Finding, part 1

Two weekends ago, seven of the eight of us (Kelly was at a game with a friend) went downtown for the evening with Dave’s brother who was visiting. We wandered up and down the Magnificent Mile enjoying the lights and then trekked west to the Portillo’s on Ontario. Before eating, Judy (our older international “daughter”) went to the restroom, took out her retainers (a recent expenditure—they’re not cheap!), and wrapped them in a white paper towel from the restroom (some of you already know where this is going!). She set them next to her plate while she ate.

Near the end of our meal, a Portillo’s employee kept buzzing around picking up trash. She was so quick and quiet doing this, we almost didn’t notice her! When we completely finished, we continued the cleanup (you bus your own tables at Portillo’s), and Judy suddenly realized her retainers were not next to her plate.

Quiet panic. I assumed one of us had thrown them away, so I turned to the trashcan where we’d put everything we cleared. A man in a Portillo’s uniform with a nametag reading “Sherman” was just about to empty the trash. We explained the situation to him, and he helped me look through BOTH of the side-by-side cans. In fact, he stopped me a couple times when I was about to pick up a particularly soggy something and lifted it with his own gloved hand. “I should have gotten you a pair of gloves,” he remarked.

No retainers in the first can. Judy was rigid at this point. Dave had already helped her go through every pocket in her coat and every compartment in her purse. Em had checked under and around the table.

We reached the bottom of the second can. I saw something pink shining through a white paper. I grabbed it.

Not retainers.

I looked up and met Sherman’s very, very sympathetic eyes. “Thank you,” I told him. He nodded. I turned to Dave. “I’m going to go wash my hands before we leave.”

On my way up the stairs, I prayed. “Please, God, by some miracle let those retainers be in the bathroom. I know she brought them down to the table, but if You want to just re-locate them right now and have them on the counter when I walk in, that would be truly incredible. She is never going to stop beating herself up about this! Please, God, a miracle!”

No retainers on the counter.

As I came back down the steps I saw my brother-in-law, Scott, had an arm around Judy. All the other kids were gathered around them. My heart sank. She’s crying, I thought. I made it all the way up to the group before they noticed me. I reached out a hand to Judy when Scott saw me. “He found them,” he said. “Sherman found them!”

Judy was crying, but they were tears of joy!

I turned to Dave, and he gestured to Sherman, who was several feet away, emptying a different set of trash containers, these farther from our table. “He decided to look through those, too,” Dave said. “He thought the Portillo’s lady might have taken them for trash and put them there, so he looked before he emptied the cans.”

I went over to Sherman. His grin was broad, but he was a little embarrassed. “Thank you,” I told him. “You are an answer to prayer! I was praying for a miracle!”

“Me, too,” said Scott.

Sherman raised his pointer finger up. “Wasn’t me,” he said. “That was God.”

I was crying by this point. Dave followed Sherman to thank him again. He tried to give him a gift to thank him, but Sherman refused. Dave found a manager and told him what Sherman had done. A few days later I visited Portillo’s website and filed a formal statement of gratitude.

As we left Portillo’s that night, one of my fifth-grade twins said, “Hey, that was a God sighting!”

“Yeah,” said the other twin. “I’m going to write it in my notebook at school! This week I won’t have to think and think to remember one.”

“They happen every day!” I reminded them. “We just don’t always have our ‘eyes’ open enough to see them.”

I hung back to where Judy was walking with Emily. I hugged her. “Don’t beat yourself up,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, and God just gave you and all of us a miracle. Give yourself over to it and rejoice!”

She nodded, tears still in her eyes.

Thank you, Sherman! Thank You, God, for having him in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time so he could be a testimony of Your faithfulness and greatness to us.

Abiding–even in traffic

This is the slightest bit fuzzy, but I couldn't resist blowing this up a bit to see this beautiful bird's detail. He was hanging out in my yard last week, and I managed to get a couple shots of him.

This is the slightest bit fuzzy, but I couldn’t resist blowing this up a bit to see this beautiful bird’s detail. He was hanging out in my yard last week, and I managed to get a couple shots of him.

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.

Abide.

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.

Miracles.

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.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit be with you all.”

No way!

But yes!

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.

Needing and finding

Speaking of Chai (she's mentioned late in this post), here's a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she's "supposed" to get on.

Speaking of Chai (she’s mentioned late in this post), here’s a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she’s “supposed” to get on.

This morning* I crushed the spirit of one my children.

At least that’s what it felt like.

