Thursday, March 6, 2014

Drawing in

In trying to draw closer into Jesus this season of Lent, today I was reminded again how I've often approached scripture with a self-focused goal. I've looked for the stories of his life to prescribe what I should look like, what I should feel, whom I should love and how I should serve, rather than reading them to see and in response, worship the God described. When I don't begin with worship, I start in on a path I am bound to fail. If for one moment I look at Jesus and let my shortcomings bring me shame rather than to my knees, I will push him away. If I read of his actions and the first thing I ask is, "What should I do?", I've missed him entirely.

Of course I believe that scripture should and does lay out how we should live. There is great freedom in following Jesus. And yes, going back to my post "Lenting it out", I am called to pick up my cross and follow him. However, I think I often forgo my business of worshipping and enjoying Jesus to take up his business of sanctifying me. I get it backwards. Even a noble goal of looking more like Jesus or not wasting the life I've been given are goals that hold personal achievement and self-betterment at their core. I remember for the longest time honing in on various areas of my life I needed to work on and surrender. I would become so fixated on the problem and in trying to force myself into submission, I failed to see Jesus was transforming me from the inside-out. Yet when I draw near to him, I loosen the grip on the things I'd otherwise find so hard to relinquish. Rather than ripping out the desire for sin, He grows my desire for himself, pushing aside the other idols.

When my heart draws into his, there's no fear of what will be demanded next. There's no worry over whether I'm giving enough. There's no condemnation over missed opportunities to love. Really, there's just him.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenting it out

Hellebores, "Lenten Rose"

It's the season of Lent, so the hellebores in the garden tell me, and I'm giving up my determination to be uncomfortable with the person of Jesus. Let me clarify - Jesus should make me uncomfortable in that his life and his love compel me to be transformed, but the kind of discomfort I have felt for so long was of feeling like I didn't belong in his company. I found it much easier to reflect on and reach out to God the Father than Son of God. On some level it had been easier to worship an invisible God than a tangible Jesus.

I know when these feelings began. My introduction to Jesus was likely in songs and blue-sashed figurines on felt boards in Sunday school. At the age of seven, I remember asking Jesus into my heart, and being excited to tell the kids at school about him - especially this one kid who, based on his behavior, I figured really needed Jesus. But it was during a junior high mission trip that I first felt something fracture.

It was the heels of an emotionally sweeping prayer at the end of a particularly moving sermon on repentance that we were told to stand up and shout, "I want the cross!" if we wanted to give our lives to Jesus. Now Jesus already had my life, and being a stoic child who cringed at the hand motions to songs, I was like a deer in headlights. As pre-teen after pre-teen leapt to their feet, I finally rose caving to the pressure and not wanting to look like I was un-choosing Jesus. I quietly mumbled, "I want the cross." That moment of inauthenticity set the wheels in motion to my belief that there was an accepted and expected emotional response to Jesus that people who truly loved him should have. It was to be emphatic and unashamed. I was reserved and self-aware. By the measure of my response, I had left Jesus hanging there on the cross.

This memory of the shame I felt in that moment is vivid in my mind. I let the idea creep in that I didn't and couldn't have true affection for Jesus. Amazingly, it is only now, twenty years later that I'm am looking back and recognizing the part this played in shaping my journey with him. Don't get me wrong, I felt deep affection for God and gratitude for and conection to the sacrifice of his son, but Jesus was a way to God, the reconciliation, the person I was to worship through.

By the time I was in college, the person of Jesus elicited feelings I didn't know how to handle. Reading the Bible, I struggled to see him as fully human and fully God. I placed human limitations on his emotions and love, and viewed myself as I thought he should see me (as a spoiled brat) rather than how he truly did (as a beloved daughter). Reading scripture, I interpreted his actions as if they were from typical human motives. I didn't know why he was so hard on the Pharisees or why he turned over the tables in the temple. This seemed angry and intentionally provocative. I didn't understand why he let Lazarus die before healing him or why he used spit to make mud to put in the blind man's eyes - that seemed gross and unnecessary. I couldn't understand why he'd tell those who would follow him they must hate their own family or give up all their wealth. It seemed like he was putting up boundaries between himself and them and turning people away. I couldn't begin to imagine the horror of the lady who had been bleeding for years, when Jesus called her out in the crowd. Looking back, I think I was projecting my own feelings of shame and disconnect on their interactions with him. Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one", but I had decided that God would be the one I'd rather interact with. I didn't know what to make of the boldness of his life on the pages of scripture and the boldness and assurance with which his followers used his name.

