Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Chreestmas Boys--When Less Becomes More

Little shades of brown in itchy blue oxfords wiggling, squirming, inching and us--almond milk skin, hair any shade we choose, and clothes any style that suits. We make small talk among ourselves and grin-gaze across the room at khaki pants and collars colored sky. We wait. Somebody's doing paperwork, and it seems like we're waiting an hour. They eye us cautiously, but familiar. They've done this before. We eye them, giddy. We're all thinking the same thoughts. Which one is ours? Which sweet thing do we get to take home and love on?
And maybe they were thinking too. Will I have a bed tonight or will I sleep on a pallet? Will I share or have my own? What will they feed me? Will the house be too worm? Will it be too cold? Are there dogs at the new home? I'm afraid of dogs. Will their children be nice to me? And it's me that finally asks because it doesn't seem natural for us to sit and stare--they're humans after all, not puppies. Can we talk to them?
Then there's an explosion of bodies, mixing, asking, helloing, and we're all on the floor with them--red and yellow, black and white. Hands shaking hands, ears straining to understand accents not native, and all of us smiling to tell them in the universal language that we are kind, we are safe, we will love them.
A few weeks prior, I asked him if we could host two boys from Children of the World. ( He's my husband; he knows my heart has rooms for a thousand more children. He knew it would impact us. It did. How can you invite two children from impoverished circumstances into your lives for a few days and NOT expect your hearts to be sliced just a little? We would give them the boys' beds; we would skip school on Monday, spend the day spoiling these little lives. We did that. We are still bleeding.
The man in charge enters the room, papers in fist--a list of rules--all of them designed for the children's comfort and protection.
Don't ask about their past.
But I want to know. I want to know just what it is they will return to. I want to know if they will make it into adulthood. I want to know if they have a mother waiting for them. Is she burying face in pillow at night crying out the raw loss of giving up her little boy for ten whole months? Is she praying he'll learn English well enough to give him a better chance in life? Is she wondering about him while I carry his suitcase--a Jenson containing everything he has in the entire world--to my hybrid? I look at night sky and tell her--heart speaking to heart--I'll be good to him. I understand he's precious cargo. And I long to hold her too, that sweet mother born in a world where her options were so few that separation from the child she grew within would be the sacrifice demanded of her.
Maybe it is me the rules are made to protect. Perhaps my heart would crush beneath the weight of the truth.
They travel the United States for the flipping of ten calendar pages and sing--a choir of needs and hopes in children's frames--to promote awareness, to get sponsors. They sing for their lives.
Water you turned into wine...
They sing these words--they that come from a world with no water, while mine flows freely from 7 different taps at any temperature I desire.
Open the Eyes of the blind.
And it is me that is blind--blind to the needs of the world. Blinded by my own wants, by a country whose God is their stomach, by a media that insists I need everything on sale on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and my online shopping carts are filled. My stomach is engorged, and I am blind. Open my eyes.
They are hungry. They are thirsty, and they sing about the God who is greater, the God that turns water--that precious thing they walk three hours one way for--into wine for wedding feasts.
God, you are higher than any other.
They sing and I wonder if they understand.
But they do. They understand more than I do. It is I who will learn this week.
If our God is for us, than who could ever stop us?
And If our God is with us, than what could stand against?
I wonder if it is I, a part of North American selfishness, that has stood against what God wanted to do. Could He have used me to share. Did I stand against these sweet children while I filled my closets and my stomach. Were they stumbling over dusty paths with parched tongues like double sided tape while I quenched my thirst with the flick of an oil rubbed bronze tap?
We travel home; the conversation is hard. I don't know what to ask--me, the girl who always has something to say. They respond with "yes" to everything leaving me aching for their true thoughts, their true opinions. My own boys know exactly where they want to eat, and the olive and the black skinned children are just 'yessing' me no matter what I suggest. Yes to ice cream. Yes to McDonald's. Yes to eating at the house. Yes to rice. Yes to juice. Yes to water. Yes to chocolate milk. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then, I hear it--a gasp in word form. The olive skinned one with buzz cut says, "The lights. I love the lights!" His exclamation was a whisper unused to expressing itself.
