The Gospel at Christmas

This time of year has always been my favorite. I love the shows on tv, the songs on the radio, the displays in the stores. I love pretending it’s colder outside than it actually is. (It is Houston, after all). I love seeing the trees go up in the malls and the lights go up at Highland Village. Resistance is futile. No matter how I try to fight it, I am totally sucked in by all the pomp and commercialism that surrounds this time of year. So much so that to a certain extent, I’ve held this season as something sacred. For as long as I can remember, this time of year has always brought with it the sense of something magical and extraordinary. I suppose thiThe Gospel at Christmas Images holds true for many people. What’s alarming about this is that it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the birth of Christ. I didn’t attend church at all (not even the obligatory Christmas Eve Service) until I was out of college, so none of the feelings that I use to get from this season were driven by religion, much less an actual love for the Lord. This is indicative of how, as a culture, we have managed to take what is true – that there is something sacred and extraordinary and miraculous about this season – and we’ve made it false.  We’ve made it false by attributing those feelings to things that are neither eternal or real, instead of placing our affections in their rightful place during Christmas: on Christ.

Growing up, Christmas was never about Christ for my family, however we had lovely Christmases, filled with good food, family, gifts and laughter. I cherish those memories to this day – but there was a complete absence of Christ in the celebration. Now that I am a part of the Christian sub-culture, what I find even more alarming than the complete absence of Christ during this season that I use to know, is the false veneer of Him that can thrive even among us who identify as Christians if we fail to rigorously pursue truth during this time of year. This false veneer of Christ is even more dangerous than the complete absence of Christ because it deceives us into believing that we know something we don’t know, that we are something we aren’t. Something my husband and I constantly guard against is our boys growing up with fond and beautiful memories of Christmas Eve services and Advent calendars and nativity scenes and all the other Christmas-time religious trappings of the gospel message, yet lacking a real, deep and sincere  understanding of the gospel.

Is it possible that we in the church celebrate so much around Christ during this season, that we completely miss Him in the midst of it?

I know I’ve done it. It is so easy it is to allow this time of year to become centered on things that are temporary, things that promise a fulfillment that they simply cannot deliver. After all, isn’t that what we’re all searching for? In all of the buying and shopping and planning, aren’t we just hoping to fulfill or satisfy ourselves and others? Every year I search and worry about what I’m going to get Chris because I want him to be genuinely happy with his gift. And every year, no matter how big of a home run my man scores in the gift-giving department, I am always a little disappointed. Not in the gift. Not in the selfish, childish – “I didn’t get exactly what I wanted” sort of way – but in the – “that was absolutely perfect, so why do I still have this tinge of dissatisfaction?” kind of way. I’ve pondered this for the last several years as I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with my Christmas status quo, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an issue of expectations. However, the issue is not that my expectations are too high, but rather that they are too low. Each year, I leave this season disappointed because I have trained my heart on things that can never fulfill. I fail to remember the Gospel at Christmas.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

Go ahead and breathe those verses in like a fresh breath of air.

There’s a type of indwelling fulfillment that only the gospel brings.

So as the days tick away drawing us nearer and nearer to Christmas morning, don’t neglect the gospel this season.  Read those verses one more time before you carry on with your day… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…The audacity of what God did on Christmas night some 2000 years ago should continually astound us, but after years and years of hearing the story and singing the songs, we’ve somehow managed to let the simplicity and absurdity of the story become rote. God became man. He took on flesh in the form of the smallest and weakest among us. Yet the power of Christmas does not merely reside in the miraculous birth of this child, but in the atoning death that He would one day die. Not just a martyr’s death, but an atoning death, which once resurrected would redeem a fallen world and reclaim the hearts of sinful man. Set your hope in anything less than that this Christmas season – the pure, unadulterated gospel – and December 26th will bring with it a frail hollowness as the holiday hype fades away. But the indwelling fulfillment of the gospel carries on even into the long shadows and bleakness of January.

A Long December

This morning I refused the rush.  I refused the rush because if I didn’t slow down the whole thing was threatening to come unraveled.  I was about to come completely unraveled.  So I resisted the urge to hurry off after I got my littles to pre-school (in what was sure to be a vain attempt to check off my holiday-sized to-do list in the 4.5 child-free hours I had anyway.)  Instead, I lingered around my 4 year old’s classroom after drop-off and I grabbed his chubby little hand in mine as his class headed off to chapel.  This mama was sorely in need of a few minutes in a room with old wooden pews, hymnals and a display of stain-glass windows whispering the story of the gospel.

