Not a servant, but a friend

“I am not a servant.”

My youngest daughter says it first in a matter-of-fact tone.

I can’t hear the other side of the conversation so I don’t know what request prompted this response.

I do know she gets her answer from me.

I say it sometimes to my kids when they ask me to hop up from the dinner table (before I’ve even taken a bite of my own food) to get them something they could easily get themselves.

I say it when they call out “Mom!” while they are watching TV and ask me to stop working to get them a drink of water.

I say it to remind them that, while I love them and I love to do nice things for them, sometimes they treat me like unpaid kitchen help.

And that’s not right.

So I listen in as my daughter repeats her response broken-record-style.

“I am not a servant.”

“I am not a servant.”

Then she sings it in a high opera voice, “I am not a servant…..”

Finally after what seems like the twentieth repetition of this phrase, her older sister bends over and picks something up off the floor.

The little ones around here have grown wise to this new trend, how older sisters think because you’re smaller, you must perform all tasks menial and low-to-the-ground so they can continue with whatever far-more-important thing they’re doing.

My Catherine is standing up for herself.

After all, what she has always wanted, what she truly desires in her little sister heart-of-hearts, is for these bigger girls to play with her.

She doesn’t want to fetch dropped Legos off of the floor.

She doesn’t want to get them a paper towel or find them a sharpened pencil.

She wants to be friends with them.

Shortly before His death, Jesus said something profoundly moving to His disciples:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:15 NIV).

Not servants, but friends.

He offered them so much more than the menial tasks of mindless obedience, the fetching and finding and picking up of hired help.

He called them friends.

For the disciples, friendship with Jesus didn’t change what they did.   Jesus loved by serving sacrificially and humbly, and He told them to do the same.

But He invited them into His heart and His plans.

OF COURSE, IT DOESN’T MEAN WE AREN’T SERVING GOD DAY IN AND DAY OUT, LOVING OTHERS IN HUMBLE OF WAYS, EMPTYING OURSELVES SO WE CAN DRENCH ANOTHER IN THE COMPASSION AND MERCY OF CHRIST.

There is, after all, beauty in late night sessions with a sleepless baby and days spent tending to sick children.

There’s beauty in the ugly, the mess, the pain, and the exhaustion of caregiving.

There’s beauty–God-glorifying beauty— in heading out the door each morning to a job that demands everything you’ve got and more so that you can provide for your family.

The beauty isn’t in the act itself.  It’s not in the changing diapers or the washing away filth.  It’s not in taking out trash or sitting through mind-numbing meetings where supervisors pile on work.

It’s that you’re doing all of that for someone else.

Your labor on behalf of others may not earn you any earthly regard.

You may trudge through another day of work without a nod in your direction and a genuine ‘thanks.’

Your child may overlook the fifty lunches you’ve made for her and complain the one day you forgot that she likes Oreos, not chocolate chip cookies.

And you can feel absolutely invisible.

But right in that moment, Christ chats with you.

He tells you everything the Father taught Him.

He asks if you’ll take part in His agenda, in His passion and plan for loving others with grace, mercy, compassion, generosity, and humility.

Not because He only values what we do for Him.

Not because we earn His favor by going, going, going all the time.

Not because He wants us constantly to be doing at all.

It’s because He’s offered us His presence—in the moments when we’re sitting at His feet and the moments we’re stooping to wash the feet of another.

He desires friendship, and friends aren’t acting out of duty or serving out of compulsion.

WE’RE LIVING AND BREATHING AND SERVING AND LOVING BECAUSE HE’S GIVEN US ACCESS TO HIS VERY HEART.

OUR FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD MEANS WE DO AND WE CEASE DOING AT THE IMPULSE OF HIS LOVE: OUR LIVES, OUR HEARTS, OUR ACTIONS GUIDED AND MOTIVATED BY HIS VERY OWN LOVE AT WORK IN US.

Originally published 10/29/2016

Letting Go of What I Didn’t Do This Summer

“Can we make  brownies?”

That’s what my daughter asks when I tell my kids we’re going to an outdoor concert along the riverfront.

She asks about brownies because this is what  we do.

We tote lawn chairs to an open area on the lawn, spray on some bug spray, and settle in to  listen to the music while munching on our two favorite “outdoor concert snacks:”  popcorn and brownies.

Sometimes we bring cookies instead or skip the popcorn.

But not often.

Outdoor concert = popcorn + brownies.

It’s an equation we know and love.

