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.

Small Stories…and a Great God.

Can I share something with you? Let you in on a secret?

I have a very small story.

I have a husband who is a godly man, who loves me and our girls sacrificially and selflessly.

I have three beautiful daughters whose lives continually reflect to me the astonishing miracle of grace that I am the one who gets to be their mom.

But my story is very small.

I wake up, I sip on a cup of coffee, sometimes two, I spend time in God’s Word, I wake up my girls, I make breakfast, I make lunches, I fix more heads of hair than I can count, I take people to school, I do dishes, I clean the house, I pay bills or answer emails or sometimes sneak an hour or two away alone once or twice a week, I run errands, I drive carpool, I take people places like swimming or piano or ballet, I help with homework, I fix dinner, I do dishes again, I put people in pajamas, brush more heads of hair than I can count, I put people to bed, I read a page or two in a book before falling asleep myself, and then I wake up the next morning and do the whole thing over again.

But can I tell you something else?

I serve a very big God who is telling a Great Story.

And because of His mercy, He lets me be a part of that Story.

Jason and I went to a conference last weekend to listen and learn about the Bibleless peoples of the world and what the Spirit of God is doing all over the face of the earth to draw men, women, children, and entire people groups to Himself. Drawing them from darkness to light. From suffering, sickness, and sadness into mercy, joy, and hope. From having no language with which to know and be known by God to learning that God does, indeed, speak their language.

And He invites us to be a part of that Story through our giving, through our going, through our praying, and through our speaking on behalf of those 2000 people groups who have yet to have one word of the Only Word that saves.

This story of the Great Commission has been going on for the past 2000 years since Paul took up the baton by taking the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles, yet our generation is the first generation in the history of the world to be able to stand and see the finish line in sight. In the next ten years, ministries from all over the world are coming together to see that those last 2000 people groups have God’s Word in their heart language and hear the message of the Gospel – the message that Jesus is the Only One who Saves.
The culmination of this Story will be when a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people group, and tongue stands before the throne of God and the Lamb and cries out with a loud voice, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). But until that day, we are to run hard with the Hope of the Gospel in our hearts and our earthly treasure in our hands, ready to give it to the building of the church of King Jesus here on the earth and to those who have yet to hear that He came, He died, He rose, and He waits to come again…until every last people group has heard.

Learning about that Story and our very small part in that Story lifted my head above the smallness of carpool, the smallness of my own story, and given me eternal perspective. Eternal Purpose. It put a weight of glory in my soul that far outweighs the trivial trip-ups and irritations of every day life.

I came back on Sunday night…content. All of a sudden, the size of my house, or the ugly brown carpet, or the lack of landscaping, or the gaps in my wardrobe, or the stresses of end of year scheduling, or the imperfections in my children, my family, and myself did not matter anymore.

God is doing awesome things all over the face of the world that no other generation in the history of the world has ever had the privilege of seeing or being a part of…and I am worried about carpool??

I don’t know where your stresses lie this week: maybe they are financial in nature, or relational. Maybe you feel that God has been sloughed off in a corner and you are not sure where to find Him, or your heart is consumed with the cares and worries of this world, and, like me, you need a good shot in the arm of the reality of eternity. But my encouragement to you is the same to me:

“Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient door,
That the King of Glory may come in!
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in!
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of Glory.”
Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads from carpool, from a full schedule, a full life, from a sink full of dishes and a house full of little ones, from a desk full of papers and an inbox full of emails, from a life full of stresses, from a heart full of sickness and pain, from a past full of darkness and a present full of despair…and let the King of Glory in!

He stands at the door and knocks, He stands at the gate and pounds, He stands at the highest point of the city and calls…to be let IN.

And I can promise you this: you might still have a small story. But you will be LOST in the JOY of knowing a Great God who takes every story, especially the small ones, and weaves them into a great and glorious Story that spans the ages, spans continents and cultures, and culminates with all peoples before His throne worshipping Him.