I sat in one of those old wooden pews next to my middle son and together he and I watched Father Bill light the first candle on the Advent wreath as he explained to all the three and four-year-olds how precious this season was, how it was a season marked by peace, joy, love and hope and as little eyes watched, enthralled as that first, lone candle glowed and flickered and cast dancing shadows, I wondered how it was that this believer’s heart could be so desperately lacking those exact things.   How could it be that a believer’s heart could be so obviously lacking those exact things at this time of year especially?  Maybe it’s because only a believer’s heart could wonder with such desperation, “Why are we still waiting, Lord?”  And sometimes, if we’re not guarding ourselves well, that question can threaten to choke out all the peace, joy, love and hope that the arrival of the Christ-child promised.

So here’s my confession: sometimes I struggle with the waiting.  Especially at this time of year I struggle with the waiting.

Earlier this week my friend looked at me hard and asked, “How are you?” and not in some quick passing way, but I could tell she was digging in her heels firm with the question.  When I hesitated, she repeated, “I want to know how you are.” I wouldn’t get away with a pat response that refused to acknowledge the complicated state of my heart at the moment.  Not with this lady.  So I laid it out bare because there was so much going on but so little I could actually explain. I told her about all the big and little things that were threatening to pull the world in on top of me, and in maybe the only sentence that made sense in my little tirade, I said, “I seem to feel the weight of the broken world so much more palpably at this time of year.”  And that was it.  Right there.  Something I hadn’t been able to put coherent explanation around until right then when she flat out asked me.

The world is broken.  I feel the weight of that brokenness especially now during this long December month.  So why are we still waiting?

The month of December is hallowed ground for the follower of Christ.  A time when we look back with gratitude at what His first coming began and look with great expectation to what His next coming will complete.  This season of Advent, in which we turn our attention to Christ’s coming or Christ’s arrival (that is what advent means) highlights more than any other season of the year why we need Him to come.

If things weren’t so irreparably broken then we wouldn’t be so anxiously awaiting His return.

 And these last few years, as I have dug beneath the false veneer of the Christmas season for the first time in my life – with all it’s hype and colong december pic final2mmercialism and false promises – I have been surprised by the somber mood that has characterized these last two or three Decembers for me.  As I’ve been thinking and praying and trying to get to the bottom of my new-found holiday blues, it’s has only just now occurred to me that perhaps God is graciously allowing me to perceive on a deeper level the great need for Him that exists.  Perhaps He’s allowing me to see just a bit more clearly how much this world needs a Savior.  And I guess that could be counted as a very good gift, couldn’t it?

This is the peace that He’s given me during this period of longing – maybe it’s ok that I’m in a season of life where this time of year affects me with me intensity than it ever has before.  Maybe it’s ok that I feel the loss and heaviness and neediness of the broken world this December.  Maybe those pangs of grief are pointing me with greater desperation to the coming of the promises He has made and encouraging my heart to set it’s eyes steadfastly on Him alone.

So when the wait is over this Christmas season – when the cookies have been eaten, the stockings have been emptied, the presents have been torn through and your entire family is sitting in a hazy food-induced stupor this Christmas evening, remember with me to wait for something better.  Remember to long for His arrival – to set your hearts desperately on His coming and thank Him for the promise that He most certainly will – after the wait is over.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Self-Preservation

Every perceived threat elicits some sort of response. This is one of the most primal rules of nature. My husband often jokes that my primary means of self-defense is to “roly-poly”. For the most part he is right. I’m not a fighter. When it comes down to the fight or flight instinct my go-to response usually errs on the side of fleeing. And if for some reason I’m not in the position to run, then I’m likely to just play dead. I’ll do just about anything to avoid a fight. A pitiful example of this happened the other day when our 3 boys called me out to see a “snake” they found in the yard. I was working in the kitchen and decided to take a break from dinner prep to humor them. I put my work down and walked out to inspect whatever it was that they mistakenly thought was a snake (this wasn’t the first time they had run this ruse). You can imagine my displeasure when I leaned in with them real close into the base of the bushes only to see an actual, real, living snake. My survival instinct kicked in (to the detriment of my maternal instinct apparently) – I screamed that high pitched girly-scream and ran back into the house as fast as I could, leaving my 3 young children behind, yelling over my shoulder as I left for them to “run, run, get back, don’t touch!”

Yeah, I’m definitely a flee-er.

