Category Archives: with God

A Pair of Cleats

I went to a weekend women’s retreat for the first time in eight years. I left my children with tears in their eyes. It was a hard parting. The eight year old stood stoic on the lawn as I pulled out of the driveway. The three year old saluted grimly. The six year old buried his face on Daddy’s shoulder.

me. alone.

It was only for two days. They would be with Daddy. I knew they would be safe. They would be at home. They would be fed and clothed (after a fashion, anyway.) It would be ok.

But I am mommy. The kisser of boo-boos. The pourer of milk. The dinner maker. The teachable-moment-catcher. The toilet paper roll-changer. The tucker-inner. The nose wiper. The bad dream stopper. The multitasking superhero in yoga pants who makes everything better.

And I am wife. The morning coffee maker. The homemaker.   The appointment booker. The hanger-upper-of shirts. The bed maker. The confidante. The raiser of mini-cloned namesakes. The other half.

I love my job description. It’s glorious. Truly.

But while it’s hard, it’s harder still to leave it. The morning of the day I left, the two year old learned to climb out of his crib. That’s great for milestones. Bad for sleeping. Facepalm.

I know from personal experience that God can meet me right on the dirty linoleum at the sacred altar of the kitchen sink on a rainy Wednesday morning. He’s like that. So I don’t leave much. In fact, I’m confident that if I never had a day off during my children’s growing years, it would be ok. Probably 95% of mommies around the world never get such a luxury. It is not a necessity. Oh, it was wonderful, refreshing, renewing to go away for the weekend. I laughed hard and lived on too much coffee, spent time praying and crying and shopping with friends. It was a mountain top experience.

But not much lives on top of a mountain.

Men cycle in 24 hour periods. Their hormones peak, plummet, and start fresh every morning. They can work hard and rest hard within every 7 day course. But women cycle longer. Our hormones take about thirty days to rise and fall before new beginnings. We have been created for long haul living. Long term loving. Days go by without lunch breaks. Our on-call night shift starts the day a baby is born- and we might not go off duty for years. I live in the land of spilled Cheerios and broken English, car seat battles, and being the first and last face my children see Every. Single. Day. For over a decade. Farmers work hard during the growing season; they can’t rest until the harvest is in. The growing season for raising a crop of straw-headed boys can seem relentlessly long and thankless. But. We were made for this.

God made the world, way back in Genesis. And it was good. It was all good. It was all going swimmingly until chapter 2, verse 18, when God said, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” So, He made woman. And to the two of them, God gave the first command, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over… every living thing.” Genesis 1:28.

In no other religion or belief system on earth are women held with more equality and honor than Biblical Christianity. I know that; I have seen it lived. But when I see the word “helper” it still makes me think lesser, comparatively insignificant, of smaller value. My husband outweighs me by over 100 pounds, he earns more money, manages a large store, and leads worship on a large stage. I stay home, keep kids alive, spend his paycheck on ignominious expenses like groceries and diapers, tend a garden, and write a blog. I don’t feel very important. I know – I know, through the lenses of heaven, my daily life is fulfilling the first command, and it will not seem so insignificant when I can see from that vantage point. But for now, when I’m tired, the children misbehave, the house is sticky, the garden plants die slow agonizing deaths, my husband feels overwhelmed or neglected, and the pet lizard runs out of food, it hardly feels like my efforts have any value.

The Greek word for helper in the New Testament is Paraclete. It sounds like a “pair of cleats”. Jesus told His disciples He had to leave, but God “will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever… You will know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:17. He was referring to the Holy Spirit. It has very similar connotations as the Hebrew word for helper (ezer) that referred to woman in Genesis.

I’m not going into an exhaustive study, but I got excited at this. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. There is nothing insignificant about Him. Bible translators used the word Helper to explain Paraclete, but English fails here. My two year old “helps” with the dishes. But the Paraclete is the advocate, the strength, the conscience, the gentle pressure that draws us in the direction of truth.  He is all the power and love of the Lord – in a whisper.

I can’t go off every weekend to get filled up with good Bible teaching and coffee. It’s not practical – and it wouldn’t be enough. I can’t fill up with enough goodness and patience – and caffeine – to last through a week of normal. I would run dry within minutes of 7 a.m. on Monday.

But. I can plug in to the source of power. I can be a conduit for the power and strength of God for my husband and my family. By dwelling with them, 24-7, just like the Spirit of God with any believer who asks Him to, I am conveying the strength – and joy and peace and confidence – of the God of creation Himself. The pressure is not on me to produce the power. Just by being present and plugged in, I will share it. It’s the only long term answer that will last through years of “helpmeet” status – the epitome of wife and motherhood. I can lace on my “pair of cleats” and run with confidence by connecting to the source of energy by reading the Word of God and praying. A little – every day – goes a long, long way.

That even trumps coffee.

It is good to be home.

Cloudy, with a Chance of Heaven

The kitchen felt sticky hot.  I pulled the cakes from the oven in anticipation of the three year old’s birthday.  A strand of hair fell across my forehead and stuck there.  I brushed it absently, glancing out the window.  It was three in the afternoon.  And it was dark.  A storm was coming.

Toys decorated the back yard.  I went out to gather in the deep summer harvest of random socks, nerf guns, and fly swatters (why not?) that graced the lawn.  The air was heavy and silent.  Creation was holding its breath.  Maybe God was too.

