Mothering Chronicles

The Shedding Tree

I saw this quote recently, probably on facebook or Instagram, and it stopped me.

The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.  –Annonymous

I’ve always loved when the trees explode in their own display of fireworks–the riot of red and blazing orange that woo our gaze with their warmth and heat the crisping autumn sky.  But I never realized it’s a celebration of dead things.

Before those leaves are shed, they’re colored crimson.

Before those leaves are discarded, they’re dipped and dyed flaming yellows.

But they will be shed, and they will be discarded, because those leaves, they are dead.

There’s no hope of life left to linger.  They are completely and utterly dead.

When autumn’s fireworks have ceased, we see the naked and bare limbs of maples, their trunks like elephant legs, and it gives us a quiet, lonely sense about the world.

But in their naked state, they’re actually more alive than when the flaming leaves hold on to their branches heralding autumn’s last hoorah.

They’re alive because they let go of the dead things.

They’re alive because they’ve shed that which, if left to stay, would prevent the budding bumps of new growth come spring.

Life means letting go of dead things.

If we hold onto to dead things forever, we cling to crumpled remnants of what will never be.  We cling to the grave.

We do that, don’t we?  Cling to the grave?

Hold onto a grudge when forgiveness is budding beneath, pressing and pushing and praying to be released in our lives.

Hold onto paralyzing fear when trust is a trigger ready to be pulled, and peace wants desperately to be launched.

Hold onto material things and worldly goals when eternal things and heavenly pursuits are shoots pushing at the surface of our soul beckoning us to release them into a hungry, hurting world.

We like the dead things because they’re deceptively beautiful.

Because let’s be honest, whether we want to lose weight but can’t let go of our lattes and french fries or we want to see our marriage restored, but can’t get past the years of hurtful, angry words, we’re holding onto things we think will satisfy.  Mirages of the soul.

But eventually, their beauty crumbles in our grasp, and we’re left with dust.

For years my sisters and I would take our children to Nana’s house to rake leaves.  We didn’t have a leaf-blower, and the yard was too big for my mom to clean up all by herself, so we made a game of it with the kids.  We’d all work together to gather the leaves in a massive mountain.  When the yard was bare, our kids were released to dive into the mountain of maple, poplar, and oak leaves.  I can still see them jumping in, taking turns diving and flipping, their cheeks pink with brisk autumn air and excitement.

But the leaves would get crushed and scattered.

We’d rake them back up over and over, but after a while, the mountain would become a hill.

The hill would become a bump.

And before too long, we’d drift away, lose interest, and the leaves would be left to decompose.

Because that’s what happens with dead things.

They don’t hold the weight of real life for very long, and they can’t stand up to actual use.

The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go. 

The trees, they know the secret to a lovely life is releasing the dead and allowing the new to be birthed within us, through us, out of us.

Loveliness is the daughter of letting go.

Paul talked about this too.  He understood that as Christians, we’re literally in Christ and He’s literally in us, and therefore, the capacity for new life is in us.  He understood that if that holy capacity is within us, then it is for us to let go of the old ways and allow the new life of Christ to emerge.

You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead. You used to live as sinners when you followed the ways of this world. You served the one who rules over the spiritual forces of evil. He is the spirit who is now at work in those who don’t obey God.  At one time we all lived among them. Our desires were controlled by sin. We tried to satisfy what they wanted us to do. We followed our desires and thoughts. God was angry with us like he was with everyone else. That’s because of the kind of people we all were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin.  Ephesians 2: 1-4a

The lovely life is the promised gift of God; the lovely life is a life that knows how to shed.

. . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self . . . Col. 3:9b,10a

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Eph: 4:22-24

When I shed the dead, I bear the likeness of God—the beauty of His holiness.

When I shed the dead, I bear the image of the divine.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it?  When the dead is that thing that broke us?  Crushed us?  And we never want to forget, so we hold it tight in one hand and reach for life with the other, hoping we can somehow have both.  But death and life are darkness and life and they don’t fellowship well with one another, and you and I? We’ve got to choose, don’t we?  Why do we forget that life comes when we let the old ways die?  Why do we hold on to that which will give us nothing but sorrow?  We bite the fruit over and over again thinking that this time, it will be sweet when only that which finds its source in Christ is sweet to our soul.

I can’t get this quote out of my mind,and I am determined to etch this shedding the dead into my heart.   So I go outside, and  I get a crimson sumac branch and break it from the trunk it’s clinging to.  I bring it inside.  This year, as I think of the holiday season approaching, the season of gratitude and then the season of giving, I think to myself, I’ll strip the dead things and replace them with living things.

So I place the tree in a pitcher and sit with my boys. I ask them to think of the dead things they may be clinging to.  I ask the same of myself. And as the Holy Spirit brings them to mind, we’ll remove one of the dried, brittle leaves and replace it with an ornament of life.

When we lay our electronics down—all of them, the laptops, the cell-phones, the television, and pick up a game to play together, we’ll remove a leaf and replace it with life.  Time connecting as a family.

When we apologize for the short, clipped words we used with one another, we’ll crumple and crush one of those leaves and replace it with life.  Kindness, patience.

When we surrender our lengthy Christmas lists to God’s economy, we’ll replace the dead with giving life to others.

I can’t grasp the living if I’m gripping the grave.  I don’t want my legacy to be that of a grave robber when the option to be a life-giver is out there.  

So, I’m going to choose to shed, choose life.

