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.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Community: God's Response to Isolation (Part 2)

If isolation is a dark enemy, then godly community is your closest friend. 
  • If isolation slowly destroys the soul, then godly community provides the nurturing balm.
  • And if isolation stems rooted in pride and resentment, then godly community requires humility and gratitude.
Biblical community is the obvious choice.  But in the moment of sadness, loneliness, discouragement, and envy of others, Biblical community may be the hardest choice.  And how do we get there when we feel so alienated from others?

The God who created us for the community, also gives us the first step to pursuing it.    He declares --

 There is a COMMONALITY among all believers.

The word "commonality" may cause your hairs to stand on end.  

They know nothing of what I've been through.
They're at a totally different stage of life.
We couldn't be anymore different.

But the Bible speaks different words:

 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Isolation is a very real emotion.  But according to God's Word, it's not actually a Biblical option.  Circumstances may be unique.  Situations may vary.  But the longings of the heart, the temptations of the flesh, the struggle and sadness of suffering; they are common to all.

That mom sitting next to you who hasn't lived through a miscarriage or a child's disability. 

I bet she's struggled with crushed dreams.  Crushed dreams are common to man. 

That woman in your church with the spacious house, new car, and who seems to have it all together.

She's likely tempted towards jealousy of other moms.  Jealousy is common to man. 

That woman on FaceBook who always posts the "happy moments" in her home and latest Pinterest projects.

She longs to feel affirmed and appreciated by others.   Those longings are common to man.

And the feeling of isolation that creeps in and whispers that no one else can understand?  No one can relate?  No one has walked this road before and everyone else has it better?
That's common to man, too. 

Because in our isolation, we focus far too much on our circumstances, and how no one else's can quite match up.  But in a pursuit of community -- we look past our unique circumstances to the common desires and the common struggles of the heart that emerge.

There is both joy and heartache to parenthood, and every parent experiences both --  regardless of what they post on social media.

There is blessing and struggle in every marriage, regardless of how it looks from the outside.

There is pain and there is sweetness to every stage of life. 

There are unmet longings for every person, in every home, in every neighborhood, in every nation.  

You have all things in common.  You may not see it, but it's true.  And believing it is the first step to Biblical community and navigating through your very personal, very painful, circumstances.

So where do we begin when the feelings of isolation begin to suffocate us?  Know that you don't have to stay there.  Be with others.  Believe the best about others.  Stop the comparisons with others.  Look past your circumstances to the longings and temptations of the heart.

You are not alone.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Isolation: A Dark Enemy (Part 1)

I have a friend that walks through my door whenever life begins to get tough.  He knocks loud and clear as I bend over vomit or pour over doctor's bills.  He finds me in the operating room at the hospital, and in the loud nursery at church with the other moms.  He shows up at baby showers, and even interrupts me as I mindlessly scan Facebook.

His name is familiar to all --  Isolation. 

And he doesn’t just stand knocking on an unanswered door.  I am guilty, regularly, of eagerly letting him in. 


It is the deep, dark, pit that screams that no one understands, no one cares, no one has ever walked this road before.

Isolation refuses comfort, disdaining the joys of others.

Isolation is a lonely, desperate, hopeless place that requires work – hard work – to get out of.

And the scariest part about it – I put myself there.  And I keep myself there. 

Isolation comes when I look at my life, my situation, and it all seems so complicated, so unusual,  so UNFAIR.  I paint a picture of other moms, whether real or fictitious, who I’ve determined have it easier.  Have it better.    I compare the best of others' circumstances with the worst of my own, and I withdraw, resent, and inevitably, choose isolation. 

Isolation doesn’t play favorites.  It affects everyone – anyone who is willing to focus on their circumstances long enough to think they’re alone.

It manifests itself in attitudes like this:

They couldn’t understand.  They’re in a different life stage.
She has what I’ve prayed for forever.
No one has a child like mine.  A family like mine. A budget like mine. A boss like mine.  A past like mine.  A future like mine.
Yeah, but, at least you have (fill in the blank…)

It seems harmless, it seems reasonable, it almost seems strangely comforting, to arrogantly assume that no one can understand.  But isolation comes at great cost.

In fact, ISOLATION is one of the greatest dangers of the church. 