Waiting.

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I pulled the curtain off the entrance of the boys’ secret hideout among the cedars (don’t tell them I told you).  Pregnant raindrops started to land heavily on the pavement, fat with the promise of more.  I ran inside to shake the older children from their stupor intense concentration on a Star Wars Lego computer game.  The lawnmower should be inside.  I needed backup.  Big drops spattered the engine as I lurched forward on the ungainly beast of a riding mower.  Two children watched and directed as I attempted to line up the wheels  on the planks that would get the machine over the step down into the basement.  Twice I tried.  Both attempts stuck the mower deck fast on the threshold.  Rain fell more urgently.

Finally I admitted defeat.  I backed up and parked the puttering machine back where I had found it.  Hail smacked my shoulders and head as my oldest and I threw a tarp over the beast, fighting the wind to tuck it down.  Then we ran inside, suddenly soaked and breathless.  I commanded the mind-numbing zombie-making computer screen be turned off.  Four pairs of eyes refocused on the windows.  We watched the sheets of rain turn the road into a river.  Thunder cracked and shook the atmosphere.  Lightning sliced through the dark sky.  The lights flickered.

The two littlest woke from their naps crying.  Downstairs, we pulled out ice cream cones in the still-humid hot living room.  I opened our current read aloud to the next chapter and raised my voice above the insistent storm.  We stopped briefly when it sounded like a jolt of electricity stuck something close by; everyone rushed to the windows to study the closest trees.  We gazed in awe at the intensity and power surrounding us.

I droned on for half an hour.  Ice cream smeared across my arm.  The storm abated.  Soon, sunlight pierced through the breaking clouds.  The boys glanced at the windows, searching for rainbows.  As the ice cream hit their bloodstream, everyone got restless.  The toddler stood on the sofa and bounced, sending sticky drips everywhere.  Someone sat on someone else and a wrestling match ensued.  I kept raising my voice to finish the chapter until I had to admit defeat.  Again.  Everyone was sent to their respective corners to regroup.  I opened windows and let the cool clear air push into the sticky house.  It was twenty degrees cooler than it had been an hour ago.  The washed air smelled of fresh cut grass and warm dirt.  I breathed in deep and went to start supper.

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After we survived mealtime, the boys spilled outside to run it off.  I left the smashed potatoes to dry on the table and joined the five year old on the porch.  Mist rolled across the back yard in silent wisps.  I patted my son’s head.  “Hey, don’t break my mohawk!” He remonstrated me.  I apologized and shaped the sweaty damp locks back into a blonde point.

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We watched the brothers chase each other, screeching and blaming each other for tripping in the damp grass.  The toddler chose a puddle and sat down decisively, immediately saturating his clean diaper.  Blue chalk decorated several rungs of the deck.  Even the hard rain hadn’t totally cleaned it off.  I was trying to silence the busy-mom-voice in my head that was commanding I turn around and attend to the congealed potatoes, when a little voice echoed over my internal argument.

“Mom, why does heaven take so long?”

Busy mom went silent.  My mind searched wildly for wise mom, who always seemed to hide when I needed her.  I’d wondered myself.  Buying time to get wise mom to appear, I prodded for more.  “What do you mean, honey?”

“I’ve been waiting for heaven a long time.  When do we get to go?”

I smiled slightly.  He was 5 years old.  I remembered his birth like yesterday.  And suddenly here he was, sitting in a shiny wheelchair, asking hard questions in a well-spoken, shrill voice.  But 5 years is a long time to not walk…

Finally honest mom surfaced.  (When wise mom hides, she’s a willing sub.  Wish I chose her more often over blabbering-idiotically-mom!)

“I don’t know, Ben.  Waiting is always hard for me too.”

My heart ached.  We watched the boys run.  Past conversations about heaven drifted through my mind as the fog rolled across the field, softening the blades of grass, till it was hidden under the cool blanket.  We have often said that in heaven, my colorblind son will see brighter colors there than those of us with “normal” eyes ever could here.  Heaven will be “more real” than the best our senses can do to experience earth, and our abilities will be far stronger when they’re unfettered by commotion, distraction, pollution, germs, stress, and biological imperfections.  Ben will run faster than anyone ever could on earth.  It will be awesome.  I wished he didn’t have to wait for awesome.

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“God makes each of us a little different, some a lot different, because we each have a different job to do before we go to heaven.  He has big plans for you.  I know He does…”

Honest mom sounded lame.  I wished I could give him some assurance that God does what is best, and what is best is usually hardest.  But try explaining that to a five year old.  I admitted defeat for the third time.  And hugged him.  “I’m glad you’re here right now.”  He patted my back reassuringly and slid out of his wheelchair.  He crawled to the ramp up to the trampoline where he jumped on all fours, sending the toddler with a sagging diaper bouncing amidst fits of baby giggles.

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He is waiting.  We hold our breath, knowing there are storms on the horizon.  Half a dozen times since Saturday, he has asked me, “Why am I like this?”  and I give reasons.  But it’s hard, in the heat of the moment, to accept them.  So we brace to weather the storms.  I hope I can shelter him through some of them.  In them he might be scared, but he can also experience the power of God in his life.  I don’t want to be so distracted by the fly swatters, and video games, and cold potatoes, that I miss awe and wonder hidden in the cloudy days.

The clear air after the rain will be worth the wait.

