Thursday, December 9, 2010


Verse 19. It's the one that always gets me. I don't why exactly, but the phrase, "Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19) is as captivating to me now as it was when I was a little girl. Here was a young lady, barely a woman from what historians tell us, who had seen an angel, heard tale of her barren cousin's miraculous pregnancy, carried a baby and birthed it in a stable of all places, and was visited by shepherds who also saw angels and found she and her infant son by their direction. She's lead quite an extraordinary life. And I wonder, what did she ponder? The passage says she pondered "these things" and I have to think it was the miracles, the promises made to her that came to fruition right before her eyes, even within her own body, on which she let her heart linger. Matthew 6:9-10 says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also." At Christmas, I can't help but think of all the material treasures we cling to. We make our lists, we check them twice. We add more to our lists. We stretch ourselves in every way possible and rarely is it all enough. And days later, the discarded wrappings are bulging from over-taxed garbage bins waiting at the curb, largely forgotten, new toys are laying about the house in various corners, the brooms shifts aggressively over crumbs and scraps, and the season is tidied and tucked away for another year. There is nothing wrong at all with gift-giving or any holiday festivity. I am just pointing out that what is often the treasure of our children's hearts and even that of our own hearts days before Christmas is soon forgotten days after. And we are left picking up miscellaneous pieces. Then there was Mary. She was given this beautiful son. Sure He was God incarnate, but to a young mother who nourished him, clothed him, comforted his tears, sang him to sleep, taught him Jewish customs, and kissed his skinned knees, I am sure he was more son than God. And only three decades after giving birth to that sweet baby she would lose him to a death that would kill most women from grief. He didn't become king on earth in the way many hoped. He was ripped from her life violently and without mercy. Gone. There can be no pain like that of losing your own child. It is unutterable. Indescribable. How did that woman survive? I think it must go back to what she treasured early on as a young girl. She had seen the faithfulness of God. She had seen that Yahweh was "not slack concerning his promises." (II Peter 3:9) She had seen that when he told her she would bring forth a son, she did just that. She had seen His protection of that young son when he brought visions to Joseph that they should leave the place they were staying for the safety of the child. She treasured and pondered the character and promises of God. When faced with the greatest, deepest lost, she had a treasure trove within her heart of things that moths and rust do not destroy, that man can never crucify. With every passing year I learn that we are less and less invincible. The marriage I thought was made in heaven crumbles, the man I thought so strong stumbles, the home of someone's childhood burns to the ground, the healthy little girl becomes racked with cancer, the friends once so close are a distant memory. Life is so full of change. There's that saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. There's some truth to that addage, but to it I would add that the greatest certainty in life is the faithfulness of our God to fulfill his promises. So this season, I'm making a point to examine what exactly it is I treasure and to focus my pondering on the faithfulness of God in my own life. I'm treasuring the times He's carried me through. I'm pondering the times when I saw His promises materialize in my little world. Because I don't know if I will get tomorrow. And if I do receive tomorrow, I do not truely know who or what I will find there with me. But this I do know, if I meet tomorrow, I meet it in the company of the God who promises never to leave, never to forsake. There are uncertainties in my life even now--things that I worry over, surprises, curveballs, things we weren't expecting. But God knew. Scripture says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast on thee. For he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3) May I be found pondering the God who remains good in all circumstances; may that be where my heart is found. In that there is peace. And didn't the angel proclaim, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth all men." (Luke 2:14) Pray with me: Jesus, YOU are life. You are joy. You are peace. You are hope. You are ALL that I could ever need. May I see YOU for who you are. May my heart not become crowded with treasures that could dissolve tomorrow but may my heart be filled to overflowing with YOU. I treasure YOU this season. Amen. Read with me: What God has promised. II Peter 1:4 Philippians 4:19 II Cor. 12:9 I Cor. 10:13 Jude 24 Romans 8:28 John 3:16 Psalm 46:1 Matthew 11:28 (a link with a lot more-- )

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ye Shall Know the Truth

