His First Day of First Grade

My 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

 

Interrupt Me, Please*

I know you’ve felt it.  You’ve had to have felt it.  Please, tell me you’ve felt it.  That ever present, but conspicuously covert tinge of tension surrounding our distinctively American brand of Christianity, where comfort comes before kingdom.  Although the tension is obvious, we scarcely talk about it or, worse, don’t (or can’t?) admit it’s undeniable presence.  Why?   Because if we openly acknowledged the tension we would have to change the game.  If we openly acknowledged it, we would be forced to confess that the trepidatious way in which we’ve been following Christ (and doing church) leaves something to be desired.  Then, once we got over the shock of admitting that we’ve been doing it all wrong, we’d have to get down to the hard work of re-discovering the real truth, because if something about our Christianity rings so false, how on earth can it be the truth?  I hate to be so blunt, but it can’t.

In the re-release of her book, Interrupted, Jen Hatmaker takes direct aim at that tension, telling the story of how God interrupted her “typical American life” to change her family’s direction from going to a church that existed mainly to serve the weekend attendees to being a church that primarily exists to serve “the least of these.”

Hatmaker first released Interrupted in 2009, though it was largely overshadowed by her 2012 book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (which has rocked the world of more than a few of you, I know).  Maybe Christians weren’t then ready to confront what Hatmaker sees as some cold, hard truths for Christians in America.  As she puts it in the introduction to the re-release of Interrupted,

“The very comforts the American dream and American Christianity hold out to us are the same ones we must abandon without looking back, daring to trust that a Savior who had no place to lay His head might have the slightest idea what he was talking about.”

Ouch.  Right?!  I’m not sure most of us, myself included, are ready to embrace the magnitude of that little gem.  And the tacit question that Hatmaker puts to us all is “Why not?”

Through her own story of transformation, Hatmaker keys into a moment of realization that resonated with me, as I assume it will with many of you as well, a moment in which the church at large and its current presentation of a “good, obedient life” is met by the question, “Is this all there is?”  For Hatmaker, the moment came when she realized that she was simply “blessing the blessed” and “serving the weekend attendees.”  She found that she and her family were a mirror image of American culture, “just a churched-up version.”  And then with one simple prayer, “God, raise up in me a Holy Passion”, everything changed.

Following God’s prompting, she and her family moved from a comfortable mega-church where her husband was on staff – to starting a church-plant which seeks to challenge the typical American church model as it strives to daily live out the basic tenets of Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus instructed his disciples to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the poor, befriend the prisoner, and care for the sick as if “the least of these” were Jesus Himself.

Hatmaker’s book could be easily dismissed as yet another iteration of the social gospel movement that began in the early 1900s and was generally characterized by the application of Christian principles to a wide array of social issues such as poverty and income inequality.   To do so misses the very important and relevant point of her story as it relates to the Christian experience in the American church today.  We are too concerned with our own comfort, and not nearly concerned enough about His kingdom.  The result, as Hatmaker puts it: “[W]e’re settling for an anemic faith and a church that robs Christ followers of their vitality and repels the rest of the world.”

God calls us to action, not to comfort, and Hatmaker shows us in Interrupted what that has looked like in her life, while at the same time challenging us to examine what that should look like in our own lives.  It seems like such an obvious message.  It left me convicted, wondering how I could be so oblivious to the obvious.

Ultimately, Hatmaker challenges our belief in Jesus with the question, but do you believe Jesus?  Do you believe what he said, what he did, what he died for?  Do you properly see yourself as a sinner in need of a savior, “the least of these” who Jesus died for? This perspective is vitally important, because once you are convinced that he died for you (not an ambiguous you, like “you the church”, but a painfully personal “you”), once you realize your true place as “the least of these”, then you will begin pouring out your time, energy and affection on those just like you – the very least.

