Rescued

Last year I found instructions from Christina Fox on to make a Resurrection Tree. We have made our own modified ornaments the last two years leading up to Easter. As we have made the individual ornaments, we read through most the corresponding Bible stories using Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible.  The ornaments trace the covenantal stories of God’s rescue in the Bible- such as the Fall, the Flood, the near sacrifice and rescue of Isaac,the ladder to heaven Jacob saw coming down, Joseph’s cost of many colors, the Passover lamb, David’s crown. The stories of the manger, the woman breaking the perfume bottle before Christ’s death, the bread and wine of the last supper- the commencement of communion, the cross, the  empty tomb are part of this collection.

 My daughter has heard these stories for several years now.  I was thrilled when she saw the ram from Abraham’s story and she said,  “Mom, there has to be thorns around the ram because it was caught in the bushes.” I knew she was listening and remembering the stories when she could remind me of such details. We put our tree together,  tying the simple picture ornaments onto white, spray-painted tree branches and  placed them in a large glass candle holder. The girls love looking at the tree with its symbolic decorations and I like the visible display of each story showing God’s pattern of rescue. I love having it right in the middle of our living room where they can climb up and look at it and talk about the resurrection. It has a spring-like feel and as part of the decorations, we intertwine our faith into our every day life. I’m constantly stressing in a world full of bunnies and Easter eggs and chocolate and bright colors to make sure my kids know what we really celebrate on Easter.  I want my kids to participate in things like Easter egg hunts but I want to make sure that they can grow up distinguishing the differences between perfectly good fun and eternal truth.


I love that the ornaments on the tree focus on what Christ has done for us. I love that they all point to the cross, to the tomb. I love that each one of them shows that Christ alone is the way we have peace and a hope of heaven.  I remember, as a child,  reading and not understanding the story of  Jacob and the ladder. I remember reading the story later on and realizing that God was showing Jacob that the only way to get to heaven is through Him, that He was extending that ladder as a foreshadowing of Christ. I love that each of these ornaments shows a symbol Christ throughout the progression of Bible, that each one points to Christ as our rescuer.


We live in a world where we want to be rescued- from sadness,  from terrorism, from natural disasters, from cancer, from other sicknesses, from financial hardship.  I want to be rescued and safe from these things. While we long to be rescued, but often times were looking in the wrong places and hoping in the wrong things. We are looking at the Easter eggs were looking at the chocolate bunnies and we’re not looking to Christ.

Easter is that fantastic time of year  when we can remember exactly what Christ has done, that he has rescued us. We are reminded clearly that we live in that already/not yet, where we are rescued if we believe in Christ and we have future hope. One day he will come again and take away the sadness, and wipe away tears, get rid of the sickness,  of evil,  and of the things don’t have to be the way that they are right now.


One of my favorite Easter hymns is from the Gettys, See What a Morning. The hymn traces the narrative of Mary in the garden waiting for the gardener to tell her what has been done with Jesus’ body.  She is broken hearted and she is grieving. The story shows the human experience of faith.  I can picture myself as Mary, having come to say goodbye to a beloved friend, with an ache inside,  believing all hope has evaporated. And there in the garden, blinded with tears, she hears a voice saying “Mary” and there is only one voice who says her name like that.  Jesus is alive.  I can feel her ecstatic confusion- not completely understanding and yet wanting to believe the truth in front of her with all her heart. It’s a bit how may we feel today-  not completely comprehending the breadth of the work completed for us on the cross, but wholly  believing it,  putting all of our hope and trust in it because there’s nothing else to hope for that is as wonderful as the future Christ promises us. There’s no other religious story in the world where a God becomes a redeemer,  giving up his life for us to have life.

 My favorite line in See What a Morning is, “death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

The only way Christ’s death makes sense is if indeed, He rose, if indeed, love has won and the power of death has been snapped apart.  Christ love is greater than Satan’s power. Christ has conquered Satan’s grip. This is our hope on Easter- Christ has conquered and we have been rescued. Thise stories drawn on our resurrection tree, simple enough for a child to understand, show us the greatest  promise in history – God’s faithfulness to rescue and redeem those who believe in Him.

