The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.


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How to Save the World In Fewer Than 10 Steps

1. Even if you have all the power, splendor and resources of God himself, come into the world unattractive, poor and in a social standing generally regarded as powerless. 

Isaiah 53:2-3

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

2. Spend decades of your life, perhaps even the most “productive” years, living off the radar in complete obscurity.  For example, leave no verifiable records of your actions or activities in your teens or your twenties.

3. Spend time with people who have no power to change things.  In fact, make them your partners.  And maybe throw in a few people that most of the world would scorn and might not even necessarily trust or believe.

1 Corinthians 1:26-28

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

4.  Do extraordinarily kind and loving things. Things that could make you famous and bring widespread attention to your good work.  Then encourage people to tell no one about them.

Matthew 8:4, Jesus heals a leper and tells him to tell no one.

Mark 7:36, Jesus heals a man who can’t hear or speak and tells him to tell no one.

Matthew 9:30, Jesus heals blind people and tells them to tell no one.

5.  Even though you know you only have a couple of years to personally spread your message as far and wide as possible, spend time mostly with individuals or in small groups in quiet and intimate settings.  You may even consider generally avoiding situations where your message will be heard by great numbers of people, especially if those people will want you to take a widely recognized place of power within the culture at large.

John 6:14-15

 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

6.  Get to know people.  Really know them.  Intimately.  Their bodily functions. Their foot odor. Their addictions. Their shame.  Their jealousies. Their selfishness.  Their brokenness. Their weaknesses. Their most ugly habits. Their hatred of you and everything you stand for. And love them anyway.  Love them until it kills you.  In fact, love them until they kill you.

Romans 5:6-8

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

7. End your mission on earth when your life is still at its prime and just when it seems you might be gaining some momentum and perhaps even a small following.  Surrender your life into the hands of the people who hated you.  Even though a noble death might make you more likely to be favorably remembered, die a shameful, criminal’s death.   Do it for the sake of those who worked the hardest against your purposes, your mission and your message.  For your enemies.

Colossians 1:21-23

The Message (MSG)

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message.

8. Do it to make a place for your enemies in your home. To share with them all your inheritance.  Offer them your friendship. Offer them a place in your family. And then let them take all that you’ve given them and reject it.  Over and over again.  And keep loving them anyway, rejoicing when they finally do turn towards you. 

Luke 15:20-24

 20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’ 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

 

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We had one of those fights yesterday that was based on an old theme in our marriage.  It sent us down a well-worn path,  the soft, grassy buffer of newlywed naivete had long worn away from it.  It’s a path that’s we’ve trudged many times before, choking on kicked-up dust or getting entrenched in the deeper muck when it rains. Ruts have been worn and on darker days one or another of us might get hurt tripping and falling into one. Exhausted by the end of it, sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the effort to clean up again all the way before we get on to the next thing.  We think we’ve washed clean enough, forgiven enough, but the time is too short before we’ll put on those dirty, wet walking sneakers again and blisters result. And then we’re rubbing against raw on our next trek.

This thing is not something that is about a difference of opinion and I don’t even know that it’s totally about a particular sin either (though it certainly is true that without sin we wouldn’t feel this disunity).  We’re coming up against a fundamental difference in who we are and how we see the world. Talking about it doesn’t seem to help and ignoring it doesn’t seem to help either.  I’ve prayed about it (a lot)  and we still don’t seem to be able to find unity.  SO, where does that leave us?

I’ll tell you where it left me at about 4am this morning when I woke up after something fell off our bed to clatter loudly on the floor: feeling hopeless. Wondering if he’ll ever really get me.  Agonizing over how to live a life of one flesh with a person when it feels like the only way to fit together is to kill off some part of me.  But maybe then without that gangling part of Me, could we at least be a more neatly fitted We?

I try it sometimes, just  kind of a light neglect, not exactly starving that part that doesn’t seem to fit but maybe putting it on a rigorous diet.  It doesn’t work. Instead the opposite seems to happen. The more I ignore it, the more it demands to be seen.  It takes on a life of its own over there in the periphery to which I’ve relegated it.  Flashing all sorts of colors and morphing into shapes and dimensions unexpected, it’s impossible to kill it.  It’s so alive.  It’s even kind of winsome, doing its own charming thing in the corner.  Like a toddler in a time out after I’d forgotten I’d put it there too long, it starts singing some beautiful song to itself and I just want to join it.  It’s no use.  It’s just an inextricable part of who I am.

So what now? Does this mean I chose the wrong life or that God dealt me a harder hand?  I honestly don’t know.  Theology is tricky like that.  But I know that the more married women I connect with, the more I realize that this kind of marital imperfect-fittedness is not rare.  In fact, I think it may be the norm.  There always seems to be something that husbands and wives don’t get about each other, even in the best of marriages.  And we learn to live with them, hopefully appreciate the differences even, because we’re committed and because we chose love and we continue to choose love every. single. day.

But what about that pain?  What about wondering if we’ll ever be understood, appreciated, “gotten?”  What about the deep and fulfilling intimacy that we think marriage should be?

The answer was made undeniably clear to me this morning. It’s nothing new, but it’s the kind of bread I need to eat daily in order to be sustained by it.  I subscribe to a service called Go Tandem.  It’s awesome and it makes it really hard to ignore Truth in the midst of my busy life.  It sends me mini, individualized devotionals throughout the day.  I get texts and emails and voice messages and calls at times I’ve chosen.  It’s just the right amount of intrusive.  (And free.  Sign up now, I know you’ll love it).

Anyway, usually I get one automated call in the morning around the time I get out of bed.  And then if I don’t answer, it sends me the same message via email.  Well today, I got this same call THREE times in a row.  And then I ALSO got the same email THREE times.  Now that’s just weird.  Actually, it’s just God.  The message was clear and the Messenger was beautifully and faithfully relentless in His pursuit of me, like the most devoted of suitors.  I could barely hang up the phone before the call came through to me again.  And then appeared in my email.  Again. Ok, that may seem a bit stalkerish.  But sometimes I need that because I’m dense when it comes to feeling loved.

I pasted it below, but basically it was a reminder that my husband isn’t meant to totally get me.  He’s not meant to fulfill me.  He’s not meant to complete me.  If he could, I might be too easily satisfied and neglect to go after the real prize:  a profoundly deep, intimate, fulfilling relationship with God.

You Can’t Complete Me

Hear from God

Listen to today’s CallIt’s so easy to look to other people to satisfy our needs. Let’s be honest, they’re here, human, tangible. But don’t fall for that junk! Jeremiah explains that only God can truly meet our needs–and he will! 