The great Charles Spurgeon knew it, when he penned:  “Satan hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.”
And what better way to promote separation among Christians, than for the Christian himself to pull away?  Because isolated people are hurt people – people who believe that others, and ultimately God – cannot relate nor help.   And too often, isolated people don’t actually want help.  They prefer to stay isolated.  In a strange, backwards way, isolation carries with it a subtle pride in the fact that no one can understand.

But isolation is always self-destructive.  The isolated person cuts herself off from the life-giving community that God intended.  She continues to grow bitter, alienated, and unable and unwilling to receive help and comfort. 

But there is hope.  There is always hope – even for the most isolated of people. 

If you’ve ever felt isolated, alone, unknown – would you join me for the next few weeks as we consider the great God who fashioned us for community?  He is calling us out of isolation and into joyful, knowable, unified relationships with others.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Blessing in Serving: Lessons Learned at Tea Parties

The clock read 3:55pm, and my do-list still sat there untouched.  The kids would be downstairs in minutes, and I needed to make the most of my final free moments.   Sitting down with my computer, my hands were poised over the keyboard when I heard the cry-

"Mommy, mommy, mommy!"  she shouted urgently from her room.

I sighed.  Water?  Potty?  Toy needing batteries?  Hand stuck in the closet door again?

I sat there for a few minutes, desperately trying to remind myself of the truth I knew in my head but didn't quite believe in my heart.

It's better to give than to receive.  There is blessing in sacrifice.  Your priority is your children.   

Those truths compelled me to march up the stairs, but in the moment, duty triumphed over delight.

I opened the door to her room, where her pink table was adorned with plastic plates and tea cups.  She sat in one chair and beckoned me to the adjacent.

"This is my restaurant, and I made this food just for my mommy," she informed me.  "Can we please have lunch together?"

I took my seat next to her slumped-over doll, and smiled down at the plastic hotdog on my plate.

She bowed her head and recited a prayer she had heard countless times: "Dear God, thank you for our food, and please help it to stay in our bellies."

My heart warmed to hear her words, and I wondered how I ever thought that typing away at my computer for an extra five minutes was more fulfilling than a tea party with my daughter.

We nibbled our hotdogs and enjoyed our tea talked about her dolls, her day, and her love of puppies.  It was only a few short minutes, but I came down the stairs smiling.  Energized.  Blessed.

The reality of God's truth had intersected that small bedroom and my heart had caught up.  I had chosen to serve.  But in the end, it was she who blessed me.  God's Word is always true. 

Sometimes the reward is immeadiate -- the blessing is found it sweet smiles and pretend tea and encouraging words and visible fruit.  Sometimes, we will not see the reward until heaven.  But our lavish God declares that there is blessing in sacrifice.  There is beauty in service.  There is reward in giving.

Put away the computer.
Enjoy the blessing of the tea party.

Serve others, and be blessed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Truth That Speaks Louder Than the Rain

The rain came down in sheets and the wipers struggled to keep up.  Cars slowed, lights flashed, horns blared, and the rain kept pounding on the car and the streets.  My brain struggled to think clearly with the noises all around me.  Her soft voice came from the back seat:

"Mommy, can you make it louder?"

I turned up the volume until "Jesus, Thank You" came through the speakers with twice the power.

"No, mommy, louder.  Much, much louder."

I shrugged and cranked the volume.  The music filled the car and she sat in her carseat and belted the lyrics with as much strength as her 3-year-old vocal chords could muster -- "Once your enemy, now seated at your table..."

My eyes and energy were focused on the road in front of me, but my ears were captivated by her sweet praises.  I smiled.

I could see the rain, but I wasn't listening to it.  The steady pounding had faded into the background and the songs of truth had taken over.

Because storms can demand our attention and our ears naturally hear the its noise.  But we can choose to allow words of truth, God's words, to speak louder than the rain.  We can choose to revel in the promises of God above the blaring screams of our harsh circumstances.

God's truth can trump the screams of small children with needs that seem never-ending.
God's truth can speak louder than the laundry piles that shout condemnation.
God's truth declares that we are righteous in Christ, even when we look back a day full of failure.
God's truth says that He is worthy of praise, for He is good, even when our circumstances bring pain.

