Browsed by
Category: Bible Stuff

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

I was really comfortable sitting in my van. I was outside of Lowe’s, texting a friend, sitting on a heated seat. Then someone appeared at my window.

“Excuse me,” she said. I looked. She was a stranger, and I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers. But there’s a compassion in me for the destitute that I can’t shake. Besides, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, a book that chronicles the Hatmaker’s journey toward compassion for the homeless. There’s a whole book of explanation, but it begins with a prayer and the verse where Jesus says, “Do you love me…. Then feed my sheep.” It’s possible my compassion was swayed because of this book. But also, my only options were to open my window and give this stranger a chance, or ignore her and give her disgrace.

I rolled the window down.

Her face was small. Her cheeks sunken. A face with visible bones. We all have a skeleton, but everyone I know has enough substance to cover. I’ll say it again; her face was small.

Now I’m trying to remember her words. I can’t. Just the gist of them in conjunction with the image I saw. “My daughter and I are trying to get a meal and some blankets. We’re homeless. Could you help us out?” She looked me in the eyes and spoke in meek desperation.

I had just returned something at Lowe’s. I didn’t have the receipt and was expecting store credit, but it was under $10 so they gave me cash. I hardly ever have cash, but at that moment I had $9 neatly folded on top of my purse. $9 that I hadn’t expected. Easy to grab. I handed it to her and looked in my backseat. She said she needed blankets too, and since I never know what I’ll find in the back of my van, I looked. There was one blanket. One blanket that one of my kids had dragged in. And a winter hat that didn’t fit me, but had made my daughter laugh one day. I considered giving the blanket, but it was an Avenger’s blanket. One whose presence would be missed. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t give away my kid’s blanket.

“Okay. Thank you. Keep us in your prayers,” she said.

And we parted ways.

I didn’t say much to her. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure what to do. After she walked away, I finished composing my text and I thought, Why didn’t I give her that hat? And what was her name? Couldn’t I have given her some dignity by shaking her hand?

I drove around the parking lot looking for this woman, mostly wanting to give her my winter hat. It was pink and blue and would have covered her ears.

I couldn’t find her.

Then I started wondering… she said she had a daughter, but where was she? Maybe they lived in their car and her daughter had stayed put when the mother came to ask for money. Or maybe there was no daughter. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe this woman was not who she said she was. Maybe she was just a beggar. Was I contributing to the discomfort of other middle class Americans by giving $9 to a beggar?

Then, “We are all mere beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread.” -Martin Luther

I was going to make bread today, but it has not risen enough to bake. What’s wrong with it? I know the recipe. I’ve made this same bread for years, but now it’s suddenly winter and sourdough bread responds differently to cold, dry temperatures. For sourdough, 70-85 degrees and humid is perfect. In other words, sourdough bread wants to live in San Diego, but mine can’t. It has to adjust, or I have to adjust it. I just didn’t think about adjusting today, since it’s not very cold yet. So two loaves have been in my kitchen, rising slowly, all day. They are minuscule. Stout. Dense. Like there is nothing in them to procure the loaves I want. Like the wild yeast of my sourdough starter didn’t take. Like the loaves are unleavened.

It’s not Passover. I’m not Jewish. I don’t have personal experience with either, but I’ve read Deuteronomy, and I could stand to read it again.

“Observe the month of Abib by celebrating the Passover to God, your God. It was in the month of Abib that God, your God, delivered you by night from Egypt. Offer the Passover-Sacrifice to God, your God, at the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Don’t eat yeast bread with it; for seven days eat it with unraised bread, hard-times bread, because you left Egypt in a hurry—that bread will keep the memory fresh of how you left Egypt for as long as you live. .” ~Deuteronomy 16, the msg

Unleavened bread. The bread of affliction (from the same verses, in the ESV). The bread of pain or suffering. At the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Unraised bread. Hard-times bread. That bread will keep the memory fresh.

Maybe she was a beggar. Maybe she was a drug addict. Maybe she was promiscuous.

Does it matter?

