Contented Heart

I work so hard to create perfect circumstances. In fact, if home school has taught me one thing about myself, it may be just that. I really like perfection and work hard to achieve perfection, whatever the circumstances. But funny thing: the harder I have worked the past six weeks to achieve perfection – the “perfect” home school schedule, the “perfect” tone of voice, the “perfect” home school day, free of distractions – the more chaos seems to ensue.

Last Tuesday, after staying up until midnight on Monday, tabbing all of my lessons, preparing all our books and supplies, re-thinking and re-writing all of schedules, I had the Worst. Day. Ever. Interruption after interruption occurred. I think four different workmen showed up at my house at varying points throughout the day. Everything took twice as long as it should have. And my patience was worn thin as a sheet because of all the chaos around me.

By the time I climbed into bed on Tuesday night, I not only ached in my body, but in soul as well.

“After all my attempts at perfection, Lord, home school is still hard; circumstances are still tough. I. Give. Up.”

And in His small, quiet, whisper of a way, the Lord responded: “Good. I’ve been waiting for you to say that. Because perfect circumstances are not the goal, but a quiet, contented heart is.”

The next morning I got up, went straight to the school room, and wrote on our chalkboard, “God is not looking for perfect circumstances; He is looking for a contented heart whatever the circumstances.”

Ever been there? Ever been knee deep in uncontrollable circumstances, and your immediate response is to try to control? To attempt to wrangle, enforce, and subdue perfection, while missing out on the joy of the holy journey all around you?

My husband is fond of reminding me of a sermon point from Tim Keller, one of our favorite pastors: To seek perfection is to seek an illusion. Because who, among those of us who actually do achieve perfection, even if it’s only for a moment, has the power to actually keep it there?

Accidents happen. Chaos happens. Life happens.

This side of heaven, perfection cannot be our goal. But a contented heart, no matter what uncontrollable circumstances arise, can be.

As the Lord would have it, last Friday I was scheduled to teach at a local Biblestudy for moms, and the passage I was asked to teach on was Luke 10:38-42, learning to have a Mary-type heart in a Martha-type world.

Martha was the ultimate perfection seeker. She sought the perfect meal, the perfect help, the perfect rhythm when Jesus came to dine at her house. But Mary. Mary chose the Perfect One over the perfect meal. Mary chose to sit at the Perfect Feet instead of setting the perfect table. Mary chose to calm the chaos inside of her rather than trying to take on the chaos surrounding her by focusing on the Only Non-Chaotic One.

And Jesus’ commentary on her will forever be burned on my heart: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

While Martha chose to allow things to hold her attention that were here one day and gone the next: the pot that boils over, the table that will need to cleared, the food that will have to be prepared tomorrow as well, Mary chose that which could never be taken away from her.

Anything I choose to spend my time on other than Christ Himself and a Christ-centered, contented heart among chaotic circumstances will be taken away from me. Meals have to be prepared again. The house will resort to chaos and messiness as soon as my children step foot in the door. The errands I run and things I check off my to do list will still be there tomorrow. My inbox will always be full.

But the time I spend at Jesus’ feet will reap eternal reward. It is a deposit for whatever is to come. Things I do not know in my finite, limited understanding, but He does.

So this week, while the quote isn’t on my chalkboard anymore, the principle is written on my heart. Perfect circumstances are not my goal (ok, let’s be honest – they sort of are, but I am working on it, really I am); but Christ is. A contented heart sitting quietly and attentively at His Feet is. No matter the circumstances. No matter the chaos. And at the end of the day, I will have chosen what cannot be taken away from me. Even if my perfect schedule was.

Confession

I’ve been doing a lot of sitting lately. I sit two days to three days a week in a chair at our home school table to teach my children. I sit in my car to drive them to and fro from after-school activities. I sit to eat meals with my family (we are together a lot these days), and I sit at sporadic moments throughout the week to visit with friends or family members.

But there’s another kind of sitting I’ve been doing, another kind of chair I’ve been sitting in. I’ve been sitting in the chair of confession.

Every morning as I make my way to sit in my chair in my study with my cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other hand and I begin to settle in before the presence of the Lord, I begin to confess.

And there is quite a lot to confess to confess these days. Home school has a way of bringing out the very best sinner in me. The tone I use with my children. The impatience that edges in when certain subjects are taking too long. The self-pity that worms its way into my heart when days are tough and the road at home seems never-ending. The covetousness that creeps in of other people’s schedules, other people’s kids, other people’s seasons. The slander that slips through my lips under the guise of getting advice. The lies I tell to myself about myself to make myself feel better.