And when we choose the sing and hear truth louder than the noise outside, there is joy.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  
Habakkuk 3:18

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Daily Battle Against Entropy In My Home

I should have known better.

I should have known not to serve spaghetti right after a bath.

I should have known that one child would create "spaghetti jewelry" while the other would design a "spaghetti catapult."

I should have known that the law of entropy is always at work, especially in a home with children.

And I should have been okay with it.

I first learned about this law in my High School AP Chemistry class.   Science calls it entropy.  The Bible calls it The Fall.  Both describe the same thing-- everything is moving from order to disorder, and my home is full of evidence.  So much evidence of "entropy," -- order to disorder -- that sometimes, I question why I do things in the first place.  

By noon I am hovered over dirty dishes piled high in a sink that was spotless that morning.  I am down on the floor wiping more spaghetti off the floor that was mopped only hours prior.   I painstakingly make specialized meals to feed to my daughter who will vomit them within minutes.   The weeds in the flowerbed keep coming back and the shower floor never stays spotless, and I bathe my children and scrub away the dirt and carefully treat stains in their clothes, knowing that before day's end those same shirts will sit, stained and crumpled, on top of the laundry pile.  While I am cleaning up one mess, my son is creating a new one.  At night I pick up Legos and return toys to their proper places and straighten pillows while children sleep soundly, and I wonder if it's worth it.  Because within a few hours, my work will be "undone."

There are days when I want the world to freeze just so I can enjoy my work for a few minutes before life takes over and it is undone.  And there are days when I struggle with anger towards my children, because how dare they create a mess where I long to create beauty?

Nothing stays clean forever.  No child remains fed forever. No job is once-and-done.

I live in a world where I battle both entropy, and the decaying effects of sin.  It's a physical battle of my work coming "undone," but it's also a battle in my mind --  if this is just going to get dirty again, if she's just going to vomit it again, if my hard work doesn't last for more than a few minutes -- is it really worth it?

And in the midst of the chaos and new messes, I know the answer.  YES, it is worth it.  YES, persevere.

Because it's new dirt.

And it's a new meal.

And it's a different mess. 

And it's a different day.

And every time I scrub the same pan, wipe the same floor, clean the same toilet, bathe the same child...every time I restore order to disorder, fully knowing that it will not last for long, I am choosing to value redemption.  Each time, my battle cry is this: sin will not reign in this home. 

When I do the same things over and over each day -- bathe, feed, clean, teach, train -- I affirm that God is redeeming all things.  I am declaring to the world that the Gospel will win and the King will reign -- and so I will continue to make all things new in my home.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For Days When You Wonder if You'll Ever Change

Sometimes, the hardest days are the best reminders of His grace.

I sat on the couch, coffee in hand, my Bible open to Colossians.  My sweet ones were upstairs -- one asleep, the other playing busily in her room -- when I read these words from Paul:

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness,humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another...and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."
Colossians 3: 12-15 (ESV)

My heart was pierced and emotions stirred. How often have my own children been the victims of my impatience, my harsh words, my pride and selfishness!

I prayed with earnestness and resolve: I needed to change.  I needed to grow.  I needed to put off the earthly desires and put on this selfless love that Jesus displayed!  I opened my eyes refreshed and ready to work hard.

Within seconds, my opportunity came.  I heard the upstairs bedroom door slam, with shouts by the little girl needing to go potty.  Her brother, awoken by the racket, began screaming.

Patience.  Kindness.  Humility. I breathed in and out, and ascended the stairs to care for them both with a smile on my face and gentleness on my lips.

Victory!  I had succeeded! 

But somewhere in between my self-dependence and self-righteousness, the course of the day began to shift.

Very quickly, my attempts at kindness, gentleness, and humility, dissolved into annoyance, anger, and harsh words.  I spent most of the day longing for bedtime to come quickly and wishing desperately for a break.  I wallowed in despair and complained of my lot.  I cried over nothing and everything -- my day, which started with such godly intent, was spiraling beyond my control.  Every passing hour was a closer look into the mirror of my heart and the striking realization that most days, I am the exact opposite of the person described in Colossians.  I felt weak, defeated, helpless.

I finally put on a movie for them as I surveyed my messy kitchen and began to weep.  My house was a mess.  My children were a mess.  My heart was a mess.  And I couldn't seem to get any of it back in order.