This one likes the Christmas lights. He thinks. He feels.
And he sings for his life. For the life of others and probably doesn't know the luxury of expressing his own opinions and ideas. But He likes lights; I heard the gasp. Without hesitation, I start driving to town Square where our tree is lit up, lighted holly and poinsettias dangle from lampposts. I drive by every single house I know of that is lit all the way home. He utters and exclaims, and I point left, and my own boys point right, and we are all in awe of the light.
Jesus says, I am their light. These that know the greatest darkness receive The Light readily because they're not blinded by the gaudy light of the world like I am. They see Him. They exclaim over Him.
Christmas music seeps from the speakers into the car, and I sing a bar--a note here and there to fill the empty spaces. They are timid; I hurt at their silent moments. Are they afraid to speak? Do they know the lady whose car in which they ride would keep them forever if she could? Do they understand that she is suffocating sobs because she knows what it is to love a boy, and there are two who just might need that loving bumping shoulders in her back seat? Do they know that were they to cry she would hold them until the night ended? The music is throbbing from the speakers and Drummer Boy begins. I turn the volume up and palm flat I bang the beat onto the console, "Uganda, do you know this one? It's perfect for you! It's the Drummer Boy! Can you hear the drum?" He hears it. He begins the rhythm with me. My boys join in. And we are an international percussion section united by a rhythm we all understand. Shall I play for you pah rum puh pum pum beats air and our hands are bang bang banging on any surface we can find. I wonder which is louder, the beating of my hand or the beating of my heart.
The song ends and we are happy, laughing. Their smiles are electricity; my boys are feeling the shock. We want them to smile enough for a lifetime. Can we give them enough to last? Away In a Manger begins. They recognize it, tell me it is their carol. They sing it. The tune is a little different. We laugh when we all mess it up. But there was no crib for his bed and I wonder what bed they will return to. When the second verse begins I am dumbstruck. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care. Where has that line been my entire life? How many times have I sung those lyrics and not prayed them, not understood I was asking Jesus to bless ALL the children? All of them, in his tender care. All of them. Even these. These two that for forty-eight ridiculously short hours will be mine to give smiles, laughter, joy. The remainder of their lives will be in his tender care. Can I accept His tender care as sufficient?
And how can I sing the words, ask Him to bless, but turn my own eyes away when they leave? What if it is through me He wants to bless them? What if it is through you?
But what if it is me He wants to bless through them? It is He who turned water into wine. He doesn't need my pennies to drill wells and deliver rice. They don't need me--their God is greater--it is I who needs them. I need their need in order to be freed. It is I who needs to be freed from the American Dream--the I-can-have-it-all mentality of North America. Because you can have it all, and have nothing at all.
As they vie for nomination, the republicans debate the status of a country where once an immigrant could cross crashing cloudy seas to make his fortune. They insist we should return to our great economic state, but I mourn the reality that we are among the world's wealthiest ten percent and yet we want more, better, faster, mightier. And children are hungry. My heart knows there is no answer a President can bring, that true change doesn't occur from the top down, but from within to without. From within my heart, my children's hearts. From selfish to selfless to Christ-filled to hungry children filled.
I remember James' words, Grieve and mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9) I understand him. Be broken, he said. See things for what they really are. See them in light of Jesus' heart. The New Living Translation says, "Let there be sadness for what you have done...." Yes, let there be sadness for a life of selfishness, and let their be an anchoring of my soul this day. Let me be pierced deeply enough to leave a scar. Let me bleed a while that I might be left with weakness for those who have less.
