Friday, December 7, 2012

2012 Christmas Letter

Dear Readers,
Normally, I don't post my Christmas letter on the blog, but alas the flu captured my last lingering braincells.  Most of my Christmas card recipients get the blessing of two FIRST pages of the annual sappy, nostalgic, long-winded letter and so to correct my flu-induced error, I post here the full monty.  Pardon me for the gushing and  moosh that I can't seem to suspend for the sake of a simple re-capturing of our year.  What follows is the ranting of a wife and momma who can't get enough of her family or her God.  I apologize in advance :-)  Merry Christmas to all!

Dear Ones,

Here we are—you and I—joined yet again by ink and parchment to catch up on the chronicles of full lives.  Like looking into a star-filled sky where a million lights litter the heavens, our lives are so full, it is hard to locate only the larger constellations to share.  But do come sit with me a spell; we’ll find the Milky Way together.

Twice in one year I’ve felt a tearing that left me breathless, left me aching:  Nate started his seventh grade school year, and Cort left the world of single digits for the greater glory of being a ten year old. (Don’t laugh at my melodrama!  When they get married, I’m gonna curl up and die!)  How could it have happened so quickly?  Surely it was just yesterday we were photographing Nathan tangled in wooden cranberry strands.  And only moments ago, wasn’t I still hoisting Corton about on my hip?  To write these words—that I have only five and a half years left with Nate at home full-time—seems a stain, a blot of black ink on this page.  They don’t linger long enough, do they?  And I lose my breath thinking of it all.

For this reason, and a few others, we decided to sell our home at Hood Acres.  Hers was an aesthetic beauty we may never again find (or have the energy to create ourselves), and yet she was a demanding lady to love.  Much of our time was taken in keeping her.  But sweet boys growing into strong men?  They don’t wait.  So, in a Gideon’s-fleece-step-of-faith, we put her on the market trusting God would make it clear if we were to let her go.  Within a week, 241 Hood Acres was sold for full asking price.  That is a pillar we will look back on, stand on, in moments of nostalgia. (And there have been a few.) We left more than neighbors there, we left a family.  And sometimes the large constellations hold great hurt, don’t they?

Under a grey sky, cider and cocoa in hands, my sister and I attended the Kris Kringle Market this year where a friend was selling beautiful word signs.  I selected one that said, “We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.”  It’s corny, I know, but the four of us are together, and isn’t that, in the end, what makes home?  The ones you love?  I believe so. Now, we find ourselves nestled in a castle-like bungalow with lovely oak floors and windows insisting the sun come in each day for a visit.  45 Wiley Road begins a new chapter for our family—one where we celebrate and seize every moment as an irreplaceable gift. 

I should tell you that Nathan had his first taste of tackle football this year.  He faced boys twice his size with stoic courage and quite a bit of Olver grit.  He also continues to play any other sport he can find like Ultimate Frisbee and airsoft.  (What happened to the rule about no guns we made when they were babies?)  He’s still an avid reader; I find myself sharing more and more of the books I read with Nate. And if you want to know a football fact?  Nate’s your man. This summer he was trusted to help as a junior counselor at Canal Lake Bible Camp.  He worked.  Hard.  Mopping, moving chairs, etc. . . . and perhaps a few pranks.  (Nathan, how was the youth pastor’s car wrapped in cellophane again?)  When his Nana decided to go to Brazil on a mission’s trip, Nathan began Paracords for Paradise, a survival bracelet business that helps mission outreaches. A passion for a good joke, a willingness to do whatever is necessary to help in any situation, a viral love of football, and a firm commitment to following Christ seem to sum up the heart of our prince.

Then there is the issue of our other prince—the one that is sometimes difficult to see because unlike his black and red clothed brother, Corton prefers camouflage and browns.  When Nate colored his hair “Bulldog Red” this year, Cort was asked if he wouldn’t like to color his too. He replied, “Nope.  I like mine just the way it is—the color of dirt.”  A God-breathed love of the earth marinates in this boy’s marrow, of that there is no question.  Erecting forts from found woodland fodder, collecting colorful leaves, whispering to wild dogs until they’ve been tamed, sketching a tree—these are the great loves of our youngest.  The spring found us plopped in patches of grass cheering as Cort flew across soccer fields.  A perfect day for Cort this past autumn was when he claimed he spent “five hours doing science” which in reality meant he was down at the creek digging for crawdads, catching minnows, salamanders and mud puppies.  Cort loves all things Abraham Lincoln, John Deer, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  He tended our neighbors’ dogs while they were away, and regularly attempts to catch or at least touch wild birds and squirrels.  And in those moments when your spirit may be a bit down, but you think you’ve concealed it well, it will be Corton that shows up with a beautiful blue bird feather or sprig of Indian paintbrush to cheer you.  That is Corton:  the woodland spirit that brings beauty and laughter wherever he wanders.

For Jeff and I the days are spent fire-fighting/EMT’ing (Jeff) and teaching (me).  There was another Spartan race, a thumb surgery, and HONEYBEES to occupy Jeff this year.  For myself, there was The Writer’s Guild, clothing drives, fundraising for charities, and coordinating a wedding.  There were family trips to waterfalls, kayaking the French Broad, Jeremy Camp, Winter Jam and Celebrate Freedom concerts, (because when you have kids you attend concerts again no matter how long the line to get in may be) and a long awaited trip to Canada where we celebrated Jeff’s mom’s 60th birthday as well as reunited with Jeff’s brothers, their children, and many dear friends.  Corton was especially pleased to have his cousin Aidan attend camp with him for the first time this year. (We hope it becomes a tradition.) 

Time has this way of spinning, life has this way of perpetual motion, boys have this way of growing, and Jeff and I just try to keep up with it all.  I’ve traded Goodnight Moon for The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes, squirt guns for airsoft guns, and sweet smelling babes for babbling boys that sometimes smell like river trout.  And for all the wealth, all the wonder of the wide, wide world, I’d not trade one moment of life with our family.  Of course there are sorrows, moments when we wonder, when we question, when we seek something more.  The phone rings, a friend has lost their child, and we are left asking why.    “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. “ (I Cor. 13:12)  We don’t understand everything now—only portions are ours for the grasping.  But there will come a day when our faith will be as sight, when we will fully gain understanding.  Until then, I say with Mary, “May it be unto me, Father, as you have said.”  And we echo Joshua’s heart, as for us and our house, we keep serving, keeping holding fast to the Creator, the Father of heavenly lights—the Father of all those constellations.  In the end, that’s what Christmas is to our family . . . a reminder of the Jesus that sprinkled the stars that span our little world.  May your world be full of His light this season.

  With love,

  The Olver Family


 Us in a Nutshell
 Kayaks, hikes, rivers, football, tree climbing, airsoft,
 Canal Lake Bible Camp, honeybees, educating at home,
  firefighting,  laughing, family, and God.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Mothering Chronicles 9: Beyond Picket Fences

Of course I've thought it myself, but others have let the word form on their lips, in their raised eyebrows, in their silence. Craziness.

To sell the home that hands and hearts hinged together nail by nail, surely that's madness. To walk away from that place you built together with friends and planned on remaining forever, surely that's insane.
There's no other place like that in the county. In the country, for that matter.

But the moments are few, and this home, she drinks them like there has been a drought insisting on having more than her fair share. Insists on sending a Father to work over 85 hours a week to quench her thirst for months and long, long months. Insists on demanding this homeschooling momma work two other part time jobs. She's gotten greedy, this home.

And we've walked many miles in these shoes. Our souls are thinning.

Just because we can afford, does that mean we should afford? And maybe the 2.2 children and one lovely white picket fence thing is a little overrated when there is a world beyond that fence and millions of children with no fence, and no bed, hearts and bellies hungry for real food, real love. And really? They're out there, and I'm cutting my kentucky blue grass, clinging to an American dream? Who's clinging to them?

And where is God in homes and finances and godly people just trying to make their ends come together? Godly people obeying the directions their Father gave. Where is God's heart when Daddy is working another double and Momma's back is to her children, working again? Where is God when we cling to bricks and mortar, and our children's frames stretch for the sky, and the number of years they will remain with us is now fewer than the number of years we've already shared?

Because they do grow up.
And we don't have them forever.
And when all is said and done, what is truly the important thing in life?
What truly matters?
What is the best thing we can give to our children?
Are not these children the first stewardship we have?

And who can have a marriage who doesn't have time to share with their beloved?