It was over an organizational issue we’ve been wrestling with ever since school started (well, actually, for years). It’s also an issue that this child refuses to really face as a problem. I hear “I’ve got this” and “No big deal” often enough that it makes me want to scream.

And this morning I did.

“When are you going to see this as a problem?”

“When are you going to admit you need help?”

“When are you going to stop telling me ‘I got this’ and start listening to what I and so many others are telling you?”

Oh, there was more—though God, in His grace, stopped me from saying at least some of the destructive things that were on the tip of my tongue.

But I went on and on. Not a dripping faucet, oh, no, a full-open tap.

And my child cried.

And I felt like, pardon my French, shit.

During it, following it, twinges of it even now.

After the tears, after my anger, I pulled my child aside in the kitchen, held this precious one close and said, “I can’t let you go to school without you understanding that my frustration doesn’t mean I don’t love you just the way you are.”

(And at the same time I said that, I thought, but that’s not what my earlier words and anger communicated!)

I affirmed this child’s wonderful qualities of kindness and generosity and oblivion to differences in other people and unawareness of standards that others set. This child is individual and easygoing and full of so much love.

“But you’re running into some things that are showing you that you have some areas of weakness, too—just like we all do—and until you admit them, you can’t grow in these areas. Do you understand that?” I asked.

My child nodded.

“I’m so sorry for the way I said it, though. There may have been things that needed to be said, but they shouldn’t have been said in anger, and I know I blew it and hurt you. I was wrong.”

My child nodded—but I knew that my apology, which also included “something to work on,“ was a lot for a kid to process.

We got lunches packed. We drove to school.

This child was the last to get out of the car “It’s really okay for you to be mad at me,” I said. “I did you wrong this morning.”

My child paused. Then said, “I love you, Mom.”

I was thankful there wasn’t an immediate statement of forgiveness. I was thankful this child was taking the time and the right to process.

But I barely made it down the carpool lane and around the corner before I began sobbing.

Oh, God, please heal the hurt I caused, I cried. Please come behind me with love and grace and mercy.

Heart churning, I tried to remember all I’d said, tried to sort out the good, the bad, the ugly. Some things felt as if they needed to be said—but in that way?

Then I simply quit, stopped my sorting and picking. “You’ll have to show me, Holy Spirit,” I whispered. “Reveal to me what You want me to see, help me to simply acknowledge my wrong, and then show me how to communicate that to my child. And, please, oh, please, draw this child close to Your heart.”

Home again, I cried more, on my knees, next to my bed.

It wasn’t completely about this morning any more. I’d just had a glimpse of how very fragile we all are, how easily relationships are damaged, how easily I could have said (and maybe did) something my child will carry through the rest of life.

And here's a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

And here’s a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

The dog heard me and came into my room. She pushed her way between me and the side of the bed and nuzzled my ear, and I was grateful for this warm-bodied creature sent by God Himself to comfort.

I found myself suddenly singing, the song itself a gift:

Lord, I come, I confess,

Bowing here, I find my rest

Without You, I fall apart

You’re the One that guides my heart.

Lord, I need you, oh, I need You,

Every hour I need you.

My one defense, my righteousness,

Oh God, how I need You.

What followed was a day of living into that song, cycling through needing and finding again and again.

Finding rest and rightness with God, and later, blessed reconciliation with my child.

And then, at the close of the day, another gift.

From the bathroom, where my child was getting ready for bed, I heard singing.

When the door opened, I heard it clear.

“Lord, I need You, oh, I need You/Every hour I need You.”

“Hon, why are you singing that song?” I asked.

A smile. A shrug. “Don’t know. Just came to mind.”

We have a Lord who guides—and heals—our hearts.

Oh God, how we need You.

*I wrote this yesterday–about yesterday.

Not so “ordinary”