My kids love traditions and they eagerly hold me to them.  That’s why we poured the ingredients for brownies into a mixing bowl this morning to make our treat for tonight’s adventure.

Because what would summer be without outdoor concerts?  And what would outdoor concerts be without popcorn and brownies?

Tragic, that’s what!  Full of despair and disappointment!

Of course, that’s just silly talk.  But somehow it can feel that way.

Unmet expectations can push our weary souls right to the ground.

I love our family traditions as much as my kids do, but I also bear the burden of them and I’ve felt that weight a little this summer.

It’s not just traditions, though, that can keep me dancing on the edges of guilt.

It’s mostly what I expect of myself.  Roles I need to fulfill.  Tasks I need to  accomplish.   Must-do’s, should-do’s,  and have-to’s.

It’s endlessly seeing ideas and reminders that I could do more and I could do better.

It’s comparing myself with others and not feeling like I measure up.

Those other moms have their kids accomplishing all  these cool activities  this summer.  Look at how many books they read, places they went, projects they made!

The pressure!

It comes from comparing ourselves with our own past.

I used to be able to read more books, get more done, finish more  on my to-do list, keep my house cleaner, manage more projects.

But that’s not this year, not this summer, not this season.

 

This summer has been teaching me more and more that it’s okay to let some things go.   We don’t have to do every good thing or every familiar thing.

I carried around guilt well into July this year about what I wasn’t doing.

We hadn’t picnicked out at our favorite playground yet.

I’m failing at this summer.

We’d barely made it through one audiobook.

I’m failing at this summer.

We did not run around the yard with an empty mason jar at twilight and catch  as many fireflies as possible, just to release them all at once before going to bed.

I’m failing at this summer.

 

I haven’t written a book, pitched a book, edited a book, or in any way spent one second thinking about a new book.

I’m failing at this summer.

Maybe this all looks differently for you.  Maybe our seasons are different and are expectations vary.

But maybe we can all identify with this feeling of just not doing enough or being enough or  being able to keep up with all our own ideas of perfect.

After all, does summer have to be “perfect?”  Maybe it just needs to be beautiful in its own unique and personal way.

Maybe any day can be beautiful without being perfect.

Does it matter to Jesus if I have the brownies for the concert?

Nope.

Is i t nice to have the brownies?  Sure!

Is it worth stressing over or beating myself up over  for not making brownies?

No.

What else can we let go of?

Are those projects another mom is doing great?

Sure!

Am I a failure as a mom if I don’t do  the same thing as her?

Not at all.

Oh–whisper that again to your soul:  You are not a failure for not doing every good thing you see around you.

You don’t  have to do it all all the time.

Don’t you just love that when Jesus fed the crowd with a few fish and loaves as they sat expectantly on a hillside,  He didn’t demand that the disciples come more prepared?

He didn’t demand that they provide the supply or that they be enough in themselves.

They offered him a little boy’s lunch and He did the rest.

Lisa Harper reminds us of this lesson:

“Just use what you have and do the best that you can”  (Lisa Harper, The Gospel  of Mark).

Tonight I have the brownies to take with us to the concert, but if I didn’t, that’d be fine, too.

I don’t need  to spend the whole evening feeling guilty for what I didn’t do.

I  can be oh so grateful and oh so joyful for the day Jesus gave me.

The past can’t be my home anymore

It’s not often I  zip  around town in my minivan alone.

I’m usually toting a passenger (or two or four or more).

But that night, the stars had aligned and the schedule had been arranged and all of those things so that I hopped into my minivan after some errands in town and headed home.

I drove.

And thought.

Thought.

And drove.

Prayed and thought and drove.

I was just enjoying the sweet quiet as only  a mom of four kids can do  when she’s out by her lonesome self.

It should only take me about 5 minutes to  get home from  anywhere in town now that we’ve  moved to  the new house, but I drove for about 12 minutes before I turned onto a familiar road.

It wasn’t the road to my brand new home, though.  I had managed to  drive far past that, all the way to my old house.

I  sheepishly turned around in my former neighbor’s driveway and backtracked down the road to  what was supposed to  be my destination all along.

HOME.

If I don’t stay alert  even now when I’m making this drive,  I’ll pass right by the road to  my new house and I’ll  trek all the way back to  where I used to  live.

This is me in default mode.  This is what I  fall  back to.

This is where I end up when I’m not paying attention.

We all have these  “old ways,” the habits of the past, the “who we used to be.”   And when we’re distracted, or weary or plain old apathetic, maybe this is where we end up all  over again.

