Monthly Archives: November 2013

And Their Voice Was Heard

I met a man at the local farmer’s market who won’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

He always strikes up a conversation with me; I guess I’m an easy customer to remember with my five-strong brood of ducklings – one in a wheelchair – in tow.  He’s a Vietnam vet whose friend sells eggs and apples out of the back of his pickup.  He spent the summer good-naturedly harassing the customers, until his friend caught on and put him to work.  On Saturday, I ran up alone to quickly buy a dozen eggs.  The vegetable farmers were gone for the year, but cold wind whipped across the parking lot, chafing the few die-hard sellers of meat, bread, milk and eggs who remained.  The man saw me coming and greeted me with a small bag of apples.  Gratis.  “For the boys” he said, and held out the bag.  I thanked him, handing him money for a dozen extra large.  He counted quarters and asked about our Thanksgiving.  “Well, it clearly includes apple pie,” I gestured with the bag he’d given me.  “How about yours?”

“I don’t celebrate anymore.”  He replied in a matter-of-fact tone.  “My wife will head down to be with the kids, but I’ll stay home.  Haven’t done Thanksgiving since my parents died.  Just doesn’t seem right without them.”

“I’m sorry.”  I offered lamely.

“It’s been 16 years.  It’s just a day… ”

Perhaps there was more that I could not understand.  I have not been to war.  I have not loved and lost.  I am never even alone between children, a husband, and my God who loves me even in the dark times.  There must be pain and emptiness I can’t begin to imagine in his life.  I tried to process it.  Before me stood a man for whom nostalgia had no beauty.  The holiday was anathema; the past oppressed his present.  Memories were misery.

If the day is merely a nod to nostalgia and happy memories, than I guess I can’t blame him.  But I think it must be more than that…

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Priestly duties

Roughly seven centuries after the first Passover, King Hezekiah called the nation to keep it again. The country had ebbed and flowed in devotion. It had seen its golden age. It had seen civil war. Dramatic governing choices had affected every level of society. Leaders had come and gone. The temple was in disrepair, abused, scorned, disparaged. “Sanctify yourselves,” he commanded the priests who remained. “Carry out the rubbish from the holy place. Our fathers have done evil, turning their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord. Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him.” (2 Chronicles 29).

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They did it.  They kept the feast.  They cleaned up.  They cleaned house.  They invited all the relatives, all the friends and strangers.  They killed the Passover lamb.  They ate.  They sang, they rejoiced, they blessed.  They kept the feast “with great gladness.”  There had been nothing like this in Jerusalem since the time of David and Solomon.  They feasted for seven days. When it was over, they were having such “great gladness” that they extended the celebration another seven days.  The whole assembly rejoiced together.

And their voice was heard; their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.  (Verse 27).

It has been roughly four centuries since the first Thanksgiving.  The country has ebbed and flowed.  It has seen its golden age.  It has seen civil war.  Dramatic governing choices have affected all of society.  Leaders have come and gone.  Now the church is in disrepair, abused, scorned, disparaged.  But the priests are still here.  We can still heed the call to consecrate.  To clean up.  To keep the feast that memorializes our humble roots.  To remember.  To rejoice.

It wasn’t a quaint nod to nostalgia that made God turn His ear to their celebration.  It wasn’t memories of their recent past, which had seen both reform and terrible idolatry within the last few leaders.  It wasn’t an excuse to gorge on food, gossip, or even good fellowship.

It was a communal consecration.  It was resolve, strengthened by gathering together.  It was humble honesty, admitted.

It was joy, infectiously shared.

And it was heard by God.

That’s some party.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain the real reason I celebrate Thanksgiving to this man.  It’s not easy to communicate in words.  But I’ll likely see him again, with my little crew in camouflage strutting along brightly behind.  I hope, I pray, that our “great gladness” will affect him.  The Lord has chosen us, after all, to “stand before Him.”  And sanctified happiness is compelling.

Holy is the holiday sanctified by joy.

Remember our beginnings.  Renew our covenant.  Keep the feast.

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Rejoice!

Hearsay

They said my house was too small.

For a moment, I believed them.

They said I had too many children.

For a moment, I believed them.

They said I was too poor.

For a moment, believed them.

They said homemaking is for those incapable of having a career, that it is more important to make a name for myself than a legacy.

For a moment, I believed them.

They said kids will rob me of the best years, my figure, my energy, my health, and that pouring out my life for them would leave me empty.

For a moment,  I believed them.

They told me I’d be too busy for self and sleep and even comfort (as if those were mine by rights in the first place).

For a moment, I believed them.

They told me I would not attain to the American Dream if I followed this path (as if the only alternative was a nightmare).

For a moment,  I believed them.

They said it was foolhardy to risk having another handicapped child.

For a moment, I believed them.

They said let others raise them, teach them, tell them what to eat and how to dress and how to live based on the clock and latest trends.

For a moment, I believed them.

They said go with the flow, take the safe route, the wide and easy path, because the road less traveled is too rough and narrow.

For a moment, I believed them.

Then I looked around my snug little house full of laughter and the infectious joy of life and awe at simplicity.  I looked at the little bodies covered in dirt and love with hearts on their sleeves and trust in their faces.  And in that moment, I found it unbelievable that this is my life.

And I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

Believe it or not.