And is home really this moon-yellow colonial farm house, or is it the place where we four gather?
And is the view from living room windows that I love best really the dusty-red dogwoods in early October or the dyed red hair of a 12 year old and the nappy long locks of a 10 year old while they conquer an invisible world when school's done? And if home and view are the latter, then don't they exist wherever we are?

Don't they?

And wouldn't it be crazier to stay? To eek it out when we could have taken less of this world to gain more of the things that truly matter?

What message do we send, when we hold to the temporary, insisting to our children that it is of some great value?
Because what they value is our eye contact, our heart contact, our time. Us with them. Daddy home. Mommy undistracted. Daddy and Mommy together, hands tangled, hearts twined, mouths laughing. Football in the backyard, full contact solitaire in the loft, Little Men on rain soaked afternoons.

Do we confuse them when we quote, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal . . . " (Matthew 9:16) and then turn around and continue to work at storing up, holding on, clinging to these earthly treasures?

And what did He say about the man who wants to serve two masters?

No man can serve two masters.

And what did He say about the church that tried to have it both ways?

Luke warm.

And what did He say about the man who asks God for wisdom, but doesn't take that wisdom and live by it?

Double minded. Tossed about like a wave of the sea.

And sometimes it is just dadgum hard not to have it both ways, if you want to know the truth. That's the truth.
The truth of how I feel, but feelings change, and if my truth is based on my feelings, than my truth is not constant. But then, I know The Truth.

And He--The Truth--says, "I am the way . . . I am the life. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Yet I know how those disciples felt, the ones that said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" I know how they felt when they turned and walked the other way. The broad way.

A path well trod is easy on feeble feet, but it takes faith to place feet in foamy waves and trust that, keeping your eyes fixed on Him, you will not falter.

Could less really be more?
Could we live that out and see it to fruition?
Could we look the Jones Family square in the face and tell them, you win. We're not racing anymore. We're satisfied with loving each other and our children instead.
Could we lead the charge that insists status quo is not good enough, and picket fences may mean cages, and freedom may be found in letting go of them and clinging to Christ.

Is faith really the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen?

Because our forever home is sold, and we are two weeks away from a closing with no other sure thing on the horizon.

Evidence NOT seen.

When you step into the water, leaving the safety of the boat--the safety of a home you know and love, a life you're comfortable with--you better believe He is good. Better have that Truth to place timid, tentative toes upon.

And I do.
Believe He is good.
Believe He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Believe He is able to keep us from falling.
Believe He never leaves, never forsakes.
Believe He is a strong tower.
Believe He knows the plans He has for us, that they are good, hope-filled.
Believe He will keep in perfect peace him--little me--whose mind is steadfast on Him.
Believe He will give peace that passes understanding as a sentinel to guard this frightened heart.
Believe He has never, not one single time, let me down.

Believe me,
I do.

Pray with me: Father, you are the one who is able to keep us from falling. You are the God who promised that 'in our hearts we would plan our course, but YOU would determine our steps.' You are the substance of our faith. Determine our steps, Father. May we have your heart, your priorities. May you be our gain. May you be our home. May you be our forever. Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Mothering Chronicles 8: Sometimes Their Hearts Break

This morning my cat sat outside the french door, her eyes like peridot marbles following every step I made.  She was hungry.  Apparently mousing doesn't always fill her belly; she wanted real food.  Just one problem.  We ran out.  (What? You never run out of cat food and have to scramble your precious feline an egg or crank open a can of tuna?)  Now, the truth be told, said cat chose us as her family and refused to leave.  We never--REPEAT NEVER--chose her.  And frankly, I can't say I'm overly fond of her.  She only shows up when mice are scarce or she wants to lay on Nate's fuzzy Georgia Bulldogs blanket.  Usually this happens at 3AM, and she announces her presence with a feral meow that curdles milk. (And in case you were wondering . . . no, my husband doesn' t hear her.)  So I can't say I jumped to open the door and let her in.  But after ten minutes of this pathetic-starving-cat-stare-down, I finally called out to my eldest, "Nate, did you feed Lovely?" (Pass the buck, right?) And then came his reminder that we had been out of food since the night before. And no matter how annoying that cat may be, I couldn't watch her sit there hungry.  Couldn't just watch her suffer.
Later, reading in Genesis--Hagar and Ishamael's story--it struck me how hopeless Hagar must have felt when she was cast out of her home by Sarah and Abraham.  Hagar had to know Ishmael was Plan B all along, the-just-in-case-God-doesn't-come-through child.  But God came through and Isaac's birth erased Sarah's use for Ishmael.  In Genesis 21 we find them "wandering aimlessly through the wilderness" alone and in desperate need of water.  Verse 15 says, " . . . the water in the skin was gone . . ."
No water.
A desert.
A single mom.
No man.
No money.
Life gets that way sometimes, doesn't it?  Parenting, loving, caring for our children can be that way sometimes.  Any mother knows that the only thing worse than feeling hopeless about her own life is watching when a child is broken and hopeless.  And it happens. 
When Cort was a toddler, he contracted a virus that caused little rice-like bumps all over his body.  They were sprouting like grass in spring under his arms, on his chest, his back, everywhere.  The doctor wasn't alarmed, gave us some ointment, and told me to administer it that evening.  Careful not to miss a single bump, I followed his instructions putting the ointment all over Corton's back and stomach.   After a short amount of time, Corton began to scream in pain. Uncontrollable pain.  Slowly, the ointment began to burn his skin.  He was severely allergic to the cream, and we rushed him to the Emergency Room.  The doctors had no idea what was going on or how to alleviate this seemingly allergic/chemical reaction.  Slowly the ointment continued to burn his skin, and layers began to peel off as it ate away at the surrounding areas. His face was desperate.  His screams cut me. I thought I was going to die.  They weren't working fast enough.  They weren't making the pain go away.  They weren't listening to me when I told them to do something. Do.Something.Now.  I remember begging God, "Take this pain away.  Make it stop, God, please."
Our children do suffer.
Sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally.
Hagar was so completely convinced this was the end of her son's life that she put him under a small shrub and wandered a bow-shot's distance away from him.  She couldn't stand to sit and watch her son die of dehydration.  Could not stand it.  And I wonder is that how the mother of the Brazilian girl felt when she left her child in the streets because she couldn't afford to buy food.  I wonder is it what the Ugandan father feels when his sons eyes are dark holes in a parched frame, and there is no clean water. Is this why they abandon their children?  Is it a slow-motion torturing of the parental soul to watch the suffering of one's own flesh and blood?
In their book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, Stephen James and David Thomas write, " . . . it seems that parents who don't let their kids struggle in life are more concerned about avoiding their own pain from watching their children suffer than they are concerned for the kids themselves."
And I want to hit those men and hug them for writing those words because of course the mother is concerned for the child.  Do they not understand that a child's pain is the mother's pain?  There is no human way for a mother to separate the two.  But they are right.  It is because we cannot separate the two that we don't want them ever to struggle.
Scripture says Hagar "wept uncontrollably."  I get that.
Can you see her there, clay colored clothing, face leathered by relentless sun in a world that for her remained dark?  She's weeping for the future her son will never see, for all that she hoped for, all that she wanted, all that could have been.  No, a mother doesn't know the difference between her personal pain and that of her child.  The two are linked and twisted and tied into one chain of emotion that no mother can untangle.  She only knows when her child hurts, when they suffer, she is ripped open with them.  This is the mother's lot.
Yet verse 17 of chapter 21 begins with the most beautiful two words maybe in all of scripture,  "But God . . ."
And isn't that it every single time?
Apart from God, it is hopeless. Yes. Yes, it is.
Every single time, every single situation, every single child.  Not one thing is exempt from this reality.  God exists.  He exists, and He loves, and therefore your situation is NOT HOPELESS.
Not hopeless.
Scripture says, "But God heard the boy's voice."
We hear our children's heartbreak, and we weep with them.  When they were young, I couldn't bare to withhold food from my sweet babies.  If they cried my entire body insisted they needed food.  (Read:  SERIOUS. MILK. LETDOWN.)
Imagine if a child's tears can wake a mother at night, what must they do to God--their Creator?
God hears your children.
He hears.
They need to know their heavenly father always hears.  When they suffer and we offer comfort, we need to tell them the truth that not only do their earthly parents care desperately, their Father in heaven hears every single cry. Saves every single tear.
Then the Angel of God speaks to Hagar and asks her, "What's the matter, Hagar?" (Gen. 21:17)
Why did he have to ask?  Sometimes I think we need to name our own emotions when it comes to our children.  She was weeping uncontrollably, but what was the root of her tears?  What was the emotion she ultimately felt?
"Don't be afraid, for God has heard . . ." (Gen. 21:17)  Fear.  Her emotion was fear.  Perhaps it was fear she had not only been abandoned by the man who helped her bring this child into the world, but also his God.  Perhaps it was fear not that she had been abandoned, but that her boy had been abandoned, that somehow God's love had missed her son.  Don't we need to know that no matter how fiercely we love our children, their Heavenly Father's love is greater still?
And when our children hurt, when they are broken--because life will break our children at some point along the journey--we need to acknowledge not only their emotions, but ours too.  Because the momma is bound to her child from soul to soul.
Then he said, "Get up!"
She had quit.  She had thrown in the towel, and aren't we tempted to do the same sometimes?
When that child is thirty years old and still refuses to give up drugs.
When that boy is so angry and sullen he hasn't spoken a word to us in a month.
When that girl can't express why she thinks she may like other girls instead of boys.
When she's sixteen and pregnant.
When he's found smoking.
When that toddler has screamed for an hour straight and we don't.know.why.
Yes, we're tempted to sit down and quit.
I have sat down.  I have quit.  I've done that before.
But God said, "Get up!"
Get up my child and keep running this race.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Keep going.
Then He said to her, "Help the boy up and hold him by the hand."(Gen 21:18)
I love that part.  Sometimes, no matter how young or how old, how stubborn or how heavy, our children need us to
Just help them up.
And hold them by the hand.
Sometimes there aren't words.  There aren't verses.  There just aren't.
But we still have our hands, and they need us to support them.  Physically help them to get up.  Hold them in our arms, if they'll allow it--just for a time.  Emotionally help them to get up.  Spiritually hold up their arms like the people did for Moses so many generations ago.
And moms, aren't we good at that?  We may not be able to patch a flat tire or fold paper airplanes, but we know how to hold a wobbling hand until steadiness returns, don't we?  We do.
Then God said, "I will make him into a great nation." (Gen. 21:8b)
Those words:  I WILL.
They change everything.
Because when we can't,
He is the God who is over all, above all, greater than all, He is the God who is FOR OUR CHILDREN.
I remember my first heartbreak.  I was 15 years old and some red-headed boy had snatched my heart and held it long enough that when he let go, it stopped beating for a while.  How often that happens to our precious, young girls and our tender young men. We say, "Be careful."  We insist, "You are so young."  We warn.  We advise. We implore. 
And when it ends, and it often does, they are--for a while--a shroud of who they used to be. 
When that boy told me he didn't love me anymore, I dissolved into myself.  Folded inside out.  Couldn't talk.  Couldn't think.  Couldn't eat.
And the only words of comfort (and I'm sure there were many) that I remember were those of my mother, "I wish there was something I could do to take the hurt away."  It was she who cried when she said those words.  Her daughter was suffering beneath the surface and there were no bandages, no Tylenols that could heal that hurt.
But God.
But God WILL.
And He did.  Only God could reach into the fibers of my heart and weave together a tapestry of His grace, His sovereignty, His peace, His joy, His HOPE.  How much hope it will give us parents to remember that though we may have planned for our children, God Himself willed their presence on this earth.  God Himself has a plan for their lives.  God WILL make them into a "great nation" for His name's sake.  It's His purpose and His plan on the line.
With God, it is NEVER hopeless.
And He will accomplish all His promises concerning our children.  HE WILL. Mother, hold that truth.  HE WILL.
Finally, God enabled Hagar to see a well of water.
I've wondered if, though she never saw it, the well was there all along, or if he miraculously made one just for them.  I like to think God said, "Let there be an oasis."  I like to think He did that just for them.  But ultimately what matters is that He did indeed provide.
He did intervene.
He did make a way for hope's seed to take root in the souls of a teenage boy and his single mother.
And moms, when our children's pains are deeper than the booboos and ouchies of childhood, when they are farther than our hands can reach, when we ache in the corners of our souls for the hurt of our flesh and blood, we need to ask God to "enable us to see the well of water."  (Gen. 21:19)
We need to remember that it is He who is LIVING WATER.
Isn't it perfect, certainly no coinsedence, that Ishmael was a young teen at this time.  Likely he was physically stronger than his mother.  We don't really know.  But it was his mom who went to the well, filled the skin with water, and brought some back for her boy. 
Sometimes bringing them water is just that, a cup of water.  Sometimes it is a list of the scriptures that have carried us through difficult times.  Sometimes it is the retelling of those times in our lives when we despaired . . . even of life.  Sometimes it means getting a good counselor.  Letting them talk to a trusted friend.  But know this, mommas, there are times when we carry them. Even when they're grown.  Not forever, but for a season.  Not enabling, but empowering.  I'm not talking about being the mom whose son is forty and lives at home on her couch.  I'm talking--and I think your spirits will agree--about being the mom who knows when her child needs just a sip of water. 
A sip of hope.
But God
God Will
"But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying?  You are my only hope!"  (Psalm 39:7)