Ours is a God known for his divine interruptions – it is a theme we can trace all throughout Scripture – from Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament, to Mary and Joseph, the twelve disciples and the apostle Paul in the New Testament.  Hatmaker’s account of how God interrupted her family’s nice little “churched-up” life in the suburbs of Austin, Texas was a welcomed reminder that God is still in the business of interrupting and left me asking, “God, interrupt me.”

 

*This book review was written as a part of a blog tour for Jen Hatmaker’s re-release of her book, “Interrupted”.  You can find out more by going to http://www.jenhatmaker.com.  As a part of that blog tour, I have a free copy of “Interrupted” to give away to one of you!  Leave a comment in the comments section below and I’ll arbitrarily pick a name to receive the book ;)  Make sure to leave your email address if I don’t already have it!

 

 

On Ten Years of Marriage

Ten years ago this week, I married my quasi-high school sweetheart (there’s a long story that goes with that title). We had a smallish wedding on a tight budget, but I was never the kind of girl to be too concerned about the number of guests or number of dollars I’d be allotted for my wedding.  Honestly, I found all the planning and choices to be overwhelming and stressful. Invitations, flowers, bridal parties, wedding cake, grooms cake (we have to get two cakes?!), out of town guests, hotel reservations, photographer, videographer – it was all a bit too complicated for me. I wanted to be married without actually having to get married, but I had some sort of understanding that the wedding itself (and all the busy-ness that went along with it) was a necessary part of the experience.

When it came right down to the details of the day, I loved my dress, but had no great care for finding the perfect dress. The cake was delicious (but aren’t most cakes delicious, just by their very nature?) My bouquet was beautiful, but I honestly don’t even remember the type of flowers I held. The wedding itself was a bigger event to our loved ones than it was to Chris and I. More than anything, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable and undeserving of all the attention that was doted on me on my “big day”. In the grand scheme of things, my husband and I would face much bigger days together than the day we wed.

The birth of our first child, now that was a big day.

The first big, BIG (I’m talking huge) fight we had (about 6 years in for us) where I believed, if even for just a fraction of one second, that it would be easier to just walk away – that was a much bigger day, too.

The day we walked into Texas Children’s Hospital with our second-born for an appointment with a pediatric oncologist, another big day.

Yep, in the grand-scheme of “big days”, those days made our wedding day look like a cake walk.

If the apex of our life as husband and wife actually fell on the day we were married, then the story would have ended as quickly as it had begun. Chris and I understood this going into it. For us, the wedding itself never actually carried the weight of significance that the day-to-day toil of pursing the heart of the person we married that day did.

The wedding was an event. Every day after has been our life.

And life has a way of happening, doesn’t it? No matter what significance or insignificance you place upon it, life has a way of pulling you along.

So it goes that an entire life is filled with single days. Those days are built on hours, those hours are built upon minutes, and those minutes are built upon seconds. And it is in those tiny increments of time that real life occurs. It is in those tiny increments of time that you make the little choices that lead to either life or death in the context of a marriage. You see, life isn’t about big choices, but about small ones. And you make a million small choices each day. Each choice builds upon the next and within each choice lies the decision (whether conscious or unconscious) to either pursue the man I married or push him away. And listen, I’ve done my fair share of both.

I’ve ran hard and fast after this man’s heart and I’ve turned away and pushed away and pulled away. I’ve idolized this man and I’ve demonized this man. I’ve held him near and I’ve held my ground.

People will tell you that marriage is about all sorts things – about love, about commitment, faithfulness, dedication, compromise – what have you. And all of that may be true in part, but when I step back to look at what I’ve come to know about marriage in the (admittedly meager) time that I’ve been a part of it, I would say that marriage is about pursuit. A relentless pursuit of the person you committed your life to “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” Not merely an existence alongside this other, but an intentional pursuit of this person in spite of what you may find. And that’s the key, that no matter what you may find, you keep pursuing the true heart of this person.

Why?

Because that is what God does for us.