At some point, I had to reconcile the words of Jesus in John 14:7, "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." I couldn't know and love one and remain distant towards the other - they were one. Jesus's life showed me the heart of the Father, and likewise the heart of the Father helped me better see Jesus. Learning more about those stories and the symbolism behind what he did showed that everything He did was to love, to set free and to point to the glory of God. I learned that His anger towards the Pharisees didn't stem from hatred of them but love for his people and hatred for false worship or keeping his people from worshipping him. I learned that he called out the bleeding lady, because her life was already a horror, and he was publicly declaring her clean.

Jesus loved those who were reserved too. I read about a Jesus who met with Nicodemus at night, in the dark, patiently answering his questions. I saw a welcoming Jesus who called out Zacchaeus as he caught glimpse from a distance, likely reflective of the distance he felt from the crowds. I read of a Jesus who met with a woman at a well as she was alone and ostracized, and he explained to her "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." I read of a Jesus who for years worked through the doubts of his own disciples, carefully laying out the gospel for them in story after story as he stretched open their hearts and minds. Jesus won people over in crowds, alone in the dark, over dinner, in deep intellectual conversation, in healing, in miracles. He won them with truth, with love, with mercy, not guilt or emotional manipulation or not with an implied shout it now or you don't mean it.

I'm learning that Jesus has the love of the Father for me. He wasn't giving me the side eye or disappointed that time I hesitated in junior high. In fact, he didn't even place that on me. That was of man. He's okay with my not being much of an enthusiastic Peter or a doting Mary. His life and words weren't lived and spoken to shame me with unattainable standards but rather to be my substitute and show me my desperate need for him while offering forgiveness and grace. God has also lifted Him up, so that I worship him.  From Phillipians 2, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."



Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Monkey Joe's Happens to Families



Well it happened. I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. We were circling the snake floor of the science museum and the oldest complained, "Mom, this isn't fun. Can we go to Monkey Joe's?" To think - we even got to see the sloth. THE SLOTH. In the ten times I have visited the museum over the past couple years (which is maybe why it wasn't fun anymore), the sloth has been awake once. This was the moment of a lifetime - mark it down, we saw the sloth carry a piece of celery to his box.

"This is boring."

Read the placards. Isn't this why you go to kindergarten? You are supposed to learn to read and then magically the world opens up, and your curiosity compels you to read the placards by yourself in the science museum and never be bored again!

"Can I take a picture with your phone?"

"No." I stick my phone back in my pocket. "Hey look, a waterfall!"

"Can we go now?"

Look child, if an awake sloth doesn't totally rock your weekend, then I don't know what will... Oh wait, you say a sweaty germ-infested bounce house with screaming kids, oblivious parents, and elbows and knees constantly flying a mere two centimeters from your precious face would? Alright. I give up. Let's go home.

As we click our buckles I look over at Joe and sigh, "Well that was only mildly painful."

And this friends, is why when you ask a parent "How was your weekend? What did you guys do?" you get met with blank stares. We try to not be "those" parents. We try to walk the tight wire of not being overindulgent and catering to the "entertain me" generation and not being negligent. We try to keep our phones in our pockets (except when photographing said sloth) and engage them in conversation. We try to do something educational and tame and has typically been a big hit with the kids. We try teach them how their attitudes, not circumstances, dictate the level of boredom.

However, we failed not because of poor parenting (at least not this time), but because in their heart of hearts, the moment they woke up that morning, they were headed to Monkey Joe's. We held them off after lunch and through the early afternoon hours, then went out to eat dinner at 3:30 pm so our bouncing kids wouldn't catapult you mid-bite of Mexican rice from the other side of the booth seat. And then, full of tacos, driving home, "So, we are going to Monkey Joe's now?" That's when the chanting and nervous giggles began. They knew they were winning us over, but were careful not to over-assert their progress on the case. "Pleaaaaaaase!"