Long Lay the World

 It’s that time of year. We wander into Target for boring things like toilet paper (aaaagain). We round the corner and there’s the intake of air, the squeal of excitement, and the begging begins. “Please, Mommy, can we go see the Christmas decorations?” We go. They inspect each ornament, stare at the lights. I hear my frequently used adjectives coming from their mouths, “beautiful, amazing, gorgeous,” spoken in tiny voices full of delighted excitement.
They talk about presents. They love the lights. They look at pictures of cookies to make. They remember the wooden stable and manger scene and ask if we will put it up again.
They are gasping and fawning over Christmas bows and lights. I am wondering how we can anticipate joyous celebrations when 129 people were just massacred in less time than it takes to make Christmas dinner. I watch their innocent eyes light up at Christmas decorations and my eyes close as I hear news reports. I don’t plan on sharing anything about the weekend in Paris with them. Not yet. They are too young and yet they take in too much. I can’t bring myself to voluntarily make them afraid of their world just yet.
It seems that every year something sad happens before holiday seasons. World events mar our hope for peace. There are tinges of sadness that outline our bubbles of happiness. We shove our disappointments, fears, and frustrations away and smile, buying gifts, staying as busy as we can and wishing that somehow, a snowy Hallmark Christmas will be standing on our porch, wrapped in a bow, when we open our door on Christmas Eve.
The conundrum in my brain of how to celebrate Christmas while blood is splattered across Parisian sidewalks is not a new problem for this year only.
This dichotomy spans the entire swath of human history. Splattered blood is the reason there is Christmas in the first place. When we follow the manger to the cross, we recognize that Christ’s spilled blood is the trail leading us to peace.  I am not comparing those who died in Paris to Christ. Men kill and men die. Only Christ’s death gives life. Only Christ’s blood redeems.

We like to spend Christmas thinking of babies and swaddling wraps. We really want to think that Mary took white lights with her to Bethlehem, to string on the manger, something she had pinned on her “manger crib” board. But after the white swaddle blankets came a bloody sacrifice. We live in a world caught in this mess of bloodiness and neediness. There is blood because of humans who hate and kill, defend and sacrifice. And then there is blood of a Son, born in that manger, shed to rescue the world from their own hate and self-destruction.
The words to O Holy Night run through my mind… “long lay the world, in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the world felt His worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….” The cross has solved our sin and error when we believe, even though we wait wearily for fulfillment of salvation in the return of Christ. Instead of Hallmark Christmases, what we really long for is the new Heaven and new Earth. We desire something that we cannot find in this world. We long for a Healer. We want to be rescued from the sickening horror that humans create amongst themselves. We want to be rescued from sin.
We need Christ. Only Christ brings peace. Only Christ heals. Not because He is a fuzzy warm object to believe in. Not because He is a superior teacher to Mohammed. But because only God loved His creation enough to sacrifice His Son, Himself, for His creation. His crazed, sinful, destructive creation. He never told them to save themselves, because they could not. He simply asked them to believe that He loves them enough to die for them, taking on their sin. And in believing, He removes that sin, looking at His bloody, sacrificed Son instead of their sin.
Only the result of Christ’s birth – His death and resurrection – can solve the problem of sin in our world. So, while we are all trying to make sense of Paris, of the season ahead, of life in general, remember that the events we hear on the news are a glaring example of WHY we so desperately need Christmas. We need that baby in the manger to rescue us from ourselves. We need Christ’s blood to heal. Without the blood of Christ, human blood will not stop spilling. Christ’s blood covering us is the only way that true Christmas, the kind we want deep in our hearts, will ever happen.

The Happily Ever After Covenant

“Congratulations on making it this far without a murder suicide” read an awesome anniversary card we received. This month was my tenth wedding anniversary. Its not really a long time, but it sounds like a big number to me. I guess it sounds longer than it really feels. And at the same time, life before marriage is blurrier than ever.