Whether your most natural response is to take flight or to put up a fight, there’s something instinctual rooted deep down in each of us to preserve ourselves. To save ourselves. To defend ourselves from danger. And while that might be all well and good out there in the animal kingdom, where it’s kill or be killed, how does that work itself out over here in civilization? When it’s not likely our lives that are in danger, but our pride? Or our self-image? Or our personal rights?

Now that’s a good question. A very relevant question for me. Over the last several months, I’ve been put in the position over and over again where I’ve felt the need to defend myself. My feelings have been hurt, my voice has not been heard, I have been mis-understood and mis-interpreted and mis-represented. Time and again I have felt forced into a corner so that the only choice I had was to protect myself. I held my arms up in front of my face, boxer-style, so as to avoid further injury and I began thinking about what moves I should make in return. How should I strike back? Maybe a quick kick by way of questioning the offender’s motives. Or how about a sharp jab to their failings. Maybe a unsuspecting punch to one of their insecurities. I had to respond in some way to the person threatening me because if I didn’t strike back I was afraid that they were going to beat me down. In each situation my gut-instinct was to fight back, to self-preserve, to seek retaliation.

Why is it that my gut-instinct so often contradicts God’s Word?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:38-44

Ugh. Jesus was constantly saying things that cut against the grain of human instinct.

But the thing about Jesus was that these weren’t just things He said, they were things He lived. He was constantly turning the other cheek, giving up his rights, and allowing people their misconceptions regarding who He was and what his motives were. And in these last few months, the Lord has prompted me to seek to preserve just about everything except myself…

He’s asked me to give up my right to be heard in the hopes of saving a relationship.

He’s asked me abandon my advice, my opinion and my critique of another so that I might encourage them instead.

He’s asked me to forgo my witty and well crafted retort in favor of just really listening.

He’s asked me to respond with love and compassion when all I’ve wanted to do was lash out.

He’s asked me to engage when I’ve wanted to withdraw.

The message has so surely and steadily built upon itself that I don’t dare miss it – seek only to preserve yourself and you’ll surely destroy everything else.  I get it.

What good is being the last man standing if you’re all alone once the fight is done?

With Thanksgiving just two days away, I doubt I’m the only one preparing to enter the battlefield this Thursday.  Family relations have grown increasingly tense as the time to give thanks has drawn near.  No doubt feelings will be hurt, criticisms will be offered, sharp remarks will be made and those primal instincts for me to come out fighting will kick in.  Nonetheless, the Lord has asked me to put down my weapons and trust Him to be my shield. To offer patience, grace and forgiveness – yes, again.  To set my eyes on the good work He accomplished when He gave up his instinct of self-presevation.  And to pray that maybe in losing myself, perhaps someone else may be found.

The End of Me

My friend’s husband is in the throes of training for a marathon. When he first began considering this huge undertaking all those months ago, she championed his endeavor emphatically, encouraging him to go all in, to give anything it would take to cross that finish line and accomplish his goal.  It wasn’t just something he wanted, it was something that she wanted for him.  As month after month of his training progressed she cheered from the sidelines, taking pride in his perseverance and dedication.   And now, as the date of the race approaches, his practice runs have necessarily become longer and longer, keeping him out running for entire mornings and whole afternoons. Quite frankly, my friend told me today, she’s ready for her husband to stop running. Ready for this darn race to be over so that their lives can return to his pre-training normal. She’s ready for the return of lazy weekend afternoons at home – no stop watches allowed. But as for now, this very afternoon, he’s out on another one of his endless runs. He runs and he runs and he runs.

He runs and she waits.  She waits because it’s become clear to my friend by this point that this marathon has never really been about race for her husband, but has actually been about the running.  Not the running to anything in particular, but the running from just about everything you can imagine.  Because sometimes that’s just where life takes us.

So this afternoon as her husband runs, my sweet friend prays for an end. She’s praying, perhaps right now at this very second, for her husband to finally reach the end of himself. My friend prays that maybe somewhere out there on one of those never-ending country farm roads, as he times and as he paces and as he steadily breathes, that he will realize that he has finally exhausted his own efforts and maybe then he will finally be done.  Done trying, done working, done running so hard to save himself from the battle he’s been fighting.  She prays for an ending because she hopes against hope that when he gets to the end of himself, then that’s where he will finally find Jesus. Because isn’t that where Jesus is always found? At the end of ourselves?

Endings always seem to have such a bad rep, but I find them to be, at least in some way, almost always quite lovely. After all, I’ve never seen the end of anything that wasn’t the beginning of something else. And I don’t mean that in some overly romanticized sort of way. I’ve lived through an ending or two that I was absolutely quite certain would kill me at the time. But ever since the very first beginning, ever single end has began something else.