Words we mulled on after dinner during memory time pulse in my spirit. Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. I wonder if it is possible to have both? It isn't wrong to have possessions, is it? But the ones that I choose to store--meaning to keep for the future--should not be physical. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And I want my heart hunger to be eternal, not temporal. But the catalogues come in the mail. There is a new cell phone out that would make my life easier. There is a better gaming system that would surely mean family fun. And our BBQ is now 13 years old; is not that old enough to merit a new one for Christmas? The eye is the lamp of the body. So, the things I see then, the things I choose to see, to focus on will cast light for my entire body, my life. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. And mine has diseases that cause blindness. Our nation too, needs bifocals. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:10-24 There it is in black and white--we can't serve both. We may have both, but we cannot serve both. We will be a house divided. We will eventually collapse under the pressure of two lords. But perhaps what I want is less that I may gain more. And if I left the grill to sit with all the other BBQ's at Home Depot and bought 3 goats instead then 3 families would have milk--nutrition, and an income. And wouldn't that be more for me too? More for my children too? Wouldn't the nourishing of 3 families who have never owned a BBQ and cook their rice three times a day over an open fire with scraps of garbage as fuel become food for my family's soul?
My oldest is working on writing his life's purpose statement. He lamented to me, "Mom, sometimes I've been thinking about my life's purpose, and I see that a lot of things don't line up with it."
"It's hard, isn't it?" I look into his creek-water eyes and wish I could raise a boy to live the easy life, a boy that could take the road more traveled.
"Yes, it's the broken life." We've talked about this--broken living. It's the better way to take communion, we believe. There is a time for the wafers and juice, but we find that we remember Jesus better by breaking ourselves--stepping outside of what is comfortable. Giving up a meal, feeding homeless families, hugging powdery seniors' necks at nursing homes--things not comfortable for raggedy, rough boys--are a part of our family communions.
"Remember Jesus? It had to be hard for him watching his brothers and sisters growing up doing their own thing while He knew He would be breaking loaves and fishes, walking amongst the poor, the diseased, hanging from a cross. He lived to redeem. Lived broken so we could be whole."
"Yes. He probably didn't always enjoy that." My son relates to the idea of Jesus as a boy.
"When we give up here, we gain later. Those who live poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of heaven."
"But we'll be rich in a better way in heaven, mom. That's what it means about storing up treasures in heaven. We'll have that in eternity." He knows. He gets it. He holds my hand and I look deep into his riverbed eyes--the pupils water smoothed pebbles--and love him.
The Ugandan and Philippine boy slept the last two nights in another host home, but they were with us still. We carry them now. We carry their people, their families, their thirst. A Christmas tree towers over ten feet tall in my living room--the room that only weeks ago I lamented being too small to host the homeschool mom's Christmas party, the room that when they entered, they exclaimed It is so big, Auntie! I had thought they would enjoy seeing the shiny decorations. Playfully, I wrapped one in strands of crimson wooden cranberries. "I'm a Chreestmas boy, Auntie! A Chreestmas boy," he had exclaimed.
Indeed, he is a Christ-boy. In his face I see a hundred thousand faces--hunger, pain, thirst, need, loneliness. Those were the real reasons Christ came, weren't they? The real reasons for all our merry making this time of year are about what we can give, not what we will receive.