I haven't written in months--not that I haven't wanted to write, but I guess more directly, I haven't had much to say. I've had questions. Lots and lots of questions, lately. I did my time in a Bible school and learned all the right answers, but in recent years, I've had questions based out of real life, not theory. The kind of questions I'm referencing are those that no theology major can answer, no book can satisfy, no degree can squelch, and frankly, they are birthed in the streets of life rather than some textbook with yellowed pages. When first we married, Jeff and I bought a Victorian house that was built in the 1870's and because the laundry was in the unfinished, damp and otherwise unused basement, I was forced to frequent that area of the house. It was there that I could see a few cracks in the foundation. A firm foundation it was, but time had revealed a few spots where no matter how great the builder, there were now small cracks. They weren't of major concern--in fact the house will probably stand until the rapture--but they did exist. And only time had revealed them, and only those with an intimate knowledge of the house would ever understand their presence because from the street, the house looked like any other. Those cracks are much like my questions. They have appeared over time--as life has adjusted and settled and weathered more than one storm. My foundation remains firm, but there are these moments of punctuation where I ask, where I wonder, where I am willing to admit, I just don't get some things. And I've grown to understand that pat answers and the ones that come from cookie cutters are for the faint of heart and true questions are for those who have the courage to stand in the face of culture and tradition and history and say, with all respect, "I see how it is, how it has been for the last century or ten centuries and I'm not sure I agree. I'm not sure it's right. And I need to dig deeper. And I'm okay with that." So, over these last months, I've been asking. I've been wondering. Reading. Thinking. Raising my kids and cooking and cleaning--those elite activities that don't pause for questions. And I have a few answers and a whole lot more questions. It seems a treacherous journey in some respects--dangerous to question, to speculate outside of the box in which I've spent the majority of my Christian life. Most people just aren't comfortable with questions. Like those crazy 11 X 14 photographs you always get free with the package, questions just don't seem to fit neatly into our Christian worlds. A while back I told someone that I was questioning the institution of traditional church, for example, and they offered me a rather blank expression--maybe it was a deer in headlights kind of face--and said, "Yeah, I've read books about things like that." I wanted to say, "Books, huh? Well, I'm living it." The thing is I don't think questions really bothered Jesus. He met with Nicodemus after all. And Job had just a small bit of cud he wanted to chew with his Creator. Of course there was Saint Francis of Assissi, a courageous monk who took the time to think through the corruption that had begun to permeate the monastic order of his day to the extent that he was even imprisoned for a time. And then there was Martin Luther--the very father of reformation and therefore a man unafraid to question. It is good company that I feel I am keeping these days. I can tell you with confidence that questions don't leave me comfortable. What if the answers I find force me to make different life choices? What if the answers I find don't line up with my friends' thoughts? What if they contradict what I have taught my own children? Or God forbid this one, what if the things I come to believe are not the same as my spouse? Ohmygosh! What if???? Yeah. What if? Well, I don't know. But, this I do know. My God remains greater. Greater than the sum of all my questions. Greater indeed. Today, on my walk, I soaked in the ruby leaves of the dogwood and the amber of the poplar trees and then, in my garden, I held the delicate petals of the autumn peas and couldn't help but remember. He's still Creator. This much I know. He's still the one who formed a fish that looks like tin foil and a stingray with polkadots. He's still amazing. He's still the one who gave my eldest an unquenchable thirst for football and books and my youngest a hankering for a sketch pad and pencil. He's still the one who invented the gravity that holds my feet to the ground and He's still the one who tucks the beach in with the blanketing tides. He's still the one who striped the zebra and dotted the dalmation. He remains Creator. He remains Savior. He remains sovereign. And, I think it is in fact, He who invites me to question. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that my questions find their true source in His Truth within me. Perhaps they are his invitation to know not what I believe in, but WHO I believe in. Perhaps the questions are like the crumbs of Hansel and Gretel, left to draw me to The Truth. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32. Read with me: Proverbs 8:14 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength. Pray With Me: Lord, now we see through a glass only partially, but someday, we will see clearly. In the meantime, Father, grant me the courage to seek Your Face, and the wisdom to accept the answers you send. Cause me to know you more. May I not be filled with greater knowledge, but rather emptied of useless knowledge and filled to fullness with Your heart. Amen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Saw You

There dangles from the eaves of my house, like a ruby hourglass, a hummingbird feeder; a lighthouse suspended for those self-propelled ships of the air with beaks almost as long as their thumb-sized bodies. It was March when I hoisted myself onto the railing of my deck, some thirty-six feet in the air and coiled it's attaching wire through the metal on the eaves. There it hung--a signal that a sugar water banquet had been spread. And then I waited. See I have a thing for hummingbirds. Amazing to me are their tiny wings that flutter and flap over sixty times before I can finish saying one Mississippi. Unfathomable. And I want to be with them. I want to see them; to watch them. So the routine begins each year after the feeder has been filled and hung that I take my quiet time outside on one of my red rockers--painted red over black or white as another signal to them that food is nearby--and watch. I know they will come, and so it is only a waiting game. Eventually I hear it--a sound not unlike that of a bumblebee and yet distinctively different, more purposeful, almost like an ant-sized helicopter. And without moving my body at all, I avert my eyes from the passage I am reading to watch his first landing, his first sip of the nectar I've prepared.
