Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.

Into a New Season

Change, it is a-happening around here.  My oldest, my firstborn, my suddenly taller-than-me man-child who made me a mama is a Senior in high school.

A SENIOR.

He was on my hip with a blankie in hand just five minutes ago.

Add to that the preparations for the homeschool year of my younger four, (I also have a JUNIOR for crying out loud!) cutting several inches of curls off my middle’s long hair (resulting in her suddenly looking like a teenager…which she is…but still…) and finding armpit hairs on my eleven year old son and, well, I may or may not be on the verge of tears at the mere sound of a baby laughing or a toddler holding up it’s arms and saying, “Hold you!”

I could lament, or I could celebrate the season I am in.  To be honest, I’m doing a little of both.

I have no one in elementary school any more.  No one who fits into “kids-size” clothing.  No one who has a bow in their hair or baby teeth.  It’s weird.  It’s wonderful.  It’s hard.  It’s freeing.

Independence is right at their ages, for the most part.  They shouldn’t need me to butter their toast or heat up their leftovers.  They can fold their own laundry and put away the dishes.  (Now if only I could get them to clean their ROOMS!)  They can read and ride their bikes and entertain themselves, allowing me the time to do things I enjoy such as writing.

I homeschool the youngest four, which means we are together much more than we are not.  But, still, sometimes I miss them.

Oh, they are here.  I love engaging in their conversations and receive plenty of smiles and hugs, but life has dramatically changed in the past few years.  They don’t “need” me like they once did, which is both awful and beautiful at once.

I took the three youngest to the zoo today.  At ages 13, 11 and 11 (yes, that is two elevens) I wasn’t sure if they would think they were too “old” for the zoo.  I feared they might think it “lame.”

I was so gloriously wrong.

We explored and oohed and ahhed over animals we had not visited in a long time.  The new Andean Bear exhibit was breathtaking, two big bears wrestling and rolling in the grass like siblings.  My thirteen year old whispered, not knowing I could hear her, “This is awesome.”

And it was.

Memories of their childhood flooded my heart as I saw mamas with babies in carriers, strollers parked outside exhibit doors, and heard a little boy exclaim, “My pip-pops!” when his flip-flop fell off.  We all relished the sweetness of the little ones surrounding us as much as we relished the beauty and diversity of God’s handiwork.

It was a good day.  It was filled with smiles and sunshine and, for just a few hours, I felt like I was standing astraddle of the gap between life as it was and life as it is.  I saw the wonder of a little child in the faces of my not-so-little kids and I am just so thankful for the respite of remembering before the busyness of our school year begins.

Times are changing, old seasons are gone, but if I take a moment and open my eyes to what is before me I can see the hope and future of these children in whom I have invested my life.  Despite the hormones and, dare I say, attitude of the pre-teen and teen years, the remnants of the little ones who once placed their chubby hands in mine are still there.

Now the hands I hold are bigger, stronger, and maybe even calloused.

But they fit mine perfectly just like they always have.

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.

The Tumble and the Turning

How much of our life and energy is spent trying to prevent something “bad” from happening?  God showed me something today that I want to share with you.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus has a pointed conversation with Simon Peter.  Just off the heels of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the argument among the apostles as to who will be regarded as the greatest when the Kingdom comes (Gosh, sounds a lot like conversations at my house!), Jesus focuses his attention on Peter.

I imagine he speaks this with a mixture of sadness for what He knows Peter will face combined with the hope of knowing the end from the beginning…

Peter, you need to know that Satan demanded to have you.  He wants to sift you like wheat (to break you down)…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again (because you will) use what you have learned to strengthen your brothers.

In this paraphrase I find so much hope.  Jesus doesn’t “hope” Peter will turn…He knows Peter WILL turn.

As a recovering legalist, I battle the urge to prevent the unpleasant and unwanted both in myself and in the lives of those I love.  Don’t do that…”this” could happen.  Are you thinking this through?  Do you not realize where that could lead?  You could get hurt, you could SIN, you could FAIL.  

Most of the time my attempts are futile because I, and those I love, possess a determined flesh that pushes us away, not towards, godliness.  Bad things happen.  Sometimes to us, sometimes because of us.  We all have that nightmare scenario we try to prevent happening to our loved ones, yet what do we do when that nightmare becomes a reality?

When those we love walk through fire and we see it coming mile away, unable to stop it?

Jesus knows.  This is the blessing and the bane of being the Son of God.  He knew where Peter was headed.  He knew the betrayal lurking in Peter’s heart even before Peter was aware.  He knew the shame that would result, the running away and the grief as all the world sunk into chaos when darkness fell and the veil was torn in two.

“But I have prayed for you…”

There is such power and hope in those words.  Jesus knew what Peter would do, and He also knew who Peter would become as a result.