Open my eyes, Father. Leave me bleeding a while longer. Let them linger in my heart--The Chreestmas boys. Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Embers--The Lifting of Stooped Shoulders

His lips were reduced to a single slip of pink embroidery thread--a thin line holding back a torrent of tears--when he came. Already, he had thrown the Newton's cradle, a tangled knot of weighted silver balls and fishing line, into the bulging garbage can. In full resignation he announced, "It's broken; we can't fix it this time." Shoulders stooped, his head drooped, and his eyes filled with drips he refused to let flow. Bent over. My boy. And I saw the words, none of them eloquent, all of them embers in the furnace of hope. The Lord...lifts up all who are bent over." (Psalm 145:14) Life bends us over sometimes. It just does. A single slip of hand had sent Cort's hard earned Newton's Cradle soaring through the air where a thousand invisible fingers worked together to tie and tangle the lines so that they were spaghetti, and his heart couldn't bare it all. Holding his rescued wreckage in calloused palms, I thought of my own tangles--the motor in our car that gave up with Christmas around the corner. I thought of the family who saw the soil cover the coffin this week, the neighbor who went from blowing leaves off her deck to immobile in less than a week. I remembered my sister's text telling me a baby where she works died. Another boy overdosed. Life bends, and bends, and bends. My hands held a child's set of knots, but in my heart there grows the knots of a lifetime--a mass of death, divorce, tumors, and billowing bills. Some my own. Some others. All twisting, turning, touching my spirit, whispering, Bend. And that word bend? It means to submit--to bend before a King. And how is it that it is life that causes us to bend when we say we are followers of the King of Kings? How is it that we slump our shoulders and stoop our hearts to the overwhelming flood that gushes when the King of Kings says, "The Lord is near all who cry out to him," (Psalm 145:18) And when did we start crying instead of crying out to the God who is near? Lord, help me to bend to you, that you might lift me up. Show me how to bend to you and not the circumstances. What if we purpose to bend to the King when life demands we bend to it? Daniel danced this waltz--the one where he bends to the one true God. The decree was that no one would pray to any human or God other than King Darius. That was the decree. Bend. Bend to another, not your God. And Daniel bent. He bent to his God offering prayers and thanks. The situation was dire. Surely he knew he risked his body to the shredding of lion's teeth. Yet he bent. He prayed. He thanked. Scripture says, "just as he had been accustomed to do previously."(Daniel 6:11) He was in a familiar pattern where bending to the Sovereign God was his habit. And I think of my own habits. I examine them next to Daniels'. Why, when difficulty bares her jagged teeth do we bend to her when our God remains enthroned? Don't we realize all the raging universe is on a leash? "The Lord has established his throne in heaven; his kingdom extends over everything." Psalm 103:19 Everything. Extends over everything. Extends over the suffocating moment when we know our child is no longer present in their earthly frame. Extends over the moment when husband of twenty years walks out, and we are left murmuring a thousand times, "Don't leave." Extends over the negative bank account, extends over the day when the sun climbs into the sky and you realize you've chased a dollar your entire life and yet have nothing. Extends to the babies in Haiti at the orphanage where they haven't had rice for three days. In His kingdom, His subjects, we are. Even the suffering ones? Even the destitute ones? Yes, even them. And even the bravest of us, the most-determined-to-not-question Him of us all must sometimes admit we want to know. Why? Why then, if we are all His subjects, must we be bent? Why, Oh Great King, do you sit back when children starve? Why do you let young ones die and old ones wither? Why do you allow the wars and the pain? I am just an untangler of human knots, the child-sized spider's webs, not the great universal utterings that together become a theological loftiness beyond the reach of my 67 inches. But still, I hear mankind's murmur--a low mumble at first, and then the fields sway, and the trees flail and I hear them all together--a chorus of questions. "He is the one...who heals all your diseases, who delivers your life from the pit, who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion, who satisfies your life with good things...executes justice for all the oppressed." (Psalm 103:3-6) Now hear me whisper here because I don't mean to