Maybe we default to worry and stress.

We default to overbooked and overwhelmed.

We default to bitter and unforgiving.

We default to resentful.

We default to people-pleasing.

We default to sharp words.

Maybe we don’t even realize it until we look up in a daze and wonder how we ended up back here all over again?

It’s when I start feeling complacent about controlling my tongue,  that I start losing  my temper and lashing out.

It’s when I start feeling like I know how to  keep myself from getting overwhelmed by stress that I just about break down because I’ve let the to-do list nigh on destroy me.

We’re not alone, of course.  This is all just being human.  We’re not perfect and those old sin habits can drag us right along.

That’s why I feel  for the disciples who  kept defaulting to old habits and old ways of thinking.  No matter how many times Jesus explained how He’d be persecuted and killed and then raised again, they didn’t get it.

They didn’t see with spiritual eyes.

There was a day when they set out on their travels with Jesus and forgot to pack the bread for lunch.  Jesus told them to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees and they completely missed his message…again.

They thought Jesus was picking on them for leaving the bread at home by mistake.

As i f Jesus needed them to pack bread.

They’d watched Him feed the five thousand and the four thousand, but one day without a full lunchbox sent them right back to that old place of fretting over provision.

Jesus asked them “Do you not yet perceive?”  (Matthew 16:9 ESV).

The Message paraphrase says,  “Haven’t you caught on yet?”

And that’s me at times, defaulting back to my old ways of thinking and doing, not quite catching on yet to what Jesus has done in me and wants to do in me.

What we do then, though, is what matters most.

Because what I want to do is just give up right there.

I’ll never get this right, Jesus. 

I’m such a failure, Lord.  I’m failing at everything.  I want to be used by you and I just….keep….messing….up.

But we can’t give up right there because that past isn’t meant to be our home anymore.

Slowly.  Slowly.  We keep turning the old over to Jesus and letting Him make us new.

Slowly.  Slowly.  He changes us within so our default itself is different.

We default to peace.

We default to joy.

We default to gentleness.

We default to trust.

It’s okay to be in progress.  It’s okay to trip up and mess up sometimes.

It’s not okay to stay there in that old place where we don’t belong anymore.

We have to move back to Jesus, always back to  Jesus.

Jesus, bring us back to you.

 

Lessons from Living Among the Boxes

We are living among boxes.

Just  days after our home inspection was done and everything was set to move ahead with selling our house,  I started packing little by little as strategically as possible.

But that strategy didn’t matter in the end, because our move was delayed about 2-1/2 weeks,  so all those things I put in those boxes didn’t necessarily stay there.

For one thing, I didn’t expect to still be in this house when my daughter went off  to camp.   So, I had packed all  the extra flashlights.  And the sleeping bag.  And the extra bug spray.

At first,  it was a bit funny.

I packed up the extra school supplies one day and threw into the box a pink plastic protractor that I last used when I took geometry, oh about 23 years ago.

No one in  this entire house has used this protractor in over two decades.

That very afternoon, though, my fifth grader came home from school, pulled out her math homework and asked, “Mom, do you have a protractor I can use?”

For real.

So,  I did what I have become  an expert at doing.  I found the box, opened it back up, slipped my hand in and pulled out what she needed.

Box fishing.

I’ve been “box fishing” for two months.

Most of the time, I can find an item in just one try.  Every once in a while,  I need to open two boxes to find the one I want.

But one day, after being at peace through this whole process, my son wanted a particular toy from a box.  And I hunted.  And searched.  I opened box after box.

That’s what did me in.  That’s the day I cried.  That’s the day I told God, “This is hard and I’ve been beaten down.”

I  did finally find those micro-machine tanks and airplanes he was looking for,  but the emotional battle was a way bigger deal than any effort to  find the right box.

That was about the time I wondered if we’d have to open all these boxes back up and put everything back where it came from without moving at all.

But today we got the phone call saying it’s all  set.   Papers will be signed.  Money wired.  More papers signed.  Keys handed over.

This is it!

“Living among the boxes” is something I’ve done before just in different ways.

It’s about waiting rooms and transitions, about not knowing the outcome and not knowing the date on the calendar when a promise will be fulfilled.

It’s about leaving what you do know and stepping out into the unknown,  maybe stumbling along the way.

Living among the boxes is a daily lesson in needing Jesus.

How easily I can be toppled into a pit of worry from a place  of peace.

How easily discouragement and disappointment can wear a body right down.

