Deep In Monkey Bread

Have you ever tried to make monkey bread with actual monkeys? OK, well neither have I, but I did with the closest thing to little monkeys you can find – a four year old and a 21 month old. A lazy Sunday morning, snowed in again, this time by a second blizzard, seemed like the perfect setting to make monkey bread with two short helpers. There was nowhere to be, no time limits, no rushing. Just us in the kitchen, white lights plugged in, scented candle lit, the silent white snow drifting from the sky to the ground.

IMG_0375

It was not quite the calm, Pinterestly, smiling fun I had in mind. I was tired, a little bit over the snow mounting up to the kitchen windows, and generally not feeling patient. The culinary scenario often goes like this these days: I begin the kitchen process. Oldest child drags her small chair to the counter. Youngest child drops everything she is preoccupied by and leaps like a flea for her chair, pulling with all her strength, frantically yelling “HEP!HEP!HEP!” (Meaning she wants to help, help, help, as well. NOT,  that she needs help.) We situate ourselves, usually with them in the exact place I need to stand in order to achieve any progress and me, waltzing around them, stretching arms between them, or giving the oldest directions for things she can handle.   And quite typically one or both of them falls off their chairs during the session. I often find myself grabbing the youngest off of her chair, holding her, and attempting to cook one handed.

There is no efficiency to this cooking style, no therapeutic relaxation. I am lucky to read thru a recipe, understand it, and get an edible result from it. Hopefully, the girls will at least learn how to cook someday and will not sustain long term trauma from falling off chairs, associating cooking with hitting their heads on the floor.

There are days when I can reasonably handle this arrangement with my tiny chefs. There are days when I banish them from under my feet so I can just make a meal unstressed. There are nights when I cook after they’ve gone to dreamland and I remember there can be a therapeutic quality to the whir of the Kitchen Aid, the stir of a spoon in a pot, the aroma of finished.

Monkey bread blizzard day was not a day I could handle well. Like I said, over tired, over snow, I really just wanted to put the bread in the oven and sit on a couch with a cup of coffee and hypnotize myself with the spiraling snowflakes. The recipe was a tiny bit involved, with many steps and re-reading of the recipe.

IMG_0378There were approximately 2,067 questions from the four year old. There was near tumbling off the chairs. There were don’t touch instructions. There were repeated don’t touch instructions. And a few more. And saving from more near tumbling. And explaining and showing how to make the tiny dough chunks. And how NOT to make the dough chunks. And requests to not eat the dough. And fishing dough out of the baby’s mouth. And more directives not to eat the dough. And answering more questions. And explaining that I was not upset, but that listening to instructions is important. And please don’t reach for the knives. And please don’t play with the dough. And please keep rolling the dough if you want to help. And please stop eating the dough. And getting more dough out of the little mouth. No, do not bite my finger. Please stand on the chair right, you will fall off. Why will you fall off? Because you are not standing up correctly. No, it is not ready yet, it has to rise, then we bake it. Why does it rise? Because it has yeast in it and that makes it puffy and light. What does rise mean? To get higher in the pan. No, we are not baking it right away, I just said that. Please roll the dough in the sugar. Please don’t dump sugar over it. No, not all the sugar in one spot. No, roll the dough in the sugar. Ok, take turns. It is her turn. Because you just had a turn. Don’t eat the sugar. Ok, ALL DONE! Good job, go play.

Are you stressed?  I’m exhausted just remembering it. But, the beautiful thing is that I still love my kids. Of course I do. It would be unnatural if I didn’t just because they asked questions and did not listen. And I will cook with them again. And I’ll get frustrated again and wonder why I cook with them.

And as I was standing there, rolling my eyes at the refrigerator instead of in the direction of the girls, I thought about how much I question God. About how much I want to do things my way. About how often I don’t trust that the plan is good enough. How I think that I need to tweak the plan somehow. That perhaps if I rolled the dough and dumped more sugar over it, it would taste better, because more sugar is always the best, right? Because I cannot trust that less is sometimes more. Because I cannot believe that the plan does not include me being utterly happy right now, this very moment, and throwing forever to the wind. Because, obviously, if I do not have everything that my surrounding culture tells me I need, even the best-intentioned culture, then God’s way of doing things is not good enough and I am missing out. Because living in the wilderness or the desert is clearly God sending me on a dead end path, not the path to milk and honey, glory and delight.