I continued to weep as I bent over the kitchen sink, scrubbing off the food particles from the dinner dishes.  How I wished the cleaning of my heart was as simple!  I felt a small tug on my shirt, and looked down to see my daughter peering up at me.

"Are you sad, mommy?"

I knelt down and my eyes met hers, and she continued.

"Sometime you are sad when I throw up my food, but I have my food in my belly now.  Can you please be happy instead?"

I wrapped her in my arms and continued to cry for the little girl who thought my tears were all because of her weakness.  The truth was, they were because of MY weakness -- my inability to love my children without having myself at the center of it all.

I pulled back and looked into her eyes.  "Mommy isn't crying because you threw up, sweetie.  Mommy is sad because I am struggling.  I want to love you like Jesus does, and I don't like it when I get angry and impatient."

She studied my tears, then began patting my shoulder.

"It's okay mommy.  Jesus is helping you to be kind."

My tears began to flow even faster.  I pulled her close again and whispered my thanks to her. My little one spoke truth.  It IS ok.  Jesus IS helping me.  I had become so focused on my own ability to change myself that I had forgotten the promises of God:

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion..." 
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Today, I didn't need a day that went smoothly, where I loved my children perfectly, with no tears, and no mishaps, and no messes, and all smiles.

Today, I needed a reminder of His grace.  I needed the reminder that I am weak, I am unable, but HE is faithful, and He will accomplish His will in me.

Jesus is helping me.

And maybe knowing that -- believing that -- makes it a sweet day after all. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nightmare Prayers

It is 5:30am and quiet.  The whole house slumbers when a scream pierces the stillness.

Another nightmare.

I stumble to her bedside as she thrashes and cries, eyes still closed but body in distress.  I kneel down and rub her back.  Her body relaxes, her cries die down, and while I normally make a quick exit to crawl back under my own covers, tonight is different.  Tonight I linger.

Tonight I sit by her bed with my hand still outstretched over her soft pajamas, and I pray.

I pray that God would give her sweet, peaceful sleep.  I pray that God would heal her body.  I pray that her mind would grow, her spirit would soften, her talents develop.  I pray that God would protect our family so that she might grow up nurtured and cherished. I pray that God would keep her from anymore nightmares.

I stop praying.

Because there is something about the dead of the night where the only sounds are the hum of the air conditioner and the steady rhythmic breathing of a child asleep.

Sometimes when we're still, our minds gain perspective.  In the quiet, I am reminded of what is most important.

I am reminded that there is a bigger nightmare out there -- one I pray that she never experiences -- living apart from God her Creator, in a way that she was never created to live.

And I begin to pray again, differently.

I pray that she would grow to know God intimately and love Him deeply.  I pray that she would grow to be a woman of gentleness and grace, changed by the grace she's received and eager to give grace to others.  I pray that she would learn to submit to authority -- not just mine because it makes my life easier, but the authority of the One who created her and knows whats best.  I pray that she would use her talents not for selfish gain but for the glory of God.  I pray that in her life, however short or long it may be, she would receive life from the True Vine and give life to those she meets.  I pray that angels and demons might revel at the majesty and power of God because of this twenty-seven pound vessel.

And I pray for me.  I pray that I would let go of my petty dreams for her -- dreams for her body to be normal, her mind to be sharp, her skills to be honed, and her future to be bright.  None of those dreams are bad.  But I pray that I would see beyond my parental desires for my daughter, and long for the things that God desires for my daughter.

Daylight dawns as I rise from her bed. I am tired.  But I am refreshed.  I thank God for the nightmare which brought me to her bedside.  Sometimes, it takes a nightmare to help us long for the best things.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may...grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ ... that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Gift of Slowing Down

It's not complicated.  Faster is better.

I hear this popular line from the ATT commercials several times a week, and each time, I fight the urge to agree.  I resonate with those cute children as they sit at the table making obvious statements about how slow is terrible and multitasking is wonderful, and I live in a culture that shouts much of the same:  Faster is better.

I live for fast.  I demand that my children be fast.

Eat your food faster.
Put on your shoes faster.
Get out the door faster.
Get through the check-out line faster.
Finish the bedtime routine faster.

We hurry through one thing only to rush through the next and at the end of the day we feel tired and productive and effective -- but better?  Is life really better when everything happens fast?

