Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You Can't Erase Mistakes, But You Can Find Covering

She gasped when she realized its power, that tiny pink nub on the other side of the pencil.  It was a simple eraser, but it brought her nothing short of sheer delight.

I hear her at the kitchen table -- scratching and scrawling her letters, then giddily exclaiming "ah, I made a mistake!"  A smile creeps across her face as she flips the pencil upside-down and busily rubs until the graphite line has all but disappeared.  For her, and for now, there is joy in the "undoing" of errors, in the making of all things right.

Sometimes, I wish I had that delight -- the joy of simply "erasing mistakes."  Oh, to simply flip a pencil upside down and erase my harsh words, my judgmental spirit, my indifference towards my God.  But sin is stronger than pencils, and grown-up mistakes can leave permanent marks on the soul.  

And since I can't erase, I simply try to cover them up.  I hide my errors behind justifications, I allow time to fade their potency.  If I do acknowledge error, I do so with embarrassment and guilt.  I want others acknowledge their sin first before I'll admit to my own.  Confession becomes a shameful, exposing process. And it strips the delight from my relationships. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Years ago, there was a man who covered up errors, hid behind excuses, buried his mistakes, and soon found himself wasting away -- living in agony.  Surprisingly, his joy came when he stopped trying to cover himself, and and instead admitted his need for other-covering:

"Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered...When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long...
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover up my iniquity."
Psalm 32 (portions)

Blessing-- joy beyond words -- comes not through avoiding, or hiding -- but covering.  And there's a different kind of covering that we need -- it's not self-covering, but cross-covering.

Jesus has paid it all.  He has covered you.  Because our sins, our failures, our mistakes -- they can never just be "erased."  They can't simply be "undone," like an unwanted pencil mark on a paper.  But they can be paid for.  They can be covered through the cross.  The One whom we've wronged treats us as righteous and perfect.  

It's better than an eraser. 

Do you delight in the correction of your mistakes?
Do you quickly and humbly admit wrong against your spouse, or do you demand evidence and a reciprocated apology?
Do you relish the chance to reconcile with your children? Or do you angrily mutter, "I'm sorry" between clenched teeth, inwardly blaming them for provoking you?
Do you eagerly approach God's throne in confession, knowing that grace and forgiveness freely abounds in Christ?

How much of your day-to-day misery, exhaustion, despair, and broken relationships is a result of hiding, excusing, or pointing the finger at others?

Confess joyfully.  Find a better covering in Christ.   Blessing is yours for the taking.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Speaking Truth To Your Heart

Ten more sips of your milk, and then you can be done, I told her as I stood over the sink full of dishes.  My eyes never shifted, but my ears took note of her steady sips and soft counting.

Sip.  One.

Sip. Two.

Sip. Three.

But somewhere around halfway, the counting increased very quickly.  Too quickly to be true.

I turned toward her as she announced the completion of her task.

Sweetheart, are you trying to deceive mommy? Did you really take those sips?

She shook her head no, eyes steady on the floor.  I walked over and tilted her chin upward until her gaze met mine.

Joanna, you may not lie to mommy.  God is truth, and in this home, we speak what is true.

I resumed my dishes, she resumed her sipping. I commended myself on a parenting-job-well-done.

Yet within minutes, I found myself down on the floor, wiping vomit from the chair legs, my jeans, her hair.  And in that instant, I became the one telling lies.

No one else has to deal with this.  Lie. 
She's TRYING to get under my skin.  Lie.
This is never going to change. Lie.
I'm never going to change. Lie.
Why do I even bother?  This isn't worth it. Lie.
Doesn't God care enough to stop this?  Lie.

I command truth-telling from the lips of my children, yet I am the main contributor of lies in our home.

But I easily excuse it -- because I'm just venting,
or letting it all out,
and don't I deserve a little room just to say how I really feel?

But let's call it what it is.  We hear the words of God, we know the nature of God, we read the promises of God, yet we dismiss them as lies.  Isn't it what happened in the garden?  Eve believed a lie.  She lived a lie:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? 
(Numbers 23:19)

We call God a liar when we doubt what He has said, and in doing so, we become the one who lies.

When you're tempted to spout off a lie -- a declaration that God is not just, or merciful, or kind, or you deserve better, or others have it better --- choose truth.  Recite what God has told you to be true.  Cling to the promises of His Word.  

Teach your children to speak words that are true -- words that reflect the very character of our God.   But don't just teach them.  Show them.  Model to them a life that holds fast to truth, even -- especially -- when it hurts.

Lies come easily.
Truth is hard.
But when your heart hurts the most -- and you choose the words of truth -- you sing the sweetest songs of praise.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Give Your Soul the Food that Nourishes

I hear her quiet footsteps coming down the steps, her soft voice quickly following:

I'm hungry, mama.