I remember before my wedding thinking that I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I loved my husband. But I also knew that there was no way I could fully understand what this love would require, having never been married. Within a short time, both of us commented that we were suddenly so much more aware, in a good way, of what love meant, than at our wedding.
I also remember being terrified. Terrified that I would be unable to keep a promise whose implications I knowingly didn’t understand. Terrified of giving up what I knew for what I didn’t know.

A friend and I were talking recently about being attached and unattached. For some, attachment is the perceived as the highest attainable goal, an ultimate goal in earthly existence. For others, staying carefree and unrestrained is the dream that brings happy, idealistic thoughts. For some, a change in partners or circumstances equals the fulfillment that seems missing. Some people are tolerably content with their circumstances, but wonder what might improve if they had made different choices in the past.
What I have learned about love and marriage and life, so far, is that all of our relationships, or lack thereof, are simply mirrors that reflect our innate need and desire for God. Married or single, we want relationships that make us whole. We want completion and happiness, companionship and understanding, safety and confidence. Singleness seems to drive these wants into glaring focus and so we generally know that these are things that single people desire. But marriage does not fulfill these needs either. Of course, marriage offers some of these things, in varying degrees. But there is no relationship on Earth that can complete every need we possess. And our position in life, married, single, formerly attached, and so on serves as a vehicle to show us where our needs for God are most gaping.
In other words, the point of a relationship or the lack of the relationship is to draw us to God. To drive us closer to Him. To make us depend on Him more. To show us our need for Him and point us to the only One who can truly fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we revel in the joy of our relationships. Sometimes we find our relationships breaking down. Sometimes we long for a person to come alongside us and share our lives. In every circumstance, God is pulling us to Him. He is working all things for good. Even in the hard, the broken, the empty, the boring everyday, He is reminding us that we cannot be everything we need to be. We are needy.

When I think about marriage and my neediness, the image in the mirror I see is the failed wife. I don’t love as I should. I want certain things, demand certain things even. I worry about my own self respect that I gain from a relationship. I don’t flawlessly uphold my covenant to love. I don’t love anyone like I should. But God has loved for me. He has made a covenant and fulfilled His part and my part for me. And that is where marriage and the shortcomings of marriage show me the graciousness and goodness of God.
The times I am most grateful for the state of marriage are when I recognize the covenant God has made for us. I am grateful for marriage to someone who takes a vow seriously. I am thankful for someone who mirrors God by not considering any other options than the promise he made to me.


The point is, our lives are about what God is doing, and what He has already done for us. And each relationship we have or don’t have molds our souls to make us see God more clearly. Our lives, our love, our faith are continual navigations through the unseen. When we do not know how we will continue, Christ has been love for us. Christ has already met our need.
(Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography)

springtime

It is really and truly spring. Spring’s repeated arrival every year reminds me, as the trees open to cover us in green bowers again and again, that there is a new life that conquers the dead of winter, that there is a place to find hope. 

We had a second birthday party for a little girl.  She won’t stop growing and learning.

I wrote a post at Grace Table.  You can find it here and check out the other beautiful essays there.

And over here are my pictures (and more pictures) of the transformation from winter into spring.  It is the small moments everywhere, everyday that make a large life.

Looking for Christ in the Crumbs

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever eat a leisurely meal again, unpunctuated by interruptions. Breakfast is often consumed while standing, monitoring cereal consumption, watching for tidal waves of milk to come hurling over the cereal bowl rims. Lunchtime is a breathless race to place edible food on the table before the residents revolt in mutiny and march themselves through a Taco Bell drive thru on foot. (please note: they never eat at Taco Bell, because I normally manage to suppress most mutinies.) In between these times are moments where they like to act out Oliver Twist and the Little Match Girl, begging for more food or extra snacks, precluding the making of my own food at times.