This will be the first Christmas tree we decorate this year.  Before the matching-pinteresty one, before the antique one loaded with ornaments from a life spent collecting memories and moments.  This tree will go up before the others.  This tree that was dead and brought back to life.

The Shedding Tree that becomes The Living Tree.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:25

All the dead things new this year.  He’s doing that in us, isn’t He?  It’s trustworthy.  It’s true.

Life.

 

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Laying Tile and Raising Kids

Years ago we sold our home and bought another one.  I was skeptical of the potential new kitchen, and with good reason.  In addition to the not-so-level country-blue laminate counters was this ocean-blue floor made of tiny 2 by 2 square inch tiles.  That floor was the stuff of Mexico, and I wasn’t having it.  I live in the mountains of rural north Georgia for goodness sake.  So when we toured the house, Jeff said, “Yes, Sarah, we can replace the tile.”  “Yes, Sarah.”  He said that.  Direct quote, people.  Can I just tell you that tile has left me sea-sick for almost 5 years now.  FIVE years.  To tell you that I have loathed the shiny, cobalt ceramic squares is an understatement.  I L-O-A-T-H-E-D the tile.  So, when I found some peaceful grey (neutral is my love language) tiles on sale for pennies, I grabbed a hammer and chisel and told Jeff it was time.  Time he ante up.  He promised after all.  He was at work, probably doing something spiritual like preparing a sermon to share with your children on Wednesday  nights, but I interrupted with photos of the new tile and requests for permission to proceed.
And proceed I did.  The elation I experienced at busting those tiles with my hammer ranks right below having my children and my wedding day.
I was pumped.
By pumped, I mean I went insane.  I seriously put on lip gloss and fixed my hair for the demolition.  Legit.  Hammer in hand, Cort by my side (I think Jeff sent him a text and told him to supervise and make sure I didn’t hurt myself), I tapped the tile gingerly at first, and then with a gusto and vigor I can only explain as being “caught up in the Spirit.”  (Cort may or may not have thought I’d been overtaken by a demon, but really, he’s young, how could he know?)  I banged and bashed and brandished my hammer like a crazed banshee.
And then.
Then I noticed how SLOW the tile removing process was going. I noticed after about ten tiles, the hammer was getting heavy. (Seriously, in this day and age, why does a hammer have to weight 5 million pounds?)  I noticed I wasn’t quite prepared.  (Read:  I had to go get safety glasses because shards of ceramic are sharp and they slice skin without apology or warning.  Sorry about your leg, Cort.) But I was determined. Nate was at work, but Cort quickly saw that an intervention would be necessary, so he had mercy on me and assisted.  We pounded and chiseled, and pounded some more.  When Jeff got home, he found only a few square feet of tile removed and a wife who was utterly exhausted.  We had about 140 square feet to go.

(Some will judge my son’s bare feet.  Judge away.  I pick my battles.)
I was discouraged.
But I was still determined.
And I was invested.  You can’t really change your mind once you’ve busted out a few dozen tiles and cracked scores more. We were all in, like it or not.
Kind of reminds me of parenting.   Does it you?
So excited about having a beautiful family, we bring children into this world and it is all roses and butterflies and heavenly choirs for the first few minutes.
And then.
They don’t sleep.  They end up with colic.  (Lord help us, mommas of littles, how I remember those days.  What in the world was wrong with me, I thought, that made my kids the only ones that cried constantly?)  Or they don’t potty train.  Or they bite.  Or they hit.  And later, they talk back.  They use their phones to send inappropriate things. They hide things from you.  They disrespect you.  And if you’re like me, you’re convinced that you’ve done something wrong, you missed the memo on raising perfect, well mannered kids.  Or maybe they don’t do anything wrong, they just don’t do anything at all.  They don’t talk to you.  They don’t participate in activities with the family.  They just dissolve into their bedrooms, and you can’t find a way back.  You wonder how you can ever get them to actually talk with you.  They get a little heavy, don’t they?  And the work . . . the real work of parenting lies before us. And oh my goodness, it is way more difficult than we ever could have imagined. All of a sudden, we are in shock and a little uncertain if we will make it through.
But we’re all in.  They’re ours.  No return policy.
And the potential for beauty and joy is undeniable.
It’s just hard sometimes, isn’t it?
When Jeff came home, he grinned at me in the midst of my mess.  Then, he had this advice for me, “We just gotta keep going, Babe.  We’ll get it done.”
And you know, he was right?
And here is something so beautiful.  He said, “We’ll get it done.”
Did you catch that?  WE.
God NEVER LEAVES us to do this incredible work of parenting alone.  He doesn’t.

I will never leave you nor forsake you–Hebrews 13:5

We are all in, yes, but we are all in with the power, the might, the wisdom and the strength of the God who hung our planet into orbit and breathed life into mankind.  He’s way more invested than we’ll ever be.  He’s the architect!  This is his gig.

In the end, every muscle in my body was sore.  Look, I turned 40.  Things have happened.  My knees hate me.  My arms are like long animal balloons filled with water.  I’ll just tell you I was popping 12 hour Aleves and vitamin B12s like they were skittles.  And I have concluded that all flooring guys should be nominated for Nobel prizes and given raises after every job they complete, and also they should be knighted or sainted.  What?  I’m not even kidding.
But, I have a lovely, inexpensive (thanks to sweat equity and my husband who can do anything in the world.) neutral floor that no future home owner will want to curse me for.  It’s so pretty.

