We’ve had the morning scramble: lunches, clothes (and accompanying issues), backpacks, breakfasts (with the battle to get Patrick to actually sit down and eat it.) Whew, all set. With instructions to PJ to “Stay right there by the window; watch for Mrs. Kristine. She’ll be here any minute to take you younger ones to school,” I hustle the older ones out to the car.
The car is silent because it’s full of teens on an early morning before school. It will be another couple hours before they really wake up.
But the quiet doesn’t last.
“Mom, can we have music?”
I punch the radio button, and Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blasts out from the Christmas station Em recently programmed as one of the pre-set stations on my car radio. It plays the same peppy, loud, fast-paced Christmas songs over and over all day. I reckon I have already listened to Andy Williams sing this song at least 20 times.
This morning the song seems even faster than usual, as if the DJ sped it up. I feel my pulse jump in time to the beat. My shoulders tighten.
“I want a station that plays reflective Christmas music, with hymns,” I say.
As if on cue, the next song begins and it is one of the rare hymns the station plays–one that was recorded at least 40 years ago.
It, too–somehow–is fast!
“There you go, Mom,” Em says.
I glance in the rearview mirror and see Kelly making a face. I agree.
I pick up, drop off, and drive away from the school. I turn the radio off and enjoy the stillness.
I love Christmas–but I refuse to “do” it the way the advertisements and blinking decorations urge me to. These all tell me to move faster in this season of advent, as if rushing and doing more will create a magical moment and get me to it faster.
Popular Christmas music, it seems, has the same message.
It’s false. Advent is a time to slow down, to be still, to rejoice in His first coming and remind ourselves that it is the proof positive that He will come again. We can wait with patient, certain expectation. He came to die; He WILL come to reign.
So I begin my withdrawal from the busyness through music. I place a hymnal in my car so we can sing all the verses of songs about the REAL Christmas, so the rich theology can sink into our souls and satisfy us deep, deep down. I write the titles of some of my favorites on sticky notes and put them on my dashboard, over my stove, on my desk.
In “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”–near the very top of my favorites, I delight in lines like “God and sinners reconciled,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and “Light and life to all He brings/Risen with healing in His wings.”
It’s a small step–this conscious choice of Christ-centered song–but it is a beginning, the right beginning for me.
Would you be willing share some ways you are choosing to slow down and savor this season of Advent?
It was mid-morning on a Saturday. I’d already taken the boys to their soccer games and returned home. The afternoon had been claimed by the three teens, who needed to shop for school spirit week items. I was their transportation. After that, I would fix dinner, run a younger child to-from a party, and finally collapse.
It was going to be a long day, much of it filled with shopping crowds–always a stressor for my introverted side–and I knew I needed a space of solitude before I plunged into the second part of it. I shut myself in the downstairs bathroom and tried to quiet my mind, to stop the responsibilities and concerns that shout so loud, that so often drown out the Spirit’s whispers.
Into the stillness came a verse, each word in it distinct, like the notes in a simple melody.
I realized it was a melody, was the Scripture I’d set to a tune so I could sing it over my younger daughter each night. “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of our God, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit abide with you, now and forever. Amen.”*
That was my prayer, my gift for that time, for the day ahead.
Again I prayed it. Again, focusing on phrases: Grace of Christ, love of God, fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Forever.
And then on the one word: abide.
May grace, love, and fellowship abide in me…
as I abide in God.
Help me to abide, I prayed, and an image appeared now in my mind: a life-giving Vine, its clinging branch strong and vibrant.
“Mom, when are we leaving?”
The quiet was broken, and the next, crazy phase of the day began. It was full of traffic, of driving, of crowds, of noise.
Yet Abide ruled the day, inserting itself again and again…
And this led to miracles
Calm in the thrift store. I get jumpy so easily when I have to shop, when I’m in crowds, when I see no end in sight to the shopping. Abide, I heard. And I enjoyed time with the three older girls as we hunted for crazy items for spirit week: tutu skirts, Hawaiian leis, “mom jeans,” ugly sweaters. I even found myself some jeans—ones Em approved of, definitely not “mom jeans”—and didn’t go nuts in the process.
Twelve hours after praying in the bathroom, I was close to sleep. I readied my computer for shutdown, clearing all my screens and then closing my Web pages one at a time. The final page to close: Bible Gateway. The previous day’s verse-of-the-day was still on the screen. On a sudden whim, I refreshed the site to read the verse for the current day, less than one hour before it would change to the next day’s Scripture.