My little four year old is learning about her world. My little 21 month old is copying and trying her best to keep up. Both of them are incredibly determined that they can exist without help, that they have life figured out, right here, right now. And while, I am often impressed by their life savvy, I clearly know they do not have everything figured out. I know that they need to learn that all the sugar does not need to be dumped onto one section of the dough.

IMG_0376

I am not so foolish to think that my children understand their neediness at this age. They are naturally learning and will learn by hearing things over and over and by falling off chairs and getting up again. And I am grateful that God is patient with me. I am comforted knowing that no matter how often I believe the lie that my way or the more shiny way is better than God’s, He will still look at me and see Christ’s blood. He will still wrap me in His arms and call me His child. He will see the work of the Cross and remind me with gentle love that He knows better than I, because He has given me everything I need for life and godliness in Christ. He, the Author of my faith, the Finisher of my faith, the ultimate creator who created an unfathomable redemption plan will not rob me of happiness. I need to remember that my Father invites me to participate in this life of faith, to increase in knowledge, because He loves me more than I can fathom. And my tiny chefs, who try to roll dough while doing ballet while standing on a chair are my constant reminders that a perfect Father plans a perfect path in perfect love.

Advertisements

Snow on Snow

IMG_0365
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.

IMG_0366
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.

IMG_0370-0
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.

IMG_0369
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.

IMG_0367

“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

Cosmic Sledgehammer or Eternal Redeemer

DSC_0853

I used to think of God as a kind of harsh teacher who would send one lesson after another, periodically spaced, into my life. In this picture, I envisioned that I would head through a hard event and if I could learn the corresponding lesson quickly, the event would end, I would get everything right and then God could be happy and love me. I would then be free to scamper along merrily, until it was time to learn a new lesson. Then He could hammer in another scenario and I would repeat the scene of learning and pleasing Him. These events would repeat one after the other, Him smashing down the hammer of learning, and me responding appropriately and with complete surrender to make sure He was satisfied.

We do not want hard lives. We do not want to suffer. We do not want to be afraid. There are various levels of suffering in our world. There are places in the world that know of more intense suffering than I can handle mentally. Then there are troubles with money, sad relationships, divorce, infertility, monetary struggles, loss, and general fear. I don’t really feel like I have suffered in great measure. Life has been easy, and almost too pleasant. My cynical side says, “you have it too good, something has to correct itself.” After life goes along smoothly for a time, I begin to wonder what might happen next… But, then, everyone’s life is different and what is hard for one person does not come to another’s door. When the potential for hardship looms, it leads me into a place where I am forced to remember that God is loving. That even in the hardest circumstances, God is my help, my salvation. He is the resurrection and life.

I often live afraid of suffering. I’m more afraid of being afraid of suffering than I am afraid when actually going through something hard and trusting God in the process. But ironically, in some respects, it is easier to be in a place where I have no choice but to trust because the circumstances are so far beyond my control that I have no illusion of having options. I like to think I can control my life and minimize risk. That too is faulty logic. I admire people who say that they want to be closer to God and they know they will suffer in the process. I would never pray to bring suffering on myself. I am too weak. And yet, I know there will be hardness and pain in life, regardless whether I pray for it or pray to avoid it.

The hard part of living in this broken world is to understand why, if God is good, there is suffering. Really, the suffering is not because God is good or bad, but because there is systemic evil haunting us since the Garden of Eden. The fall and the resulting need of redemption is the root of suffering’s stem. The truth behind all of the brokenness is that God is there, always present, helping His beloved children along THROUGH the suffering that the fall has cursed them with, not sending hammers down on their heads to make them stronger or more valuable to Him. His children are of value, otherwise, why the need for a redemption plan? He is the one who said, “don’t”, in the beginning. But we did. So, now He holds us close as we suffer under the effects of that original disobedience.

I once thought God was the sledgehammer. I thought He dangled it over the heads of His children, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to judge us for our missteps, to teach us valuable lessons, to make us more incredibly and mindlessly obedient.