(And may the God of heaven and earth grant me new counters someday before I am 100.)
It came one way.
Hard work.
And hard work takes time.  Lots of time.  Lots of sweat. Lots of commitment.
Can we just encourage you to keep going?  Keep chiseling away at the tiles in your children’s lives that need removing.  Keep carefully, attentively laying the foundational mortar of God’s Word that will ground them for a lifetime.  Keep doing the things that seem basic and simple and not very glamorous, but are truly critical and vital to the end result. Things like reading them the same story for the millionth time.  Things like telling them tales of your own childhood.  Things like teaching respect and honor.  Things like requiring the truth and giving fair consequences for wrong choices. Things like Nerf Wars and dressing up like Super Heroes and watching all the Marvel movies.  Things like asking your kid questions even when they only give you one word answers.  Things like texting funny memes that they think are stupid, and like tucking them in at night even when they are long over it, and roasting s’mores in the middle of a rainstorm, or making them a coffee and bringing it to them in bed. The magic of insignificant things is that when you accumulate them over a lifetime, they become the mortar that cements your hearts to one another.   There’s no perfect formula.  Your things will be different than my things.  Don’t be tempted to compare.  Never measure yourself by another human.  Allow God to equip you with His tools, and that will always be enough.

Your children may not thank you now.  They may not always be dream-boats to raise. Sometimes they may be a lot like my blue floor–horrifying.  But they are yours.

God chose YOU and appointed YOU to raise them, to love them, to guide them in truth.

Keep going, friends and fellow parents.  In the end, you will reap a harvest.

I always knew the vision I had for our kitchen.  I didn’t look at the tacky tile and dismiss the kitchen as useless.  I knew deep inside of me just what that space could be.  With parenting, we have to keep the end in mind too, you know?  You and I?  We know what our children can be.  We know deep within us who they are meant to be.  What do we hope for our children in the end?  What kind of people do we want them to be?  And every choice, every decision, every word shared, every interaction should take that end goal into consideration.  We are NOT guaranteed that our children will walk with Jesus all their days.  They get to make that decision for themselves.  What we CAN guarantee is that we lay the foundation for them to walk with God.  That is the choice you and I get to make. Each day.  With each truth spoken, each kindness offered, each smile given.  We get to introduce our children to the heart of God by mirroring Him every chance we get.

Be imitators of God as beloved children–Eph. 5:1

Keep going.  Your children are beautiful.  Your work is sacred and holy, and it matters tremendously.  You may feel ill-equipped, weak, and unprepared, but you are all in, so keep going.  Because your YOU is not just you, it is you and HIM–God Almighty is working through you.

For it is God who works in you (and your children), both to will and to work for his good pleasure–Phil. 2:13

Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” Isaiah 35:3,4

Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:4-8

Maybe you look at the landscape of your child’s life, and you think, I want to keep going or even begin anew, but where do I start? I hear you.  It can be daunting and overwhelming.  Parenting is the stuff of heroes.  I have this one suggestion.

Just start with one tile.

And then the next . . .

and the next.

Just one tile.

Because it matters.

 

Filling Bowls

bowlI’ve rebelled against Revelation for years now.  I would rather have a root canal than watch a science fiction movie, and Revelation feels a lot like the science fiction crescendo of the holiest of books.  Around ten years ago, we were in a Sunday School class that studied the book.  The members of the class enjoyed the study so much, they did it again.  We quit Sunday School.  I mean really, Revelations?  Study that book twice? Yeah, no thank you.

But recently, Jesus invited me back to unfold the pages and unravel the words of that sacred vision recorded by John.  And when Jesus invites, who can resist?

So quietly, tucked under my fuzzy throw, french roast coffee steaming on the table beside me, Bible and journal in hand, I pushed beyond all the books filled with honey and bread of life, and stopped at the last of God’s Words to us.  There I discovered something I’d forgotten.

Maybe when I knew it, it hadn’t mattered as much.

Maybe then, I hadn’t needed it like I do now.

Maybe then, my heart was younger, more naive, and less broken and heavy.

There it was in the fifth chapter of the book.

 And when he (the Lamb of God) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10

Did you catch that?

There are elders in heaven who hold golden bowls.

And those golden bowls are filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints.

That’s you and I–the saints.  And those are our prayers.

Your prayers.  My prayers.

All my prayers, poured out to Jesus.

Every single one.

He’s kept them.  He kept those heart cries and he kept those pleas.

Yours too.  He keeps our conversations in golden bowls.

And see this matters more to me now.  More because I’ve prayed more.  More because I’ve learned answers don’t always come when I want or how I want.  More because the stakes have gotten high in recent years.  More because I’m living life in way over my head.  More because when your husband’s a pastor and you have well over a hundred kids and leaders that you love and ache and fight for daily in prayer, you just really want to know your pleas have purpose.  When people text you saying they’ve lost all hope, and you tell them all you can tell them, and you listen all you can listen, and you finally promise the last resort–prayer, when that happens?  You just want to know that when you go to God with those desperate needs, He’s done something with them.

And I’ve gone.

Again and again.

To my Father with requests and with pleading and with every ounce of fight in me.

Because every single life matters.

When I read those words–golden bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints–I think of all the helplessness I’ve felt in the last few years.  I think of all the times when I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, and there is no way I can ever keep up, or make a real difference.  I think of Haiti, and hungry, hurting hearts in that dry land where there is no water.  I think of how helpless I feel and how the little I do feels so microscopic in light of the magnitude of need in that place on the planet.  I think of my own precious boys, now young men with hearts young and tender and vulnerable.  I think of how desperately I want all that is good and true and real and honorable to fill their minds and souls and lives, and yet what control does a mother truly have over a son she’s taught to fly?  What trajectory can a mother guide when their wings are nearly fully developed and whatever’s in their hearts will determine their path?

