, "I'm sorry mommy, I forgot that I'm not allowed to hit my brother." Or "I'm sorry I didn't remember I wasn't supposed to hide my dirty underwear underneath the sheets in my bedding." I have one child in particular who often suffers from amnesia. Thirteen times in the book of Deuteronomy the Lord uses the word remember. The specific Hebrew word carries with it a heavy intent--this isn't like an accidental memory that God refers to. This is a calling to mind, a causing to remember, even a laying out of a memorial. The remember that God is encouraging the Israelites to do is a very conscious deliberate choice to recall the events of their history and particularly their years of bondage as slaves and God's divine and powerful intervention and deliverance from those circumstances. I've been focusing on the theme of choosing life--choosing the abundance that God has set before us like a grassy meadow on a long Sunday afternoon. This kind of life is the kind of life that most of us wish for and dream of but have resigned ourselves to fore go for the sake of keeping up with a society that has forgotten and thus pursue temporary alternatives. How do we continue to hunger and thirst after a life that the majority of the world has forgotten or don't even know about at all? We must remember. We are no different than the Israelites. All of us have seen bondage and slavery at some point in our lives. How many of us are remembering the loving Father that swung His strong right arm into the very midst of that bondage and freed us completely? What do you need to stop and remember right now? What moments in time do you need to consciously and intentionally stop and recall in order to boost your faith in God today? I'm remembering with you today. Read with me: Deut. 16:12, Psalm 25