And then I became a parent. And I am by far not a perfect parent, as He is. But in no imaginable scenario would I ever tauntingly discipline my children “just because”. (I have read some sadistic discipline advice that does advocate creating teachable moments for children, to test their obedience, but that is wholly unbiblical or extra biblical, whichever word you like.)  No, rather, when the child falls down because they were told not to walk on the ice, or the second child gets hurt because the first child created a harmful situation, or, fill in the blank…., that is when we remind them of how they could have avoided the situation, remind them that obedience matters, remind them that we all are in desperate need of Christ’s help, and comfort them and help them with every shred of breath we have. Of course there is natural frustration at times, because we are not perfect. No normal and healthy parent wants to see their own child suffer. But we know they will, at times. And so we prepare them and help them and comfort them and encourage them as much as we can through these hard times. And that is how God cares for us, but with infinitesimal perfection.  The effect of the fall wasn’t God’s revenge on His creation. Instead, He took the evil of Fall and created good from it – the incredible path back to His arms through Christ on the cross.

There is no possible way in which a cosmic sledgehammer would create the plan to redeem His children when they had enraged his wrath by disobeying His command. A loving Father, however, would look at His children’s disobedience and find a way to rescue them from the tangles in which they were trapped. A cosmic sledgehammer would stand by and watch suffering of His creation with snark and cynicism. A loving Father sacrificed His son to rescue the poor souls who distrusted and still distrust Him. When children fail to trust, we reach out again and again, assuring them of our care and love. Most religions have a God or god like figure who exacts some sort of penalizing retribution upon disobedience. But our God is one who looks in pity with grace and says, forgive them, they do not know what they do. He looks at suffering children and says, come and rest, give me your burdens, cast your cares on me, I am the resurrection and the life. The perfect Father, the perfect Savior, is the one to whom we trust our lives and our souls, as little children who need to be held.

The Father Younger than We

It started in the Autumn. There was a birthday in our house. A four year old’s birthday. We left babyhood behind forever, heading officially into the realm of little girl hood. She converses with me in sentences and paragraphs, flits through an imaginary world complete with “pretend friends” who interact with her, states her opinions quite decidedly, and makes observations about the world that make us laugh, make us shake our heads, and make us fully aware that she is a rapidly maturing human being.

Then I began a new hobby of pulling out gray hairs fighting their way from the depths of my hair to the surface, shouting for the world to see. Less than vanity, it bothered me because it was a sign that life was passing by, that youth is farther past me than ever before. While age is just a relative number, it is after all, a non-negotiable figure.

My birthday came at the end of the year. It is always the non-landmark birthdays that bother me. They launch me closer to the milestones and the silent, encroaching progression is worse for me than the actual reality of age. I began to feel restless, unsettled, anxious, worrying about worrying. Worrying about what the rest of life holds.

Without realizing it, worry becomes a part of our life, even when we do not recognize it as worry. It begins by hearing someone’s bad news and feeling sympathy. Sympathy turns to empathy, where we envision similar circumstances upon ourselves. We hear too many news reports in a day and our processing attempts lead to worry. In my world, the distracted nature of my current life leaves me little time to process my thoughts from beginning to end. Instead of trusting a good God, I build a collection of random facts, speculations, headlines, observations, probable health hazards, and simplified answers to childish questions about complex realities. I teach my daughter Isaiah 41:10 to help her diffuse worry about monsters in closets. I repeat it to myself to deflect fears that clamor to be heard.

I was scrolling around the other day, landing on Sally Lloyd-Jones’ blog. She had highlighted a favorite GK Chesterton quote of mine from Orthodoxy.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
    G K Chesterton

God is our eternal Father, who never ends. He does not begin or end. He is both older and younger than we are. He is timeless. The Creator of beauty, the author of redemption, sustainer of life, and the essence of love does not plot the harm of His Children has an eternal presence, allows us a childlike confidence in Him. He is constant, the Father of light with no shadow of turning, and yet as Chesterton says, He makes each daisy separately, the designer of creative repetition.