Invite this King of Glory into your story. The pages of your life will never look the same.

(One more thing, if you want to learn more about the Bibleless peoples of the world and how you can be part of the Story of helping them to know Christ and be known, click here – www.theseedcompany.org – and check out what The Seed Company is doing in Bible translation all over the world.)

Lenten Lights

This week marks the halfway point in our journey through Lent. How is your journey going? Have you caved in on sweets yet? Surrendered to an urge to abandon your convictions that now seem like they were made so long ago (as in three weeks ago)?

I certainly have. I have been sorely tempted more than once to stuff one of my mom’s homemade cupcakes in my mouth in one fell swoop without feeling any remorse whatsoever about the decision.

What was the big deal about Lent anyway? And why in the world did I promise to forgo all of these delicious sweets?!

If you are in need of some Lenten Light to refresh and remind you of why you decided to take this journey in the first place, take heart from these words from one of my favorite authors and sojourner, Leanne Payne (it is a long quote, but well worth the read):

“Our journey in time is for the special ordering of our lives and passions. The church wisely has set aside a special time-within-time, the Lenten Season, for us to stop and look at our lives in view of eternity and to check our spiritual temperatures for any worldly virus our souls may have caught. It is not accidental that this period precedes Easter and prepares us for the Feasts of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that follow:
The grace of abstinence has shone forth,
banishing the darkness of demons.
The power of the Fast disciplines our minds.
Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.

As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, Lent stands as the great reminder that: ‘We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country.’

To forget God is the cause of all sins. To be unmindful of Zion is the source of all sorrows. To settle down in this fallen world, which is not God’s good creation but rather the Babylon which the wicked have made, is death to the soul.

Christians await the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,’ which is the true homeland of all human beings (Revelation 21:2)….They already live in it to the measure that they have discovered their authentic humanity made in God’s image and likeness in Christ.’

There is a dangerous forgetfulness on our part that this world is not our true and final home. This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that our educational systems, drawing their theories from materialist philosophy, have claimed heaven to be off-limits and have taught us to look within ourselves and to this earth for the ultimate good. As C.S. Lewis points out, this progressive subjectivization has resulted in an ‘evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years….Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.’

I think this explains why we have such difficulty in understanding and celebrating Lent in beneficial ways. We are no longer sure deep down that we are exiles, that this is not the promised home. Therefore, we’ve accommodated ourselves to Babylon and then are overwhelmed at the sickness, fear, hatred, and violence we see here. It is a strange fact that we Christians continue to be unduly shocked and even overcome by the sight and the extent of the evil we discover in the world – as if we didn’t know it to be a fallen one.

Lent is to remind us that it is all too easy to settle in here, to warn us that perhaps a ‘crippling worldliness’ has indeed overtaken us.

‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving, heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ Hebrews 3:12-13

This is what the Lenten Scripture readings and teachings are meant to correct in us. They would teach us how we can live in the midst of Babylon and not be destroyed by it, even as Christ prayed: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:15-16

The journey through life then, if made successfully, requires that we order our inner and outer lives. We do this through prayer, and keeping an effective listening prayer journal; those are the best means I can recommend. For those who have difficulty ordering all that an effective vocation has brought into their orbit, or for those who have grown dangerously passive, slothful spiritually and mentally, you may want to read – on your knees – Richard J. Foster’s books Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicty, or Godon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. It is essential that we order our lives and our ‘loves’ this side of glory – in time.

We are often said to be creatures of time, and that we are. But time too is a creature. It is created. It will not always be. This is, for me at least, an overwhelming concept to grapple with and keep before my eyes; it is one I cannot really ‘think’ of or fully grasp. But the truth of the matter is, God is outside of time, and not subject to it. Somedy we too will no longer be subject to time. Meanwhile in our pilgrimage, it is important to see time as gift, as treasure not to be squandered.”
Leanne Payne, “Restoring the Christian Hope of Heaven and Grace,” Restoring the Christian Soul

Leanne’s quote is a lot to process; but I walk away with two main things:

#1. Lent helps to “bring the cure to our crippling worldliness.” It is the antidote to the worldly virus that has infected our souls and helps us to remember this world is not our home. It also ushers in reminders of the Hope of Heaven, our true home.