  
Then, there is the crowning glory of the culinary day, dinner. The time in which I prepare food while one child transforms into a koala and pretends by leg is a tree and the other thinks she is Alton Brown and tells me she knows what she is doing and that she should be able to use sharp knives. The food finally gets placed on the table, hot and edible. Everyone eventually meanders to the table, we cut up food into bite size pieces, drinks are placed, and it is go time. The youngest child takes one bite before she scrunches her face and begins to send food to the floor in a pattern somewhat like rain dripping down the drainpipe. The oldest insists that she is going to gag on the food. Water spills, the other sippy cup is being used as a fountain, following the food from the virtual drain pipe to the river on the floor. I clean up the puddles.  I take my first bite. The food is now cold. We attempt conversation. There are more interruptions. More drink requests. More conversation. Laughter. Despair. More bites of cold food. Finally everyone else has finished. I scrape my plate and stir the leftover bits around. I start to clean up the floor, scrape plates into the trash, and run warm water over messy plates, before we begin the mad rush into the bedtime wonderland.

  
Meals do not often occur as I envision them. They are not the beautifully, plated and gourmet events I imagine. Not much about life is.

But there are some meals, moments of meals, when I feel like I’m looking through a magazine at a beautiful meal, that isn’t really showcasing the food. Not a real meal, but still a kind of event that makes one full. These moments happen when I least expect them. Like a breeze through a window, like a candle that flicks light across a room, it happens quickly and is gone. It takes a laugh, a giggle, a smile from one side of the table to the other, even while rice is strewn over the floor and broccoli shoved to the side of plates. I see happiness. I see plenty. I see provision. I see beauty.

  
I see time, time that seems long and interminable when I’m picking rice and broccoli off the floor, again. I see time that goes too quickly, like a firefly in the summer night’s air, flashing in and quickly darting away when I hear a delighted giggle. On long days it is hard to remember that time goes fast. On the quick days, it is hard to remember that the brilliantly exploding moments, ones that fade too soon life fireworks, are a necessary part of life’s path. 

It is hard to remember, in the interminable moments and the full moments, that one day we will feast with Christ. Feasting with Him is a vague idea that is often hard to imagine in the middle of our mundane. We repeat our meals and go through the motions of cleaning up, preparing, eating, and cleaning up again. In our lives, in the middle of our messes, the repetitive motions often seem just that, repetitive. In the beginning of a challenge, we bring excitement with us. At the end, we either bring disillusionment or grand achievement. But the middle is when we need grace and commitment.

  
Often those short, perfect, magazine-like moments are gifts from God, They are gifts that show us small graces now and the large graces to come. Sometimes those moments we share, laughing together, in between spilled water and refilled plates and reaching for extra napkins and cutting up food are the ones that give us glimpse into the joy of togetherness that the New Heaven and New Earth will provide. I see tiny children who depend on me for survival. I see a God who makes all things consist and cares lovingly for each of His children. I see a piece of perfection that could be, if the mess were held at bay. I see messes that will be gone, and curses that will be undone, and an existence that will be redeemed along with my soul and body.

  
The short conversations that I have with tiny people are grace. The laughter we share, the bread we break together, even the bread that crumbles all over the floor, are the grace that tells us know we are made for another world, a greater feast.

 CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in.” That is true at meal times. That is true at every time.

  
And so, during the interrupted meals, I remember a better feast is coming. A feast where I hope my children join me.The hope of this feast cancels out the frustration of my non-feast like events. This will be the ultimate meal, full of grace and beauty. I do hope then, that I can put my fork in my mouth before someone needs a refill.

Abraham and Five Year Plans

Five years ago I sat on a couch staring at my husband across the room. I still own the couch, but it now bears battle wounds of small children, the latest of which is blue marker on its’ arm. That night, the couch was clean and smooth. And our world had just jumped out of its orbit.

There was going to be a baby. Five years ago this weekend we suddenly knew the initial emotions of being parents. We knew the timing was horrible. We had no idea the turmoil that year would hold.

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I was 29. We had just celebrated his 30th birthday. We had walked off the plane from a fantastic vacation in Florida that week. We headed home to our still new-to-us church where we were thriving and to life as we knew it. I was in my last semester of grad school, hoping to be finished with a dead end job I hated by the end of the year. The puzzle pieces seemed to coming together for me. Until that night when it seemed like someone grabbed all the pieces and threw them up into the air to land at random.

