Friday, August 21, 2015

You Is Loved

I haven't seen the movie The Help, but I've read the book, and that's almost as good, right? Even if I hadn't read the book, I've been on Pinterest, so I'm familiar with the movie's most famous quote, the one where the black "help" tells the little white girl, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

I spend a lot of time on the Internet, especially since I'm nursing still 6-8 times a day, and I think there are a lot of people floating around in angry cyberspace who need to be affirmed in this way. Not in an anti-micro-aggression, self-esteem-building sort of way, because Lord knows we have enough of those and all that's done is create a bunch of needy monsters. They (we) need a much deeper affirmation, the sort that confers both identity and belonging.

Our current culture has been fairly proficient at casting off superficial affirmations that conferred superficial identity and superficial belonging. But rather than true healing that needed to take place when those bandaids were ripped off, we (collective America) are much more like the demon-possessed man that Jesus described Matthew 12. We swept the house clean but didn't fill it with anything worthwhile, so that demon returned with seven even worse ones, and now our current state is even worse than it was before. "So also it will be with this evil generation" (Matt 12:45) - I actually just searched for "seven worse demons" for a Bible reference and came up with the whole "generation" quote, and, wow.

Tonight, my two year old - out of the blue - told my four year old that he was ugly. Just to be sure I heard her correctly, I exclaimed, "What?!?" And she repeated, "Titus, you ugly." And I grabbed her arm and marched her down to her room for a little discussion.

I wasn't actually sure she knew that what she'd done was wrong, so we sat criss-cross-applesauce, nose-to-nose and knee-to-knee on her floor and I asked, "Did you know that what you were saying was mean?"
"Yes"
"Why did you say it?"
"I don't know."
"Did you think it would be funny?"
"I don't know."
"Did you think it would make you feel good about yourself somehow?"
"I don't know."
"Okay, you're only two, so I don't expect you to know, but here's my guess. I think you thought it would be funny to say something mean to your brother. Even if he was mostly oblivious, it's really dangerous to your heart to get in a habit of saying mean things either to be funny or to somehow otherwise feel good about yourself. I know that it's human nature to make yourself feel better by somehow putting down people around you, but it makes your heart ugly, and that's a lot worse than your face being ugly. If you need to feel better about yourself in the future, you come to mommy or daddy, and we will give you a hug and tell you how much we love you, and how much Jesus loves you."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if my little girl got this figured out while she was still a little girl and the worst thing she did was tell an oblivious brother that he was ugly? If, by the time she was, say, a teenager, she had an identity that was so rooted in Christ's love and what his death on the cross accomplished for her both now and for eternity, that she could skip junior high insecurities, high school peer pressure, and college dating games, mommy wars and identity politics as an adult?

You is loved. But it's not because you is kind or you is smart or you is important. There's always going to be somebody kinder, smarter, or more important, so don't base your identity on those things. You is loved for one reason and one reason only: you is Christ's. He died to make you his, and ain't nobody can snatch you out of his hand. Be kind, because you is loved.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I Would if I Could but I Can't

As I snuggled with a scared little girl tonight, I almost whispered, "Mommy will always be here for you. I won't let anything bad happen to you." But I didn't, because those are two promises that I can't keep.

Oh, how I wish that I could. I wish I could promise her that when I go on trips, I will always come back to her. I wish I could promise that I won't let bad things happen to her or to me, to be the mommy she wants me to be, calming all fears, soothing all sorrows.

My impotence drives me to point her to the Omnipotent one, the one who makes those promises and who can and will keep them. We both abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

What a grace that God, in all of his God-ish-ness, is for us. That all of the characteristics that make him God - his power, his sovereignty, his omnipresence - is those things for us. Let me say that again: for us. I cannot sleep in two rooms with one sick kid and one scared kid, but God is always with them both. I need to remember this in my exhaustion  and my fear, both tonight and always. And they need to learn this, even now when God is often a mere abstraction.

"Jesus loves me, this I know."

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want."

Oh, let them learn this now when they are small, to have the faith of a child, so that when they are big they may continue to have faith like a child.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some Nights

Some nights, I go to bed so empty and so tired ... just spent from all that it takes to keep three small humans alive and relatively happy. It's worthwhile work, but it can be weary work, and there's just no sugarcoating that fact.