He saw the tumble and the turning.  Jesus knew failure would, in the long run, created fertile soil for a faith that would change the world!

You and I, we can’t see the end from the beginning like Jesus.  But we can pray.  We can believe.  We can trust that God uses failures and that the story of our lives is going to be one of victory over the darkness.

If we let it.

Peter failed.  He betrayed his Savior.  He saw the knowing, pain-filled eyes of Jesus fixed on him as the rooster crowed, and he also saw the risen Christ!  He was anointed with Holy Fire and spoke of the fulfillment of the centuries-old prophecies of the Messiah. As a result, in his first day of Holy-Spirit filled ministry Peter, the betrayer, led more than three thousand souls to Christ.  His denial became bold, unstoppable declaration and he moved forward in God’s power because he knew he could do nothing in his own.

Failure bred faith.  Weakness was transformed into incredible strength.  And Jesus knew, all along, that this would happen.

Had He stopped Peter from denying him, sheltered him in a room away from the pressures and temptations, Peter might have never fully tapped in to the strength of God.

This gives me hope for when I fail.  It brings peace when I am tempted to worry about my children.  It gives direction to my prayers.

It sets me free.

Be blessed today, mamas.  The Lord is at work even in your failures.  God looks upon your child with eyes of love and purpose even when they rebel.  He knows the end from the beginning and we can trust Him!

May we parent out of a place of peace while loving out of a posture of grace so that the work of God in our lives and families can charge forward, unhindered!

 

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Grasping my Father’s Hand.

Driving into town this morning I was still foggy from a late night of fretting over an issue that continually rears its ugly head in my life.

I’m sure you have none of those, right?

It’s a thirty minute drive, which is usually the perfect length for a podcast.  I had started listening to Sally Clarkson’s latest as I was getting dressed so I finished it about halfway into town. As is so typical of God, it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. (Go to sallyclarkson.com/blog.  It’s episode #172.  You are welcome.)  Still, though, the fog persisted in my mind.  Thoughts swirled about and I fought to choose joy.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  .

Have you ever been in that place?  Knowing what you should do yet not finding the gumption to get up (physically, mentally, or spiritually) and do it?

I still had about fifteen minutes of driving to go so I switched from my podcast app to the radio.  On one of the local Christian stations a song was just beginning and my first impulse was to move on to the next channel.  I wasn’t in the mood for worship.

I bet you can guess what came next.

It was like a Holy Hand held mine to the steering wheel.  Nope.  Stay right here.  Listen.  Worship Me.

Suddenly the air in my car was filled with words that refused to be ignored, even in my cynical state…

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken


Gracefully Broken by
Matt Redman, Tasha Cobbs Leonard

I forced my thoughts to slow, to focus on these lyrics that I have heard and sung many times.  Words I believe…or do I?

Am I living what I sing?  Am I gracefully broken?  To be honest, the lyrics to my life could read more like this…

Here I am, God, arms pried open.  Pouring out my life, forcefully broken.

Ouch.

As much as I want to believe I am a mature believer, the truth is I am often like a toddler, throwing a kicking, screaming fit on the kitchen floor.  For a season I am fine, walking and trusting and holding God’s hand along the way until I come across an obstacle that stubbornly refuses to budge.  “This is not what I thought,” I complain.  “This isn’t what you promised.”  I wriggle my hand free of His and try to push the obstacle out of the way.  I fight and complain and plop down in a huff, sweat beading on my brow and fingers bleeding.

All the while my Father has worked quietly around me, clearing a path, whacking away thorns and brush to allow me to pass safely around the obstacle.  As I have whined and cried He has stayed faithfully steadfast, knowing at some point I will exhaust myself and take His hand once again.

But you know what He never does?  He never forces me.  He doesn’t pry my arms apart. That’s not worship and it is certainly not relationship.  He waits.  He clears the path and stands there with his hand extended.

Are you done?  His gentle words hold a fatherly reprimand.  Are you going to stop the fit now and come with me?  Come on, let’s go.

I reach up from my position on the cold floor and grasp the warmth of His hand.  His strength pulls me to my feet, to His side, and He leads me around the obstacle.

To the other side.

And I am reminded, once again, that though the obstacle may not move, God does.

Sometimes God moves mountains.  Sometimes He moves me.

Contentment and Community

Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.

Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.

But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.

I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.

But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of  shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:

Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.

Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.

But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.

There is joy in true community.

There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”

There is joy in connection, even when the process  involves vulnerability and tears.

And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.

A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.

Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.

Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!

This is the gift of community.

This is the heart of relationships.

Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.

woman sitting on chair near laptop computer
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Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.  baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpeg

And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.

low angle photo of people doing huddle up
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