Jeremiah 17:5-8
This is what the Lord says:
   “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
      who rely on human strength
      and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
      with no hope for the future.
 They will live in the barren wilderness,
      in an uninhabited salty land.
 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
 Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
 Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.”
Satisfaction only comes from God.


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Of Ants and Men: When One Gets Squished Does the Universe Care?

Please don’t judge me too harshly, but there was a carpenter ant crawling across my bathroom floor today and I squished it with my sandal. And I felt a pang of sadness and still have a vague sensation of lingering guilt about it. But I felt no differently about that particular ant than I would about any of the other ants in the whole world that could have been wandering across those tiles at that particular moment.

Sometimes I wonder, am I like that ant? Just this one human being among billions of humans on the earth or maybe trillions if we look across the span of time. Am I anything more to Him than a  tiny creature whose existence is meaningful in relation perhaps to the others who share my space and time but not very significant in the grand scheme of things? Does it matter if it was me who was inhabiting this space and doing this work in this moment or could it have just as well been any other human being doing the same thing to basically the same end? Does my individual existence, my personal purpose or a relationship with me as a single entity matter to Him? Or He mostly just concerned with the larger picture, beautiful and awesome picture that it might be?

I had a professor who was an atheist until he attended a conference about the cosmos and he listened to scientists in a field not his own discuss the way the world was put together. And he wondered at the way it was all so purposeful. So not random. And he said it changed him. He knew there must be some sort of Greater Force out there, putting it all together. Holding it all together.

It has never been a challenge for me to experience God like that. I see God in the grand, sweeping scale of the universe and I can look across the span of history and see the ways He has brought beauty out of destruction or how compassion overcame brutality. I can see that His love for the human race has conquered death and disease and war and hatred. That His love for us has held off the tide of destruction that we have created in our own arrogant ignorance: the way we consume and destroy and pursue always more because it’s never enough at the cost of all things holy. Instead of letting us obliterate ourselves and the earth, He is faithful and gracious to us. He lifts the sun up from the darkness each day and He coaxes the tender buds of life from the death freeze each winter. For it all. For the Universe. For all of us. For humanity. But was it for me?

What I struggle with is seeing Him as personal. I can see where His beauty and His might are poured into the world in a grand scale: Mount Everest and The Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean and the Milky Way. I can see how His love for humanity is reflected in creation but it is hard for me to discern how this kind of love is personal. Is it for me? And in the same way, I can see how the love that He poured out on the cross is a lavish kind of love for humanity. A son slain for his enemies’ sakes. He who was perfectly good sacrificed for all that was wretchedly wrong. But I wonder sometimes, was that really a sign of love for me or was it a general display of love for all of humanity? To sacrifice One for the good of many, this may be considered general benevolence, but is it indicative of a personal love? Of care for each one? Would Jesus have died even it were just for me?

For me and for any others who feel like an anonymous ant crawling across the bathroom floor of the universe today,

God who presides over and witnesses the life of every single, messy, noisy, frail sparrow in a flock of many, let your eyes see me today and, perhaps more importantly, let me be know that they do.

God who clothes grass in the field, daily trodden upon and then finally fodder for the fire, with greater splendor and glory than even the most majestic of kings, please show me that you desire to make beauty with my life as well.

God who says that He would leave ninety-nine sheep in the field to go after just a single one, please find me where I’ve gotten lost in the wilderness. Come and scoop up this foolish sheep and rejoice over me with singing and quiet me with your love.

Let me know in my deepest heart of hearts that you formed me, fearfully and wonderfully, crafting every part of me from a single cell,

and that you have a plan for me and that not even one day of my life-even the day that turns to a week that turns to a year that feels wasted- is outside of that plan. That plan to use every single bit of pain, every ounce of talent, every hope and fear and foible and success for good.

Help me to truly believe that you are intimately acquainted with all my ways, that you even number the hairs on my head and know my words before one escapes from my tongue and that you care for me as if to capture every tear that falls from my eye.

Give me a sense of this truth: That your thoughts towards me, towards just this one single ant in a crowd of many, are too vast and numerous to be counted.

And help me to live in the reality of a love for me that is lavish. A love that rejoices each time I turn towards you. The “let’s throw a party in heaven” kind of love.


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Your Kingdom Come to My Water-Logged, Mortgaged, Suburban House

Disappointment has been an aggressive and mean-spirited stalker who relentlessly pursues me. His only goal in life, it seems, is to be present every single time I let that majestic hot air balloon of hope start to lift me into the sky. He is there before I barely get off the ground, plunging the cold, hard needle of reality into the billowy fabric of my dreams.

I made choices too that tethered me, keeping me bound to the ground at times. Sometimes because a tether seemed like the safer choice and other times because a life without the ties of commitment is one without impact. And that kind of life seems like a waste, too ephemeral to be worth the breath. So commit I did, allowing the ties to be strung around me, pulling down on me with ever-increasing strength. I had always imagined something involving More. More views awe-inspiring. More exposures breath-taking. A life aloft. Alight. Transcendent. Luminary. But those are not so much the defining characteristics of my life as a stay at home mom living in suburbia with a mortgage and a water-logged basement and a husband who has the gift of being more easily contented.

I try to keep the fire ablaze, glorious balloon filled, ready to soar. But the ropes that I bound to myself strain against the effects of the burner, and the basket remains grounded. The more tethers I accumulate the more self-defeating and exhausting it feels to keep stoking that little fire on the chance that it might someday blow me aloft. There are some tethers I’d be willing to let go, cut even. But others are just too precious. So rather than strive to keep the light glowing, I feel like I’m slowly letting that magnificent balloon of hope lay, slackened and deflated, behind me.

It’s a lovely basket I’m living in, but it feels like only a small part of the life I’d thought would be mine. In fact, that basket sans balloon seems sometimes almost like a mockery of the life that might have been. I can be painful, even shaming somehow, to look at that impotent artifact too closely. It seems more merciful to just forget that the balloon of hope ever might have been something I connected to the basket of my real life. Maybe it’s better to resign myself to the idea that the hope of More is just an demanding, hungry balloon, better left unfed by that energy-sucking fire I’ve been stoking. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but perhaps if I could just deflate my hopes a bit, it’d all be a little more manageable.

There’s a message I hear a lot lately and it’s one that I think is helpful. The message is that we should focus on the positive. That if we set our thoughts, our consciousness on what we do already have then we will be more content. We will be less dissatisfied. I believe there is truth in this. Enough truth that I have been battling for a full week over this same piece to decide if I should even finish it and post it. Is the answer to my restlessness and my disappointment with the world to have an attitude of gratitude? If I could just change my patterns of thinking to get me to arrive at a place marked “Opportunities” rather than “Challenges” then maybe I’d be more content.  I know there is science to support this and more important that it is the truth that I need to give thanks in all circumstances.