I remember the day I found my own end. All alone in that tiny apartment all the way on the other side of the world – the place I ran to find myself, funnily enough, was where, ironically, I realized how lost I was. How broken and fragile and downright ruined. After running and running and running, I finally broke down exhausted and collapsed into the oblivion of having no more of me to give.  I had finally reached the end of myself.  My worst fear had been realized:  I had exhausted my own capabilities, used up all my own resources – I had nothing left. For all those years beforehand, I had feared the moment when I would finally find my end more than any other thing. It’s so funny, the things we fear – because coming face to face with my greatest fear actually brought the sweetest relief I had ever experienced.   It was right there, somewhere in the midst of the fragmented pieces of my broke-down life, that I finally caught a glimpse of the Savior’s face.  One irresistible glance of the saving grace which carried with it no expectations, just acceptance of who I was right then.  At my absolute worst.  The end of me was the beginning of His life in me.  And that’s something worth running toward.  You see, the Lord loves a good runner, he’s just aiming to change our course.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.   Hebrews 12:1-2

So today my precious friend encouraged her husband to go on that four-hour run, even though truth be told, she would have rather had him at home.  She opened the front door wide and watched him go, because sometimes that’s just about all we can do – encourage someone to run in the hopes that maybe today will be the day they run into the end of themselves.

 

Mirror, Mirror

I’ve spent a lot of time staring into the mirror lately. I’m fully aware of how vain that must sound, but let me tell you, middle age is hard on a girl. Maybe it’s the result of having three babies in four years, or perhaps it has something to do with the twenty-seven total months of pregnancy that resulted in those babies, the three solid years of nursing said babies, or all the child-rearing, toddler-wrangling, middle-of-the-night-time-soothings and everyday-life-still-a-happenin’ that went on in the meantime, but DANG am I all worn out now.

With each passing year that pushes me deeper into my thirty-somethings, it is becoming increasingly more obvious that my body was better suited for youth. The boundless energy that I use to know has long since fizzled into a 9 o’clock bedtime (that’s for me, not the kiddos – God forbid). The natural brunette tresses that use to come, well… naturally, have started needing some assistance in staying natural. The near-flawless skin that characterized my twenty-somethings has methodically been collecting the small lines, creases and wrinkles that unfortunately seem to be characterizing my thirty-somethings.

As a result of all this wear and tear on my body, I’ve found myself spending more time looking closely in the mirror than I ever have before, inspecting my face to see what’s changed since the last time I gave a good look. I’ve invested in eye cream, a cleansing facial mask, a pore reducing toner, a sensitive skin treatment, and a night-time refining cream. I’ll tell you the same thing I told my husband when he questioned my hefty purchases, “These expenditures have become necessary”. I can no longer go on pretending that time hasn’t taken it’s toll on my body. And this week it became clear that I can no longer go on pretending that time hasn’t taken it’s toll on my soul.

Because, oh my, has it ever. As I worked my way through some difficult interpersonal terrain these last few weeks, God revealed to me several places in my heart that had fallen into disrepair. He seemed to be speaking right to me, “You so intentionally seek out the places where your skin has grown rough, calloused, and marred by imperfections, but I am more concerned with those places on your heart”.

Have you noticed that God has a funny way of intercepting our lives with His Word? Last week, I was reading about Abraham’s wife, Sarah. It turns out that just like me, time had taken it’s toll on her body and her soul. Sarah had longed her entire life to bear a child, but at ninety years of age, the Lord had yet to grant her request. This state of affairs caused all sorts of turmoil in Sarah’s soul, because somewhere way back in time, the Lord had made her a promise that echoed through the recesses of her heart. A promise that He would give Abraham more descendants than there were stars in the sky (Genesis 15:6). But twenty-five years later, a child had yet to be given. As Sarah’s body aged and grew decrepit, so did her hope in the God who had promised a child. And right about the time Sarah stopped believing that God would give her a child, the Lord decided to ask her if she still believed that He could give her a child…

Genesis 18:10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Whenever God asks a question in Scripture, it is always for our benefit, not His, seeing as He already knows the answer to every question. God’s questions always provide us an opportunity to evaluate our own heart and then repent if necessary. God’s question to Sarah in verse 14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, served as an invitation for her to take a close look in the mirror to evaluate the person she had become. And the truth is, that over the years, Sarah had grown bitter over her barrenness.  After years of being left unattended, that bitterness had grown into disbelief. So although she was afraid to say it aloud to Him, the obvious answer to the question God had posed her – “Do you think that anything too hard for me, Sarah?” – was Yes. As year after year after year went by without a pregnancy she had nursed the lie that perhaps there was something too hard for the Lord until it had become full grown. She had looked at her circumstances and after waiting for His timing and praying for His will and wrestling with her own desires, she couldn’t understand why if he could do it, that he hadn’t done it. Over time, Sarah’s heart had grown rough, calloused and marred by imperfections.