God had worked miracles as I’d shopped in crowded stores and while my car guzzled gasoline and I was stuck behind its wheel. Why was I surprised that the last one of the day was delivered via technology?!
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of our God, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit ABIDE with us, now and forever!
So be it.
*I made the song with the word “abide” in it, but I can’t find a Scripture version that actually includes that word (I have no idea why I began singing it with “abide” included). BUT the morning I prayed that verse, it came to my mind with the word “abide,” which then led to my envisioning the vine and branches and thinking about Christ’s words about abiding in Him. SO, I’m using the word “abide” in the song version, but not, of course, in Bible Gateway’s verse of the day. That link includes a couple parallel versions.
Immutability: a big word meaning changeless, not capable of or susceptible to change
I’ve been very grateful for that attribute of God lately. As if it’s not enough that I live in a culture in which change is constant (in fact, change is one of its few constants), in a home with so many personalities (six kids, three of them teenage girls), and in a schedule that is both crazy and fluctuating…
I also am crazy and fluctuating.
I can be happy and joyous one hour and overwhelmed by all the pain and injustice in the world the next. One moment I can be confident in the sovereignty of God; in the next I am doubting and fearful. I remember at times that my security and identity rest in God, but I forget that truth daily (okay, more like every hour–or more) and find myself swinging between insecurity and pride as I compare myself with others.
With all that, God’s immutability is a wonder, a blessing, a miracle.
So when I reached the end of Hebrews today and read these words, I found in them a treasure. I hope they are the same for you.
And because that is true–that Jesus Christ is never swayed because HE IS the great I AM (never the “I was” or the “I will be,” always the “I AM”)–then the benediction that follows can also be constantly true.
20 Now may the God of peace [Who is the Author and the Giver of peace], Who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood [that sealed, ratified] the everlasting agreement (covenant, testament),
21 Strengthen (complete, perfect) and make you what you ought to be and equip you with everything good that you may carry out His will; [while He Himself] works in you and accomplishes that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ (the Messiah); to Whom be the glory forever and ever (to the ages of the ages). Amen (so be it).**
*This link is to the entire chapter of Hebrews 13 in the Amplified version.
**This link is to Hebrews 13:20-21 in a parallel view of the AMP and the New Living Translation.
During her freshman year of high school, Judy took a media arts class. (Judy and her younger sister, Kelly, are international students at Wheaton Academy and have lived with us during the past two school years. They are currently at home with their beloved mom and dad but will return to the Underwood household in a little under a month. We are quite excited about that–at the same time we know it is very hard for their parents.) One of the emphases of the media arts class was photography, and Judy made good use of my Nikon. It was fun to download pictures and see the various styles of the three different users
(Judy, Emily, and I).
One day, while Judy and I were out walking, I saw something beautiful and bemoaned the fact I didn’t have a camera with me. “You have to take a picture with your inner eye,” she told me. It was something her media arts teacher, the very talented and bighearted Matt Hockett, taught her. “He said when we take special note of something beautiful, we carry it with us, and it is a gift forever.”
I’ve remembered that, and I was reminded of it when we recently watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Photographer Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn) has gone to great effort to take a picture of the reclusive snow leopard, but when it finally appears, he moves his head away from the camera.
Walter Mitty asks him, “When are you going to take it?”
Sean says, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
“Stay in it?” Mitty asks.
“Yeah. Right there. Right here.”
This scene in turn reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a friend. We talked about not living in the past or the future but accepting the present moment as exactly where (or when) God wants us to be. We rob ourselves of His intent in our lives when we fail or refuse to stay in the present. We discussed the “waiting patiently” so often mentioned in the Psalms–that perhaps it is not waiting in the sense of wanting the moment or time period to pass so we can experience something different, but it is waiting in that place/time with the expectation that there is purpose in the moment/time period itself, no matter how difficult it is. We brainstormed other things that seem to relate, such as the “abiding” that Christ emphasizes in John 15. We brought in the creation of time, and how God has made and is making a day specifically for her and another specifically for me–with some points of overlap (the Amplified version speaks of it as God “bringing about” a day). That wowed us! We used the words “stay,” “sojourn,” and “continue” to help us grasp the idea of living in the present moment in a God-honoring way.
I’ve been practicing taking “photos” with my inner eye: the snail-like trail I leave behind me when I walk through the wet grass at the dog park, and how the sun’s early rays turn it silver; the house sparrow swaying on a thin limb above a gathering of other small birds–the white band around his neck reminds me of a clerical collar, and I imagine him delivering a well-crafted sermon to his audience; the exquisite spider web that glistens with dew.
