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Thirteen Years Later

In the early years we were lumps of clay, not yet formed into anything recognizable.

In love, yes, with our rose-colored glasses firmly fixed, we ate, drank, and lived young love.  For a couple of months.

For the last thirteen years, we’ve been squeezed, rolled, allowed to set in our ways, and then pressed into helpless mounds all over again.

If a prophet had told us that in the 13 years following our wedding day we would experience trials that would strip away every ounce of surface love (for one another) and superficial faith (in God), our lumpish selves would have denied it.

Through circumstances we would never have chosen for ourselves, the Lord has gifted us with love so much greater than what we pledged in our vows.

We continue to eat and drink love, the blinding glasses removed.

We taste the Lord’s love, sometimes in tears, often in awe.

We’re smothered in the messy love of our children,

We exchange love with our eyes across a noisy dinner table,

we receive it in acts of apologies,

we give it with words of encouragement,

we hold onto it in times of pain and laughter,

we linger in what we know of each other that nobody else knows.

Two misshapen mounds of clay merging into one flesh, all by God’s perfect design.

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When I Am Weak

I sit in the bathtub and try not to think.

Which means I think about everything that I don’t want to think about.

I think about

the late hour of the morning when we all woke up

and the fighting that ensued seconds later.

I think about

the groaning over chores and school

and the rising anger in my mama/teacher self.

“Gentle,” I heard the whisper earlier that day.

I think about the tears (mine were on the inside)

and the straw on the camel’s back when we realized that the toddler had consumed a tin of mints

while we were all breaking down.

I thought about the yelling (mine, and not on the inside)

and hours later when we got locked out of the house

and there was a boy preparing to throw up in the back seat.

“Gentle,” I heard the call as I continued head long in the opposite direction.

I think about the days my mom messed up

and how often the next day a present showed up on the kitchen table.

She was speaking her love language even though it left me wanting at the time.

How can I make it up to them, I wonder?

But the warm water and solitude

pull me under to a temporary state of semi-sleep

and I decide that’s better than remembering

what I don’t want to remember.

Finally I reach for a towel with my wrinkled fingertips and

attempt to get out of the bath, without a flood of thoughts.

But we know how that went already.

Since the flood won’t stop, I pour my day out to my husband.

Then I open my devotional and read the first line,

“IT’S ALL RIGHT TO BE HUMAN…” (it was written in all caps on the page itself)

My foggy heart grasps at those words.

It is?  Can it really be okay that I messed up today?

And then I recall an echo of my pastor from a few days ago

when he said “Remember, you’re human.”

I hold this idea tentatively, the possibility that my mistakes of the day

might not be a reason for such condemnation.

I look up a verse from the devotional.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me..I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Again the possibility that my weakness, rather than being a reason to put on shame, is actually for the purpose of sending me and all the kids to Christ who is perfect, who is patient, who is constant and never-changes, who is slow to anger, who is love.

A few years ago I began to realize that I didn’t need to measure my idea of perfect parents side by side to my actual parents and try to define the size of the gap.  Instead I began to see that my mom and dad were never supposed to be perfect because they were human. I even allowed that those holes were probably purposefully left there so that I couldn’t experience perfect love from anyone but my (heavenly) Father. A rather astounding idea after years of playing, “what if..” with my childhood, assuming that my kids would inevitably play the same game and enter counseling sometime in their life (still a prime possibility).

And now I know the gift my kids need, not a box to place on the kitchen table, but for their hearts.  They need the arrow that my weakness and their weakness both point to-they need the gift of the Lord.  I’ll tell them, “I’m going to love you more than I can ever put into words, you are my treasures. But I will always make mistakes.  The Lord, however, loves you perfectly, patiently, gently, and his love will never change, he will always  be constant.  When I let you down, or a friend, or the world, or when you let yourself down, look to the Lord, rather than lingering on the weakness of others (and yourself).  In my weakness, the Lord is made strong.”

I sit with these truths for several minutes before I read the rest of the verses from the day’s devotional.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”(1 peter 3:3)

So the earlier whispers were also true. God is reminding me of His grace and also still leading me toward transformation.