To describe how I feel when he comes is probably an exercise in futility but I will try. I plan for them. I think about the reds of blossoms, the nectar giving properties of the flowers I choose, the overall appeal of the plants I place in my gardens and planters all in relation to the hummingbird. And that first motoring sound of his wings, the signal that he has come, is so entirely expected--I knew he'd come because I'd made everything ready for him--and yet so entirely gratifying--the work I'd done yielded the desired results.
Then begins a week or so of just watching, enjoying. Every morning I sit on the rocker propping my Bible against my knees, coffee mug placed precariously on the rocker's arm or more solidly on last year's abandoned toad habitat, and wait. They both come now--male and female--to drink. Every morning. Usually twice. They return too, throughout the day, but it is in the morning that I see them. And eventually I begin to move around them. When they become confident that I won't harm them, I attempt to make their photo which too is an exercise in futility since no image I've ever collected has compared to the real thing. But I try.
It's about 8 square inches, I'd say. The space occupied by feeder and bird can't be much more than that in size. I have to zoom right in with my camera to bring that small section of life into focus. Atop the hill from my neighbor's vantage, you'd never know they were there. Just eight tiny inches of a world filled with statues of liberty, Mount Everests and Grand Canyons--so insignificant really. But I see those eight square inches every single day. I observe them with joy, with care, with determination, with dedication. I am unstoppingly compelled to enjoy them because it was I who made a place for them; it was I who planned for them. And they came--to my eight square inches.
I read from John the first morning I waited for the birds to join me. Jesus had been in Bethany and decided to travel north to Galilee. Nothing Jesus ever did was coincidence. He did, after all, have the knowledge of God miraculously available to his human form. So when he found Philip and spoke, "Follow me" I believe though Philip may have been floored, Jesus was probably expecting him. And upon being told to follow, Philip did exactly what I would have done. He ran off to Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
A little history for those who may not already know. The Jews were living under Roman rule. They had been without a word from God or prophet for around 400 years. 400 years of oppression, of battles, of existence without any tangible hope or proof that their God still cared. 400 hundred years of silence. Have you ever felt that heaven remained silent while you called and called under your throat was dry and your voice no longer made a sound? Amongst a melting pot of cultures, beliefs, peoples from all manner of nations--Greek Roman, German, Egyptian, African--and multiple gods to go with each nation, the Jews had been left to wonder if any of it had ever even been real. How was their God any different from the pagan gods of other nations? And yet they had the law of Moses. They had the words of the prophets promising that someday a Messiah would come. And their understanding of this promise was much more literal than is ours today. They understood it to mean that when their Messiah came it would mean redemption from Roman rule, and the oppressive rule of other kings and emperors that He would bring. He would be King, but not of their hearts, of their literal world. They saw their countrymen brutally crucified on jagged spikes, they lost their husbands and their children to Roman whims, they gave their last coins to the Roman tax and lived in towns where Roman soldiers could drop their heavy packs before them and insist they carry the load of Rome for a mile. Though their lives were not all bad; they did live in fear. And I would venture to say that many if not all had doubts and there had to have been those who were cynical at best and more than likely hopeless. Nathanael, a Galilean himself knew the basin in which Nazareth lay and transparently replied to Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In him there would not be found political correctness, nor any desire to pretend that he believed the prophecy of a Messiah could be fulfilled by a carpenter from Nazareth.
Philip simply told him "Come and see." Come and see for himself--which on a side note is perhaps the most wonderful evangelistic phrase ever spoken. We spend so much time trying to learn the best evangelistic teachings, approaches and methods when all Philip said was, "Come and see." An invitation to come and discover Christ from a trusted person may be the most compelling way to share the path of Jesus ever used. (Exit tangent.)
As soon as Jesus sees Nathanael he says, "Look a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" In other words, "Here's the real deal. Here's a man who is authentic and in whom I find no falsehood." And Nathanael says to him, "How do you know me?" How? How can you know who I am? I'm just a Galilean--one of thousands. Tell me how you--a carpenter from Nazareth--can presume to know my heart?
And without hesitation Jesus says, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." I saw you, Nathanael before Philip ever even told you to come and see, I saw you. No one will ever know what it was Nathanael was doing or thinking under the fig tree, but Jesus looked into that man's eyes and told him where he was located before Philip came to get him. Nathanael had to have felt the same hopelessness as other Jewish men and women and he had to have wondered at some time, "Does this God even care?" And Jesus said to him, "I saw you."
Nathanael is like the hummingbird. God had a plan for him just as I had a plan for that hummingbird. The plan involved a relationship. God didn't intend just to redeem Israel but to bring all mankind as individuals to Himself. Just as I set out a feeder to bring the hummingbirds to my home and waited patiently for their arrival, Jesus had to have anticipated the moment when he could look into Nathanael's eyes and say, "I know you exist and I care." That tiny little portion of earth under the fig tree may have only been a few square inches, but Jesus saw it.