Perhaps we can also practice the active treasuring of each moment, and as we practice we can learn to rejoice and be glad in each day, in each moment (Psalm 118:24). We can see our days with an inner eye that is informed by eternity and Truth, and we can carry them within as gifts that remind us of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty.
It was a Saturday morning after a late Friday night. Husband out of town. Schedule packed with kids’ activities and cleaning my messy house (I don’t mind laundry or dishes, but whole-house cleaning brings out my nasty).
I was still in bed but mentally working through my to-do list when I heard my younger three coming down the stairs. I hopped out of bed… and discovered I’d gotten up on the wrong side.
I was grumpy—from the get-go!
They came in with iPad in hand, a Youtube Disney music video blaring.
More grumpy. “Can’t you guys start off the day with a book or a game? Why do you have to go straight to screen time?”
“We’ll just watch this one video, and then we’ll be done, Mom.”
I grunted my assent and went upstairs to begin de-cluttering so I could then clean.
iPad still going.
iPad still going.
Deeper grumpiness, and the homework-and-craft-covered dining room table wasn’t improving my mood.
I stomped downstairs. “I told you guys to stop watching videos after that first one.”
Wide, innocent eyes. “It’s the same video, Mom.”
I looked at the screen, and, yes, it was the same 36-minute long Youtube video.
“You knew I didn’t mean you could watch a video that’s more than a half hour long!”
Suddenly one of my sons was right in front of me. He put his arms around my neck and held his face up for a kiss.
And, honest to goodness, this is what came out of my mouth. “I don’t want a kiss right now. I’m trying to fuss at you and your brother and sister.”
That was when the Holy Spirit smacked me upside the head.
What I’d said sunk in, and I looked down into the face of the son who is getting a lot better at reading my moods—and who wants to fix me when I clearly display my brokenness.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’re right. I do want a kiss.”*
I said my “sorry”s for my grumpiness, got my kids doing something more productive than watching videos (though they would certainly disagree with my evaluation), and went back to straightening.
But though I was more aware and cautious of my mood, I was still in it.
When I went upstairs to check on how Maddie was doing at cleaning her room, she asked me, “Mom, would you want to have devotions with me?”**
Another Holy Spirit moment: I answered, “Mads, that’s a great idea.”
We read it together on her bed.
Then we looked at each other. “That was exactly what I needed to hear,” I told her. “Thank you.”
She nodded wisely. “That happens a lot for me, too.”
In one morning I received the kiss of forgiveness and the olive branch of restoration.
Oh, the lessons I learn from my children.
*The reason I didn’t use a name for this child is that he is at the age when he doesn’t want too much affection in public (“Only side hugs, please, Mom.) and doesn’t want to be called “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “baby” unless it’s inside the walls of our home. So if you’re reading this and you actually know my family, don’t mention this story to any of my kids and please don’t repeat it to any kids they know. If you do, my days of hugging my son may be over for a really long time.
**We gave Maddie the kids’ version of Jesus Calling for Easter. I highly recommend it for kids aged about 8 and up. I used it a couple years ago with high school students, and many of them still preferred the kid version over the adult one.
This past Sunday, in the second service at church, we talked about guilt and grace in parenting. One of the reflection questions was, “What’s something you feel guilty about in regards to your parenting?”
My answer was this: Not wanting to be a parent sometimes.
I know that’s terrible (see, there’s the guilt!), but it’s true. Sometimes I don’t want to be a mom. There are times I want to run away and simply be me (whatever that means!).
I’m struggling with this off-and-on right now. I could pretend I’m not, but I’m hoping that writing about it will help (it usually does) and that maybe some other mom who’s feeling the same guilt will read this and say, “Oh, I’m not the only one.” (And some other woman who is struggling with infertility or loss will hate me.
I’m thankful our God is big enough for all of it!)
I think it’s the never-ending nature of parenthood that wears me down. I remember a conversation I had with a fellow teacher when my own children were still toddlers and her boys were nearly grown. She had just lamented that they were still leaving dishes in the sink for her to wash. “Plus,” she added, “at this age they’re facing choices that could have really long-term consequences. I pray harder for them now than I ever have.” She shook her head. “Parenting is never finished!”
I was horrified.
“Never, Lynnette?” I asked her. “Come on—give me something to hold onto here.”