Me: "Well, it would wear them out."

Joe: "I don't want to go to Monkey Joe's"

Me: "I have two Groupon passes on my phone.."

Monkeys in the back seat: "MONKEY JOE'S! MONKEY JOE'S! WE'RE GOING TO MONKEY JOE'S!"

Me: "Want to stop and get your prescription on the way?"

This is how it happened. No lie. Just like that, we were sitting in mall traffic northbound to hell.

But I'll tell you what, seeing the youngest smile and climb and defend his place in line with his arms stretched out, and seeing them laugh and run, and having to carry their tired limp bodies up the stairs to bed when we got home, it was all okay. I kind of think we won. Joe, however, is still recovering from defeat.
 

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Bite

It was a bite.

No, it was more than a bite. Her lips hesitated on the flesh for a moment before she let her teeth sink in and the sweet juices filled her mouth. As that bite sat on her tongue, it was as if lightening from heaven stuck down ripping apart the particles making up the very molecules of her bones. And as she looked down, she became aware that what she saw was seen. It was as if there were a grand clock whose second hand made its very first brush against the very first tick mark with a soft silence that somehow managed to shake the ground upon which she stood. Each breath from her nostrils carried the bitter perfume of that bite, and as she moved toward a nearby fig tree, she stepped on a twig. It cracked, and she felt a sharp pain in the arch of her foot.

Crouched there with him, they trembled. And then they heard His voice. There had never been such desperate longing to run to His arms and have Him kiss her forehead, and yet she could not even lift her eyes to meet His. Something had been set in motion by that bite in which no one, not her children or her children's children would be able to look on His face until the Child was born.

And she began living in terms of versions of herself. She could not see the continuity because a life that had been created for timelessness no longer could fathom eternity. In essence, she had to fragment her life because the slow erosion of it was too painful not to mark. There was the garden version, which was only remembered on the quietist of nights when the chill in the air caused her to pull up the blankets to the top of her lips. There was the pre-baby version, the mother-version, the version where her hips were rounded and her laughter was full even as it trailed off into a sigh. And then came the thin, gray version with withered breasts and curled fingers and curved back. She rested her head gazing upon her lot, remembering lost sons, and a final breath escaped her lips still bearing the fragrance of that bite.

I am of this women. Her bite lingers in my very own lungs. I go to sleep and my aching joints cause me to wake. I've lost babies too. In the quietest of nights, I've wondered if He sees me. But what I know is that the God who sent her out from the garden, who was ripped from her very soul as the flesh ripped off the side of the fruit, has woven Himself into the fabric of the world around me. Everything attests to his glory, his order, his Promise. When timelessness confined itself into the person of Jesus, God breathed in new life, entered into the spaces between the particles that make up the molecules of my bones, so that I am never ever without Him again.

And when I don't see Him, and when I can't feel His kisses on my forehead, He is with me. When time erodes my flesh and wears on my hope, He is with me and waiting outside of time to embrace me. It is amazing that a God so great, so everywhere, so big, loves. He loves. He enters in, he heals, he binds, he restores.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Conversations

At 7 am on the dot, Scooby jumps into bed, sandwiching Joe, and soon after the littlest bun Wookie joins in making me the jelly. "Why don't you give me math problems, mom?" "Okay, what's two times eight?" "Hmmmmm. Sixteen!"

"Thirty-six!" chimes in Wookie who is three and counts "oooone, two, free, SEVEN!", when you ask him to count to four.

"Okay, Wookie, what's eighteen plus eighteen?"

"Thirty-six!"

Scooby bursts into laughter.

"What's two times three times two times three?"

"Thirty-six!"

"You are right! Scooby, isn't he the smartest baby ever?"

"Oh mom, he's just saying thirty-six!", and he laughs more.

"What's 72,000 divided by 2,000?" pipes in Joe.

"Thirty-six!"

Last Friday morning wasn't so lovely. I had bathed Wookie and already dressed him before it took the last of my emotional reserves to take off my mom's old hand-me-down fleece pants and put on my stretchy gym pants. I know... still pajamas. I made lunches and chocolate chip pancakes.