You'll remember the story of Hagar when she was cast out of Abraham and Sarah's home with her son Ishmael and God introduced himself as Jehovah El Roi--The God who Sees. Is that not a beautiful name for the God we worship? He is the God who sees you. And no matter how small, how insignificant and unimportant your few square inches of earth may be, it does not go unnoticed. It does not go unplanned for. It does not go uncared for. It does not go untended. It does not go unwatched. And mark my words, it DOES NOT GO UNLOVED.
He sees the miner's wife as she weeps into her pillow at night over her husband's death. He sees the young girl in the inner city whose mother lives on welfare and doesn't know who her father is. He sees the swollen belly of the baby in Angola and the boy in the mountains of Afghanistan taught to shoot long before he understands the value of life. He sees the barren woman and the unemployed man. He sees. He sees the overwhelmed student and the stroke victim. He sees the greedy man and the hungry man, the raging woman and the abused. There is no square inch space on this entire planet that Jehovah El Roi does not see.
As I sit each morning and watch that crimson feeder for the arrival of the hummingbird I can't help but consider my antics. It seems silly that I should care so much for such a little thing, but I do. And that in that moment I'm overwhelmed by the reality that the obsession I nurture is entirely and utterly minuscule in comparison to the obsession of God on my behalf. As I focus on that feeder, it is I who am watched. It is I who am tended. And it is I who am seen. By the God of the universe. And you too, are seen.
Nathanael responded to Jesus by saying, "...You are the son of God; you are the king of Israel!" He responded with belief. I don't know where you are in life, but He knows. He cares He sees you. Do you believe?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And There Before Me Lay a Chasm

I remember standing what seemed like a thousand feet high above solid ground on a three foot by three foot square, harnessed and attached to a bungee. The purpose was to jump, to defy logic and bound through the air towards concrete knowing that inches before I cracked open like an egg that rolled off the counter to the floor, I'd rebound and the elastic chord would shoot back toward the heavens, a human yoyo. All of this for fun. Yet when my feet found their heels attached to the remnants of what was solid and their toes pinching only air, somehow, they weren't so sure it was going to be much fun. What human in their right mind ever chooses to drop off any cliff? Life though, is so full of cliffs. One day you are meandering through meadows, bluebirds bantering back and forth and honeybees sipping cotton covered clover. Then you turn around and there before you lays a chasm. We even know they are coming. We're taught to expect them. Jesus promised them when he matter of factly mentioned, "In this world you will have troubles." But still, like the frigid waters of some wild mountain river they suck the breath from our lungs and render our limbs numb with shock. Some are greater than others--the ones that when you dare look down to see if perhaps you might find some way across, or over, or through, you see no bottom. No floor. No end. Then there are those that at first glance appear not much broader than perhaps your most intense running stride. You can jump them. You can swing over. Somehow you manage. And once across, you wipe the nervous sweat from your palms and exhale deeply. "Shoo. That was a close one. Thank God we made it through." But those deep ones. Those long ones. They remind me of the Mediterranean Sea. When the boys and I look at that body of water on the map it seems so small. Yet to the Grecian fisherman standing on her shore, The Mediterranean does not appear to have an end. He can't see the other side. That's what the long cliffs are like. They're the ones you face when the doctors tell you she's a beautiful girl with so much hope for the future, but she'll never stand upright in her adult years--some rare disease has moved into her body and refuses to leave. I listened to a man tell this story just today. Or the orphanage that has enough food for the over 100 children who call it home for only one more week. Then next week comes. Autism. Your major supporter has dropped you. Stage 4. HIV positive. No work tomorrow. Another lay off. I don't love you anymore. The teenage child who looks into your eyes and says, "let me live my life." Alcoholism. Chasms. Deep, deep chasms. And no human in their right mind would choose to drop from one of those precipices. They wouldn't. But they come anyway. We can't stop them. Part of the curse, yes, but knowing that doesn't make navigating them any easier. When I was preparing to bungee jump a too-skinny, grey faced man in baggy blue-jeans gave me clear instructions. I thought I understood them until I reached the crest and looked down. In that moment I remembered none of them. "One. Two. Three. Ma'am? One. Two. Three." "Don't count," I told him. "I'll go when I'm ready." And I did. I jumped down into that darkness. Not because I wanted to anymore. Not because I thought it would be fun anymore. Not because I thought I'd be better for having done it. Only because I'd come that far--there was really no turning back. And only because I believed the chord would hold. It had been strong enough to hold someone twice my size just minutes before. It's that way in our lives too. We've come too far to quit, too far to stop when we see just how dangerous life can be. And The Anchor will hold. I've found that to be true. He promised, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." "I will be with you until the end of the world." So we jump. Jump head-long into the realities of our lives--the chasms, whatever they are--knowing now how things will end up, but to whom we are harnessed. And we trust that His strong right arm is enough to carry us home. And it is on these truths I stand before the cliffs in my own little world. sometimes remembering all the other stuff doesn't matter. What matters is knowing we are held-firmly--by a God who isn't in the business of dropping those whom He loves. "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation." Psalm 91:14-16

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Really, How Did God Intend Us To Eat Oatmeal?

