Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Light Shines Through


Earlier this year I blogged about a quote that resonated with me:


And I think it resonated with many of you because of the blessed dichotomy it represents: We can be broken and useful. Uncelebrated and influential.

There is great relief in knowing “broken” and “useful” are not contrary terms when it comes to you and me. We are comforted knowing that anonymity does not preclude influence.

Think of Mary. A teenage wallflower from a dot-on-the-map town.

The world did not know her name.

When Gabriel proclaimed the work God had prepared for her, she was greatly troubled. No one knew better than Mary that she wasn’t influential or celebrated.

She wasn’t even married.


Perhaps your circumstances seem flawed. Your heart broken. Your faith fractured.

These are not obstacles for God. They are opportunities for Him to accomplish His work through you. God delights in shining the Light of Christ through the cracks of broken, willing vessels.

Even you and me.

Today I have the privilege of blogging at (in)courage.me. I've written a little piece about how God's Light Shines Through. Click here to join me over there!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Almost There


Two of the most hopeful words in the English language:

“Almost there.”


Perhaps it was my partiality for rich lyrics.

Or perhaps it was the nostalgic voices from the soundtrack of my teenage years.

But when I heard this new Christmas song, I was riveted.

Take a listen.

 

 
 


Mary, full of innocence, Carrying the Holy prince,

You're almost there, you're almost there
Mother of the Living Word, Trusting in the voice you heard
You're almost there, you're almost there
You're almost where the angels see, Redemption's plan unfolding
All hope is in the Son you'll bear,
You're almost there,
A lonely road, a willing heart,
Pray for strength to do your part,
You're almost there, you're almost there,
Trust the Father to provide, Bread of heaven prophesied,
You're almost there, you're almost there,
You're almost where the waiting ends, Delivering the life within,
The answered prayer, Emmanuel,
You're almost there,
You're almost where the journey ends, Where death will die and life begins,
The answered prayer, Emmanuel,
You're almost, almost there.
 
I wonder how many times similar words were whispered…
…to Mary as they neared Bethlehem.
…in the hearts of God’s people who remembered He promised a Delivering King.
…to Simeon as he waited for the Consolation of Israel.
…to Anna as her fragile frame hobbled through the crowd toward a sparse celebration.
 
“You’re almost where the waiting ends, where death will die and life begins.”
 
Such words put a lump in my throat and catch in my breath.
·        Suffering through prolonged seasons of isolation.
·        Restoring difficult relationships.
·        Toiling over a labor of love.
·        Recovering from illness.
·        Waiting to hear.
·        Delivering a baby.
 
You’re almost there!
 
The difficulty is in the ambiguity. “How much longer?" we demand.
But the blurry timeline is also the blessing. If we knew exactly how much longer, we may throw our hands in the air and buckle under the weight of despair.
Our hope is not in a clear timeline. Instead, our hope is walking with God through difficulty knowing He has the timeline in sharp focus. He knows exactly how much longer, and for reasons beyond our understanding, He’s planned it on purpose.
He’s whispering, “Take my hand. You’re almost there.”
 
How do these words comfort you?

 
 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bingo Tumbler Brain

Lately I’ve had a bad case of Bingo Tumbler Brain.

Photo by bridges&balloons
There are all these times, locations, obligations, privileges, people, places, and don’t-forget-tos tumbling around in the bingo cage atop my shoulders.

I’ve tried to write them all down on my calendar. I’ve locked them in my phone’s calendar app and tagged most of them with reminders. I’ve stuck post-it notes to my phone, purse, and steering wheel.

I’ve even been confronted by the boys for writing on my hands.

And yet, with all those heroic attempts at punctual organization, time keeps cranking the tumbler and the information goes round and round, mixing at random. The harder I focus on that one thing tumbling round and round-the more I try not to forget it-the dizzier I become.

Case in point: October 15 was National Take Your Parent to Lunch Day, and it was heavily promoted at our school. The ironic thing is that it’s all up to the parent to make it happen. As with much of parenting, you could call it a gift of grace: It costs the parent time, money, and maybe a little headache. It costs the little recipient nothing, and he delightfully receives it without apology.

The 15th also happens to be Levi’s special day. On the 15th of every month we try to do something together. Just Levi and me. Nothing fancy. Maybe a bike ride or a trip to the donut shop. So when National Take Your Parent to Lunch Day landed on his special day, Levi said, “Mom! This will work out perfectly!”