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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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Between a rock and a soft, squishy mattress

I fear for my children.

Especially for the one glancing boldly at me while completely unrolling the aluminum foil to make a ball.

Truly.

But I do fear.  Some days, the future I hope for them seems bleak indeed.

I’ve learned in my old age that if I stare at my phone screen for too long I go cross eyed for a while afterwards.  I think old age and phone screens do not go together very well.

I’m 34.

You’re dying to reprimand me for saying I’m old.

But I am.  I am ever so old.  I know because when I was young it was easy to live at my parents’ house.  Now that I am old it is much more difficult.  When I was young I used to draw crayon castles and dream big.  I could ignore the news because it seemed far away, and jot down my ideas in a little pink diary.  These days, I stare at my phone screen, reading the news, searching for a new house, typing blog ideas that never get to posting,  messaging friends about difficult subjects, and wishing what I saw was more pleasant.

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I used to think the government systems would work if you just did your civic duty and voted and used your respectful indoor voice.  These days, the government wants money back that it “gave” to my disabled son.

They don’t believe he is disabled anymore.  (Wouldn’t that be nice if he could just stop being paralyzed?)

They have loopholes written into law that say we are in breach of our mortgage contract for leaving our little house.  They say we’re not “allowed” to not live there.

They say vote for the lesser of two evils, though even the lesser is ok with killing babies.  And I am not.

The world seems backwards.

It seems I cannot put my hope in any man.

I will not put my hope in a nation.

I shall not put my hope in the next generation. I must not even put my hope in my own ability to raise the next generation.  I will fail.  I am fallible.  So are they.

My country teeters on the edge of destruction by righteous judgement.  Bureaucracy, loopholes, redtape and complacency rule the day.  My tendency is to weep at the condition of the world my children are inheriting.  I fear they will come of age in a time where they will be penalized by tax, or jail, or certainly at least social disgrace if they uphold any morality.  I am afraid they could be pressed into military service against more just nations than our own.  Doing the right thing will be very uncomfortable for my young men.

But I forget what I want most for my children.

It is not their security.  (Though I crave it.)

It is not their health.  (Though I pray for it.)

It is not their comfort. (Though I would give up my own if they could have it.)

What I want most for my children is to know their God.

To love Him.  To accept His forgiveness.  To be passionate for His truth.  To be brave in hardship.  To be bold in adversity.  To be humble in the face of accusation.  To claim unity with God rather than man.

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I hate to think I may have to stand by helpless (or more likely, due to Mama bear instinct – to be held back kicking and screaming) as they face loss, condemnation, and searing pain from a heartless world.

But rather than watch them live out their days complacent and Godless while being safe and comfortable – rather – I pray they would live short, hard, painful, but meaningful lives walking with their Maker.

At least I try to pray that.

Make no mistake, I will fight for every inalienable right they should and could have.  I will pour out my own energy for their own comfort and joy.  I love to hear my kids laugh.  It is the greatest sound I’ve ever known.

But if through their tears – and my own – they learn their greatest joy is the glory of God – than I prefer that to any comfort or legal right.

It’s not my job to change the world.  We have been called to do a far harder thing.  I must live a changed life in an unchanged world.

It does seem backwards.  But I serve the God who said the poor will be rich.  The weak will be strong.  The humble made great.  The simple made wise.

And when I look at my phone screen (or any screen) I forget the backwards kingdom.  That’s when the world seems so topsy turvy.  Because it is.

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:32, 34

God help me, as I find a use for crumpled aluminum foil, to fear not.

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Heard

My heart caught in my throat with every dusty step closer to Shiloh.  It had been fourteen hard miles of walking.  I hadn’t walked the familiar road in over three years.  But today, landmarks passed all too quickly.  The time had come.

My husband walked beside me, a child on his shoulders.  His child.  But not mine.  He had several children before I ever did.  Oh, I’d been at their births.  I sometimes held them in the night as infants.  I had cleaned them, cooked for them, cuddled them as toddlers.  But I am not their mother; they neither truly love nor respect me.

I was at my husband’s wedding too.  His.  But not mine.  We had already been married for years.  But they were childless years.  And, by tradition, he could break my heart without breaking his vows to me because I’d given him no children.  He took another wife.  Peninnah is younger than me, sensuous, voluptuous,  and apparently vitally fertile.  Almost as soon as she entered my house she was with his child.  I watched her grow.  I listened as she commiserated with all the neighboring mothers about pregnancy aches and cravings.  They grew silent when I went by, but they shouldn’t have bothered.  I’d never felt the twinge of a contraction, but I understood aches and cravings only too well.

What did God want from me anyway?  I tried to be a good woman.  I tried to be a big girl about everything, even though I felt like a too-small woman with too-big hips and a soul-breaking loneliness.  I tried not to imagine I could be a better mother than those who so thoughtlessly bore growing broods.  I tried to find a reason, physical or spiritual, why I was denied the good thing that I so wanted.  I tried not to think it was all unfair.

It was at the annual feast several years ago that I thought of another woman engraved forever in the history of my family.  Approximately five hundred years had passed between her heartache and mine, but the pain we shared was similar.  Jochebed had birthed a child with a death sentence on his little head.  Moses.  The only way for him to live was for her to give him away.  Because of her sacrifice, an entire nation was rescued from slavery and given a future.  Of course she didn’t know that when she handed him to another to raise him.  Maybe she would have preferred he grow up to be a nobody if it would have meant she could have kept him.  But she didn’t.  She couldn’t.  She gave him away.