But I think Jesus  knows that.  He knows how hard it is to hold  onto hope when everything looks hopeless.

He knows what it’s like when God asks us to travel  a road we’d rather not be on.

So when I cry for “mercy” and when I tell Him how another round of bad news has me reeling, I’m so thankful for His compassion.

He doesn’t always snap His fingers and fix everything perfectly in that second, but He does minister to my hurt with the encouragement I desperately need.

He did this for Jairus, too.  When Jairus asked Jesus to  please come and heal his daughter, Jesus followed him right away.  But there was a delay.

So, Jairus’s daughter died.

 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”36 But overhearing] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe. (Mark 5:35-36 ESV).

Jairus received the worst possible news, but Jesus’ words were what he needed  to  hold  onto hope even in the impossible:

Do not fear, only believe.

We all have hard days.  We have worn-out days and sad days and I-just-want-to-give-up-days.

Jesus told the disciples what to do on those days and it echoes with familiarity:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV).

Do not fear, only believe.

I don’t think Jesus meant this as a “buck up and just have some faith kind of speech.”

I think He knew what Jairus needed, what the disciples needed, and what we truly need: Comfort. Reassurance.  Hope.

Don’t be afraid. 

Yes, this is scary, but do not fear.

Just keep your eyes on me and believe.

Well friends, with the move finally here I’m signing off for  a bit until after we’re in our new place.  I’ll get back to posting in a week or two!  ~Heather~

How our hearts long for home

Way back in September, my son screamed and kicked as I carried him back into the house after his sisters climbed onto the big yellow school bus.

He still struggled some mornings well into the spring,  especially after spring break.

This morning, partway through June, he once again stomped around the house with his chin tucked down to his chest and his arms criss-crossed after the girls walked out the door.

All this morning I tried to explain summer break to him, painting it as vividly as I could.  This is the very last day in the school  year.  The girls will get to be with us more and we’ll  have adventures together and time at home with each other.

But he still grumped around for at least 30 minutes because that didn’t make sense to him.  The “Promised Land” of summer was closer than he ever realized, but still too far away to be real.

I  sympathize with him.  I know what it’s like to long for the promise fulfilled and to be oh so close, but not quite there yet.

On Monday, I  walked through our soon-to-be new house and signed off saying it’s fixed up the way we want.

Then I drove back home to our current house, dug out yet another item I had already packed in a box,  and continued the waiting for word of our closing date.

So, longing for what’s right around the corner but not being able to fully relax and celebrate?  I’m right there with you, son.

This insatiable longing for what is to come makes me wonder, though, why I don’t ache more often for “home.”

All of us should be longing for heaven.  It should be a deep stirring within us because absolutely nothing we achieve or receive on this planet will fill up that gnawing need for eternity with Jesus.

Before He died, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Our heart’s truest desire should be this: to be with Christ in that place He’s prepared for us.

We can live like Abraham, who was willing to  abide in tents because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, who designer and builder is God”  (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).

He didn’t need a palace, a mansion, or a luxury condo.  Instead, he was satisfied with a tent because he had heaven in mind.

And those other ancestors of faith looked forward also.  The Bible says, “They desire a better country, that is,  a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:15).

Isn’t this what we desire, too?

When we  hear the news yet again:

Divorce.   Abuse.  Neglect.  Death.  Cancer.   Pain.  Injustice.  Starvation and famine.  Poverty.

Don’t we ache with the way this doesn’t fit?  It’s not right?  This isn’t God’s best?

And that’s when we remember to cry out:  Come, Lord Jesus!  We long for you so!

We long for heaven.  This yearning for the eternal is deep within us and it should drive who we are.

It should stir us to PATIENCE with the now when God asks us to wait because we keep looking forward to His promises fulfilled.

It stir us to  ACT.  Stand up for what is right.  Pursue righteousness.  Offer mercy.  Live justly.  Because the Kingdom of God is  something we can live now in anticipation of perfection in heaven.

Eternity doesn’t begin for Christians after we die.  Eternity begins the moment we accept Christ as Lord.  I’m already living in my “forever with the Lord” and that means pursuing Jesus’s presence here and now.

And it should stir us to PRAY:  To come before Him with hearts crushed and broken by sin and evil.  We seek the hope that only Jesus can bring: the assurance that this isn’t all  there is.

He is indeed preparing a place for us.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

“This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.”

Storms within and storms without and peace in all

The noise police.

That’s my two-year-old’s job.

His oldest sister hops in the minivan at the end of the school day and pulls out her recorder for some practice time.