Friday, August 15, 2008

The etching of God--Unpacking the passage part 4

I've been loving my time in the book of Deuteronomy. Though I've read this book through several times God always reveals a greater richness and depth than I took in each time prior. It reminds me of this place in Ontario where my husband and I used to go on the weekends from time to time. We'd take a twenty minute drive out into the country where the city sounds were hushed by the whispering harmonies of Winter Wheat's meandering gardens. An artist's home, a craft boutique of sorts, a chorus of gardens and most of all a tiny haven of refreshment for parched city dwellers, this place offered a new inspiration with every visit. And so it has been with Deuteronomy. Listen as Moses reminds the Israelites of the time they received the second set of commandments from God. "At that same time the Lord said to me, "Carve out for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to the mountain to me; also make for yourself a wooden ark. I will write on the tablets the same words that were on the first tablets you broke, and you must put them into the ark." So I made an ark of acacia wood and carved out two stone tablets just like the first ones. Then I went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hands. The Lord then wrote on the tablets the same words, the ten commandments, which he had spoken to you at the mountain from the middle of the fire at the time of that assembly, and he gave them to me. Then I turned, went down the mountain, and placed the tablets into the ark I had made--they are still there, just as the Lord commanded me." (Deut. 10:1-5) This week my boys and I have talked at length about rocks and stones--their use to mankind over the years. In particular we've discussed their usefulness as tools for some of the first people God placed here on earth. Did Abel use a spear with a stone tip to kill the first lamb he offered to God? Did God himself use a rock to scrape the animal skins he fashioned into clothing for Adam and Eve after they realized their nakedness before Him? Perhaps though, the most significant use of rock is found here in the Old Testament when God tells Moses to carve two tablets from stone. I love the phrase "Carve out for yourself..." that God uses when he instructs Moses. The Bible describes mankind's heart in various forms, one of which is stone. (Ez. 36:26) There are so many days when my heart carries the weight of the heaviest stone behind the cavity of my chest. Days when it's texture is not smooth or soft within the hands of others, but rough and jagged. Days when the hardness of it can only be likened to a rock's density. A heart of stone is a term with which I am familiar and it is true that I have carried a hard heart more than once in my life. But we serve and love a God who specializes in rocks and stones. God tells Moses to carve out two tablets from stone--not from some soft squishy sweet clay, not from some sifted sand which takes any form, but from stone. To imprint His ways permanently for the people of Israel, God needed something that would not alter over time. God's Word says that he replaces our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh and I love that. I believe Him when he says in chapter thirty of Deuteronomy, "The Lord God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live." Over and over and over in this book God repeats the phrase "love the Lord..." Love him. Just love him. And what is so incredible is that He is willing to cleanse our hearts, make them a space where He can etch Himself into their stone surface, transforming what once was dense rock into flesh and life. To make a space for God to imprint the way of life for the Israelites, Moses had to carve tablets from the face of stone. Carve it out. So often, it is the same for me. It is in the places and points in my life where I've struggled, wrestled the most over things that God has left His indelible mark as He has carved out a space for His image. Carving out is never painless for the heart of mankind--the scraping away of old grudges, painful pasts, and deeply rooted desires not founded in God. The chipping away at habits that don't glorify God, the peeling back of misconceptions and distortions of God's Word--these are all intense and often heart wrenching processes that take time. Rarely do they happen overnight. These are the processes and transformations of the long-haul followers of Christ. Even now as I write God has been carving into my heart the Words, Sarah, I'm worthy of your trust. I AM. And as He carves, He places me in situations where I want to cry out, "No, God, I need to take care of this on my own." As He scratches away deep gashes from the portals of my past He gently whispers I know there have been people in your life who weren't trustworthy, who let you down, but I am not like them. Learn ME. Learn who I AM. Submit to my yoke and you'll rest." And over time as I allow Him to inscribe His ways on my heart, I will reflect the writings of a loving, faithful, good and trustworthy Heavenly Father. This is my purpose in being created--that I would bring Him glory--reflect His character to the world. This was the heart of God when he gave the Israelites those commands too--that they would obey Him and have life. How many of us are like that old movie Dead Man Walking? I never saw it, but the title has always captivated me. Am I choosing ways of death because the way of life--the carving out of the stone of my heart a place soft enough for God to write Himself into it's surface--is too painful, too risky, too radical even? Let it not be so. Most often the book of Deuteronomy is associated with the law, but I believe that is a short sighted understanding. This is a book that begs to echo the heart of God--I love you enough to inscribe myself on stone. I love you enough to give you clear boundaries and a way to live life in abundance. I AM love. Carve out a space for me within your heart. Lord, take your tools and carve yourself into my being. Etch your face and your heart and your character deeply into my heart that it may not fade or wash away with the passing of time. Create in me a clean heart, cleanse me from within--allow me to reflect the perfect law that gives freedom to all mankind. I declare you are a good and faithful Father. I choose today to live in that knowledge. Amen. Read with me: Deuteronomy 30:6, James 1:25, Psalm 51:10

Friday, August 8, 2008

Shhhh, I'm listening for the Whisperer (Unpacking the passage Part 3)

