Yes 

(This is really a post written in February, but not edited and posted until March.)

Somewhere in between putting a chicken into the oven to roast and hanging a white ruffly canopy from a bedroom ceiling, I was called up to active duty in the imagination draft. My role was wicked witch, evil stepmother, angered pirate, and the list goes on. I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the unofficial challenge on which I had recently embarked, and jumped into the character as best as I could manage. It can be hard to remember all of the herbs you plan to rub on a chicken when you are also supposed to be poisoning an apple or throwing a pixie prisoner into a cage. And also remember what sort of nail you need to find to hang a canopy from a slanted ceiling.

I feel like I spent most of November and December saying “no” and “wait” and “stop” to the small residents of my house. There were holiday errands to run, gifts to buy and wrap, projects to work on, last minute supplies to pick up, and food lists to think about. And then there were normal life obligations. Too many days felt like they were in constant motion, jumbled and unsettled.

I have a child who likes to live large. I want her to live large. I need to teach her limits too. We all have to learn that we don’t get everything we want immediately and other people factor into our choices as well. I think part of my “no” volley was an experiment in trying to teach self control and self containment. Every autumn as the year closes, I find myself evaluating life and the impact our daily living has on our collective life. I often have inner freak out festivals from October until January when I can delude myself into a fresh start at life. Part of this past year’s festival events was my “no” workshop.

The year started roughly with sad losses on my husband’s side of the family that had to be explained to the girls. So with a slightly conscious effort to make happy happen again, and a slightly unconscious determination to say yes, we headed into February.

I read an Instagram post from a woman who talked about her “say yes” journal she has started with her kids. Intrigued, I went to her site and fell in love with her idea. I immediately knew the thoughts and emotions she expressed. And so I made an engaged effort to play tag. I consciously played imagination duty. I gave a few choices (in perimeters). I did some suggesting of things I secretly knew I usually didn’t want to do. One day I texted my friend and said “I really don’t feel like dressing them in snowsuits and taking them sledding. They need naps and a reading lesson before we head to ballet.”

She texted back. “Just do it”

I unloaded my dishwasher and played out the schedule for the day in my mind for the fifth time. They can sleep tomorrow when my schedule was too blocked to go sledding. She will definitely learn to read next year in school. She will remember sledding. She will not remember my reading lesson, unless it is the memory of tears I’ve inflicted on her. She will not remember yet another winter afternoon nap.

We went sledding.

Joy and happiness.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:7-12

I cannot give my children everything and that’s ok. I cannot say yes to people all the time. There are rather good reasons to say no, quite often. But in the middle of my hurry and living, I remember that my Father in Heaven has given me many good things. I see two of those good things standing in front of me, asking for things, daily. Intertwined into learning that God is good even when He says, “no” or “wait” or “trust me, I have good for you”, I want them to know we have a God who wants us to ask for things and delights to give us good.

I’m often reminded how fast these little years go by. There are already phases my oldest child has outgrown that I feel like we barely enjoyed. Sometimes reality, common sense, life, and scheduled responsibility will not let me say yes. But if I can say yes to one (not 42) extra bedtime story, to a puddle splash, to hide and seek, to an unhurried description of a story for the 16th time that week, to one extra little treat, to things that will bring the goodness of God a little clearer in focus, I want to. Because I fail to show His goodness often enough. If a few minutes from my time goes to granting reasonable requests or creating delight, I may be able to teach these little people that God wants to give them good things, even so much more than I do. Because He is the giver of the ultimate good. And that is what everything we do should show.
On saying yes:
http://www.sarahkatebranine.com/2016/01/on-beginning-say-yes-journal.html?m=1
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-power-of-saying-yes

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)

Birthdays & Broken Bones

My little baby had surgery today. I’m snuggling with her as she wanders off to dreamland, peeking back at me with one eye, to see if I’m still with her. She reaches out from her blanket to rub my arm. We are listening to JJ Heller’s   I Dream of You album. I love all the songs on this album, but tonight this one is our little world. Birthday parties not so long past, incisions and bandages tonight. 

  

“I Get To Be The One”

 

Well hello,

Little baby.

Your eyes have never seen the sun

You should know

Little baby

That I am the lucky one


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


Don’t feel alone now,

Little baby.

Do you hear me singing you a song

I can’t wait to show you

Little baby

How to crawl

How to walk

And how to run


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


How does someone so small

Hold my heart so tightly

I don’t even know you

I love you completely


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

 

I get to be the one

 

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.

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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Snow on Snow

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The snowflakes keep falling from the sky. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow*. The sky seems to have settled into a permanent shade of chalky gray. Not a shade I would want to paint my walls, exactly, but it is a still, calm color.  The snowdrifts are feet high, not inches high.  I look up at the sky and down at the ground and straight out my windows and I see the same whitish shade.  It is punctuated only by brown tree branches and the faint color of neighborhood houses.  It is not the winter wonderland often seen in photographs, a snowy world where the trees turn white with icy sparkles. Instead, its a bit like living in a large milk carton.

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I am trying to be fine with the repetition of each white day.  There are days that feel leisurely and slow and a bit like living in a candle lit Hallmark commercial, with warm stews simmering on the stove and family gathered together.  There are other days that feel like I’ve awoken in a white walled asylum and should just don an orange jumpsuit. And find mini-jumpsuits for the small inmates.  The sameness can make me restless.

And yet, every snow fall is different.  Every snow flake has a different size and form.  Every snow storm has a different atmospheric influence and temperature.  The vast whiteness has a form.  The canvas stretching across in front of me is composed of millions of particles, all unique.

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There is something comforting about sameness. About repetition.  About eternality.

And there is something refreshing about new.  About different.  About individuality and love.

The snowflakes fall, looking the same, but they are all individual, unique, and fresh with each appearance.

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And then there is God who makes it snow, who creates these innumerable snowflakes.  Eternal, forever, the same yesterday, today, forever.  And new, merciful, loving, and creative every day. God, the one who brings the seasons, is the same at the beginning and end of each season.  Eternal God before horrific acts are done to His martyred children, and eternal God after.  The God who gives new mercy every morning, welcoming home His children waking in Heaven and giving grace to His church still on Earth.  

If Abraham had been in a snowy climate, I think God might have asked him to number the snowflakes instead of the stars in the sky in Genesis 15.  Snowflakes and stars and grass and leaves and waves and flowers and people have this repetitive nature.  It is fairly difficult (in most cases) to number them and yet every single one is different.

There is comfort in the thought that God never changes and that when mercy is extended it is never revoked.  That sameness will keep one’s mind steady in a dizzying world.  But that mercy is not just old mercy that never changes. It remains the same, but it is new every single morning.  It is fresh, renewing over and over.  It is the same and it is new.  It is the mercy that holds the souls of men and women who belong to God from the beginning of time and the mercy that lands upon men and women today.  It is the fullness of God, giving us grace upon grace, like snow upon snow.  Repeating and replenishing at the same time.

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“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25 ESV)

*paraphrased from Rossetti