Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Young and the Reckless

It’s been an odd two months.

I’ve hardly watered a houseplant.

I’ve shared laundry duties.

I’m not the one who locks the door at night, or turns off every light, or starts the dishwasher before bed.

I haven’t written down when a single library book is due in 2 months.

I’m not always the choice for bedtime-story-reader.

I haven’t done nearly as many dishes.  (You could even say my sink doesn’t runneth over.  Dare I even write this blog anymore?!?)

Maybe I should call it a vacation.  It’s been a month of Sundays since I ran a household.  We aren’t home after all.  A man I’ve never met lives in our old home.  I haven’t been back since the day we left.

But mostly I’ve felt unraveled.  I’ve wondered.  Was this whole plan to get out of our little house wise?  Is it of God?  Is it crazy?  Was it impetuous?  Was it wrong?  When I look back at these months, will I be able to say we followed God on this crazy venture, or ran reckless in the opposite direction?  It has been a challenge.

Homeschooling is hard when you’re not “home.”

Mothering is hard when you’re in your own mother’s house.

Marriage is hard when both of you have been uprooted from your traditional head and heart roles.

Meal times are hard when someone else cooks differently than you would.

Relaxing is never quite relaxed.

Sometimes following God does look reckless.  Ask Noah, who built a boat where there was no water.  Or Moses, who told off the most powerful ruler of the world with just a staff in his hand.  Or Mary, who told everyone she was pregnant with the son of God.

But sometimes reckless is just that, reckless.

Where is my heart?

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They say hindsight is 20/20.  I’ve certainly learned things that way.  But Sarah, the wife of Abraham, didn’t have the benefit.  She couldn’t walk through the hallowed archways and see pictures of faithful who came before her, because she was one of the first listed in the hall of faith.  She must have wondered too.  A lot.

God had promised her husband he would have descendants.  But she hadn’t given him even one yet.  It was the one thing on earth Sarah wished for more than anything.  A son.  But years had passed.  Sarah’s arms remained empty.

True, with no child tugging on her skin or waking her through the night, Sarah remained youthful and beautiful.  She had no stretch marks or pregnancy weight, no hormone crashes, no sleepless exhaustion hanging under her eyes.  Far past menopause she still turned the heads of kings.  Manual labor was delegated to her servants.  Her job as trophy wife to a rich man was simply to supply an heir.  But she couldn’t.  Twice her husband allowed her to be taken into other men’s harems.  Maybe it would solve both their problems if she simply disappeared.  But God always stopped it.

Finally, in desperation, Sarah came up with the only solution she could imagine.  She would give Abraham an heir all right.  Just not from her body.  Sarah didn’t have the ability to get pregnant, but she had power.  She could force a surrogacy.  She had a servant, a nice girl, healthy and promising.  Culture dictated this was perfectly legal.

Abraham himself was 85 and getting a bit impatient.  When Sarah came to him with a thinly veiled broken heart and an open proposition, he was enticed.  He took her up on it.  And finally, Abraham had a son.

But it wasn’t the son God had promised.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait another fourteen years before God reiterated His promise again.  Finally, they believed Him.  Finally, Sarah got pregnant.  From that child of promise, she and Abraham became the parents of millions, the whole nation of Israel.

But from that other son came nations too.  Throughout the millennia since the two half-brothers were born, their descendants have fought each other.  That one time Abraham listened to his wife rather than waiting on God has cost many lives and much heartache.  It was expensive impatience.

I hope I haven’t asked my own husband to do that.

Not that we have harems around here, but…

I had wished so hard for a bigger house.  But it seemed like the one thing we never could have.  My husband was content to wait; little houses do cost less than big ones after all.  I was finding it harder.  Every morning I woke up on the pull-out sofa in the living room.  In the little house, even one thing out of place made paths wheelchair inaccessible.  Entertaining was difficult when little ones were always napping in all the rooms upstairs, and even our own family overflowed the dining room table.  It felt like a losing battle.  I wanted a new house.  I didn’t think I’d be happy till I got one.

At least it felt like it.

But I didn’t want to be reckless Sarah.

Once she ran reckless after her own heart and did the practical thing.  But it only brought sorrow.  She could have had kings for husbands.  They wanted her.  They might have given her princes for children.  She could have raised her servant’s child as her own.  He went on to have 12 princes out of his own descendants.  She could have made something of herself.

But I wanted to be righteous Sarah.