Maybe that was what God was asking me.

The thought was at first too terrible.  How could I give up the only thing I really wanted?  Could God ask me to hand over my own child?  I had the sinking feeling that what God wanted from me was the one thing I felt too dear to give Him.  My marriage, my house, my very bedroom were not mine.  Must I give up my hope of a child too?

It seems to me God rules a backwards kingdom.  He uses the weak things to reveal His strength.  He makes us poor to prepare us to accept real wealth.  He kills first – then makes alive.  I had nothing, but it was everything He wanted from me.

Yes.  I finally answered Him, great sobs wracking my body as I bowed in the dust of the tabernacle.   Yes.  If You give me a child, I will give his life back to You.  Forever.

Immediately, I felt a hand on my back.  I looked up through a blur of tears.  The high priest himself was standing over me with a frown.  I knew I must look a sight.

“Are you drunk?”  He asked sternly.

The thought made me start to giggle.  I had never been more sober in my entire life!  “No, sir!”  I panted as I brushed at my wet cheeks.  “No, I’ve just poured out my broken heart to God.”  That’s all.  I blubbered piteously.

The grandfatherly man stared hard at my face, as if seeing right into my soul.  Then suddenly he patted my arm assuringly.  “Then go in peace.  And God give you what you asked.”

In that moment, suddenly, I just knew God had heard me.  He had.  The struggle was over.  I nearly skipped home.  I even smiled at Peninnah as we stepped on each other’s toes in the kitchen.  I laughed with my husband.  I enjoyed the kids’ antics as we packed up to go home after the feast.  I was at peace.

And wouldn’t you know it, the woman everyone said couldn’t have a baby – she got pregnant!  I got pregnant!  Within weeks, I was sick as a dog every morning and a hormonal mess of emotions every night.  It was wonderful.   Before the year was over, I, of all people, had a son.  Samuel.  Because God had heard me.

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Now, his dark hair fell in long ringlets across his forehead as I carried him the last mile to Shiloh.  We’d never cut it, never would.  It was a reminder to him – and me – that he was special to God.  Set apart.  Promised.

This special child, this promised child, a tired mess of three year old curiosity and dirt and noise and rebellion and laughter, this answer to prayer child – I brought him to the high priest, Eli,  in Shiloh.  I hadn’t seen the man since that momentous day about four years ago, tears streaking my desperate face.  But apparently he remembered me.  His grandfatherly smile of recognition faded into surprise as I haltingly explained my mission.  The words hurt.  “This is the child for whom I begged God.  This is His child.  But not mine…”

How I wanted that old man, Eli, the priest, to say no.  No, this can’t be right.  I’m too old to take the responsibility for raising a child.  He’s too young to be trained as a priest.  I couldn’t even train my own children to follow God. I can’t believe God would tell you to do this.  How awkward.  How difficult. How very backwards.

But he didn’t.  I’d known he wouldn’t.  God had prepared us both for this.  Eli stood for a long minute, silently staring at me.  Then, slowly, he bent down and looked as Samuel.  The boy with dark hair stared back at him with big curious eyes.  Eli reached out and gently took Samuel’s small grubby fingernails in his large, gnarled grip.   “Come, Samuel.”  He said simply.  “I need your help.”  Together the old man and the boy walked into the tabernacle.  And away from me.

I took a shaky step backwards.  My husband was there, silent through the whole exchange, but ready to catch me as I recoiled from my mission.  Two big tears rolled down my cheeks.  I had fully expected to lose it right there at the door of the tabernacle, for all of Israel to see.  I expected to feel like a horrible failure of a parent, even though I knew this was the path I must take.  But I didn’t.  Peace enveloped me.  Oh, I was sad.  Intensely sad.  I’d just given back the most precious treasure I’d ever been given.  I had just handed over everything I’d ever wanted.  And I had expected to feel empty.

But that’s the thing.  In this backwards kingdom, when you give God everything, you are left with more than you had before.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with awe that I had been entrusted to bear this most sacred of God’s treasures – the life of a child – simply in order to hand it back.  A loan.  All this child’s short life, I had known he was set apart.  He was special.

I suppose all children are special.  Miracles, really.  But over years of dirty diapers and tantrums and mud baths and whining and testing and expenses and homework and hormones, it is easier for the miracle to fade into hindsight.  With the short time I shared with Samuel, I never forgot he was a gift.  I felt so rich to have known the value.  Even for a little while.

I spent the rest of that week getting Samuel settled in with Eli and his wife. We all shed some tears, but we had been prepared for the transition as much as anyone can be.  Finally, I went home.  Samuel stayed.  He grew there.  I grew too.  In fact, I got pregnant five more times.  Every time, a miracle.  I knew that very well.  Over the next decade, I often got to bring a new brother or sister to meet Samuel when we went to Shiloh on feast days.  I’d always bring him a new coat too.  He grew fast.  He became a man, he got married, he had my first grandchildren.  He became the confidante of God Himself, a messenger to our people.  He crowned the first and second kings of Israel.  God calls him by name.

I am blessed among women.  I realize now that God not only wanted all of my son – He wanted all of me. Those memories of aching that led me to make that desperate vow – they still sting.  I’ve held the hands of many women since those dark days, women just as desperate and longing for a family.  It hurts to feel forsaken, even by God.  But I know now, I wasn’t forgotten.  I wasn’t alone in that dark, silent place.  I was wanted.  I was loved.  I was heard.