Indeed.

And in my ever-efficient, not so nurturing, bingo tumbler brain, I was thinking, Two birds with one stone. Check and check!

I wrote it on my calendar, put it in my phone with a 10:30 a.m. reminder to get to Subway before the rest of the parents, because I didn’t want to be bringing a Subway bag into the lunch room when the kids are lining up to leave. And as Levi hopped out of the car that morning, I rolled down the window and hollered cheerfully for Levi, Spencer and all the playground children to hear, “Don’t forget to say ‘sack lunch’ since I’m bringing Subway!”

I drove home to bust a few of those “don’t-forget-tos” out of the bingo cage.

ü  Don’t forget to call the exterminator.

ü  Don’t forget to buy ingredients for Zach’s Egyptian dessert...Friday…5th period…

ü  Don’t forget to return the movie you rented but never watched.

ü  Don’t forget to put the clothes in the dryer.

Check. Check. Check. And…whoops. Lots of clothes in the dryer and several baskets to fold. See what happened there? I forgot.

I drug four laundry baskets to the TV, popped in that movie so I wouldn’t waste the $3.70 I paid to rent it, and started folding.

And let me tell you, it was a good movie! In fact I gladly recommend The Book Thief. A friend said she liked the movie better than the book, and that is basically unheard of, so I thought it was probably worth my 90 minutes.

It has all the tragedy that comes with a WWII setting, but with a jewel of a story. And it’s a little longer than your average feature film, which I didn’t realize. 135 minutes to be exact. But I was fully engaged, and the bingo tumbler had come to a full stop.

So I was a teensy bit annoyed when my phone went, “Ding!”

I reached to read my text and almost fainted.

“Levi is in the lunchroom. Are you on your way?”

It was 11:47 a.m.

No shower.

No Subway.

I texted back: “Have him get school lunch. Be there in 15.”

Oh yeah… “If you see Spencer tell him to get a school lunch too.”

I broke into a sweat and started crying. Some demon in my head started laughing and chanting Loser! Loser! Disgusting Loser!

I grabbed my last best accessory, my hat, and jumped in the car. For 15 minutes I tried to pull it together. It’s just lunch. It happens to everyone. Levi doesn’t mind school spaghetti. But that same chanting demon was screaming louder, You cannot be trusted with the simplest task!

I ran to the door closest to the lunchroom in hopes of catching Levi before he left the lunch room. It was locked. I knocked on the outside door and a friend who recognized me, even in my panicked state (or was it because of that?) opened the door. I bumbled through my explanation, and she dug two fun-size candy bars out of her lunch bag and said, “Give them these.”

People, that is a gracious friend. When I’m is banging on the school door in a panic, look like a train wreck, and have fouled up a relatively easy task of motherhood, this friend let me in the school, and gave me a gift for my kiddos.

I found Levi in his classroom, called him into the hallway, began to apologize, and started getting weepy again. Which made him tear up. Which he blamed on being poked in the eye earlier and by golly, his eyes keep watering.

I pressed the little candy bar into his hand. He smiled, tore it open, and in two bites it was gone.

He went back to class.

I sat in the lunchroom by Spencer who did NOT enjoy the school’s spaghetti, and then I gave him the other candy bar.

I left the school, but I couldn’t let it go.

The bingo tumbler had started back up, and I kept reaching into my brain to retrieve the right time and location of the next thing I didn’t want to forget.

I felt a migraine coming on.

When I picked them up that afternoon I said again, “Guys, I’m just so sorry about forgetting today.”

Levi said, “Why are you so…” but he didn’t know how to finish.

In my head, that crazy demon finished the sentence with several ugly adjectives, but Spencer rescued us all by saying, “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

And I was reminded again that I have not yet surrendered the full space of the bingo tumbler to a mindset of grace, the message of the gospel.

Honestly, I want my boys to be a little mad at me. That’s what I’ve earned. I want to pay my friend back ten-fold in fun size-candy bars because that’s what she deserves. And I am struck again by the fact that I am a slave to this world’s economy of “ungrace” as Phillip Yancey has called it. An economy of earning. You get what you pay for. You’re paid for what you’ve earned.

But accepting grace, whether from God or from others, feels terribly unnatural. We’re accustomed to earning.