"Wookie, your pancake looks different. See? It's a weird color." Scooby pointed this out and smugly shoveled down a bite.

I had given Wookie the first pancake off the griddle. Those always look weird.

"Wookie's pancake is just as tasty as yours. Wookie, isn't it delicious?"

"But it doesn't look like the rest of them."

"Scooby, stop it. Just eat your pancake."

Soon we were all dressed with a little bit of time to spare.

"Scooby, you have 18 minutes to poop before we need to leave for school."

"How long is 18 minutes?"

"It's long enough to poop."

Several minutes later, a fight escalated from "Give me privacy" to "GET OUT" "Telscoop! Telscoop!" "GET OOOOOUUUUUT!". Blood rushed to my head and I joined in the screaming match before I fully comprehended that Scooby was waving an empty roll of toilet paper over his head as he sat on the potty with his pants at his ankles and Wookie was trying to grab while wailing. Every cardboard tube is his telescope.

A week of not enough sleep and I really wondered if I was going to have to sit down and catch my breath. I shouted words trying to separate the two and end the fight and burst into tears, sputtering something about being mean and lack of respect and why can't you just let him have it, before Scooby finally relinquished the cardboard tube. I slammed the door to give him his precious privacy and fell into the beige chair in the corner of the living room, and Wookie burst into tears. I called him over to me and scooped him up into my lap. I am as much a child in this moment as they are.

Within that eighteen minutes before we headed out the door, I'd broken up a petty but intense fight, cried, comforted Wookie, and lectured them about heart disease and stress and how it isn't healthy for me to get so frustrated. It was "National Wear Red Day" after all. I then explained to them how when they hate their brother, they are actually hating God. I know. Big words for little hearts. But I explained how it hurts my heart when they are mean to each other, because I do love them so much. Both of them. They are my children, and we are all God's children and he loves us and doesn't want us to hurt each other with our words and actions. We can't show people Jesus's love when we are being so unkind to each other.

The drive to school was quiet. My words and their fighting were heavy on my heart. I reached back and patted Scooby's knee. "I love you... I'm upset when Wookie is mean to you too. I love you both."

My children do love each other and typically play together so well, but this past season there has been a lot of one-upmanship. Many "FIRST!" declarations, many "He's not good at that" or "He's too little". Once I responded, "Tell me something your brother IS good at." "Scribbling?" "Try again. I was thinking something like how he's good at trying new foods or good at sharing." "Oh." Scooby never tries new foods. I suppose that was a low dig.

Dropping off Wookie at preschool, I shared with a grandmother of one of his classmates. She was dealing with some of the same jealousy and sibling rivalry. I reflected, "I think I need to find a way to encourage him and make him proud without having to diminish his brother."

That night, I crawled into Scooby's bed and we started talking. He was mad at me that I'd come to his winter show that afternoon and made him smile while he was on stage. Joe was there too, but he didn't mention being mad at him. I was hurt and wanted to leave, but I stayed. I started telling him about what school was like when I was a kid. Wookie was soon asleep on the other side of the room, and Scooby wanted to know about every single grade of school.

"When I was in kindergarten, the boys liked to chase the girls and put them in 'jail'"

"What? Why did they do that?"

"I don't know, it was a game they all played. Well one time, this boy (I told him the first and last name because you just don't forget) came running at me. I just stood there with my arms crossed. He was so shocked and said, 'Aren't you going to run?' 'No,' I said. He turned and walked away."

Scooby loved this story. He asked if the boys and girls didn't play together. They usually didn't, but I remembered one boy who was new that my girlfriends and I took in because the other boys weren't nice to him. Soon Scooby,  who'd really been giving me grief all week and who had been icy to me the rest of the day since I used true but big words for his heart, got a big grin and wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.

"I love you mom!"

This sweet child needed love. He needed time to talk, to be heard, to be seen and to be given a piece of my heart through my stories. All week I'd worked hard on my paid job, and his heart had grown distant. And as I protected Wookie from Scooby's harsh attitude, it had driven him further away. But now, I'd won back his heart and as I lingered there talking and answering his questions, the reconciliation was so sweet.