Stop worrying, I remind myself. Age is not a reason to worry, because our Father is in fact, younger than us, unhampered by sin’s decaying process. While day in and day out propels me closer to older age, my God is timeless, unbounded by age or the sin wearied monotony of our world. He carries the loving joy of a child and the loving mastery over every piece of life on earth.

2015/01/img_6770.jpg

The Already and Not Yet of New Years

DSCN1674

“Do you have any resolutions for the new year?”
The text from my friend came onto my screen.
I responded with ever so slight sarcasm, giving an incredibly ridiculous list of near-impossible items (like making my kids eat vegetables and keeping my house clean)
She responded, “I said resolutions, not hopes and dreams.”
I laughed.

The reality is that it was January 1. A new year, a fresh start, a brand new beginning. A breath of fresh air, everyone resolutely typing away, sharing their own dreams with the world, giving advice for making goals, giving fool-proof tips for keeping resolutions, and even offering the elasticity of grace as a solution for the resolutions that we do not manage to keep.

My morning started with two little wiggly bodies in bed next to (and on top of) me, until they could stay still-ish and quiet no longer. The three of us left the poor father to sleep longer and slogged our way toward the kitchen, otherwise known as the Paradise of the French Press. One fell by the wayside and headed for the toys and television. One lay on the hallway floor screaming because she wasn’t Koala-baby-attached to her Koala mother. (When I say screaming, think human sacrifice equivalency.)

We managed to land on the sofa, with Curious George, a bottle, and coffee to leisurely lull us into the new resolution of being awake in this new year. Breakfast was requested. The request was deferred until coffee had been further consumed. Within a short time, graham crackers had been smuggled into the living room. The capable four year old even thoughtfully brought some for her sister, in a plastic bowl. Lovely. It was not until I went to refill my coffee that I found a few feet of graham cracker crumbs strewn across the granite counters, with the disheveled box and wrapper mangled nearby.

The next few hours went on to hold the simulation of a lake in the kitchen, mysterious trails and craters of water in the living room, messes of various forms, each one suspiciously appearing at the end of clean up from the previous, as if they had were coordinated attacks. The crowning bit of fun happened when one child needed a bath from a diaper situation. I may have inadvertently subjected her to a polar bear challenge in the bathtub with some cool water. She seized her chance for revenge by wetting my bed in the pre-diaper-attachment-phase.

My friend’s text came after this flurry of activity had occurred. There was a part of the day that felt incredibly ordinary, just full of normal messes, cleaning, frustration, and laughter, rather than a brand new start to life with no mistakes in it. Even though the calendar page flipped and the numbers shift, life continues on through toddlerhood and preschool-hood, and work and marriage, and living, day after day after day.

There is something enchanting about the idea of New Years. It is a chance to start fresh. We can determine to begin again, putting away failures and chasing perfection. But all of our determining and smart planning can end in frustration, unless we really understand why the idea of a new year is so intriguing.

A new year is a tantalizing reminder that someday all will be made new. We are a weary world, in sin and error, pining for redemption’s reality. We know that a new and glorious light has broken, but we live, waiting for the complete and whole realization of that shining light. We live in darkness and we who know God have seen a great light, already, but we have yet to see the full glory of that light.

Resolutions fascinate us because we long for the chance of redemption. But in our resolution making, we are often (not always) trying to save ourselves, to perfect ourselves. I have no problem with resolution making and determining to work toward a goal is extremely healthy, mentally and physically. But, our resolutions need the reality that redemption and perfection are God’s work, not ours. Our work is to make His redemption our anchor and to trust His perfecting to be good.

I love the turn of the year, the change of the seasons, the chance to regroup and jump into goals and press toward dreams with powerful determination. I love knowing that one day, all will actually and truly be made new. Our God will wipe every tear away, just like we wipe away tears from our children’s faces. Perfection will not be an illusion any longer. Redemption will be realized completely. That brilliant promise is what we cling to, as each day passes and each season pushes forward into our lives.

Babies and Somewhat Sacred Writings

There were no organic cotton blankets in the rustic venue. There were animals hovering nearby, probably devoid of their rabies shots. There were no aromatherapy candles to give calming ambience, and instead the scent was probably nauseating to a woman with a brand new baby. The carefully written birth plan was non-existent. It was dark and cold.