tread toes, I only mean to explore our hearts in truth. What if the promise for healing isn't always realized in this parenthesis we call life? What if it comes on an eternal timetable our human minds can't fathom? And what if it isn't our finances He delivers from the pit but our very life--the heart that is freed to make good decisions with the resources we have? What if we still see foreclosure, but our spirit is unchained from the pit of self indulgence and greed, from the sense of entitlement that insisted we needed that mortgage in the first place? What if while our white knuckled hands wring the empty swaddling blanket we sense the Holy Spirit lullaby that soothes our sorrow in His loyal love, in His compassion? What if it still hurts, but He's present? What if justice for the Haitian, the Ecuadorian, the African orphans comes when eternity is revealed? What if pain is sometimes the precursor to joy? What if His ways are higher than ours? What if we bend to the unknown of God's ways? I thought about quitting. That darn Newton's Cradle took me almost an hour to unknot. We waited six weeks on China to ship us that $4.99 desk oddity, and somehow I knew it was more than a proof of Newton's laws. But those embers--The Lord lifting up those who are bent over--they were still burning in my heart. I had to lift the shoulders of my boy because really, when he threw that toy in the garbage and told me it was hopeless, he still had the embers too. He hadn't given up. He'd come to me, hadn't he? He'd hoped. He'd hoped that maybe, just maybe mommy could take the tangles and sort them out, piece by piece. I won't always be able to do that for him. But he'll know, won't he, that I still love him? That day, when the mess is too big, and the circumstances aren't going to be changed by the keyboard clicking pads of mommy's fingertips? On that day, he'll still know he is loved. I'll grieve, and I'll ache, and I'll swallow forkfuls of swollen angst as I watch the day I can't make things better for him. It is somehow the same with God--those who suffer greatest are the most deeply attended by the heart of God. The promise is not that He will fix the Newton's Cradle, not that He will shift the continents of our lives into alignment, but that He supports all who fall, and lifts all who are bent over. Supports ALL. Lifts ALL. Extends over ALL. What, my friends is your ALL? Because there is a decree demanding you bend to that ALL. Can you name it ALL? God gave Adam the chore of naming. We too must name, both the good and the bad. Now can you turn your back on ALL that you have named? Can you turn your eyes upon Jesus? Can you go to Him and bend before His ways, before His goodness, before His mercy, before His compassion, before his purpose? Can you bend to Him? Because if you can, He will lift you up. "Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine...." (Eph. 3:20) "And we know that all things work together for good..."(Romans 8:28) Hope burns not because the world is right, but because the God who made the world remains right. And He will never let go. It has been written and sung more beautifully than I can express. Will you click and listen?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 5: Of Mustard Seeds and Faith

"It's impossible for me to have self control. I can't do it no matter how hard I try." Beliefs admitted in a current of puddles poured from a hurting heart. Brother gets a Kleenex for our youngest, and I wish it would wipe away more than tears, cleanse him of his doubt. With God ALL things are possible. All things.
Sometimes we call them thunderstorms--they churn and swirl and threaten our peaceful days above the overgrown wheat that shades Corty's eyes. The powerful emotions, the passion, the deep sense of conviction about things that insist on trying to control his tender young heart. And he tries. Oh how he tries. Tries to swallow big gulps of tempers and squelch the downpour of feelings, like Mt. St. Helens, that rage and roar. I know his journey. He is his mother's son. We share in this. Feelings that become mountains. And self-control being a fruit of the Spirit, we are bankrupt at times to conquer the mountains.
At night I pull the downy comfort tight over his shoulders--two bones covered in creamy skin-- and think of amazing grace that covers his raw heart. He feels helpless, not having passed enough days yet to understand what it means to be held in the hands of the Mighty God. Lord, show me how to teach him. Show me how to help him harness his passions for you.
And when, though she has risen, the sun still hides below the mountains beginning to bald now with the season's shedding, I linger long enough between lemongrass sheets to ask again, Lord, wisdom for this day. Wisdom and patience.