Warning: Probably Gonna Wanna Skip This One If You Aren't Into Thinking For the first time this morning, after thirty-three years, I put chocolate chips in my oatmeal. It was glorious. Why I've never done that before, I have no idea. I mean really, I put oatmeal in my chocolate chip cookies, so why not the reverse? Never occurred to me, I guess. I wasn't raised that way--who was? I mean, raisins, pecans, honey, sure, all acceptable accompaniments to the time honored, traditional stick-to-your-ribs gummy breakfast. But chocolate chips? Isn't it food heresy to include chocolate chips in your humble oatmeal? On the other hand, my first encounter with a portabella mushroom was in a grocery store in chilly Ontario. It literally begged me to eat it and with great excitement I acquiesced offering no resistance. The portabella and I were on an adventure together--to this day, we still are. I'd had no food show, no childhood notions based on the diet of my family, Fanny Farmer hadn't mentioned the portabella to my knowledge and so here I was with this hunk of beefy vegetation and the sky was literally the limit. I've cooked it dozens of ways and just last night as I was eating eggplant parmesan it occurred to me that next I would try it in that manner. Never once have I used a recipe with that mushroom. It tells me how it wants to be eaten and I obediently trust that it has NEVER let me down and eat it anyway it inspires. When we have a previous experience in life, whether intentional or not, that experience inevitably becomes a cap to what we believe can happen, a framework within which we understand the elements of that experience. When we have no previous understanding of a subject, we are free to experience facets and components of that thing from an infinite number of angles. This is why when the Mouk tribe in remote regions Papua New Guinea, a group of people who had been exposed for the first time to the chronological teachings of scripture erupted in dancing and shouts of "EE TAOW, EE TAOW! EE TAOW!!!" "It is good!" The English translation of their delirious shouts of joy speaks to their understanding of what we call the gospel--the truth that Jesus had paid the price for their sins and His eternal love and presence was theirs for the taking. No fancy prayers, no long walks up an aisle to an alter carpeted in horrible mauve or green or orange industrial carpet. No preacher saying, "Speak these words after me." And to my knowledge, none of them, when later referencing that moment in time, ever used the phrase, "I asked Jesus into my heart." Now don't start throwing your compostables at me just yet. I'm not saying either one is right. All I am saying is that the tribal response is one without any preconceived ideas of how it should look and the North American experience is framed by a history steeped in religion that offers a thousand different pictures of how an experience with God should take form--similar to my culinary efforts where oatmeal and portabellas are concerned. I have to ask myself, in how many other areas have I been missing out on the chocolate chips I could be including? How is my portrait of mothering affected by our cultures snap-shots of the task? Is my vision of marriage wet with the paint of my Heavenly Father's art or is it a low-ink photo copy of someone else's wal-mart quality print framed in wood-laminated plastic? And really, when it comes down to it, you know where I am going. On what, ON WHAT is my picture of a walk with God based? On what? Because I want to tell you that I've spent my entire life in church--thirty-three years of pictures, books, essays, flannel graphs, daily breads, conferences, Bible School, good pastors, and songs--that's an awful lot of frames of reference through which to sort. And then there's this: "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. the one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35) The one who comes to me and the one who believes in me will NEVER be hungry or thirsty. Come and believe. How then do I come to Jesus? Where do I go to meet Him? Is it the same for me as it is for you? Is it really that simple? Is it? You tell me. Is it? With love, s

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life: In This Moment

The weeks that have passed our church family recently have taken with them the lives of two beautiful people--human beings who somehow understood the greater things, the things that grip the heart of God. When you pour cream into a mug of ebony coffee and then stir, the brew becomes a thick muddy whirlpool around your spoon and likewise when God stirred these individuals into the landscape of earth, the shade of humanity was permanently changed. Death. The inescapable--apart from being raptured--truth of the physical body. When we interact with the separation of soul from body we inevitably experience incredible grief--how can we not? What we know has been removed to a place about which we've only heard and read. Just yesterday my husband ran into a man for whom he'd done some work last year. The two were one of those happy retired couples that you hope to be like someday. The man told him that one day he and his wife were sitting, talking together and she just fell into his arms. She never spoke again. Death. I couldn't shake the image of her physical body collapsing into the arms of her beloved while her soul freely fluttered into the arms of eternity. A billboard had been planted behind the lids of my eyes declaring the brevity of our physical existence. Maybe I think about death and illness more now that Jeff works as a firefighter and EMT. He comes home with stories and I think of the families who will race to the hospital to hold the hands of their loved ones after Jeff has finished his part of their