Because one, ten, fifty years from now, I won't remember the fast moments.

I won't care if we got to places on time, or I finished everything on my to-do list for the day.  I won't remember how quickly I finished grocery shopping or how much traffic there was on the freeway.

So much of our energy gets wasted on "fast moments" -- moments quickly forgotten by the day's end.

But I will remember the moments that lingered.

I will remember spending long hours by her hospital crib offering quiet prayers while she struggled to breathe, with nowhere to rush off to because nothing seemed quite as important.

I will remember the nights when I stayed to read her an extra bedtime book and cuddle for "just another minute."

I will remember the lingering kisses before he walked out the door, even though he was late for his 9am with the gas tank on empty.

I will remember the nights when we sat 'round the dinner table with friends until the sun set and yawns emerged from lips, and we repeated "we really should get going" at least 10 times before we finally walked to our car.

I will remember the 2am rocking with a coughing child who needed mama's touch and for once I wasn't in a hurry to climb back under my own covers.

I will remember allowing her to put on her own shoes, knowing it would take twice as long, and seeing her beam with delight as she proudly announced, "I did it myself, mommy!"

I will remember the moments that could have been rushed, but for whatever reason, weren't.  Because sometimes the slow moments speak to us the grace of God.

Perhaps ATT has it backwards.

Perhaps real life happens when we stop rushing around and start looking around.  When we thank God for the right here, right now, gifts that he's given us, rather than racing through life to experience the next one.

Faster isn't better.
Enjoying is better.
Knowing the Creator and His gifts is best.

Slow down.  Thank God for the gift of right now.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Letter to My Son on His First Birthday

My sweet son,

You are 1 today.

I remember the first time they placed you in my arms, with your fists clenched and eyes shut and vocal chords on display.  I cradled you and whispered again and again, "Mommy's here.  I love you.  And you'll be ok."

And there were nights when you'd scream for food and comfort and clean sheets and I'd rush in and pick you up and hold you to my chest.  And you'd receive nourishment and warmth and love as as I'd whisper these words, "Mommy's here.  I love you.  And you'll be ok." 

And I dropped you off at nursery so I could sit and breathe in the back pew, and you'd be held by someone new and look around for someone familiar.  But after an hour of goldfish and toys and runny noses, I would return and scoop you up, and in between your smiles and giggles I'd reassure you,  "Mommy's here.  I love you.  I told you you'd be ok." 

And you took your first wobbly steps, with brows furrowed and hands outstretched; within just a few days you'd laugh and toddle confidently from couch to chair.  But there were moments when you'd fall down and hit your head hard and cry out.  And I'd run over and pick up your shaking body and hold you tight.  "Mommy's here.  I love you.  And you'll be ok." 

Because right now, little one, we live in a season of Mommy's here moments.  My presence brings healing comfort and my kisses covers the hardest of falls.

But some day, that won't be enough.

Because the day will come when you will lose friends and have your heart broken; you will struggle through friendships and fitting in and making wise choices.  You will wrestle with your faith, your God, your calling, your choices;  you will battle laziness, perfectionism, lust, and lies.  You will question identity and relationships and gifting and dreams.

You'll ask questions that demand more than mommy's here answers. I can't promise you that my presence, or my comfort, will ever be enough.  Because they won't.

But there's a better promise.  Spoken from one Father to one of his children --

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid, and do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Your True Father, your Heavenly Father, promises forever presence.  He gives lasting comfort.  He gives strength to persevere, answers to hard questions, reasons during real pain.

You Great Father is always here.  And He will always love you.  And if those two things are true, then it will always be ok.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Worship of a Child

My little one loves to sing.  She loves to clap.  And she loves when we worship at church.

She stands on the chair with her hands held high, clapping wildly while the arms of others lay dormant at their sides.  She sings loudly and off-key when she can't even read the words, soliciting the glances of those around her.  And when the song ends and everyone sits, she breaks the still air with her eager inquiries - "mommy, can we sing more?"  And while my heart rejoices to hear her song, my fear of others can quickly take over.

My impulse is to quiet her.  Restrict her.  Sit in the back where we are out of sight from others.  Because what if she's a distraction?  What if others question my parenting? What about those who believe children should be "seen and not heard?"