 

Lost in Translation

I have a story.

I was born in sin.  Unwanted, unloved, unpitied.  They left me where I fell from the birth canal.  They weren’t careless – they were very purposeful to ignore my helpless cries.  I choked feeble little breaths, lying in my own blood, covered in filth.  No one even bothered to cut my umbilical cord, to sever me from my gestation and consider me alive.  No one even acknowledged me.  I was simply left.  Vulnerable.  Naked.  Alone.  Good for nothing, wanted by no one but death.

But there was someone who heard my weak squalling.  He saw me, flailing, gasping each pitiful breath as I waited for the last, but he didn’t turn away from that bedraggled, nearly lifeless mess like everyone else.  He hoped for me.  He pulled me out of the cold mud and blood.  He warmed me next to his heart.  He held me gently in his big hands, fed me, wiped my tears, rocked me in the long night hours, patiently.  He walked with me, holding my chubby trusting hand as I took my first faltering steps.  I learned to ask him when I needed anything, running to him to share every fear, every question, every joy of discovery.  So I grew.  Years passed.  Like a plant, thriving in rich soil, well watered, sheltered from storms, I grew healthy.  My body matured.  My hair grew long.  My skin tanned, my smooth face was unlined by worry, my laughter was free.  But I was still innocent.

It was around that time, one day, that his son noticed me.  My heart still races when I think of how he looked at me as I ran past one afternoon.  He caught me by the hand and never once acted like he wanted to let go after that.  He wanted to be with me.  He bought me gifts, jewelry, beautiful clothes, he walked with me, laughed with me, he wooed me.  He made me feel beautiful, like I was his most precious treasure.  When he looked at me with those intense eyes, so full of passion and hope, I wanted to be every bit the desirable princess he made me feel like I was to him.  He was a gentleman to a fault, wise, and clearly prepared to take care of me far into my old age.  And he was great with kids.  Really, he was the perfect guy.   Finally, he popped the question, and of course I said yes.  After that I sported a beautiful rock on my finger.  And everybody knew we were an item.  We planned the perfect wedding, lots of guests, lots of food.  He got me into an exclusive spa where I could get pampered from head to toe in preparation for the big day.  He even bought me the most gorgeous dress.  We even got our marriage license and made it official as we neared the wedding.  I felt like a queen.

Unfortunately, I started acting like one.  A drama queen, that is.  I started acting maybe a bit pretentious.  All those beautiful gifts, the jewelry, the lovely clothes, they garnered me a lot of attention.  From other men.  I started to really like the attention I got when I wore them.  I’d find excuses to go out without him.  The flattery and flirting were playful.  At first.  But I waded in deeper and deeper.  He knew.  I know he knew.  I saw the pleading look in his eyes when I made up some new excuse not to spend the evening with him.  Even then, he was a gentleman.  He’d clasp my hand as he always had, but it was I who would pull away.  I hated myself for the deception, but I always justified it.  He wanted me to be happy, right?

Those men, they flattered, but they didn’t woo me like he did.  In fact, it was the opposite.  I found myself chasing after them.  I lost my innocence.  No, I gave it away.  Eventually, I even paid others to take it.  Fool that I was, I confused that brief thrill of a moment with real love, as if I had never known what love really was.  But I had.  Sometimes, in the bitter dark night, I’d walk lonely streets knowing I was missing something.  But I didn’t try to remember the father who had loved me to life when I was left for dead.  I didn’t try to remember his son, that wonderful, strong, sweet man who had treated me like his most precious treasure.  I was in too deep.  I got pregnant, several times.  I got rid of them.  I was no better than my birth parents in that.  Worse – because I had been saved from that very death.  But by now, I had a reputation of being always available.  I maintained it better than any other girl I knew.

It always happens eventually.  It finally happened to me, though I was blindsided when it came.  When they came.  One morning, as I lay stretched out enticingly in the warm sun, a whole group of men from my past appeared.  Men I’d lied to, cheated on, men whose marriages I had helped destroy, they didn’t come hungry for anything I could give.  They were only hungry for revenge.  Justice.  And they took it.  Violently.  They pulled me from my house, ripped me out of my fancy clothes, hit me, hurt me, and then paraded me past all my neighbors.  I saw the faces of all the other girls who had been like me.  I had learned some of my trade and tricks from them.   But I had surpassed them – and now as I passed them in shame, I hung my head at their judgment.  It was deserved.

I was as naked and dirty as the day I had been born.  But this day, the whole world noticed me.  A brazen reputation like mine doesn’t hide.  It wasn’t made to.  Unfortunately.  My captors forced me to walk many streets filled with jeering people.   My feet ached.  I was bleeding.  I wished I could just go numb.  But my heart felt every insult.  My shoulders felt the weight of my condemnation.  I winced as they pushed me roughly along – up great stone steps, into an austere courtroom.

Those who led me halted only when we got to the front.  The room was crowded, but there was a spotlight on the hard floor before the judge.  They stood me there, then stepped back.  I was alone.

I didn’t look up as voice after voice called out accusations.  They listed the lives I’d destroyed, the relationships and innocent children.  It wasn’t until the judge issued the verdict that I looked up in surprise.  It wasn’t the ruling that made me catch my breath.  I was undeniably guilty.  But I recognized the magistrate’s voice.