I smile.  My heart melts as it always does when she announces a desire for food.  My daughter's feeding disability not only prevents her from eating normally, but also from recognizing hunger pangs, so these rare words from her lips are especially sweet.

What can I get you for a snack, hon? Pudding?  Yogurt? 

I offer a wide array of options to satisfy her hunger, hoping one of them will strike her fancy.

No thank, mama.  I'll just eat this pretend hamburger.
She picks up the brown, plastic disk off the floor.  I pick up another piece of laundry.  She pretends to munch away.  I pretend that I'm not bothered by the whole exchange.

But I am.  My heart breaks that when I offer her body real nourishment, she rejects it for something fake -- pretend food that will never nourish.

Yet I'm more like my daughter than I care to admit.

I too, regularly choose to indulge in something lesser, something pretend.

In a day spent constantly meeting the needs of dependent little ones, my energy tank runs dry, and my soul craves nourishment.

I need food that will sustain me through long hours and thankless tasks.  I need encouragement, rest, strength, purpose, hope, a reason to persevere – yet I opt to feast on fake food.  I busy myself with social media, texting, email.  I indulge in hobbies, snacks, daydreaming.  I fill up my soul with enough distractions to get me through until bedtime – and then curiously wonder why I’m still hungry after my house is quiet.

Perhaps we’re choosing the wrong nourishment. 

Our merciful God extends a dinner invitation for malnourished souls like mine: 

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money - come, buy and eat!... Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live..." 
(Isaiah 55:1-3)

Your soul doesn't need a distraction.   It needs real food -- God Himself.  God holds out the promise of good, delightful, rich, satisfying food -- He offers Himself:

"Come to Me; hear, that your soul may live..." (vs 3)

True nourishment is never found in something, it’s always found in someone.

Put down the fake hamburger.  Turn the iPhone on silent. Ignore the text. Let the remote lie untouched.  They won’t fill you anyway.
Instead, come to Jesus. Find rest in Him.   And allow the promises of His Word to nourish, strengthen, and encourage your soul.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

You Can Turn Today Around

The clock had barely ticked 9am, and already, the morning was replete with whining, complaining, outright rebellion, free-flowing tears, and a pair of wet underpants.   I held her on my lap as she whimpered quietly.  And I pleaded.

The day doesn't have to be like this, sweetheart.  You don't have to continue down the path of disobedience. Wouldn't you rather that today be full of joy and fun, rather than sadness? You can repent, choose to obey mommy, and we can turn today around.   

We all have those days -- days when it feels like everything is falling apart, and we're sitting in a pair of wet underpants by 9am.

We easily believe that days that start well, stay well.  But days that start off poorly...well, they only ever get worse.  

I frequently find myself in patterns of bitterness, complaining, harsh words, impatience, nagging, or envy, and it feels like I just can't escape the trajectory.  The whole day is ruined, I tell myself. The only way out is for the day to end -- for me to just try again tomorrow.  

When it feels like all is ruined -- there is always an out:  Repentance.

Repentance has been a buzz word in our home.  Repentance means turning away from disobedience and turning towards obedience, and always through the power of the cross.

"Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  
that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..."
Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

The gospel says we can always, always, turn today around.

There's always room at the cross for confession.
There's always grace through the cross for forgiveness.
And there's always power through the cross not just for a new day, but for a new middle-of-the day.  

Maybe you can't change the attitude of your children today, or tackle ALL of the laundry today, or solve your financial crisis today.

But there's one thing you can change today -- you.  You can turn from patterns of sin and destruction that will only ever make your day worse -- never better.  And if you can change you, then no matter how poorly today has gone, you can turn today around.

Is your home filled to the brim with whining children, piles of dirty shoes, unwashed dishes and never ending to-do lists, and the only contribution you can make is a poor attitude?
Are you ready to crawl back in bed by 10am and pray that tomorrow comes quickly?

Don't give up.  Don't give in.  Just repent.

You can turn today around.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Only Routine You Really Need

Somewhere between the holidays, traveling, vacations, conferences, and sickness, something very important tends to slip quietly out my front door.  I almost don't notice its absence until all the seasonal excitement is dwindling, and when I do realize its gone, I'm quickly filled with guilt for every letting out of my sight --


Things that we may normally do during a normal week suddenly disappear.  And things we normal don't do during a normal week suddenly become the norm -- sleeping in, eating junk food, leaving stuff everywhere and neglecting the clean up.

As soon as I notice my routines disappearing, my mind begins rattling off a list of "should's."  I beat myself up for neglecting the "normal" and wallow in guilt for all that I've failed to do.