And in the midst of my wrestling, I need the reminder that God commands our worship, and worship that is most pleasing is worship that delights in Him.   And my daughter delights.  She knows and enjoys the freedom of worship to her Creator that often I forget.

The Scriptures have much to say about orderly, intelligent, thoughtful, Christ-centered worship, which I do not want to forsake in an attempt to mimic my daughter's delight. I DO think we should understand the words we sing; and many times, thoughtful reflection is far more appropriate than boisterous singing.

But as her mother, I must encourage, not quiet, her worship and her delight.  Because when she worships, something significant happens.  Something eternal.  Something cosmic.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.
Psalm 8:2

Because for me, worship can become more about appearances and less about our posture.

More about fitting in than bowing down.

More about going through the motions than going to the Throne.

More about a making a beautiful sound than having a beautiful heart.

More about the people around me than the sole Recipient of my praise.

And these responses are what our Enemy longs for.

Because the Enemy longs for me to love myself, to love my comfort, and to crave the approval of man.  He delights when I take a service of worship to our Creator and turn it into a venue for self-glory and personal "feel good" gratification. He revels in hearts that grow cold, listless praise, self-focused harmonies.   But the songs of children stop Satan in his tracks.  Psalm 8 says that when children declare praise, the ENEMY is silenced.

For when I see hear the melodies of my child, when I see a child dance, as I listen to the babbles of the infant behind me, I am reminded of the glorious purpose of worship -- that God, in His infinite wisdom and glorious splendor, would stoop to rescue His helpless creatures.  And I am convicted of my shallow vision.  I am grieved by my self-focus.  And I am drawn to worship more fully.

The enemy is silenced.

And the King is lifted high.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Longing for Normalcy

I felt the heat creep across my face as I sat in the waiting room, trying to busy myself in my book and avoid all eye contact.  Every time the nurse walked through the doors, I prayed that my name would emerge from her lips.

A scaly, itchy, ugly, poison ivy rash had taken over the left side of my face, causing my eyelid to swell, my eye to droop, my skin to puff out.  Raw, red, blistering bumps had sabotaged my usual creamy complexion.

At first, it wasn't a big deal.  I reminded myself that beauty is fleeting, and my hope is in Christ.  But all "truth" was forgotten, when I sat down in an empty chair the waiting room, and the woman next to me immediately stood up and moved several seats away.  My insecurity started mounting.

Part of me wanted to chase her down, rub my scaly cheek all over her perfect, blemish-free arm, and tell her that it was terribly, terribly contagious.  But most of me just wanted to hide.  Ashamed.  Embarrassed.

Did I stand out that much?  And did my face look that different, that "unclean," that I warranted the retreat of others?  My "abnormality"  was alienating, and more than anything, I just wanted to feel "normal" again.

My mind flashed back to several months prior, when my daughter and I sat in different waiting room. A small girl, 5 years old at most, approached us.  Eyes glazed and speech slurred, she was loud, disruptive, and desperately wanted a hug from my child.  And though I smiled politely and stayed put in my chair, I pulled my daughter closer to me to keep her from this girl that didn't quite fit in.

Only later did I realize that I was teaching my child to favor "normalcy --"  to avoid, retreat even, from that which is different, unpredictable, uncomfortable -- to crave "normal" people, with normal IQ's, normal functionality, similar beliefs, and cling to predictable people and safe relationships.  Was I inadvertently teaching my daughter that she too must BE normal, socially appropriate, and culturally relevant, at all costs?

Because Jesus Christ came for those who were abnormal.  Those who were outcasts.  Different. Sick.

I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; 
but the fat and the strong I will destroy..."
Ezekiel 34:16 (NASB)

In a culture where the "abnormal" and unclean had to remove themselves beyond the city limits and could intereact with no one, Jesus moves toward them, touches them, takes their place.  He didn't just love the abnormal, He BECAME the abnormal.

Parents, how might you be showing favoritism by celebrating normalcy and avoiding what is different?  How might you be encouraging your child, either intentionally or unintentionally, to pursue "normalcy" rather than godliness?  