It was my father.

I was standing before the man who’d saved me from death as a helpless infant.  Now here I was, once again naked and helpless.  My father looked at me with his deep dark eyes.  “I am not here to save you this time.  Justice must be served.  You deserve to die.”  The gavel in his big hand came down with finality.

The sound echoed through the great room.  Men rushed forward and grabbed my shackled arms.  They started to drag me roughly away.  “Stop!”  A commanding voice called from somewhere near the judge.  “What do you want?” Men sneered at the man who had spoken.  “She burned you worse than the rest of us.  You wanna be the one to pull the trigger?”  I couldn’t see through the pressing mob, but I guessed whom they referred to.  “Let her go.”  His voice was loud, but calm and sure.

“But her sentence is death!”  The mob was hungry for blood.

“I will take her place.”  I looked up in surprise.  Could such a thing happen?  Even if it could, why would anyone die in the place of a rotten traitor like me?  And of all people, especially him?

The riotous crowd parted slightly.  I caught sight of my first love.  He looked older.  But he looked at me with the same piercing gaze I remembered from so long ago.  My heart skipped a beat.

“She broke every promise!”  Another man drove the point home.  He snatched up the marriage license I had once signed from where it lay amidst a pile of evidence against me.

“But I never broke mine.”  He continued to look straight at me as he walked over.  Only when he stood next to me did he tear his gaze away, looking up at the judge.  “I will serve her sentence.  I want my wife back.”

The crowd surged forward.  They caught him up, and for a moment I saw him suspended above by angry fists before being pulled down mercilessly.  The blood-lust of the frenzied mob was terrifying.  But it was efficient.  Within minutes, they began to fall back.  The noise abated.  Their work was done.  Lying on the floor was a mangled lifeless body.  “Let them through!” someone called from a side door.  A couple official-looking men pushed through with thin-lipped determination.  They knelt on either side of the bloody form.  One pulled out some medical equipment and listened for heartbeats and pulse.  The other grasped a sharp knife.  With a sudden jab, he gashed a hole into the side of the upper abdomen.  I gasped, but the lifeless form didn’t twitch.  They looked at each other after several minutes and nodded.  “Dead.”  They pronounced, though we needed no confirmation.  It was clear.

The judge looked down at the papers in front of him.  The courtroom was completely silent as he scanned the documents.  I held my breath.  He raised the paper where my verdict and sentence had been written.  Stamped across the bottom, in bold, red letters, were the words, “Paid in Full.”

“The law is satisfied.”  The magistrate continued.  “Remove her chains.  She is free.”

In that moment, a clap of thunder shook the building.  There was an audible gasp from the crowd as we all glanced toward the windows.  But the thunder hadn’t come from the clouds.  It was in the room.  In fact, it seemed to come from the form on the floor.  Again, we heard a deep rumble as we watched, incredulous.  The man’s chest had risen and fallen in a breath.  Impossible!  The rumble died away as his breathing became regular.  He sat up.  Slowly he stood to his feet.  There was blood everywhere.  We could see scars were forming on his forehead, his arms, his side.  But he was alive.  He scanned the room and his eyes came to rest, once again, on me.  He smiled.  Triumphant.

I felt faint as hands grabbed my wrists and the fetters that chafed them were removed.  Shame washed over me as my husband draped a big warm blanket over my body.  He pulled me into an embrace.  I buried my face in his broad shoulder and wept like I never had before.  I felt him scoop me up and carry me, joyful and victorious, out of the long courtroom and into the sunlight.  It was an amazing day.  It is an amazing love.

That is my amazing story.

photo credit: Ben Earwicker
photo credit: Ben Earwicker

I took it loosely from Ezekiel 16.  It was a hard one to write.  I do not like to personalize every passage of the Bible that I read.  I want to just claim the pleasant ones and gloss over the ugly parts.  It isn’t fun to play the fool, to walk in the steps of a traitor.  I don’t like sappy romance novels, though I can certainly appreciate Cinderella stories.  Still it is uncomfortable to feel like an ugly stepsister.  But I’m pretty sure that every word of my Bible was written so that I would take it personally.  So today I tried.

And wow.  He really loves me.  The fairy tale is true.

So weep with me.  Rejoice with me.  Be amazed.  It’s not just words on paper.  It’s real.  And consider yourself invited to the wedding, because we are still planning the celebration.  It’s gonna be one heck of a party.

I hope you can make it.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I can’t think why it happened.  They were playing dodge ball in the kitchen while I cooked supper.  (In hindsight, perhaps this was one of those moments for which God invented video games…)  I’m not entirely sure Daddy wasn’t involved.  Somewhere in the midst of the over-steaming broccoli and baby screeching for his fallen carrot stick, one of the boys crashed into the glass panel on the door.  I didn’t notice, somehow.  But later, in the after-bedtime calm, I surveyed the evening’s carnage.  There was the mirror.  Split in half.

Other than seven years of bad luck, it’s not a great loss.  In the previous seven years, I’ve certainly seen worse.  (The day before, we had fished a metal washer out of the computer’s cd player.  In an effort to cover their tracks, the little sinners were trying to pull it out with a magnet.  No dessert that night.)  So the mirror was replaced with an equally-cheap one yesterday.  It bulges in all the places where I can see my hips and thighs.  Just like the old one.  So life goes on.