care. I thank God it wasn't him, wasn't my babies, wasn't my mom, wasn't my dad and I plead with him for protection and safety for those whom I love. How can I not at least ask? But control is not a luxury we can really afford, is it? Ultimately? We don't control the driver who runs the stop sign or the germs whose flight pattern may choose to land on the sweet fingers of our babies, and we don't get to dictate the moment when a man's heart decides it is weary of beating. But we get to choose how we will live--in the moments we have right here and now. We don't know about tomorrow, yesterday is like a breeze that has cooled our faces for a moment and then shifted south. We get today. That's all. Not even this afternoon or tonight, but right now. Now. I read John 11 this morning ,the story of Lazarus' passing--the rather fortunate friend of Jesus whose soul was returned to a rotting corpse. Such a random thing to be released from eternity's grasp and returned to the parenthesis of physical life that hovers between the everlasting Alpha and Omega. Of which I am aware, there's no record of Lazarus' life after his return from the family tomb. Apparently, the event of his resurrection was of greater significance than the days and perhaps even years that followed. And I'm left to wonder if perhaps that is because we love the WOW moments far more than we love to hear about the days that fill the average lives of people. But I have to think that Lazarus was a changed man. I have to think that Mary and Martha were women who didn't take for granted the remaining days of their existence. How could they? As a family, they'd shaken hands with death and by the power of God been unwrapped from her inevitable grip. But then perhaps the reason his resurrection is included in John's account has less to do with the WOW factor and more to do with the reality that most of us live our lives out of tombs. Jesus told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:26) The one who lives and believes in me will never die. I love that phrase. The one who lives and believes. Do you get that? You and I get to live and believe. We get the benefit of the hindsight of saints who've gone before us. Naturally most of us will in fact greet physical death, but what is really tragic is that many of us are as good as dead right now anyway. We get to live following life, which is Jesus, or not. And when we aren't following Him, we are dead men walking. Lazarus got to come back because Jesus called him out of death into life. "Lazarus, come forth!" And His call is the same for you and I, "Come forth! Just as you have been buried with me through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4) Come forth. The heart of our Father is that we would live now as though we had already entered eternity because He came that we would have 'life and have it to the full.' His desire for us is life, now. And He's calling us to walk in life--to leave the grave. Lazarus' sisters said he was gonna stink when he came out. I don't know if he did or not. What I do know is that when you are alive, you don't stink, unless you are hanging around near the graveyard. I wonder how long it took Lazarus to remove those grave clothes and live as though he were alive. Not long, I am sure. Perhaps you are like me, and there are a few grave clothes to which you are clinging. They have no hold on you. Take a spiritual bath in the washing of God's Word and then walk, my friends, walk in newness of life. All we have is the choice to live right now as though we are alive. Pray with me: Lord, help us to release the past into your eternal forgiveness. Help us not to assume we have tomorrow to live, but to choose today to live in the newness of life you have given us. Help us to choose life with our family, with our children, with the world around us. Holy Spirit, please illuminate the areas in our lives where we are clinging to grave clothes, to the tomb. Show us where we are insisting that we cannot have life and then explode your life in those areas so magnificently that we declare, "The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes." May we live, Jesus, as you live and may we reflect your life to the world around us. Amen

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Joy List

As the new year falls gently like snow into our lives without slowing or hastening to fit our timetable I am left considering the reality that ready or not the second semester of schooling has arrived, the dawn of a new decade is here and the winter though frigid now will soon give way to spring. Time. We can't stop it, can't argue it out of reality, can't slow it down, and try as we might, we cannot obtain one iota more. January not only ushers in 2010. For me, it also marks the second anniversary of my homeschooling trek and so while many think long and hard as the autumn begins about where they are headed and how things are going, I find myself most intensely considering those things as I wrap in flannelly Kleenex my cranberry Christmas balls and tuck the mistletoe back into Rubbermaid bins for yet another year. Two years doesn't sound like a very long time, but I feel like I've always educated my boys at home and though I'm no veteran, I have a sense of having done this a while now. Perhaps that is because I started preparing for it 7 years ago when Nathan was only 3. Or maybe it is because the educating of my little men really began when they were snuggled cozily inside my tummy and I read to my protruding belly button and continued when they were infants and I read classics to them even then. Regardless, here I am--contemplating, considering. How is it going? Are we enjoying our journey? Have I stayed my original course? Is God directing our learning? Am I stuck in any ruts? What