But a mother can pray.  And I have prayed.  I have filled bowls.  And those  bowls?  They contain the fragrance of the throneroom of God.  When I cry out to him over the matters that crush my soul with their weight, heaven carries the scent of the incense of my supplication.

Heaven carries the scent of your cries too.

I have a collection of letters from my grandmother. Faded envelopes pasted with now-vintage postage stamps and inked in her telltale cursive slant hold her thoughts recorded on UNICEF cards and stationery–the ones she shared with me when I was young.  I keep them all tucked in a red purse on the top shelf of my closet because her thoughts matter to me.

And God keeps our thoughts because they matter to Him.

Jesus knew I just needed to be reminded of that–so He took me to the end of His Words to show me that in heaven our cries are collected and contained in gold.

John Piper understands these things and spoke about them too.

” . . .what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all God’s great and holy purposes to completion. Which means that the consummation of history will be owing to the supplication of the saints who cry to God day and night. Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.”  (John Piper, The Prayers of the Saints)

 Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.

See sometimes I grow a little faint with the facts as I see them and those bowls remind me that there is more to the story.

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Cor. 4:17,18

And I can’t help but wonder if you’re like me, and you’ve just felt a little helpless sometimes.  Somehow this idea that I can go to God and fill a bowl seems to fill me with courage and will-power to do that simple thing God instructed us to do without ceasing. It gives me a burning urge to fill bowls until they are overflowing and God and all of heaven can’t help but notice the scent of Sarah’s heart poured out.   And isn’t it funny that the thing that’s collected in the golden bowls is not our effort or our hard work or our determined attempts?  It’s that which we’ve surrendered fully to God that gets kept.

It’s in the emptying of our hearts that we will fill heavenly spaces.

Maybe that’s why the Psalmist said it like this:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

And maybe that’s why Peter felt the same:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  I Peter 5:6,7

Because Peter, he spent time with Jesus.  He knew the heart of the God who dressed in flesh.  He knew.

God keeps our prayers.

I can’t think of a better place to leave my burdens, than in the golden goblets in heaven.

And now, now I think I understand a little more about the much to which James referred when he said,

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

In desperate times, some say there isn’t much we can do but pray.

Much indeed.

The much of prayer is the filling of bowls . . . it’s the work of a soul who knows the Savior who saves our prayers and saves our lives and someday will return for us all.

Yes.  Much.

Cinnamon Rolls and Holes

I make these cinnamon rolls out of biscuit dough.  Not going to pretend they’re even remotely average.  They’re not.  They will make you quit every diet you ever intended to go on for eternity and beyond.  They’re that good.

And they aren’t even hard to do. (Let’s face it, anything I cook can be done by a first grader.)

It’s just biscuits.

couple cups of flour

some baking powder

dash of salt

butter

buttermilk

mix it

roll it

Roll it out thin.

It’s a trick, you know.  The thinner you roll it out, the more little rings you get when you roll it back together.

After it’s rolled thin, you spread softened butter over it and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar across the surface.  Liberally.  We are talking about butter, right?  Then you roll it up into a tube, cut the rolls in 1 inch slices, and bake it.

I always ice them.

Except Nate likes me to save him one without icing. And I do because his eyes sparkle, and I’ll do anything in this wide world for him.

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But sometimes, when I roll it out, I get carried away. I want a big batch, so I roll it too thin causing the dough to separate.  I’ll go to spread the butter and a hole will open up, tear away.

Too thin to hold together.

And that’s me sometimes.  Rolled out too thin.

And holes form.

I can’t hold everything.

Things spill out.

Long ago the obvious things spilled through holes I wanted to mend but just couldn’t seem to get it together. The boys’ scrapbooks–Nate had a sports one and Cort had a nature one.  They are packed away, unfinished, on a shelf in the basement.

And the files of family video clips labeled by year and saved on my computer that I planned to burn to discs each year–the audio-visual capturing of all the big moments–sit still tucked into the digital memory bank of a hard-drive.

Date nights.  I don’t really know what else to say.  They fell through a hole.  But I do love that man, my husband.

My garden.  Man I loved growing beets and tomatoes and basil.  I loved watching them start into the earth as specks–just bits of hard, crusted hope–and push their way up toward hot, summer sun.  I could hold a warm, ripe tomato in my hand and it felt more priceless than any diamond.

I have this neighbor–she leaves cucumbers and tomatoes by her mailbox with a sign:  FREE.  They’re her extras.

But I want to knock on her door and tell her they’re priceless.

Because mine fell through a hole a long time ago.  A hobby I just can’t hold onto any longer.

Sometimes though, I see the dough of life getting thin, and then I realize it’s more than a date night or a few photos slipping silently through the cavity I’ve created.

I think, Dear Lord, is that my boy falling through that hole?

Like I was just rolling it out a little more to fit a few more rings of life into the coil.  You know?

Rolling cause this person needs this.

And that person needs that.

And there’s another phone call.

Another email.

Another text.

Another.

And that’s the thing.  Every another is another swipe with my rolling pin–pushing and pressing and pulling.

And that’s how holes are formed.

And that’s how you lose ones you love.