There is no such thing as ordinary.
The daily grind, whatever it is for each of us, becomes “ordinary,” but it is anything but. In reality, what we consider “ordinary” is supernatural, filled with the common grace of God.
I remember an idea from a Tim Keller sermon (he’s been a favorite of late): Does someone in your life love you? Is there someone to hold your hand? Does someone ask you how your day is going and sometimes even listen when it’s not going so well?
Grace—it’s all grace. You didn’t do anything to deserve any of that, and without Grace, you wouldn’t experience any of it.
I remember a comment I heard a family counselor make on a radio show. “We humans are not hard-wired for real relationship. Deep down, if we are truthful, we have a “what’s in it for me?” expectation about every single relationship we are in—even the parent-to-child relationship. The only reason I can see for any human relationship retaining even a trace of goodness is completely the grace of God.”
Thinking of these two comments, I try to imagine “ordinary” with all common grace removed. The first images that pop up are from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book The Road, in which lawlessness prevails; the strong prey upon any weaker than they, with no pity; and no “human decency” remains. The one relationship readers would call “normal”—that of a father and son who care for each other—is in stark contrast to everyone else. For the sake of food and shelter, people will do anything, even kill and eat their own children.
For those who have not read The Road, just imagine “ordinary” without common grace as the worst moments of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, as the inside of a brothel; as the continual torture inflicted upon prisoners of war.
In this kind of “ordinary,” there is no such thing as a mother’s and father’s natural love for children, no sense of morality or “right,” no conscience at all. There is no such thing as respect and concern for one’s fellow man.
This is hard to fathom in my “ordinary” world. Common grace is so, well, common. But if God withdrew His active goodness–which is present in this world without us giving Him a single reason to give it—the result would be hellish, brutal.
This should transform my idea of “ordinary”—which I far too often think of as a burden. It should enable me to see my ordinary—with its daily grind and up-and-down relationships and disappointments and boredom and longing for “something more”—as truly a miracle.
When I think of my family and friends as miraculous gifts, then all the daily grind related to relationship with them can be transformed as well: meal prep, grocery shopping, carpooling, laundry, maybe even cleaning (though I’m not sure if that one fits in my “ordinary” category—extraordinary perhaps?).
We humans often want a change IN our ordinary. We often covet the “ordinary” of other people. “If only…” we think. But, in truth, a change in mindset, not a change in circumstances, is what transforms our ordinary.
And that, God reminds us, is a job the He is eager to do for and with us.
Hallelujah!
Verses for study:
Romans 12:2– The Amplified has so much richness, but the New Living lays it out plain and clear. The link above takes you to a page with both translations side by side.
Romans 8:6– This link, too, takes you to both the Amp and the NLT side by side.

Communion: a refresher course in the Gospel

The past three Januarys, I've taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ's sacrifice for us).

The past three Januarys, I’ve taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ’s sacrifice for us).

Communion during my childhood felt like the bridge challenge my brother and I gave ourselves whenever we were on road trips. We’d see a bridge a little ways ahead, breathe fast in-out, in-out, and then, as soon as the car was out over space rather than earth, try to hold our breath till we made it to the other side. Our faces turned pink with the effort; we stared at each other with wide eyes, daring the other to hold on just a little longer; and we sucked in fresh lungsful of air as soon as we were back on solid ground.

Communion in the churches I attended as a child and teen popped up like those bridges. On rare and random Sundays the silver towers of tiny crackers and grape-juice-filled cups betrayed its inclusion in the service.
And I would hold my breath—because “do not take communion in an unworthy manner” had been presented to me as a flagrant sin, and I was terrified of committing it.
First came the searching for past sins. I began at perhaps a week before and scoured my actions and thoughts up to that present moment. Discover-confess; discover-confess.
Then I held on. My main thought—prayer?—was “Don’t do anything. Please, God, don’t let me commit any new sins. Blank mind, blank mind. Don’t look at anyone.”
I simply had to make it till the two silver trays made their way past and the pastor said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Then the wafer was popped in the mouth. Hold it; try to be thankful in that moment—Remember, this is Christ’s sacrifice. A lot of pain went into my forgiveness!—don’t sin, don’t sin —then the juice—and a feeling of guilt at my enjoyment of the sweet taste.
Finally, the release of breath, the feeling that, if I were to sin at that point or thereafter, it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal.
Communion was not celebration; it was ordeal.
Not now.
First, Communion is no longer random—we participate in the Eucharist every Sunday at Church of the Resurrection—and, second, it no longer terrifies me.
This transformation began long before our change in churches. As I began to understand the Gospel more deeply, I understood there is no such thing as being “worthy to take communion,” just as there is no worthiness required or possible to receive salvation. My youthful fear of taking communion lightly actually pushed me into another unworthy way of taking it: as if I could earn it.
Communion at Rez (as attendees affectionately refer to our church) has fleshed this concept out even more. I cannot deny it was a shock to my fundamentally-brought-up soul to see tiny children taking the bread and cup my first Sunday. But week after week, as I watched little ones joyfully bounce up to accept the gifts, something began to resonate within me.
This, this, I wanted to shout one week, is the way to accept it. No pride, no self-awareness, in complete weakness, presenting nothing, simply ACCEPTING.
One Sunday this revelation became even more personal. I was processing a grudge during the sermon, and communion “popped up” for me like an unseen bridge. Suddenly the person next to me stood, and I realized it was our row’s turn to stand and go forward. A bit of the old panic struck. I’d done no preparation at all! How had this crept up on me?
But when I stepped up and the bread was pressed into my open palms, I understood it in yet another new, fresh way! Communion is like a refresher course in the Gospel: God saying, “Remember how helpless you were. Look at what I did to rescue you! You couldn’t prepare for it then. You can’t earn it now. Keep living in that truth! This is what leads to true gratitude and celebration!”
Like the children, I have nothing to offer, nothing to exchange, and I never will. I come forward, again and again, with a confidence that is based solely in Christ.
I simply accept the Gift.