While sitting in my chair of confession, words like hypocrite, liar, slanderer, murderer, and idolater tumble from my lips to the listening ear of the Lord instead of my usual church words like holy, wise, patient, kind, humble, and sincere.

That’s what Home School has done for me so far this Fall. It has stripped away the outer veneer of “great mom, good wife, wise daughter, faithful friend” and showed me, instead, the true color of my heart. I have learned, to a greater degree, who I really am and not who I most often pretend or want to be.

But can I tell you something? I needed some stripping. I needed to take a good, honest look at myself and not the usual half-hearted, fingers crossed, wish-upon-a-star glance I usually take in the mirror.

And what I have found is that in the chair of confession, true freedom and liberation comes each and every morning. Because what I have found is the more honest I am about my sinful self, the more fully I can hold onto and believe my true self. The person God tells me I am in the pages of Scripture.

Just look at the character of Jacob in Genesis 32. The ultimate post-modern man stuck in ancient Hebrew sandals, Jacob wrestles with God, for a different kind of identity than the one he has been stuck with his entire life. Jacob was a deceiver, a liar, a cheat, a hypocrite, a spiritual failure in every sense of the word, and he spent his life on the run, looking for an identity and a blessing that went beyond what he actually deserved.

So when a stranger attacks him in the middle of the night and wrestles with him by the River Jabbok until the break of day, Jacob instinctively knows this wrestling match isn’t about getting new strength. This wrestling match is about getting a new name. And his opponent isn’t a mere man; it is God Himself.

“Then the stranger said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So the stranger said to Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ And the stranger said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:26-27).

Before the wrestling match ends and the blessing begins, the stranger, God Himself, asks Jacob a question: “What is your name?” God knew the answer to that question; He just wanted to make sure Jacob did as well.

The Hebrew word for “Jacob” means “heel-catcher, supplanter, deceiver.” So in giving his name, Jacob is not only naming himself, he is confessing, before the face of God, who he really is: heel-catcher, brother-betrayer, father-deceiver, liar, hypocrite, cowardly runner.

And this is the moment God says, “Now you are ready to hear who you really are: you have always been one man on the run, searching for a purpose, searching for significance, hungry for greatness. So say good-bye to Jacob. Your new name is Israel: a nation of many men, destined for greatness, primed for significance; a nation who will give the earth her Savior, One who will change the identity of all those who wrestle, confess, and believe that He is Lord.”

I looked up the definition of confess the other day, and it means this: “to agree together with God or one’s own conscience, and to externalize that which is inside of one’s self; to profess, express in agreement with, to confess as the truth.”

I don’t know how much sitting you’ve been doing lately. Maybe you spend most of your days on the run, on your feet, wishing you had a chair near by to collapse into more often.

I can’t necessarily recommend doing more sitting in the physical realm; personally, I think it’s good to be on one’s feet. But I can recommend doing some sitting in the spiritual realm.

Because it is only when I confess, it is only when I externalize that which is inside of myself, it is only when I come into agreement with God about who I really am and what I have really done that I am free to receive and accept who He tells me I am in His Word:

• Yes, I am a hypocrite, but when I confess, I am free to step into the truth and live in the light instead of cowering in the darkness.
• Yes, I am an idolater, but when I confess, I am free to hear the word and feel the embrace of “daughter,” one He died to save and who He will never let go.
• Yes, I am a slanderer, but when I confess, I am free to wash my lips clean and embrace the identity as “healer,” healing first my heart and then the one whom I hurt with my words.

So today, or tomorrow, get up a little earlier or stay up a little later and sit in the chair of confession before a good God who is waiting to trade the old identity for the new. All He is waiting to hear is…your confession.

School as Sandpaper

Something has happened to our family. We haven’t boarded an airplane or stepped foot on foreign soil. But it darn sure feels like it. It feels like it when my girls come downstairs dressed for school, and they head to the Mud Room to put on their navy rubber soled shoes and knee high socks. It feels like it when I stuff every single text book known to man into their backpacks, and Lillian walks around with a bent over back in order to carry it all. It feels like it on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when instead of heading out the door for school, the girls are sitting in shorts and t-shirts at our kitchen island, waiting for me to orchestrate our school day. And it feels like it on “Fun Fridays” when the whole day looms before me, and instead of doing something “fun” like all the other home school parents promised, we catch up on Grammar and Bible, and I lay comatose on the couch in my study for several hours.

No, we haven’t stepped foot in a foreign country, but it certainly feels like it.

We have entered the country of Home School.

And I have to keep reminding myself what it feels like to step foot in an actual foreign country. When you make your airline reservations and plan your itinerary, everything sounds so romantic, so foreign, so different, so wonderfully other than.