God recklessly pursues us in spite of all the broken mess which that pursuit reveals.

If there’s one thing marriage will do for certain it is to reveal your brokenness.  Since the day we walked down the aisle, there’s not one insecurity, fear or failure that this man of mine hasn’t uncovered in me.  The story of our marriage has been one of God revealing to us the truth about who we are (in regards to ourselves and in regards to each other).  And after 10 years, I hazard to say, that just about everything has been revealed. That’s a tough pill to swallow for girl who’s been dead-set on perfection her whole life. (Ah, yes, the little lie of perfection dies hard and fast in the type of environment that marriage provides.) And although we may have lost the illusion of perfection that we once carried, Chris and I have found something far more beautiful and genuine in it’s place – we have found security. Security is found when another person knows the truth of your brokenness, but loves you anyway. This is what God offers us, and in our marriage, this is what we offer each other – an abiding love rooted in the security of knowing the truth about each other and loving each other anyway.

 I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3

Broke Down

Broke down, cracked and shattered
Left in pieces like it never even mattered
Broke down, torn and frayed, ain’t nothin’ left you could give away                                               There’s no turnin’ round, it’s broke down
“Broke Down” By Slaide Cleaves

I love sad songs. I like seriously love them. This is one of the things about me that endlessly annoys my husband. The slower, the sappier, the sadder the song, the louder I want the volume turned up. And I don’t want to just listen to the sad song. Oh no, no, no – that would be far too kind to my fellow car-riders, I want to sing the sad song. Loud. I want to throw my head back and croon. Wail. Wallow around in the woe of the singer/song-writer right along with them. There’s just something about a really good sad song that rings true to me. Not to be overly dramatic or anything (because that would be sooo unlike me), but there’s an underlying brokenness to the world that these songs pick up on, you know? An ache…a loss that lies beneath the surface of life that keeps us yearning for a more perfect world. And maybe that’s why these songs strike such a chord with me, because they remind me that as long as I’m here, things are going to be broken. Perhaps that sounds morose to you (my husband would agree), but that’s a truth that I need to be tethered to.  The truth is, things are broken.

This is a biblical principal – that we’re broken by nature. It is the state of our being.  David wrote, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” Psalm 51:5

Although events, circumstances and hardships in life may break you down even further, you’ve been broken from the beginning.  Perhaps this is something you haven’t thought about, don’t want to hear, or don’t believe to be true, but I don’t have to look at myself in the metaphorical mirror very long until the cold, hard truth of the fact that I’m broken becomes abundantly clear.

We inherited our broken state of being from our first parents. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it and he declared that it was all very good. Adam and Eve walked unhindered in the presence of the Lord until the day came that they believed the lies of Satan instead of the truth of God. As a result of their belief in that lie, they began looking for things outside of the Lord to satisfy and sustain them.  As soon as that happened the relationship between God and man became fractured. And with that one break, everything else became broken.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

In Genesis 2:24  there’s an incredibly significant verse about the state of Adam and Eve right before the fall.  There, the text tells us that – the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

They walked around freely, baring all because they had not yet any shame to bear.

They were not ashamed because they had nothing to hide.  They had no insecurities, no secrets, no regrets.   They were not yet broken.  One of the instant consequences of the fall was that they became ashamed of their nakedness

Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of The Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 and he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself

All of a sudden Adam and Eve were riddled with insecurities, fears and doubts. And that’s how you and I walk around today – riddled with the secrets we keep, the regrets we carry, the fears that worry us, the doubts that haunt us and the insecurities that follow us. We’re broken.

The irony of our broken nature is that despite our own broken state of being, we despise broken things. If something doesn’t work right or fit us any more, if something has grown a bit worn and weary around the edges – then out it goes. Any thing we don’t need any longer, we simply throw away (I am the queen of this). Although that may have no eternal significance when it comes to “things”, this mentality tends to extend to how we view people as well. Much like our things, we prefer our people to be in good, working order. We tend to steer clear of messy people with too many issues, problems and complications.