While my struggles, heartaches, and insecurities are quite different from Sarah’s, and your struggles, heartaches and insecurities are different from mine, left unattended, they all lead to the same place. They eventually lead us to doubt the One who made the promise.

After the Lord left Sarah that day, she did one of the most difficult things a girl can do… she took a long look in the mirror, intentionally seeking out the imperfections, false beliefs, and accepted lies that marred her heart.  As last week went from bad to worse for me, I sensed the Lord prompting me to do the same.  So I did.  Sometimes looking in the mirror is not just a vain attempt to perfect your appearance, but a necessary step in reorienting yourself to the truth.

The Things We Leave Behind

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him… Genesis 12:1-4

One of the great lies that has been propagated by our generation is the idea that we can have it all. (Don’t even get me started on the lie that we deserve it all). The notion that we might actually have to sacrifice one thing in order to gain possession of another thing has been rejected as a self-imposed limitation. After all, why should we have to give up anything?

When the Lord called Abram, He made it abundantly clear that Abram would be required to leave some things behind when he set out to follow Him.  And the things God asked Abram to leave behind were big things, not mere incidentals – his country, his kindred, his father’s house. These were undoubtedly the most significant things in Abram’s life. They represented everything that was comfortable, familiar, secure and safe to him. The things God asked Abram to walk away from represented everything by which Abram defined himself and everything by which others would have defined him. God’s message to Abram was clear – you can’t have it all.  In this case, Abram’s pursuit of one thing would necessitate his neglect of another.

Abram’s life is not the only Biblical picture we have of this principle.  Jesus would repeat this message like a resounding gong to those seeking to be His disciples.

Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The idea of sacrificing one thing in order to inherit another is a Kingdom principle. Just as Abram willingly left behind all the things in which he had placed his hope so that God could become his only hope, we willfully give up parts of our lives in order to gain possession of God’s promises. As followers of Christ, this principle will color many of the decisions we make as we go about the business of living.

At the time my husband and I got engaged to be married, I was completing the final year of my master’s degree at The University of Texas. I had done well enough in the masters program to gain entrance into the school’s doctoral program. I remember sitting down with my faculty mentor to discuss my decision to decline the invitation to continue my studies. She made no attempt to hide the fact that she felt I was making a mistake. She was one of the younger faculty members at the time and was already making a name for herself in the world of academia. On top of being an amazing lecturer, she was conducting research studies, publishing articles and contributing book chapters left and right. She was my academic idol – young, talented, passionate and hard-working, she represented everything I wanted to be. So you can imagine the dissonance I felt when she sat me down to ask why on earth I was turning down the opportunity to pursue my doctorate – especially given my “promising future” in the department.

Don’t think the very same question hadn’t crossed my mind. It had. In fact, I had given the decision quite a bit of thought. The truth was that I knew exactly where I wanted to focus my efforts in the years following my academic career and (as unpopular a notion it was with my professor) – it wasn’t on my professional career. She wanted to make sure that I understood the repercussions of my decision to leave the program when I did – there would be no job offers from prestigious universities and no tenure track possibilities in my future. Honestly, I was flattered by her concern over the loss of all my possible possibilities, but I was well aware of what I was giving up. I also knew exactly what I hoped to gain. I didn’t have the resources necessary to nurture a young marriage, raise the babies that I hoped would arrive in the coming years, and manage a demanding career. I knew my tendencies toward perfectionism too well. In trying to have it all, I would have ended up destroying myself.

So I made the hard choice to give up one thing in order to whole-heartedly pursue another.

I still think about that choice sometimes.  On occasion, I have even asked myself if what I lost was worth what I have gained.  I don’t have to think about it very long, because without a doubt, it has been.