So I try to make my lists of all the things for which I’m grateful and whip my synapses into submission to make them travel on paths more positive.   But the moment I pause to breathe, I can’t help but think this: Yes, it’s not all bad. But is it as good as it should be? Is it good enough to be worth all of the pain and the toil of life? Is it good enough to satisfy the hunger of a human soul?

I identify a lot with the author of Ecclesiastes lately. “All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” The book of Ecclesiastes expresses the same sense of restlessness and disappointment I too often feel. There’s a lot on this earth with which to fill a life: work, pleasure, relationships, discoveries, wisdom. But is this really all there is?

Is it wrong to dare hope for more than what I have here?  I have asked myself if my disappointment is sin. I have wondered if I have done something to attract this stalker Disappointment. Have I left out the welcome mat of my heart for it? I have mulled over the distinctions between disappointment and discontentment. I have explored sermons about the sin of discontentment or ingratitude. I’ve wondered over and over again what is wrong with me that I can’t be more easily satisfied. Is the deep hunger I feel my own fatal flaw?

Yes, there are times when I blame my restlessness or disappointment on not having been given something specific here on earth; on a perfect job or dream or marriage or family life that I pined after and didn’t get. And I need to get over that because it’s a lie and because it robs me of the appreciation I might feel for the gifts God has given me. They truly are wonderful gifts. But they were never meant to fulfill me. Perfect satisfaction won’t come from anything I’ll find here on earth. So should I just ignore the hunger I feel, blaming it on brokenness, chastising myself for not being satisfied with the things I have on earth that are good enough?

This thing, this longing, it’s a persistent bugger. It is something that I can’t seem to just wish or gratitude-list away, this desire for More. There is a hunger in me that simply refuses to be satisfied with all that I experience in this world, even all the best of the things here on earth….

….And when I look at the Bible, I’m not sure that there’s anything wrong with that hunger. In fact, I think there’s biblical support that confirms that we were not built to be satisfied by this world.   1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

When I read in Hebrews about ” a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” I begin to realize I’ve gone wrong imagining hope as a balloon that would lift me above the circumstances of my life.  In fact, I may need to bring the precious balloon I manufactured myself to the cross and give it up altogether.  But maybe that’s not such a big sacrifice for a hope that is an anchor that tethers me to a heavenly habitation. One that relentlessly draws me up instead of pulling me down.  One anchored in a love from which I can’t be separated.  One that has been secured by Someone who promises immeasurably more than all that even I, perhaps the loftiest of lofty dreamers,  could ever ask or even imagine.

If we follow that rope all the way up to where it leads us behind that veil, we find that the anchor has been tied to the throne of God by Christ himself by His work on our behalf on the cross.  He did this because we were actually created to be in relationship with that God. We were designed to long to be in Him who is the source and fullness of all radiance, power, awe, might, majesty, light, life, glory, grace, truth, justice, mercy and goodness. No wonder I am disappointed with all I find here on earth!

So the hunger is not the sin. In fact, it is this hunger that causes us to reach out to taste and see that the Lord is good. There is a blessing in hungering. Because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for being in that perfect state of relationship with God, will be satisfied. The truth is that if we were not afflicted by this hunger, we might not be motivated to seek the perfect food. Being easily satisfied, we might stop short of seeking and finding and filling ourselves with the Bread of life.

So yes, I have to be careful that I don’t deceive myself into thinking that this plague of disappointment I feel will end when the circumstances of my life change. But rather than beating myself up every time I feel it, could I use it as a reminder that there is a reality of More? And pray that I could see and smell and taste and feel some of it, of Him and of His Kingdom, here on this earth.

Please Lord, let your Kingdom come.  Let it even come here and now in my water-logged, mortgaged, suburban house with my kids screaming at me in the background. Within the boundaries of this habitation and the ordinary life I live, as I grope, let me find You. Because I know then that this soul, yes even this ravenously hungry soul, will be satisfied.

” …and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist”  Acts 17:26-28


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Christians, Emotions and “The Truth”

I was born in Minnesota to parents of mostly Swedish and English heritage. As if the genetic stock weren’t good enough reason to master the arts of passive-aggression and suppression , the tundra-like plains of the prairies in winter are no place for feelings.   Generations of hearty Minnesotans survived frigid, stark conditions probably specifically because they were not overly sensitive. Those Swedish farmers  just buried their feelings right along with the potatoes.  Now that I’m an adult and I’m finally privy to the honest version of some  family history, I can see that plenty of those things didn’t actually stay buried with the potatoes forever.

I used to think that people who always maintained their emotions, neatly kept within a certain acceptable range, were stronger than me and that those who never seemed to have any negative emotions, like anger or fear or disappointment, were probably better Christians than me altogether.  I fought very hard for a long time to try to have the “right” feelings and to not feel things so deeply. I still struggle with a lot of shame not being able to be one of those Christian women with a sweet and gentle smile perpetually on her face. I heard a lot growing up in the church about how we shouldn’t give too much clout to our feelings, because they weren’t “truth.”  (Yep, I’m coming back to that one later.)

So when I started seeing anger seeping out over the last few years since I’ve become a parent, I thought something was wrong with me. I had never really thought of myself as an angry person and, in fact, had a hard time admitting when I was mad at someone. Being angry seemed like one of those not “right” emotions.  Sure, I could get angry at injustices like genocide and oppression, but only because that seemed like righteous indignation more than anger.  I didn’t think I had a right to get angry about things that happened to me because they didn’t measure up to that level of injustice. Things that happened to me weren’t important enough to afford me the right to that emotion.

I’m starting to finally unravel the mystery of why becoming a parent unearthed those feelings of anger that had been buried in me.  But now I have to figure out what to do with them. I still live in a culture where emotions are clearly not things that you take out in polite company.

But is that truly the most “Christian” or even sane way to live?

Something in me really changed the day that I remembered that David, primary author of the Psalms, was described in Acts as “A man after God’s own heart.”  I mean have you read the Psalms? They are most definitely saturated with emotions.  Fear, despair, awe, love, betrayal, confusion, abandonment, devotion, thankfulness, insecurity, bliss, anxiety, they’re all there. Expressions of these unmistakably strong and often enough “negative” feelings are included in the very word of God!