And then you get there. The romantic aspect of foreign travel wears off quickly, and instead of enjoying your destination, you realize you’ve over packed after promising your husband you would never would do that again; you’re lugging all of your heavy bags from one place to another and spending all of your time sweating, unpacking, and re-packing, and you catch yourself thinking, “What in the world was I thinking bringing all five of us to this country? Next year, we aren’t going anywhere. All I want to do is go home.”

The language is different, and although you may both be speaking something called “English,” you realize after you told someone you really like their pants, what they heard you say is that you really like their underwear. The hotel rooms are inevitably way too small to comfortably fit a family of five. The food is untouchable, uneatable, and when you go to the grocery store to buy a pound of ground beef for something like tacos, they tell you, “No, we don’t have ground beef; but we do have minced mutton.” Gross.

And everything operates under a different set of rules. It so happens that there are rules for everything; except you don’t know what the rules are…until you break one of them. Don’t walk on the grass, don’t get too near the cliffs, don’t drive on the right side of the road, don’t talk in too loud of a voice, and don’t be overly friendly in public places. And to make matters worse, you have to learn all the rules and adjust to all the newness while under the influence of jet lag, which makes one feel the equivalent of a slug stuck in jello.

That pretty much sums up Home School.

The leggings are too tight, the confines of our home too small, math is done on an abacus (seriously?), I am so tired from staying up late to flag my lessons for the next day that I constantly feel like a slug in jello, we seem to learn the rules of the classroom only by breaking them (as in, trying to do math with Lillian and Science with Lizzie at the same time does not work), and I am having to learn a completely different language: a language that begins with the letter P and ends with the letter E: the language of PATIENCE. My kids are now so accustomed to me apologizing for something I said or the way in which I said it that they see me coming into our school room and simply say, “It’s ok, mom, I forgive you.”

Home School. What in the world was I thinking?

But I have to remind myself – travel to a foreign country doesn’t mean total ease; it means slow adjustment. It doesn’t mean jet lag lasts forever; it means every day is a little better than the day before it. It doesn’t mean you have to see every castle and historical landmark in the first few days you are there; it means slow down, enjoy the view, and trust there are enough days in the trip to see what you need to see. It doesn’t necessarily mean the tight boundaries or lines are going to disappear; it means you have to adjust and learn to live within the boundaries you have been given.

And it does mean, remember why you travelled here in the first place. It wasn’t for the food; it wasn’t for the plush accommodations; it certainly wasn’t for the extra sleep. It was for the extra time with your family; it was for the opportunity to learn things you never would have learned by staying in your native country; and it was to learn how to speak a new language, one that is good and necessary for your soul.

There always comes a moment during overseas travel when the hedges part, the skies clear, the cliffs and the sea come into view, your children laugh, and all the effort of the trip is tasted in the sweet bite of the fruit of that moment.

I am still waiting for that moment on our present journey, but I am believing it will come as I wait with patience, trusting a good God who does all things well, and has called us to this country called Home School. And on the days I don’t remember exactly why I booked the tickets, He definitely does.

Content

Contentment is a peaceful thing, isn’t it? It seeps down into the bones and allows you to actually enjoy all that you have instead of hungrily gnawing on the bone of the one thing you wish you did.

And discontentment is subtle, isn’t it? It doesn’t wave a red flag in our faces and announce its intention of taking over our souls, does it? It creeps in by the backdoor and grabs our attention in one seemingly small, insignificant thing we wish we had…but don’t…and we start thinking about it. Planning for it. Budgeting for it in the future. Turning it over and over in our minds. Savoring it from different angles. Comparing our miserable little lives with all the grand, glorious, good lives of the people who have it (whatever it is). And then, all of a sudden, it’s not just one thing. It’s two things. Ten things. A whole life of things we wish we had…but don’t. And wham. We’re sunk a mile deep, wrapped in the reeds of the swamp of discontentment, when the last thing we remember was dipping a single toe in its waters.

If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, you guessed correctly. I am.

In fact, I found myself there this week. And the little toe I stuck in the swampy waters was over the pool I wish had…but don’t…in my backyard.

For all of you who live in cooler climates, don’t judge me too hastily. Living in Houston in the summer is more like living in a humid, sticky swamp than a city. The only time you head outdoors is so you can run to the nearest air-conditioned shelter…or jump into a pool. If your pool happens to be a bike ride or a car ride away, then relief from the heat can require a few extra steps than just opening your back door. Especially when you have kids in tow.

And it never fails. Around this time of year, I start mulling over all the different reasons and all the different ways I could get a pool in my backyard: we could forgo eating for the next year and a half. I could start digging in the dirt myself with a shovel. I could give up Christmas…for the next ten years. Everyone’s gift could be that they get to come swim in my pool at least once a year.