She was the one who made it into the Hebrews 11 hall of faith.  That was the Sarah who followed bravely after God when He led her husband into the wilderness.  It was that Sarah who believed God could make her pregnant with a husband as good as dead. (And you thought yours had issues!)  That was the Sarah who didn’t make something of herself.  God made Sarah.  When God singled out a nation as an example of His grace to all humanity, He chose Sarah to be its mother.  The very son of God would be her great-great-great-great (a bunch more greats) grandson.  She could have birthed princes.  But instead, from her came the King of all creation.

Sarah’s first god was too small.  It was years – decades – before she realized how big her God could be.

I look ahead as far as I can see and tremble. The mountains look huge.  Insurmountable. The responsibility of two mortgages…  A big impending tangle with Ben’s faceless insurance world…  Long demanding work hours owning my husband’s time…  I feel overwhelmed.  That’s when I forget my God is big.  He doesn’t always take us the practical, well paved route.  I still wonder if this is crazy.  But maybe, just maybe, I’m not being reckless.

So I fall again on my knees and beg God to keep me from making far-too-small plans.  He has big hands.  Big plans.  Don’t let me try to make something of myself, Lord.  I’ll only make a mess.  You Yourself make me.

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I’ll have to wait and see how He does it.  And let the houseplants rejoice that I’m not in charge.

See What I Did There?

I hate to read bad news. No matter how far removed from me, it stings to hear that someone was hurt. I would rather glide through life glibly on clouds of innocence and comfort than hear about tragedy and horror.  But I can’t.

I read about hate.  I read about sin.  Blame gets thrown.  Mud gets slung.  Mamas weep.  Children cry.  The world seems dark indeed.
Every morning in the brief interlude between staggering to the Keruig and hearing the patter of little feet, I pick up my Bible.  It’s usually only a few minutes, but it’s good.  I don’t follow a fancy reading plan or a devotional.  Maybe I’m too rebellious to follow someone else’s daily path through the Word of God.  Maybe I’m just lazy.  (There are a lot of great Bible study resources out there, I’m not knocking them, I just don’t tend to use them).
I just pick up my Bible and read.  I start at the beginning and plug on through.  It takes 2-3 years at my rate to get from one end to the other.  And then I start again.  Sometimes I’ll follow a rabbit trail for a day or two into another passage that caught my attention, sometimes I wish I read through faster, but… life.
Yes, Leviticus can be a bit tedious.  Yes, the prophets can feel a bit gloomy.  Yes, I’ve read it before and occasionally I glaze over on a familiar passage.  But the unique thing about this Book is that it is alive.  It’s the Word of God.  God Himself holds it higher than His own name, which the Jews won’t even speak or write because it is so holy.  It is heavy (not just because it’s a big book.)  So even though I’ve read it nearly every day for over 20 years, I still learn new things about God.

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But the part I really dislike reading every time is the crucifixion.  Of course it’s all through the Book, referenced for thousands of years through the Old Testament, narrated in each of the four gospels, and becomes the mantra of the rest of Christian history to date.  The actual events leading to Jesus’ killing are gruesome.  The murder itself is long and horrific.  I abhor the thought of anyone inflicting such pain on another human being, and my sense of justice revolts at the realization that they did this to an innocent Man.  To One I love.

But it’s where I go when the world seems dark.

Back to the cross.

It is the place, the only place, where love wins against a world of hate.

Acacia thorns formed the crown Jesus wore
Acacia thorns formed the crown Jesus wore

In one moment of time, the world literally shook as Jesus Himself wrenched the doors off of Hell and set the captives free.  Every single person deserved to be there.  Except Him.

But He went anyway.

And Jesus stood in the doorway between life and death, He stood there bloody and swollen, bruised, and humbled.  He reached out to the slaves to sin in the darkness.  He  reached toward me, abandoned to hopelessness, lost in a world of hate.  And Jesus offered a trade.  “My life – for yours.”  Most people rejected the red-streaked, mangled hand.  But some accepted the offer.  Some still do.

It wasn’t fair.  Death is fair.  Life is not.  That’s grace.

Every time another person dies, Jesus goes back to that moment again.  He pulls His crucifixion out of history and replays it before His Father.  He says, “See what I did there?”  And if that person who died had accepted the trade that Jesus offered, then God Himself looks at it and says, “Yes, the debt is paid.  Death has no claim on him.  Let him live.  Forever.”

Jesus knew He was going to die.  It’s why He came.  Christmas wouldn’t mean a thing if we didn’t have Easter.  BC and AD should have come together at the moment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  (But they didn’t ask me, so we’re 33 years off, give or take.)  It is the culminating point around which time revolves.  What you decide to do about it defines your whole existence.