Pray with me:
God who sees, God who hears, God who is hope, will you teach my mother's heart to rely on you?  To expect you?  To anticipate your intervention.  To look for you in the horizon when the reality of my child is a deep pain?  When my own reality is pain?  Will you help me, Lord to cling to the truth that YOU WILL work, YOU WILL heal, YOU WILL men, YOU WILL cause hope to rise?  Amen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Mothering Chronices 7: Preparing the Way

People often think of my mom as a saint.  Her smile is very big, and she rarely gets worked up.  She has no idea how to cuss properly, how to get mad, or even how to think a mean thought let alone speak one.  A single mom, she raised five precious-tender-hearted-never-get-into-a-fight-and-kick-the-door-in-or-come-home-smelling-of-Camels-or-listen-to-Bon-Jovi-way-too-loud girls. Our budget was tighter than my britches after Christmas, and she was lucky if at the end of the month she could afford to rent one VHS from Video Unlimited.  Dresses she stitched while we toddled and tumbled over her treadle sewing machine hung for years on misshapen wire hangers because she couldn't afford to buy something new.  She was and still is one of those people. (The kind I wish I could emulate, but somehow always come up short.)  Now mind you, she's not perfect.  If you wanna see her get worked up suggest a "bring your own picnic" day at Vogel for Mother's Day.  Wrong words.  Let.Me.Tell.You.  She likes her food (Read: she eats a five course breakfast every single day, and don't you dare get in the way of her tea!) and she's sure not making her own picnic on Mother's Day.
A few weeks ago, when the air turned up its temperature and the flowers started stretching their necks above the ground, she danced for Palm Sunday at church.  Something happens when Mom dances--everyone notices it.  The men and the ladies, the dresses and the ties, the earrings and the perfume, they all disappear.  She smiles this smile that you'll never see in any of her adult photographs.  But if you dig out the old albums--the ones with cock-eyed black and white photos stuck on parched pages--you'll find the same smile.  It's the one she used before life came and took, before life came and gave, before her father died too young and her mother lost to cancer, before a husband came and left, and five daughters pulled and took and pushed and needed, the smile she used when she was an innocent child. It's a girl dancing before her Father.  And just seeing that, I know how she made it through.  Because He loved her.  HE.

And she drank from His Living Water.


I remember one line from the song she danced to--

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

And there's this image etched like carvings in a piece of maple that marks my heart.  It's of mom dancing on the Sunday we celebrate the people laying palm branches down for the coming Messiah, and I think how she would have been there with all those crowds of curious people on that day.  She would have waved spring-green palms and placed them on the earth before he crossed her path. 

And two-thousand years later, she did the same thing.  Prepared the way.  Prepared the way of the Lord.  That was her crowning achievement as a mother.  She prepared the way of the Lord for us girls.  She is the one who did that for us.  Did that by drinking from His Living Water.  Did that by clinging to Him as her hope.  Did that by depending on Him alone.  Did that by never quitting God when by all physical evidence it would have seemed (if I'm being honest) like He might have quit her. 
She couldn't come to every tennis match.  She worked.  Sometimes multiple jobs.  She scrubbed other people's toilets so I could eat her homemade lentil soup, and she worked nights at the Golden Pantry when old stinky men with cigarettes lodged in their mouths would want to talk to the pretty raven haired single lady, so we could get a new outfit for back-to-school.  She missed some things, it's true.  But when I wanted to talk at three in the morning, and she hadn't slept, she talked.  She propped herself up on pillows and prepared the way while I sat Indian style on the green afghan that footed her bed. And maybe it was an angel that held her eyelids open because now that I'm a mom, I know what it means to be dog-tired, and I am sure she was far beyond that kind of tired.