Story Sharing

See the note at the bottom of the post for more information about Cafe K'Tizo.

See the note at the bottom of the post for more information about Cafe K’Tizo.

This morning I interviewed Kertes, a Wheaton Academy (WA) alumna who is now a student at Wheaton College, for a story I’m writing about WA’s international students (Kertes was one). I picked her up from her dorm and we drove to Café K’Tizo, where we enjoyed coconut matchas (Kertes’s suggestion) and she answered all my questions.
One of them was about her journey to faith in Christ. She began her answer by going back to her sophomore year, her first year at the Academy. She recounted how all the talk about Jesus that she heard in her Bible class and chapel and at church was new to her. “I didn’t know the deep meaning behind it,” she said. “I just thought it was something people did.” Her initial surprise and interest soon gave way to questions. She became defensive and confused by the gap she often saw between what Christians said they should do and actually did.
Her difficulties grew during her junior year, a tough year filled with pressures from a rigorous class load, college decisions, and troubles in her living situation. By the end of it, she was more than ready for summer break. “It will all be better when I get home,” she thought. And it was—but not quite. She did enjoy the deep relationship she has with her parents and good connections with friends, but somehow these weren’t enough. The very things she had thought would make her happy again, didn’t. “Something was still missing,” she said, and she found herself watching the non-Christians who surrounded her. She saw that they, too, were experiencing a deep emptiness.
When she returned to the States for her senior year, she went to church and a miracle happened. Christianity suddenly made sense to her. “I realized nothing else would ever fulfill me, only Jesus. All the knowledge I’d learned came back to me, and I was overwhelmed. I cried that morning in church and then took communion. That was when I came to the Lord. I realized I still didn’t understand everything about Christianity, but I believed it.”
Her life still had its pressures, but as she took those to God in prayer, she experienced His comfort. “My relationship with Christ gave me peace, and it changed me. I began looking at others’ needs rather than just my own.”
When she told her parents of her decision to become a Christian, her father shared with her that his own father, whom he never met, had been one, too. “That made me feel amazed,” Kertes said, “about how God had been working in my life.”
Our time was up then, and when we stood to go, Kertes thanked me. “No,” I said,” “Thank you. I love getting to hear testimonies of how God draws people to Himself.”
She smiled. “But it was also encouraging to me, to get to tell it and remember God’s work all over again.”
I dropped her off at the College and then drove home, her words running through my head. I was reminded of a conversation I had last spring during a meeting at church. Each person attending had shared a short testimony of seeing God’s faithfulness, and after the meeting, the young man sitting next to me turned to me and said, “I need this. When I’m in my everyday, individual life, I struggle with doubts and fears. Sometimes I wonder if Christianity is really true. What I’m experiencing individually doesn’t seem like it’s enough. But when we come together, proclaiming the faith and sharing all our stories of God working in us, it affirms reality. I am encouraged by others’ stories and reminded of God’s work past and present.”
An image jumped into my mind. “It’s like the stones the Israelites dropped in the river Jordan as they crossed into the Promised Land. One stone dropped in would barely make a ripple, but one after another, all together, the pile of them disrupted the flow of the river. My own stone of remembering God’s work for me is often not enough to disrupt the flow of my doubts and fears. But when you drop your stone on top of mine, and then another person does, and another, my doubts get disrupted, and the Truth is evident.”
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote, “For I am yearning to see you, that I may impart and share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen and establish you; that is, that we may be mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul, the great apostle, understood that his own faith benefited when he heard others’ testimonies.
Let’s share stones of remembrance with each other today.

