Monday, May 22, 2017

I Can Only Imagine

One of the things I didn't anticipate about motherhood is the kids' constant planning of birthday parties.

We have literally hosted one legit birthday party, ever; and yet our lives seem to be a constant verbal stream of "this will be my birthday theme" and "this will be my birthday cake flavor/decoration" and "this is who I want to invite to my birthday party."

Interestingly, their ideas for birthday party themes and decorations only extend as far as their experience of the same. When Lili turned three, I went all out and did the Pinterest coated-in-sprinkles cake, and it blew her mind. She talked about it all year and wanted the same cake for her fourth birthday, along with the same Dollar Store butterfly decorations. She literally could not imagine anything better.

As my kids were rehashing the highlights of a recent birthday cake that we made for a friend - it had Haribo gummy frogs on top of it, and now they want frogs on their birthday cakes - it struck me that our imaginations really are quite limited when it comes to "as good as it gets." As CS Lewis famously said, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Then there's this promise straight from Scripture: 
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9)

And this:
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21).

It's hard to imagine, but faith assures us that this is true.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When I Became a Mom

When I became a mom, my relationship with nearly everything changed.

The world at once became more simple (the joy of a sprinkler) and more complex (a trip to the grocery store). The world became more silly and more scary, more busy and more still, and I see myself as more sinful and more sanctified.

My husband became daddy. I see more of his gifts, more of his love - reasons for marrying him that I didn't even know existed.

My mom and mother-in-law became grandmas. They serve even more, I see more of their talents, more of their hearts.

I see more of my own heart, and it's often not good. But it's necessary, because in this I also see more of my Savior, and He is good.

Tim Keller has an idea in his work on marriage that we should view our spouse through heavenly eyes, as in, through the lens of what our spouse will be like in Glory, when their sin and weaknesses have been stripped away and their strengths have been fully sanctified. His point is that - through Christ - we are a primary agent in helping our spouse along that path here on earth.

Raising children is part of this path. You wouldn't think it if you saw my house at an average lunchtime... or naptime ... or bedtime.  But there is a lot of peeling back the unwelcome bits, and I know the constant demands of motherhood are making me more human, since our infinitely-giving Jesus is the model for true humanity.

I am also more fully human in suffering alongside others as a mom. I share your joys and your sorrows, and my heart grows bigger for all joys and sorrows. I lost a tiny babe at seven weeks recently, and I suddenly joined a whole host of sisters who comfort me with the comfort that they themselves have received from God (2 Cor 1:4).

This life is about us: we have a God who crafts every detail, who wipes every tear, who died for and was raised to life for and who calls particular people. It's also so much not about us: our purpose is to love and serve and to give up our lives for the sake of others, to the glory of God. God uses many paths to teach us these lessons - I know several childless women whose lives of love and service are exemplary - but for me, motherhood has put this call into stark relief because without these three kids, I would take the easy path, and I would be missing out.

I'm grateful today, Mother's Day, that God has called me to the abundant life - not just happiness and ease, but true abundance - through being a mom. I'm grateful for my own moms and many others who have walked further down this path before me, and who have done it with diligence and reverence and joy.

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Up-to-the-New Year Resolutions

I took Facebook off of my phone the day after the election, and I feel like I've regained so much of my life that I'm inspired to make a whole list of resolutions that are wildly unambitious but inspiring nonetheless.

So, between now and the New Year, I resolve to:

1) Update this blog. (Maybe more ambitious than I realize, given the fact that the last time I tried to update was at the last New Year, and it literally broke my computer. That can be a blog post for another day.)

2) Make holiday-scented playdough. Mint, cinnamon, or both.

3) Drink a lot of mulled wine.

4) Resume the 7-minute workout at least twice a week. Like I said, wildly unambitious. I was actually doing really well at it right up until I got pregnant with Elese. She's almost 2 and now that I have a huge yard, I don't even take my kids out for walks.

5) Read a book to Elese when I want to strangle her. (I hope CPS isn't reading this; if you are, I promise, I'll never do that. But if you knew her, you might understand the impulse.)