#2. Lent helps us to order our gift of time rightly. We forget that time is a gift from God, a created thing that will not last forever. Part of our job as Christians is to order our time, to subject it to the rule and reign of Christ and use it to usher in the rule of His Kingdom, first in our own private lives and then in the differing spheres where He has placed us.

So this week and in the remaining weeks to come, if you are tempted to cram that cupcake down your throat…stop. Remember that in remembering Lent, you are doing a good thing. You are forcing your heart and mind to forgo the “sweetness” of the world for the sanctity of Heaven. And you are rightly ordering your time. You are pausing for a season each year to force your heart to yield to the Lordship of Christ, to remember the cross, remember His suffering, and remember your journey towards your true Home.

So don’t give up or give in halfway through. Keep on fasting. Keep on forgoing. For within the fast lies the freedom to turn our hearts towards a Great God and greater things.

Sweet Lorraine

My husband sent me a link to a short video this week called “Sweet Lorraine.” I don’t want to ruin the story line for you, so take a minute to watch, and then get back to me. Here is the link:

If you needed a kleenex (or two), you were not alone. Like Fred, I am not much of a singer or melody maker, especially when it comes to the tune of life. Lately, it seems, I’ve been more prone to squawking my way through my days instead of singing sweetly. I’ve been grumpy lately, disgruntled, short with my girls, and a bit down on life. Days have seemed long and dreary rather than airy and light. Which is unusual for me this time of year when everything is “springing” up around me. So that’s what got me about Fred’s story. It wasn’t so much his song or the melody he created, it was the studio and musicians who came in and brought his lyrics to life.

I know someone like that. He listens to my lyrics and the melody I am trying desperately (if altogether unsuccessfully) to sing, and takes it out of my imperfect hands and gives it…life. He takes my squawking and makes it singing.

The first person like that is my husband. More often than not, he takes the time to see beyond my outer, imperfect melody, and dubs over my mistakes with steadfast love. And lots of patience.

And in doing so, he has pointed me towards Someone who is perfect. No matter how imperfect my melody and my efforts here, He promises to one day make all things new. Give beauty for ashes. And add His professionalism, His perfectionism, to my imperfect praise.

I spend so much of my life worrying about not finishing well. Closing out the journey of life with a “Not so well done, half-hearted and unfaithful servant.” But what if the heart of Jesus is much more like Green Shoe Studio than my own faithfulness heart? What if King Jesus’ heart is to hear the longing behind my lyrics and to make it sweet? To dub the perfection of His voice over my imperfect one?

Thank you, Jason, for pointing me to the faithfulness of Jesus. Hopefully, one day, you can write a song about me called “Sweet Susannah,” although at the rate I am going, “Farewell, Susannah, I
Survived” may be more appropriate!

But thank you, most of all, King Jesus, for loving me despite myself. For taking my sour and making it sweet. For promising to look past the imperfections of my heart and dub it over with the faithfulness of Yours. I look so forward to the day when I can see You with my own eyes, hear Your Voice with my own ears, and listen to the melody You have created with my life.

The 300

Lent began yesterday. 40 days of fasting. 40 days of trial. 40 days of leanness for the body in exchange for fatness of soul.

What did you decide to do for Lent? Yes, you. The one sitting behind the computer screen. Because we don’t know how many more days we have on this earth to prepare for the great and coming day of the Lord; but we know we have this day. This Lent. This season of 40.

Which brings me to the 300. My small group has been studying the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Gideon blew his trumpet to gather soldiers to fight against Israel’s enemy, the Midianites. And 32,000 men responded and said they would take up their weapons and fight.

But God told Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (Judges 7:2).