He hears one note, just one note, and he slips his finger up to his lips and says, “Shhhh.  Pease stop it.”  Then he tosses a look her way that commands attention even if he is 8 years younger than she is.

Someone dares to sing along with the radio in the car?

Oh no!  Noise violation. Cited by the noise police.

This toddler will immediately tell you to “Pease stop it.  PEASE stop it.”  And he’ll repeat that message louder and louder until all such violators refrain from singing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re off-key or if you’re a Broadway superstar, if you’re singing, he’s going to ask you to stop.

He shouts for car alarms to “Pease stop it” in the Wal-Mart parking lot and he commands that construction sounds cease when he hears saws and hammers.

This tiny powerhouse assumes that all noise is within his power to control.  He expects instant silence when he says the magic phrase.

At the sound of “Pease stop it” all noise must end.

Of course, it very rarely works that way, which my son doesn’t appreciate.

His sisters insist on singing or talking or playing.

Car alarms keep alarming.  Construction workers keep constructing.

He can say “Pease stop it” all he wants; it doesn’t mean anything truly stops at all.

But I appreciate his effort.  I understand the desire.

Haven’t I shouted “Please stop it” myself  more than a few times when I wanted that conflict with someone else to end….or that situation to finally be resolved?

When I felt tossed around by circumstances out of my control and I just wanted quiet and calm already, no more noisy turmoil and roar of turbulence and strife, I wanted to yell, “Please stop!  Stop the relentless confusion or hurt or tension or stress or uncertainty!”

Yet, even when my greatest efforts at control fail, Jesus can speak the Word.  He can demand that the storm “be still” and it must obey.

He speaks and that is enough.

In Luke 8, I read how he calmed that stormy sea and how the winds and the waves obeyed his command.

But in that same chapter, I read how he calmed a different kind of storm, not just the physical tempest, not actual winds and actual waves, not circumstances that threaten to drown us.

He calmed the storm within.

With the sea now peaceful, the disciples crossed to the other side, where Jesus found a man possessed by demons who ran naked among the tombs and could not be contained by human chains.

Jesus “commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man” and at that Word, the man was redeemed and restored (Luke 8:29 ESV).

Sheila Walsh writes in Five Minutes with Jesus:

“I love that the stories of Jesus calming the storm and Jesus freeing the demoniac are back-to-back.  Whether a storm is raging in outside circumstances or inside your heart, when Jesus speaks to it, that storm has to obey.”

Two storms.  One without.  One within.

Jesus calmed them both, back-to-back, by the power of His Word.

I am surely weary of wrestling with the ropes on a storm-tossed ship.  I’ve tried everything to calm the wind and waves on my own, every tool, every trick, every skill within my expertise.

I’ve shouted, “Pease stop it!”  but the storm still storms.

But this is what I know.

At any moment, Jesus could rise up and command, “Peace!” and there would be calm and there would be deliverance.

It’s true about the stress and uncertainty, the doubt, the depression, the anxiety and worry, the fear and the desperate need to control what we face within.

It’s true in the relational conflicts and interpersonal fights, the financial shortfalls, the job stresses, and the health scares that we face without.

Whether we face storms internally or externally, when Jesus declares, “Peace” the noise will end.

But in the meantime, I choose faith because I am never too far for Him to rescue me.  No circumstances are beyond His ability to control.

Somehow just the reminder that He is the Word and that His Word is all that is needed to rescue me gives me rest even before the storm ceases and even before the noise ends.

Originally published 5/11/2016

This, dear one, is for you

I thought the note was for some other mom.

Years ago, my daughter toted a note home from preschool.  Now that they had all learned their phone numbers, they were working on their address.  Could we please practice at home?

I reviewed our address with my four-year-old until she could rattle it off like a pro.

At the end of the month, we received a new note.  They’ll be studying spring,  plants, and working on their spring program and, by the way, some kids still didn’t know their address….could we please practice with them at home?

I asked my daughter to say her address.

She said it.

I nodded my head approvingly.

This note must be for some other mom.

In April, notes came home every few weeks…about spring break and final plans for the year and what they were learning now and preparations for Easter parties and the spring program and oh, one more thing, could the children who still didn’t know their addresses please make sure they learned them?

Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Some parents!  You know?

But then in May, I sat at the tiny table with my body squeezed into a preschooler-sized blue plastic chair and had a conference with my daughter’s teacher.  She hands me the assessment sheet with checkmarks everywhere.  Your child can do all of this….but she can’t say her address.