6) Put away Elese's clean clothes.

7) Write to a friend.

8) Unpack the junk drawer box that's in the corner of my dining area. If not unpacked by 12/31/16, I shall throw it in the garbage in its entirety.

9) Let my kids stay up too late for something fun and Christmas-y.

10) Give something that brings joy to someone who doesn't expect it.

Monday, August 01, 2016

By Faith this Mountain Shall be Moved

Whenever we visit Target, my son begs to go down the Lego aisle. He examines as many boxes as he can. He holds them reverently. He imagines using long-spent Christmas money on new sets. He suggests buying them as gifts for his dad. And he nearly always leaves empty-handed.

I'm a big meanie.

Of course, I have very good reasons for this, reasons that are connected to my larger goals as a parent. My job as mom is to help my children learn to be content with what they have, to be good stewards, to not spend money they don't have, to know the satisfaction of working hard to earn something and the value of delayed gratification. But, at the moment, all he hears in that Lego aisle is, "no."

I've been contemplating lately how this helps me better understand God's purposes in parenting me. When I hear, "By Faith this Mountain Shall be Moved," am I envisioning the mountain of what I want and am not getting, or do I have the imagination to believe that God might be moving a bigger mountain, one with eternal and gospel significance.

"By faith we see the hand of God ... We'll walk by faith and not by sight."

I keep having to learn this lesson over and over (again, not too different from my earthly parenting).

Monday, November 09, 2015

When You Need It Most

It is one thing to talk boldly about the Gospel when you have a comfortable perch and feel like you are doing pretty well on your own.

It is another thing when you feel the acute sting of failure, and the spectre of self-loathing stalks your every move. It is so hard to preach the Gospel to yourself when you want to have done better, you don't want to believe that you're actually that weak and needy.

This is when it is the hardest, but this is when you need it most.

[If we're going to split hairs, you actually need the Good News that Christ died for your sins -- the Gospel -- all the time, so thank God that he gives you melt downs so you recognize your need. But let's not split hairs right now, okay? Let's just thank God for grace, grace, grace, when we know we need it and even when we don't.]

Saturday, October 31, 2015

That Giant Sprinkle Cake in the Sky

So, my middle child turned three earlier this month, and even though we just do family dinners for birthdays at this age, I wanted it to be special. When I showed her a Pinterest picture of a cake covered with sprinkles and her eyes lit up, I knew that this was the thing. All afternoon and evening of the big day, her whole face shone when she looked at the cake, and every picture is "marred" by her stealing tiny bits of sprinkles and putting them in her mouth.

What's amazing about the sprinkle cake, aside from the sheer quantity of sprinkles and how easy it is to end up with tiny, sugary balls bouncing off of your tile in every direction, is that it's not like my kids are strangers to sprinkles.

We put sprinkles on steamers for them at least a few times a week. I put sprinkles on their yogurt, sprinkles on our coconut fudge truffles, sprinkles on our hot chocolate.

It would seem that familiarity has not bred contempt. In fact, quite the opposite: through consistent, delightful exposure, Lili's heart has been trained to appreciate -- probably much more than she would have without regular exposure - a cake covered with over a pound of sprinkles.

Theologians like Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, and - my favorite author - Robert Farar Capon, teach that the same is true of delighting in God. Sure, life is not all hot chocolate and squirty whipped cream, but it's also not all liver and celery. Life is often hard: suffering precedes glory for us just as it did for Christ. But most of our lives also have sprinkles of the sweet and colorful, things in which we find joy and that reflect Christ's goodness to us even now. "Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the an who takes refuge in him!" (Psalm 34:8)

We are people of the future. This world has been ravaged by sin, and we are grateful that it is not all there is. Eternal joy awaits. In the meanwhile, heaven is breaking through, sprinkle by sprinkle, giving us tastes of glory, encouraging us to press on, to develop appetites for what is truly good and deeply satisfying. This world is a training ground for our hearts to appreciate the overwhelming joy that is to come. You can't even imagine, but sometimes it's important to try.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mom Anthem

We are the people of the 7:00 bedtime.