And here’s the kicker: I start comparing my house to all the houses of people I know who do have pools. Their kids stay in better shape. They have more fun as a family. More people want to come over to their houses to stay or play or visit.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t my thinking about a pool that took me by surprise this week. It was all of the other thoughts it led to. As soon as I began sucking on that hard piece of candy of wanting a pool, it wasn’t too long before I began to choke. Within a couple of hours, it wasn’t just our backyard with which I was discontent: I was discontent with my wardrobe, my schedule and my eating habits. In another hour or so, I was discontent with my girls’ bickering and attitudes, their activities and abilities, and their schedule for the fall. And by dinner time, I was just plain ol’ discontent with life. Jason walked in the door, and I had a long list of things I wanted to change about our house and our schedule. Somehow I started telling him how I wanted a pool and ended with how it was time for me to take seminary classes.

Seriously?

It’s clear as day now. But it wasn’t then. It felt about as dark as mud. As cloudy as a swamp. As confining as reeds wrapped around my ankles. All I knew is I felt I was drowning in all my unmet desires, and my life was really a series of disappointments and worthy of some self-pity and change.

I went to bed that night knowing that what I was feeling wasn’t quite right, and that I was stuck in some sort of fog, but I couldn’t figure how I got there or why the vague feeling of discontent had settled over my life.

And then, the next morning, I came to the part of my prayer time before the Lord where I was supposed to repent – and it hit me like a 2×4 – I was discontent about everything because I had consented to being discontent about one thing. And all of a sudden, as repentance began to flood my lips and my heart, the cloud completely dissipated, my legs broke free of the reeds, and I was pulled out of the swamp, set down upon the shore, and completely content. Right where God had me.

Philippians 4:11 came to mind, and I turned there to read the familiar words. Paul writes, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. “ What was unfamiliar are the words that immediately follow: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis mine).

I have heard that verse quoted at football games and before soccer matches. I have heard it quoted at youth rallies, summer camps, and in sermons.

But I have never heard it quoted before in the context of contentment.

And when it comes right down to it, that is, perhaps, where I need the strength of Christ the most. To be content. Right where He has me. With exactly what He has given me. Because contentment takes a strength that must come from the inside out. A strength that is beyond me and beyond my abilities. It must come from Christ, who strengthens me.

I don’t know what swamp of discontent you are stuck in (if any); but I do know exactly what will pull you out: turn to Christ who gives you strength, go back to the one thing, the first thing, that opened the door to discontentment, repent, close the door, and settle into the good sand on the shore where Christ has placed you. And be thankful there. Let His goodness and His provision of all of your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus meet your each and every need (Philippians 4:19).

And instead of wallowing in the swamp of discontentment, you will be free to enjoy life and strength and joy right where He has placed you. Pool or no pool. And that, my friend, is the very best place to be.

Part III: Surviving the End of School: The Gospel of Grace

Is anyone in need of grace this week? I know I am.

I needed it this week when my three-year-old clogged up the toilet for the 10th time, and my five year old decided to try to flush it down. I needed grace when I first heard the sound of the water gushing, rushing, flowing over the sides of the toilet bowl all over the tile on the bathroom floor. I needed grace when I frantically waded in my socks into the half-inch deep water on the floor and lifted the back lid of the toilet to see what in the heck was going on. I needed grace when I realized I needed to turn the water OFF and had to get down on my hands and knees in the toilet water to reach the knob to turn the water off. I needed grace when I went through every single beach towel we had to mop up the mess that had flowed all the way into the other room around our baby grand piano. I needed grace when I looked at the clock and realized we had been home only ten minutes from ballet and had only ten minutes to leave until swim team practice. I needed grace when I realized my husband was out of town and got to miss out on clean up duty altogether. And I needed grace with my kids when I started yelling at them in the midst of the toilet flow for all sorts of random things, things that had nothing to do with the toilet. I was yelling just to yell and doling out consequences left and right, making mountains out of molehills. I was also in need of grace the next morning when I tearfully apologized to my children for yelling instead of laughing, for losing it instead of loving them through it, for yelling angrily instead of waiting patiently for the flood of emotion (and toilet water) to cease.

I was a momma that needed grace this week, and lots of it. And if I was a betting woman, I would bet a lot of other mommas out there this week are in need of grace too.

Sometimes I think that one day, I am going to wake up and have outgrown my need for grace. Have perfected patience. Have gotten self-control down. Have learned how to completely hold my pride in check. Sometimes I think that one day I will never have to stoop down again in tears and repent to my children for being such a lousy mom because I’ve finally grown into the perfect mom, or at least a mom who can go at least a week without seriously blowing it in one way or another.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Ann Voskamp, one of my modern-day mom heroes, at a conference Jason and I attended. We were able to visit together for over an hour, and I asked her all sorts of questions about raising kids.