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My guys

 

When He Came to Himself

For the prodigal son, it was a pigsty.  For the children of Israel, it was Babylon.  For me, it was my husband’s 70 hour work week.

It’s that moment of awareness.  Of awakening.  Of hitting the bottom, looking around, and realizing where you are.  And whose brilliant idea it was to jump in.

It’s when the invading army breaches the wall.

When the mind-numbing television is switched off and the quiet of real life rings in your ear.

When Facebook offers no witty distraction.

When there’s no chocolate in the house.

When you’re mucking out someone else’s pig pen and realize how alone you are.

When you fall exhausted on the sofa after a long, muddy-floor–stinky-diaper–bloody-nose–dirty-laundry–burned-bread–color-outside-the-lines–forgot-how-to-spell–stepping-on-legos–doctor-doesn’t-know-what’s-wrong–scared-of-the-dark–don’t-pick-your-nose–broken-fingernail–spilled-milk–rotten-onion–politics-stink–nobody-hears-me–baby-hurled-on-my-black-sweater–worry-for-stressed-husband–forgot-to-thaw-meat–back-hurts–mom-where-do-babies-come-from–toilet-plugged–what’s-that-smell–red-crayon-on-walls–the-curtain-is-not-a-tissue–don’t-lie–eat-your-broccoli–he’s-working-late–toothpaste-in-hair–splinter-in-foot–is-that-a-pimple–missing-puzzle-piece–cranky-snotty-children–I-am-fat-and-ugly-and-a-terrible-mother-kind of day.

You’ve been there too?

Good.  It’s a wonderful place to be.

Oh, I know it’s not a pleasant place, surrounded by mess, filth, sorrow, dark, used tissues, piles of legos, and difficulty of your own making.

It’s just good.

Self, let me introduce you to someone.  This is Me.  It’s time we met.

Here, eye-to-eye with my glaring insufficiency, I see things.

Yet, when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You… And when they return to You with all their heart and all their soul… Then hear from heaven, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people who have sinned against you.  2 Chronicles 6:37-38

I read this and it jogged my foggy memory of another passage where I’d seen it.  It’s in the story of the prodigal son.  You know him?  Luke 15?  The bold, beloved, selfish son who demanded his inheritance before his father even died?  He ran off and drowned out his conscience with loud living, busyness, cell always beeping, gossip buzzing, commercialism clamoring, tantalizing idols constantly screaming for his attention… Until one morning, early, when he woke up and the power company shut off his electricity.   With the last shreds of pride and self-preservation, he managed to land a job.

But his first paycheck went to “friends” demanding a paid-back loan.  He watched them walk away laughing before he turned to heave a pail of slop into the swines’ trough.  His pride came tumbling out  onto the pigs’ greedy snouts with pieces of salad and  remnants of leftover meals from a nearby restaurant.  He’d once frequented that restaurant.  His stomach rumbled.  He looked at the rotting food.  His stomach turned.  A thick hunk of bread was sitting on the corner.  The end was soggy, but the rest looked almost edible.  He reached for it… And a pig snuffed it up just as his finger brushed the crust.

In that moment, finally, the young man came to himself.

He knew where there was bread.  Good, fresh, abundant bread.  It wasn’t at any restaurant. It was at home, in the kitchen, on the table.  At home.  Where he wasn’t.  He felt the weight of his stupidity squarely on his shoulders.  He didn’t even try to shrug the weight off.  Not now.  He knew where there was bread.  And he’d have to bring his stupidity with him and lay it bare if he wanted that bread.

That breaking moment.  The awakening moment.  The sudden moment when the idols are proved helpless.  The moment you are helpless, and you see yourself just as you are.  And it ain’t pretty.

And God said, “Ah, good, about time you noticed.  Now can we talk?”

He could have responded with the anger of a stern Father and an “I told you so.”  But He didn’t.  Not to a child who has come to himself.

Instead, He came running like a Dad who had been waiting for His son. He brought him to the kitchen table.  And He gave him bread.  And the bread never tasted so good to the one who’d always whined for cake before.  But this time, fresh and hearty, warm and aromatic, it hit the empty spot.  And filled it.

That is a wonderful place to be.

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I’ve got you

I didn’t compare myself to a prodigal at first.  After all, I never left.  But I looked around the messy house, and it did feel a bit like a pig sty.  The fighting children, the unfinished chores and schoolwork, the pile of bills on the table, the long to-do list on the counter, concern for my husband, the mirror mocking my hips like a convex carnival trick, the worry, the fretting, the clutter in my head.  I realized, for the bazillionth time, that I am inept.  Completely.

But instead of browsing the internet for ideas on being “better” last week, I took a good look in the mirror.  The real one.  The Bible.  It reflects more honestly than that cheap glass panel with fingerprint smudges.  And what I saw wasn’t lovely.  I was not impressed.  But I got it.

I don’t need distraction.  I don’t need make up to hide the flaws.  I need a Savior.

Oh, wait, look, He’s on the next page.

When the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace  we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:4-7

By grace I am heir of a kingdom.  But my myself, I can’t even manage a pig pen properly.  Usually I’m too proud to say so.  But finally I admitted it, shamefaced.  And the King looked at me, in a puddle of myself at His feet.

He reached down and lifted my chin.  He breathed out life.  He filled me up.  Grace is so filling.

It was a wonderful place to be.