But if I can walk in His grace rather than the lie of condemnation I can also believe in His power to change me daily. Sometimes the change comes from falling flat on my face.

There is a mystery.  We are completely forgiven (it only needed to done once through Christ’s blood) and yet we’re still being made into His image in the midst of grumpy kids and our own sinful hearts day by day.

A mystery that could also be called, a gift.

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A Golden Thread Through Grief

 

From Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter

“I began to know my story then.  Like everybody’s it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead.  What is the thread that holds it all together?  Grief, I thought for a while.  And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through…But grief is not a force and has no power to hold.  You can only bear it.  Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.”

 

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When the World Broke

As our family drove home last night we passed the engorged parking lot of Target and it was then that my world cracked wide open.

I thought about the men that we’d sat with around the table a few hours earlier.  Having no car themselves, these men had been driven in a stranger’s car to the church.  They’d been offered toothbrushes and soap, a place to put their laundry if they wanted their clothes washed. Passing by the cots that would be their guaranteed bed for one night, they sat down at the tables we’d set up.

We started bringing dishes out.  “That looks good,” one man said. And the empty plates were filled.

Here were the men we’d been preparing for all week.  Making christmas cards, decorations, and gift bags with things as simple as a hat, a stamped letter to get in touch with a family member.  Unlike so much of America’s shoppers, we hadn’t purchased Ipods or Kindles  (how would they connect those) or a large screen TV since, unlike everyone else I knew, they didn’t have a wall to hang it on.

All week we’d had a project.

We read all the right verses about how Jesus said what we do for the least of these we do for him and how he came for the hungry, lost, and oppressed.  (All truth.)

But until we sat down with these men, it had remained a project with a whole lot of unknown.  This was the part we’d been nervous about.

But then we saw what this meal, a meal that we could have any night at our house, meant to them.

We saw the toiletries and the laundry bags and watched them stand in a circle and listen to a list of rules for their one night at the church.  Were they just glad to have a bed, or was their self-respect brought even lower by the dependency on a bunch of strangers just to eat and sleep comfortably?

Now we had faces.  Now we saw hunger. Now we saw them at the mercy of a bunch of strangers.

Suddenly each object we placed in their gift bags was no longer theoretical-we saw one gentleman put his new hat on before he headed out for a smoke.

We were past “family christmas project” and stressed out mom who had worked hard to get things done that day, to privilege.

What a privilege.

And the glowing sign of Target flashed in my head again and we continued to drive through the crack between two worlds.  There was the world getting all of their last minute shopping done and there were these men who were back at the church getting ready for their one night before they were driven somewhere else the next morning.

In the back the kids were asking, “Can we do this again, can we please do this again?”

But the elation of pulling off the whole evening had dissipated and I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that these men weren’t a project.  Tomorrow their day was going to be just as challenging as this one.  We served them one meal out of how many that they need to eat in a year?  And it made me sad that it was privilege.  It made me sad that one meal or one bit of kindness should be a big deal for them at all.

We live in a small home, our kids share rooms, we don’t own big gadgets, and yet we are so rich.  I think if we have enough food to complain about what we’re eating for breakfast, or be annoyed by the pile of stuff blocking the door, or the ability to depend only on our own selves for what we need, then we’re stinking rich, actually.

But this isn’t a post about guilt.  I’m not asking the question, “how can we all feel bad enough about our stuff?”.

It’s a post about how we weren’t designed for this world.  This isn’t our home.  This is a place of pain, hunger, longing and brokenness.  We were made for a perfect world, but sin changed all of that.  The world actually broke a long time ago but we’re pretty good at being blind.

We’re all just pitching our tents here in this world, but this world is like the cots those men slept in last night. Temporary.  The more time I spend here, the more I realize it doesn’t have anything I’m really looking for.  The more time I spend in the nursing home with my Dad and the others who live there, the more I long to pitch my tent in heaven.