And isn't this the great crux of the mothering we do?  That we would prepare the way of the Lord for our children?  Isn't this the thing they most need?  And when Mary chose the more excellent thing, the thing that was needful, was it not that she just made a way for Jesus in her life? 

Because sometimes life--that old great giver and terrible taker--sometimes he just brings us to our knees.  Sometimes he demands so much, and we are left dizzy and uncertain what to do next.  Us moms.  We get left that way sometimes, don't we?  I remember once, when I was a senior in high school, we had a pep-rally game called Dizzy Bat.  I was selected to represent my class.  My instructions were simple, and honestly, I thought I was rocking them out. 

Hold the bat touching the floor.
Put your head on the top of the bat.
Spin around.
Ten times.
Fast.  (That's the part I was rocking out.)
In a straight line to the other side of the gym.
In front of the entire high school.

I ran.
One step.
Then I fell, flat on my back.
Entire high school.

Life gets you the way, doesn' it?

And when you get done spinning and think you're ready to run, you have no clue which way you are going.
We have one direction with our kids.
One focal point.
One way to run.
Prepare the way for them to love Jesus, to know Him, to trust Him, to count on Him, to seek Him, to abide in Him.

In Him is fullness of life.

In Him.

And I get this backwards.  I spin in circles chasing American Dreams because I have spent thirty-five years steeping, like dehydrated mint leaves in steaming water, in a culture that insists there is a right way to raise a child. 

Educate them well.
So we do.  We send them to pre-school and then relocate our family to a town with the best school systems.  We spend hours making sure their third grade camouflage salt dough and vinegar volcano is The.Coolest.One.Ever.

Give them opportunities.
So we do.  Piano.  Soccer.  Football. Art lessons.  Gymnastics.  Horse Camp.
And we work more jobs to afford more opportunities.
And we hire a house cleaner to clean our toilets because we aren't home and don't have time to do it ourselves. Since we aren't home, we probably haven't peed in them anyway, so it's kind of an exercise in futility, but we do it anyway.

Keep them entertained so they stay out of trouble.
So we do.  Sleepovers every weekend.  Trips to the movies.  To the skating rink.  To the park.  More play dates.  Big vacations.

Don't let them want for anything.
So we don't.  (God knows this one taunts me.)  Because I remember not having when others did.  And please God, I don't ever want my children to know that ache. So we buy the name brand.  We do.  As if a name brand can save a soul, can heal a hurt, can carry a child into a lifetime of happiness. 

Take them to church.
So we do.  And to all the activities the church offers because surely they need to know about Jesus and the tired Sunday School teacher can reach them in ways we can't or don't know how to.
Or are too tired to even attempt because we've been busy.
Busy spinning.

And though there isn't anything wrong with any of these things, somehow we abdicate our one single shot to do the preparing.  We divvy out our chance, our stewardship, our few, finite years with these beautiful beings to name brands and complete strangers when God hand picked us for the preparing. 
And some of us do have to work, and some of us can't homeschool, and some of us don't work and do homeschool, and still we sacrifice this one precious act--the preparing act--because we're too busy on facebook and texting.  And I'm talking to myself here, so just ignore my ranting. 

This really is the question.  What precious moments do we have, and what are we doing with them?

Because the needful thing is to prepare the way.
Not for a great college,
not for a great job,
not for success in this life.
The needful thing is to prepare their hearts for The Way,
for The Truth,
for The Life,
for His Kingdom,
for success in their eternal life,
for fullness of life.
For Jesus.

And if you are like me, and you get to spinning so fast that when you finally stop you have no idea which way is up or down or left or right, then perhaps you could sit with me and watch Mom dance.
Watch her move before the God that carried her through all the good--the births of beautiful brown eyed babies, the walks through fields of daisies in spring, and lazy summer days at the lake in the heat of summer.  Watch her make famous the name of the God who gripped her with relentless strength when the angst of life swallowed her marriage, her parents, her siblings, her dreams.  She's still just preparing the way for Him.

If we live to give things or opportunities to our children, we will miss it.
Miss the needful thing.
Miss the chance to prepare.

Our goal as parents, my goal as a momma of sweet, wild, wonderful boys is just this:
To make the name of my God so famous before my children that they know He is the source of life.

In Him is abundance.
In Him is fullness of joy.
In Him is hope.
In Him is peace.
In Him is healing.
In Him is satisfaction.

Mother's Day is declaring her arrival on a one inch square in my May Calendar.  Every year she insists I stop and pause long enough to ask, Am I worthy of the spoiling I know I'll get?  Do I deserve the honoring, the loving that my men will wash over me?

So often, I'm not.
I'm not a saint like my own momma.
I fall so short.
I fall.

And I question God. 
Why, God, did you give them to me?  There are a thousand better mommas.  A thousand who never raise their voice, who never space out and fail to hear their son calling out, a thousand who smile more, who play more, who . . .

But He chose me.
He chose you.
"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." (Psalm 127:3-5)
And heritages and rewards and blessings are not randomly tossed from heaven to land like dandelion seeds where they may.  They are selected sovereignly by God for specific recipients.
Recipients like you.
Recipients like me.
And isn't He able to keep us from falling?

And isn't preparing the way partly about teaching a child, modeling for a child the ability to humble oneself and admit we are sinners, admit we too mess up, admit we need Jesus, need His forgiveness.  Isn't that the greatest ushering of a child into the presence of God that we could ever do?

It's never too late to begin afresh.
Never to late to begin the dance before our Father.
The dance that will mesmerize the minds of our children,
will captivate their attention,
will make God famous in their hearts.

May your Mother's Day be of the dancing kind.
With love,

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Great Gain

The wind sucked and swished my hair around like a vacuum first then a twister.  "35 miles per hour winds, Sarah," my neighbor admonished.  "Should we cover our plants?  The temperature's gonna drop."  It did drop.  And soccer practice went long on the one night when the temperature plummeted, and the wind raged her fury.  I was cold.  We walked--my son, his friend and I--to keep warm.  Nate shared his too-small-for-me black fuzzy gloves, and I gladly accepted the woolen warmth of his giving heart.

Still chilled in our bones with the kind of cold that doesn't give you goose bumps, but leaves  you stiff, corpsish even, we elbowed our way through the entrance to our home.  Our 70 degree home.  The temperature was set.  I had keyed in 70 degrees earlier in the day thinking what was the use in freezing to death when I didn't have to.  I have that choice.

I thought of pouring a steaming bubble bath and using some of my 9 year old green-tea bath salts my sister gave me after Cort was born.  I hoard them for special moments because they smell like spring and heaven and grass and rivers, and I want to have them for as long as I live.  We keep our thermostat for hot water set HOT.  I like hot water.  Tepid water doesn't clean, doesn't warm, doesn't refresh.  I have that choice.

Taking the red kettle mom gave me for my birthday, I filled it with a steady stream of water from our tap.  I turned the storm-grey knob on our gas stove and watched as flames licked the belly of the kettle.  A mug of clear, hot water blanketed me from the inside out.  I had that choice.

Dinner hour had long since slipped away.  Suppertime too had slipped beyond the grasp of our busy Monday schedule.  We were all hungry.  We'd agreed ahead of time on the menu for the week.  All of us had said we were in, but when the moment came . . . we may have regretted our zeal.  Beans and rice.  One small scoop of each at supper.  For the week.  It's true, chicken, sausage, beef roast, ground chuck, fish, hot dogs, pork chops, bacon, and a myriad of other choices clogged my cavernous freezer.  We had that choice.

I told the boys to chew slowly.  Don't rush, there are no seconds tonight.  And I looked in my eldest's eyes.  Disappointment.  He knew he wouldn't be full.  I knew he wouldn't be full.  You don't have to do this; you know I know your heart.  I don't expect this from you.  He wanted to.  But his face showed what his lips refused to speak:  shock at the reality of hunger.  The first night in his life he will have gone to bed hungry.  He had that choice.

But not everyone does.  Have that choice.  Have a home with temperature set just so.  Have clean water to drink much less pour lavishly into an antique claw-foot tub.  Even have beans.  Even have rice.  Not everyone has that choice.
My first month of SEVEN is winding down.  I've chosen to focus this month on food in an attempt to wrap my senses around world hunger, around the reality that 18,000 people die every day just from hunger, and that's not including those who die from lack of clean drinking water.  Some will call me crazy, and I'm okay with that.  What I can't seem to be okay with, though, is the reality that while I've cushioned my backside with a pantry three feet deep and then gone out and bought bigger pants to contain my greed, children were dying every five seconds.  I needed a radical realignment.  This month has been a good beginning.  A good beginning.