In writing the Psalms, David  honestly and even graphically pours out his emotions to God.  There is a pattern often repeated in the Psalms in which he first expresses his anguish, fear, despair or doubt, second recalls God’s character and then thirdly, as a response to his meditations on the goodness and faithfulness of God towards him,  offers praise and thanksgiving.  I’ve come to use this as a pattern upon which to build my own conversations with God or about God, especially when blogging.

This last week or two I’d been struggling with some things and so I was digging around in the Psalms again for encouragement.  I opened up to Psalm 38 and read through and then, finding it didn’t exactly end on an uplifting note per the pattern I’d expected, started into Psalm 39 as well, hoping it would somehow get better.

I said, “I will guard my ways
That I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle
While the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent,
I refrained even from good,
And my sorrow grew worse.
My heart was hot within me,
While I was musing the fire burned;
Then I spoke with my tongue

In the opening verses, it appears that David is going through something very intense with emotions to match. He seems to have been so disturbed that he was bridling his tongue, even choosing not to let any good words come out, for fear of saying something not-so-great in the presence of non-believers, perhaps for fear of leading them to believe He didn’t really have enough faith in God. But as he suppressed his emotions, he found that his sorrow only got worse and that he felt as though he was burning up inside.  I noticed a cross reference in my bible to Jeremiah 20:9 in which something similar seems to plague Jeremiah:  But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. 

Holding things in didn’t seem to be doing anything good for either of these guys. They seem to be challenging the old idiom “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I began to think about how I might have been getting overly concerned again, particularly in blogging, with wrapping everything up in a nice and pretty package. Maybe it was alright to not always end on an “up” note.

Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean that my only and immediate reaction to what life throws at me has to be happiness or peaceful acceptance.  In fact, it isn’t a surprise to God when we feel troubled by what is happening in life.  He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  He then goes on to say “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Sometimes I think we skip too quickly to the “but” in that statement of truth.

I don’t know if it is a Minnesota thing or what, but I have some people very close to me who have a difficult time talking about what they are feeling because they think of it as complaining.  In fact, I love one person who feels so strongly about this that she won’t even tell her own doctor about some significant and real ailments she’s facing for fear that it would be complaining.

As a mother who hears her fair share of complaints daily, I can certainly see the downside of complaining.   Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between complaining and expressing emotion.  My latest working definition is this: Complaining is about persisting to  express our displeasure about a situation to someone who doesn’t want to hear about them or to a person who cannot or will not do anything to help.

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re seeing stories unfold with characters who aren’t always at a place where they can wrap everything up in a nice bow of perfect understanding and faith.  In the context of the verse I quoted from John 16 verse above there are just going to be plenty of times in which we are still in the “many trials and sorrows” part of the story.  Maybe we’re moving towards it, but we  simply haven’t yet gotten to the “But take heart!” part.

This verse in John 16 appears at the very end of a whole chapter in John in which Jesus is describing and acknowledging the reality of weeping, lamenting, anguish, pain and grieving that we will experience in this world.   And as you read the chapter,  He doesn’t tell us to just stuff all of our emotions in.  He is encouraging us that when those painful emotions inevitably come upon us, we should go to our Father and ask Him for what we need to make our joy complete. It’s not about donning our special, Christian happy face or just suddenly conjuring up some faith from out of thin air.  We are instructed in Lamentations, in fact to “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!”

And we hear this going on over and over again throughout His perfect story.  We hear Jesus cry out to His Father, agonizing about why He has forsaken Him, because sometimes apparently silently and stoically bearing our emotions just doesn’t cut it!  

Rachel bitterly weeping at losing her children because maybe sometimes a pretty cry is actually just not appropriate.

David dancing and leaping for joy, recklessly even, because maybe there are times when it might actually be wrong to hold it all in.

I am not advocating here for letting our emotions rule us and having the final say in all that is reality to us.  And certainly there are plenty of admonitions in the Bible not to let our tongue or our emotions lead us to sin.  But to have emotions is not to sin.  And what I am suggesting is that to hide them might not be truth.

This brings me to that big issue that I hope the church is moving past: This idea that feelings are not truth or that having negative emotions is evidence of lack of faith. When Jesus wept at his friend’s death, got angry at greedy profiteers, or agonized over God forsaking Him, was he acting out of unbelief?  Was anything about what he was doing NOT truth?

So, taking our example from Jesus, what exactly should we do with this sometimes painful reality of emotions with which we live? Recognize them. Feel them. Certainly don’t get stuck in them, but don’t ignore them either.  Deal with them, bringing them always to the One person for whom our emotions are never “too much” and who, in fact, time and time again entreats us to come to Him with our burdens, worries and cares.  And maybe bring them to one or two other humans as well.

 And when it comes to blogging I’m starting to think, perhaps always ending on an “up” note isn’t just a sort of a dishonest and inauthentic way of representing myself and my relationship with God.  Maybe smoothing things over too much actually isn’t expressing enough faith in God.  Because faith isn’t about always being happy.  It’s about representing a life in which, even when things are inevitably difficult, I’m waiting on, hoping for and expecting an answer from a God who I trust is capable of handling it all– even my emotions.


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For those unable to put the oxygen mask on yourself first

I remember it as an old-fashioned bike painted shiny black and it was heavy. Or at least it felt heavy to me. I was probably eleven and the bike was made for a man, not a child. The problem of the bike’s weight was compounded by the large kiddie seat molded from grey plastic that was firmly bolted to the back. If I sat down on the bike’s seat my toes couldn’t quite reach the ground, so to ride it I had to balance on the pedals while standing, swinging my body from one side to the other over the metal bar in the middle. Everything about that man-sized bike was unwieldy to my child-sized self. It wasn’t a bike I rode for fun, it was the one required to perform my assigned duty of picking-up my little sister from daycare.

To ride this beast of a bike, I’d throw one leg over the middle bar to get on and then kick my feet against the ground a few steps to gain some momentum. Once it was moving forward, I’d hop up, one foot and then the other, pushing the pedals down hard to keep going. I’d carve a swervey, tippy line down the busy road, kicking up dust as I hugged the shoulder trying to avoid getting into the cars’ way. On the downhills, I made an effort at respite by sitting while I could. But the up hills were really a trick. Even on days when the sun’s rays didn’t beat on my neck, I’d get hot prickles of sweat from the exertion of pushing that heavy bicycle up the hill. It was a cumbersome and awkward venture, one that always made me self-conscious of who might be driving by.