He knew it was coming.  A thousand days – a thousand years- before they killed Him, Jesus knew every detail of the agony to which He was headed.  A thousand times He must have gone through it in His mind.

But the death Jesus died – it only happened once.  Jesus died once.  And He came back to life because death has no right to an innocent person.  So He will never be dead again.  He doesn’t have to bring it up again.  It’s done.

But He replays it, again and again.

Paul's prison cell in Philippi, Greece
Paul’s prison cell in Philippi, Greece

Hate destroys.  It devalues life.  At best, we try to fix it by taking away the weapon.  But they killed Jesus with a hammer and nails.  They killed His disciples with rocks, with dull knives, and more hammers and nails.  Death is caused by sin.

There is only one thing stronger than sin.

When I hear about death and pain and heartache, I want to point fingers.  Mama bear wants to rear her head and demand justice.  I want to hide my cubs from a world of hate and pain.  But instead I try to do what Jesus does.  He doesn’t hide.  He doesn’t shake His fist.  He goes back to the cross.  So I must too.  Jesus pulls up the events of those horrible days that cost His own life, and plasters His gift of life across the face of all the filth and blood and terror that surrounds us, and reiterates it all again. “Love isn’t just puffy clouds and rainbows and comfort.  It isn’t Christmas.  Love is red-streaked agony.  Love is messy, and hard, and undeserved.  It isn’t weak.  It doesn’t lack.  It will not take.  It gives.”

“See what I did there?  I did it for you.”

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So Much No

We drove slowly up the tree-lined driveway.  The old farmhouse greeted us solemnly as we parked under old maples and stately pine.  a few stout tulips bloomed despite several years of neglect.  Ben spun wheelies with his chair on the cobblestones by the front door as the older boys scattered to explore the yard.  They came back with reports of tadpoles in the backyard pond.  The two year old handed me a fistful of giant dandelions – thriving in the abandoned garden bed.

I was bewitched.

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It was then our friend the realtor drove up and gave us the bad news.  Someone had already signed a contract.  The house wasn’t for sale – as of that exact moment.

It had felt like a dream too good to be true.  I guess it was.

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She still let us in to see the house.  It was empty, full only of peeling paint and unspoken memories.  The only furniture was an old piano in a back room.  Shiloh found it and tickled out a few off-key chords as the others raced through the echoey house with abandon that seemed appropriate to the setting.  I imagined a bookshelf here, a bunk bed there, bean bag chairs in a cozy corner, crayon pictures hung on the walls.  I realized it might finally be time to consider adoption because there were enough bedrooms to house a larger army – or even a pink bedroom!  I imagined my son’s wheelchair spinning smooth across the hardwood floors, a fire crackling in the old stone fireplace, the smell of cookies wafting from the welcoming kitchen.  I realized every stroller and bike and even huge family vehicles would fit in the ample three car garage.  I imagined snowy days seeing my oldest with a book, his lanky frame curled onto a window seat.  I saw homeschool supplies piled on a big plank table; a big soup pot simmering on the range.  I imagined parties in a house that could hold a crowd of boys – and their friends.  I could see Bible studies around the wood stove, music spilling from that room with the piano.  I envisioned a long rope swing hanging from high in the barn, a fire pit in the backyard for get togethers with marshmallow-sticky fingers.  It would have been a gathering place.  It could have been a home.

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But God said no.

He does that sometimes.  It hurts in the moment, the dream-shattering, like glass splintering into a thousand pieces.  Shards of what was hope get under your skin.  It stings to draw them out.  Maybe I shed a few tears.

I have been praying daily for a new house for a year.  Well, much longer really, but I committed to asking daily exactly one year ago – to the day – that I found that house for sale.  I thought that would magically mean it was the one.

God says to set landmarks (Jeremiah 31:21).  When we look back we realize how far He has taken us.  I was hoping this landmark meant the end of our house search.  Apparently He wants me to keep praying.  So I painstakingly glued the shards of hope back together and tried to place it safely where it belongs.  In Him.  Not in a house.  I love old houses.  But old houses crumble eventually.

Being a Christian sometimes gets reflected clearly in being a mom.  There are so many days filled with NO.

“No, you can’t have a cookie.”

“Don’t lick your brother.”

“You can’t go outside till you finish your math.”

“Don’t shoot the bird,” I said to the boy pointing a nerf gun at a friend’s pet parakeet last week.

“No dancing on the table.”

“Take off his underwear and get your own!”

“Do not run away from me in the parking lot!”

“No you can’t go outside without pants.”

“No, you can’t have a puppy.”

“No more tv time.”

“You should not eat the bug.”

“That is not chocolate.”