Not having my usual comfortable foods has forced me to remember the faces of children I've never met--children who have never had a single comfort.  It's caused me to think of the anguish that must swallow their mothers' and fathers' hearts in single gulps when they look into hungry, pained eyes and can do nothing to help them.  I want to be a part of their hope.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . .I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "  Matthew 25:3,40

Did it for Him.  The nameless children of hundreds of destitute regions are not just someones children.  They're God's creation, His masterpieces.  He formed them in their mother's wombs, knows the number of hairs on their sweet heads, and you know what?  Forget the number of hairs on their heads.  He numbers the ones that flitter and flutter to the ground as their scalps bald from malnourishment.  They're His babies, and he planned for them to be a part of this wonderful world He worded into existence.  When I withhold, hoard, keep for myself, I keep from Him.  And when I open palms and purse, release plans and purpose, I do it unto Him.  And wasn't it He who specifically said, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  (II Corinthians 10:31)  All of it. For His glory?
And while Marie Antoinette cries out, "Let them have cake . . ."  am I just the same as she?  A Christian bellowing in holy tones, "Let them have Jesus."  Let me not insist all they need is Jesus and ignore their bellies bulging with starvation and mud cookies made with oil and water. Jesus himself did not ignore the physical needs of the people He loved.  What of manna, and fish and loaves multiplied?  He made us physical beings.  Dare I ignore His sacred creation's needs under the shiny-cellophane packaging of "purely sharing the gospel and leaving their physical needs to some other organization?"  We are that organization.  We.  The Church.  Me.  I'm broken, undone by that reality.  I'm just one person; we're just one small family.  Could we actually make any difference?  A dent in all this suffering?
In the early moments of day's breaking, before school lessons and ringing phones, emails and music lessons,  I read from I Timothy 6.  "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. "
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. With just that? 
Are you, Sarah?
Am I, God?

Because godliness with contentment is great gain, and the Greek meaning of this word gain is the best thing you can procure for yourself.  It must be important. 

I hear of people's investments yielding great gains, but what if we have missed it?  What if while we build our fortunes and pad our retirement funds we have missed The Great Gain?  Is it possible in our haste to be financially responsible citizens, in our hurry to build comfortable, seeker friendly churches with pleasing, paved parking lots, in our fervor to give our children every opportunity, we have somehow missed our purpose?  What if our comfort costs someone else's life? 

What if The Great Gain is discovering the sufficient nature of a God who promised to supply all our NEEDS according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, and realizing He Is Enough?

And if the best thing I can get in this life is godliness with contentment, then this, THIS is The Great Gain:  That we cease to search for the next best high and realize The High lives within us.  We have all we need pertaining to life, to godliness.  We have HIM.  In HIM is life.  In HIM is satisfaction.  In HIM is contentment.  "And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (II Corinthians 9:8)

And when we gain this contentment it is for a purpose--so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  We are not blessed to spend on ourselves but to abound in every good work.  Every.  In all things.  At all times.
I can't help but think about Timothy's words again.  Content with food and clothing.  Is that how you define Paul's words, having all that you need?

Just food?  Just clothing?
Which food? Rice and beans?  Every day?  Surely not.  We've been given all things to enjoy.  Haven't we?  Where is the cap?  Where do we stop?  When do we say we have given enough?  Can we really ever say, "This much is for you God, and no more.  The rest is for me."?  Can we?  Do we all go out and buy 1990's-hunter-green-water-proof-Ozark-Trail tents from Walmart, sell our homes and find a field to squat in, giving the rest to Haiti or Africa?  Is this what we do? 

These are the questions that wash ashore in my mind like waves on the Atlantic coastline.  They've repeated themselves a thousand times a day this month, and I don't yet have answers.  This I know, Jesus said the path is narrow and few will choose it.  Speaking of sacrifice doesn't sit well with me.  I'd like to cut a check for ten percent and call it a day.  The rest I can find plenty of good uses for.  I've got a bucket list, plans for a fifteenth wedding anniversary romantic getaway.  And could I say, if I dared, that perhaps we who call ourselves Christians have created some form of Jesus-following that doesn't really follow Him at all?  Are we not really just white-washed, sweet-speaking selfish hearts?  Some of us?  Me?  (I don't dare say it.  Sorry I  mentioned it.)
Too though, I know this.  Jesus came to freely give us that thing we lost in Eden--that abundant life.  That walking in the garden with God in the cool of the evenings.  That unlimited access to all the splendor of His creation without fear, without sickness, without pain.  In Him we get that abundance.  I haven't suffered this month.  Not once.  Giving up coffee had to be like losing my right arm--maybe even both arms.  And sugar?  On dear Lord, please restore to my the joy of my sugar . . . I mean salvation. (Ps. 51.  It's in there.)  What I have seen is that I miss the abundance of God because I'm too busy feeding myself.  And not just with food do I fill.  It's television, computer, people, activities, events, projects, things . . . oh dear things.  So many possessions.  And this filling creates a numbness.  I don't feel my great need of God, nor do I feel my great blessings of God.  I miss The Abundance.  The Great Gain. 
It is a beautiful journey--this walking with God--and I'm too distracted by the choices I have to notice it.
Tonight at bedtime, my eldest prayed, "Lord, thank you that we can feel what it is like for the starving children.  Please help the ones in Haiti and Africa . . ."  Thank you for hunger?  Yes, I too am thankful.  Somehow the hunger awakens my sleeping senses to the heart of God.  I'm still searching for answers.  We're ambling, embarking, seeking, learning, and stumbling through.  But for now, at least we are glimpsing some of The Great Gain.

Pray with me:  Jesus, you are life.  YOU are life.  Teach me to seek fullness in YOU.  Align me to your heart.  I'm sorry I miss the way when it is YOU who IS the way.  Help me to see YOU are the GAIN.  Help me to hunger not for more stuff, more food, more places to go, more mountains to conquer, but for the person of YOU.  Fill me.  Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter All Year: The Yielded Journey

If we could have been there, sandaled toes sifting dusty paths, with Him that week, I wonder if we would have noticed.  I wonder if we would have realized something was up, not right.  I wonder if we could have sensed an intensity about Jesus in the days that preceded his arrest.  Would his hair have shown a stray grey strand or two that certainly weren't there the week before?  (Like the presidents who enter office auburn, black, and blond, shades, but leave dyed the same shade--stressed grey.) Would one eye have sagged slightly, like my grandfather's, under the emotional weight?  Though the sky was blue, barometric pressure fine, and the pollen count low would he have complained just once of a headache--an ache only death would alleviate?  And I wonder how it must have been for him in that hushed upper room as he sat side by side, surrounded by twelve and yet entirely, utterly alone?

Sometimes I suspect it wasn't the fear of physical pain that caused capillaries to burst, a face to sweat blood.  Don't you think that just maybe it was the relational pain of knowing he would be betrayed by the very man he had poured years of ministry into?  The only way I can relate to Christ this weekend is to imagine something similar.  What if, when their bones have reached the extent of breadth and height and their shoulders are broad, one of my sweet boys-slivers of my heart, chose to walk from our family?  Turn their back on me?  Believe they could do better elsewhere?  Sold out for some silver?  What if it was my son?  Because though Jesus bore none biological, weren't the disciples really like his children?  He poured his life into them, teaching them, feeding them, guiding them, preparing them.  Isn't it probable that he could bare the wicked strap he knew they'd use to punish Him for His deity, but what caused him to go back and pray three times in one night was the suffocating sadness of surrendering his relationships with those twelve who would scatter when soldiers came?  Oh, Jesus, if my own children scattered at the moment I needed them, how I would crumble, disintegrate. Yet you stood.

"My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me!"

That was his plea, and I'll never fully grasp its depth.  As though he said, "God, I can't fathom baring this plan You have asked of me. I want to run in the other direction.  I want to hide, go to another city, keep a low profile for a while.  I want to live."  What if he really did want to live?  What if he knew that he would conquer death, conquer hell, conquer the grave, and get the prize of a return trip to the heavenly presence of God in the end, but somehow still . . . he wanted to live? Because it is hard to understand the reality that this temporary life is only the casing of eternal souls in mortals frames.  The everlasting living? The real party? That begins when we shed these frames and enter the realm where moth and rust no longer destroy.  But that's all heady knowledge--fills me with understanding.  To live out that knowledge.  That is hard.  Was it hard for him too?   He had a mother.  A father.  Twelve disciples.  He had people he loved.