I was thinking this morning of the lyrics of Patsy Cline's song, "Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of spinning round and round." Of course she was lamenting the game of love and that isn't the case where I am concerned. What I understand though is that Patsy felt like she was on a merry-go-round spinning in vicious circles, faster and faster, never slower. Sometimes, I just want to get off that merry-go-round and watch the world spin at warp speed while I collect my thoughts and regain my equilibrium. In the last few weeks while the tyranny of the world's urgencies pounds relentlessly on the door of my life, I've felt like a butler run over a thousand times. I answer the door and boom I'm knocked out before I ever knew what was coming. And two seconds later, the door is pulsing again with someone or something else's knock. Now, don't misunderstand me at all, please. I firmly believe that our lives are only filled with the urgencies we allow. God does not call us to take on more than we can handle (and by handle, I don't mean maximum number of balls we can frantically juggle and generally when we need a vacation from our day to day living, I believe the truth is that we are probably taking on more than what God desires. (Controversial words for a world full of Marthas, I know) In addition, I'm not bellyaching over a busy schedule, or singing the Woe Is Me song because we're busy building a house and schooling our children and entertaining guests and being involved in our church and on and on. Quite the opposite is true; our lives are filled with the blessings of God and I am grateful. My day to day minutes however have been filled with a combination of God ordained things and people and a few that He didn't schedule--oops. As a result, I've been left wanting to raise my index finger to my lips and quietly say, "shhhhhhh" to the rest of the world and all it's urgencies. "Shhhhhhh, I'm trying to hear the whispers of my heavenly Father." We all have seasons that are extremely full from time to time--weddings, funerals, getting children off to college, moving. But, they should be seasons that come and then pass. Without question we are in a chosen season of busyness and as a family we've taken steps to protect valuable family time one day each week where we just enjoy one another completely. But as a child of God, what have I done to make sure that I remain connected to God? A few days ago I said to my husband, "It's just so important to me that at the end of this season in our lives the things that remain are our marriage and our relationship with our children." To that list, I obviously need to add "and my love relationship with God." To love someone, to know them, to remain connected, time must be spent. When Jeff and I were engaged we lived hundreds of miles apart for six months, but we had "phone dates" and we wrote letters everyday. We logged a great deal of quality time getting to know one another and nurturing our relationship during those months. It was not traditional, but I'd never trade those letters for all the "dinner and a movie dates" in the world. Deuteronomy 30:6 (the passage just before the one we've been unpacking) says, "The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live." In order to choose life, something needs to first happen in our hearts. What a beautiful picture of God--clothe in hand--gently washing away the things that clutter and dirty our hearts so that we are free to love Him. How poignant that our Father will come in and clean up our hearts just so we can love Him. Indeed "we love Him because He first loved us...." To love God with all our mind and being we must quiet the masses in our lives--schedules, finances, people, commitments, yes, even ministry--and sit still while He cleanses our hearts so that we are free to really live. The abundant life He wants for us--gave His life to offer us is not about a "God is good, but I'm barely hanging on and I can't really remember the last time we truly connected in a powerful and meaningful way" kind of life. In Psalm 51 David wrote, "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God and renew a right spirit within me. Restore unto me, the joy of my salvation..." He was writing in reference to the sin of adultery that he committed, but adultery comes in many forms and busyness could possibly be chief. It has been said so many times that the greatest tool of Satan in this century is distraction. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my kids say to me, "Mom, are you listening to me?" Sometimes we have to turn the volume down in our lives so that we can hear the voice of The Source of Life. I wonder how often God is saying to me, "Sarah, are you listening to me?" This is in no way meant to condemn. The truth is that when I read the first verses of Deuteronomy 30 what struck me most is the heart of a God as a Father. There have been moments this summer when my kids have been busy with sleepovers and visiting aunties and cousins and my heart has literally ached to be snuggled up on the couch reading a story with each of my precious boys under the crook of my arms. And there have been moments when I've sensed like the wind being knocked out of me a distance between their hearts and mine as they run the race of their lives and I run my own race. And I am desperate to recapture their hearts and walk through their young lives together, hand in hand. Surely there is nothing harder for a parent than to love their child so desperately and have their own flesh and blood not return that love. This is the heart of our Father who is desperate to "reverse your captivity and have pity on" us; a Father who wants to "turn and gather {us} from all the peoples among whom He has scattered" us. (Deut. 30:3) The only thing He needs from us is that we "turn to him with our whole mind and being." (Deut. 30:10) He will do the cleansing of our hearts and minds, He will restore. He will revive. He will refresh. We only need to turn our eyes, shift our gaze toward the lover of our souls. I hear Him now--calling me to quietness, calling me to simplify, to reduce. "Come to me, Sarah--let go of all that is clouding your vision and screaming so loudly in your ears....I'm not concerned with what you do for me, I'm concerned with the condition of your heart. Do you love me with your heart and your mind and your soul? Do you?" Yes, Lord, I do. Create in me a clean heart God as you did for David. Let me not love another person or thing more than I do You. Let me not put anything else before you, the source of life. Lord I want to live in the freedom and joy you intended for me daily--help me clear out anything that is hindering that relationship. Yes, Lord, I love you and today, I choose You--The Life. Amen.