It’s how you lose yourself too.  And I don’t mean the selfish part of self.  I mean the fiber that God wove together, fashioned with His hands and formed in His likeness part of self.

You never stopped the loving.  The fierce loving.  The anothers just kept coming.  Over and over like waves on a soft-sandy beach erasing castles.

I watched that happen this past summer.  We sneaked down to a spot in South Carolina to catch our breath, and  watched this man build a castle with his two kids.  They stayed all day.  And when the tide came back, they stood and watched as it slowly claimed the castle, one wave at a time.

Wave on wave on wave.

And when it was gone, I wanted to cry.

Because they’d never get that back.

There that morning, gone that evening.

I didn’t really want to cry for them.  My heart hurt because I knew I had holes.

A friend from Ontario posted a photo of our birthday boy, Cort, on facebook.  The photo was taken years before.

corton

 

I didn’t remember the moment.

Could not remember it.

A hole held my memory.

The memory of a moment with my child.

Because somehow that baby boy is gone.  He doesn’t ask to be tucked in.  He doesn’t need me to make him lunch.  His head slipped beyond my own this year.  Just slipped right past me reaching for the heavens.

Corton 14.jpg

 

Somehow, when they’re wee, it seems there’s so much space in front of us.  So much space to form them, to shape them, to help them write their story. To love them.

But time is just a blink in eternity.  And we aren’t meant for time, we’re intended for eternity.

The great human conundrum is not so much about making the most of every moment, but about whether what we make of the moment will be for time’s sake or for eternity’s sake.

Became time dissolves.

But eternity greets us when the final wave washes the sands of calendar-measured moments away.

And it lasts, eternity.  Eternity lasts.

We have to learn to roll the dough just thin enough to hold the things God gives us.

When a hole forms, we’ve spread the dough beyond what God has given us. 

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It’s just biscuit dough, you know?

It’s not like it’s spiritual.  Not a verse from the Bible.  Not doctrine, for heaven’s sake.

But when it’s rolled out just perfect, it makes the most beautiful things.

They warm hearts and bring smiles every single time.

They’re a gift.

Our lives are too.

We should take care when we roll ourselves out.

Just enough to hold the sweet and the spice God gives us.

The real thing about biscuit dough that I love is this.

Holes can be patched.  Some of the toppings have to go, some dough gets moved, and the hole is mended.

It’s never too late to stop rolling.

Just stop.

Let ourselves be what we were meant to be and don’t press further than just that.

Here’s a funny thing.

That little boy that shared his loaves?  The one from the gospels?  His momma didn’t hear about the multitudes and bake extra.

It was actually Jesus.

He’s the one that did the multiplying.

In His hands, Jesus multiplied the loaves.

In His hands, He’ll multiply us too.  That’s his job.

Because breaks and holes should never be formed by our hands.

Left to ourselves–there are chasms and cavities that mean something falls through, but given to Him, a break is the very thing that fills.

And He instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He spoke a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples to the people.
 Matt. 14:19

 

 

 

Because they all take flight . . . A Father’s heart for his graduate.

I have 2 years before this moment–this crushing, exhilarating, suffocating, freeing, terrifying, breathtaking moment–when my eldest graduates.  Thank God for the gift of time–the priceless number of days we are allotted with our children.  But in 2 years, I’ll stare this moment down and Lord help me, I’ll probably need to be committed somewhere.

I am not even remotely kidding.

The day they graduate signifies so much, doesn’t it?  It’s this end of the apron string.  It’s the last couple inches before the end of the high dive.  It’s the edge of the cliff.

It’s the moment when you truly know you’ve had the most influence you’ll have, and they are flying . . .

ready or not.

Working with youth, we hear a LOT of graduation speeches, a lot of final charges, and this one, among many stands out.  After hearing him share his heart for his daughter, we asked the father, Todd, to give us a copy of his final charge.  While the graduation season is finished, and most parents are looking for new computers and mini-fridges for their upcoming freshman college students, now seemed the best time to share these words again with the world.

The speeches and admonishments and cheesy cards with Hallmark advice have all dwindled to a trickle, and it’s my prayer that his wise words will have space amidst this quieter season–space to be heard.  I challenge you to share them with your children who are leaving home for the first time.  Share them with your children who are getting married.  Share them with your children who are returning to high school.  Because whether they are going to high school or college or Africa, every child must know this central truth–they were made for a purpose and that purpose should paint and shade every single thing they do.

Life and time–they’re gifts.

But they are truly meant for a purpose, and if our children don’t have that purpose defined biblically, mark my words, the world will be more than happy to define it for them.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

So, I believe in a world that will constantly shout to your children what their purpose is, these truths must be shared.  These are the truths our children need to know.  These are the truths that children can go back to, can align their priorities and decisions with.  These are the truths that will nurture the soul.

Here are Todd’s words to his second graduate.

My Beautiful child,

Even though we’ve walked this path with another child, it still seems remarkable that once again one of our babies is graduating high school. It is one of life’s more conspicuous milestones, so it begs for reflection which I have been doing as we have navigated these last few months. You came into this world in the early morning hours of that September day in what I can describe as the most awful, helpless feeling that I have ever experienced in my life, but as the sun went down on that very same day, I cannot remember experiencing a more satisfying peace as the fears of the day’s events were finally laid to rest. You’ll often hear parents say that a difficult birth was an omen of things to come for a challenging child, but I have no such thoughts. I have so enjoyed being your dad, watching you grow, making wonderful memories and just being a spectator in your many activities. Over the last couple of years mom and I both have seen an amazing change as you have matured into the lovely, young woman you have become.