She said lots of wise, grace-filled things throughout our conversation, but one thing in particular stood out. She was talking about how the cross of Christ intersects daily life as a mom, and she said made the comment, “As mothers, we have got to teach our children that we will never outgrow grace. It’s not like at some point if you have walked with Christ long enough that you one day outgrow your need for the cross. That your children are at one level at the foot of the cross, in need of grace, and you are at another, higher, loftier level. We are all at the same level at the foot of the cross – great sinners in need of great grace.”

As soon as she said those words, a burden of great guilt lifted off of my shoulders and was replaced with great grace.

She is right – who am I to think that I will EVER outgrow my need for great grace? Who am I to think that one day I will graduate from my need for the cross? That I will be in less need of grace than my children?

Moms, listen to me: one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to let them know that we are on their same level when it comes to grace. Our need is just as great as theirs. Our sins just as weighty. Our falls just as steep. We will never rise to the level of perfection but stay at the foot of the cross with them as long as we are their moms.

Doesn’t that take a load off? It certainly doesn’t mean that I can sin now with a clean conscience or without any conscience at all. But it does mean that I do not have to be surprised by my sin. And it does mean that I know the road to reconciliation with my children when I have blown it for the tenth time in a row that day. It means that I meet them at the foot of the cross on eye level, knee to knee, hand in hand.

As much as I wish it was so, my children do not need a perfect mom. They need a repentant mom who is willing to lead them to a perfect Savior, not only when the toilet is overflowing, but especially when the toilet is overflowing.

One of my favorite quotes comes from FB Meyer. He says, “Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and worlds.”

How do we survive the end of school? In our filth, we humbly let Christ do the filthy work of cleansing our soul again…and again…and again. Knowing even if we are surprised to be in toilet water again, up to our ankles in filth, He never is. It’s why He came – not only for our children but for us, their moms.

“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 9:19-23

Part II: Surviving the End of the School Year: Rhythms of Rest

I don’t know about you, but this week, I was Tired. With a capital T. Yesterday, standing in line to pay for my lunch, I asked the checkout lady if a drink came with my meal, and after she answered “Yes,” I asked her the very same question again twenty seconds later. And I can honestly say I had no recall of asking her the very same question or her giving me a response just seconds before.

That’s what happens this time of year to all of us trying to survive the end of the school year: we lose our minds, lose our energy, and lose our stamina to even ATTEMPT to cross the finish line. I’m all for giving my girls perpetual “mental health days” from now until the end of the school so we can just stay in our pajamas, play Legos, and drink coffee (or watered down juice, depending on your age) until 3pm.

When I start feeling this way (usually twice a year during the month of December and the month of May), I have to remind myself to live within the Rhythms of Rest.

Here’s what I mean:

We are a people desperately in need of daily bread. Not once-a-week bread, or once-a-quarter bread, or once-in-a-while bread, but daily bread. And if I have learned one thing about myself in the past thirty-seven years, it’s that I can’t go one day without the bread that comes from the Bread of Life Himself.

Actually, let’s be honest, I can go one day. I can go a week. Or a month. Or a season. But while my body lives, my spirit starves and my flesh takes over. I become sickeningly selfish, angrily impatient, and degradingly demanding of Jason and the girls.

All it takes for me to get off of the rhythms of rest, devotional living, and daily surrender is one day. That’s it. That’s why the Living Word of God is deadly serious and literal when He says, “Give us each day our daily bread…” (Luke 11:3, emphasis mine) and you must “take up your cross daily and follow Me…” (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine).

None of us, not one of us, can go one day without feasting on the Bread of Christ, made available to us through meditation on His Word, yielding and depending on His Spirit, and wrestling and resting in prayer.

We turn inwardly to feast on ourselves and our flesh faster than the blink of an eye. How is that even possible for those who have walked with the Lord and lived in dependence on Him for so many years? Think of it this way: how long could an infant go without his mother’s milk? One day would be too long, even cruel, wouldn’t it?

As followers of Christ, while in many ways we are to grow and mature from drinking spiritual milk to spiritual meat, we are never to outgrow our spiritual posture of daily dependence. We are always to remain like infants, safe and secure, desperately dependent upon our Father’s Arms to strain and shield us from the attacks of the evil one and our own sinful hearts.

The sad thing is, during seasons of life when I most need the daily nourishment and rest the Word of God provides, it is often the first thing to go, the fastest thing I am willing to surrender. That action alone betrays my heart: when the rubber meets the road, I really don’t believe the Lord is my sole Provider. I believe I am. And the only one I really need to depend on for daily sustenance is…myself.