When I’d reached the daycare, I’d loaded up my pudgy, baby sister into the child’s seat. If I didn’t have an adult to help me, I’d have to balance the bike against my hip to keep it upright while twisting and bending to lift and heft her up, buckling her in. Then I’d start the process all over again, getting on and moving the three of us now- the bike, the wriggling toddler and me-down the road. Tipping and turning, it was perhaps sheer will rather than strength or skill that kept us upright. I was never quite in full physical control of that bike. I was aware it could have easily come to a disasterous end if I lost my balance, me or my sister propelling through the air, scraped skin bloody with road rash and pocked with implanted gravel. A few times, I remember slipping off the pedals, trying to catch the bike’s weight against my body before my sister hit the ground.

Fortunately nothing worse than bloodied knees were the casualties of those clunky, ponderous rides. It wasn’t really a venture designed for a child. But really, looking back, there were a lot of bikes I was asked to ride that weren’t actually fit for a child; adult-sized responsibilities that shouldn’t have been mine, burdens too heavy for a kid to gracefully bear.

I was the type of kid who took responsibility when it was given to me, clasping it as if it were a gift. As the oldest of five kids, it felt good to be useful. When my parents were pleased with me, I was pleased with myself. Each time I was asked to do something, I saw it as a sign that I had some value to others.

I must have been good at taking responsibility because soon enough it was given to me a lot. As early as I can remember I was often left to care for other children, first for small spurts of time and later for much longer. Hours grew to long days and as years went by, I remember times when one day would pile on top of another, sometimes without knowing when to expect the adult to return. There was a lot of waiting. I remember often feeling the strain of anxious tension, a child carrying a heavy load, wondering when I’d be free to hand off the responsibility, throw off the weight and be released.  I would long for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of that.”  But it wasn’t just being relieved of responsibility that I ached for.  It was for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of you.”

I don’t think it is wrong for children to be given some responsibilities or for siblings to help care for each other. But something changed in me, I think, when caretaker stopped being an activity and it started being an identity.

Just like that cumbersome bike sometimes felt like it might crush me, I think that the disproportionate sense of responsibility I felt when I was little outweighed my sense of self. As the child’s job of becoming who I was became eclipsed by my duties to others, “you are responsible” started to become a bigger reality than “you are Rachel.”

Eventually when we get older, we all bear more responsibility which can be difficult but ultimately fulfilling when developed appropriately. Most of us, like weight lifters, have built up the ability to bear that weight slowly, over the course of several decades. But when it happens too young, we develop inappropriately. We bear more weight than we should on our child’s frame and our disposition towards responsibility distorts.

As we grow, we get so used to feeling that disproportionate heaviness that it feels strange to be without it. We find ourselves as adults taking on more than we should, even taking responsibilities for things we shouldn’t, threading more and more weight onto our barbell until we experience that familiar almost crushing experience that we did in childhood.

Our outlook on the world and our place in it also becomes ill-formed. We develop a perspective that is so used to looking out for others that it seems wrong to sometimes look out for ourselves first. I’m still pretty sure if I were in a plane accident with my children, I’d be almost physically unable to honor the flight attendants admonition to please put the oxygen mask on myself first.

And if that’s not enough, it feels even stranger still when somebody else tries to watch out for us. I feel a deep sense of discomfort every time someone offers to help me.

I saw tweeted the other day the question: Who were you before someone told you who you should be?

Who was that me before Responsible and Caretaker became my identity? I was creative. I was a child that saw fairies in the moonlight and tiny worlds in the woods. I was convinced that nature sprung to life, dancing and singing, when we weren’t looking.

In going through boxes of my childhood things, I found evidence of poems and songs and plays that I had written in those early years. Before I learned to be the bearer of heavy things, I was fanciful. I was lighter before I had to develop those responsibility-wielding muscles. I had time to fill my head with “to be” lists rather than “to do” lists. I was a bleary-eyed dreamer who saw the future in softly-lit, glowing possibilities instead of a sentinel who had to keep perpetually open the watchful eye of responsibility.

Yes, I’m describing a cotton candy world that is airy-fairy and sentimental. But I was in grade school! That was what I was supposed to be like. I was supposed to be like a child.

Previously, when I heard people speak of having faith like a child, I understood it to be an intellectual simplicity. It seemed I was being admonished to push aside rational or scholarly concerns and just accept what was being told. This always disturbed me.

But now that I have children myself I think about having faith like a child entirely differently.

When I am with my children, they do not doubt that I am the one who is looking out for them. (Psalm 91)

That I will come for them when they call. (Micah 7:7)

They take for granted that it is my job to supply their needs, not their job. (Philippians 4:19)

When we go out, they just assume that I know when it is time to come and when it is time to go from a place (though they might complain a bit). (Psalm 121:8)

And that I will carry them when they get tired. (Isaiah 46:4)

They trust that if they get lost I will come for them. (Luke 15:4-6)

And they actually think it is silly and ridiculous if I try to give them a load too heavy for them. They assume it is a joke, in fact. (Psalm 68:19)

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, starting in verse 25, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Jesus knows that children would not doubt the way He is about to describe a loving Father! LISTEN to this verse with faith like a child.  Let this sink in today:

He goes on to say in verse 28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I am praying for myself and for any who read this who feel themselves loaded heavy, burdened low– that we would have faith like a child today. That we would be confident in our Father who has made it his job, not ours, to daily bear our burdens (Psalm 68:19).

I love this passage in Psalms in particular in the King James Version. It actually reads, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. In this version, the picture is not just of him taking on our burdens, but actually loading us up with benefits! This is the reality of life with Him that I want to know. Not only does he ask us to cast our burdens on Him, but then he gives us an easy yoke and a light burden. Admittedly, in past readings of the passage in Matthew, I’ve thought to myself, “Well geez, if you’re such a powerful and mighty and loving God, can we just skip the burdens altogether?” But today as I reflect on the KJV of Psalm 68:19 I’m letting myself wonder if this is, in fact, the kind of burden He had in mind: He daily loadeth us with benefits! Could it be? And how does this change everything!?!

Sometimes I wonder what I might have become if I could have been childlike a little longer. Would I have developed my creative gifts more? Would I have thought of myself as a writer instead of perpetually sublimating that part of myself to being a caretaker? If I hadn’t grown up under a heavy load, would I have stretched higher to achieve greater success in other areas of my life? A part of me still grieves these paths not taken. But I also know that I am the child of a God who redeems, who restores lost years (Joel 2:25).  For me, that is part of the reason I’m writing again.


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Does our culture shame mothers?

Can I beg for your grace while I try to tackle a difficult hypothesis?  Our society doesn’t really value mothering.  We give it a lot of lip service, but we do not give it a place of true honor.   It’s a business that we prefer be either prettily packaged or conducted behind closed doors.  And things that we like to keep hidden or obscured are things that we have imbued with shame.