After beans are ground, dark elixir brewed, oatmeal spooned to break fasts, we gather to eat The Bread of life. We are wading like fishermen through Paul's letter to the Hebrews. Theology for 9 and 11 year olds, theology for a mother, theology for daddy--we've gotten water in our boots. It's heavy stuff. Daddy's better at it than I, but he's at the station, so it is just mom. I'm relieved when the chapter is 11 and I've eaten these words before. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) And I know why it took us over a week longer than I'd planned to pass through this book. He knew. Omniscient. He always knows. He's in the business of ordering our steps if we will but still ourselves long enough to notice. We need the faith chapter on this day.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for. Sure--convinced--no question--without doubt. That's what I say to the boys. But later I look and find it is, in the Greek, a compound word. Hypostasis. I like it for it's ease of pronunciation. A preposition combined with a verb. The preposition telling the verb just where the action will take place. The action is to make stand, to place. The preposition is under. Faith is a state of being in which there is a sure foundation placed under our feet. A sure foundation. I am remembering the cement trucks bringing their sloppy stone soup to our giant square hole we dug from the side of the hill--they carried our liquid foundation. Frames had been erected to hold the elephant colored glop until it had hardened. We waited patiently. You can't rush poured concrete as it dries. You can't rush a sure foundation--that thing that sets everything else to rights, that thing that keeps homes level, corners square, walls that don't wave. And faith is that to us--that thing that keeps us level when life is upside down.
Then this other word, so little I almost missed it, what. Being convinced of what we do not see. Spoken in Greek it would have read, "Being convinced of the established fact we do not see."
So this is faith: A sure foundation placed under our feet setting our lives to right, to stability, and the condition of being convinced beyond question of the established facts that we cannot see with our naked eye. Father, give us spiritual eyes to see YOU as an established fact. When we watch the blazing maple catch fire with autumn winds, may we know You are consuming fire. When we listen to the morning dove pair sing sweet serenades may we know you as Love. Let us see with our hearts that the visible has its origin in the invisible. (Heb. 11:3)
Then there is the list--the greats--Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. And this, "And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised." (Heb. 11:39) All those years. Four thousand years of believing, being sure, and yet not one of them actually saw the full fruition of God's promise. So theirs was a life of faith--feet placed with God-facts underneath. Lives built on that.
I fell in love with a farm house perched like a canary on a hillside of honeybees and rabbits tobbaco. If strings were attached to my heart, that farm house gripped them all in her hands and drug me to her, heart first, logical mind second. Patient and wise, my sweet husband walked her floors with me. My dad too, came. Both of them knowing and yet realizing I would have to see reality for myself. She was perfect. Then we looked beneath her heart pine floors. Like a hundred arms with elbows resting on the clay, rocks were stacked, sometimes with shims of wood, sometimes large, other times the size of my husband's fists, 2 feet or so high. Spread at somewhat regular intervals, these ancient piles held the yellow bird atop her perch. How had she stood all these years? When "structural re-engineering" came up the strings were snipped, and I comforted myself with extensive photographs--I could replicate her. Still, I can't help but think somehow that house stood though her foundation appeared crazy to the logical mind. It was a sure fact the naked eye couldn't see as sensible, but somehow she stood a couple hundred years.
And I have a son who says, "It just isn't possible, mommy." He's looking with the naked eye. But Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matt.17:20) And I am thinking, How small then, must our faith be? And my young one is thinking his faith must require a microscope to view because he can't control his emotions. And I'm thinking about the big things. Bills. Raising rowdy boys to be mighty men. Staying married when my parents didn't make it past 17 years. Educating my children in a way that goes against the norms. Are they learning enough? Can I really do this? And the friend who knows that everyday with her son is the last day he will have that much physical capability because Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy has taken up residence within the frame of his flesh and bone. The mother and father who have spent nearly 2 months gripping the railing of some hospital bed wondering if their daughter will recover from the accident. Faith the size of a mustard seed. Surely our faith is that large, and yet we don't move mountains, we don't see healings all the time.
I remember the dear one who just passed through the cancer cadence and though she is whole, she was made so by medical technology. What of mustard seed faith? I think, then, of the charm my grandmother passed to me. A marble sized sphere of glass, one side spider's web cracked, the other in tact and suspended in its center, a mustard seed. A mustard seed to dangle on a chain about my neck. God knows no accidents, and He knows I need to see what Jesus meant when he spoke of mustard seeds and faith. I've always felt it a piercing truth that mine is smaller than the charm I wear.