If those were his feelings--even a teensy weensy little bit--then I understand that God/Man.  I do.  Because I know the end of the story.  I know in the end, I get the prize of the presence of God, the streets of gold, the gate of pearl, the face of Creator God. I mean can you even begin to fathom what the face of God will be like?  He speaks and mountains literally melt.  He utters words and birds of a thousand colors stretch wings, fill air.  So I get it.  I do. And yet I long to linger here a little while.  Long to keep loving those I call mine--sweet, sweaty, summer-freckled boys with dirt glued beneath their fingernails and a man whose square jutted jaw still makes my tummy somersault. 

He himself said these words:  "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me . . ." (Matthew 10:37) And being God, he had to know when he spoke them it would be he that would have to walk away from his mother and father.  It was him who would never have the chance for a son or a daughter.  Surely when he "threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed . . . "  (Matthew 26:39) he recalled the very words he had uttered about loving fathers, loving mothers.  Are we to assume that because he was a man filled with God-head deity, he was exempt from the very things culture dictates, temps us with throughout all time?  Was he exempt from the longings of earthly things?  Scripture tells us he was tempted in every way.  Surely, he was tempted just to live an ordinary life, like all the other people.  Just to live.

Father if it be possible, let this cup pass . . .

Yet not what I will, but what you will.

And sometimes I wonder if, though he had no biological children of his own, Jesus isn't the best model of parenting we could follow.  He lived with one singular purpose--to accomplish God's will.  God's will.  That was it.  What if, as we coaxed the growing up in our children, we followed this singular mantra:  You were made for God's purpose; yield to it.

alive, they were like helium balloons and time was the gas that filled them.  Once time ceased, they would deflate and sink to the ground.  They were not HIS LIFE.  His life was a narrow path that carried him through the hungry, the thirsty, the diseased, the crippled, the destitute, the sinful tax collectors, the pharisees, the Sadducees, Pilate, Golgotha's hill, and a cross.  All things that appeared like death but in the end meant life.  He yielded every single time to God's will.  And I wonder how often yielding might seem like death to us too; I wonder how often the very thing that would truly fill us, elevate us, is clothed in a road so narrow few will truly travel it.

Jesus himself said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me." (John 4:34)  The very thing that sustained him was actually doing the very things God sent him to do.  That sustained him like food.  And I think of SEVEN, and how right in this moment, I'm hungry.  Hungry because I've chosen to change a few things for just thirty days, an emptying of myself so that there is room to be fed by the purposes of God. And Jesus ate the will of His Father.  Hungry and yet full.  Full because when we live out God's purposes we enter the realm of spiritual food--a manna of the heart.  When in John 10:10 Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full,"   did he mean this kind of eternal fullness of yielding?

Because knowing that we are made for a purpose isn't completely enough.  Knowing is not a substitute for yielding.  Jesus knew the cup--even wished it away--and yet he accepted that He must drink it.  If my purpose is to glorify God (Is. 43:7) then am I yielding to His glory?  Am I living to make him famous?  Am I buying things that will reflect him?  Am I treating my neighbors, my family, my children in such a way that they want that great God?  Am I? 

Gosh I get torn.  Do you?  I want so many things sometimes my life must resemble a refrigerator turned on it's side, rolled down a hill, and then opened.  Pick up where I left off with piano lessons when I was ten years old.  Mozart is still throbbing behind my finger tips, isn't he? (Okay, probably not.)  And what about learning water color?  And a bed and breakfast?  What about an organic orchard?  I drove by one--dilapidated, trees untended--and longed to make a career out of it.  Apple Juice.  Apple Pies.  Apple turnovers. Apple Butter.  And traveling to every continent?  Where is the line, the boundary?

Sarah, I made you for my plans.  Seek me.  Yield. 

 But what about our goals?  Our ambitions? What about finding more work to make more money to give my kids more opportunities?   What about amassing more?  Just yesterday I squawked to Jeff, with if-I-am-being-honest-tears-clogging-my-vision, "Do you know how long it has been since I got to spend an entire day in Atlanta shopping without interruption? I can't even remember!" Jeff is clothed.  The boys are clothed.  I am clothed.  We need nothing.  What in the world would I even spend an entire day in Atlanta shopping for?  Yet I long for it because somehow it has become a Grizzly that growls in the face of my heart. 

What about ME?

God, I want to have fun too.  It can't all be serious and straight as an arrow, can it?

"He who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew10:38)

Will find it?

Will find it.

And there, my friends is the crux of this thing.  Somehow, we think if we choose a narrow path we will lose out, miss out, have no fun.  There's no wrong in abundance of life here--in the thrill of new pursuits, new learning, new hobbies, new things.  We are blessed with all things.  But if we wish to find our life,  then the choosing needs to be sifted through the purposes of God--the keeping of our eyes fixed on Jesus.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. (Matthew 6:22,23)

We are a nation of parents with unhealthy eyes, aren't we?  We try to stuff the balloons of our children's lives with year round sports for our children, music lessons, gymnastics, art lessons, Iphones, pods,  and pads, with bigger homes, summer camps, programs, opportunities, and . . . more opportunities.  And in the end, they don't fly.  They're not filled with life.  They . . . WE . . .all sink under the weight of it.  We don't keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. 

We are a people with unhealthy eyes too.  I am.  I focus on the things and people in this world when Jesus whispers Seek me first.  Nope.  I don't always fix my eyes on him.

And if I did, would he remove all the things and people?  I think that's what we're really afraid of, isn't it?  Missing out? Losing relationships?  Surely, it was this loss that caused Jesus to resist the cup His Father offered.

What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?


And I came to give you life to the full.  If you lose your life--what you see as life--you will gain the great Life, the abundant Life.  Unless a kernel of wheat cracks open and dies, there is no fruit, no life. 

Isn't this what Easter is really about?  Whether or not you celebrate this holiday, isn't commemorating the resurrection--whenever it occurred--about gratitude for the Man who lost his life?  Offering thanks for the man who cracked open?

On Good Friday, we circled around the restored elm table we rescued from an Ontario barn and shared the communion of Jesus' death together.  In church, when we take communion, there are these little wafers (they taste like sawdust and wood glue) and we pick them out of a silver platter.  We don't break them.  But, as a family, we broke the bread we shared.  It was significant to me.  I broke Jesus.  My choices.  That was part of his purpose--paying once and for all time for every single one of the times I would choose not to yield. 

We say we want to live life to the fullest, but how can it be full if it is apart from God's purposes?  Apart from me, you can do nothing.

This narrow path, this keeping the eye healthy by fixing it on Jesus, this yielding to the Creator's way, it is life

Taking the cup, the cup offered of God, and drinking it, slowly, one day at a time, one decision at a time, one moment at a time, is the way we celebrate Easter year round.  Measuring my decisions based on their return value in eternity despite the roaring grizzly in front of me--it may in the end, make all the difference.  It may.

It will.

May I yield to Life.

Pray with me: 
Jesus, thank you for breaking open for me, for mankind.  Thank you for showing me the way to parent.  Thank you for yielding.  Thank you for staying the course though the loss was great.  Thank you for gaining LIFE for all mankind, for me, through your brokenness.  Help me, Jesus, to yield. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Mug of Boiled Water

I can promise you, I'm not happy.  I have only two habits--one of which is extremely annoying--that have stuck throughout the years.  Playing with my hair (that's the annoying one which leaves both my husband and my brother-in-law cringing and renders my hair perpetually uneven in length due to the breakage caused by said habit) and drinking coffee first thing in the morning.  Rain, shine, spring, fall, 100 degrees or twenty,  Preferably two mugs. Supersized ones.  Period.  I have exchanged vanity for coffee stained teeth, and frankly (because I'm sure you'd like to know this) it prevents me from ever needing to buy Metamucil.  So, that's the redemptive thing behind the habit.

When spring climbs her way into the north Georgia mountains sprinkling her colors, her drops of green and blackberry-foam purple on violets, her salmon and sangria on the tulips, I like to be present.  I do not want to miss one millimeter of growth, of new life exploding as she passes by.  I have a routine.
Wake up.
Look out the window and thank God for another day.
Acknowledge Nathan. (who is already awake no matter how early I rise)
Make coffee. (I'm not telling you how many cups.  I already told you about the Metamucil)
Get the dog leash. (By now, Jango is shoving me out the door)
Pour coffee.
Walk Jango . . . while sipping coffee.
View Spring as she drips and drops about the hills . . . while sipping coffee.
Examine her work closely in my garden . . . while sipping coffee.
That's it.  The rest of the day may not commence until I've done this routine.