For three months I walked around numbly, not knowing why God thought I needed a child, convinced I was being punished for some latent evil or stupidity. Then our pastor resigned. I got mad at God. I usually try to avoid being mad at God because generally it doesn’t do any good and seems like a waste in the end, but I was mad. For two weeks I walked around mad. And then our landlord told us he had sold our house and we had a month to move. Suddenly I had no energy left to be terrified or mad. I knew I had to give up the illusion of control I thought I owned.

I pitied myself. I let every possible emotion eat away at me. I knew ultimately that circumstances were so far out of my control that God had to be in control and that I was in the safest place to be- in His sovereignty, under the shadow of the Almighty. At times though, I would be afraid to take a breath, not knowing what might come next.

For two months a new normal tapped its rhythm. When everything seemed to be settling, I developed preeclampsia. And had a baby eight weeks early. And spent five weeks in a NICU with her.

Five years and two beautiful healthy little girls later, I live in the house that our pastor owned and sold to us. The last five years have been jammed full of joy and dotted with sorrow. There have been births and laughter. There have been deaths and tears. There have been changes and struggles and adjustments.

I read the story of Abraham to my girls. I read about God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. I’m tempted to skip the story. I don’t want to explain to my 4 year old why God would ask a daddy to kill his own son. I don’t want to endure the empathetic thoughts about giving up my children. But I read the story and I answer the inevitable questions as best as I can. But the story has new revelations for me. The picture of sacrifice and rescue that God showed Abraham and Isaac on that mountain is clearer than it has ever been.

As I read and answer, my heart aches, wondering how Abraham could have given up his son, his only son for God. As a parent I writhe at the thought. And then as a child of God, as a recipient of grace, I realize that writhing I feel is how God felt when He sent His only begotten son, Jesus. And paradoxically, He gave up His son to gain me, to gain many sons and daughters.

I cover my little girls with blankets before I go to bed for the night. I look at their perfect sleeping faces and I wonder how I could be so undeservedly blessed. Each night I get to tuck them in is a gift. I wonder how I ever thought I didn’t need their lives in mine.

The only way I could scrape the surface at truly understanding the implications of my own redemption was to become a parent myself. God is brilliant, to give us families, in order for us to understand Him as our Father. He knew that I needed to know and believe that He loved me. He knew I had to feel that ache inside to be startled by the gift He gave.

A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter for an ultrasound. I knew going into the procedure that there was nothing seriously wrong. The doctors had basically told us what the issue was. But there was a part of laying her on that table that felt a little too much like placing her on an altar. What if something deeper was wrong? What do parents feel who know there is something seriously wrong?

I went back to Abraham in my mind. He was called to give up what he loved. He complied. And he still believed that God would provide the sacrifice, whether that provision was Isaac or (ultimately) the ram that ended up in the thicket. And the irony of the whole story is that Abraham was rescued from having to sacrifice his son by God, whose plan was to sacrifice HIS son to rescue the world. In giving up Isaac, both Abraham and Isaac saw the glorious picture of redemption to come. When we give up, we look back at the glorious picture of redemption. There is no sacrifice that we endure that God has not made already. Most often this story of Abraham is taught as a neatly packaged heroic “God comes in as an 11th hour genie and spares Abraham from tragedy” kind of tale. But when God doesn’t prevent sorrow or hardship, what do we have left from this story? We have to know that Abraham “trusted God more than what His eyes could see” (S. Lloyd-Jones) and that regardless of our outcomes, God has still provided His own son as a sacrifice for us. All that we are asked to give up, freedom, youth, time, loved ones, convenience and ease, security, whatever it is, is already under God’s sovereignty. His sacrifice has already provided our escape. Our resurrection is guaranteed and sealed, by an altar shaped like a cross, by an open tomb.

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We need to come up short and be startled by the grace of God. It is too easy to say the words “grace, sacrifice, death and resurrection, and to not understand what pain our salvation cost God.