Until then, yes, we’ll try really hard with the help of the Holy Spirit to discern between the lies of this world (success, money, keeping up with the Jones’, it’s all about you, everyone man for himself), and we’ll try really hard to fill the brokenness with food, kindness and love.  But we already know it’s only a patch, because this broken world will always be broken.

Thank goodness God in the flesh came to save us all.  I can’t wait til we all go home.

 

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A Really Good Friend, Maybe

I was a good friend in school.  I could be so funny, I have the notes from seventh grade to prove it.  I could be helpful, compassionate, ready with an extra hand or a car ride.

Okay, sometimes I could be a good friend.

And sometimes I could be manipulative.  Kind, because I needed help fixing my car, funny because my teacher might let me out of an assignment, thoughtful because the person might open a door for me. The friends that felt like I had more of an agenda than a relationship didn’t stay my friends for the long run and who could blame them.

Now let me introduce you to my dear friend, Pride.  She’s not anything like I used to be.  She is so kind, always saying really encouraging things to me.  The other day she was at the house and she said:

“You’re such a great mom, listen to how your daughter prayed just now! That’s because of you.”

I blushed and gave myself a checkmark on the mom scorecard.

One time, after a difficult day of taking care of some issues with my Dad, she said:

“You’re really wise you know, how mature in your faith, I really admire you.”

I felt the tiredness ease back and I lifted my head a little higher.

And just yesterday she sat beside me while I worked on some art.

“You’ve got talent you know, you should find a way to show off,” she coughed quickly,  “I mean, use your gifts.”

I just love spending time with her, with all her affectionate words she’s got to be a really good friend, right?

I mean she wouldn’t have an agenda, any reason to lift me a little higher in my own esteem, all the while setting the stage for my fall.  I feel ashamed even suggesting that of her.

It’s just that lately her friendship’s become a bit of a burden.  (Okay, a lot of a burden, just between you and me.)  I’ve been trying to figure out how to focus on Christ during this month of celebration and I’ve talked to her a few times about how overwhelmed I’ve been feeling.  But she seems to think I should shove that feeling aside.

“You know those people at the nursing home are really impressed when you bring them gifts each year.  Remember how the one lady said she couldn’t believe all that you do and that you have the time to think of her as well.”

“I don’t know if I can this year though,” I answered back, hoping for some understanding.

“But you look like, I mean, you are such a great mom when you go in there with your troop of kids and hand out handmade gifts, of course you have to do it.

“I know, but we’re so busy and I’m having trouble settling down with Matt in the evenings and I still have to think about family gifts and I have to make sure every day that we do school is filled with amazing advent activities.”

“Oh, of course you have to do the family gifts.  And they should all be handmade, you can’t pass up an opportunity to impress someone.  And you definitely have to have the perfect plan for school activities, I mean you need some things to post on your blog right?”

At that point, her friend, Works, joined us for a Peppermint Mocha.

“Oh, are you guys talking about Christmas?  Have you gotten all of your service projects lined up, you know you’re kids will be selfish for the rest of their lives if you don’t get better organized.  My family is going to do the Angel Tree, and serve dinner at the shelter, and we’re going to go ring the bell for the Salvation Army, even our two year old is getting involved….

I drifted out of the conversation as they continued to list off their service projects.  Are they really going to do all of that stuff?  How do they handle it all?

I really like these guys, I tell myself, I can learn something from them.

And they seem to really like me, I respond back to myself, a little less certain.

“What in the world does any of this have to do with preparing your heart for Jesus,” an entirely different voice joins in my own private dialogue.

I have to do all of these things or Christmas won’t be special, or spiritual, and people will think less of me,” I venture to this new voice.

“You seem to have forgotten something on your list,” the voice calmly answers back.

What?  Let me look: service projects, handmade gifts, the Christmas choir at church, meaningful family advent… is there really more I have to do?” I ask wearily, but with my pen ready to make the list complete.

You forgot love.”

L-O-, ” I stop writing.

You can do all of these without love.  And you can walk through the next month without experiencing any of Christ’s love for you.”

