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

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?"
"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."