By Saturday morning, I was thanking God for the day before. He'd shown me Scooby's heart and given me a glimpse of why His children can be so cruel to each other. We are missing His heart, His stories because we are the ones who are too busy. We are putting down each other to make ourselves seem more important or right or skilled to gain His approval. But there is enough Jesus for us all. He's not busy punching away on his iTrinity or too angry at us to scoop us up and wipe our tears. He hurts when we hurt each other and longs for us to come to Him and to see that we are loved and we are approved. He pursues us and chases us down, but sometimes when we just won't relent, he even grants us our privacy.

Oh, Father, that I would see your other children and how you love them. That I would be confident in your love so that I might love in return!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kitchen Window Birding

This past week there was no school from Tuesday - Friday. This wasn't part of my plan. I had work to do - a lot of it. I'm teaching four distance classes currently, and letting a couple days go by without continuous input of effort means a massive brain pile-up on the freeway keeping materials and students and discussion posts sorted out.

Three inches of snow somehow brought the county to a grinding halt, so we were home a lot. Since I work from home, you'd think not having to drive the kids to and from school would enable me to get more done. Let me ask you this - have you ever successfully tried to have sustained rational thoughts with two boys bouncing off the walls? I didn't think so. The first thing I tried was letting them play Mario Brothers on the Wii. I felt pretty sneaky - they were always asking to play anyhow. Guess what? My oldest likes to narrate and ask me questions about single thing that happens on the screen. And he flails his legs around while he plays.

What at least brought us all peaceful, connected entertainment was watching birds. Scooby has a new bird book from his grandparents, so we spent hours by the window watching the feeders. I even let him use the camera. I wasn't pushing this activity on them. They'd see me sitting with a camera, and eventually we'd all be sitting at the kitchen table or lined up in the bay window of the dining room. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it. Even Wookie is proud of how much he learned.






Thursday, January 30, 2014

Framing

This post may come across as rather obnoxious, but I don't intend it to do so. It's not a #firstworldproblems bit and it's not a "just think of the starving children" bit. It's a post about letting gratitude frame my experiences and frustrations. It's not about being grateful since other people have it so much worse. It's about counting my blessings before letting the frustrations tear me down.

I'm not sure how many times a day I ask my oldest to speak a little quieter, or how many times I beg the youngest to get down off the (fill in the blank), or how many times I sit on pee drops on the toilet seat, but over the past week I've considered that no matter what small thing comes my way that may result in frustration, simply looking for the blessing first helps bring perspective and patience.

So traffic is just terrible. First I have to be thankful that I have a car, there is gas in the tank and I have places to go. My kids run off in a store? Praise Jesus their legs are healthy and strong and they have the energy to go go go. My son's voice is so loud and he interrupts every single conversation I attempt with any other person than him? Praise God that he lives in a home where he feels safe enough to vocalize his thoughts and ideas and that he's so enthusiastic to learn and share. Yes, my ears still crackle and my teeth vibrate at each overly exerted syllable, but even in that, there is blessing.

This is not easy. I'm currently incredibly annoyed that there are wet snow clothes strewn about the kitchen, my youngest is dragging all the Wii remotes across the floor by their wires and arguing back at me that the wires are tangled when all I want him to do is just put them away and leave them alone. Why can't kids just obey? Why can't there be just five minutes of silence to have a deep thought? When will we be able to have nice things that don't get ruined with kid goo?

Oh Dear Father, may my heart never long for silence so much that it fails to love the people behind the voices! May I never wish away the blessings You have given. May I see the dirt and noise and boogers and accept that these too are being used to make my heart look more like Jesus's and His ability to love through the scales and dirt and sin.

My tendency when life is trucking along at a steady pace is to forget to look for God, and little frustrations can make me so sour. When true struggles and loss come, He powerfully and clearly shows up, and I feel His presence. However when the clouds part and birds sing, that joy of knowing Him and being known by him can quickly erode due to an ingratitude that gives way to entitlement that explodes into impatience and hardness.

My kids aren't perfect, and I am by no means a perfect mom. I find that some days there is far more correction and nagging when there needs to be a bit more gratitude. Some days I have to pause in the midst of chaos to tell my child to look at me and then tell him that I love him. And then I get this in return - my three-year-old's "sweet face" - which is absolutely amazing.




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