I like teaching my kids; I love laughing with them; I enjoy going for walks and watching them discover things; I treasure our deep conversations.
But it doesn’t end there. A parent’s responsibility list is endless. There is no task for which a parent can legitimately say, “Well, I’ll let someone else deal with that—not my job.”
So in infancy we do it ALL! (At least they’re really, really cute!)
But as they grow older, the tug-of-war begins. We know that at some point they will need to take care of themselves, and we can’t just dump them at age 18 on some college’s or workplace’s doorstep and say, “I’ve delivered them safe and sound; now you teach them to work and clean and cook and manage their money and be generally responsible adults who contribute to society.”
So we must, bit by bit, make them responsible for those things as they grow.
They don’t like that!
At least my kids don’t. They resist my efforts to saw through the umbilical cord. They would be perfectly happy if I continued to cook every meal for them, clean up every mess, wash all their clothes and put them neatly away, help them with homework, etc. (That should be capitalized: ETCETERA.)
Yesterday a friend in her early thirties told me she and her husband are praying about having children. “I’m ready to stop working for awhile,” she said, and then she laughed at the irony (which she doesn’t entirely get yet—but that’s a good thing because quite a few of us would NEVER have embarked on parenthood had we known in advance how hard it actually is.)
Anyway, she asked me how old I was when I had my kids (30 and 34 [twins]—and then 38 when Patrick came home) and how I would compare my pre-kids stage to my post-.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” I told her. I didn’t want to discourage her, despite my current wrestlings, so I added, “but, boy, have I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t realize I was impatient until I had children—and I was a middle-school teacher! God has revealed so much to me about the depth of my need and the greatness of His sufficiency through my being a mom.”
Then I looked at her face—a little shocked—and realized my addition hadn’t exactly been encouraging.
“It’s a good thing,” I said. “It really is.”
But it’s a lot of growth, too.
And maybe I’m not so unlike my kids in this respect: They don’t like it when I shove them into greater responsibility; I don’t like it when God does the same with me.
Yet it’s so, so good!
I don’t have a whole lot of parental wisdom. Much of the time I’m doing it in desperation, in blind hope.
Not so God. He parents me with purpose, inexhaustible sufficiency, and vast knowledge of who I am and who He knows I will/can be.
He does the same for my children.
And when I wrestle through my desire to run away and then through the guilt that follows, He comes alongside me, and I grow more–in trust and in perseverance.
So, somehow my bumbling efforts at parenting are used for growth in my children AND in me!
What a miracle!
Here are a few verses I’ve thought about during this latest bout of wrestling, because, really, my frustrations ARE light and momentary, though they don’t feel like it in the moment. These verses remind me to keep the long view in mind.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Just read a post by Donald Miller at the Storyline Blog. He wrote about two lists he makes each morning before he starts working. Here’s what he writes about the first one:
IF I COULD LIVE TODAY OVER AGAIN I’D
I borrowed this concept from renowned psychologist Viktor Frankl who taught his patients to treat each day as though they were living it for a second time, only this time around to not make the same mistakes. It’s an amazing little mind trick, actually. What it does is cause us to evaluate the decisions we will make that day even before we make them and as such avoid regret. It’s a powerful tool to help us not live in reaction but instead to accept our God-given agency. When I sit and think about what I’d do if I could live today over again, I always write down that I’d spend more time in prayer or invest in close friends. My life becomes much more relational because I make this list.
This made me think of the last post I wrote (about the inevitability of regrets). They’re still inevitable, but I thought this was a great idea and I wanted to share it. It makes me think of the movie Groundhog Day–in which the jerky main character is stuck re-living the same day until he finally gets it “right.” He gains a different view of time and other people and, ultimately, of life through his second (and third and fourth) time through the same day.
If you’d like the read Miller’s entire post, here’s the link: http://storylineblog.com/2013/10/21/two-lists-i-make-every-morning/.
Thanks for reading,
Last week I overheard a conversation. The guy said, “A few years back, I rode the train every day to the job I was working then. That time became my listening time, my prayer time. I often prayed for other people in my train compartment, and for those coming and going.
“One day I felt led to pray for a woman sitting across from me. By all appearances, she looked homeless. The urge grew stronger. I wasn’t simply supposed to pray for her. I was supposed to approach her and ask if I could pray with her.
But my stop was coming up, and if I missed it, I would be late to work.”
He paused and looked directly into the eyes of the other person, owning the moment and his own admission. “I didn’t pray with her. I got off the train.
“And I’ve never forgotten that.”