We are all beggars.

Hard times are hard times, even if we create them for ourselves.

My bread is unraised.

It’s hard-times bread all around.

And I’ve been trying to sort all this out while sitting in a Starbucks. It’s not my place of choice, but it’s the only coffee shop open past 9:00 in my area. They’re playing jazzy Christmas music. They’re creating sweet aromas. The floors are clean and the people are well-dressed and my cup has a picture of snowy trees on it. I’m warm. But not too warm. This should be perfect conditions. Could be my San Diego.

But somewhere a woman has my $9, or something of equal value.

The bread in my kitchen is not unleavened but it is uncomfortable tonight. The yeast to make it rise is yearning for different conditions.

And we all have suffered that.

Still Giving Thanks

Still Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over. Are you still full?

We made a turkey, cranberry chutney, two loaves of bread, and four pies.

We asked our boys what pies they wanted, and one boy said “Mince Meat Pie.” After some questioning, we deciphered his actual wish. Mint Pie. We searched for recipes. We crushed up Oreo’s. We purchased cool whip and Andes. The result was delicious. Like thin mints. In a pie. We called it “Mint Meets Pie.”

We were with our wider family all day. We saw friends. We gave thanks. We broke bread.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, I had the thought, how perfect that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. 

Then, right before we prayed over our feast, my sister-in-law said the same thing.

How perfect. 

It is no accident that before the season of gifts is the season of thanks. That before our focus is yanked toward sale signs, we fill ourselves up with one gift that is greater.

Hopefully our focus never actually makes it to the sale signs. They can provide terrible distraction unless we are filled with thankfulness. I know I need some work in that area. Some reminding. Constant reminding.

It is better to give than to receive.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

The words, “Give thanks,” lined the aisles on boards and posters. Now, the signs say “Cheer” and “15% off.” But cheer doesn’t connect with numbers. The most wonderful time of year turned into something akin to dust.

Can Thanksgiving continue?

As in, “Thanksgiving is our dialect.” (Eph. 5:4)

Are you still full?

Do leftovers remain in your fridge? Do you have so much turkey that you need to freeze some, make a pot pie or two, a big pot of soup, a casserole?

And how does our Thanksgiving feast translate spiritually?

Our tradition of abundance.

I’m wondering.

And while I wonder, I’m reminded of words that my 3 year-old son spoke a few months ago. Words that pierced me. I wrote them into an entire blog post, or I thought I did, but those words are missing now. Either I never actually wrote them down, or I have misplaced them. I have been searching because I wanted to share them. And at the same time, I am thankful for the loss. Often, it’s not the words but the spirit of them anyway. Often, the original thought lives on.

“Mom, how do you spell Grace?” he said.

Grace. The name of my youngest child. A girl who smiles and mimics and loves to be a part. A girl who squeezes when she hugs and sings when she wakes. A girl who was given the name Grace partly because it is the only female name my husband and I have ever agreed on, and partly because Grace is the most beautiful word, and now it’s a word that we speak over and over, every day. We will never forget.

When my son asked me how to spell Grace, I knew what he was asking. The answer, “G-R-A-C-E.” But the only thing in my head was “In order to spell Grace, you have to spill Grace.”

In order to understand Grace, we have to recognize the need for it. And I’m speaking both about my daughter and about the free and unmerited favor given. Two things that God has given purely because He is good.

We receive the gift of Grace when we realize it is given freely. But Grace is made whole when we give thanks for it. Because it’s better to give than to receive. And when it’s all intertwined in a great big Holy circle…

Well, are you full yet?

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Last week, I was on vacation with my family. We were visiting family and lifelong friends, staying near the beach, and celebrating an anniversary. It was a refreshing and beautiful time. But while we were out of town, we missed some events that happened at home. Events that all my very best friends are still talking about.

I know we can’t be everywhere all the time. Sometimes we miss out on things because of prior commitments. Yet, since I’ve been home I’ve been hit with the weight of everything I missed here.

Though our vacation was purposeful and plentiful, I feel separated, weary, incomplete.

