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.