Five years ago I had no idea how much God loved me. It may sound silly to say, but I had no idea how He could use what I viewed as a series of mistakes and misfortunes as an altar where, like Abraham, I had to offer up what I most treasured in order to understand the sacrifice of Christ.

When we give up what we most want, we can clearly see the glory and love of our Father.


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What I Hate About Motherhood

There is a part of motherhood that I love and a part that I still struggle to accept. And sometimes those parts make a Venn diagram in my head. (Yes, I just used a term from a math book, call the news hotline) I try to make sense of these blended areas of existence, mainly  to stay sane and positive.

I love my children as human beings, naturally. They are cute (usually) and funny (mostly) and they add color and happiness to my life, like herbs I didn’t know were missing from soup. I also love the part of motherhood that has made me run to God and hold on tightly to everything I know about His goodness and love from the first instant of motherhood that blinked on a screen as a line to my now normal everyday life full of amazement that I actually have children, frustrations, decisions, questions and answers, and my own fears for their future.

I hate the collective mommyness of motherhood. I dread the automatic categorization of “moms” who are obviously only interested in things like diapers and the color of spit up and preschool crafts and transforming our housework into kingdom work by swallowing a spoonful of sugar and singing bippity boppity boo. There is a homogony to mothers that is both comforting and repulsive.

Humans love commonality and community and yet we value our personal uniqueness. In being a part of the masses, I am learning to admire God’s skill in making a pattern of image bearers so like one another, all in need of a Savior, and completely different from even their closest human friends.

The other frustrating part of motherhood for me, (or of domesticness in general,) is repetitive nature of trying to maintain dominion over a constantly falling apart domain. Now, I do not mean to say that things like dishes and cleaning and laundry are not meaningful. Of course they have a purpose and without them our world would hygienically struggle a bit. Here is an example of what I mean. I cleaned for six hours one day last week. I scrubbed floors and organized toys and dusted in between making meals and snacks and changing diapers and answering questions and playing evil queens and pirates, and taking a toddler off my Swiffer mop and dismantling her from the top of the piano and so on. It was slow progress and hard to see results. But during naptime, I felt satisfied, despite my lack of a shower that day.

Then naptime ended. Within two hours, there was a scene of destruction in my house that would rival a natural disaster. And everything I had done was undone. The floor was still clean, but it wasn’t noticeable. Wait, floor, what floor? The floor was a carpet of books. The carefully removed dust was floating back again. And new meals had to be made, messing up the shining granite countertops. Crumbs went jumping onto the freshly scrubbed floor. Bedtime meant that I could relive my day all over again, doing the same activities, still without a shower, because clearly I had enjoyed the day so much.

I repeat my work over and over and over.  A little at a time, slowly working toward an elusive goal that is never really met. I fix and disintegration appears. I create and natural causes (humans) destroy or consume. And I find it frustrating not to see progress and results.

But, there are a few ways to look at this.

Isn’t God’s work repetitive? I know it only took Him seven days to create the world, but His work did not end there. Is He not constantly making a fallen world, continually falling apart, stay together? By Him and through Him, we consist. And are we who believe not being saved, daily? Redemption happened once, but is constantly upheld by continual mercy. Forgiveness does not end, but repeats over and over, for all time.

Everyone is labeled in categories and everyone encounters repetition. You need not be a mother to feel the tension. A pastor, a laborer, a teacher, a business executive understands the same ideas.

My work is done. My work is demolished. My world is neatly tied up in brown paper packages. My world is unraveled with a snip of string. And at the same time, I am undone and I am made whole. I am one of many image bearers and I am a unique image bearer. I participate in the groan of creation and yet I will be made new and see the reward of redemption.

Repetition can seem endlessly futile. Or it can be the foundation on which all meaning and originality is built. We find our individuality in God, our Creator, our Heart’s true desire, rather than in our repetitive work. We reflect the constant nature of God through our repetition. In this dance of perfect and imperfect, of blessed yet needy, we pave paths toward the shining light of creativity, reflecting God, unchanging and eternal in the dawn of each fresh day.