I’m sorry.  What?

Apparently, that note had been for me all along.  I called my daughter over to the table and she recited her address flawlessly in just over a second and then ran off to play.

I guess all along they’d been asking my daughter if she could say her address and she just told them, ‘no.’

So, the notes home could have had my name written all over them.  They were meant for me!  And I had moseyed along on my oblivious way thinking surely my child had gotten her little box checked off.

Sometimes, we need notes and faith and life to be monogrammed with our initials before we realize it’s for us.

We can look at the Bible, we can see what God did and what He’s doing and we can think He’s wonderfully compassionate, powerful and yet full of mercy, for the world and for everyone else in the world.

But then it gets personal.

The disciples tagged along after Jesus as He healed the crowds. Lepers and the lame, the demon-possessed and those wrecked with pain came to Him for rescue and He performed the miracles.

My Bible marks the book of Matthew with newspaper headlines:  Jesus Heals The Sick.  Jesus Heals Many.  Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand.

Jesus changed lives for lots of people.

But then it got personal for the 12 rag-tag followers.

When Jesus went off to pray, He sent them on ahead to cross the lake on their own.  In the middle of the night, he came out to them, walking on the water.

Peter jumped out of the boat and took steps out onto the sea….and then sank when he saw the wind and felt afraid.

But as soon as Jesus lifted Peter up and they slipped into the boat, the wind ceased.  The storm calmed.  The sea rested.

Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33).

Then…they worshiped.

Max Lucado writes:

They had never, as a group, done that before.  Never…….You won’t find them worshiping when he heals the leper.  Forgives the adulteress.  Preaches to the masses.  They were willing to follow.  Willing to leave family  Willing to cast out demons.  Willing to be in the army.  But only after the incident on the sea did they worship him.  Why?  Simple.  This time they were the ones who were saved.”  (In the Eye of the Storm)

FAITH HAS TO BE PERSONAL AND INTIMATE.

Sometimes, I confess it, I slip into the humdrum and the mundane and the complacency of religion.

But then God rescues me from the storm.  He comes close and draws near.  He whispers my name.

This is for you.

Not just everyone else.  Not just other moms, other wives, other women.

Not just for the whole world.  Not just for the crowd.

This, dear one, is for you.

And the worship that I’d been offering by rote and by habit transforms into heartfelt praise and all-out abandon.

Because, after all, I am the one who is saved.

Originally published February 25, 2015

Slow to Criticize and Quick to Pray

Years ago, my friend was crying and telling me she felt like a total flake.  Life had been crazy, filled with mistakes and missed appointments, misplaced papers, forgotten promises, everything lost and mixed up and wrong.

I love my friend and I got it. Truly, I did.  I nodded my head and encouraged her while other shoppers pushed their carts past us in the grocery story.

But inside, in the secret places of my mind and heart, that compassion wasn’t complete.  It was a hollow, pat-her-on-the-back kind of friendship that feels bad, but doesn’t really offer the full covering of grace.

The truth was, deep down, I was judging her as much as she judged herself.  And it was ugly.

Forgetting, missing, losing, making mistakes? It sounded like a too-busy schedule and an absent organizational system.  Maybe a few files and a day planner could save the day.

Two weeks later, I was sobbing at my kitchen table.  It had been a week of misplaced papers and missing items—not little insignificant things—BIG things, like legal documents and DMV paperwork.

For someone generally in control and on top of things, the week had been devastatingly humbling.

Then, I felt the deeper challenge.

God never lets me get away with passing silent judgment or criticism on another.  Never.

Nor should He.

The very moment I start internally critiquing another mom or putting another friend in a labeled box based on her mistakes and weaknesses, I know God will be at work in my life, bringing me to my knees to ask for forgiveness.

Because I need a Savior.

Because I’m a mess, too!

I’M NOT PERFECT AND MY LIFE ISN’T PERFECT AND THE THING WE ALL NEED AS MOMS AND AS WOMEN AND AS FLAW-FILLED HUMANS IS HEAPING LOADS OF GRACE AND COMPASSION, NOT QUIET JUDGMENT OR SILENT CRITICISM.

We stumble into the judge’s seat so easily, thinking we know the people around us:

The frazzled-looking momma with the crying baby in Wal-Mart.
The parents whose teenager disappeared from church.
The couple who met with the divorce lawyers last week.
The husband and wife holding the bankruptcy paperwork.
The family with the nice new car and large house.
Those who homeschool (or don’t).
Those who have large families (or small).
The mom who commutes every day to work (and the one who doesn’t.)