But in those few days when our kitchen was mirror less, I actually missed it.  I’d walk around the corner with a funny smile, unconsciously checking my teeth for chia seeds as I breezed by.  But I’d find myself staring at the stained wood of the basement door.  Oh, right.  The three year old and I would cruise by as he practiced walking with his walker, and there was no reflection standing there to reward him.  A dozen times, I walked out of the laundry room to check my outfit before running out the door.  I had to just assume there was baby drool on my right shoulder and a coffee stain on my lap; there was no reflection to confirm it.  I realized I depend on that mirror for many more quick glimpses of my physical appearance than I knew.  More than I liked, in fact.  I’m so vain.

Give me Your eyes to see.

Nearly every day, for many years, I have prayed those words.

His eyes, they scan a room and see the Pharisees resplendent in one corner.  His eyes, they gaze over the rest of the rabble crowding in at the door of the biggest hut in town.  His eyes glance up as the tiles are pulled away.  He shades His eyes with a work-callused hand as bits of straw and mortar break free and sunlight beams down on His head.  An immobile man is lowered down on a tattered mat; His eyes see the men at the top of the ropes.  He notices the sweat and hope mingled on their determined brows.
And He looks over, again, at the local leaders, perched pedantically on the best stools in the house.  He looks past their robes, past their smirks, and He sees the emptiness in their hearts.  And (Luke 5:17) His power is present to heal them. 

But they don’t see that.  They watch as He forgives the crippled man of his wrongs.  They blink as the atrophied limbs straighten and stand.  They see the reaction of the crowd to the miracle-Maker.  And Jesus, He pivots the mirror straight at their stoic faces.  “That you may know…”  He says.  But they don’t see – this was for them.  Instead, they scrunch their eyes tight against the light as it filters down through simple faith above them, and miss out on their own miracle.  He sees them as they turn away.  And they go home blind.

When God commissioned the tabernacle to be built, back in the desert, the people willingly brought what was needed to make it.  Gold, cloth, metal, jewels, dyes, spices, and – mirrors.  Bronze, smelted pure and polished smooth, was the best mirror money could buy then.  It was priceless (particularly on a forty year trek though the desert).  And it was the “serving women” who offered this – this irreplaceable, doubtlessly expensive, possession – to be made into a wash basin for the home of God among men.  (Exodus 38:8).  The serving women gave their mirrors – to be made into a sink.  For God’s house.

IMG_0625
my sink runneth over 🙂

Sudsy water swirls around my dishpan hands.  It is warm, it is speckled with butter floating amidst the bubbles.  It is turning brownish, cloudy, and little bits of scrambled egg from breakfast make any clear reflection a pretense.  Only a vague shadow of my head as it bends low shows any contrast over the rippling surface.  But it is enough.

The undulating outline of my head surrounded by dirty water – there I am.  Now I see in a mirror, dimly.  That image, I can’t make out the features, but there is the picture I’m supposed to see.  There’s the mom, stained in love and used parmesan cheese.  There’s the wife, for better or worse in tousled hair and sweatpants to greet her husband as he rolls out of bed every morning.  There’s the daughter, a deja vu picture of her own mother thirty years ago.  There’s the friend, the sister, the neighbor, welcoming despite socks with missing heels and unwashed hair to make yourself at home.  There’s the serving woman, busy at her high calling to do the low tasks, who’s precious mirror became a useful sink in God’s house.  

So many superficial mirrors surround me.  There are the magazines, the movies, the friends who clearly have it all.  There’s the super mom image I’ve conjured in my mind’s eye.  That glass-thin reflection seems so real – until it cracks.  No longer can I depend on that vulnerable shallow picture to show me what I really look like.  There are dimensions it cannot show.  But when I look into the eyes of He who sees the deep – there is the reflection that matters.

He shows me the hurts that left holes where bitterness tries to live.

He shows me the wrongs I accept that leave no room for truth.

He shows me the tender spots that I’ve cordoned off to protect but instead kept Him from holding them safe.

He shows me the picture of His bride and I realize with a blush of humility that it is how He sees me.

And suddenly, that mirror on the wall doesn’t have much allure.

Selfie
Cheap-mirror selfie.  Yikes.

Wooed

I’ve been a bit under the weather this week, and my thinking energy keeps getting all used up before I can work on posts without falling asleep on the keyboard.  But I was reading through my old blog a bit and came across a nice Spring one from last year.  Refreshing.

 (This was originally published here).

Cool, wet breeze wafts through the cracked window, swaying the curtains.  The lightness of lilac sweetness and Spring mud floats in on it.  My husband breathes deep beside me.  The children’s room is quiet, enrobed in overcast morning coziness.  I hear a creak as the wind checks the house’s solid walls.  Satisfied, it moves on.  The home is at peace.

I shift my bulging tummy and try to settle it against a pillow.  It kicks back at me.  The clock stands sentinel.  A few minutes after 5.  It’s Saturday.  Homeschool is over for the year (as much as homeschool can ever be, at least.)  No one need rush this morning.  White sheets are so soft.  They fit around my lumpy edges.  I am warm.  Breathing slowly.  Languid.

But why am I awake?  Had there been a noise that brought me back to consciousness?  I hear only pattering rain and a faint tick from the downstairs clock.  I heave my body over awkwardly.  The boys’ room door is still.  Did someone call me?  Long minutes pass.  My eyes close as I wait.  No voice.  Nothing audible.  But there is a sense.  I am being called.