There is a constant pressure to have it all together, to triumphantly rise above your struggles, to fit in (but just enough), to exude the impression that you possess a degree of perfection that you don’t actually have. Experience trains us to hide the fact that we’re broken.

But unlike people, God doesn’t ask us to hide the fact that we’re broken. God sees much value in broken things. In fact, he’s drawn to the broken.

The only truly Perfect One meets us in the exact place where we are broken.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Isaiah 57:15 “I dwell in the high and holy place,and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit…”

Why is it that our Holy God so deeply treasures the broken? Because being broken provides us with the opportunity to experience brokenness. Read that last sentence again and take it in slowly.

If broken is the state of our being, then brokenness is the process in which you become aware of your state of being broken.  In other words, brokenness is a continual awareness of the separation that exists between you and God if not for Christ, and that awareness binds you to Him.

So it might sound a little odd, but the only remedy for a broken person is brokenness.

Brokenness reveals a heart that has been changed by the truth of who God is.

In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Jacob was a man known for his ability to manipulate people and situations to get what he wanted when he wanted it.  In his pride and arrogance, Jacob wrestled against his fellow man and God, who graciously broke him in order that he might see the truth.  Once Jacob was broken, God blessed him.  Jacob said, ” I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been delivered.”  Don’t miss this:  The very sight of God was Jacob’s blessing.  After receiving this sight, Jacob walked in brokenness the rest of his life (quite literally if you read the story).

Upon seeing the truth of who God is, comes a realization of who we are. Every time someone in the bible truly beheld the Lord they were broken.  (See Jeremiah 23:9, Isaiah 6:1-5, and Acts 9 for more examples of that.)

The longer that we follow Christ, the more aware of our brokenness we will become, so I expect I will become only more and more broken until he makes me new – which thankfully, he intends to do.

Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Prone to Wander

Last week, I lost a kid (and earlier this summer, I almost drowned two of them.  Sheesh.  You never really realize what a bang-up job you’re doing as a parent until you start writing it all down – read about that little incident here). Now to my credit, the child was only out of my sight for just for a few moments, but if this has ever happened to you, then you know how quickly terror floods your heart when you realize that one of your littles is unaccounted for.

Me and the boys were walking out of the Y with a group of friends, so there were kids everywhere. As I prepare to part ways with my friend, I do a head count of my crew and come out short.

1, 2…..where’s 3? There’s no 3. I’m supposed to have 3!

I quickly discover that it’s my 4 year old, Jacob, who is missing.
Of course it’s Jacob. Jacob is that kid for me. The one I always try to keep at the very least in the periphery of my vision, because experience had taught me that if something can happen to Jacob, chances are it will.

My friend and I frantically begin searching for him. She runs ahead to see if he somehow passed us without us noticing, and I retrace our steps to see if he had gotten left behind. As it turns out, neither was the case. He was not ahead of the group, nor was he behind the group. Jacob had decided to take a detour in a whole other direction. When I questioned him, he told me that he needed to go to the bathroom, and because I looked pretty busy he had simply decided to take care of business on his own. He was so sure of how awesome his little plan to “go dark” was, that he was more than a little surprised that I appeared upset. He could see nothing wrong with his plan to leave my side, in fact, he even felt like he was helping me out a bit, but my perspective is a little wider than his.

I pulled my little wanderer aside and tried to explain to him why it was so very important that he check in with his mama before he goes off on any more of his little whims.  I told him there were dangers that he could not see.  I told him that he was safe when he was close to me.  He decides to appease me, so with all the condescension that a four year old can muster, he blows the hair out of his eyes as he rolls them slightly, “ok, mom.”

I guess that it’s innate in all of us – the heart of a wanderer.

It’s as true of me as it is for my four year old. It’s been true from the moment the fruit first touched Eve’s lips in the garden.