“Don’t eat applesauce with your toes.”

“Dandelions are not weapons.”

“Stop licking the bug spray.”

“Don’t hit him!”

“Don’t say that!”

“No.”

“No.”

“NO!”

A friend in the midst of single parenting her three young daughters said it once.  “There is so much NO.”  It stuck with me.  I feel like a mean mom some days.  I want to say YES to something.  Anything.  But they want so much that is wrong, so much that would hurt them or somebody else, so much that is detrimental or even dangerous.  And I have to say NO.  Again.

I realize I am often the same way with God.  I ask for so much that would be bad for me, then pout when God says NO.  I believe He has my best interests in His heart, I know He’s the one who sees the future, I realize He wants better for me than I can even comprehend.  But I don’t see it that way in the moment.  Not that I would ever be dumb enough to disagree with the Creator of the universe…

What worries me is the fact that sometimes God says YES when we should accept NO.  He did it when Israel wanted a king like the other nations (I Samuel 8:6-7).  He warned them it wasn’t good for them, He told them they were rejecting Him by asking for a human leader.  But He finally gave them a king because they asked for it.  They rejoiced in the moment, but ultimately it made them miserable – and led to their national ruin.

I fear that.  What if God said YES to my petulant whining for a big old farmhouse when I really need a smaller boring one?  I admit I’ve done it as a mother.  I’ve wrecked dinner with ice cream before.  I’ve let them overdose on Curious George or Man vs. Wild episodes when they should have been running off their God-ordained boy-sized energy outside.  I’ve let them stay up too late.  I’ve cleaned the bathroom when it was their turn.  Don’t go calling Child Protection on me.  We all bear the consequences of the overdose on sugar, the lack of sleep, the entitlement attitude, the pent up energy.  I know better, but sometimes I still allow it.  I’m lazy.  I’m human.  I’m selfish and don’t want to argue again.  I don’t like to say no.

While God doesn’t do wrong, I don’t think He likes to say no to His children either.  So sometimes He says yes to something He knows will hurt us.  Hopefully we come out the other side just a bit bruised, but also a bit wiser.  And more humble.

So I try to pray differently.  I ask for the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4).  But I ask not that He give me what I want – I ask that He put the right wants in my heart.  He loves to give.  He gave me the breath in my lungs, each beat of my heart, the food on my table, the sun to keep me warm, the precious quiet before the whirling dervishes wake up in the morning.  And I pout because He doesn’t give me the big house that would cost me far more than I know.  Because I can’t see that living there might cost me my marriage, or the soul of one of my children, or simply ridiculous expenses that would force me to choose paying for groceries or heating bills in the dead of winter.  I don’t know.  I can’t know.

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I admit my faith has been shaken in the last several years of life.  The Bible says ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open.  And yet God has said no for five years as I’ve begged him to heal Ben’s legs or fix his brain.  He has said no repeatedly when I’ve asked Him to sell our house.  He said no when I asked that a friend’s child live through cancer.  He said no to fixing the dyslexia with which one son struggles.  No to so many big and little requests.  I wonder sometimes if God even hears me.

Jesus’ own best friends questioned it.  They hung out with God all the time, but even they asked Him, “Lord, just increase our faith.”  We must not be believing hard enough for You to hear us.  We must not be making enough faith.    He said something pivotal.  (Of course.  He’s Jesus.)  “Have faith as a mustard seed.”  Then you can tell a tree to go plant itself in the sea, and it would listen (Luke 17:6), or then you could tell a mountain to move, and it would obey (Matthew 17:20).

But mustard seeds are small, insignificant.  I think Jesus was telling them it isn’t a matter of amount.  I guess faith is more of a light switch.  It’s either off or on.  Either I trust Him – or I don’t.

My two year old does it all the time.  He takes a flying leap off the sofa and expects me to catch him.  He trusts me.  It’s not a matter of amount.  One cannot take a flying leap just a little.  If he trusts, he jumps.  If he doesn’t, he stays on the sofa.  There aren’t degrees of separation.  There aren’t levels of faith.  All that matters is what his faith is in.  Or rather, whom.

And for all the NOs I’ve said to him, even my two year old knows that I’ll say YES when I can.  It doesn’t stop him from asking for everything, all the time.  I mean constantly.  By the minute.  Without rest.  Always.  That’s why there is so much NO.  Even two year olds know there will be a YES sometimes.  So they keep asking till they get it.

So I’ll go glue some hope bits back together and keep an eye on the toddler who may jump at any minute.  And I’ll catch him.  Because that’s what I do.

But they’re still not getting a puppy.

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