While these feelings stomp on my heart and make me simultaneously wish that I was still away and that I had never left home, what I’m remembering is that these are only feelings. I admit that feelings have purpose, but I don’t believe we are to live in our feelings. Feelings allow us to have empathy for others, but too often we call our feelings fact and use them as an excuse for selfishness.

Feelings are not facts, and my particular feelings are brought on by lies.

These feelings are trash.

But how do we rid ourselves of trash-lies when they have gripped us and plagued us and seemingly made their homes on top of our chest, so that every time we breathe we only get enough air to sustain our life?

It is not good enough to just sustain life.

I recently heard a woman speak whose life has been transformed by a stroke. She is learning to live a new kind of life and is joyfully doing so, but one thing she said is, “Well, I’m alive.” Those words struck me deep because I say them too, but I say them differently. As in, “Well, life sucks right now, but at least I’m alive.”

Truth is that, though life can be wonderful, it also often brings troubles. As in, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world!” (from John 16, msg). Since God gives good things and only moves in His purpose, we have to know that life is good. God overcame the world of darkness so that we can walk in His light.

Yet I still feel terrible when my children are disobedient. I still feel lonely when I watch others have grand excursions and I’m stuck in my apartment with three children who just won’t quit. I still feel the pangs of heartache when I am not included, for whatever reason. I still reel when I take a step back and realize that I have acted in rash.

My life has been transformed by children, similar to how that other woman’s life has been transformed by a stroke. Children are blessings, but they are mysteries, too. They are problems. They are troubles, at least for me. I know there are some moms out there who always know what to do, but I can barely figure out breakfast, let alone how to home school and discipline in love.

Then, there’s Jesus, just hanging around my apartment, sitting at the table and watching my family wander around in this world of troubles. And he’s saying “Take heart! I’ve overcome this.”

Very gently, He’s reminding us that He is the gate to fullness:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~John 10:7-10

you-are-simply-the

I have heard the voices that say I’m not good enough. Have you? Have you heard the voices that say you’ve missed it, that your dreams are silly and unreachable?

Jesus says these are the voices of thieves and robbers. This is trash trying to clog up our lives of fullness. Throw it away. Right now. Because what else should we do with trash but throw it in the dumpster so it can rot away?

God doesn’t speak in lies. He doesn’t speak in heartache. God speaks in love. He speaks in mercy. He wipes every tear.

No matter where we are or who we’re with (or not with), can we recognize the lies that seek to destroy, before they actually do? Can we see the gate to fullness, and enter it, instead of standing outside and just watching everyone else have fun?

 

 

On Stars and Dots and the Trouble with Both

On Stars and Dots and the Trouble with Both

I have three drafts of posts dealing with stars… 1.) A Review of The Little Prince movie, 2.) When Your Child Reaches for Stars (inspired by a conversation I had with my 5 year-old in which he told me he wants to be an astronaut. This one may not ever make it up here because it’s getting pretty long. It might be something to submit elsewhere.),  3.) This one. 

There’s apparently something in the stars besides lots of beauty. Stay tuned! 🙂

Now, onward to this one…

My kids and I recently checked out “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. This book has been around for almost ten years, and I’ve even read it a few times, but this last reading brought something new.

In case you don’t know, this book documents the life of the Wemmicks, wooden people made by the woodcarver Eli. The Wemmicks walk around giving each other stars (for noble actions, celebrated talents, etc.) and dots (for moronic/clumsy actions). Basically they go around judging each other all day. Does that sound familiar?

Punchinello is always given dots, all day, every day, but one day he meets a girl with no dots or stars and she tells Punchinello to go see Eli. He does, and Eli tells Punchinello that it doesn’t matter what others think, only what Eli thinks, and Eli thinks that Punchinello is special. Then, the dots start to fall off. “They only stick if you let them,” says Eli.

I have always read this book as a beautiful reminder that no matter what dumb, clumsy, unthoughtful actions we commit, God loves us and thinks we’re special.