As long as we’re quiet about it, after all, there seems little harm.

Maybe it spills over occasionally into snarky remarks and private jibes with like-minded friends, but mostly we control the collateral damage.

Yet, isn’t that the picture of the pharisees in Luke 5?

Scripture tells us: “One day Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there” (Luke 5:17).

They had front row seats, a privileged view of the hurting crowd.

They watched four friends carrying a man on a mat and lowering him down through the ceiling.  They watched as Jesus healed him, saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).

While the man and his friends rejoiced and the crowd marveled, others remained unmoved:

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).

They were just “thinking to themselves.”  They weren’t gossiping or heckling Jesus.  They didn’t hop up then and there to condemn Him.

It was just an internal dialogue, a private moment of judgment and condemnation.

But, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?‘” (Luke 5:22).

Even our most secretive judgments of others have an audience—Jesus Himself.  

Would He also be disappointed about what I’m thinking in my heart?

After all, judgment that doesn’t appear on protest signs or Facebook posts or Twitter feeds is still judgment and it still hurts.

INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING OR LABELING OTHERS WHEN I SEE THEM STRUGGLING OR HURTING, I SHOULD BE DRAWN TO INTENSE AND CONSISTENT INTERCESSION, PRAYING FOR THEM RATHER THAN PICKING AT THEM.

As Oswald Chambers wrote:

‘God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.’

I SHOULD BE SLOW TO CONDEMN AND QUICK TO PRAY FOR OTHERS.

The truth is I’m desperately in need of the grace Christ has poured out on me, and if I need that kind of grace, then I need to show that kind of grace: unhindered, unqualified, unmarred by an undercurrent of criticism and condescension.

Just grace.

Beautiful, pure, deep down honest grace.

(Author’s note: Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t discern or judge right from wrong, sin from not-sin, etc.)

Originally published 3/9/2016

You Think You’ll Remember

jonah-2-7

I stopped scrapbooking years ago.

They say you stop with your third baby just because you’re so busy or somehow you’re over all that new-momma pride.

But that’s not what did it for me.  It’s that I had never scrapbooked because I’m crafty or creative, in love with paper and colors, a fan of stickers and shaping scissors, or content to spend a few hours (or days) cropping photos and writing in the margins with a gel pen.

I scrapbooked because that’s what moms do.

“Good moms” anyway.

But I found out it had become a dreaded chore, the dragging out of the massive Rubbermaid container, the aching back after hours of gluesticks and paper cutouts, the stressing over straight lines and paper scraps.

Mostly, though, it was the clean-up afterward that did me in.  I may have time to make the albums (maybe?), but who has time to clean up project mess?

Perhaps if I had an entire room hidden away somewhere where everything could be spread out and left there over time instead of interrupting my whole house with clutter, then crafts and creativity would be fun.

Life’s not like that, though.  Mess needs to be stashed away.  It takes time to set up and time to clean up, so mostly I just leave the project alone before I begin.

After years of collecting keepsakes and mementos, my containers, boxes, plastic buckets, and piles grew to mountainous proportions, though.

Sometimes I’d at least remember to label the photos I printed or the pictures my little artists drew before tucking them away for safe-keeping.033

But not always, and that was my mistake.

You think you’ll remember every detail of the who and when and what.  You think you’ll remember the stories, the firsts, every reason behind the paper that sits stacked in a cardboard box in your closet.

Sometimes I do remember.

And sometimes I don’t.

Recently, I dragged boxes out from various corners and hidden places and sorted through the papers and photos. My kids pestered me with questions:

Who drew this, Mom?  Who is this, Mom?  What does this paper mean, Mom?

They wanted to hear the details of the story and at times I struggled to remember which one of them had drawn that detailed picture of stick people with fingers sticking out of their arms like twigs or written me that note:  I luv mom.

How forgetful I am.  Life pushes me faster and faster, rushing through this day and the next, and even those moments you most expect to remember blur into the fog of it all.

Memory isn’t passive, not the way we expect it to be.

No, remembrance is an active discipline, a choosing not to forget despite our humanness, our busyness, and our distracted minds.

We’re not alone in this.

In Matthew 14, we read how Jesus fed the five thousand with a handful of loaves and fish.

In Matthew 15, he did it again, feeding over 4000 with some bread and some more fish.

Then, in Matthew 16, the disciples forget to bring some bread along on yet another daytrip.  When Jesus started teaching them about yeast and Pharisees and Sadducees, the twelve didn’t get it.  They missed the point completely and thought he was chastising them for forgetting lunch.

They couldn’t focus on His spiritual teaching because they were hyper-focused on their physical need.

Jesus said,

O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?  ….Do  you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?  How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? (Matthew 16:8-11 ESV).

Oh those disciples, sometimes I marvel at their block-headedness and sometimes I just want to put my arm around their shoulders and say, “I get it.  I’m right there with you guys.”

We think we’ll remember the miracles and how God delivered us or how He spoke so clearly, cutting right through the noise of our lives to make Himself evident.

Then we forget after all .  Two chapters later in our own story, we’re still fretting over how much bread we have in our lunchbox even though Jesus is so able to do abundantly more than all we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3).

I want to be a historian, a keeper of memories, a relater of miracles and testimonies of  His goodness so that I won’t forget.

He’s done it before.  He’ll do it again.

So I can rest and trust and even wait with expectation and anticipation to see all that God will do.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

love-is-kind

By the time I made it to the checkout line at Wal-Mart that day, I was a bit frazzled.

The shopping with children while sticking to a budget and using coupons and planning meals for the week on the fly had done me in.

I ran the gauntlet, that candy-displaying aisle that also comes fully equipped with toy cameras, play cell phones, matchbox cars, and other wonderful overly expensive nothing toys that every child “must” have!

Finally, I was done.  Groceries in the cart.  Coupons handed over.  Total amount deducted from my checking account.

Freedom!!

We made it to the van.  My kids piled in.  I loaded every last grocery bag into the back and slammed the door shut.

Then I realized I had left my wallet inside.

Because that’s what tired, frazzled, totally stressed and generally scatterbrained women do.  We leave our personal identification and all access to our financial lives sitting around the Wal-Mart.

I re-opened the van door and started unbuckling my confused children so we could go back inside and hunt for the missing wallet when I heard him: The man who saved my day.

He ran over to me holding my wallet outstretched.  “The cashier let me run it out to you,” he explained.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, the character Blanche DuBois frequently says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Don’t we all?  At some time or another, haven’t we all depended on the kindness of somebody, whether stranger or friend?  They’ve saved us from a rotten day and might as well wear a cape and some tights because it’s as good as being rescued by a superhero.

But, here’s the catch, showing kindness always involves at least a little inconvenience.

My kind stranger abandoned his own cart of groceries and delayed his day to run out to a parking lot and find the crazy woman who can’t keep track of her things.

Too often we don’t make the choice he did.  Instead, we choose convenience over service and comfort over love for our neighbor.

We’re busy. We’re tired. We have important ministry commitments that keep us from  ministering to an individual in need. We hope another will offer help.

And that’s how we can miss the point.

Just like the disciples did in Matthew 19:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there”(Matthew 19:1-2).

They were accustomed to Jesus drawing a crowd so this was business as usual. Everywhere He went, a mob of searching, needy people followed.

It must have been thrilling to be a disciple of this Rabbi—to see His Spiritual power, His draw, to think perhaps He was the Messiah they had long waited for.

And He didn’t just attract a crowd of needy paupers or country-folk.  Oh no.  Where Jesus traveled, so did the powerful elite to examine and cross-examine this religious phenomenon.  So it was on this day “some Pharisees came to test him” (Matthew 19:3).

The disciples were the closest people on earth to a superstar with mass appeal and the attention of big-shots.

But then some parents did the unthinkable.

They “brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked them” (Matthew 19:13).

Jesus loved the little children.  That’s what we see, say and sing about this passage.  And yes, that’s there.

But there’s something else here, too.

It’s not just that He stops for children, but that He stops at all. 

To the disciples, these families and kids were time-wasters.  Jesus had crowds to attend to, miracles to perform, Pharisees to spar with.

If anyone in the world was too busy for the little, it was Jesus.

But Jesus took time for kindness.

He accepted a little inconvenience in order to show love to the small, undervalued and overlooked because “love is patient; love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Sometimes in that Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, we’re the priest and the Levite, so busy with important tasks maybe we’re too busy to show kindness to the people who lie along the road we’re traveling.

 

Could we choose to change?

Could we choose to turn aside?  To take the time? To value people over schedules and agendas?  To sacrifice for others?

Could we choose kindness?

After all, it hardly mattered if the Samaritan arrived late at his destination.  He had helped the hurting and that had far more significance.

The kindness was worth the inconvenience.  It always is.

 

Originally published 9/12/2011