Unless you recognize how badly you’ve screwed up and that you’re your screw-ups can’t be undone.

That’s when you realize grateful acceptance is your only option.

So when your friend gives you fun-size candy bars, you just shove them in your pocket.

And when your son says, “It’s no big deal,” you just say, “Thanks.”

And when I take hold of grace that’s been offered to me, I’m far more likely to offer it to others.

Monday, September 15, 2014

So Grown Up, Yet Still Growing


It seems summer has almost disappeared (way too early!), and the plight of both Narnia and Arendelle await us…always winter, eternally frozen. Or so it will seem by January.

But the seasons aren’t the only things coming and going.

Around here, we’re racing past some monumental milestones. We’ve endured the long haul from diapers to deodorant. But wasn’t it just last month I had a pile of baby blue laundry—sleepers smelling of spit-up and a hundred tiny mismatched socks? This month, the baby blue load has been replaced with a load of blaze orange and camo in all sizes.

Just about the time I wish for time to slow down, I’m reminded it’s passing at the usual pace.

One minute at a time.

For example, my oldest passed me up in height this year. I’m now the third tallest in our family, soon to be the last, I suppose. He’s made a graceful start to middle school and shows inklings of maturity more often than he used to.

He’s so grown up! I thought as I drove him to a middle school activity.

“Mom, watch,” he said, interrupting my nostalgia.

I took my eyes off the road to witness him blowing big spit-bubbles and smiling proudly as they popped and splattered on his lips.

“Gross.”

And he smiled as if he’d accomplished his goal.

Not too grown up yet, I guess.

After just three days of school, we contracted a variety of germs which landed us in the doctor’s office this week. A new policy requires the nurses to ask each patient whether they’ve experienced abuse or neglect.

I understand why, but it saddened me that the question had to be asked and that it brought up issues kids shouldn’t have to be concerned about. Well, they’re growing up. I told myself. They need to be aware of these things.

The nurse left the room and my middle son said, “I don’t even know what abuse and neglect are, so I just said no.”

Never missing a chance to point out he knows something his brothers don’t, my youngest said, “You don’t even know what abuse is?!...It’s when you’re really overweight.”

“Um, that’s obese,” I corrected and realized again we’re not quite as grown up as I thought.

It seems we’re in a delightful and funny stage of life. Getting all grown up but still growing.

·        Learning to clean fish with an electric knife, then dissecting every internal organ to see what’s inside.

·        Popping a wheelie, yet still needing TLC after a crash.

·        Outfitted with all the football gear, yet unable to get it all on by themselves.

Grown up, but still growing.

I guess it’s really not a stage at all. It’s a perpetual state.

For Kurt and me, one of us has just crested the Big Black Hill, and the other has the summit in sight. But the fact that it’s called “mid-life” indicates there’s the possibility to live another lifetime.

I guess we’re supposed to be grown up, but we’re still growing too. And we’re looking forward to the next milestones as they pass by.

One minute at a time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The World Does Not Know Her Name

An interviewer once asked Edith Schaeffer, “Who is the most influential Christian woman in America?”


Her options were varied but her answer was provocative:
 
“The world does not know her name.”*
I’ve been mulling over her answer for the better part of this year. Is it possible that the most influential women are unknown and unnamed?


Photo by Frank Comisar
http://scenicaperture.com/
I’ve visited several small churches throughout the Midwest this summer, and each time I leave thinking about the women who have served there. Behind the scenes, doing menial tasks that few notice. Women who meet a need before they’re asked and desperately hope no one embarrasses them by noticing. Women whose service is truly for the Lord.

There is a woman who, despite her crippled leg, raised two grandchildren. One of her greatest joys is taking a meal to anyone in need. Anyone sick, injured, grieving, or just plain busy. She doesn’t do it because she’s afraid of what you’ll think if she doesn’t. No. She gives and gives and gives because a long time ago she was grieving, she was injured, she was busy. She gives out of the memory of her greatest need.

And the world does not know her name.

A woman rocks a fussy baby in the nursery. It’s not her baby, nor her grandbaby. She’s just loving a young mom by loving her child. She wipes congealed breast milk off her shoulder with a paper towel because the burp rag is soaked and sour. But she goes right on patting and consoling so a young mom can have 20 minutes to worship. She will be back next week and next month and next year, because when she was a young single mom she needed just a small window of undistracted time to worship the God who sustained her.