But on this last reading I thought, “Oh, but what about the Wemmicks with stars?”

It is always nice to be admired. It’s nice to feel valued, talented, and loved by people. I know I like when humans tell me I’ve done a great job or that they like something I’ve said. But I really shouldn’t be looking to people for acceptance, in the same way I shouldn’t let their negativity affect me. God is always the one I should look to. When I participate in the world’s games, I might get some stars. But if I let those stars stick, I am allowing pride to enter my heart.

It is well and good to encourage and to be encouraged by people, but it is not good to find our ultimate value in people’s words.

Oh! Lovely Wemmicks, that all of you, whether puffed up by stars or shamed with dots, go to Eli! He will give you truth.

Now, I am brought to another story. This is a true story, one where I am the main character. It is set in the land of 7th grade.

Where I lived, 7th grade meant the start of junior high, a brand new school with higher expectations and greater opportunity for both success and failure. The school I attended was a brand new charter school. I had gone to K-6th grade with all the same people and I was always told the same things by them: “You are tall.” “You wear glasses.” “You are smart [meaning, you do your homework].” I was familiar with every one of my K-6th grade classmates, but 7th grade brought a whole new set of faces. Because of all these new people, new groups formed, friendship circles expanded. You probably know. Even if 7th grade wasn’t the start of junior high for you, I’m sure you’ve been faced with new people before, and you probably know all about being 12 years old.

It’s as if being completely new, physically, isn’t enough, but then they had to move us all around to a new school too. New. New. New. Everywhere. Though I was in the same changing part of life as everyone else, I slotted right into the same position I had always taken. “You are tall.” “You wear glasses.” “You are smart.” In other words, I let the dots stick.

I realize that being tall, wearing glasses, and being smart doesn’t sound that bad. And it wasn’t really. The only bad part about it was that I was a lot more than those three things, and I like to think that I still am. But I was shy and quiet, so people (especially my fellow 12 year-olds) felt they could label me because that’s what you do in junior high.

I wasn’t necessarily an outcast. I had friends. I had fun. I survived. But I always kind of sat back and looked at the popular kids.

Popular was a real thing in 7th grade. These were the people everyone saw. Everyone knew their names. Everyone labeled them just like everyone labeled me and everyone else. But now I realize that the popular people weren’t really the coolest people. They were just the loudest, the ones who felt they had to perform so that they could get stars.

Oh! Lovely Wemmicks!

One day, I was standing in gym class, lined up for a relay. Hair up. Back of my line (I was tall, with a last name sort of toward the end of the alphabet, so I was always in the back). Baggy blue shorts. Grey school-authorized tee shirt. Florescent lights. I stood there in all my lanky glory, dreading the moment when everyone would look at me. I would likely fall in the middle of my jumping jacks and everyone would give me dots.

Or was I just perceiving dots?

Anyway, a boy in line next to me looked over. He was one of the popular kids. Always surrounded by girls and jocks. He had never spoken to me before. Then he said, “You are beautiful.” And I said nothing.

I didn’t know how to respond. It was like I felt worse because he said that. It was like I had let people’s words affect me for so long, and I tried to be the person who looked cool on the outside, just shaking off rude and ignorant words, but actually the dots never fell off. It was like they were seeping into my insides, so that when a popular boy said something nice, I thought he was giving me another dot.

He wasn’t giving me a dot, but that is what I saw.

All this to say, I think we all go through dot days, and we all go through star days, but either way we’re wrong if we let them stick.

Oh! That the Wemmicks with stars and the Wemmicks with dots would all return to Eli. That they would all leave their prideful, talented, or downcast selves and find their acceptance in truth.

Whether I display dots or stars or worms or butterflies or just plain dead, hard-heartedness, let my little wooden self go to Eli to reason it all out.

Because,

FLASH

Dots and stars are both sin, and both try to take me over every day. There is no reason to let them. Really, there is only reason to go.