Some nights, and tonight is one of those nights, I go to bed full. My kids and I had a good day: we colored, we practiced patterns, we picked tomatoes, we ate our lunch out of little compartments in egg cartons, we took good naps, we had a good dinner, we played outside in the golden hour sunlight while daddy worked on the car, we giggled and tickled after baths.

I read the synposis of the latest Planned Parenthood video today, one where they talk about cutting a baby's head open to "harvest" its brain, while its heart is still beating. I couldn't watch the video for fear of totally undoing myself; the key quotes were enough. And so while I dressed my baby for bed, I particularly savored her perfect little body. The rolls on her legs, the peach-fuzz on her head. Her budding teeth that are causing us both so much grief. I marvel over her and I grieve for mamas everywhere who, for whatever reason, whether they have been deceived or exploited or they have no explanation whatsover, who have empty arms. I grieve for the babies whose souls went straight to heaven before they had a taste of earth. I'm convicted that in the bad days, I take these three little lives for granted, or that I even resent them. I'm so convicted it makes me ache. I want to take back all my wicked thoughts of days when I resent those babies, when I resent the gift that is life, just life, that I didn't create, but that I'm given to steward and to enjoy. I can't take it back, but I can rest in the Blood that covers my past ingratitude and my future short tempers and short-sightedness and short everything.

Tonight, I am full. But, upon reflection, it is a humble full, one that recognizes that this fulness is a gift, as is the very recognition thereof. I would love to fix the world so that every baby at least sees the light of day. Tonight, I start by asking God to help me treasure what he's given me, and then to let it ripple out from here.







Saturday, August 15, 2015

Piper on Psalm 16

In light of our church's current sermon series on the Psalms and our pastors' encouragement to us to really own one of the Psalms, I decided to spend some time this weekend meditating on a psalm. Right after I made that decision, Desiring God shared a new sermon from John Piper on Psalm 16, so I am listening to it this morning, thinking that I will make it my goal to "own" Psalm 16 for the rest of the week.

It's an hour long sermon, so you might not have time to listen to it all at once (though if you do, it will be worth your time). Here's an excerpt I particularly enjoyed just now on using God's attributes to transform our prayers.

Now, what in the flow of that worship, happens to his petition (when you get to verse 8)? “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall NOT be shaken.” 
That’s not a request anymore; that’s an affirmation.
So the way I understand verses 1-8 is that what begins as an aching longing, “Preserve me, O God,” ends with, “I will not be shaken.” “I will be preserved,” “I will be kept,” “He will not let me be lost.” 
And the pathway from the petition, aching and longing, to the assertion and the affirmation and the confidence, is heralding and exalting in what God is for us. And I would simply commend to you that way of praying. Because almost all my beginning in prayer begin the way his does. 
I seldom begin a worship service or a time of prayer in solitude red hot for God, totally confident, this is going to go well. This day, he’s in charge, it’s going to go right, he’ll give me his guidance. My prayers don’t begin that way. They begin, “HELP!” Which is the way he began, right? “Preserve me, Oh God.” And then what do you do, stop and wait for confidence to happen? No, you do what he did … you declare … what He is for you, and you exalt in what He is for you. And after you do that, through “safe refuge” and “highest treasure” and “sovereign Lord” and “trusted counselor,” confidence is rising. And that’s the way this psalm flows.
Here's the whole sermon; stay tuned for a clip in which he talks about verse 3, "As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight."


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dear Mr. Trump (on Faith and Forgiveness)

Dear Mr. Trump,

Allow me to begin by introducing myself: I am Molly, a 35 year old mother of three with a background in finance, theology, and non-profit. I, like much of red America, like dogs, bacon, my SUV, red wine, and toasted marshmallows dipped in Irish cream.

I was quite interested to follow your little dust-up this weekend at the Family Leadership Summit, and that is what I'd like to talk to you about right now. I realize that the odds of you reading this are probably even lower than the odds of me voting for you (if that were possible), but I write anyway, because that is what bloggers do.

I also write because there is something great at stake. Not America, silly, although I, too, would like to see America be great again. I'm talking about your soul.

What went through your mind on Saturday morning when Mr. Luntz asked you if you had ever asked God for forgiveness? Did you consider lying to him, knowing that's what this Christian audience would want to hear? I find it truly remarkable that you did not say a simple, "yes." I wonder if that's because you have considered what that "yes" would cost you and you don't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole?