I should get back to a regular wake-up routine.
What happened to the kid's bedtime routine?
I need a better excercise routine.
A healthier meal routine.
A better blogging routine.
A better quiet-time routine.
A more consistent homeschooling routine.

Routines in life bless me.  They can encourage godliness in me, they can help me train my children well, they can help me love my husband better.  Routines can make me more effective  in my work, more productive during my day, and more stable in my emotions.

But if I'm honest, routines can easily become dangerous.  They can quickly become less about me honoring God, and more about me honoring myself.  When I'm in routine, I feel secure.  When I'm in routine, I feel self-sufficient.  When I'm in routine, a subtle pride starts to creep in that says, "I've got this mother/wife thing down."

Routines have a funny way of pushing aside our dependence and zooming in on our strengths.  And so while routines may be helpful, there's only one that essential.  

The only routine my soul really NEEDS is the daily reminding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Did you forget your cleaning routine for the week?  Breathe in.  Remind yourself of the daily cleansing of Jesus' sacrifice for you.
Have you slipped up on your food and exercise routine again? Breathe out.  The gospel of Jesus is our daily bread. 
Have you forgotten the last time you've spent quality time reading to your children before bed? Take a deep breath.  It's not what's most important. 

Sometimes, we need to be out of routine to remember what's most important.  Somedays the chaos, the sickness, the abnormal schedules -- somedays they're actually a gift.
Because when even for a moment, life lacks routine, we can inhale deeply the only thing we actually need -- grace. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Longing Fulfilled: Trusting God's Promises for the New Year

It was only a single cracker.

But for a mama filled with longing and doubt, that single Ritz was a reminder of God's faithfulness.

It was 5 months ago that we sat down together with journal in hand, and penned some "Autumn 2013 goals" for our family.  Areas of growth, dreams for the future, character traits to hone.  And for her, for our daughter plagued for years with a feeding disability, it was a simple goal: chew and swallow a single cracker by the end of the year. 

We even laughed as we wrote it.  We can dream, can't we? we said to one another.  But even in laughter, our hearts ached with the hopelessness that it would ever change.

And so on December 31st, just hours before midnight, when she swallowed down the last remnants of a cracker, I wept.

I wept because God sees the desires of my heart.
I wept because God is concerned about the small details of my life.
I wept because God keeps His promises to reverse the curse and fix the brokenness around me.
I wept because God is faithful when I am full of doubts.
I wept because heaven is coming and all promises will be forever fulfilled.

It was more than a cracker.  It was an ebenezer. 

As you consider the coming year, resolve to believe daily in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Resolve to live life with eyes open to see His promises fulfilled.
Resolve to fix your eyes on Heaven, where He will once and for all make everything new.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wired for Reward

It didn't take much convincing.

"I'll give you a dollar when you're done," she told me, and I was off and running toward the driveway.

Growing up, my mom offered a dollar to any child willing to vacuum and wash her car.  The thought of that crisp dollar bill lingered in my mind as I picked up the car trash, dragged out the vacuum, scrubbed the hubcaps until they shone.

We all have our versions of "dollar bill" rewards.  We were wired that way.    

We toil long hours, we sweat profusely, we do the things we despise the most so that in the end, we get the reward we long for.  Sometimes it's money -- sometimes a promotion -- sometimes a degree -- sometimes a slimmer figure.

For many of us, we subtly chase the reward of validation.  We long to be told that we're doing a good job.  We long for others to see our tireless labors.  We want others to notice our effort, affirm our work ethic, applaud our successes, and commiserate in our sadness.  There's nothing wrong with reward.  It's a Biblical principle that God invented and delights in.

But as a mom, much of my labor happens behind closed doors.  Perhaps yours does too.  No one sees it.  No one notices.  No one comments on the hours spend playing with, training, praying for, and providing for my children's needs.

And so, the reward that I long for -- I chase after.

It's reward that I look for when I tell people just how many times that day I cleaned up vomit or announce how few hours of sleep I got the previous night.
It's reward that I chase when my husband returns and I recount every hard detail of every difficult moment.
It's reward that I want when I mentally compare my accomplishments with those of other moms.

And typically, I get the reward that I want.  People fawn over my efforts and sympathize with labors and shower me with phrases like, "you poor thing," and "how do you do it all," and "what an amazing mother you are!"

But am I settling for a reward too small?  Jesus seemed to think so.

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
(Matthew 6:1-2)

Do you realize that there's reward in Heaven for you?  And do you realize that when we chase after reward here on earth, even in subtle ways, that validation is the only reward we receive?  We actually forfeit the reward in heaven -- the very thing our hearts long for. 

Don't settle the praise of men.  Don't live for the "good jobs!" or the "I'm so impressed!" of others.   As you faithfully serve your family and no one notices, don't chase after the fleeting reward of validation.  Something greater awaits you in heaven.