“You mean,” I paused, trying to sort it out,”I shouldn’t do any of the things on my list?”

“No, you should let love shape how those things look.  Maybe your gifts for family have more to do with thoughtfulness than how impressive your hand-made gift looks.  Maybe the Christmas choir is a gift to your children out of love because they’re excited about it, maybe you’re loving the nursing home workers by choosing to bring them a card and a small gift.  Maybe you don’t do these things because they make you feel really good about yourself and a little extra spiritual this month, but you do them because you know a love that so great you can’t keep it to yourself.”

I think back to Pride’s words and try to reconcile them to the words of this new friend.  Pride and Works made me feel the potential to be lifted high, but they also made me feel incredibly heavy, so heavy I didn’t know how I was going to get up the rickety pedestal they put in front of me.  But with this friend I felt no desire to climb, instead I wanted to lift others up with this love he was talking about.  And something akin to peace was settling around me.

“Hey, what’s your name, ” I call out.

“Spirit,” he said.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over may body to hardship that I my boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

I Corinthians 13: 2, 3

 

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An Act of Love

 

There is a husband leaving on business.

There is a mama in denial,

hoping for better than the worst.

 

There is throw-up all over the wall.

There is a mama who texts a picture to the husband.

There are more emergencies,

there is the last straw.

 

There is,

finally,

quiet.

 

There is a peaceful corner calling with its orange and yellow view to the outside.

There is a sketch book, pens, paints and brushes.

There is mama, caught in an act

Of creating.

There is prayer through painting.

There is painting that is prayer.

There is a gift.

Not what is brought to the page,

no,

the gift He gave of my enjoyment

in the act and of His delight in me,

enjoying.

A gift that doesn’t feel like

love through discipline

but rather love

for love’s sake.

The painting is done and then

there is more life.

 

There are groans and the Holy Spirit moving.

There is the Word, living and active.

There is the hand that delivers trials

and then delivers His people from them.

There is (a little more) faith.

From the throw-up

To the panic

To the paint

and the prayer

To the Spirit

and the Word

to the peace,

It is all Love.

 

Unfailing,

Unceasing.

(for more about His unfailing love read Psalm 107)

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What I Thought I was Teaching My Kids

If I made a list of character traits I hope we’ve instilled in our kids by the time they’re eighteen (at least the foundation of these traits), it would look something like this:

Wise, Loving, Graceful, Creative, Joyful.

All admirable things to pray for and work toward, right?  That’s what I thought, until this week.

I thought I wanted to teach my kids to “make good choices” and avoid some of the crap I’ve been through from my own sin or the sin of someone near me.

I thought I wanted to teach my kids what it means to love other people well and live for a purpose beyond their own needs and wants.

I thought I wanted to teach my kids they are and will always can be creative, to prevent that from being taken from them, and to watch them use their gifts to the glory of God.

I thought I wanted to teach my kids to know joy-not a just a life of seeking happiness, the shallowest (and most easily lost) form of joy.  Joy in the small moments.  Joy in the imperfect, messy moments.  Joy that originates and ends in the knowledge of the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.

I do want all of those things.  But I don’t think it’s the Lord’s goal to make them feel like “pretty good Christians”.

One day when they’re 34, like me, they might get one heck of a reminder of their sinfulness (pretty much a guarantee, right?).  It will come along right when they are feeling a bit wise, a bit removed from their old self, and the reminder might not even be because of something they’ve done.

But no matter what, they will be stunned, probably angry at the interruption to what they viewed as their growth and maturity.

Later, by the grace of God, they might look beneath the anger and realize they’re angry because they’ve turned being wise and “a pretty good Christian” into an idol, and someone just messed with their idol.

And from it, like me, they might realize that all of their wisdom, love, grace and joy is completely imperfect and forever will be until the very end.  When that happens I hope they already know that all they really need to is to desperately know their need for the Lord. And accept that they’ll need Him forever.  And to have their hope in Him, only Him, and not in their own anything.

Then, like me, they can stumble along, a little stunned, but also thankful for the reminder.  Thankful beyond words.  For it was his His love that brought the reminder.