Teach your children to praise God in their weaknesses.  Teach them to praise God for their weaknesses.  There is beauty, blessing, hope, and dependence when we rest in the Savior who came for the broken.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Cleaning Up the Mess We're In

She has been singing so contently in her bed for over an hour -- I eagerly climb the stairs to surprise her with a "post-rest time adventure."

But as I walk into her room and flip on the light, the scene surprises me.

Belly-down on her sheets, still singing, she lies a pool of her own vomit.  Her bed drenched, outfit stained, and face covered, she looks at me and smiles.  "Hi, mommy," she says sweetly, then continues her melody.  She remains unaware, and unmoved, by the filth that covers her.

My heart breaks. I am not surprised by the mess.  This is normal.  But why wouldn't she call?  Why would she lay there for over an hour without once crying for help?

It is possible to get so accustomed to our own habits that we fail to see the mess we sit in?

I lead her to the filled bath and cry as I wipe away the remains of her lunch.  Her breath reeks of acid and her hair is matted down and she remains unaffected.  Playing happily.

I caress her hair and dress her in clean clothes.  I wipe down the stained walls and remove the soiled blankets, and I am reminded that I too was once this way.

Ephesians 2 says that, without Christ, I was just the walking dead.  Walking, yet unaware that there was no real life within me.  I sat in more than just vomit.  I lay in a gravestone. 

The Bible regularly highlights our propensity to blindness, to self-deception:

There are those who are clean in their own eyes, but are not washed of their filth.
Proverbs 30:12 (ESV)

Unaware. Unmoved. Uncaring.  Unaffected. 

But God.

Merciful God.  He sees us in our filth and He intervenes.  He vows to bring us out of it, even while we are content and unaware.  He makes us alive. 

And now, even now -- alive in Christ! -- I can turn a blind eye to my sin.  I can ignore my habits, excuse my pride, brush off my self-absorption, forget my idolatry.   But God, my Faithful Father, has committed Himself to my cleanliness.  To my washing.  To my perfection.  And he promises to see it through.

He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Then, and still now, I need a Faithful Father who sees my mess and vows to bring me out of it.

And my role as a mother is to see the filth, the mess, the destructive patterns of my children, and intervene.  Show them the filth, then refresh their souls with the gospel.  The better way.  It images a greater Father who has done this for me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The God of Blessings

Lately, I've been wrestling.

My body and mind feels the weighty effects of wrestling with the God of the Universe.

Are you who You say You are?  Do You really long for my good? Bless me, God.

I'm not the first to do it.  Jacob-- father to the 12 nations of Israel -- was a wrestler.  Just a baby in the womb, and he was already wrestling with his brother.  Years later, he wrestles with his Father.  "I will not let you go until you bless me!" he demands of his God.

I think these thoughts while I drive the long journey home across the state from another specialist visit.  My mind screams that this is not normal, and my heart begins to wrestle.  Jacob's words pour from my lips:  "Bless me, God.  I will not let You go until You bless me."  Why is He holding out?

I sit.  I drive.  I wait for His answer.  I hear it in the silence.  I glance in my rearview mirror to see my daughter fast asleep.  Her tiny finger twirls her soft curls, her eyelids flutter, her breathing soft and rhthymic. My body relaxes and I smile.

I already have blessed you.

The words hit me hard -- how did I miss this?   Have I been so busy demanding more blessing that I failed to notice the one asleep an arms-length away?

But isn't this always the way it is?  We always see the blessings as we stare into the rearview mirror -- when we look behind us at circumstances changed and persons gone.  Stare behind you long enough and you'll see the blessing of even your darkest of days.   But in the moment?  God, bless me more.  Change this.  Do that.  I will not let you go. 

And I've forgotten what I've already been given.  A small child asleep on the long journey home.   A quiet ride with peace, silence, time to reflect.  A God that knows my needs and has always met them in His timing.  A God from whom all blessings flow.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
-James 1: 17 (NIV)

He does not change like shifting shadows.  The God who promised blessing to Jacob is the God who blesses me now.

These words shout blessing.  Hope.  Promise.  They shout the character of a faithful God who reigns down blessings on His children -- He always has, and He will continue, because He is changeless.

Wrestle. Plead with the God of the Universe.  Ask for blessing.  He is giver of every good and perfect gift.  Approach boldly.   But don't wait for the rearview mirror.  Look around you.  Our steadfast, changeless God has already blessed you.