Landmarks like this make us parents feel old and you kids feel smarter and more accomplished than you’ll one day become. It is a break in the timeline of life, leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood. You are transitioning from having many decisions being made for you, to having to figure things out on your own. Since you will remain home for the time being, life may not seem altogether different, but without a doubt, life has changed. Oh, we’ll still be here for you and will gladly lend a hand, offer advice and help you through life’s adversities, but I’m guessing you’ll ask less, need less, and choose to figure things out on your own more often than in the past. Our desire as mom and dad is that you do make this transition. Our concern as mom and dad is that even as you call on us less that you continue to call on the One who created you and do so even more.  

The subtle and many times very deliberate influences of the world can be most enticing. I think of the advice I recently heard at a graduation ceremony–“to do whatever makes you happy.” This seems harmless on the surface, but all too many people choose to follow this advice and it leads to heartache, regret, disappointment and sometimes even despair. Another bit of advice given at the ceremony was to “put in the extra hours and stress necessary to get the raise.” This is a never ending cycle. There will always be another job, another lure of more money or the seduction of a once in a lifetime opportunity that will distract you from what’s really important…what really matters…what you were created to do – that is to worship God–meaning, live life to bring honor to God. Let your decisions be, not just seasoned, but saturated with biblical truth. The extra hours and stress to gain a promotion will lead to extra hours and stress to maintain the same level of expectation. This is not to say don’t work hard. I’ve been preaching diligence and conscientiousness even before you kids could understand what those words meant. It is essential to have a good work ethic and do things thoroughly and completely to the best of your ability, but your motivation should be greater than personal achievement.

                Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life. And he who has it will abide in satisfaction.

You have demonstrated, specifically in these last 2 years, that you have the focus and determination to take the academics seriously and I have no doubt that you will do well at the undertakings you choose to pursue, so my only concern is your heart. You see, your academics will be measured. You’ll be graded on each class which will reflect on your overall GPA. You may be recognized on the Dean’s List; you may choose to pursue a double major; you’ll leave school having learned a second language and possibly studied abroad; you will be more accomplished, brighter, bolder and more articulate. Ultimately, upon graduation, you’ll be given a diploma that will be a visual acknowledgement of this fine accomplishment. As a dad, I will be very proud of the hard work you put in to have achieved this success. But what will it mean if along the way you forfeit your faith? This would be crushing to mom and I. Worldly success will NEVER offer the satisfaction to which the verse in Proverbs speaks. That satisfaction offers peace and comfort. There is something completely satisfying knowing you are right where God would want you. It is the cool glass of water that quenches a desperate thirst, the warm blanket on a cold night, it is the arm of encouragement wrapped around you, the words that uplift, it is a joy that overflows, even in sorrow God has the ability to ease the burden, provide hope and help you persevere. There is no other place you want to be than in His presence and enjoying that satisfaction.

                Psalm 16:11 You (God) will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 The pleasures God speaks of are not in agreement with what the world would define as pleasures which often lead to guilt and shame or are simply just fleeting. On the contrary, God’s pleasures for you are ones that lead to fulfillment and satisfaction, joy and peace, they confirm to you that you are right where you need to be.

As you mature, the academic accomplishments and subsequent career that you have set your sights on will be achieved or may even be replaced with new desires that are deemed to be more worthy, but as long as the foundation of your faith remains solid and as long as your focus remains steadfast on the One who created you then you will live the life of the Christian who finishes well.

                1 Cor 10:31 – Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

So my charge to you…Go do all that you want to do, but put God first. Always make time to read the Word, pray, disciple and serve. If you live life in this order, the things you accomplish will be all the sweeter. On the contrary, if you find you’re too busy for these things, then you’ve become the focus instead of God. Countless tomorrows will come and go if you don’t purpose to put God first.

                JC Ryle – Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan does not care about how spiritual your intentions are or how holy your resolutions, if only they are determined to be done tomorrow.

So where the advice was given to “put in the extra hours and stress to get the raise” and “do what makes you happy,” I say instead, think of life in reverse. If you were at the end of your life just mere moments from standing before your Father in heaven, what would you like to be remembered for? Live-life-for- that.

Maybe not so ironically your life-verse sums it up very well…

                Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in all ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.          

I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!

                                                              Daddy

May our children soar, may they fly, but may they always do so lifted on the air of the true purpose for which they were created–to make their Savior famous, to seek His kingdom . . . then and only then will all the things that are necessary for their lives be added unto them.

And fellow moms and dads, to you, I say this:

The words our children will take the most seriously from us are those we have lived by ourselves.

May we be found faithful.