So when I feel the urge to stray, to chuck my rhythm of daily devotional living and check my email instead of opening my Bible and getting on my knees, I have to cry out: Oh Lord, teach me to stay within the rhythms of devotional living. Teach me to rest within the safe confines of time in Your Word and in prayer morning and night. For those boundaries You have established for us as Your people are the safest place to be even during (and especially during) the busiest seasons of life.

I read this week something that helped me tremendously:

“Crowds were thronging and pressing on Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.

Now, if that was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!…We must “shut the door,” enclosing and securing a sufficient portion of time for the fitting discharge of the engagement before us.

In the morning we should look forward to the duties of the day, anticipating those situations in which temptation may lurk, and preparing ourselves to embrace such opportunities of usefulness as may be presented to us. In the evening we ought to remark upon the providences which have befallen us, consider our attainment in holiness, and endeavor to profit by the lessons which God would have us learn. All this cannot be pressed into a few crowded moments. We must be at leisure when we enter the secret place.”
Come Boldly, David McIntryre in “The Hidden Life of Prayer”

What are your rhythms of physical and spiritual rest, prayer, and devotional living?

Do you need to make yourself take a nap once a week? Twice a week? Three times a week, in order to function as a normal human being who isn’t biting her children’s head off by six o’clock? Then do it. The never ending piles and plans of life can wait.

Do you need to begin the morning on your knees in desperate dependence on a cracked and well-worn Bible and end the day in grateful thanks or honest confession?

If you don’t have any devotional rhythms, make them. And if you do, stick to them, no matter the intensity of the season or what obstacles are hurled in your way. And hurled they will be. Depend upon it. The moment you commit to daily, dependent living, a child will get sick, a crisis will flare up at work, your inbox will overflow, but resist the temptation to let everything go and stick to it. That’s when the rhythm becomes a ceaseless flow instead of an inconsistent stop-start-knee-jerk reaction to life.

Think through your weekend. Think through your week. How will you rest? How will you live in daily dependence? I am praying for you to be strengthened with power in your spirit as you live dependently on the Holy Spirit, drawing much needed rest and nourishment from His daily bread.

And doing that, my friends, is not just how we survive the end of the school year, it is how we thrive during the end of the school year, come what may.

Part I: Surviving the End of School: Remembering What Really Matters

I did something on Sunday I have never done before. Not in seven (almost eight) years of mothering. I left my child. Completely forgot about her. Until we sat down at lunch. Forty-five minutes after church was over. I have never driven down the interstate as fast as I did that afternoon. I didn’t even care if I got a ticket.

When I walked into her classroom, the only people there were her teacher (BLESS HER) and the maintenance men. Literally vacuuming the floors of AN EMPTY BUILDING. Caroline looked at me and said, “Mommy! Where have you been?!”

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Good question. Great question, actually. Because I had been all over the map that morning – arriving early to lead prayer, meeting and greeting people in our Sunday School class, helping friends find the right classroom for their kids, rushing out the door as soon as every head was bowed to make it to my niece’s baptism in time at a different church down the road. Hurrying to the family lunch to meet back up with Jason.

And that’s when it happened. I noticed the noticeable absence of my three-year-old’s presence. (Anyone who knows Caroline knows this is not hard to do; Caroline likes to make her presence known.) Running over to my husband who was standing in the buffet line, calmly spooning shrimp onto his plate, I asked, “Where is Caroline?”

“I don’t have her,” he said. “Don’t you?”

And I wanted to blame him. Really I did. Couldn’t I somehow make this his fault? His fault that we were all sipping on lemonade while our three-year-old was still sitting in the church nursery two whole neighborhoods and a fifteen-minute car ride away?

But the finger could not point to anyone except back at me. I had gone over my plans to make the morning work with my sister-in-law, with my mother-in-law, with myself. But not with Jason. I just sort of assumed he knew my thoughts. Assumed he knew that since I had the two big girls, he was in charge of our little girl. But clearly my plans had not been clearly communicated to anyone, including myself.

The only comfort was that a few months before, I had been with my sister-in-law when she had forgotten my niece. And received the dreaded you’re-a-terrible-parent-who-forgets-her-child phone call from the school receptionist. This, by the way, is not my sister-in-law who is related to Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (see last week’s post, Easter Nest). I am pretty sure Ma Ingalls, nor my sister-in-law, Haley, has ever forgotten anyone for whom she was responsible. This is my sister-in-law whose house resembles Disney World and wherever she is, a party is sure to begin. With water balloons and an inflatable water slide or some sort of Disney character or entertainer to boot. But being the author of good times that she is, sometimes she forgets a thing or two if it’s not tied to her body…like one of her four children.