And the world does not know her name.

There is a woman who married a jerk. A “Christian” jerk. The kind who make physical loneliness seem like paradise. The woman has overlooked a thousand wrongs, turned the other cheek, and turned her eyes upon Jesus. She is a trail blazer for her small circle of young friends who find themselves gasping in the thin air of unmet expectations. She stretches an oxygen mask over her young friend’s face as she spirals down into the jungle of disappointment. Then she drags her from the wreckage and urges her on toward Christ—who makes beautiful things out of wreckage and disciples out of jerks.

And the world does not know her name.

Three unlikely examples of faith. None has a laudable accomplishment that would land their name on a list of “influential Christian women.”

And yet, that is exactly who they are. Influencing others, one meal, one hug, one tissue at a time.

They are the salty salt, almost invisible, but sprinkled among us, flavoring life, preserving hope and whetting our appetite for Christ.

They are broken vessels whose fractured lives allow the light of Christ to shine through.  Jesus has set these women on a lampstand called influence and they give light to everyone around them.

They exemplify the poor widow Jesus pointed out, who gave out of her poverty rather than out of her abundance.

He notices.

The world may not know their names, but Jesus does. 

And he’s given them influence so that the world might know His.
 
 
 
*I've googled until my eyes are googley and cannot find the original source of this quotation. I heard a radio show guest quote this interview this spring on Moody Radio.
 




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Start Living Braver



Click here to start living braver!
If a short glance at the cover of this book starts your insides buzzing, or if your immediate response is to grab a dish rag, spatula, piping bag and start color-matching the icing to fix that atrocious “problem” you might enjoy and benefit from reading The Cure for the Perfect Life: 12 Ways to Stop Trying Harder and Start Living Braver. 

If your first reaction is to lick the cover and see what the frosting tastes like, you can probably pass on this book.

I fall into the first group.

I have a predisposition to neurosis when things aren’t “right.”  As a child I always wanted to start projects that were way too complicated, and when nothing turned out as I’d pictured, I was terribly frustrated and would quit.

This carried on into my young adulthood. Violin recitals were NEVER—not once—perfect. That only fueled my pre-performance nerves for the next year which ultimately ended with another imperfect recital.  

Nothing was ever right enough.

That thinking followed me into marriage and, as you can imagine, I was a real gem. Incidentally, Kurt also likes to get things right. What neither of us was willing to concede was that there is often more than one “right” way.

Fast forward to motherhood and all those things I couldn’t get right enough...and let’s just say Kurt’s a patient man and my boys were (prayerfully) too young to remember.

But three boys in three years just about cured me of my “perfect life syndrome.”

Just about. But not quite.

 
If ever a picture was worth a thousand words...

I had the privilege of contributing a little story to this book. It’s the story of a little “aha!” moment when I discovered “perfection” isn’t a worthy pursuit.
 
Truthfully, I’m still discovering it.

As a contributor I received an advanced copy and enjoyed reading it this weekend. The authors describe these four vices as the “P Bullies:” Perfectionism, People-Pleasing, Performancism, and Procrastination.

Kathi and Cheri expose each one as a lying bully whose only goal is to keep you sprinting on the treadmill of "Try Harder Living" by continuously poking you with a sharp stick called fear. Fear of failure. Fear of people's opinions. Fear of not doing it "right." 

The worst part is that the treadmill never stops, and there is never any finality or satisfaction.

The good news is that God’s infinite love for us can change the motivations behind our actions. So instead of cowing to the “bullies” in fear, we can stand up to them with tiny acts of rebellion motivated by love.

 


Knowing I am perfectly loved by a Perfect Savoir frees me from fear-based decision making.

Because Jesus was perfect, He can offer me His perfection in exchange for my sin.
Because Jesus pleased His Father, I can focus on pleasing Him first.
Because Jesus loves me perfectly, I do not have to perform for anyone.
And because fear is expelled by such great love, I can stop procrastinating and do what His love compels me to do.

The Cure for the Perfect Life releases this Friday, August 1 and is available locally at Prairie Pages Booksellers or online at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When Doing Nothing is Actually Something


I’ve just finished reading Kathi Lipp’s new book I Need Some Help Here. I had the privilege of contributing a “Story from the Trenches” in the chapter entitled…gulp…"When My Child is Lacking Character.” (If you’d like a front row seat to what happens in our vehicle during our 15 minute commute to and from school, you can buy the book by clicking HERE).
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-need-some-help-here-kathi-lipp/1117107091?ean=9780800720780
Need Some Help?