Mothering is a job akin to plumbing or being a janitor in terms of its place of honor in our culture.   In fact, there are a lot of similarities.  Moms are people whose everyday lives revolve around cleaning up the messes that others create.  We deal in diarrhea, vomit, urine and bodily fluids of every variety, literally becoming intimately involved in the biohazardous excretions of others.  People may admit being a mom is a difficult job and we may recognize it as essential to functioning society, but we don’t want to invite one to do business while we’re dealing in the more elegant arenas of life. You don’t invite your plumber to traipse through your house fixing your toilet when you’ve got the ladies from the garden club over. I think the same is true of motherhood for most settings in our culture.

Publicly stating that our culture places shame on motherhood will invoke vehement replies that there’s nothing to be ashamed of about being a mother.  And that’s absolutely true. There’s not. But don’t you agree that the reality is the messy business of raising human beings is something that is publicly palatable when it’s sugar-coated with humor or puffy sweet like cotton candy, but not when it comes to us raw and unprocessed?   Woah to the mother who changes a poopy diaper on a mall bench, nurses a fussy baby in a community meeting or has to manage the outburst of a tantruming toddler in the grocery store. It becomes painfully evident through the glares and stares or coldly-composed, turned-away faces, that most people there would rather you take your child and your parenting behind closed doors where it won’t bother or offend others.

Parents face stony faces, eye rolls and derisive sighs when we show up at airports, restaurants, movie theaters…  Having children in tow in our culture is a social liability, not an honored position.  And even the prettier side of mothering can be met with scorn if it reaches a level we consider inordinate.  Think about the subtle way we take less seriously working moms who display too many kid art projects or “take advantage” of flexible scheduling to get to her kids’ activities.  We pity a woman at a cocktail party or  a couple at dinner with nothing more “important” to offer than anecdotes about their children.

But maybe I am just hyper-aware of all this because somewhere deep down inside, I myself felt struggle with feeling shame about being a full-time SAHM.  For a long time it was all I did and I didn’t feel like I was doing it all that well.  I had pictured what I would be like as a mom and my daily reality just simply did not measure up.  I wasn’t productive enough, patient enough, quiet enough, giving enough, satisfied enough, fulfilled enough, cheerful enough to be a “good” mom.  There is a way that we can be shamed by others and a way that we take shame upon ourselves.  For me, I think I experience both in motherhood.  And as the years go on, I am learning to separate the two and properly dispose of them.

But for now, just looking at the way that society places shame over motherhood, I think it has everything to do with the deeply mucked up way we assign value in this world. What we honor  is that which is lofty, not that which is common.  What we glorify is that which is polished, not that which is broken.  The dignified, the noble, the strong, the rich, the mighty, the famous, the beautiful….these are what our culture elevates. So as a child, when I imagined what it meant to be created by God for a purpose, I pictured myself being made famous, beautiful, noble, or dignified in order achieve exceptional things.  Instead, motherhood made me feel  duller, weaker, poorer, obscured, dumpier, frumpier, bumpier and grumpier.  Through motherhood, failing in my expectations of it and the world’s, I was stripped of everything that I thought I had that was of value to the world. What good could I be to anyone in this state, let alone the God of the Universe?

And then I remembered.  Hebrews 12:2.  Perfect, spotless, pure Jesus purposely, deliberately took on the dirty, putrid mantle of shame.  And with it, he did the most beautiful and meaningful thing in all of human history.

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2

If Jesus’ ultimate purpose here on earth was accomplished by him being brought low, obscured, stripped bare, broken physically and emotionally and dying a shameful death then certainly my lowly, obscured, stripped bare brokenness is not a barrier to being used by God.  In fact, maybe this spot of weakness and brokenness is exactly where all of the best stuff happens.

Shame or no shame in mothering, what the world tells me my time and my work is worth does not have anything to do with the reality of its eternal value.

When has your place of shame actually been a place of honor?


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My story of being a stony-hearted, brutish beast…

It was one of those days when I felt like a fraud standing in the church pew during worship.  Sunday mornings there’s a special kind of chaos that happens in our household and I frequently find myself arriving to church disheveled and loaded down with over-brimming diaper bags and teary children.  As I walk in, I am certain  that others are disdainfully appraising the bedlam that floats in around us like the perpetual cloud of dust on Charlie Brown’s friend, Pig-Pen.  More often than seems appropriate, we’ve had a fight in the car on the way over and as I sit in the sanctuary my heart slouches inside of me like a petulant teenager facing a parent who expects them to make a good showing at a family reunion.

When we started singing “All Creatures of Our God and King” I was barely tuned in. But despite my inability to focus on worship, the words started breaking through in bits and pieces, washing over me…

Burning sun…..

                        silver moon….

                                                                                            lights of evening…

                                           flowing river….

                                                                                                        flowers and fruits….

…every part of nature being exhorted to praise their Creator God.  Each line of the song like an arrow zinged to crumble the stony wall encapsulating my heart.

This verse came to mind from Luke 19:40: He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When I’ve heard this passage before, I’ve felt a sense of shame that Jesus would have to make a fallback plan in case humans didn’t burst forth with cheers and praise and rejoicing at the presence of the Lord.  In previous readings, I’d interpreted this statement almost as the declaration of a frustrated king who, when finding his court is full of useless subjects, waves them out of his presence and announces that it doesn’t matter anyway because he can easily replace them, with stones no less.

But then out of nowhere (well, probably out of Somewhere), my understanding of these verses completely changed.  I realized that He who created each and every thing on this planet is fully capable of imbuing every single thing with life, humans and rocks alike!  It’s not a statement of our uselessness to Him, it’s merely of a statement of our need for Him and inextricable link between worship and life.

This brings me great hope because there have been many times in recent years when I have identified too closely with this image from Psalms 73 :

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Dulled by the drudgery of long days and deadened by the monotonous work of just plowing the rows and rows of flat field, I could not imagine how I could be used for anything beautiful anymore.  Feeling like a brute beast before the Lord, I had lost the sense to know even how to move forward.  But this Jesus that we follow guides, gently it seems even, a brute beast!  This Psalm goes on,

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

To think, He doesn’t just pull a brute beast towards more drudgery.  He guides that brute beast towards glory!  Of course, it’s not that he always change our geography or circumstances by taking us out of the dusty field in which we’re working.  But He often changes our experience of our fields by walking beside us, touching us with his presence and whispering guidance in our ear, even giving us glimpses of the glory that we are moving towards.

And this same Creator who guides this brute beast to glory will also inspire stones to cry out.  He can even animate a lifeless rock to use it to sing to Him!