So I take another look at my list.  And think about what I can say to them when they are not 34, but still measuring below my chin.

I can say, “Do better, do better.  Get it right.  Make better choices.  Be wiser.  Stop loving so imperfectly.  Don’t mess up so much.”

or

I can say, “Grace to you.  It’s okay.  Call to the Lord.   You need him.  You’ll always need him.  Don’t try to stop needing him. You’re not trying to get it perfect.  You can’t get it perfect. So receive love and grace instead.  Let Him do His work. And you-you hope.”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you my overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

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What If I Could Have Done It Better?

I’m moving into my 34th year of anticipating fall. Inevitably, without any permission from me, the days move on-quickly.  And although my point is not that I am so very old, indulge me just for a minute.  A sampling of three recent experiences that have brought my attention to age:

First, the birthday card from my children last week included a proverb about gray hair, based, I will add, on their actual observation of the silver weaving through my brown.

Second, as we crossed the college campus last week for choir, my four ducks in a row behind me, I realized we were walking through Freshman Week.  Food, beach balls, inflatable slides,  and young, pink, new adults spread out like a new crop of awkward saplings.  I walked the campus as an invisible woman (I know I was non-existant because I didn’t even glance at people who were married with children when I was freshman). And yet the memories of my first week at college danced across my thoughts, rising with every sense of smell and taste and color. And then I did a little math to recall the year of those memories and I couldn’t help but think, “I’m so old!”

And a final, third reminder in this month of my birthday arrived through a sweet nurse that takes care of my Dad.

“I’m getting married in three weeks!” she announced with flushed cheeks.

“How old are you?” I asked after a few other comments.

“Twenty four,” she answered.  “I’ve been living with my parents and now I have to go live with a boy!” She exclaimed with equal parts excitement and concern.

After, as I sat with my Dad, my mind traveled through the decade that stood between the nurse and myself.

That’s a lot of life, I thought. Lessons of love, losing and finding identity as a parent and wife, unexpected surgeries with our second child, the six years of caring for my Dad, becoming a teacher-that’s a lot of life and lot of journey.

Oh, I realize to anyone who’s older than me, I sound like a baby mewling.  But for now I can only talk about my thirty four years and more specifically the last ten or so.

I’m thankful for the wisdom gained through experience and it makes parenting our fourth child much less stressful.  But there is pain in knowing that I can’t go back and apply anything I’ve learned to the early years.  I have to accept all of the mistakes and the hurt I’ve lived and caused during the learning of the lessons.

But I still go there.

What if I had known more about God’s grace when my first born was two?  What if I had snuggled her more and dumped the books in the garbage?

What if I had known, in the early years of our second child, that each child would be different and therefore, need different parenting?

What if I had been less angry?

What if we had seen different doctors, asked different questions, been at the hospital more in the spring of 2010, could we have kept my Dad from disappearing before our eyes?

There are both gifts and pain in knowledge.

A few weeks ago I listened to an older friend.  A friend with a decade and a half added on to my 34 years.  A friend, who now in the peak years of teenage parenting, is learning the difficult lessons that she knows will help her parent child three and four differently but can do nothing to prevent the hard road that has begun with her eldest son.

I received her words as an early birthday gift.

“I don’t spend time second-guessing and wondering how I could have done things differently.  I’ve never struggled with that.  I know that almost every day of my life I’ve gotten up and given my very best to the day with what I had at the time.  And that’s enough.”

On the drive home from my Dad, the what-ifs fill my mind, louder than the radio meant for distraction.  And as I look at the treasure of my eldest daughter: beautful on the outside, filled with gems of love and God inside, I worry “what if I had….?”

On the good days I can stop myself and think:

On all of the days I was making mistakes and laying the ground for the wisdom I’ve gained, I was doing the best, always giving the most I had to give with what I had.  Yes, the effort was broken, because I am broken, but I was giving my best effort. And that’s enough.

All of the empty spaces I’ve left in my family are the ones that God will need to come in and fill, just as He’s doing in my own empty spaces.