We are the people with the dented walls, the crayoned walls, the inexplicably toilet papered walls.

We are the people who stay up too late, either to get more more thing done, or to do nothing at all.

We are the people who fear we are slowly going crazy and who loudly say with clear-eyed realism that this is not hyperbole, this is real life.

We are the people who will do anything for another giggle, pay anything for a better diaper cream or sippy cup, cook anything for a sick tummy.

We are balm for the littlest of broken hearts.

We are the people who cheer each other from afar, trapped at home for naps, reaching out for comfort and to support.

We are the people who say, "No, you're doing okay under that pile of laundry," and, "Have you considered using paper plates every now and then?"

We are the people who die a thousand little deaths every day,
          without much time to pause for anything.

Pause now.


We are people of the cross,
     as an identity and as a lifestyle.

We are people of the future.
We are people of hope.
We are people of faith.
We are people of love.

We are objects of grace, we are vessels of mercy, we are not strangers to the flood, but we are also of hearts that overflow.

We are people who will wake tomorrow to mercies anew. We give of our lives because Life has been given.

Sleep well, my friends, for tomorrow we love and we die and we live again.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

To Lili, on her third birthday

Dear Lili,

You are three today. Some day, years and years hence, you may wonder what you were like at age three, and this is what I will tell you.

You are happy. You have a nearly insatiable thirst for life, and you bring fun wherever you go. You run faster and harder, you jump higher, you splash more, you dive into your imaginative play more than almost any two-now-three-year-old I know. You feel deeply, which means your highs are very high, and your lows are very low. I think this will be a struggle for you throughout life. When the leggings that you want to wear are dirty, it takes you an hour to recover. When you are told that you aren't allowed to do something, or that something you have done has been counterproductive, you are devastated. But, you recover, and your goodnight "ugga mugga" hugs, your hollers of "good night" echoing after me as I go up the stairs every night, when we end the day on a good note, is one of the best parts of my day. When your lows are more than just dirty pants or the wrong cup, I pray that you will always be able to hold onto knowing that joy could be waiting just around the corner. Dear one, this isn't just from your mom, but it's a promise from God worth holding onto: weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

You are unique. And a little bit crazy. And it's fantastic. You have a unique sense of style, and it's clear to everyone who sees you that you have been dressing yourself for a year now. You love to wear leggings ("tights") with a skirt or dress over them, you sometimes have your shirt backwards, and you almost always have your shoes on the wrong feet. But, you have picked them out and put them on yourself. You play with the crowd if it suits you, or you play by yourself if you prefer. Please, stay unique. God made you special and all of your tastes and desires and preferences, they are all custom-designed gifts from God. If this makes you feel a little bit lonely or weird at times, lean into it. You will come out on the other side of the weirdness stronger and happier for having known and embraced who God made you to be.

You are determined. You drive me crazy sometimes with your insistence that you can - and will - do something by yourself. Sometimes this determination ends in tears, but, increasingly, it ends with success. You do zippers, you do your carseat buckcle, you dress yourself and brush your own teeth, you use knives to cut grapes and butter your own toast, and when you have a two year old of your own (now three!), you will realize what an accomplishment this is. Stay determined. Life is hard, it just is. Whether you are curing cancer, climbing mountains or just facing the daily grind of another dirty diaper, another pile of laundry, and another dinner to make, or another thing gone wrong with your car or your job, part of living in a fallen world is just setting your gaze ahead and doing what needs to be done with excellence and determination. Overcome your disappointment, overcome your weariness, harness your determination, and you will be a fierce woman who always makes your mother proud.

You are nuturing. I sometimes can't believe what a servant heart you have when it comes to taking care of those you love. The other day, Grampy biked to our house and you brought him not one, but two, cups of ice water. Not a day goes by when you aren't getting water or vitamins or a blanket for one of your siblings. From the day you met your sister, you have loved her deeply with a beautiful sisterly love that brings tears to my eyes as I write. One of the highlights of my year was when you met Elese and couldn't stop nuzzling her and saying over and over, "It's my baby sister." Some day, you will realize that our current culture doesn't celebrate nurturing women as much as God does. He created you to love and to nurture, and doing so doesn't make you weak but incredibly strong. "Greater love has no one than this, that she lays down her life for her friends and family." You will have the chance to show this self-sacrificial to people around you throughout your whole life. As you grow more and more, may you also grow in learning this truth: "a life of sacrificial love is one of liberty."