I am sometimes that rock. Lower even than an animal, I am so dead in myself that I cannot conjure up one drop of life on my own. I need that Creator, Source of Life bigger and better and beyond me, to make me viable again.  To make me pliable and usable, something beautiful once more in His potter’s hands.

So as I stood in church that day, those arrows breaking up the stony walls around my heart, by time we got to the verse of the hymn where we sing, “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care!” I find my whole self lifting upwards, remembering this Creator who is so wonderful that He would inspire even an inanimate object to worship Him!

In that moment and always, I find hope again as I worship Him, turning towards Him to be refreshed by His never-ending flow of  living water. But when I’m even worse off than that, when I’m stony-hearted and don’t even have enough life in me to turn like a senseless animal towards Him, He can still reach into me and revive my deadest places to make me sing again.

Am I the only stony-hearted, brutish beast among us?  If you’ve got a prayer request, message me at weakestreed@gmail.com or put it in the comments below and I’d be happy to pray for you as I pray for myself to be  softened for His use and guided to His glory.


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When you wonder if you’ve buried the best of you…

It wasn’t that life had been idyllic before my mom left us, though I had been told that from the outside it appeared so.  There were certainly fault lines that our home had been built on. Generations of our family, in fact, had built along these fissures. So maybe that thing that shook us all to our core, leaving us each feeling permanently off kilter, was unavoidable. When you ignore the growing rifts, can you reasonably expect that there aren’t eventually going to be damages? Casualties even?

But here’s the thing: When the event comes along that shakes the very foundations of your life and leaves everything permanently changed you determine, though perhaps subconsciously, never to be caught unawares again.  You live the rest of your days shadowed by the grim reality that the Earth on which you stand might so very easily be broken to bits.  Knowing how you barely survived that first event, you brace yourself at the occurrence of even the most trivial vibration, an almost constant subtle tension defining your musculature.  In places where you feel exposed a bit you notice yourself  holding your breath, keen not to miss the most minute signals in your surroundings that could indicate the ground’s about to drop out from under you. Your hyperawareness feels like a matter of life and death.  You live with a low-grade sense of dread that, after so many years pass, you just assume is a part of living. Though you experience joy, you never trust it to stay.

When I talked last week about unpacking that pretty box that we buried when our family exploded, and worrying less about whatever gruesome things we might find and more about the beautiful things that we might have buried forever, this is what I meant:  Would I open that box we’d closed to find eyes, clear and hopeful, peering out at me.  Eyes that are better attuned to the beauty in the present than the danger in the future?  Would I find feet, bare and dainty, made for nimbly navigating instead of ones weighed heavily to the ground in cumbersome, steel-toed preparedness?  Would I find skin that freely takes pleasure in soaking up the comfort and warmth of another’s embrace instead of skin that pulls away in anticipation of the next loss.  Would I find a heart radiating with hope instead of one buckshot with disappointment so deeply and inextricably buried that it has shaped the very manner in which it beats?

Did what happened to me as a child permanently and irrevocably damage me?  Would my life have been better had those things never happened? More importantly, would I have been better if they had never happened?

Did my circumstances shape who I’ve become?  Without a doubt. My circumstances may have shaped me, but I also know that there is only One who defines me. Every single thing that touched my life first went through His perfectly loving, perfectly wise hands.  All of my days were written in His book before even one came to pass.  He has kept track of every tossing and turning night and every tear I have shed as if collecting them, that not even one might fall to the ground forgotten by Him.  And what will He do with them?  With every. single. one., He will work it for my good.  To think of that!  Nothing will be wasted by the Great Redeemer when it come to bringing about good, not even a single tear. He promises His people who mourn-

“to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

Isaiah 61:3-4

Sometimes it is hard for me to trust that God’s good is really and truly that good.  A lot of people and a lot of things promise good, but I’ve been disappointed so very many times. And the truth is that all this supposed “good” that God is doing has felt an awful lot like excruciating, searing pain.  It has felt like death. It has felt like He’s broken my bones in order to reset them, but to me my bones appeared perfectly fine in the first place. It felt like everything that I could possibly cling to, the very things that I could depend on to shelter me, were ripped from my grasp.

My familiar home, my community, my church family, my parents as I knew them…These are not unreasonable things for a 12 year-old to depend on.  But all of them seemed to be torn from my grip and remained out of my reach for years as I stumbled toward adulthood, ostensibly on my own.

To be honest, I don’t have a perfect understanding of why tragedy and suffering are allowed by God. And I’m still praying that God would reveal to me how He held me during those times when I felt so very alone. But I am slowly starting to understand parts of how God used those very painful years for good.

First, He used it to teach me the destructive power of sin and to determine to diligently pursue what He has said is best and trust His perfect wisdom above my own feelings and inclinations. (I’ll have to save this part of the discussion for another day, though.)

Second, He is showing me the superiority of placing my hope in Him above all else. Because when even the very earth crumbles around me, He does not.

Though people let me down, He never lets me go.

My own dreams and plans may fail, but His gifts and His call on my life are irrevocable.

What others intend for harm, He uses for good.

And even when I am not faithful to Him, He remains faithful to me.

So though I don’t fully understand why we are handed over to death and suffering to achieve life and wholeness, I will remember that what I cling to will largely determine how I weather the storm. If I wrap my arms too tightly** around temporal things, things that can crumble as easily as I can, when what I’m holding onto inevitably falls then so will I.  But if I choose to build my life on the Rock that cannot be moved and turn my focus to things that are imperishable (Him, His promises, His love, His plan for good) then I will not be destroyed.

I am changing my strategy now to this: When the storms of life have their way and a path of destruction seems to have carved deeply and painfully through things we tend to value in this world, I will still be found standing on solid ground with my gaze fixed on Him, my vision full of that which is of greatest beauty and worth.  Because everything that fell away was perishable anyway.  That which was present at the beginning and that which will be victorious in the end is eternal. And THAT is truly what I crave.  Eternity, after all, is what we were made for.  And though I don’t always feel this way, I am determining to trust that He will make all things beautiful in their time:  Whatever is dead in that box is not as good as what He is bringing to life.

Are there parts of yourself and your life that you thought were beautiful that you had to bury?  Why do you think that happened?  How do you find that balance in your own life; joyfully embracing the gifts but not grasping them as if they’re our life preservers?

**I do not mean we should not cherish and receive as gifts those things that we can enjoy here on Earth.  It’s just to say that we can’t hold too tightly to them.  If we lean the full weight of our hope on them, we will surely find ourselves toppling eventually.  And if another person is that upon which we are leaning we may crush them as well.