Like Abram, somewhere along the way I have come to peace with the truth that I can’t have it all. There are those who will spend a lot of time and energy fighting hard against this idea, hoping to prove it wrong.  But as for me, I have found this revelation to be incredibly freeing. The realization that I can’t have it all has freed me from the pursuit of it all (which is desperately tiring, don’t you think?) I now possess the ability to choose what I want. To neglect certain things in order to faithfully pursue others.  And at a certain point, I even got to the place where I could look back on those things that I lost – all those once-upon-a-time hopes, dreams and wishes – with the understanding that there was beauty in the act of leaving those things behind so that I could put my hope in something better.

His First Day of First Grade

His First Day of First Grade imageMy friend Becky sent me a text last week. “We have first graders,” it read. I fully expect to get a similar text from Becky at this same time every year up until our oldest children go to college. My first born, Cole, and her first born, Laurel, were in Mother’s Day Out together before they could even walk. They took some of their first wobbly steps side-by-side down the hallways of that big baptist church, back when Becky and I were first learning how to be mamas. She and I, we stumbled and fumbled right alongside our babies as we learned how to walk the rocky terrain of motherhood. And now, just like that, “we have first graders.”

Just like that. I’ve noticed that ever since I became a mother (6 years, 5 months and 7 days ago) I’ve developed a very bipolar relationship with time. I’m either begging it to speed up (Is it nap time yet?) or praying it would slow down (first loose tooth already?!) It’s as if the moment that first baby was placed in my arms my entire life became suddenly consumed with the notion of time.

bed-time, bath-time, lunch-time, play-time, nap-time, dinner-time (no time for me-time)

If there’s one thing having kids will do to you, it is to direct your attention to the relentlessly unwavering passage of time. Although at almost any given moment of practically any particular day with these wild boys of mine you can bet that I’m counting down the hours until bedtime, not one night passes where I don’t tip-toe into their rooms to kiss them goodnight – fully aware that eventually my time with them runs out.

Motherhood is all-consuming and seemingly never-ending, yet it is engulfed by the finite.

Yes, mamas, as endless as it may seem to us while we are here in the trenches, we exist in a world where all things are finite. There are a finite number of baths to give and bubbles to blow. A finite number of lullabies to sing and bedtime stories to read. A finite number of booboos to kiss, temper tantrums to quell and dinnertime shenanigans to bear.

And as each little milestone turns my attention once again to all this passing time, I mourn the thought of these children of mine growing. I wonder, how can I fit the infinite amount of love that I have for my littles into the finite amount of time I have with them? How can you squeeze something that knows no boundaries into something so bound by the boundary of time?

Admittedly, these questions have at times caused me to shake my fists toward the heavens.  The systematic way in which I have had to let go of my littles has seemed almost cruel to me as I have struggled to understand why God would place them in my arms only to pry them from the tight grip of my hands. I just can’t always make sense of the tension between my desire to hold them near and the reality that I am always having to let them go.

These heart-tensions came to a head for me at this same time last year – the day I sent Cole off to Kindergarten. That Monday morning I loaded him up with everything on the school supply list, sucked back my tears, and bravely sent him on his way. There’s not one social-related fear in that kid, so he trotted in like a pro without so much as a glance back at me. As I watched the door close behind him, it was obvious that my boy was fine (but his mother obviously was not). I held it together just long enough to make it back home, where I stood in the kitchen and cried.  And cried.  And cried, working myself into a full-out, heaving, choking frenzy until finally, I resolutely told the Lord “NO!” that I simply could not let go of the babies he had given me.

After a few minutes of silence, I realized that I had no choice in the matter, so I asked Him why.  Why was He going to require that I let go of my children time and time again?  (At that point I didn’t think that I could survive the whole kindergarten send off two more times with the other boys, let alone middle school, high school and God forbid they move away for college…)

And then I got an answer I didn’t expect. He said it right to my heaving, frenzied heart, “Letting go of them forces you to grab hold of Me.”

And suddenly the grace of it all filled up my soul. Because boy, has it ever.  Somehow, by placing what is so vulnerably finite into our arms, He pulls us into the embrace of The Infinite One. And with each passing milestone that this life brings, the Lord is rising up in our mama-hearts a furious longing for the things that will never end.

So with all this in mind, I sent my first-born off to Mrs. Kennedy’s first grade class this morning, his backpack filled to the rim with everything he might need for the day.  He marched in like a champ, just like I knew he would, not once looking back.  And his mama?  Well, I lingered outside the school for a bit, clutching on a little tighter than usual to the hands of my 4 and 2 year olds, and eventually we walked away too, as I said a quick prayer, thanking the Lord for the infinite beauty of the finite things He has given me.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me – Psalm 50:23