When You Feel Like You’re Alone

When You Feel Like You’re Alone

You know that first appointment, when you’re almost sure  you’re pregnant, when you say this to the doctor and they test you and show you that yes, you are in fact pregnant. They let you listen to the heartbeat (it can’t be your heartbeat because it’s coming from your belly) and they show you a little peanut on a tiny screen (that’s not a peanut!)

At my very first “I think I’m pregnant” appointment, I was already nervous. I knew pregnancy was a possibility because my husband and I had stopped preventing it a few months earlier. Still, I was thrown into it. “How exciting!” people would say to me, but I didn’t understand. “I’m supposed to be excited?”

I was told I was eight weeks along. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. There’s been a baby inside me for two months?

Well thankfully the initial shock wore off and I was pretty even-tempered until right after our co-ed baby shower, when our dining room was suddenly taken over by millions of bags and boxes filled with soft, plush, pastel-colored things. People are so generous. We are truly blessed to have received so much support.

But my husband had to leave in the middle of our baby shower for an out-of-state funeral, so I was left alone with all our new stuff and no baby yet to make it useful. My mom and my sister were visiting and were so helpful, but I still suddenly felt like shutting all the curtains and shouting, “OMG!” like I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even get all my words out. Does every first-time mother feel like this? I mean, it’s scary right?

Carrying life? Are we allowed to do that?

Then this came the next day, spoken at church where all the best things are: “I will never leave you or forsake you says the Lord almighty.” It’s in Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, and Hebrews 13:5. That’s how you know it’s serious.

I will never leave you

I thought, “Oh yeah! I’m never alone. God will never leave me. He will never forsake me. Not ever! Not even while I’m alone in my house with a bunch of new baby things reminding me that I’m going to have a baby soon and I have no clue how to care for it.”

I went home and painted this and hung it in the nursery:

IMG_7780

I love to paint but I am not very good at it. Still, this is the most treasured thing in my boys’ room; though they never ask me about it and only seem to notice it when they knock it off the wall and have to ask me to hang it back up. But it stays there, a reminder that God is always and forever. He will never leave.

Now, I’m five years into motherhood. It seems like I’ve been a mom forever. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. As mothers, we are with our children more than we’re not. We think about them every moment of every day. After five years of that, we feel like it’s been forever because we can’t remember another life.

After five years, we’ve lost count of all the diapers, all the tears, all the nights of interrupted sleep. We might sometimes get frazzled. We might sometimes lose our minds. We might forget about those words in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Hebrews.

I know I do.

I realized the other day that I am a way better mom when my husband is home. I don’t react so quickly. I don’t get so frustrated or emotional. He carries the weight with me. He always does, even when he’s not at home, but something happens every time he leaves. When I’m the only one around, I feel alone. I feel like I’ve been left, like I have to carry all three children on my back while dragging buckets of water in case one of them (or more likely, I) gets thirsty.

But I am not alone. And the necessary fluctuation of my husband’s presence shouldn’t affect my ability to mother. My husband is only a man. He is a good man, the best man, more than I could have asked for or imagined in a husband. But he is still just a man, and he cannot be present at every moment.

You know who can?

God. The Almighty Lord. The Best Father. He is my designer and my creator and the designer and creator of my children, and he is always available. He will never leave me or forsake me.

When my husband and I drove our very first newborn home from the hospital, we were beyond nervous. We had pretty much settled the fact that we were parents. But then we were driving our baby around on busy, icy highways. What!?? We decided right there in our little VW Golf, to say, “God, this is your kid. Thank you for giving him to us. Now, we give him back to you. We dedicate him to you because we can’t possibly know how to raise him. We can’t possibly know what he needs, without your help.”

God is our author and our children’s author, the author of creation itself. So even today, when our minds turn frazzled and all we want to do is scream (and sometimes we do, then we regret it), let us remember that we are not doing this alone, and it’s our own fault if we feel like we are.

Because God never leaves.

Let’s look for Him. I bet, once we open our eyes, we’ll see that He’s right there and He has all the answers. I bet He even has all the buckets of water we could ever need. So I can probably put those down and free up my arms for loving.