She’s addressed many tough parenting topics, most of which she’s slogged through first-hand.

But one particular little nugget keeps resonating with me.

Doing nothing.

It’s really counter intuitive in a culture that produces infinite pins, tweets, blogs, and posts. They all tell us how to do things: throw a party, bake a radical birthday cake, eat clean, cook healthier, exercise efficiently, pray scripturally, volunteer, donate, not to mention that 2,961 other things we must do “daily.”

I’ve done or tried to do all of the above, and there is value in all of them. The truth is, I really like taking action. I like measurable results and crossing things off my list.

But when it comes to mothering there are some occasions where I’m realizing the best thing to do is…nothing.

·         When the boys forget the essentials for their activities--baseball glove, football pads, basketball shoes (for an out-of-town tournament!! Grrr!), I want to ask around and borrow a glove, drive home and get the pads, or go buy a new pair of basketball shoes.

·         When my wannabe-Buck-Commander needs $50 extra to buy the online-special-this-weekend-only bow that he’s been saving for, I want to put it on my card and Instagram his beaming smile.

·         When they try to draw me into an argument over rules and decisions, I want to take the bait, reason with them and think to myself, “Surely a tired child will understand if I just explain myself a little louder.”

“But when you rescue your kids, it’s like taking pain meds after you’ve broken your arm. You feel better for a while, but not only are you not fixing the problem, you’re probably making it worse.” (~ Kathi Lipp, pg. 84)

What makes it even harder to do nothing is that “No one is giving blue ribbons to the mom who is biting her tongue. But know that every time you “don’t,” you are doing the deep, hard, God-breathed stuff that is growing you and your kids.” (pg. 71)

And that is the secret to why I’ll keep doing nothing. Shhh…I’m actually doing something.

·         When I make my boys ask around to borrow a glove, when they sit sidelined without pads, when they play basketball in their very non-basketball sneakers, I do nothing. Still, they are learning. Learning to plan ahead, get organized and be responsible.

·         When I allow the $50 burden of debt to rest on him, I do nothing. He counts the days of chores until his debt will be paid. And it seems like he will “never get there.” He is learning that the borrower is a slave to the lender, and chores are even less fun when your pay goes directly to your creditor.

·         When I have explained myself once and, by some miracle of God, I actually refrain from arguing, I do nothing. Still, they learn that I mean what I say. “No,” means “no,” despite your elaborate monologue.

Beyond these lessons, I hope the boys are learning something more profound: moms can solve precious few of life’s problems. Kathi says it like this: “Understand that moms make lousy shelters. When it comes to shelters, we are like cardboard refrigerator boxes. Yes, we can provide some safety. Yes, we can make a good short-term hiding place, but we’re pretty flimsy and totally unresistant to the weather when storms come. We need to keep pointing our kids to our Strong Tower [God], the only True Shelter that any of us ever has. Yep—that means leaving them out in the cold sometimes so they will seek a more Permanent Shelter.” (pg. 85)

I pray my “do nothing” approach will eventually lead them to seek shelter in Jesus—the Only One who can truly rescue any of us.

Photo courtesy Kim de Blecourt

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Run Your Race


Photo by Bob Jagendorf
'Tis the season to be racing. State track meets, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons and ultra-marathons (Lord, save me!)
There was a brief period of my life where I hesitantly referred to myself as a “runner.” “Shuffler” would have been a more accurate term, but for clarity’s sake I said “runner.”

Though I didn’t set any land-speed or distance records, I did learn a lot about tenacity. And my brief tenure as a “runner” has been an apt metaphor for almost every circumstance since.

Want to talk about dieting? Spiritual growth? Musical education? Foster care? Career changes? Writing? I can make all kinds of applications in light of my grueling days on the treadmill as I clipped off 3 miles in 35 minutes.

(in)courage.me
Oh yes I did.

Today, I have the honor of guest posting at (in)courage.me. I’ve written about just one of the many lessons I learned and you can click here to read about it.
I hope you’ll join me there. If you’re encouraged or at least slightly entertained, feel free to share as a way of helping me thank (in)courage for allowing me to contribute.