I have regrets, too. Sometimes they are like that man’s, disregarded urges to reach out to a stranger. More often, mine are with people who are part of my family. I have mornings when I drop the kids off at school with a crummy feeling in the pit of my stomach. In the quietness of the post-drop-off, I examine why and realize it’s because of missed opportunities. I fussed instead of listening; I rushed instead of taking a moment to be still and assess; I lost it instead of laughing over something small.
We will always have regrets like these. It’s part of being human, being stuck in time, in moment-by-moment living.
The awful thing about “little” regrets like these is that the choices don’t seem nearly so difficult when we have the privilege of retrospection. In hindsight, I’m sure the teacher would have chosen to be late to work just that one day. I can almost always look back and see the humor in a mess or situation that at the time caused me frustration.
Yet the solution is not simple. It has no formulaic answer. I know that prayer—lots and lots of cries for help—is required. Slowing down helps. “Living at the pace of faith.” (Gotta admit—I stole that one from a church billboard, which has been making me think every time I pass it.)
But when we forget to pray, when slowing down doesn’t seem to be an option, when we’ve been chewed up and spit out by the pace of life, there is the constant of all constants: grace. We need blessed, real grace to actually remember to pray and slow down and live in faith. We also need it because the regrets will continue. We set ourselves up for guilt and shame if we think we can live without regrets, without missing the mark again and again and again.
This is messy sanctification, but it’s real, and it takes us, bit by bit, into a deep assurance that His grace is always greater than our regrets.
I write so often about feeling overwhelmed, I wonder if people think it’s my constant condition.
Well, it’s not 24/7, at least not most days.
But daily, at some point, by one thing or another?
Last Monday I was overwhelmed by my schedule, by the keeping up with this and that. As I drove the kids to school that morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the teetering tower of papers on the corner of my desk at home. These were “school papers”–all the ones my kids kept bringing home from school and others I’d been handed during back-to-school night two weeks before. I’d put off dealing with “the tower” because I knew I would discover several forms I needed to fill out, many new dates to put in my calendar, and–at this point–a couple of deadlines I’d already missed.
Though “the tower” was on my mind, I couldn’t do anything about it right then, because from 10:30-12:30 on Mondays, I help out in an ESL class run by World Relief (worldrelief.org). I started doing this last year, but I was in the “bridge” class then, which “bridged the gap” for refugees whose English was almost proficient enough for them to take college courses. This year I’m pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum, helping with the lower section of the “Job Class.” Students in this class are the primary breadwinners for their families. They need jobs quickly, and this class is a crash course in conversational English and American work culture. Last week we worked on giving/receiving firm handshakes and pronouncing numbers, particularly dollar amounts. After a student completes 60 hours of training, a World Relief job counselor begins working with him/her to find a job.
I often ask these students, “When did you come to the U.S.?” and the answers range from “last week” to “six weeks ago.” After only 60 hours of class, they will enter a work environment with bosses and coworkers who speak a language they are not proficient in, in a culture very, very different from their own.
I panic for them just thinking about all that.
So back to last Monday morning. Since the World Relief class is closer to my kids’ school than it is my house, I go to a Dunkin Donuts after I drop them off and write from there until it’s time for me to go to World Relief. So there I sat, feeling overwhelmed with my own life and wondering how on earth I was going to be of any use in the job class when I was such a wreck myself. I opened BibleGateway.com to look at the “verse of the day,” trying to change my focus.
It was James 3:13 in the New Living Translation, and the second part jumped out at me: “…doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”
Now, I don’t claim to have wisdom (being regularly overwhelmed quickly cures me of feeling I do), but this morning I was certainly feeling humble. I was amazed by the refugees’ pluck and determination.
Suddenly my overwhelmed-ness didn’t seem so negative. God had put me in exactly the right frame of mind to honor the people I would work with that morning. My humility sure didn’t come from my own wisdom but from God’s. He had put a task in front of me and then equipped me to do it in the way He wanted me to.
I stopped thinking of the leaning Tower of Papers on my desk and settled into work, and then I went off to class where I shook the hands of men who have never encountered a female boss before and need to be prepared to do just that. I helped a woman say the breathy form of “th” and we laughed and laughed together at all my antics (because it can be really funny when you stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth and hold a piece of paper in front of your mouth so it moves when you say “think” and “three.”) I listened to a man practice the difference between $3,146 and $31.46.
Maybe being overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it simply makes us aware we’re human.
Just like everybody else.