On those other days, the almost days where I may have gotten out of bed but my heart, my mind, my prayers, my hope all stayed under the covers, I have real regrets and I made big mistakes.  So how do I answer to the days that I can’t say I tried my best?  I can only let God answer, the same answer He’s given me through friends, through my husband, through His word:

“There is now no condemnation for those who are  in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)

Do you feel the peace and grace trying to edge in?

 

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The God of Future Grace

The five of us walk confidently into the sanctuary.

After a week of practicing how to get the family somewhere early (hint: Vacation Bible School), we’ve made it on time. Even with Daddy out of town.

I stand for worship and Drummer boy climbs onto the chair so that his head is even with mine and his body fits into my left arm.  On my right Jellybean moves into the other open arm and Mookie, left with no side to take, grabs my hand instead.

“He is wonderful, He is glorious,
Clothed in righteousness, full of tenderness.”

Voices of all ages join together and my heart lands on the word tenderness.  I think back to the times that I’ve raised my voice (code phrase for yelled) or been impatient with the bickering this past week and again I feel the warm bodies pressed in from all directions. I’m in awe and thankful that they still desire to be with me much less really be with me skin and heart and all.

I begin to think of a nice blog post about God’s tenderness and mercy.

I also compose a few pretend conversations in my head that might occur after the service.

“What a sweet picture your family was this morning,” a friend behind us might lean forward and comment.

I’ll look surprised and moved, “We’ve had a quite a week, too.  Isn’t God merciful?”

(You might have noticed that I’ve paused in my worship.)

I’m a few sentences into my mental blog draft when I notice that my son has his finger in his nose with the hand that’s not holding me in a sweet hug.

“Joshua, don’t do that,” I whisper.

“I have to.”

“No you don’t.”

“I need a kleenex.”

I disengage from the girls embraces and we leave the front row and head down the long aisle, a rather tight smile issuing from my face as we see familiar faces in the pews.

He arms himself with toilet paper and we return to the front row, the return trip doesn’t require smiling because we only see the backsides of heads.

We take up our stance for worship and I look for some more words in the music that might remind of that tenderness I was so keen on a few minutes ago.

I’m distracted by the familiar nose-picking gesture, enhanced now with a long trail of toilet paper across my sons lap.  Every few minutes he removes it from his nose and looks at the excavation.

For my son’s sake, I should mention here that I forgot to give him his allergy medication before leaving the house and he has a very legitimate itchy, runny nose and a six year old amount of self-control.

The girls have noticed their brother’s particular struggle and they’ve created a distance between our side and their side. Snuggle time is over.

I’m absolutely sure that at least three families have a good view of the nose cleaning party so I try strategy number 1.

Distraction.

“Color in your sketch book, it will make the time go faster I promise,” I conjole.

He grunts a “no” and I pick up the sketchbook myself, thinking I’ll draw something that will lure him into my plan.

After a brief sketch time, I hand him the markers and pencil to fill in my design.

He hands them back to me and gestures for me to do my own coloring.

By this time the pastor is exhorting the congregation from the book of Luke but the name of the book is all I’ve gotten so far. Which makes me angrier because don’t I deserve to have a few minutes to hear this passage thank you very much.

“I need more toilet paper.”

We leave the front row again and I feel the eyes (I say feel, because I’m looking at the floor this time, not at faces) of criticism follow us down the length of the pew.

We return and I make a desperate grab for the bulletin, looking for the scripture and notes for the day.  The runny, itchy nose has moved into tremors down the boy’s arms and legs and he’s intermittedly flopping across my lap like a dead fish or putting toilet paper in his nose.

Thoughts from the mom’s behind me float forward as clear as if they’re appearing in print on my sermon notes.

“You shouldn’t have sat on the front row.  You’re family is so distracting.”

“Why doesn’t your son have better manners about his nose?”

“What a sweet, sweet picture,” one mom thinks, as she looks past us to the very composed family on our left.

Seeing that distraction is a fool’s game, I move on to quiet threats.