At least I knew I was not alone in my forgetfulness, and that alleviated (just a little) part of the pain from the walk of shame back down the empty church hallways, PAST THE DIRECTOR OF THE PRESCHOOL MINISTRY, with my three-year-old in tow. (I am fairly certain I will never be asked to volunteer in the preschool ministry again.)

Maybe all you moms out there need to be reminded that you are not alone in your crazy, forgetful, end of school, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off state either. Maybe you need to know you are not alone in your own particular failure or hallway walk of shame.

But I did learn something from Sunday’s episode. Actually, I learned a few things. Number one, take a deep breath. And number two, slow down. Did I put that in all caps? Let me say that one again: SLOW DOWN.

Slow down. And stop trying to be all things to all people. Which means that some people, or at the very least, one person, is going to have to be let down (at least, in your estimation). But the third thing I learned is that letting someone down is ok. Because you were never meant nor made to be all things to all people. Most people are probably more understanding then we give them credit for, and even if they are not, their world, and yours, will continue to go on turning, even if you are not at the very center of it. As a mom, you are supposed to be there, first and foremost, for your husband, and then for your little ones God has entrusted to your care. Moms, moms-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, relatives in general, teachers, volunteer committees, to-do lists, parties, plans, end-of-year-gifts, dirty dishes, dirty houses, dirty closets – they can all take a backseat. They can handle being let down or ignored (closets, not people) if it means you need to stop focusing on them so that you can focus on the little people in front of you. Because when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when you and I are racing around to be all things to all people, our little people are the ones who get hurt in the process.

And more than the perfect end-of-year party, or end-of-year gift, or biggest and best recital arrangement, or cleanest kitchen or closet or house, what your children really want, is YOU. Your presence. Your full attention. Your emotional compassion and care and love instead of your emotional exhaustion and frayed nerves.

This is not a guilt trip; this is a gentle reminder. To me most of all. During this month of the year, what can you let go of? What can you surrender? What demands can you give up so that you can give in to the needs of your family and your children?

Because what our children need this time of year is not a mom who performs perfectly at the end of every day and every end of year event; they need a mom who is present for them in the day in and day out ups and downs of the daily routine.

Don’t forget that. Because in doing so, like me, you may just end up forgetting a child. And in all of our remembering this time of the year, we don’t want to end up forgetting what is really important after all.

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Easter Nests

Meet my sister-in-law, Haley. She homeschools her two boys, grows a garden in her backyard, cooks excellent meals, is a born-and-bred-nurturer, and always makes the running of her household seem like a smooth and easy task. She is prepared for every holiday at least two days in advance, while I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Think Ma from Little House on the Prairie (minus the girdle), and you’ve pretty much got the right picture. Plus, she is beautiful to boot.

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(She’s the last one on the left!)

So it comes as no surprise that she had the best idea when it came to making Easter baskets….she introduced us to the Easter Nest.

The Saturday night before Resurrection morning, she takes her boys out to the grassy area behind my in-law’s ranch house and helps them build their Easter Nest with rocks and grass. The next morning the boys awake to see what the Easter bunny has left in their nests.

For the past three years, Aunt Haley has helped my girls build their own Easter Nest, and the tradition has stuck. Who needs wicker baskets and bows when rocks and grass make a much cozier spot for the Easter Bunny?

This year, the image of the nest and the grass brought to mind the words from the prophet Isaiah: “The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

So on Easter morning, my girls awoke to find the words to Psalm 19:7-11 in their Nests:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;

In keeping them there is great reward.”

Most of the gifts we will give our children this year will fade. Most of them will break. Or get lost or thrown out or worn out.

But one thing will never fade or wear out or burn out, nor will your children ever tire of its beauty or its reward: The Word of God.

We will build lots of nests for our children this year. We build them nests to come home to after a long day at school. We build nests for them on sports teams or in a special interests or hobbies. We build nests in the vacations we take and in the fun outings we make. But are you building them nests, day in and day out, that house the Word of God in their lives?

One day, when they have homes of their own, and tragedies of their own, and struggles, triumphs, joys, and tears of their own, will they have nests of the Word planted deep within them?

Do not make the mistake of satisfying your children with building them the nests you think they want; build them the nests they NEED and fill them with what will LAST.

“The grass withers.” Just look at our Easter Nests now, gone with the heat of the sun.

“And the flowers fade.” Just look at the lilies from our table on Easter Sunday, brown with uprooting.

“But the Word of God stands forever.” The Scripture that is planted in their hearts yesterday and today will abide in their hearts forever, springing forth into eternal reward.

As Easter People, sitting at an Easter Table, build Easter Nests, filling them with the Word of God, which will last forever.