I don't mean to talk down to you, but I considered that "yes" this morning as I had to discipline my two year old for disobedience. After discipline, I asked her to apologize, and she refused. I persisted, not because it makes me feel good to hear her say "I'm sorry," but because of what that "I'm sorry" means for her heart. I asked her if she was afraid to say "I'm sorry," if it would somehow damage her sense of self or her well-being. Even at two, she gets how vulnerable "I'm sorry" makes you. Some might call it pride and leave it at that (there's a lot of that, too), but I've actually thought about this a lot. I understand that it's deeply unnerving to admit to having been wrong, to verbalize it, because it hints at cracks at the very foundation of your being. If I lose this, who am I, and what will I have left?

I took my little girl's peachy-soft, squeezy cheeks in my hands, I held her face to look in my eyes, and I pleaded with her to understand, first of all, her need for forgiveness, and secondly, the freedom that comes therein. The freedom of knowing that you are loved irrevocably, that your identity is sealed unshakably, that no matter what you do wrong, and however many times, it doesn't change God's -- or this family's -- love for you.

Mr. Trump, I can't take your cheeks in my hands, and it would be awfully creepy if I did, but let me do it metaphorically: asking God to forgive you may feel like it costs you so much ... too much. But, what good will it do for you if you gain the whole world (to which you sometimes seem very close) but lose your soul?

I find it telling that, when asked about your faith, you responded, "I own many of the most beautiful buildings in the world." You are a true American, Mr. Trump, but I don't mean that in a complimentary sense this time. I mean that you have substituted faith in yourself, in your bootstraps, for faith in your Maker. I just heard in church Sunday morning how God feels about tall buildings, and I'll give you a hint: he's not super impressed, especially when they are a means for people to believe that they no longer have need for God.

In case you're not sure what I'm talking about, I'm referring to the tower of Babel, where God confused the ambitious builders' languages and foiled their plans. In this judgment also came mercy. If we are convinced that we don't need God, do we then really not need him? Or are we simply comfortably deceived, for God has given us the grave judgment of leaving us to our own devices, a truly hopeless condition given the God-sized chasm between mankind and the Almighty. Mr. Trump, you may have the best architects in the world, but they cannot build for you that bridge.

Jesus is on record as saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. You are a very rich man, as we all know, but that does not mean that the Kingdom of God is out of reach for you. The very next thing that Jesus said is, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Mr. Trump, your antics this past weekend may have cost you the race, but you have so much more to gain. Today, if you hear His voice, let Mr. Luntz's questions about faith and forgiveness be a wake-up call to you. Today can be a day of salvation.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Every Hour I Need Thee


I've been on vacation this week - just me and JR and the perfect child* (*needless to say, I say this tongue in cheek) in a resort where I have nary a care in the world. So few cares and responsibilities, I almost (almost) don't know what to so with myself (there is a beach and Downton Abbey season 5 on Amazon, so I've managed).

We are at a conference for JR's work, and at this morning's worship session, we sang, "I need you, oh, I need you" to the Lord and the thought struck me that I haven't felt nearly so desperate for a Savior this week, not to mention "every hour."

I've been well-rested. I haven't sighed as I broke up another fight or cleaned up another spill or calmed another over-tired overreaction. I haven't cooked. I haven't cleaned. I didn't miss any flights or have delays. People have been uniformly kind and polite to me and, in short, I have had no external triggers for sinful responses.

Yet the battle still wages for my soul, a battle of self-sufficiency, of pride, of complacency ... Of forgetting that I depend on God for life and breath and everything else.

In my normal life, I don't love every moment of struggling to get through to the next. I'm so grateful for two sets of grandparents who are giving us a full week of respite while the kiddos remain in the most excellent of care. But I have a renewed perspective on my difficult parenting moments, and it's that my two short sinners cause me to cast myself into the arms of my Savior on a much more regular basis than I would otherwise.

I need them to point me to Jesus, whether they know it or not. They need me to point them to Jesus. Our never ending mission in life is to stand hand-in-hand at the foot of cross. We'll plunge back into life on Sunday morning singing together with renewed vigor, "I need thee, oh I need thee / every hour I need thee. Oh bless me now my Savior, I come to thee."

Monday, June 29, 2015

He Restores My Soul

from CCEF's book Heart of the Matter, David Powlison on Psalm 23 (November 16, which is taken from a booklet called I'm Exhausted.)