Genesis 3:8-9 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

God called out to Adam and Eve.  They had wandered away from Him.  The first wandering of mankind split a fracture in the hearts of all who would follow.  It’s an inheritance passed down to us from the very first generation and I suppose it will always be true for all of us this side of heaven. Reminds me of the words of my favorite hymn, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” We’re all prone to wander.

It was a propensity that even the great father of our faith, Abraham, faced. (I warned you that he’d be a hot topic around here for the next few months). A few weeks ago, we took a look at how as soon as Abraham found his way to the promised land, he was met with famine and hardship and toil – in the exact place God called him to be. (Read more here)

Genesis 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

When faced with famine, Abraham wanders. The original Hebrew word used in Genesis 12:10 for “sojourn” literally means “to turn aside from the road.” The word carries with it the connotation of being afraid, of shrinking back. Makes sense, doesn’t it? In the face of a fearful situation, Abraham “turns aside from the road” God had him on. Abraham allows his present circumstances to become bigger than God and as a result, he begins thinking and formulating and planning on his own instead of seeking God.  And the great plan that Abraham comes up with is to wander – he leaves the promised land to head for Egypt.  On the face of it,  this was a pretty sensible plan. Because of the great Nile River, Egypt usually had food and water to spare, even in a time of drought. But here’s the hitch:  throughout scripture Egypt is used as a place that symbolizes reliance on self or reliance on others as opposed to reliance on God.

Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses,who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong,but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!

You see in scripture, Egypt is symbolic of a place you go to for help when you don’t trust the Lord to help you. Ouch. (Right?!) Now Abraham’s story is hitting closer to home.

I have my own version of Egypt. Don’t you?  I’ve been known to run to other places for help when I didn’t trust the Lord to help me.

Just like my four year old, I’m prone to head out on my own whenever it strikes my fancy. Maybe I feel like the Lord’s not being responsive, maybe I’m waist-high in a season of doubt, maybe I think that doing things in my way, in my time seems a lot wiser that holding out for whatever it is that I think God is doing (or not doing). Whatever my reasoning, the reality of my choice is the same – I leave God’s side to go out on my own. Just like I told my Jacob, that’s never a good idea, even if it seems that way at the time.

This is what I’m thankful for today – that even in the midst of my waverings and wanderings – even when I am faithless, He remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13).  He refuses to wander away from me, even when I pull away from him.

There’s no purer plea that I can lay before him today than the one offered up by the old hymn that so precisely describes the condition of every human heart – from Adam & Eve, on to Abraham, to me and you today.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

 

 

 

Control Freak

The moment school let out for the summer we ushered our family of five straight to the beach in celebration of the best season of the year (at least as far as any school aged kid is concerned). We packed up the suitcases and headed even further south than we already reside to spend three fun-filled days in the sun, allowing our boys to do all the things that we usually say no to as parents. Stay up late? Yes! Chips, french fries and lots and lots of ketchup for lunch? Why not?! Overpay for cheap souvenir shark-tooth necklaces? Sure! Chocolate milk for dinner? Of course! We threw our usual routine out the window to enjoy the simple pleasures that come with this season of life during this season of year.

Last summer Chris bought an inflatable boat that the boys were wild about. It’s just big enough that the three of them can fit in together. They had been playing with it endlessly at home, so we brought it along to try out at the beach. Our oldest, who is a complete dare-devil when it comes to heights, is still unsure of the waves, so he sat in the sand and watched as I loaded up the two littles and tugged them out into ocean to give the boat a try. The water wasn’t even waste high on me and as the waves rolled in, tossing the boys gently, they were delighted. They laughed and squealed and asked for more. I pulled them out just far enough so that we got the best part of the wave, right past the break, where the current of the incoming wave lifts you up and then gently sets you right back down.