have I learned works well? What have I learned causes us more grief than joy? And speaking of joy--is the spirit of our school day one of joy and discovery, even awe at all God has poured into our world? In fact, it is the question of joy that, like a strobe light, flashes into my mind and heart repeatedly. Jesus did come after all so that joy might be completed in our lives. How am I, as my children's primary caregiver and teacher doing at opening the windows of my their sweet souls so that the joy of Christ can waft in like the robin's song in spring? And it is on this particular mountain--that of allowing the joy of the Lord to scent every area of our lives--that I do believe I will spend my time this year. Not that joy is something I can personally achieve; it's a fruit of the spirit after all. Scripture also insists that joy comes from following the precepts of God and that it is something we experience while in God's presence. Given those truths I am forced to examine what things just might cause me to abandon the precepts of God, to miss out on the presence of God in my life. Here are a list of a few things that the Holy Spirit has been showing me. Maybe you can relate? 1. Fear of man. It's not words of the four lettered category with which I struggle, it is just one little two letter word that seems to haunt me. Ever struggle to say NO because you are afraid of what someone will think? I can think of at least one commitment I have presently that should NOT be on my plate and yet I couldn't say the two letter word. Seems so simple here. no. NO. NO! Ultimately that stems from a fear of man and God's word is rather clear that the "fear of man brings a snare." Whether it's struggling to say no, trying to keep up with the Jones family next door, or fretting and worrying over what the rest of the world will think about your children when all is said and done, all of these things stem from an ultimate fear of man. I won't lie and pretend I don't struggle with this. I do. But this year I want to spend more time considering the thoughts my Father has towards me and less considering those of others. His are, after all, so much more pleasing to my soul. (Isaiah 51:11-13) 2. Over Scheduling. Not saying no is the precursor to the reality that most of us are convinced we have more time in each day than we really do. In fact most of us rather stubbornly persist with over scheduling our lives to the point that we are left completely unable to be still when we do in fact have a quiet evening. Before committing or renewing commitments this year for both my children and myself I am going to ask one question--can I maintain my location in the presence of God and be involved in this activity? Realistically as mothers whether we educate our children at home or work full time there simply will not be a great deal of wiggle room in our schedules if we plan to do our very best at the first stewardships God gave us--God Himself, our spouse if we are married, and our children. I have never met a pastor who told me to slow down, and I've never had someone say to me, "Sarah, you'd be great on this committee, but since you are in the mothering phase of life, I think perhaps someone else should do it." People will ask and take and request until the rapture. We have to learn to discern how much is enough. And then we must fearlessly stand our ground. Adam and Eve did not have blackberries...well, at least not the electronic kind. If the Garden of Eden was God's perfect plan for humankind then we might do well to attempt to mimic it whenever possible. (Well, not so much the naked least not in public :-) 3. Daily. Joy is kind of like manna. The Israelites had to gather it daily. And since I mentioned Adam and Eve, one habit they had was walking with God in the cool of the evening. Sort of a daily kind of activity. If life is too full to get into God's Word regularly, then in reality, it won't be long before life is empty. Joy is a fruit and if it is removed from the vine it will spoil quickly. I need to be in God's word regularly. That can be SO hard for mothers who tend to give, give, give. It can be hard for all of us because frankly, we live in a world where distractions are as plentiful as the dust in my husbands workshop. We won't go too long without food, but sometimes we'll go days, weeks, even months without spiritual food. 4. Keeping my eyes on Jesus. It's tricky. The whole mothering, parenting, wifing, teaching side of things can be a sort of tight rope act. We as women are so relational--we want to interact and discuss and mull over every aspect of our lives with someone. And though I do love talking to God, a chat over tea with a sister face to face can be SO gratifying. But here's the thing about those conversations--they need to point us to Jesus and His heart for our families. If those conversations leave us wanting to be more like another individual or comparing ourselves to another, then they were futile and will suck the joy out of our home quicker than a hoover vacuum. God doesn't do templates. Our families are not cookie cutter images of Leave it to Beaver or Married with Children for that matter. They are unique reflections of our heavenly Father's vast creativity. 