But today, as hazel almond eyes and foamy, foggy blue eyes look at me, hurt by what they feel is their inadequate faith, I realize it. I hear it in my spirit. Outside the window there stands a small mountain dressed for Thanksgiving in topaz and cinnamon. They can move that mountain. One shovel at a time. You can move that mountain. One shovel at a time. One shovel. Noah built that boat before he ever saw a drop of rain. The showy miracles were few until the days of Moses. But yet generations believed. Generations of people stood on firm foundations of sure faith. They moved mountains of people to continue to believe one child at a time, one person at a time. Self-Control comes one heart-yielded moment at a time--a small shovel filled with the emotions of a mountain of passion that will one day be used to glorify God. And if the healing comes through radiation, then the mountain to be moved is not the cancer, but the life learning to fully yield. And if the child isn't restored to full health, the faith is not small. The foundation remains sure--but the mountain will not be moved in a single sweep of His strong right arm every time. Sometimes the mountains are in our own souls--the visible mountain is the sickness and it has roots in the invisible heart learning to trust the goodness of God. And maybe the man with greater faith is he whose feet remain planted when the visible miracles don't come, he whose back grows strong with lifting the small shovels of mountain.
And I realize I can't always give these boys perfect answers, easy solutions. Sometimes it is in the shoveling day after day after long raw day that the mountains are moved. All I can offer my children is the sure foundation. Faith. Faith in the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, the God who is working all things together for our good, the God who is able to keep you from falling, who promises the fruits of His Spirit in our lives, faith that with that very God, ALL things are possible.
An afternoon object lesson seems like the most practical way to take this faith theology and rub it into the fibre of our lives like oil on a leather saddle. We take a bike ride through the mountains--and I see them today as movable. I choose a long hill. I say you can climb it, boys. It is not insurmountable. And they do. And calves burning, hearts quaking at our temples, I whisper, "You did that one foot pushing one pedal down at a time. Look what you climbed. You can develop self-control. One moment at a time. One day at a time. Believe that with your God all things are possible. He won't quit on you; you have faith the size of a mustard seed--maybe even bigger." And mouths smile. And I see that perseverance is faith's best friend.
If we give them faith--a sure foundation--we teach them that their lives are not built on educations, family wealth, knowledge, skills, or even what they may amass, but on the Rock of Ages. Give them faith when they are young, and show them that faith is not just about the miracles that make us cry out in awe, but about the slow and steady trust over measly moments, the winters, the springs, the mountains that make up our lifetimes. And when we fail, my fellow moms, when we fail? That is when we remind them of our own humanity, then point them to their feet and remind them that their feet are firmly planted, not in us, but in the great unchanging I AM.
So, tonight, as a joke I serve mustard seeds for dinner. And the boys think I'm serious. Maybe they are just half starved because the dinner bell dings late, but they chase those tiny pods down and eat them. If mustard seeds are our faith, then our faith has a kick. I laugh at the creativity of our God, that he would choose the spicy mustard seed to illustrate his parable, because mustard seeds and lives grounded in faith both pack a punch. And while they eat the seeds, eyes crossing, noses curling, voice boxes squeaking, swirling with spice-laughter, I pray. Father, cause their soul soil to take these seeds of faith and let them grow. I remember that what I do in moderation, they will do in excess and I add, "Father, I confess my days of unbelief. Cause my faith to multiply. Let it grow before the eyes of my wee ones. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 4: Falling Short of Picket Fences