You are beautiful. Your eyes alone can light up a whole room, not to mention how you smile with your whole face. I will tell you now and for your whole life that you are beautiful, and sometimes you will doubt me. You will tell me that I'm just saying that because I'm your mom, that I have to say nice things like that. But I really do believe it. You will be even more beautiful as you grow in grace, in gentleness, in confidence of being who God created you to be. He didn't make a mistake in crafting your eyes or your hair or your face or your body. He numbers the hairs on your head, and he also adores your smile. The culture around us has a standard of beauty that you may or may not end up fitting; that doesn't mean you can't be beautiful in your own special way, which will make you shine even more brightly than those who will try so hard to fit in. You can count on me to always be someone who is committed to helping you feel and be beautiful on both the inside and the outside. I hope you will trust me and let me be on your side in this regard.

You are loved. Of all the things I could tell you about yourself, this is the most important. When battles rage inside of you and outside of you, I pray - oh, I pray - that you will be rooted and grounded in love. The love that we as your parents shower on you is but a shadow of the love that Jesus has for you, but it's a start, and it's a model. We love you when you are happy and when you are mad and when you are obedient and when you have deliberately disobeyed and disappointed us. Our love for you doesn't depend on how you look or how you behave. You are ours, and we love you and delight in you. When you look at pictures, when you relive memories, when you think about life when it gets tough, may it always be through the lens, first of all, of knowing that you are deeply loved. We love you, but more importantly, God loves you with his everlasting love. Your life will have ups and downs, but you will always be better off for having known and remembered that your primary identity, your security and your hope comes not from within yourself but from a love that is given to you freely, abundantly, eternally, and unchangeably. You are loved, little one, more than you will probably ever know, and I pray every day that it is this Love that will guide your life, give you hope, and give you both roots and wings.

Happy Birthday, Lili, now and always,
Your Mom

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Love Your Neighbor on the Road

This post deviates a little bit from my normal writing (though I haven't posted in so long, what is "normal"?), but I feel like I've just gotta say this.

As I was driving home this morning, driving gently to not cause some serious head bobbing by the sleeping baby in the backseat, I approached a roundabout intersection where I noticed a bicyclist waiting to cross. Because he was waiting at a crosswalk, and because it's actually both law and courtesy to stop for pedestrians, and because I sometimes cross the street at that very same place and know how frustrating it can be to have car after car zoom past, I stopped to let him cross.

The red minivan behind me didn't appreciate my slowing, and she whipped around me and zipped past the cyclist, who was just about to inch out from the front of my car to the next lane. I shook my head in frustration because this happens all the time. Seriously, friends: All. The. Time. She maybe saved herself 30 seconds, a half-minute that she could have ended up regretting for the rest of her life.

And you know what? We keep seeing these news reports of pedestrians getting hit by cars! In the last week, two teenagers have been hit by cars on the same street, and after I got home and logged on for a Facebook rant about this woman, I saw that a bicyclist had just been hit by a car several miles away.

I have a theory about why this keeps happening, and it has several layers. First, it starts with simple ignorance on the part of both pedestrians and drivers. Who has the right of way? (hint: the weaker one, i.e. the pedestrian, should ALWAYS have the drivers looking out for them; on top of that, you are legally required to stop at a crosswalk if there is somebody waiting at it.)

Then, there's the layer of distraction - as far as I could tell, this woman wasn't on her cell phone (or she might have rear-ended me), but that seems to be pretty common. I'm amazed at how many people I see driving around on their phones, even after my city made that illegal. They did it for a reason, folks, and it's not just to inconvenience you or to drive up city revenues.