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Does What I Do Matter?

I get up exhausted as is the general state of existence in the early years of motherhood. I make my way to the kitchen and in the clang and clatter and chaos of breakfast with three toddlers, it became clear that my middle child really should be seen by the doctor for her cough which has developed a definite “whooping” characteristic to it.  So, I make an appointment and start the process of picking up the pace to get everyone ready to head out the door.  Now we have a deadline.  So as I’m gathering clothing and topping off cereal bowls and barely managing to finish my coffee, these things happen:

  • Someone climbs on a table and starts digging in a potted plant spreading moss and soil all over everyone’s breakfast.

  • Someone throws a full cereal bowl trailing its soggy, milky contents, across the kitchen.

  • Two toddlers have found their way into the bathroom and one needs a rear wiped and the other is splashing in the toilet bowl with her bare hands.

But I still manage to get everyone dressed and shined and shoe-ed and ready to head out the door…only to find that my cell phone has gotten lost, carried off by a child and buried somewhere unknown in the house.  (Of course, THIS is the morning I actually need a phone with me because I have a call coming in to give me a half hour notice on a delivery one of us needs to be home to receive).  And the irritating pebble in my shoe as I search our entire home for my phone: I know that each second that passes, kiddos are busy undoing everything I’ve just done to get them ready.  Shoes and socks and jackets are getting peeled off and strewn about and additional messes are being made, building exponentially, one on the other.

But I finally do find my phone and get everyone semi-reassembled to make our way to the doctor, now running late.  And we step out of the door of our now completely trashed house into the driveway (mentally piling on items to a list of all the things I’ll need to put back into order once I arrive home), my 1 year old trips and lands on her face, smacking it soundly on the cement.  Split, swollen lip.  Blood and drool everywhere.  Dabbing and soothing as sobs choke her, I still am racing the clock, getting three kids buckled into their car seats.

Finally I sit in the front seat to buckle my own seatbelt, stereo-sound of screaming children the constant soundtrack of my day,  only to find that my car keys are lost…. Probably in one of three or four random bags I’ve grabbed on my way out to accommodate the diapering and snacking and entertainment needs of my children.  So I dig frantically to find them and my fingers grasp them just as a semi truck pulls up  in front of our house to make the big delivery (with no half hour notice call). But only “box 2 of 2” is present and it’s half opened with parts obviously missing but we’re too late for the doc already so I make some hasty notes on the packing slip and sign anyway, making yet another note on my internal to-do list.  (Call some huge, couldn’t-care-less-about-me box store to check up on all the random parts of our new and costly playground that have obviously fallen out, piece by piece, in their trek across the country.)

None of it is a big deal, but all of it needs to be taken care of.  By me.  Nobody else cares about it (probably not even you, dear reader) and the worst part is that I don’t even really care about it.  But it’s the stuff of which my life is made.  And even if no one cares, not even me, because every small thing on this litany of irritations  is certainly not a big deal(except for my children getting hurt, of course), this is the stuff of motherhood.  And that is what makes me very, very angry about my present state of existence.  Yep, that’s right.  I used the A word.  Deal with it.

You know the term Vampire Electronic? It’s what they call small appliances that are constantly plugged in, and slowly but steadily draining energy, but aren’t necessarily doing anything.  That’s what being a mom is all about.  Lots of times I don’t actually feel like I’m doing much of anything productive.  I’m just constantly on, plugged into all the small things of the day.  Perpetually vigilant.  Guarding my 1 year old from throwing herself down a stairway or climbing into the hot oven.  Guarding my 2 and 3 year old from bloodying each other as they quibble constantly.  Guarding my leather couch from frustratingly-lost-by-me-but-easily-found-by-kids Sharpies and tonight’s dinner from fingers fond of probing both nostril cavities and tuna casseroles.  I could try to do something other than guard duty for two minutes, but guaranteed: I’d pay for it with at least 20 minutes of clean-up and possibly a visit to the doctor’s office.  I could choose not to take care of all these little messes, but by the end of the day my kids and my home would be a complete disaster.  Like child endangerment levels of chaos.

ALL of my energy, ALL of my time, ALL of me get sucked into these absolutely insignificant messes. So, I am spent doing it. Doing nothing of any real significance, it seems.  And what follows is the definite underlying feeling that my life is not really very significant.  That I am not really very significant at all.  And I’m mad that all the talents and education and skills and experience I’ve racked up that nicely fill out a resume or could contribute something I have determined might be valuable to the world or  that might even gain me the approval of  stranger at a cocktail party, don’t amount to a hill of beans in my current existence.

And feeling that way and knowing that I can’t even really complain about it with any reasonable expectation of great pity makes me feel even worse about it.  Because it’s not genocide or war or poverty that I am enduring.  It’s just motherhood.  It’s just the slow pull into death of one marble in your pocket after another when you’re treading water.  (Or of one more bag piled on your shoulders as you and your toddlers run out the door towards the last minute doctor appointment.)  That’s when Philippians 2 starts to make sense.  More sense than ever.

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

The fact is that Jesus had eternally more to offer than I do.  And he put aside infinitely more talents leaving heaven as God to come to Earth as man than I did by leaving a career to  stay home with my kids full time.  To be human, Jesus had to diminish himself.  God of the universe chose to take on a limited role, one that didn’t measure up to the fullness of who he was and could be.  Certainly God’s time, God’s energy, God’s talent is not to be wasted.  Yet Jesus, equal with God, concerned himself with, what to Him, definitely must be the small things .  The little details of people’s lives. Things and people that even other human beings didn’t want to concern themselves with.  Messy things.  Annoying things.  Mundane things. And it was important enough to him to spend years of his time and precious blood, sweat and tears on.  Ultimately, it was worth dying a humiliating, humbling, shameful death for.

So what this tells me is that what I think is significant, what the world tells me is worth spending my time, talent and energy on, is probably not what ultimately is the most significant.  If Jesus himself did not grasp at more, trusting God to use his significantly diminished life here on earth for an eternal purpose, then I should also trust him with this; my own sometimes painful, self-diminishing, daily dying-to-self life of motherhood.

*Now for anyone thinking my title reflects my actual position on the value motherhood, read on in this blog.  I know as well as anyone that moms are significant.  But it’s a significance that is sensed more clearly as we stand back to admire the whole civilized city of it than as we stand in the mud lifting heavy brick-upon-brick to build it.  And it is a significance that is understood more profoundly in its absence than its presence.

Is significance found in diminishing yourself or in being exalted or put in a place of honor? Does it feel that way when it’s happening?