November nodded at me today, with her egg-yolk sun and scattered whites on a blue sky plate. Her trees rusty, with October's last rains and breath like maple candy, brought four visitors--a fellow firefighter and his family. A fine family we now call friends. Theirs are two sweet boys with hair the color of butter left to sit from breakfast to dinner. Little ones. Smaller than mine. And I remembered. I remembered feet that fit in palms of hands. Chatter only I could decipher. Soothers that needed microchips because God forbid we lost them. Faces stained with food. Feet that longed to climb, to jump, to do the things big brother did. Smiles. Smiles that set off fireworks in my stomach. How a dogwood stick was fascinating. How stairs were to them like midnight lights to summer bugs. How I remembered. Seven years have seeped away since last I saw those images in flesh and blood. I look at the masterpieces life painted in my heart and wonder what images will be there seven years further along this arc of time. So much of myself is reflected in who the boys are becoming. So much of their daddy too. (How I thank God for that.) Mothering them--this heavenly calling that somehow found me when I didn't know it was all I wanted, all I ever truly longed for in life--has been like a mirror to my soul. They show me who I am. I haven't always liked the reflection. A spilled cup released bitter words. Did they fall from my lips? Babies at my bedside in buttoned jammies, and I am resentful that Daddy doesn't hear them. It is me again, lifting downy covers and arching my back to make a cocoon in which they curl. It is me scratching backs until eyelids fall and breathing steadies, while he sleeps. Resentful? Me? Yes, at times. Even if we pretend it isn't so, our babes show us the truth. Admitting, acknowledging, and refusing to accept unloveliness are the changing ingredients. Visions of perfection, of milk and cookies, and picket fences were all I knew when Nate lay safely in my water bed tummy. My heart broke when the reality of my imperfection deluged my soul until I was asphyxiated with the truth. So far from perfection. Far far from that word. But still, so high, so holy a calling. To fall short seems unacceptable. Unacceptable, yes. Inevitable? That too. But Paul said he forgot what was behind and strained toward what lay before him--his high calling. James said consider it pure joy, brothers because perseverance is cooked in the crock of trials. And mothering, though I longed for it, is indeed a trial at times. Paul too said, "Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord...for it is a safeguard for your faith." (Phil. 1:3 NLT) Whatever happens, rejoice. Paul said he had many valid reasons to be confident in his flesh, in his ability, his education, his skill. But he rejoiced in none of that. His joy came clothed in swaddling clothes. He rejoiced not in who he was, but in a savior who already paid for each failure. A savior who washed those dropped moments, those careless words, those selfish feelings with the spilled blood of a life fully spent. If I could sit knee to knee with the mothers, eye to eye, hearts in hands held open, I'd say, "You'll fail. You'll be less than you hoped. You'll smudge your masterpieces with paintbrushes dipped in darkness. But Jesus. But Jesus, my friend." Jesus repaints the soiled spots because "Love covers a multitude of wrongs." (I Cor. 13) And He is love. He covers. He restores. (Is. 38:16, Job 33:26, Joel 2:25-26) He heals. (Psalm 107:20, Is. 57:17-19) He makes all things new. (Rev. 21:5) And when we feel entirely unable, it is He who remains "able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or imagine." (Eph. 3:20) To mother, and mother well, we must plan to rejoice when we fail--not in the fractured fragments of brokenness that can result from our humanity, but in the opportunity to point our children to the flawless Father who fails not. It will prove the safeguard of our families and our personal faith. Rejoice, sisters, in the net that catches our oopses, our man-I-wish-I-could-take-that-backs, our will they ever survive me as their moms, and purifies them. When nighttime swelled, I slipped into their room just to watch them sleep a moment or two. And there were the locks of hair, curtains over Cort's eyes. There were the freckles--eleven years of crumbs we forgot to wipe away dozing on Nate's cheeks. I sat, swiping hair and connecting the dotted freckles, by each boy. And I prayed. Father, redeem the times. Redeem the moments when this passionate, creative boy pushes against this passionate, creative momma until we hurt and bruise. Redeem the minutes when math is wrong, and he doesn't get it, and I can't figure out why, and we lock our horns together, and turn and twist until our emotions are tangled. Let not my failures mar their beauty. Let them see you when they see me, when they hear me. And I rejoiced. They sleep warm, in peaceful beds--made by their father's hands and their mother's heart--with brows at ease, and hearts filled with the knowledge that they are loved, that they are worthy of love, that they are fearfullyand wonderfully crafted. They know. And I rejoice. It is enough.