*I’m plugging here for Café K’Tizo, which is owned and operated by Judy and Bruce Duncan, who love Jesus and love people of all cultures and have combined their loves [including tea, of course] in this absolutely wonderful café/teashop. If you’re in the Wheaton area, check it out; if not, you can order K’Tizo teas online.

They shall know we are His…

Can I see God in pain?
In the eye-closing brilliance of a warm sun, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sound of a child’s laughter: symbols of what is “well” in this world, I see God. His goodness, beauty, sweetness.
But in pain?
Do I see God when I contemplate—or actually see—those trapped in poverty or sex slavery or sweatshops or starvation?
Do I see God in someone struggling with mental illness, addiction, or great physical pain?
What about in grief? When a family loses a beloved child, a woman her spouse?
In natural disasters, birth defects, and broken relationships?
Do I see God then?
I know—He says it plain—that suffering was not part of His design for us. The garden was replete with purpose, goodness, wholeness.
But that is not the world we live in. So, does His beauty shine in pain? In the brokenness of this world and its people?
Or could it shine through?
When we look into heartache, what bears the most beauty is when those outside the deepest circle of pain enter in it. They open their hearts and arms; they give of their time and money, and they step into the trouble, into the mess, into the nitty-gritty.
We smile through our tears when we see this happen, or, in the deepest of grief, we nod in gratitude—that the brokenness is not reigning supreme, that an unselfish choice (or, more likely, a whole series of them) is beating back the insistent darkness. Selfishness is innate to all of us, so we know that to choose discomfort over comfort—when comfort is an option—is not natural.
It must come from above.
It must, just as it did when Christ did this for us, “stepping in” for us, bearing the full force of God’s justice.
His beauty shone through pain on the cross.
And when we follow Him in this act, bearing others’ “crosses,” stepping into the trouble of others, His beauty shines forth again.
How shall they know we are His?
By love.
His love.

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing--always a huge hit!

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing–always a huge hit!

The piece above was started a year ago, just after I returned from a trip to Africa. I begin a new journal every school year (a new Word document), and that piece has greeted me every time I opened my journal for the past twelve months. I’ve tinkered with it throughout the year, and it bears the influence of the events of those months.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

I’ve just returned from another trip, this time a journey by car to family in the Southeast, East Coast, and the Midwest. It’s been a wonderful trip, completely worth the 40 hours we spent in the car. Yesterday, when I opened my journal and looked at the piece above yet again, I realized that I saw evidence of that very kind of love in each of the homes I’ve visited on this trip. Each one does have interests in other countries, with the poorest of the poor, with those unreached by the Gospel. They give; they go; they send; they serve.

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

But the testimony that stood out most to me is the way they have allowed their very homes to be used. Each has set aside the American dream of the home being a castle: undisturbed, controlled, and, most importantly, “MINE and for my comfort.” The pattern of their lives and their homes are often in states of disruption because they’ve set aside this dream. The invasion of our family of six was only a minor blip of disturbance to them because they’ve had singles/couples/families settle in for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. And they do it over and over, whenever God brings a need to their attention and puts it on their hearts.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

I was talking with one of them about this, and she said, “I’m learning that disruption is good for me. Discomfort is good. It shakes me up. It makes me come face to face with my own issues and shortcomings and brings me to the end of myself. Stagnation and holding tight to what is ‘mine’ does no good for my soul.”
This kind of hospitality can be downright sticky. The outcomes often aren’t smooth-edged and wrapped with a bow. They’ve sometimes turned their lives—

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

and the lives of their families—upside down.
But they’ve stepped in and loved.
And it’s so very clear they are His.

Being “Mom”

*An audio recording of this piece is at the bottom of the post.

Weariness is an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood—no matter how committed you are to it.

A few weeks ago, at the check-in desk for Women’s Bible Study at church, I filled out my nametag next to a young mom with a preschooler perched on her hip. She pressed the tag onto her sweater. “Mommy,” her little girl said, pointing a forefinger at it.

“Well, I’m also ‘Julie,’” her mother told her.

“No, no ‘Julie,’” the preschooler protested. She jabbed the nametag again. “Mommy.”

Her mother smiled, a tired smile.

And I wondered if she felt, in that moment, as if she’d lost any identity other than “Mommy.” But then I thought that perhaps I was projecting my own sometimes fear that my children will lock me into the “mom box” and throw away the key. I remembered a recent conversation with them. Someone had been complaining about having to go to school, and I decided not to say, yet again, “Remember that in many countries, children would jump at the chance to go to school.”

Instead I said, “I would love to go back to school.”