5. Computer. SHUT DOWN. Yeah. I know. That's a hard one when you are home all day long or even when you are at work--the little ding indicating email is awaiting is like a shot of espresso. Woo Hoo! Something of interest besides 2 + 2 = 4 and E=MC (how do you make the squared symbol on the computer?) I love to post my status on facebook--it's how I stay connected to my sisters and my extended family in the states and in Canada. Photos have always been a passion of mine and posting them regularly keeps Nannie and Poppa in Ontario daily involved in my boys' lives. That's a gift I give them because I can't imagine how hard it would be to have my children live far away. BUT...realistically, I don't need to spend more than five or ten minutes MAX a day doing those things. Really. Do I want my relationships to be completely virtual? The thing about email and facebook and all those other sites is that they remove part of our attention. We think we are multi-tasking--teaching the kids, paying the bills online, talking on the phone, but who are we kidding? This year my computer will be off more. I can post my status, upload my new photos and pay my bills in ten minutes flat and then, unless we need it for school, I can turn my little old HP off. Sorry Hewlett! 6. Plan. I did this already and WOW! I took about two days and literally planned every single day for the rest of the year. It is NOT selfish to take time for planning. I am the kind of person who loves being with my kids. While others scream for a break and complain that they are overwhelmed and must have "me time" in order to thrive, I adore every waking moment in the presence of my sweet boys. After a busy holiday season with loads of wonderful company I turned and looked at my husband and said, "All I want to do is play with the boys." It was very hard for me to take even more time to plan, but I knew God was calling me to get organized. So, I did take time to play and then I took time to plan. I always know where we're going and lay lessons out at least a week or more in advance, but to actually sit down and take the time to map out the remainder of our school year is the most freeing and liberating feeling. Some people might say, "Well, if I planned that far in advance I'd just end up changing everything." I understand. I'm not talking about carving the lesson plans in stone. What I'm talking about is getting a really solid game plan, a framework on which to stand, so that when hectic days and weeks come along I've got some solid footing and quick references to where we need to be. Take time to plan. You'll be better for it. 7. Space. Moving into our new home I have found myself wanting to fill it with less and leave more room for the air and light to flow freely. I think my life is that way too. I need to leave some wiggle room. I am creative and I like to "go with it" when the boys take an interest in something. In December, Corton decided he wanted to learn to carve. It wasn't in my plans. And frankly, I had no idea how to go about that, nor did I have any real interest in it myself. BUT...he WAS interested. Hello? This isn't rocket science! This is why I home school. This is the beauty of homeschooling. When they say, "Mom, I want to learn to carve." We say, "Sounds great! Let's see what resources we can come up with as soon as possible." And that's what we did. The neat thing is that he carved three different Christmas presents, the most special of which was a beautiful fireman's boot for Jeff. Now he is saying that after he retires from his football career he will probably want to become a "whittler." Plan, yes. But leave gaps--leave breathing room for the things that capture the hearts of your children. And if nothing captures for a month or two, then use that wiggle room to jump on the trampoline or read a great novel that is entirely unrelated to anything else you are learning, or to just paint for painting's sake. Wiggle room is to your family experience like grace is to your spiritual experience. 8. Play We don't get tomorrow. We don't even get the promise of another minute. We have now. And our precious children will not take with them what we intended to do but never got around to. And our spouses, whom we promised to cherish deserve so much more than the mundane day to day responsibilities most of us share. We get so wrapped up in remembering to pay the mortgage, cut the grass and to pick up a gallon of milk that we forget to have fun. I am going to have fun on purpose. And I'm going to check it off my to do list every single week. Sounds cheesy, I know. But I want my kids to look back on these years and remember them as full of laughter, full of giggling, and full of fun. How it must grieve the heart of God when we forget to smile and share our smiles with the very people who live nearest us! If there's no time for fun, then I better revisit number 1 and 2 on my list this year. There are more, but for now these are the things I'd like to share with each of you. Maybe your list is different or maybe it is identical. Tomorrow I begin a new year, a new chapter, a fresh start. It's not that I was looking for a fresh start or even that things were in horrible disarray in 2009. On the contrary, for the most part, the kids and I are having a blast. But still, in the quiet of the evening God has pressed these things on my heart and I'm listening. What good am I as a mother if I ignore the voice of my heavenly Father? I'll leave you with the words of Jesus when he said, "These things I have told you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." (John 15:11) We're half way through this academic year and I know many of you are like me in that you want to do so many things. Marthas. And yet it was Mary who chose the most excellent thing--the presence of Jesus. It is there, in the living waters of the heart of Jesus that we take in incredible fullness of joy and it is the joy of the Lord that will be our strength as we continue to mother our children and love our families. Be encouraged, my friends, in the truth that for every moment you persevere, for every whispered prayer, for every trying day, you are laying up treasure in heaven. And even more important, you are laying foundations on earth in the heart of your children. Fullness of joy. Complete joy. May it be yours in 2010. Amen.