The arrival of Baby Jesus is a common enough story, even to people who don’t consider Christianity to be for them. But why is it that Christ’s advent is as a baby? Have you ever heard a story so often you slightly lose the significance? Why a baby? Until a few Christmases ago, the record of this birth as central to the Scriptures merely seemed to me like a logical way to get onto the planet – by birth, like the rest of us. He could have dropped as a man out of the sky and onto a beach or desert. There could have been no record of His early life and we could have met Him at the baptismal waters with John the Baptist. But, recently, I began to see more significance to the infant incarnation.

There is plenty to read about Christ’s identification with man and vice versa. There are the points about temptation, suffering, and fully understanding humanity, minus the sin nature of course, that need Christ to have lived the entire span of a human life. But, the words of II Timothy 3:15 came to mind as I read to my daughter one day. “…From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul is affirming with Timothy his legacy of faith, encouraging his continuance in believing and spreading the Gospel. From childhood, infancy really, Timothy has known the truth of Christ, of his family’s faith, as it became his own faith.

It can feel awkward and forced to use theological language with a baby. I wanted to teach my children the importance of Christ’s birth, without the awkwardness that comes from making a toddler say “incarnation” (however amusing that might be). My conundrum of toddler development and theological communication was solved by a few storybooks, along with a fresh awaking to the powerful wisdom of God.

Both of my children love books. As their developmental stages occur, they become fascinated with babies. Real babies, baby pictures, baby faces, anything to do with another little person have fascinated them. Board books with the Christmas story, Song of the Stars, and The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones) are a few of the Christmas books we read. One day, my mental light switch turned on. We read the story, looking at the sheep, pointing at the angel, touching the star. When we turned the last page and saw a stable scene, with a manger, and a baby inside that manger, my daughter’s excitement became infectious. “Baby, baby, baby!” she squealed while she pointed and smiled and traced the face with her finger.

Now a children’s book is rarely considered a sacred writing, even when retelling the sacred truths of the Bible. And my daughter was more excited about the picture of a baby than about the implications of Christ’s incarnation. But, the brilliance of God’s plan to send a Savior in the form of a little baby brought a cascade of amazement to my mind. This Savior, Christ the Lord, made Himself human flesh so that we could identify with Him, completely – from the earliest beginnings of our comprehension. He came as a newborn human, giving even a baby the chance to know Him, to know His grace, before he or she can even say His name. He identified with the creation He came to save, with the smallest of us. God’s masterful plan to seek, save, and draw many sons to glory unfolds in unfathomable wonder as a child begins to learn about a Savior through a connection with baby, similar to herself. “…From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…” is completely possible thanks to the masterful plan God.

I realized, once again, that God’s redemption is both clearly simple and incredibly astounding. His plan is so simple that from childhood, the gospel can be understood. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, confess with your mouth that you are a sinner, and believe in your heart that the resurrection is true. Children begin early to learn WHO Jesus was – once a baby just like them – and is – the risen Lord of the universe who seeks and saves. His plan is so meticulously perfect that no human could have drawn such a beautiful plan to redeem mankind. No human could have considered all the implications of Christ’s incarnation, like coming as a baby to identify with His treasured creation from the beginning. The tiny details included in the redemption plan make one marvel at the brilliance and compassion of a Creator and God.

The scholarly works written on the birth of Christ are numerous. Sacred writings are carefully preserved. The birth of Christ commenced the fulfillment of the greatest tale of love ever. It brings nations and tribes and people together to celebrate. The message of the gospel spans centuries, intelligence levels, and generational divides. Promised from the beginning chapters of the Bible, Jesus came to Earth, as our Rescuer, our promised Deliverer, to break sin’s curse, offering humanity the only freedom from death’s prison. Christmas celebrates the Gospel – the good news that Christ came to win His treasured children back from death’s grip. The account of this birth becomes the delight of babies squealing over books that show the rustic, lowly advent of our Savior, thanks to the wisdom and masterful design of the Creator and Redeemer of all. We can celebrate the advent, the birth, the coming of Christ, reveling in the knowledge that the Creator and Redeemer would come and identify with His creation of the lowest age and place.IMG_5430.JPG

%d bloggers like this: