Tuesday, April 01, 2014

As Boys Become Men

It could overwhelm me ... these memories of all I wanted to see when my boys became men. ... Because they are nothing like what I had wanted or hoped for them to become at this point in their lives.

... And they are everything and more.




I still live among boys. All day. Every day. But they are quickly becoming men, and I see it more and more every day.

I see it when I wash clothes and can't tell what belongs to whom because everything is pretty much the same size now ... and that size is ... big. I see it when they get rowdy and wrestle and I feel certain something is about to break ... something like a door or window ... or a wall. I see it when I'm having an emotional crisis and I suddenly feel strong arms around me and a broad chest supporting me and I'm still a single mom, so it must be one of these huge children that lives in my house.

Sometimes it could overwhelm me ... because I had plans and dreams of what I was trying to accomplish and I made sacrifices and choices that were more than a little unconventional, and what I see before me is nothing like what I planned. They are not solid, sure-footed men of God with rock-solid faith ... not yet, anyway. They aren't loaded with accolades and recognitions that point to me as single-homeschooling-mother-of-the-decade. They don't navigate their brotherly relationships with patient negotiations that end with handshakes and bro-hugs, but instead more often end up with everyone feeling like a nuclear bomb of emotions has gone off in our living room and at least one person leaves the room enraged and no one really feels like we settled anything. And most days their lives don't yet affirm that I made the right choices or that my sacrifices were worth what I gave up on our behalf.





Instead these big kids play too many video games, eat too much junk food, watch too much TV (and some shows I'd rather not mention for fear that my weak parenting would really show!). They steal each other's food and ignore repeated requests to do chores and when they do the chores I'm frustrated that the work is only half-way done. They struggle in school, share about our lives too freely (wonder where they get that from?), or don't seem to connect well with their peers. They fight, insult each other, pick new fights, and storm off instead of working things out. They walk past trash on the floor and drop belongings everywhere until I realize I finally need a backhoe and a pressure washer to clean the rooms downstairs. Their rooms are a mess, they presume too much upon my precious free time, and they get mad when I try to make them do what they should already have done or when I won't do what they want me to do exactly when they want it.

So I live with the haunting "voices" that tell me I'm a failure as a mom, that I'm not demanding enough of them, that I don't set a good enough example, and that everything I thought I was doing out of conviction and intentional purpose was really just a way of indulging my laziness and clinging to ideals that my single-mom life couldn't support.

But the voices are lying.

Because I also see three boys who passionately, loyally care for the people in their lives, each in his own way, even when helping those people gets risky, messy, and painful. I see boys who quickly (and sometimes not so quickly) rise to the challenge of helping those who cannot help themselves. I have teenage boys who love kids and don't see it as a waste of their time to load up in the car with a battery of swords and ammo belts and imaginary super powers so they can play with kids ten or more years younger than themselves for hours on end simply for the pleasure of hanging out and playing. Most of all, I delight in having boys who on an ordinary day act like ordinary teenage boys who want space and separating distance from Mom, but on a day when life is collapsing in on me are so concerned about my well-being that they are right there to do anything I need and to hug me and tell me things aren't as bad as they seem to be ... that I'M not as bad as I seem to be, and they point me back to the Savior that I've been pointing them to all this time!

I have to remind myself almost daily that none of us are done yet.
"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy ... being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  Phillipians 1:4, 6
I have never taken my task as a mom lightly. There have been times that I carefully considered the choices I've made - the why and how and what might be. There have also been times when I was overcome with depression, health struggles, exhaustion, and even just my own weakness and sin ... and I just didn't do all I could have or should have done. I can see my own sin-stuggles mirrored in them (because oh my! I have passed them along well!), and I can see my convictions and passions and desire to serve with whatever I do have passed along too, and I'm proud of those things.



My boys may yet become great men of God. They may choose, fail, and struggle miserably as they wrestle with God and with themselves. They may suffer through no fault of their own, from tragedy and difficulties, and question and wonder if God is all He says He is. They may also rise to the challenges they face, make wise choices, and act honorably in ways that surprise them as well as me. In fact, they probably will each have times of great success and troubling trials as they navigate life in this fallen world, and they will probably continue to experience these things even after I'm no longer around to offer my sage wisdom and advice.

But God isn't done. He was working then, is working now, and will continue to work on me and in each of my three boys until the day His work on us is complete and we join Him in eternity.

There is one thing I am sure of: the God I love and serve will still be right there, walking through life with them, working out His plan for His glory and their good ... just like He promises. That is worth every sacrifice. That justifies every choice I've made. That will redeem even my worst sins and mistakes.

And that is what I get to witness ... as I watch boys become men.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Hard Work of Casting Our Cares

I'm laying here in the dark with my mind racing from one worry to the next. There is never a shortage of worries when you're a single mom. I guess that's probably true for anyone, but all I know is what it's like to be a single mom: As one thing gets fixed, six more break. I see the accumulation of choices, both good and bad, but for the moment all I can see is what they are costing me now, and the weight of all that is left undone ... waiting to collapse in on me. I feel so alone, not that there aren't people who care and people who are loving me well, but right now ... in this minute ... it's dark, and they're not here. I hurt for all the things that I feel like my kids have missed out on ... for all the things I can't give them ... and I see no real change to my circumstances in the future. I begin to feel tears as I realize I don't dream anymore ... I can't dream, because I did that when I was younger, and ... well ... look where I am. I just want to go to sleep! I want that brief respite from the harshness and pain of reality ... Why can't I sleep?

A song pierces my self-pity and worry.


I cast all my cares upon You.
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet.
And any time I don't know what to do,
I will cast all my cares upon You.

I love it when the Lord uses songs, scriptures, words from my past to remind me of His truth. It's especially important now when I spend too little time in His Word, too little time in prayer. And the truth of the song hits me: I'm carrying too much on my own again. I haven't given Him any of my worries, none of my cares ... I've just gone from need to need, moment to moment for days and weeks, trying to figure out how to carry them myself. The result? I've spent too much money I don't have on things that I didn't really "need." I've gone back to hiding in my comfortable idols, retreating into mindless entertainment to forget for a few moments my worries, fears, and hard work. And now, I'm not sleeping, because as the weight of escapism and indulgence and self-comfort collects on top of my already overloaded resources, all I can do is collapse.

I hear myself ask: How do I give it to You? How do I let go of it?

He wispers: "Go to my Words. I've already answered you. Listen to me. After all, you're already awake."
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
          1 Peter 5:6-11

What do I see here? Well, first of all, when I searched the word "cast" I noticed what an active word it is. I saw lots of references to casting someone or something out, to God casting someone away (or thankfully, promising not to do so). Fishermen cast their nets, a prophet cast his mantle over his replacement, soldiers cast lots for clothing, and Moses cast down his rod. So to cast means to throw away - not just to toss it - but to throw it with force and determination.

I see God's qualifications: "humble yourself," "be alert and sober," "resist the enemy and stand firm in faith. Isn't it just the opposite of what I'm doing? Instead of relying on myself I need to humble myself and admit my weakness and dependence. Instead of escaping I need to be watchful and aware of what is going on in my life and realistic about it. Instead of sleeping, I need to stand up to him! This is not one of those times I'm to flee, it's a time to resist and stand firm on what I know is true.

So I begin:


  • And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:19
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you;never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
  • For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11


I look up key words and remember scriptures I committed to memory, reminding myself of His promises and His truth. And I choose, in FAITH, to believe that what He has told me is true. After all, I've seen Him keep these promises before: when the air conditioning was broken and I expected a costly repair and after going months without air it took only cleaning the drip drain to make it fully functional again ... when a frightening hospital stay turned into an unplanned stretch of needed quiet time and a restoration of relationships to the body of Christ that I was missing ... when the forced abandoning of my dream of homeschooling my youngest son provided much needed academic help for him and a wonderful job I love for me. He's provided again and again, for me and for my children. Why would He stop now? He still loves us with an everlasting love.

I see the reminder that I am not alone in all of this - that other believers are suffering too, and I remember that many are suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I wasn't threatened today. I didn't wake up on a stone floor in a prison for talking about Jesus. My children weren't ripped from me. I wasn't beaten or tortured. I remember that my sufferings are minimal ... and still God will provide.

And I'm reminded that this is all temporal ... that once I reach heaven even enduring all of this for the rest of my life (and who's to say I will have to go through it that long?) will seem like such a short time compared to the eternity of living with Jesus. Finally, I'm reminded that it's all for His glory. I don't have much but my mess to give Him, but I can give Him my mess.


Once again, as I have since I was very young I enlist my vivid imagination. I close my eyes and enter the throne of the greatest King ever. Most enter this throne room in fear, for His power and sovereignty are evident, and although I'm in awe, I'm not afraid. You see, He's my Father, my Beloved ... and I know how very much He treasures me. So I run to His lap, but before I get in it, I lay down the heave bags I'm trying to carry. As I lay them down, I name them: my teenager's schooling, getting boys where they need to go this year, unpaid medical bills, all the treatment that lays ahead, broken furniture that needs replacing, critical "friends" who are watching my every parenting move to report me to DCF instead of coming to help me .... The bags are many, because the list is long, but I lay them at His feet one by one. Finally, when I can't think of anything more to worry about, I climb up in His lap, and listen for Him to sing over me...

... until I fall asleep.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What Comes Out When Life Gets Hard

Last night was one of those I hate and dread. A kid puking in the middle of the night. Not the nice, tidy make-it-to-the-bowl type pukes, although I hate those too, but the kind that makes hours of work when all I want to do is sleep.

Another Sunday morning of plans shot down by the unexpected. As I stood surveying the mess, trying to think with my half-asleep brain, trying to come up with a plan of attack to just get clean-up done while everything about the situation made me just want to gag, I thought, "Maybe God just really doesn't want me in church." Seems like lately everything gets in the way of me going. Sick kids. Emotional battles. Hating what I have to wear. Just wanting to have the quiet house to myself. I want to worship. God deserves my worship. ... But I have to talk myself into it.

Is that really what He wants?

I'm usually pretty good responding to the kids when they're sick. But last night, I was frustrated, and it showed. I had to say to him, "Mom's really NOT mad at you, just frustrated and tired. This is NOT your fault." I hate having to say that. In my mind I was grumbling ... trying to go all those places that I don't allow myself to go when I'm frustrated or discouraged or overwhelmed.

And then in a flash, my programming kicked in. I've been working hard to see God's sweet gifts around me. "Should we accept only good things from the Lord, and not bad?" (Job 2:10)

"Lord, help me to see Your blessings in this moment," I whispered.


  • When I was young, even hearing a kid throwing up would have sent me running from the room, now I'm cleaning it up without even a gag. Thank You, Lord.
  • I've been trying to fit in cleaning the bathroom floor really well, now I have to. Thank You, Lord.
  • None of the kittens got thrown up on. Thank You, Lord.


Seeing the blessings - the gifts - in the moment came easy, as I listed one thing after another.


  • Now I have time to listen to the Jonah sermons online that I've missed during the last month. Thank You, Lord.
  • I have cleaning gloves, and I almost never buy gloves! Thank You, Lord!


I have been through some really dark, difficult places in life, and as I look back, I realize they were the places my training kicked in the most. It's easy to forget God's presence and control when things are good, and easy, and going as planned. When we are thrust into those places we don't want to be, or don't know how to handle, those are the places we are forced to draw on what we believe are true. It's that way, whether I'm cleaning up after a sick child or watching my world fall apart after my husband announces he's leaving. It's true when my car is out of gas and I'm out of money or when I find my dad dead in his bed. What I've fed into my mind, heart, and habits comes out in the moments I need it most.

It's also true that the more consistent I am in training my heart and mind to look for God in every moment, the quicker I go to that when I need to. How often I've stumbled on the realization that my heart was gloomy and discouraged only to realize I've been trying to fill it with things that don't satisfy. Or that I've woken up singing praises because I've consistently been listening to praises. And when a kid throws up on the bathroom floor, it is natural to look for the blessings when I've been practicing looking for blessings every day the last five months. Healthy spiritual practices make for quick and healthy habits when we need them.

I hope the Lord was honored by my worship today. It wasn't done by singing hymns and assembling with other believers. Instead it was drawing close to his heart in the middle of necessary work and service to my child. It was in focusing my mind on Him in the middle of the fallen circumstances of my life. It was real and flowing out of my need even though there was no one else around to see it.

I think that's what worship really is.

Friday, April 20, 2012

When Real Relationship Is a Battle

I live in a house full of real relationships. I'm convinced that raising boys is not any more or less difficult than raising girls, it's just unique unto itself. Boys are hardwired to prove their prowess. Everything from how fast they eat to how loud they burp is part of the contest to be king of the hill. As boys living together tussle and fight to assert their dominance, they don't react to being pushed aside and passed up with hurtful tears and squeals, they get MAD!!! They yell and call names and push and punch. Boys are fighters!





Most days in our house, it seems like a losing battle - teaching these boys how to fight well. Instead of teaching clear communication, admitting fault, and forgiveness, it seems like they are only getting better at insults and irritating one another. What I want most for them is for them to be devoted brothers for life, there for each other through all of the harder things life will bring to them. What I see are mounting offenses and grudges. ... I sigh ... What is the point?

Today is my birthday and this is what my sister posted on my Facebook wall:

‎45 years ago my sister was born. This is what I got- *traded shiny nickels for dirty dimes*rubber spiders in my bed, shoes, drawers,etc.*fightin' with windmill arms and hair pullin*pickle juice in a squirtgun*A nickname only she can call me*the part of Toto while she was always Dorothy*an impossible childhood standard because she was the good one and I was a brat
I also got this:*3 beautiful nephews*an automatic best friend*a wonderful Christian counselor*laughter and humor when I'm crying*parenting advice*self worth when I feel horrible*an impossible standard for Christian motherhood because she is so wonderful at it and I often flounder
My sister means the world to me. I wish all sisters could've had the childhood we did growing up. She is gracious, funny, beautiful, loving, generous, and the daughter of a King! Thank you, Lis, for always being there when I think my world is falling apart. You never let on how yours is. Your example ripples through my life, invests itself into Alex's, and brings unconditional love to Jerry. I miss you!
And you're still older than me!!!


When I talk about how boys live together and conflict with one another I really do understand that it is not an issue of better or worse than living with or raising girls. It's just different. When my sister and I were little we were close friends. We pretended together, played with Barbie dolls, rode bicycles, and cared for each other when we were hurt. We got angry and had cat fights, and immediately afterwards helped each other cover the scratches and red marks so we wouldn't get into trouble. 


Things changed when we became teenagers. I went through a strange period of distancing myself from my family, choosing people I wanted to impress over the people who loved me most and unconditionally. They were all very gracious and loved me and stayed as involved in my life as I'd let them under the circumstances. I'm grateful for that, because my family was more connected during those awkward years than most. But I think often my baby sister got lost in the shuffle.


Then she began to struggle with problems of her own. Some were of her own making - the result of her choices - but many were not. Many were inherited in the frail, sin-ravaged body, at a time when dealing with illnesses that affected your thinking and behavior was still relatively unexplored territory. She suffered. We suffered with her. And people looked on with attitudes ranging from judgement to pity to contempt. Our relationship unraveled as she looked like the rebel and I looked like Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.


These problems continued well into our adult years. With my mother's heavenly homegoing, I assumed more of a mother-role in her life, which was a lot of pressure because I was a new mother, and had yet to understand that kind of sacrificial, committed-no-matter-what kind of love. And she baffled me. The "right" choice seemed so clear to me, yet she so often chose what didn't make sense. And did things that didn't make sense. But I loved her, and my daddy loved her, and I really wanted her to be healthy and happy, so I kept answering the phone and talking to her, even when I felt like my words were just not enough. When my daddy died, we were all the other one had. We were orphaned adults, clinging to each other for connection through a past we shared, and trying to help one another stay afloat in a sea of grief.


Things are very different now. God has done amazing things in my sister's life: accurate medical treatment, a supporting and encouraging boyfriend, drawing her back again and again to Himself. She faced a serious trial several months ago, and to my astonishment all I wanted to do was fly up to be by her side, hold her hand, and cry with her through it. I love her and miss her and still want what's best for her. 


I realized as I read her post today, that my love for her and pride in how far she has come has been knit into my heart by sticking it out. Over and over I have chosen relationship: messy, painful, hard, intentional ... over running away or shutting her out. And the reward of that perseverance? A best friend ... the testimony of how much God can change someone ... more relationship with so much less effort! 


When my boys fight ... insult each other ... offend each other ... hurt one another ... I wonder .... Will they learn to stick with it? Will they still call each other ... hang out ... enjoy one another's families in the years to come? I hope so. Because I hate to think what they would be missing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Forgiveness and To the Other Woman

Every now and then I get glimpses of myself - my real self, not the teenage version that I still see in my mind's eye, or the overweight, aging body I see in the mirror. For a few precious moments I shed the many messages that play in my head, stored up from years of being told who I am or replayed by an enemy seeking to discourage me from remembering who my Lord sees when He looks at me. But every now and then God gives me the gift of seeing myself through the eyes of those who see His reflection in me, or who see how my continuing battle with who I was covers that reflection.

I dropped Grace off at school this morning, and was treated by Beloved with a brief opportunity to talk to her teacher from last year. In brief drop-offs and pick-ups, I developed a sweet friendship with the teacher and two class helpers who worked in Gracie's classroom. Mrs.Ritchie repeated this morning what she had told me often last year - I'm one of only few people she'd want her grandbaby in the care of, how glad she is that I'm in Grace's life, how much she likes me. 

It's not me. I know that. There are so many things about me that I hide from people - so many places where my sin overwhelms the developing reflection of my Lord. But to be reminded that there are those places where some people know and see the grace and love I've known in my Jesus ... I'm so thrilled that I am growing in those places enough for it to show.






Every now and then, the Lord snips back that growth, like I snipped back the fresh green growths from the bushes in my front yard yesterday. It doesn't always make sense. Why cut off the new growth on a plant that you want to see growth on? Grace asked me that very question yesterday - in her 4-year-old words, of course. "Why are you cutting the plants leaves?" How to I tell her that the plant only grows thick and full if I trim back the overgrowth? Would she understand that those extra long branches and leaves are using resources that the plant needs to use in other places? Will there be a time that I can show her the thinness and weakness under all the growth of a plant allowed to grow out of the control of its owner?

I don't want overgrowth in my life ... but I don't like being pruned either. Pruning hurts, and often doesn't make sense to me. Learning to forgive is one of the places where God continues to prune me and train me. Like so many of my friends I have been deeply wounded by others in my life. Abandoned by a beloved husband. Rejected by leaders I trusted. Ignored or overlooked by family and friends I depended upon. 

...And then there are the enemies. I'm a nice person ... I think. I'm so laid-back and accommodating and people-pleasing, how is it possible that I even have enemies? But I do. Some are enemies because of my stupidity or sin. Some became that because of their own shortcomings and sins. Often it's just the result of two sinners with expectations and plans colliding in a hard, sin-filled world. 

How do you forgive an enemy? Forgiving any offense is hard, but how do you forgive someone whose ongoing mission seems to be to make life difficult ... oppositional ... miserable? How do you forgive when someone keeps on offending? What does it mean to forgive that kind of person?

Oh wait ... did you think I had an answer? My sister asked me that question some weeks ago. She's struggling to forgive her ex-husband. He infuriates me, and I hate the ways he hurts my sister and nephew. Who am I to tell her how to forgive him, when I am struggling to forgive him?
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners....But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6,8 (NLT)
For me the only thing that has worked is to stay focused on the undeserved grace God has shown me. I know how messy I am ... how awful I could be, and sometimes am. I know what it means that I am a helpless sinner, unable to control my self-serving impulses and totally without concern for how my indulgence affects anyone else. I know! To know what I am capable of, and to see how God has dealt with me ... that is where forgiveness and grace begin for me.

A decade ago my life was forever scarred when another woman came into my husband's life and wooed him away from me. My husband chose to love another woman, and it broke my heart and shattered my life. I already loved him, so forgiving him, although it took a long time to consistently do, could be built on all the things in him that I had come to love and admire over the years with him. But her? Forgiving her has been hard.

Look at Jesus. Look back at me. Forgiving me should have been hard ... was hard. Proof of that are prayers in a garden to be spared the weight of my sins ... the weight of my guilt. Is He asking of me anything He has been unwilling to do? Do I believe that He can walk with me through this difficult choice? Can I forgive the person in my life whom I would most like to see justice dealt out to? Do I trust God to show her mercy, just as He has shown me mercy?



To the Other Woman
copyright 9/21/05
Lisa A. Baker
Women of old
With stories untold
Mere glimpses of lives we see
When I take a look
In this ancient of books
A snapshot in them of me
 Yet tonight I saw there
A new kind of heir
To the legacy scripture can weave
Now I must release
My resistance to peace
So my hate can forgiveness relieve
For you are like dear Hagar, proud
Should you be rejected and cry aloud
El Roi will hear your humbled  plea
And prove to be the One who sees
And you are like Rahab of old
Whose intervention still is told
Despite disgraceful reputation
Was used to bring the world salvation
You are Bathsheba, mother to kings
Gomer with heartache in her wings
You are the woman before the crowd
That insisted stoning was allowed 
At times I wondered at this lot
So used by God though to men naught
These women I’ve seen with prideful eyes
Disgusting sins—then I realize
That I am like them in some ways
For any goodness God be praised!
But you are like them somehow too,
Should I not love like God loves you?


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Becoming the Bread, Feeding the World

I love it when I suddenly see an old, familiar scripture through new eyes. Well, it can be kind of scary too; it fills me with awe when I realize I’ve stumbled on something not of my own thinking or understanding. This week, my heart became burdened for an older single woman. She carries the wounds of divorce and is additionally burdened by obsessive compulsive traits, probably the scars of trying to cope with a very out-of-control life. She is disabled, and is currently trying to care for her aging mother who is slipping into dementia. It all seems like too much already, and to complicate her week, she had to try to move her mother’s belongings out of an apartment before the next month’s rent was overdue. I watched as she was overwhelming herself trying to do it on her own … afraid … or unable to ask for help. So I asked for her.

All too often I run ahead of God trying to work things all out before seeking His way. I guess in that way, I’m a lot like her, my spiritual OCD taking over instead of waiting for God’s better, and often very different plan. I suppose I did that this time too, at least a little. I went to the church, trying to find some help to move boxes and furniture the next day … calling, thinking, planning … frustrated with maybe’s and no’s … and by my lack of control in the planning. I tried to resist the condemning thoughts in my head: “Don’t these people KNOW how hard it is to feel alone?” “Why isn’t the CHURCH able to step up and serve like we are supposed to?” “Where do I go for help if I can’t find believers to help?”

Tied up with other commitments, I finally let go and waited … mostly because I had no other choice. By this morning, God had used His own means, and even some of my frantic, frail efforts for her good,  to meet her needs. Four teenage boys, a couple with a truck, a man just moved to serve someone he didn’t even know, even me with a heart being taught to serve others instead of myself. There was even more … offers of help from various friends … not the abundance I imagined or wanted to see, but enough … and more than enough.

Out of no where, a scripture came to mind:

That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

“Bring them here,” he said. Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

Matt 14:15-21 (NLT)

As that scripture flowed from the recesses of my memory, my crazy visual mind pictured small loaves of bread and a few fish carrying boxes, moving furniture, caring for an old woman. Believers and unbelievers, working together, being used by the same God to meet the needs of a hungry, desperate woman. Going back to the scripture, I saw it … Jesus’ command: “YOU feed them.” Not “Feed them what you have.” nor “Feed them what you can find.” Not, “Yes, send them to where they can find food,” but “Feed them YOURSELVES.”

I think that is exactly what he meant too. Not just look for food and fill their bellies, but look into their eyes, touch them, meet their needs. Jesus wanted His followers to love them. And the result? Not merely enough, but ABUNDANCE! (I’ve always wondered what happened to the leftovers. If I know my Jesus, they didn’t go to waste!)

It dawned on me: When Jesus’ people give a little to meet the needs God presents around them, they end up giving a lot. A few people accomplish the work of dozens. a small sum of money buys more than expected, wounds aren’t just tended, but are healed! We ARE the loaves! We ARE the fish! God uses us to meet the needs of a hungry, dying world, and as we make ourselves available, he multiplies what we have to offer … what we ARE … so that we can meet overwhelming, unquenchable need.

My vision for my friend was a dozen or so strong young guys with a trailer and trucks, quickly moving furniture and possessions around. God’s vision was to do it with a few teenage boys, a couple, a man, and two pickup trucks. My plan would have gotten the job done. His completed the job AND brought Him glory in unexpected ways!

In my plan, I was going to help move stuff. Instead, I spent the day not carrying loads like I planned, but keeping an old woman company like God planned. But I was doing one more thing, like my Jesus did when he fed over 5000 people.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.

Luke 9:16 (NIV)

Even now I’m thanking Him, again and again, for gifts I didn’t expect, but was allowed to see:

#368 seeing God put together more help than necessary

#369 S & A – willing hearts to serve

#370 C & M – willing hearts to serve and examples to follow

#371 one more thing asked of me that I am able to do

#372 another afternoon of quiet to read, pray, think – unexpected

# 373 New meaning in a familiar scripture, revealing to me the heart of God

#374 One man serving someone he didn’t even know … just because he was aware of a need … and his Savior’s call to him.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

No Matter How, Just Count Them!

Still on my soapbox of counting blessings--those grace gifts all around us that come down from our Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow! Why count?

Because it adjusts our focus to what God IS doing, instead of what He isn't.
Because it reminds us of how much we have, even when we don't have much.
Because it makes you smile.
Because it changes our hearts from the inside, to the outside.
Because it brings strength, peace, and hope.
Because it's portable.
Because it trains us to see all that we don't usually see.
Because it looks for purpose in the difficult and the mundane.
Because it allows us to glimpse all of our gifts, not just the big ones.
Because everyone has gifts to count.
Because it ushers in the BIG miracles!

One comment I've heard is from people who are afraid they can't sound eloquent ... poetic ... musical. But can you count? Counting is personal ... flexible ... as creative or factual as you need it to be. Count in a way that you are comfortable with! Ideas of ways to count:

  • a list
  • photgraphs
  • video snippets
  • music lyrics
  • scripture
  • quotations
  • drawings
  • cartoons
  • journalling
  • scrapbooking
  • sharpie tatoos
  • audio recording
  • a mix CD
  • sound effects
  • slide show
  • poster
  • glass markers
  • chalkboard
  • paper crafts
  • any combination of the above or of unlimited other ways!

So what are you waiting for? It's only the end of January .... And it's really never too late to start counting!






Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Know Is Not Enough

We know how to look.
We must learn how to see.
We know how to hear.
We must learn how to listen.
We know how to touch.
We must learn how to feel.
We know how to taste.
We must learn how to savor.
We know how to think.
We must learn how to reason.
We know how to talk.
We must learn how to converse.
We know how to do.
We must learn how to serve.
We know how to say thank you.
We must learn how to be grateful.

"Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."  1 John 3:2 (NIV)





More glimpses of grace gifts:

#144 the pace of a well-prepared day
#145 the chatter of an 11-year-old as we make cookies together
#146 the hourly rescue: my Bible, 1000 Gifts, my journal, my list
#147 scratching pencils and tapping keys of children working on assignments
#148 cheese bubbling on fries
#149 Josh walking in the door early because game-club was cancelled
#150 soft whoosh and cool breezes of a fan
#151 teaching about the sun using a globe
#152 teaching school stretched across my bed
#153 getting the icing for the sugar cookies perfectly stiff
#154 remnants of the hole in the backyard under the swingset - and years of outdoor adventures that created it
#155 tender-hearted boys who quickly jump in to help their mom with the aching back
#156 breakfast made for me and brought to my room
#157 all three of us working quietly on our own things, but together.
#158 starting the day laughing together at funny street performers on YouTube
#159 dirt on the floor reminding me of new boots, a back yard, and outside play.
#160 rain clouds moving across the sky on cooler weather
#161 the unlocking and turning of the front door knob
#162 the thousands of things Stephen says that make me laugh!
#163 a sense of complete peace - I had almost forgotten this feeling.
#164 sushi and comfortable conversation

... and on and on they come!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Power in Just Saying Thank You

I am currently reading One Thousand Gifts: a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. When I chose the books, I liked the idea of the title, but I completely missed the subtitle. “A dare to live fully right where you are ….”

A dare? To live fully? Do I not live fully? Is it something I really need to be challenged to do? My life certainly feels full: full of activity, full of noise, full of living … and full of dares.

I live in a house full of dares. With three boys all vying to claim the rights to be king of the moment, dares are etched into every comment, every declaration. Every word said, every action done, every choice made is done with at least some attention to what the brothers see and think. It used to drive me crazy … OK, more crazy … but I’ve since realized that it is wired in the nature of men to live life on a dare.
The word “dare” means to have the necessary courage or boldness for something. Does it really take courage to live fully? How else does one live?

Something in my spirit stirs. Is that what is missing?




I must confess, I have been asking myself this question for a number of years now, I just didn’t realize it was the question I was asking. Year after year I have fought against feelings of brokenness and failure, waking every morning to fend off the sense that I was drowning in my own life. I’ve been haunted by childhood dreams of what life should be like for me, nightmares echoed in my observations of the lives of so many women around me.

Shouldn’t I be the one driving the newest car? Shouldn’t I kiss my charming husband goodbye each day, and greet him with dinner on the table as he comes home? Wasn’t I supposed to have the typical middle class life that my mother modeled for me? Why did God impress on me so early how important a job it is to be a husband helper, child builder, and home maker … if … if He was just going to make that … impossible?

I’m not happy here … in my life. And yet, as I watch so many women who have the life I planned … the life I wanted … they aren’t happy either. How do I live this life—the life God has given me fully? How do I live it at all?

Most days, I feel like life is happening to me. It sweeps me along like a current and I can’t manage it. I barely keep my head above it. I try to school the kids, try to wash clothes and prepare meals, try to pay the bills. I’m trying to please the kids, trying to please my employer, trying to please the homeowners’ association … and I just feel like … like I never can.

I can’t even please myself. “Alone! You’re all alone!” “No one will ever love you like this!” “If so-and-so really knew how you are doing this, they’d take your kids away!.” The serpent’s lies hissssss in my head! I grumble and cry and again and again doubt God’s love for me and His plans for my life.



There. I said it. The source of my fear, my ache, my sorrow is my discontentment and the root of my discontentment is my lack of trust in God. How do you reverse distrust? How do you eliminate discontentment?

Is it really simple? As simple as the opposite? As simple as saying thank you? I start a list. A simple, childlike list of things I’m grateful for. I call them gifts, because they are gifts … from the One who loves me more than I can imagine. Can a full life really be found from simply opening your eyes to the fullness of life you've already been given? Is that really all I have to do - to see and say thank you?

I’m still writing them down, gaining momentum as I train my eyes to see more and more of the gifts around me. I didn’t even know they were there. And as I write them, I feel … blessed. Blessed to have my life. To have my gifts. Blessed to be me.



More gifts to mention:
#68 scones ready to go in the oven in the morning
#69 words to write … coming again after being dry
#70 no real desire to watch TV or play games tonight
#71 actually looking ahead to the next day before going to bed
#72 insomnia transformed into breakfast, lunch, the start of a grocery list, and 1/4 of the surface of the table
#73 unanimous agreement to open our home to someone in need
#74 a few hours of sleep in the early morning that got me through the day
#75 opportunity to encourage a friend
#76 adventure at the surplus/thrift/junk store
#77 the sun playing peek-a-boo through the clouds
#78 time to work on Saturday presentation
#79 sheets and pillows that smell like the sweet outdoors
#80 cooling air outside
#81 waking up in the way-too-early AM and being aware of the call to enter the suffering and loss of dear friends through prayer
#82 two human-children bed warmers snuggling next to me on a very cold night
#83 kitty therapy – our gray kitty babies in the regular kitten room where we can freely play with them
#84 new books in the mail
#85 the opportunity to encourage new homeschooling families
#86 the overwhelmed single mama who needed my counsel on homeschooling
#87 Robyn’s joint custody ruling
#88 Carrie, and her love and encouragement
#89 reminders again and again that when I feel hopeless there is always YOU. YOU are right there. YOU are enough!
#90 conversation about a job
#91 the way my covenant family and worship encouraged my heart today
#92 ease and speed in preparing my Journey lesson
#93 a glimpse of how Jesus is transforming me into a peacemaker
#94 being with Journey girls after more than a month long break!
#95 really yummy spaghetti that was easy to make
#96 the influence of boys like Neal and Reed on my little boys
#97 kitchen is cleaned and caught up!!!
#98 breakfast in the crockpot this morning
#99 finding fleas instead of worrying about mites
#100 getting to revisit memories from Beauty and the Beast (with Helen)
#101 catching up on Bible reading with FREE Internet audio Bible
#102 letting Josh spend a whole day with his girl
#103 better information and motivation at the sleep doctor today
#104 a great, productive family meeting
#105 a unique awareness of my dependence upon God because I’m single
#106 remembering that He who owns the cattle on a thousand hills secure my debts
#107 early to bed
#108 Bible time with the boys – talking about scripture and praying together
#109 wrestling through the awkwardness of being different … and realizing how different Jesus really makes me.
#110 being loved enough to be treated like a Princess for a night
#111 the feast of the senses that is musical theater: lights, color, music, dance, story, song….
#112 soft fur and rumbly purrs
#113 real world learning because we took time to be in the real world
#114 red-brown hair, a freckled nose, and socks in bed
#115 a clean, quiet closet to pray and study
#116 a second mama whom I love as much as the first one
#117 acoustic strumming of lovely tunes
#118 Alex … at Robyn’s house … for a whole weekend
#119 unexpected drive time that compels me to talk to Beloved
#120 Andrew learning lessons the hard way
#121 something ugly-beautiful: rows of stark, naked trees along the river
#122 bright sun, no clouds, on a canoe trip day for boys
#123 sounds of two very large boys wrestling on my bed
#124 memories of three little boys wrestling on the same bed (but it was bigger then) and snuggling up—all four of us—for the night
#125 reminders of the incredible men of God whose teaching I have been privileged to sit under during my lifetime
#126 something wrinkled: the sweet faces of my mama, grandmas, and great-grandma, who all remind me to embrace my trials and keep pressing on
#127 one grace smoothed: my path (Luke 3:5)
#128 one grace unfolded: the over-abundance of clothing we are blessed to have
three gifts found in Christ:
#129 Romans 3:24 freedom from the penalty of my sins
#130 Phillipians 4:6-7 peace that comes through prayer and prais
#131 1 Corinthians 12 unity with one covenant-secured body of believers
#132 a grace in the weather: enjoying 70 degree temperatures in January
#133 one gift that made me laugh: my very silly Stephen
#134 one thing I shared: a favorite book by a favorite author with Andrew
#135 a growing up conversation with a bashful son, who answers honestly anyway
#136 breaking cry of our red-shouldered hawk that we’ve been missing for a couple months
#137 watching Gracie enjoy her freedom after convalescing with a hurt paw for two days
#138 Oatmeal-orange-chocolate-strawberry-banana-crunchy sugar-all warm from the oven and ready to eat
#140 online audio Bible to help me catch up on my backlogged Bible reading … again
#141 sweet friends’ gifts of a blender, a computer monitor, citrus fruit, and a ride for a stranded kid
#142 the still-wonderful laptop my teenager is learning Spanish with
#143 the warming love of my sister who wanted us to have a new computer
… and more gifts to count and to come!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Quiet Place of Retreat

Every morning the alarm goes off and I jump out of bed. OK, well actually the alarm only goes off some mornings ... and usually I jump out of bed so I can cross the room to hit the snooze button ... but eventually my days starts like it does for many people around me. I rush into the day trying to put together my mental checklist. I make breakfast, pack lunches, get boys up and going, and start the tasks of the day. I navigate my checklist, trying to weave through the chaos of living in an unkempt house, filled with loud, noisy children, and secured by a pile of bills yet to be paid ... all of these things demanding my time, my attention, my money, my sanity. The breakneck pace of the simple world I have chosen to live in makes me wonder how I would cope with a world that is more complex--be it working outside my home, rushing kids around to multiple schools and activities, or even just trying to please a husband. I have searched for years for a way to calm the clamor and conquer the chaos, trying lists and accountability partners and rewards only to discover again and again the only thing that can bring me peace.

I'm not a morning person, so the momentum of propelling myself into immediate activity first thing in the morning often seems like the intuitive way to keep myself awake, not to mention to actually accomplish something before noon. Yet the only way that I reach the end of the day feeling satisfied with what I have (or haven't) done is when I spend time at the beginning and throughout the day looking, listening, waiting, being still, and remembering to let myself be led by the One who made me for a purpose and who knows how today can bring me closer to fulfilling that purpose.





Being still ... waiting ... listening .... All are very hard activities to learn to do well in our culture. With all our modern conveniences to do survival work for us, we continue to overload ourselves with more tasks and call them necessary. We drown out the cries of our own souls with images and noise and imitation relationships until silence and stillness seem wasteful, dull, and tedious. We exhaust ourselves to the point that if we aren't doing something we can't keep our eyes opened or our minds engaged. And by we ... I mean me.

One of the things I love about new beginnings ... about the new opportunities afforded in recurring routines ... is that I am reminded again and again to return to what is essential. Not what I think is necessary, but what my very soul needs. Once again, I'm reminded of how badly I need quiet time in the morning to read from ancient pages about the One who has brought me this far. Once again I draw close to His heart to pour out to Him my concerns, to ask Him for help, to share with Him the my delights. As I try to do this in chaos I remember, again, that I need a place to retreat to His arms, so one more time I clean out a bag ... a corner ... a closet to set aside as my personal Holy of Holies where I can worship Him.



My house is still in chaos. My schedule packed with more things to do than there are hours in the day. Even my room is a disaster, but this morning, I retreat to the lovely prayer closet I have restored and sanctified for the purpose of worshiping the Lover of My Soul. It is a place of beauty ... of simplicity ... a place of escape into what is eternal from that which will continue to change until it ceases. This is my response to needing the SHELTER of prayer. This is my retreat.



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The 4 Minute Mothering Habit

Again, I'm reminded, and I wonder: When will I be over it? When will I forget? When will my scarlet D be removed? Again I tell myself: Never. It is a part of who I am - a part of the story that God has written into my life, and God never uses erasers on our story. I am divorced. I don't have a husband or a marriage. For now, that's not a part of the adventure God has written for me. 
It's not that I envy others who experience wonderful marriages ... that I would ever want to take the joys and struggles of marriage away from someone else .... I just grieve again and again for all those dreams and plans of which I have had to let go. Again ... and again.

I go through all this emotion while reading a favorite blog ... Not that it's unusual for me to experience a lot of emotion when I read Ann's blog, but I don't like these emotions ... don't like revisiting them.

But what she shares is truth ... a key to strengthening relationship ... advice for enhancing koinonia. She asks Who doesn’t want a deeper relationship? and I remember "Bloom where you're planted."



I may not have a husband to try these methods with, but I have relationships. And although they may require some very different things from the marriage relationship, they still need some of the same things too. So I take her advice, and consider what it should look like with my boys, and how these 4 Minute Marriage Habits can be transformed to 4 Minute Mothering Habits:



1. Four Focuses
Four times a day focus on the promises I've made to God in raising these boys to manhood. When they wake in the morning, leave the front door, return to front door, head off to bed - even with my young men, these are the four critical archways of time in our day. Touch or whisper encouragements at these gate points, reminding them that they are my treasures. No matter what has transpired through the day, I should take these four opportunities to remind them that no matter what has happened or what will happen, I want them and am here cheering for them.

2. Four Touches
Four times a day, intentionally touch them. Hug them and look in their eyes. Rub their back. Hold their hands a minute. Kiss their hair. Intentionally repeat it four times daily. Connection requires contact. Even though my boys are at different stages of acceptance of public displays of affection, they all still need to be touched. I need to look for private moments to remind them that we are connected and that they are very much loved.

3. Four Affirmations
Four times during the day, thank them. For diligently completing schoolwork, for being kind to their brother, for giving me a hug, for taking out the trash. Look for the ways to thank each of them. Recognize the strength in their character and compliment it ... but be prepared to give them a specific example or two of how they demonstrate such qualities.


It has been a long time since I thought of this, but when the boys were little, I had simple goals. One of them was that each boy, when asked "Who is mommy's favorite?" would say, "Me." I want each boy to feel so special to me, that it is easy for him to believe he is my favorite. I still want that today, but that goal gets lost among the goals of finishing schoolwork on time (or at all!), and getting everyone to the places he needs to be, and remembering in between all the taking-care-of to make sure I get a shower and eat and read my Bible! The 4 Minute Mothering Habits can go a long way to making each of the boys feel special, treasured, favored.



As I consider these habits, I suddenly realize the biggest way that these 4 Minute Mothering Habits differ from those in Marriage: I am only doing these for them until I surrender these habits to their new wives. And after all, that is one of the biggest reasons I want to mother them well - because I want them to be loving husbands and fathers who know how to love and to be loved.

So I guess it is all about marriage after all. And I do play a very big part in this loveliest of relationships!

Spiritual Check Up

Well, 10 days into the new year, and I'm still with my resolution to read my Bible every day and to keep my list of 1000 gifts. As with most things once the novelty wore off (around day 3!), and it became hard. Yesterday I had a major breakdown when it took me hours (literally!) to read my several chapters of Genesis. After pondering what my problem was I realized that when I read scripture, I rarely just read it. My brain is interacting--asking questions, imagining the real lives of the cast, noticing relationships and patterns. Because of this, my inclination is to study it using commentaries, word studies, and making charts and lists. Often the resources I'm using don't answer my questions, and I have to search the Internet to see if I can find some answers. I want to read through my Bible in a year, but I want to study it for myself too!

Once I realized what my hangup was, I called a friend for advice on how to handle it. Her first question to me: What is your purpose for reading through the Bible? Well ... DUH! I realized that I need to be very clear on what I'm doing, so for now, I'm just reading and making some notes, and I'll just keep doing that until I can pray about it a little more and decide if this whole read-through-in-a-year things is what God wants me to do, or just what I want to do from legalism.

My list of grace gifts is growing so quickly. Several times I've found myself feeling down or frustrated or overwhelmed, and I've just pulled out my Grace journal and reviewed it or added to it. This hasn't been any kind of magic solution to overcoming the emotions of the moment, but it does change my focus and has restored much of my peace. It's odd too, that sometimes I hold myself back from counting things that I deem "little" or "silly." I realized that on Christmas day my kids love what is in their stockings as well as their "big gifts," so it's OK for me to be grateful for the fun little things God does because He knows that only I will love them!

Here are the things, silly or not, that I've added to my list:

#41 "Mom, getting on Pinterest is one of the best things you've done!" [because I'm actually making recipes and doing things from it]
#42 Helen
#43 Christmas money to spend from a family member
#44 encouragement from a sister in Christ
#45 watching Andrew soften to correction and teaching through the course of an afternoon
#46 everyone waking up without a fight
#47 enjoying worship with our Praise team at church--twice!
#48 being reunited with friends who've been away from our church
#49 seeing a young man who grew up as a "hero" to my boys, and meeting his wife
#50 realizing how much I was enjoying Sunday worship (Thanksgiving makes all the difference!)
#51 Hearing Andrew say, "TEN DOLLARS?!?!?" [as the offering plate was passed by us]
#52 having Matthias over and hearingthe boys enjoying time together
#53 OREO TRUFFLES!!!
#54 returning to God's Word late at night (remembering to return is HUGE!!!)
#55 great, trusted, "Duh!" advice from Eva
#56 a photo I loved and time to play with it
#57 time alone with Josh to talk
#58 opportunity to let a single mom friend board here
#59 the stirring of my BIG DREAM
#60 dinner with Helen's family
#61 a CPAP hose on hand to replace a broken one
#62 sunlight after a rainy morning
#63 grown up conversations with my almost-grown-up son
#64 finally getting school on track -- sorta
#65 spiritual conversations with a friend who trusts me
#66 ice cream with Stephen -- and great conversation!
#67 two hours with the younger boys gone so I'm alone enough to think and write and read

.... and the gifts continue!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Taking the Joy Dare!



I have struggled for some years now with depression. Too many losses, the hardships of life, brokenness from sin, compounding health issues, loneliness--a recipe for depression. Through it all, I have seen with unusual spiritual clarity that the refuge for my emotions, my sanity, my spirit can only be found in the Lord. There have been moments when it was so clear I could almost touch it--the only way to lose weight, master my money, guide my children, figure out how to handle the next bill is to cling to the Lord and seek His help. I lose the clarity quickly, overcome by the wind and the waves around me ... distracted from my Lord. I often tell my kids that if they can't remember too many things of which I set a good example for them, I hope at least they remember that I was always willing to try again and to start over when I was going the wrong way or was trying to do something I felt called to do.

This year, I'm trying to change my year ... my choices ... myself ... by changing my focus. I'm convinced that overcoming depression, anxiety, fear, and so on occurs by cultivating gratitude. So I'm taking the Joy Dare. I'm daily recording the things I see around me that God is giving me. I've started counting my gifts--gifts I get every day, almost hourly ... or moment by moment. They are gifts of graces, given to me by my Father. I am counting to a thousand--my Thousand Gifts--and beyond. In my first week, this is the start of my list:



  1. a NEW year filled with hope
  2. enjoying worship together with all three of my boys
  3. favorite old movies filled with memories and emotions
  4. hearing God's voice in sermons and scripture
  5. a beautiful, warm, sunny first day of the year
  6. an afternoon nap
  7. a kitty sleeping on the bed next to me
  8. new beginnings
  9. a second visit with Jackie and Gracie
  10. changes in Grace--she's growing up!
  11. recognition of returning to the ruts in my life.
  12. first coffee of the year with Carrie
  13. a camera to borrow
  14. holding a warm, purring kitty (obviously not ours!)
  15. Stephen waking me to "put me to bed."
  16. a warm, safe house on a cold night
  17. being trusted with the trials of people I love.
  18. Smooth sheets and soft warm blankets
  19. a turkey feast with my kids!
  20. listening to the boys playing PS3 together and laughing
  21. LEFTOVERS!!! (Means I don't have to cook!)
  22. an 11-year-old who can make breakfast!
  23. glimpses of character growth in Josh
  24. remembering to pray with Andrew
  25. a lazy day AND
  26. forced return to the routine and to work
  27. my brown eyes that look for the best in things
  28. my affectionate, sensitive, very physical body language
  29. a completely and totally God-given ability to look into scripture and see connections, relationships, and applications
  30. a NEW attempt to read through my Bible in 2012, with NEW expectations of success
  31. excitement, anticipation, appreciation in the boys eyes as I try again to make food from scratch regularly
  32. spiritual growth in a young man's beliefs after having to let go so he could find his own path to His Father
  33. the privilede of praying for friends in the middle of trials
  34. a friend who finally received a successful heart transplant
  35. a kid who loves being outside riding his bike  
  36. electricity and water paid up!
  37. Caramel Banana Pie
  38. the change purse Papa brought me from Nepal ... where the Gospel is so needed.
  39. groceries!
  40. encouragement and hope from the Gospel that is never far from my thoughts



...and counting!

If you'd like to join me, try starting with the January Joy Dare, in addition to other things that the Lord shows you throughout the day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Perilous Gift Giving and the Perfect Gift


I have always been fascinated with the first witnesses to Jesus' arrival here on Earth. They are just not the people you would have expected deity to be presented to. A carpenter and his teenage wife. Some dirty outcast shepherds. Foreign gentile starwatchers. An aged priest and widow, long past their prime and importance. There were no nobles, no religious leaders, no government leaders by the manger. Just simple people, overlooked or held in contempt by most.

God set the stage with a theme that would continue throughout the New Testament. All of Jesus life, He would enter into the lives of the poor, the desperate, the rejected, the unclean, the irreligious, the sick, and so on.  Even foreigners would have encounters with Jesus which would give them opportunity to know the One true God, and His Son sent to redeem them from their sin. No one expected the Messiah to come in such a way … and yet … they should have. God told them it would be this way.

The prophet Isaiah said "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned …. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."    (Isaiah 9:2, 6) We live in a world where the shadow of death is constantly evident. The fruit of the fall from innocence is a teenager facing a life-threatening illness in a hospital room. It is a lonely widow, whose children live far away and are too busy to realize their mother's grief. It's single moms struggling to make ends meet, struggling to raise kids while working full time, struggling to keep their heads above water. Life in a sin-struck world is hard and messy and lonely, and it has been since the first sin corrupted God's beautiful creation. Then the Light dawned.

God Himself entered into our mess, not with the glory and recognition He deserved, but with simplicity, and the witness of people  like you and me.  All his life, Jesus entered into the misery and pain of those around Him. He wept with the grieving, touched the sick, fed the hungry, taught the confused. It was only through sharing their painful, difficult lives that the Savior could bear their burdens … and their guilt.

"After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11)

Matthew tells us that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it …. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (Matthew 1:1, 4, 5, 14.) God didn't just send us words, because words weren't enough for us to understand. He sent us His word in the flesh; He sent us Jesus. Jesus was His best gift, wrapped up in simple packaging, and yet shining with a blinding light in spite of it.

Before Jesus returned to heaven for a little while, He commanded His followers to share His good news--His gospel. Often I find that command intimidating, because I'm not one who comes up with words easily when I'm talking to people. I never feel like I know what to say, and so sharing the Gospel seems difficult. But as I look at the way God shared His good news, I realized that what I'm called to do is not merely to tell the good news, but to share it. I'm called to share what I have with the family struggling to pay their bills. I'm called to cry with the mom whose son is rebelling and getting into trouble. I'm called to carry groceries with the ailing elderly couple across the street. I'm called to listen to what most consider mundane chattering by the socially awkward outcast.  I'm called to enter into the difficulty and suffering of other people's lives, and to DO what I can to relieve their suffering. Then I'm called to tell them it is because Jesus gave so much to me that I want to care for them.

Sharing the Gospel is so much more than telling people about Jesus, it's showing them Jesus. And it's hard and messy and expensive. It costs me time, money, emotional vulnerability, and humility. It is dangerous and risky. But isn't giving any good gift a little risky? Doesn't any good gift worth giving cost me something valuable? Isn't the Gospel a gift worth offering to those who don't have it?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Redeeming a Shame-filled Heritage


It is not unusual to find that the genealogy of Jesus is skimmed over at Christmas time. We are eager to get to the miraculous conception and the baby in the manger, and we hurry through all those difficult names and messy, sin-filled lives. We consider those men sort of insignificant - extras in the cast of a wonderful story. Personally, I love to linger over those names as I prepare for the Christmas story. I've always loved the thought that the people mentioned were real live breathing people, with jobs and families, feelings and dreams. Some of them I know well, because chapters of scripture are written about them, but some are mysterious, and I wonder what their lives were like. For years I've  wondered with amazement at the women mentioned in Jesus' genealogy - Tamar who seduced her father-in-law to have a child, Rahab the Jericho harlot who saved the Israelite spies, Ruth the Moabitess who loyally served her Jewish mother-in-law, and Bathsheba who committed adultery with a king. None of them are actually women that Jewish law and tradition would have considered upright and praiseworthy, but each, in her brokenness and sin, was made worthy because God chose them to be a part of His own Son's earthly story.

Then it hit me this morning. One of the first sacrifices Jesus made for us was to identify with a heritage of people who had messy, complicated, and very sinful lives. It wasn't just the women who were "disreputable" in some way, it was ALL of the people mentioned. Idolaters, adulterers, murderers, liars, cheaters, cowards, thieves … the list goes on and on. Even though some of the men mentioned were considered righteous by God, even those men committed some pretty awful sins. These were the men that the holy, righteous, good Son of God identified Himself with. He set aside His very identity as the only Son of God, and exchanged it for a genealogy of men and women who were known for their shortcomings, weaknesses, and sins. That horrifies me … and at the same time I find great comfort in it. To think of the burden Jesus bore at being related to such people almost embarrasses me. But then I realize that it is because of this that I can understand and accept His willingness to identify Himself with me. It fills me with awe that God is able to use even MY weak, broken, sinful life to bring about great things, because He has used lives like mine for generations past to bring about the full revelation of Himself in His Son.

There is great comfort for me in this list of men and women. As I look at this long list of names and see among them men who failed as fathers, I realize that God can bring about good for and from our children, even when we fail. As I see men and women marked through generations for their sins I realize God can use sinners like me. As I pick out names of no ones, I see that God is able to use simple, unremarkable people for great glory and blessing. God brings good out of failure and sin. God brings blessing to those who don't deserve it. God uses the weak and broken to show His strength. That is the whole message in the Christmas story.

There is one more surprise in this "boring list of names." We live in a world where families are divided and filled with disputes and dissension. In broken families husbands and wives fight, control over children is argued over, and children are left trying to figure out how to put together a genealogy of parents, step-parents, half-siblings, live-in boyfriends or girlfriends, etc. Joseph had no actual claim to the paternity of Jesus, and he knew it. And yet here in Matthew God does not dispute Joseph's lineage in the story of His Son, but proclaims it. God used the illegitimate relationship of Joseph to fulfill His very true and legitimate prophecies of His Son's genealogy. It makes sense. None of us are really "legitimate" children of God; we are all adopted. We are only made legitimate by God's One and Only Son. The only One who could claim His true paternity was of God was Jesus, yet instead of clinging to this identity and keeping it for Himself, He shared it. Isn't sharing Jesus and opening up our homes - our families - one of the best gifts we can give to those who don't have Him?