Then, there's the layer of experience. We are such a car-dependent society, that I don't think people even think about the pedestrian experience. We don't understand how vulnerable somebody on a bicycle is because we've never ridden a bike down a city street. We don't think to look for pedestrians at cross-walks because we don't actually have a scope of experience that acknowledges that people these days walk, for fun or for exercise or to get somewhere, and sometimes in the course of walking, those people have to cross streets. As far as many people are concerned, crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections simply don't exist.

And, the final layer, which I think is the most problematic: the human heart. We're so caught up in ourselves, we're so busy getting somewhere, we're so busy thinking about what we're going to do when we get there or what we forgot to do where we're coming from, we simply don't have capacity in our hearts for others. There is no looking out for the interests of others, either in the home or on the road. There is no loving your neighbor as yourself because we don't know our neighbors and we don't care to know them.

Dan Doriani has written a great book on interpreting the Old Testament called Putting the Truth to Work. In one helpful section, he works out some of the implications, both positive and negative, of the Ten Commandments (these are also fleshed out, less "popularly" in the Westminster Catechisms - question 135 of the larger catechism, if you're interested). When the Lord tells us not to murder, he is also telling us to actively protect the lives and the well-being of those around us. Doriani's example is hand rails in staircases: a simple measure that helps to protect the life and the physical well-being of anyone who might use those stairs. It seems to me that stopping at a crosswalk has a similar implication.

If you are a not a Christian, it is still common courtesy to follow the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you are a Christian, it is incumbent upon you to show your Savior's love to all those you encounter, and that love is shown in both the most profound and the most simple of ways, whether they ever know your identity or your faith. Yielding to pedestrians is one of the least of these.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What's so good about being a Calvinist?

Came across my copy of The Practical Calvinist, a book that was published in honor of one of my seminary professors, D. Clair Davis, upon his retirement. Following is part of an article that he wrote in the Presbyterian Journal in 1986, under the title above. I was going to quote just two paragraphs, but once I got going, I just couldn't stop. And I'm not even going to apologize. In fact, you're welcome.

"Basically, the Five Points tell you how God saves people, and you've been saved for years. What you need to know is how to be a better wife and mother. You need to know how to get ready for your next mid-life crisis. You need to know how to pray when the pain gets sharper. how does being a Calvinist help then?
"It helps because underneath all those questions about how to live is a much bigger, more essential one: Why bother? How do you know the Lord really cares?
"You don't ask that one out loud in your Sunday-school class. But you know you're eaten up with worry. You've gotten used to being bored with the Bible. You can't identify with the things the other Christians talk about. You need a fresh start with the Lord. But where do you begin?
"Now that's where Calvinism really comes through for you. It applies the Bible where you need it the most. Think through the basics. Jesus died for you personally (Personal Atonement). He loves you, not what he can get out of you (Unconditional Election). He pours out his love on every bit of you, not just what you think is your sweeter and nicer side (Total Depravity). His love is stronger than all your doubt and foolishness and fear put together (Irresistible Grace). He keeps on loving you, all the way through to the end (Perseverance of the Saints). That's the Five Points of your Father's love!
"When you've digested how much the Lord has done for you, then you'll know what you're doing. That's why the Lord kept telling his people, 'Remember the Exodus!' In the middle of the clutter and snarls in your life, keep in mind the Lord's mighty, loving arm that lifted you out of slavery into the Land of Promise. 'He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?' (Rom 8:31-32).
"Pondering the five points of God's grace isn't a nostalgia trip. When you're alert about your salvation, then you know what life is all about. When you see how your salvation comes only from the Lord and not a bit from yourself, then you understand a lot of other things too...
"...After turning away from glorying in yourself, be sure to start glorying in Jesus Christ. If you stop half-way, all you have left is apathy. But the Lord has called you to enjoy him forever. you do that by looking at Philippians 2 and doing some solid thinking about what Jesus gave up for you. Weigh what it meant for him to be a servant. Consider his obedience all the way to death. Try to grasp Jesus Christ crucified, crying out, 'My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!' Now you're ready to start telling yourself and the Lord how wonderful and glorious Jesus Christ is."
The Practical Calvinist, pp. 47-49