XO

The Haiti Blogs: A People Worthy of Championing

“Our village has many necessaries. When the earthquake happened, The Samaritan’s Ministries, they came. They built the blue tent houses. They were for temporary shelter. But it is six years now.” This from the Village Champion—a native Haitian who works with Mission of Hope to identify the greatest needs in his community and determine courses of action that will empower Haitians to become self-sufficient. He’s a small, ebony skinned man with dimples and a flash of cloud-white teeth when he smiles.
He told us we could call him Pierre if we couldn’t remember how to say his first name.
I was determined to remember, but I couldn’t.
In 5 days, I’ll leave, but Pierre–this native man determined to sweep up dust and debris of a quake that dismantled an already debilitated country–will remain. It’s his smile that will cast hope in a land where the soil is cracked and wrinkled like an old woman’s face, in a country where the average wage is 3 or 4 dollars a day, in a country where men bathe in 2 foot canals with dirty water right in the middle of the village.
So, it’s is Pierre’s name that I’ll write in my prayer journal and pray over.
Because you have to latch on to some tiny, tangible thing you can do when faced with the stark and stunning vastness of need that is this nation—Haiti.
I feel so utterly North American, not because my skin is white in a sea of charcoal but because I come here, and I see these rows and rows of half built cinder-block boxes-some shredded by the earthquake and others never finished in the first place—and I know they are home to natives. Homes that are smaller than my dining room. I know I’ll go back to toilets you can flush and hot showers, and I’ll not be able to erase the image of a man lathered in soap standing calf-deep in muddy water while others watch.
Pierre told us the people get so sick because germs are rampant in communities of tent houses. The Samaritan’s Ministry homes though practical for quick, temporary relief, are like sweat-boxes that breed more germs. The people’s vision suffers, they get fevers, and chills.
Mission of Hope set a goal—500 cinder block houses. They’ve exceeded their goal. One family at a time, they’re building real homes.


While most of the children go uneducated, Mission of Hope is educating Haitians one child at a time. Currently, they educate 6,000 children per day, but their goal is 100,000.

While many go hungry, Mission of Hope is feeding over 90,000 meals each day. And the food? Well, an unprecedented 5% comes directly from Haitian farmers, BUT by 2020? They have plans in place to be 100% Haitian farmed food. And those farmers? Mission of Hope is teaching them how to give 10% to other needs, how to save 10% for the next year’s crop and then use the 80% to live on.


While amputees struggle to survive in an economy with no room for people with all their appendages let alone ones without, Mission of Hope provides prosthetics—free of charge. And the guy in charge? A native, named Nono, who learned the skill from a North American and then took it over.
When most 18 year olds phase out of orphanages, Mission of Hope offers a transition home—a place where the 18 year olds can go as they pursue further education or begin trades in the community.
When Haitians are forced to go without medical care, Mission of Hope is not only offering medical care, mobile clinics, dental care and more. They don’t give the care to them. They ask them to pay a tiny fee so that the Haitians feel empowered and in charge of their lives. The main doctor on campus? A native Haitian.
And the orphanage? Well, it’s not like any I’d heard of. They are homes. Homes with native Haitian “mommies” to around 6 children. It’s a way of giving a child a childhood—because aren’t these precious children deserving of a good childhood?
I love the name—Mission of Hope—a name that speaks not to the seen, but to the unseen.

Because doesn’t God say to fix our eyes on what is unseen?
The seen is not pretty. I still can’t wrap my mind around this place—this desperation. The garbage, the rats, the stray dogs, the muddy water, the half-naked children, the roads that are not really roads at all.


But there’s so much more.
There are vigorous, hard-working, determined, industrious people that won’t be stopped, that keep rebuilding one cinder block at a time. People that find ways to feed their families and use every single sliver of resources they find. People that walk miles for water because water is needful for life and life is not worth giving up on. A people worthy of a champion.  And isn’t that what Christ is for us all?  A champion?  And aren’t we–his disciples–supposed to do exactly as He did?  Champion those unable to redeem themselves?


And there is God.
And He invites us all to be like Pierre—Village Champions.
But when we’re from North America the championing will look different. It’s true we don’t fully understand the culture, the language, the dynamics of this tiny nation with a heart that refuses to stop beating. But we DO understand God’s heart for all mankind.
That we would respond to the needs of the needy.
That we would answer the cries of the children.
That we would give until we have nothing left to give.
It will take a while for me to unravel what I’m seeing.
For now, I’m going to live out of what can’t be seen.
Hope.
And if the Haitians won’t quit, who are we in North America to stop finding ways to champion them until they’re strong enough to stand on their own two feet again?

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Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

#shoutyourbirthstory

I started homeschooling 8 years ago.  Some people thought I was crazy.  I thought I was crazy.  It had NEVER been my plan to homeschool.

I didn’t have a teaching degree.

I had never taught reading, never taught writing, never taught arithmetic.  And God help me, my spelling was, and still is, atrocious.

I had no idea what a 4 year old and a 7 year old needed to know.  Nada.  Zip.  Not a clue.

I had no real plan, and worse still, I had no money to buy someone else’s professional plan.  I was flying solo without a map, but I knew–just knew–it was the right thing to do.

But oh-my-gosh, y’all, I cannot even tell you how petrified I was that I would totally screw up my kids.  I mean, homeschool?  Really?  And to make matters worse, my mom and sister were teachers in the public system.  Talk about being under a microscope with no credentials.

Somewhere amid my first steps I stumbled across a book that became like a voice whispering, You CAN do this.  It IS possible. The book–Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days–was a compilation of a day-in-the-life-of thirty different homeschooling families.  The concept was so simple, just thirty families with entirely different backgrounds and beliefs sharing their story.  Stitched together with one common thread–the desire to do what was right for their child, each told what one typical school day in their world looked like.  As I read their stories, I remember actually crying.  Those glimpses into what might be were so very beautiful.  So very unique.  They quieted my fears and soothed my uncertainty. If other families with their own unique challenges had done this thing, so could I.

The book gave me the courage to leap.  As I stepped into what seemed like an unknown chasm, their stories became planks of a bridge laid beneath my feet.

I never looked back.