So God whittled the mighty army down from 32,000…to 300. Yes, you read that correctly. 300. 300 soldiers to deliver Israel from approximately 130,000 Midianites. By every human estimate, those are terrible odds. And Gideon’s battle plan (see Judges 7:16-18) was a terrible plan. Unless you consider the fact that in God’s economy, less is more. Less is powerful. Less is lean. Because our less glorifies, beautifies, and magnifies God’s magnificent more.

Is there an area of life where you are lean right now? Perhaps it’s in your bank account. Or your health. Or your emotional energy or strength. I have a word for you, friend. Less is more. Especially when it comes to Lent.

The question I have for you is, “Are you ready?” Are you ready to be one of the 300? Growing up, it was Gideon who always impressed me. I instinctively thought God must have chosen him because of how mighty or devout or humble he was. Not so. When the Angel of God found him, he was hiding in the bottom of a winepress threshing wheat. He was way more of a wimp than a victor. A coward than a warrior. Which is precisely why God chose him. There is no way any of us could feasibly give Gideon the credit for winning such a mighty victory. The credit could only go to God.

But before this Spring, I had never before noticed or given any thought to the 300. But God chose them from among the 32,000 for two reasons:

#1. The Lord told Gideon, “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’ So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3).

Think about this for a moment: Out of 32,000 men, 22,000 admitted they were afraid…and turned back. If you want to do great things for God, if you want to be ready for battle and alert for war in and out of season, take two little words to heart: Fear Not. Fear paralyzes us from being used by God. Fear of the future, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of our loved ones suffering, fear of pain, fear of the past, fear of loss of control, and the list goes on and on.

How do you get rid of fear and become ready for battle? Psalm 119:165 tells us, “Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble.” A deep-seated love of the Lord and a love of His Word roots and grounds us in peace, in reality, in eternity. A deep trust and faith in His Word removes all stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way and obliterates all fears that makes us stumble. First and foremost, the 300 were men who did not fear the enemy around them because of the greatness of the One who had called them.

But the 10,000 were still too many. Israel could still take credit for the victory. So God thinned out the crowd once again:

#2: “So Gideon brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.’ Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300…’” (Judges 7:5-7)

What was different about the 300? Catch this: they were alert. Just one valley away was an army of 130,000 Midianites ready to eat the Israelites for lunch. But 9,700 apparently weren’t aware of the nearness of their enemy. Or they didn’t care. Their desire to slake their thirst outweighed their sensitivity to the enemy.

But not the 300. They scooped water with the hands, brining it up to their mouth to drink so their eyes never had to leave the horizon. Their senses were on high alert; their physical needs were in submission to the bigger picture and the greater story going on around them.

What about you? Yes, you again. Sitting there behind your screen. If your physical senses were put up in a fight against your spiritual senses, which one would win? If your physical needs and desires were forced to submit to the bigger story going on in the heavenly realm around you, would they? Would your desire to eat physical food dominate over the desire to feed your spirit with the Word of God? Would your spiritual ears stay submissive to hearing the Voice of God even if other voices were chiming in? Voices that come from often times seemingly “good” sources? Would your spiritual eyes be able to see past the angry person in front of you and into their aching heart within?

This is what Lent is for, my friends. It is to hone us into the 300. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of the 22,000 that walk away from the battle out of fear, nor do I want to be one of the remaining 9,700 that succumbs to slaking my physical thirst before remaining alert to the unseen story around me.

Go lean on sweets the next 40 days. Go slim on screen time, television time, entertainment, sports, or shopping. And go long on God. Go long on learning how to listen with your spirit, how to see with the eyes of your heart, how to taste and see that the Lord is good, how to smell the fragrance of the forgiveness of Christ instead of the stench of self, and how to use your hands to build up the Kingdom of God instead of destructively tearing down to the glory of self.

Go ahead and go lean. Be one of the 300. And take your place in a story where less is more, victory is certain, and all the glory goes to God.