Maybe it’s just the coffee pot.  I stir and sigh.  Maybe.  But it’s more than that.  Nothing tangible.  Nothing loud enough for my ears to detect.  But deeper than I can hear.  I am being called.

A line from an old Nora Jones song echoes in my brain.  It seems to come from far off.  “Come away with me…”  I heave me legs over the bedside.  The floor is cold.  “Come away with me… I’ll never stop… loving you.”  The stair sighs under my weight.  I hold my breath so I’ll be lighter.  Hope the children don’t hear my heartbeat quicken.  But nothing stirs.

Downstairs.  The clock ticks loudly now.  The refrigerator hums faithfully as I cross the kitchen threshold.  I click on the coffee pot.  The spicy warm smell of brown liquid quickens my mind, anticipating the caffeine.  Both hands clutch the familiar mug as I pad on bare feet to the sofa by the window.  Pink azaleas outside it have mostly passed.  Rain has made everything so green.  I lumber onto the cushions and settle with my Bible.  I am awake now.  Still I can almost but not quite hear.  I am being called.

“Daughter.  Child.”  It’s not the voice of children.  It’s older; more familiar even than my own offspring’s tremulous calls.  “You have come.”  I pull a small blanket over my feet.  Warmth spreads through me in welcome.  Is it from the coffee?

The pages of the big Book swish lightly.  I’m heading to Samuel.  To the book written by a prophet of God.  So long ago.  He was called.  He thought it was Eli, the aging man in the next room.  His mentor.  Samuel was young.  His ears were sharp, his body quick to react.  He jumped up from his bed and responded.  But it wasn’t Eli calling him.

It was God.

I scan the page to find where I left off yesterday.  The chapter I recognize; probably one of the first Bible stories I ever heard.  One of the first I told to my children.  One of the favorites.  Good guy verses bad guy.  Classic.  I’m tempted to gloss over to avoid repetition.  But no.  Soon I’m immersed again in the drama.  David.  Young, sunburned, indomitable, vivacious David.  Goliath.  Brazen, defiant, bullish, impatient Goliath.  Humble and untested stared up at contemptuous and seasoned.  They had no comic books to base their hopes on.  I try not to make a movie of it in my head.  This was real.  Everyone expected David to die.

His big brothers groaned.  If they lived till tomorrow, how would they ever tell their father they had allowed his youngest to battle that foul-mouthed behemoth?  His blood would be on their hands.  Where was God to save them from this reckless, impetuous, poor little brat?

His king sulked.  Tall and muscular, leader, accomplished warrior, he knew he should have accepted the Philistine challenge himself.  But shadows made him jump these days.  The men whispered together when he forbid his own brave son to battle the giant.  There must be some large but foolish brute within his army who could at least put out a decent fight before they met their doom, and he himself could flee to some cave before they were all made slaves or roadkill.  This musician boy was not what he had in mind.  How embarrassing.  Where was God to reject him and allow his kingship to be represented by a measly shepherd kid?

His countrymen trembled.  As if they hadn’t been on edge for a month, hearing the taunts and jeers from the giant echoed across the valley from the entire enemy army.  Men had been deserting daily, slipping away in the night when they could bear no more.  Endless waiting under the scorching sun as the sordid enemy beat down their morale.  This day, they hardly made pretense of secrecy or shame.  Increasing numbers of shadows darted over the hills behind the encampment.  This boy represented their proud military?!?  He had neither armor nor sword.  Where was God to stand by and let this injustice continue?

God was waiting.  Waiting for someone to answer His call.

“Son,” David heard in the recesses of his mind as he stooped to grab a handful of stones.  “You have come.”

I didn’t plan to fight giants today.

I changed diapers, and scrambled eggs, and wiped questionable-smelling mud off of boots.

I read library books, dashed through puddles with a two year old balanced on my 6-month-pregnant belly, ate leftover peanut butter bread.

I sopped up spilled milk, wiped tears, searched for marbles lost.

I chased three week old chickens so my disabled son could hold them.

I ate a nasty cheeseburger.

I buckled.

I unbuckled.

I went to the grocery store on a rainy Memorial Day weekend with four hungry kids right before supper.

I consoled a child who tried to clobber the friendly groundhog with a plastic hockey stick and couldn’t decide if he was more upset that he didn’t kill him for supper or might have hurt him and left him to suffer.

I told another child he couldn’t wear all five of his favorite pairs of underwear to bed.

I made another child eat his broccoli even after he spit the first chewed bite out.

I made another child cry when I removed the bowl of rice he was deliberately spooning into the recesses behind his booster chair.

I killed a spider.

I brought my husband a surprise coffee at work (and a lot of kids who wanted him to buy them stuff.)

I protected children from the scary automatic flush toilets in a public restroom.

I chased a train in the rain (in the van) just to watch it go over the bridge.

I said yes.

I said no.

I said just be quiet I can’t hear myself think.

I said I love you.

I kissed a hurt toe.

I kissed a hurt forehead.

I removed scotch tape from a stuffed animal.

I did dishes.

I vacuumed.

I tucked and re-tucked in.

I blogged.

I survived.

 

And, somehow, though I didn’t expect it, the giants are dead.

 

 

He called.  I answered.  I’m so glad I did.