So now, with boys practically grown and eight years of home education under my belt, I can’t help but think back to the beginning remembering the fear, but also the hope. I think about how the telling of other people’s passages became anthems of survival and pictures of what could possibly be; they were, for me, a lifeline.

A story is a powerful thing, and I believe that there are other, often unspoken stories that, if collected and corralled together, could become the singing of the anthem of life itself.

Recently, my sister posted something on facebook that stopped me dead in my tracks–my mind was instantly taken back to the day I got the phone call.  My baby sister–still a baby herself–was expecting.  Not married.  Still in high school.  She lived in a tiny town on the northern tip of Georgia where young ladies didn’t get pregnant out of wedlock. 

Here are her words:

#‎shoutyourbirthstory‬ I cast judgement on NO ONE that has had an abortion. I’ve been in a bleak situation myself as a pregnant, unwed 16 year old high schooler. The fear and apprehension was consuming.
Instead though, what I would do, is thank the people who also cast no judgement, but helped me to see my choices–the choices I could make to provide for a happy, healthy life for me and my child. To adoptive parents and single mom mentors, especially those who stood by me, thank you for helping women to have CHOICES. I know I have never for a moment in almost 14 years regretted my CHOICE. #shoutyourbirthstory

Her anthem–printed in black and white on facebook immediately reminded me of that book so many years ago.

She had a thousand reasons not to keep that child.

She wasn’t ready.

She wasn’t educated.

She had no money.

She had no plan.

Because not all parenthood is planned.

It was no predicament for a teenage girl growing up in the Bible Belt to find herself in, but then pregnancy is much more than a predicament–as if I were caught speeding and needed to get out of the ticket.  Pregnancy is the privilege of carrying the promise of life to another generation.

She’s tiny, my sister.  Just a few inches over five feet, but among women, my sister is one of the most courageous and tenacious people I know.  She faced down the stares, the whispers, the outright rudeness. God knows there was fear in her core that welled up like biscuit dough rising, and I’ll never know fully what that child with child experienced in those early weeks.

But I do know this.

She chose to carry the life growing inside of her tiny frame. 

The timing was wrong.

The situation was wrong.

But that baby–my sweet precious niece with corn-silk hair and ocean eyes.  That baby was 100 percent alive and 100 percent right.

My sister finished high school despite the nausea and exhaustion.  She then went on to finish college and become a nurse.  Now, she’s the mother of 3 and respite-care foster mother to many more.

It IS possible.

Along the way there were those who suspended judgment and instead extended their hand. Those who understood that purity apart from God is nothing more than an self-righteousness–that all have sinned and fallen short, virgin or not.  Those who would lay down scarlet letters and instead wrap the crimson robe of Christ around a young teenage girl because true purity is the blood of Christ that clothes everyone of His followers in a righteousness not of our own, lest we should boast.   And Christians, let’s be the ones carrying the robe.  Let’s take precious frightened souls into our homes and our hearts and our lives and cover them in Love because LOVE covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it?

Some covered my sister with options. Others with their own stories.  Still others explained adoption and ways she could finish school.  There were those who promised help and hope. Those who affirmed that it’s never wrong to give birth.  They were the-day-in-the-life-of-story tellers gifting glimpses of what could be.

So when I saw my sister had created the hashtag #shoutyourbirthstory, I knew it was perfect.

Frightened or uncertain expectant parents, doctors, pregnancy centers, single-mom mentors, pastors,  and adoption agencies could go to hear the unique journeys of others who traveled the path of life.

A hashtag for hope.

A link that suspends a bridge from fear to peace, from uncertainty to resolve.

So many stories far braver than my own. And it’s the stories I long to see flooding social media.  Not the angry, hateful, foul words thrown like stones from the right and thrown from the left.  Not the accusations.  Not the judgments that ignore the heart. Because even if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a ringing brass gong or a clashing cymbal.  The masses are tired of the gong and the cymbal. Jesus said these words, Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.  Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love.  And love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

Let’s not be found throwing stones or standing in line behind the elephant or the donkey while we insist that somehow the stopping of the rhythm of a heart is a choice that can be made in a congress of mere men.  Instead, could we stand behind Christ and stand firm in the belief that life is not ours to give or take. He is the one who breathed life into the first man; life is something He owns.  Surely to assume it is ours to take would be stealing from God Himself.

And for those who disagree, those who have chosen to believe differently, know this:  I’m not and WILL NOT pronounce judgment on you.  That too is not mine to cast.  Could we all collectively lay down our weapons, unclench our fists and stand together on a different path?  Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.

What if we stand with those who share their journey–a journey compelled by love?

What if we link arms and #shoutyourbirthstory?  The stories of those who stared the odds in the face and did it anyway.  Those who had the courage to carry the life of a child and then gift it to the hundreds of thousands of adoptive parents patiently waiting for their arms to be filled from another womb.  The stories of those who carried to full-term and birthed a blessing with Down Syndrome.  Because maybe the pictures and vignettes of what is possible will be stepping stones to life.

Life is compelling.

Life is possible.

Life is a gift.  If we cannot bare the burden of keeping and molding and raising it, it is still a gift.

If you find yourself or someone you love expecting and uncertain–you are not alone.  I wish I could sit face to face with you, hug you, tell you that you are loved, that you and your child are wanted in this beautiful, messy world.

There are choices.

Join arms with those who CHOSE life.

#shoutyourbirthstory

Please, share your own story–someone is waiting for the next plank on their bridge to hope.