Easter Table

The table I set for Easter looks different than the table I set at any other time of the year. My table sometimes has flowers; it sometimes has candles. At Christmastime it has an Advent wreath, and at Thanksgiving it boasts a ceramic turkey. But Easter is the only time it has a cross.

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I must confess I did not set this particular table. It was beautifully done by a beloved family friend and mentor at my in-laws’ table in Brenham, Texas.

But her table, and my table at home, got me thinking: shouldn’t our tables, no matter the season, no matter the meal, always be set with the cross at the center?

As we serve our plates, shouldn’t we also be serving up grace to those who sit in our chairs? As we unfold our napkins, shouldn’t we also be unfolding mercy and tucking in compassion, particularly to those in our seats who are suffering?

As we pick up our forks, shouldn’t we also be picking up patience, ready to have it at our lips in responses to those around us? As we fill our stomachs with food, shouldn’t we fill our hearts with love – love that does not seek its own but leaves the confines of our own schedules, our own emotions, our own weariness, our own inconveniences and seeks to shoulder the burdens and minister to the wounds and weariness of those around us?

Perhaps it just means listening as opposed to talking. Or talking instead of sulking. Perhaps it means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes instead of judging. Or giving grace instead of nitpicking.

But if we are Easter People, then at the center of every table, Easter weekend or not, should be the Cross.

Joanne Thompson in her excellent book Tablelife says it best: “Jesus isn’t at risk of catching the disease of sin because He eats with sinners; sinners are at risk of being drawn to grace by eating with Jesus.”

Are those at your table drawn to grace because the cross is at the center of your table, your meal, your heart, and your lips? And have you invited those who do not Jesus to regularly sit at your table? Those who need the risk of exposure to a grace-filled God?

Hear me loud and clear: when it comes to sinners at the table, I am chief. I have been known to tell my children to stop touching me at the table when they desperately needed a touch. I have selfishly told my children to be quiet and keep their stories to myself so I could have a moment’s peace. I have kept the placemats at my table tight, only five, when others have desperately needed to be let in.

Setting a cross-centered table is one of the most difficult parts of my day. And just because I did it well yesterday doesn’t give me the day off today. It is a daily death, a day in and day out, year in and year out, act of surrender.

But today. Today. Today I choose to take up my cross, and follow Jesus, and make Him the center. Of my table. My conversations. My meals. My servings. My heart. Why? Because the people around me, starting with the four whose lives I have been entrusted to serve, need grace from me that points them to Grace from Jesus. And it all begins with having an Easter table with the cross at the center and a heart that is willing to serve. On Easter Sunday or Monday morning or Wednesday night.

As Easter People, join me this year in daring to have an Easter Table.

Easter People

“Soon afterwards Jesus went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Luke 7:11-15

I know a momma who lost her only son a couple years back. And I thought a lot about that momma this Easter weekend. And after the glorious wreck of the Resurrection, I wondered why. Why couldn’t Jesus have stretched out His Resurrection Hands and touched with Resurrection Life this woman’s son like He did the son of the widow of Nain? Why doesn’t He touch all cold, lifeless sons with Resurrection power so that mommas don’t have to grieve anymore?

And I don’t have any easy answers.

But perhaps it is because we are Easter people. And perhaps it has to do with our limps. Because while we are people of the Resurrection, we are also people of the Crucifixion. The hard call to all those who are serious about following Christ is to take up your cross to follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). And the last time I checked, the Resurrected One is also the Crucified One. The One we follow who has Life in His veins also has nail prints in His Hands.

Perhaps He lets us bear our cross, bear the death of only sons, bear the pain of sickness and illness, bear the frustration of repeated sin – one step forward and two awful steps back – because, let’s face it. If we only walked in full resurrection power in the here and now and never with a crucified limp, we would ever really find our need for a Crucified God?

Perhaps our limps are there to drag us to our Savior. Over and over and over again.

Perhaps they are there to remind us that Resurrection is coming. But first we must follow the Crucified One to the grave in the great hope and belief that whatever dies in surrender to the Son comes back with Life evermore (John 12:24-25).

I don’t know this son-less momma well. Don’t know her well enough to take her in my arms and just hug her long and walk alongside of her, reminding her that Resurrection is surely coming and her son will stand in her arms again one day. But it’s what I want to do every time I see her.

But I do know the Son well. And I know that every time I have hit a wall and all I see are dead ends and dead relationships and my own dead heart, He is faithful to breathe Life. Because we are Easter People, and He is our Easter God. Who meets us in our limps, heals all of our diseases, and promises to raise us up with Him in glory…just like the widow’s son.

So limp along this week…and dare to live like Easter People who serve a Crucified, Glorified Easter God.