Their looks condemned me to the loony bin. “I would!” I told them. “I keep looking at these two programs of study and thinking about applying.”

They didn’t even consider it.

“You can’t go back to school,” one of them said. “You’re our mom!”

Yet God does something supernatural in our hearts when we become mother to a child.

I was volunteering at a World Relief job class for immediately-arrived refugees. A young woman approached me, a mock application in her hands. She pointed to the question at the bottom of the form. “Children? Yes or No.” I put my hand, palm-down, a couple feet from the floor. “Little ones. Children. Do you have children?” She nodded. “Yes, I have.” She cradled her arms and rocked them back and forth. “A baby?” I asked. She nodded again. Then, “In my country. Baby there.” Her friend, from the same country but even younger, stepped forward. “She is mother there. Not mother here.”

I nodded and kept my face smooth, but my heart cried out in protest. No! I thought. We carry our children in our hearts. She is a mother here and everywhere. It is a gift of God, but when our children are lost or hurt or rebellious, it rips our hearts apart.

We forget at times the greatness of this gift, but moments of ferocious love remind us.

As I made my way down the hall of my children’s elementary school, a first grader walking past said, “Hey, you’re PJ’s step-mom.”

Something flared up, red and hot, in my chest. I blocked it from rising up my throat, from coloring my voice. “No-o-o, I’m not.”

“Oh, yeah,” the little guy continued, “not step-mom, adoption mom, right?”

I was well past him by then, so he didn’t hear my response.

“Just ‘Mom,’” I whispered. “I’m his mom.”

Dry Wells

A reading of this post is at its end.

I really DO like dandelions--and wild violets.

I really DO like dandelions–and wild violets.

The well has run dry. At first it was simply, “I have to push off writing a blog post until I meet other writing deadlines.” Then, during a weekend when I spent MUCH time in the car running errands, I noticed an emptiness. No strings of thoughts connected in my head. Phrases popped up, but a blog post generally requires more than my observations on the nude dandelion stems I noticed when stopped at a red light. (Trying to put together a line that sounded like poetry, I played with ideas like “a tangle of hollow stems, wound round each other, trying to hide their nakedness” and “look-at-me blossoms withered to fluff. Now even that has blown away”).

But not only did that seem very negative toward dandelions–which I like–it was as far as I got. The thought trail ended, and my mind jumped next to “what to fix for dinner.”

Still, there wasn’t time to actually write, so the vague feeling of emptiness was easily shoved aside.

But this afternoon, the deadlines aren’t as pressing, so I’m writing a blog post.

And nothing is coming!

Usually panic would already be fluttering (“Will I ever be able to write again? Am I done?”), but today I’ve been able to pin its wings and tell it to “Settle down” in a firm voice.

It has.

That’s Grace.

Grace in painful kindness lets my well get bone dry so I stop looking at it and stop trying to sponge up the droplets. Grace helps me to see the cracks in my cistern and, oddly, to be at peace about my own brokenness.

Then Grace turns me to the spring that never runs dry.

Sometimes this Source is like a waterfall, spilling over me with power. Today, though, it is a gently bubbling brook, smooth, with no undercurrent. I will eventually wade, will plunge in, but for right now I am content to stretch out in the quiet shallows.

Grace knows exactly what I need.

I am very grateful for this, not only for the trust I am able to rest in today in regards to my writing, but for the understanding that this applies to my motherhood, to my marriage, to my friendships, to my running of a busy household.

My wells run dry—much of the time.

Making way for Grace.

And that’s good.

NOTE: I wrote this yesterday afternoon. This morning, at my church’s women’s Bible study, we sang “You’ll Come” by Hillsong United. These words jumped out at me: “You’ll come, let Your glory fall/As You respond to us/Spirit rain/Flood into our thirsty hearts again/You’ll come, You’ll come.” Here’s a link to the entire song performed by Hillsong: “You’ll Come.”

NOTE 2: I had already discovered some beautiful verses in Isaiah 58 that are incredibly inspiring (who doesn’t want to be known as a “repairer” and “restorer” of things/people who are broken!?). Then, also in the Bible study, I was reminded of the following verses in John 7. Enjoy–and thanks for reading.

John 7:37-39a (click on the link to read the entire chapter)

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

Isaiah 58:10-12 (click on the link to read the entire chapter)

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Lessons from my children

DSC_1377It 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.

Five minutes.

iPad still going.

Ten minutes.

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!”

Still wide-eyed.

“Seriously!”

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.”

Seriously!

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

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.