We had just gotten comfortable with the rhythm of the ocean when I heard a wave behind us gaining speed at a more forceful pace than the one before.  I turn to look, and then seconds before it happens, I realize that this wave is going to break right on top of us. The previous rhythm of the waves had given me no clue of what was coming. Things were fine and then all of sudden – out of nowhere – they were not.

I grab one boy tight with each arm and wait for the inevitable, because at this point that’s all I can do. The wave crashes down hard against me and the little boat capsizes. I hold as tight as I can to both those wiggly boys and we all go under. And for just one second, as the pressure of the water and the current and the chaos closes in on me, I lose a boy. I feel his slippery, sun-lotioned arm slip away from me under the water as I hold the other boy as tight as I can. Blind beneath the wave, I frantically reach-reach-reach with my one free hand just praying to God from the depths of my soul that I regain control.

And miraculously, I do.
While I am still blind and groping underwater with one squirming, panicking boy in my right hand, my left hand mercifully fumbles across a little leg somewhere beneath me and I grab hold of it as if my life depends upon it.

In a matter of maybe 30 seconds the whole thing begins and ends and we’re all accounted for and we’re fine and other than being a little wet and frightened no harm is done. Not wanting to scar my littles for life, I play it off pretty coolly. They trust me. They seem to realize that on some level, many things in the world that seem out of control and big and scary to them are quite manageable for their mom and dad, and they rest in that trust. They shake it off quickly and resumed their sea shell searching and sand digging in a matter of minutes.

I’m grateful for the perspective they have of my ability to handle things and manage things and make everything all right, but this time, their sense of security had no foundation. I had completely lost control. I might have fooled them with my “playing it cool” routine, but I couldn’t fool me. The story could have ended differently.

My husband consoled me, “but it didn’t. It didn’t end differently.” But the fear that gripped my heart was that it could have. Sometimes doing all you can do doesn’t even come close to being enough.

That night the scene played in my head over and over again in my half-dream, half-wake state. I prayed in fits and starts the entire night.  “Father God, thank you for saving my babies.”  “Dear Lord, I’m so sorry I almost lost one of my babies.”  “God, you were there. Thank you for being there.”  “Oh God, how could I have let that happen? How did I allow something like that to get out of my control?” Out of my control.

Out of my control.

Those are the words that continued to resonate in my heart into the wee hours of the next morning. It’s not that I temporarily allowed that one situation escape my control, it was God, awakening my heart to the truth that none of it was – none of it has ever been – in my control.

That thought terrifies me.

I have somehow convinced myself that so much depends on me keeping control. By controlling things I can prevent that dreaded accident. By controlling things I can protect their hearts. By controlling things I can keep them safe and near and happy. It may reek of selfishness, but the control I long for is not for my benefit, but for theirs (this is what I tell myself). After all, who knows what they need better than their mama?

Us mamas, we love our control, don’t we?  I have gone to bed many a night exhausted from the feeling that all I did all day was fight for control. And the rock-bottom truth of it is, I’m not fighting my kids or my husband. I’m fighting God.

I might have resigned the good and well-being of my own soul over to Him, but now I have to resign the good and well-being of my children over to Him as well.

And I don’t want to lose that control.

The truth of that statement strikes such a chord in my heart that I cry as I write this.

After the loving and gentle care that He has given me, how on earth could I even fathom withholding them from Him? Has he ever withheld grace when I needed it? Or love? Or provision? What does he have that I have not inherited? Yet despite these indisputable truths, somewhere deep within my sin-stained heart, I sometimes believe that I can love them more perfectly than He can.

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Oh, mamas, that we would dare to lose control. That we would fully buy in to His love for our loves. That we would loosen our grips on them so that they could more clearly see Him. That we would stop fighting for the type of control that could one day burden us to death.  I’m praying for the type of faith that dares to lose control.  And like the father of the boy who Jesus compassionately made well, I will cling to my Lord and cry “I do believe;  Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), as I hand over my boys to His capable hands.