More than any other passage, Psalm 23 brought Jesus to life for me in my struggles with fatigue. The psalm is full of promises - he provides, he restores my soul, he is with me, his goodness and mercy pursue me all of my days. Make this psalm your own. Jesus, your good Shepherd, will fill you with confidence. God doesn't meet us the way we want, but he does restore us. No matter what you are facing, you have a Shepherd who is with you, restoring you, and bringing good things -- himself -- into your life. Learn to trust him, and you truly have something worth living and dying for.

Powlison has written quite a lot on Psalm 23, and it's all brilliant. I aspire to make this psalm a dear old friend like that, rather than just a celebrity that everybody knows about but that we don't actually really know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Undeserving

Sometimes I have to work hard to be thankful, and sometimes it just washes over me in waves.

One of the "waves" times is at night, when I check in my children as they are sleeping. Even if it has been a hard day, those sweet, beautiful, peaceful faces stop my heart briefly and I am overcome with gratitude for their lives and that those lives intersect so closely with mine.

This thankful reverence usually brings with it a healthy dose of fear, as I remember what a great responsibility it is to be caring for, shepherding, these souls. These fully human souls (in tiny bodies) that have just as strong of desires and ambitions, and eternity of destinies, as my own. It's not as though God looked at me and said, "She's up for this task!" In fact, God continually looks upon me and says, "You are not up for the task, but I love you so much I will grant you -- totally undeserving you -- the joy of caring for these small lives while giving grace upon grace to make up for your insufficiencies."

In the best possible way, joy, thankfulness, dependence, and supplication mingle together and overflow from my heart in prayer. This must be how the psalms were written.

"Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace."

Psalm 86:1-6

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Now, faith

Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Today I was edgy with anxiety, and it wasn't until I realized that my anxiety stemmed from faith in a false god that the edge wore off and I could repent and proceed with my day. By this I mean that I was anxious that there wouldn't be enough of something about which God has said, "Don't count on this to make you happy and secure." Of things like this, there can never be enough to satisfy: money, power, affection, obedient kids, health, relationships, cars that don't break, houses that don't leak.

The recent death of Elisabeth Elliot and the subsequent spotlight on her life are a powerful reminder that our only hope must be in Christ, and our only guarantee is that He will be faithful no matter what trials life in this fallen world may bring.

In other words: death, taxes ... and Jesus. Oh, sweet Jesus. May the trials of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. (Don't worry if this is mostly aspirational; God promises to complete the work he has begun in you, including the changing of our affections.)

Which brings me to Hebrews 11:1. There are many things we hope for in this life, but the stuff of faith involves trusting God that though we do not see him, though we do not necessarily see the earthly fulfillment of his promises, though we do not see the underside of the quilt in how he is working all things for our good and his glory, we rest confidently knowing that what is truly important, what is truly best, is irrevocably, inevitably, and eternally ours in Christ.

Now, what was it that I was so anxious about this morning?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Impossible

What, in your daily practices, do you think pleases God? I am applying this to myself in parenting, but go ahead and extrapolate into your own life circumstances. No, really, stop and think about it; I'll wait.

...

At first blush, I want to ask you if you think clean clothes folded and put into dressers, an empty sink, and bathed kids do ... but that's too easy of a target.

Going  a little deeper, maybe you secretly think that it's well-fed, well-behaved, well-scheduled kids? That surely pleases me.

Or maybe you recognize that what's more important is what's going on in your relationship -- that you didn't snap at the kids today (or apologized when you did), that you gently and patiently corrected them, that you knelt down and looked them in the eyes as you listened to them and spent quality time with them, that they are happy and secure.

What if I told you that it's all of this, and it's none of this?
Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Jesus talks in Matthew 19 about the kind of life that tries to please God apart from faith. He's specifically talking about the sense of self-sufficiency that money brings; but, really, any sort of self-sufficient, bootstrap mentality is equally guilty: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." That's the bad news. The good news is this: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
 Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Faith in what? Faith that your worst mothering moments are never so bad that God cannot (or will not) forgive and redeem. Faith that your best mothering moments are never good enough to please a God so holy that he only accepts absolute perfection in thought and deed. Faith -- reliance, resting -- in a perfect Christ who died for you at your best and for you at your worst. Faith that Christ pleases God and because you are united to him (by faith), you cannot help but please God.

Now, this leaves us here in our quest to please God: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Love like you have been forgiven, love like you have been redeemed -- and believe (have faith) that, indeed, you have.