“If you don’t get that out of your nose and settled down you will not be going to your class when this is over,”

I whisper fiercely, knowing how much he loves his teachers, even as my hand gently rubs his arm to demonstrate that I’m a loving mom.

These scenarios repeat like a scratched cd until finally it’s time to past the collection plates and sing one last song.

I remember the touching blog about God’s tenderness that remains saved in my head from forty-five minutes ago.  Something like laughter, but not the funny kind, slips from my throat.  Not even a few minutes of peace in church, I rant inwardly.

I’m weighted down with condemnation and snotty toilet paper.  What happened to God’s tenderness and mercy that I wanted to give thanks for less than an hour ago?  Where is it now? This doesn’t feel merciful at all.

(Mercifully) I realize that I’ve been experiencing self-condemnation not God’s condemnation.  Even if some of the thoughts I imagined from other Mamas are real, that’s still not condemnation from the Lord.  I imagine running into Jesus as we exit the sanctuary and realize He’s already meeting me with mercy and grace.

Looking ahead to the rest of the day (day 3 of temporary single parenting), I see future acts of sin (mine and the kids) and future acts of grace (the Lord’s first and hopefully mine soon to follow).

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Psalm 86: 15

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Extraordinary Example of Perseverance

It’s a night of feeling overwhelmed.

Of wondering about those care-free pool days that I hear about each summer.

Of stepping near the cliff that will only take me to self-pity and away from the word of truth that gives life.

I find myself again questioning God’s hand in suffering, and how to walk through these weeks with any measure of grace.

I thought of my pastor’s words, how there are times we need to be gently rebuked and reminded of the truth and promises of God’s word.  I needed someone to throw a shoe at me.

And then I thought about my daughter.

My extraordinary daughter.

The one we called mountain goat (the literal meaning of her name), princess, stubborn, and named after the girl who put a tent peg in a guy’s head (see the book of Judges).   The Lord gave her a name of beauty and strength and she’s demonstrated at least one of those attributes each day of her life.

(Just a brief note on Jellyfish.  She was born with a heart defect and underwent heart surgery when she was four days old. She was also missing a bone and finger on her left arm.  I don’t often describe her so specifically because it’s a very limited view of her as a person, but in this case it helps tell her story.)

Early on, as she learned to crawl with an arm cast and then walk with a cast, and then walk with a cast and hold about ten toys in her hands, we had a pretty good view of her determination.

When she learned to tie her shoes, ride a bike, rollerblade, and swim, my awe of this particular character trait enlarged.  It wasn’t in the moment of accomplishment, it was watching her in the process. Her eye on the goal, come what may.

In the last year she’s also fallen in love with God’s word, which has only expanded her beauty and determination.

On the before side of this last surgery I told friends she was going to go through it fighting, pushing forward, surprising us all.

And she did.

And as I look back over the past few weeks I realize I can take a few cues from her on how to walk through the next few weeks.

When she was scared, she asked me to pray.  I can ask people who care for me to pray for me.

When she was in pain, she breathed slowly, in and out, through the pain. She could have competed with the best of mamas in labor. I can ask God to help me endure the pain but not spend my time running to escape it.

When she needed peace and rest she listened to our church worship CD.  I can worship God despite my circumstances as He remains the same each day.

When she came home to face three weeks using her non-dominant (and structurally challenged) hand, she wrote, drew and ate, and climbed trees with that hand.  Let me add here that she’s also a perfectionist.  So normally she wouldn’t stand for wobbly letters and drawings, but her determination overtook her perfectionism.  I can keep walking forward instead of letting fear paralyze me.

When the physical therapist assigned homework, Jellyfish did twice the number of exercises without once needing a reminder.  I can be strong because He who made me has already given me everything I need for every good work.

And after a challenging session today, she told the therapist, “That was satisfying”.  I can move with God instead of against His hand. For “how much more should I submit to the father of our spirits and live.” (Hebrews 12:9)

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

-Hebrews 12:12 (The twelfth chapter of Hebrews is a great place to turn for encouragement and truth during a difficult trial.)

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