When it hurts to be exactly where God wants you to be

Recently, I had a long conversation with a really good friend. I’m talking about an actual face-to-face conversation with only a few (ok, more like 5-6, but still) interruptions from our kids and we talked about real things. As mamas to young children, these types of conversations can be few and far between, so I treasured the opportunity to stand across from one of my girls and talk for 20 minutes about things that actually matter. Topics that matter because they cut to heart of how the Gospel intersects our real lives that we are actually living.

Here’s one of the things that I love about this friend, and why I constantly go to her for sound advice – God’s Word doesn’t just sit on a shelf in her life. It’s not wrapped up in a leather-bound cover, kept pristine.  God’s Word is alive and active within her. She allows His Word to spill out onto the messy and difficult parts of her life. She allows His Word to expose the dark places around her and even within her. She realizes that the beautiful work that the Gospel achieves always involves hard heart-work that can seem to go on forever. And currently my sweet friend is in one of those long stretches of hard heart-work, and as you might expect its been hard.

She longs for a reality quite different from the real reality of her everyday life. She has a husband she adores, and beautiful children, and she is grateful for these graces, yet still, the ins and outs of where they are right now whittles and wears her down. Life is not bad, but it has been hard lately.  (Perhaps you can relate to this.) She longs for a vision from the Lord regarding His plans for her because she can’t make sense of why she is where she is, but (and this is the thing that struck me most during our conversation) in the midst of her struggle she is confident of this: That it is the Lord who has her there. It is the Lord who has her in the tough place. Take this to heart today -

Sometimes it hurts to be exactly where God has called you to be.

The presence of pain is not necessarily an indication that you’re in the wrong place or doing the wrong things. (Can it be? Yes.  But is it always?  Definitely not.)  If you need proof of that just see the Bible. There are any number of stories in the Scriptures that could make this point, but seeing as I’m knee-deep in a study of Abraham right now, chances are you’re going to be seeing a lot of him around these here parts.

We’re first introduced to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. The Patriarch of the Patriarchs, Abraham is best known for two things – his faith and his obedience. (I would argue that the latter is simply a product of the former.)  Abraham’s story begins with God calling out to him, asking him to leave everything he knows, everything that is familiar and comfortable and safe to go to a “land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The Lord gives Abraham no indication of where this promised land is, or what lies between where he is and where he is to go, God simply says “Go.” And do you know what? “Abraham went, as The Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4).

Abraham does exactly what God has asked him to do.

Abraham continues on in this way for quite some time and then, in the midst of his obedience, a famine hits the promised land.  Struggle might not be exactly what you are expecting when you step out in obedience to the Lord, but Abraham runs into hard times in the exact place God has called him to be.

God wasn’t punishing Abraham for his obedience. God was teaching Abraham to rely on Him. God was calling Abraham into a deeper faith – a faith that would one day define him. This resonates with me, because one day, I’d like to be defined by my faith, instead of my propensity for second guessing God’s involvement in and intentions for my life simply becasue I’ve run into struggles, difficulty and pain along the way.

Perhaps my propensity to do just that is why Abraham’s knee-jerk reaction to the famine resonates with me as well.  Abraham’s first impulse when faced with the tough situation was to get out of it as fast as he could.  His default was to self-preserve at any cost and in so doing, he missed God’s abilty to save him out of those particular circumstances (and got himself into a whole other mess of trouble to boot).   Abraham, who would be come to known as the “The Father of Our Faith”, fled at the first sign of trouble, and if you’re familiar with the story then you know that choice didn’t go well for him.  (Read for yourself in Genesis 12:10-20.)

Sometimes God intends for us to sit in the difficult place and just wait on him there, instead of desperately trying to claw our own way out of it.

Back to my friend – the one who God has in the tough place – she may not know that she knows all this, (in fact, she would probably say that she doesn’t) but she does.  As she and I talked the other day, I took such heart from her steadfast hope in the Lord in the misdst of her difficult circumstances, and I thought you might, too.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138