So I am sure you will understand my dilemma when I tell you that the first month of my personal SEVEN is food.  (If you're wondering what in the world I'm talking about, read my blog post from a couple days ago.)  And guess what God just insisted I give up first?  Yeah, redundant, I know.  Coffee.
Hence the first sentence of this little post.  I'm in an extremely agitated-would-bite-someones-head-off-if-I-wasn't-also-in-deep-brain-fog-due-to-caffeine-withdrawal state. Did I mention I have a headache?

For seven months I will commit to seven different themes.  The purpose will be in essence a fast with the chief aim being to empty myself that Christ might fill me with His thoughts, His desires, His plans, His goals.  Because I really feel strongly about being characterized by what I do and not what I don't do, I've phrased my list for this first month--The Food Month--in this slant.  These are things that, after some prayer and good old fashioned honesty with myself, (Yes, self, you are indeed a greedy glutton.) I want to commit a month to pursuing.

1. Do eat organic/unprocessed foods (With a budget that lacks wiggle room, the organic part is going to have to be a little flexible, but I will give it a hearty attempt.  Does anyone know if Ramen Noodles come unprocessed and organic?)

2. Do eat only whole grains. (Sadness.  I'm baking fresh  WHITE bread tomorrow for a friend's birthday, and I would normally double the batch and keep a loaf for us.)

3. Do eat fruit/veggie with every meal, and only fruits and veggies for snacks.  (Here I will try to use things from my garden every day.  We are in salad season, so this will help offset some of the organic cost since I keep my garden pretty much organic.)

4. Do walk away from caffeine. (I’m going to die, starting now.)

5. Do walk away from all sweeteners. (This month has nothing to do with dieting for me.  There have been times--like when Cort left a few of his infant pounds in my stomach after he was born--when I needed to kick sugar to the curb from a calorie standpoint.  This is different.  I'm leaving sweetness, period.  I think to live in hunger must be a very bitter thing, and I don't want to sweeten this month artificially, organically, or any other way.  I love sweets.  Have you ever seen my pictures?  My profile picture on facebook was a cake for 2 months for crying out loud! Ignoring that box of Krispy Kremes, the homemade sour cream coffee cake, and the two logs of double chocolate cookie dough in my freezer will be a very...VERY constant reminder of the blessings I have, and the hunger of over 85% of the world.)

6. Do eat before 7PM (I chose 7 PM for obvious reasons—seven. Also, because it gives us time to get late dinners in.  We aren't much of a schedule family so I’m not going to be legalistic about supper. The real reason I'm choosing to do this is because I want to cull the savory snacks I treat myself to when the boys have finally settled under their IKEA comforters for the night.  I hesitated on this particular one because I didn't want it to be about not eating after seven.  You always hear you shouldn't do that if you are dieting.  But this is NOT a diet.  The bottom line is this is a snack I don't need--a luxury--and there are children in the world who don't get snacks period. I want to feel that.  I want to go to bed a little bit hungry.  I want, somehow, in some small, microscopic, way to understand what it means to go without something I want.)

7. Do read either In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto or Animal Vegetable Miracle: A year of Food Life (I did the Omnivore's Dilemma thing and it was great for about the first three chapters.  Then I started falling asleep.  He made his point . . . more than once.  I'm hoping these books will give me a little more understanding of the reality of what we eat and its impact on the world as a whole and on my family's bodies too.)

I also hope to visit or view online a processing plant for meat. And I intend to take one day each week and attempt to eat like the poor of Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador. These are four countries that pinch at my heart.  This part I will do with the boys; we'll go online to learn more about the conditions of these particular nations.  And speaking of the boys, so far, they've been very kind.  I had anticipated them giving me the mom, you are going to slowly torture us for an entire month? look, but they haven't.  Already, they're willing to quit the processed/fast food stuff for the month, though one of them is begging for the remaining Dr. Bob (I know, I'm cheap) that's been sitting on the counter over a week.
Basically, I've chosen to do food for a few reasons.  One--I'm a glutton, and I know it.  Two--every five seconds a child dies from hunger or preventable disease.  I need to get my head wrapped around that from a compassion standpoint.  I also need to process that fact in light of the fact that I just might be able to sponsor a child from Compassion if I am willing to eliminate/drastically reduce consumption of things like coffee.  Three--Jen Hatmaker says in her book Seven that we get to vote every day with our fork.  And we do.  I do.  I'm guilty of supporting some not so great, definitely not ethical (But who cares about animals and the environment...right? Apparently God.) practices when it comes to growing and butchering meat.  When I eat foods laden with high fructose corn syrup, again, I'm voting.  And I need to explore that from a stewardship of my body and the earth standpoint.

I have no idea where I will land, and I'm not making any granola'ish promises that I will become a wild mushroom, poke salad eating vegan.  That's pretty unlikely.  Some of you may think I'm a little off my rocker and others of you may be thinking my SEVEN are pretty lame.  No matter--you don't have to read :-)  I really debated even posting any of this.  Do they even care about this sort of thing?  Do they want to read about my addiction to coffee and sweets?  Does anyone read the blog at all?Probably not.  But, maybe, just maybe there are a few of you out there who understand where I'm coming from.  See for me, food can be my life, and my only concern is that I don't get too fat. (What? I'm being honest.)  So, if I eat what I want, have a jog, and can still fit in my Ann Taylor jeans, then it's all good.  But is it?  Really?  Because for some people in our world, food really is their life.  And they haven't any.  And Jesus said He came that they might have life.  Dare I withhold the very thing Christ came to give?  I stole this Thomas More quote from a friend's facebook page because he says it better than me.  “It's wrong to deprive someone else of a pleasure so that you can enjoy one yourself, but to deprive yourself of a pleasure so that you can add to someone else's enjoyment is an act of humanity by which you always gain more than you lose.”

A theme for me this month will be this verse.
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,"  (II Cor. 6:19-20)
You are not your own.
Really?  Because I'm afraid I've been eating like I am entirely my own and that I'm entitled to have what I want.  I'm afraid I've eaten from a vain perspective instead of a tending of the frame that God crafted approach.
Therefore honor God with your body.
The choices I make either honor my God or mar His image.  Just because I can get away with eating whatever I want from a physical standpoint doesn't mean I have honored God.  And if what I eat causes another person to have less, than I have in fact, dishonored Him.
So, here I am beginning.  Already today while sipping my boiled water from a Tim Horton's (the best coffee place in the world for my American friends who don't know) mug, I doubted this entire thing.  Why would anyone want to torture themselves?  God allowed me to be born in North America; He must have wanted me to have these things.  At church tonight I had to bring my own supper because I wasn't very confident that their meal would be SEVEN approved.  Someone immediately noticed my organic Greek yogurt and said . . . and I kid you not, "Yogurt? Really?  You live in North America with all these choices and you pick yogurt?"  (She had no idea I was doing this . . . otherwise she'd have been a thousand percent supportive.)  But, it proves my point exactly.

I do live in North America ,and I have so many choices that I no longer understand what it means to live without any choices.  Here we are in what some call Holy Week . . . those sacred days that we've placed on the calendar to remind us of the brokenness of Christ.  Surely Jesus ached with thoughts of what He would face, what He would endure that we might have life. 

 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."  (II Cor. 8:9) 

He became poor.  Gave up.  Sacrificed.  Relinquished.
That I might gain the riches of eternity.
May I become poor that someone else may gain those same blessings.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

SEVEN: A New Kind of Fast

     I like to blame things on my parents.  They gave me their genes--wide feet, chubby cheeks (all four), and the-caterpillar-for-eyebrows.  Thanks for that, Mom and Dad.  They nurtured me too.  That meant tea parties with Mom, endless hours soaking sun at the lake (so yeah, that's gonna mean skin cancer), loving food, loving the outcasts and misfits (never a holiday where we didn't sit elbow to elbow with some eclectic conglomeration of people who may not have had any other place to celebrate that year), and loving Jesus.  With Dad it has always been about the underdogs of the world.  His heart is tender; he cries over chickens squashed in cages and about went bankrupt feeding stray cats who I swear migrated from all six other continents when they heard he was filling Rubbermaid bins with food for them.  He is color blind for real, but it wouldn't matter if he could see color correctly.  He still wouldn't see it.  The world, for him, is shaded by justice, inequality/equality, and thinking critically about what we believe to be true.  So, what you are about to read is entirely their fault.  You've been warned.
      I just can't accept status quo.  I can't NOT rock the boat.  Not in my nature.  I think about things. (I explained this in the first paragraph.)  For quite some time now I've been uncomfortable with a few things--namely, I don't go hungry, nor do my children, but starvation manages to murder a child every five seconds, I live in a large, comfortable, 72 degree house while almost 1.5 million (can't even fathom that number) were without shelter in 2011 in the US alone, and a few pesky verses like that one about how religion that's pure and faultless tends to look after widows and orphans, and there are something like 15 million without mother or father in the world. So, while most of us are thinking about where we are taking our annual beach vacay, I'm haunted by the justice gene, the loving of the downtrodden gene, and I can't manage to pull the trigger on all the new GROUPON vacation bargains to viva la Mexico.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Dad.  
      In reality, I'm a tough nut to crack.  God has to peel back the scales that seal my eyes to the truths of His Word and how He intended them to be applied.  If I'm being honest, both spiritually speaking and economically speaking, in comparison with the rest of the world, I'm a saturated sponge.  Completely saturated.  I grew up in church, learned to read using the King James Bible as my primary text, and I've never gone hungry a day in my life.  Never.  So, that puts me in a privileged category.  Privileged and so full, I can't always fathom what it means to need, to want, to hunger, to thirst.  And in a spiritual sense, I've read the red words of Jesus so many times, heard the sermons so many times, sung the songs, that they have become like white noise in the background.  So, God has to peel back these scales, cause a bit of a ruckus until I'm raw, squeeze the sponge until it thirsts again for Living Water.
     Enter a chance post from a dear Canadian friend (Hi, Dani!) that linked me to a random blog that tugged at scales like you tug at a Band-Aid when you're trying to rip it off fast.  Ouch and Wow!  It was here, at Jen Hatmaker's website that I first saw her book Sevenan experimental mutiny against excess.  (Leave me alone grammar police; she didn't capitalize the letters in her title, and she has an editor!  K?)  Jen's premise?  We have far more say in what happens in our world than we realize.  We vote everyday with our wallets, with our forks, with our garbage, with our time.  We are called to love God and love others, and we are doing a shoddy job at best.  She started with herself and decided to commit seven months to purge seven specific areas of excess in her life.
     Her words:  "I started praying about what God wanted; what would move me closer to His agenda and further from mine?  How could this be meaningful, not just narcissistic and futile?  What areas needed the most renovation?  How am I blind and why?  Where have I substituted The American Dream for God's kingdom?  What in my life, in the lives of most westerners, is just too stinking much?
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Possessions
  • Media
  • Waste
  • Spending
  • Stress
     Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices.  I'm embarking on a journey of less.  It's time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble.  7 will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal:  to create space for God's kingdom to break through.
     I approach this project in the spirit of a fast:  an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life.  A fast creates margin for God to move."  (pg. 4)
    How am I blind and why?  Mmmm.  Most people unable to see are aware of their deficiency, but I'm afraid I've been a blind gal thinking she knew where she was going.  And when Jesus said, "Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God," (Matt. 6:33) I'm afraid I understood Him to mean, "As long as you seek me a lot, squeeze in everything else you possibly can, Sarah."
     Where have I substituted the American Dream for God's kingdom?  Okay, I'm reading Radical for the second time through.  This whole American Dream vs. God's kingdom business?  Just.Starting.To.Sink.In.  Just starting.  I don't even know if I should say it's sinking in--remember the saturated sponge problem?  We can spend so much time listening, reading, hearing about God loving us that we become sopping,heavy, wet with love and yet it is that very love that "compels us" (II Cor. 5:14) to motion.  Mary, sweet Mary (I kinda hate her) may have chosen the more excellent thing when she sat, soaking at Jesus' feet, but I can promise you that if she remained at his feet, he would have eventually told her to get up, go pick up her cross, and FOLLOW Him.  Surely He didn't praise her choice because she was sitting; I have to believe it had to do with the fact that she was filling herself up.  But, fellow Americans, our threshold for fullness is broken.  We are so prone to excess we no longer even know how to stop feeding.  We are a engorged people.  I am an engorged woman.
     Follow Me.   "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)  Jesus called us into action, motion.  And in truth, He modelled it for us, didn't He?  At the cross?  Like dressing the the sun or the moon, Christ clothed his holiness in the cloak of mortality, and walked among wayward, willful, wandering humanity.  And though there were only a few steps up the Golgotha's hill where carried his crucifixion cross, he had carried it his entire earthly life, hadn't he?
     So I'm thinking of His words--the follow me words--and wondering, where?  Where will I follow Him?  When I was young I thought the ultimate test of my willingness to follow would be geographical.  Would I go to Africa?  Would I?  But now I'm not so sure.  It turns out Africa might have been easier for me than denying myself here in the have-it-your-way-right-away culture of North America.  In fact, it turns out, you can run clear across the globe shouting the salvation of Jesus and never once pick up your cross and follow Him. 
     And what, my friends, if that's me?  Plucking at keys and yakking in small groups and I'm only a resounding gong, a clanging symbol whose sound causes Christ to cringe?
     What if when we post Joshua's Words in walnut frames on the walls of our homes, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord..." (Joshua 24:15) we are foolish enough to think that our commitment to go to church on Sunday, maybe teach a Sunday School class, attend a small group, and tithe exactly ten percent reads as a life of solidarity with the man who obeyed God in CRAZY ways (Would you fight a battle by walking around some city walls in silence repeatedly, day after day?)  when in reality we are really hiding behind a modern version of the Mosaic Law?   Solidarity?  I'm thinking not.
     What if I raise my hands in worship on Sunday, but my life is a pair of hands clenched into fists grasping, gripping, groping for my American Dream when the world is hungry for true worship.  The worship of a life lived out of love.  A life of motion.  A life that sacrifices in this life to gain that which cannot be taken in the next life.
     What if I'm a part of a corporate body of Christ that has gone into a sugared-life induced coma and we lay, lifeless, motionless while the world dies?
     What if my two cup of coffee a morning habit is the cause of a Compassion child NOT being sponsored because I say there's no room in the budget.  I mean are you kidding me?  I can't give up coffee in this temporary life so a child will have a chance to live, period? To one day hear of Jesus' love?  I mean don't the rivers flow Columbian brew in heaven?  Could I not wait 'til eternity to continue the habbit? Yeah, what if?
     I read her entire book in a very short amount of time.  (Okay, it may have been a good distraction from the ten million pages of our Family Book Club book, Atlas Shrugged.  Sorry, guys, I'll get back to it, I promise.)  You should too. (Read her book--The verdict's still out on Atlas)  Go here to find out more about SEVEN.  Three words in and I knew I'd have to do this.  Knew I needed to do this.  Knew God brought me to this.  And the timing is perfect.  One week before Easter, I'm a little late for Lent, but maybe I'm right on time to Follow Him into the Garden.  I see Him there, praying.  I see his face, washed red with blood vessels broken--a foreshadowing of what would come.  I see Him there, releasing every single ounce of personal ambition and desire.  My Savior, planting surrender.  My Savior, watering it with drops of bloody sweat so it would grow into a ransom for my muddy mired heart, and not just for mine, but for mankind's.
     I too want that level of surrender, and I wonder if a fasting time might not be the way to train myself.  In her book, Jen Hatmaker says, "After saying "no" to things I wanted for nearly a year, I guess I gained some control over my emotions and impulses.  God used fasting as a tool to curb my appetites and regulate my reactions.  It was a concise realization:  "Something in  me has deeply changed." 
     Perhaps this is why Scripture calls us to the practise of fasting--from food, from greed, from selfishness, from luxuries.  It isn't just the experience; it's the discipline.  It changes us.  Fasting helps us develop mastery over the competing voices in our heads that urge us toward more, toward indulgence, toward emotional volatility.  Like consistent discipline eventually shapes our children's behavior, so it is with us.  Believe it or not, God can still change us.  Not just our habits but our hearts.  Say "no" for a year and see for yourself." (Seven, pg. 219)
     I'm going to see for myself, friends.  Along the way, I hope to share with you what I'm learning, what I'm seeing.  For now, I'm standing aware of the thousands of competing voices demanding I seek them first, but my hands are open, my ears are strained.  I'm listening for the still, small voice.

Pray with me:
Lord, what are my SEVEN?