When All Is Made New

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Spires

 

Not to belabor children’s books, but I read the account of Heaven in “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones to my daughter recently.

“I see a sparkling city shimmering in the sky glittering, glowing-coming down! From Heaven… and from the sky… Heaven is coming down to earth! God’s city is beautiful. Walls of topaz, jasper, sapphire.  Wide streets paved with gold.  Gleaming pearl gates that are never locked shut.  Where is the sun? Where is the moon? They aren’t needed anymore.  GOD IS ALL THE LIGHT PEOPLE NEED. No more darkness! No more night! And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away.  Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone.  Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!’And then a deep, beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, “Look! I am making everything new!” (pp. 346-7)

As I read, the happiness came.  I was happy to read this particular book myself, hearing the familiar words and message in a fresh way. It made me happy to read such beautiful, descriptive language about Heaven to my daughter. I can tell her there is a happily ever after for the children of God. In simple but rich words, I can explain that we anticipate a time when everything will be made new.

This description of Heaven is our joyful hope.  The good intentioned defenses of doctrine, the glittering personalities in churches and beyond, the out of control Twitter feeds, the strivings, the evening news, the lost friendships, the frustrating weeks, the job promotion, the platform building, the intellectual prowess, the creative achievements, the human accomplishment on Earth is not where our final hope is rooted.  These are the things in which we dabble because God is honored through our participation in the culture of our present world. But no present city can bring the joy that this city will hold.

The hope that is in us is our future hope. The reason for our hope is that we are children of God by His love and through the work of the cross.  We are at peace with God through the blood of Christ- and one day faith will be sight. The culminating hope of Heaven is so beautifully described in these words, paraphrased for a child to understand and for an adult to treasure. The love of God anchors us and this future hope propels us.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

 

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In Defense of Fairy Tales

It is Children’s Book Week and since I already talked about books earlier in the week, I thought I’d stay on the path.

My three year old loves stories of princesses and princes, almost a little more than I like. There are numerous articles encouraging parents to discourage the princess effect and princess adoration in their daughters. I occasionally wonder if I’ve ruined any chance she has at high self esteem, self confidence apart from a man, and so forth, already- at three years of age. Then I remember the sovereignty of God rules our lives, not the advice of child psychologists and writers. So I look for balance where I can, but I’ve been surprised to find incredible themes of truth paralleled in her princess stories.

Take the story of Beauty and the Beast. One night, while imagining ourselves into the Beauty and the Beast world, she stopped playing and started telling me about the story. Suddenly, she looked up and said, “Belle took her daddy’s place in the Beast’s cage, Mommy.” I stopped and said, “Yes, she did. Because she loved him.” Without reacting I casually said, “That is like the way Jesus took our place and died on the cross for our sin. Because He loved us so much.” She looked at me seriously, quietly thinking thoughts that I couldn’t read. I plowed ahead, “And Belle learned to love the Beast, just like he was, even though he was ugly and scary.”

 

I sat there on the bed with her, considering how clearly Belle loves like Christ. She takes the place of her beloved father. He is old, he will die anyway, but a young, intelligent woman gives up her life so that her father can go free. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13   Then she loves the Beast because she sees beyond his gritty exterior and finds value beyond his monstrous persona. She believes there is something worth loving and saving there, just as Christ saw us. In the end of course, the father is saved, the Beast is transformed to a handsome prince, and love wins.

The other popular fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, even the more recent adaptation of Frozen, have similar elements. There is always a character(s) in need. There is always a a character who saves. There is a character imprisoned and there is a character who sets free. There is a character who is deceived by evil. There is a character who undoes the effects of deception. There is a rescue, a fulfilled hope, and a happily ever after….Just as there is a needy people living on Earth and a loving God who meets our ultimate need thru the Cross. And, He will one day fulfill our hope, providing us with a happily ever after where Christ and His redeemed people will be united for all time.

 

Fairy tales linger in our broken world of dark art and literature. Deep down we long to hear about the hero and the rescued because we are aware of our own neediness. We crave the “happily ever after” because we long for the day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

 

I love that my daughter’s “comprehensive” knowledge of fairy tales has made the story of God’s love for us and Christ’s work of redemption easy to connect for her. I do not want her hope to be in men, but I do want her to hope in the man, Christ Jesus. PThe wonderful thing about the story of redemption is that it does not hide. It is not just a discussion for Sunday dinner. In our coming and going, we see themes of the gospel in something as simple as story about a princess and a monster. If the reality of Christ’s work on the cross propels us through each day, we will easily recognize how to share this beautiful redemption with our children.

*congratulations to Carol, winner of our Made For More giveaway!

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the eliana child

Her name is not Eliana, but my second daughter’s existence carries the meaning of Eliana to me. “God has answered my prayer.”

I’m this proud person who loves to think I don’t doubt God. I like to think that I learned to trust God years ago and have never swerved from that trust. But in the middle of this firmly rooted jargon and head knowledge, I occasionally find myself like Eve, reaching out for that shiny piece of fruit. I find myself like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, forgetful of that giant salvation act from slavery in Egypt. I forget that God has given manna, the ordinary everyday provision of my basic needs, without fail. I forget that, here and there, I am given quail instead of manna, delicacies that I don’t need, but want, because He delights in giving good things to His children. I’m the apostles cloistered away in an upper room, fearful that God won’t remember to take care of me as He promised. I doubt God’s goodness. 

And then, God swoops in, reminding me that he overlooks no detail. No hope of my heart is unknown to Him. As a parent with a child, He does not just care that I am part of His family, He delights in giving good to me. 
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I was an only child. There was nothing wrong with being an only child.  It had, in fact, several advantages over having siblings and I had a great childhood. It was the perfect path for me. But from the time I was a child, I determined that if I ever did have children, I would find a way to have at least two. I knew God could have different plans, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. 

My oldest daughter was born eight weeks early at 3 lbs, 6 oz. I had a rapid onset of severe preeclampsia, which crossed over to HELLP Syndrome
syndrome. The doctors told me there was a 50% chance it could happen again.

I tried not to think about the possibility that I might have an only child. I focused on adjusting to life with a baby. I watched God’s faithfulness to us through difficult circumstances and rejoiced. I did not want to risk my life or the life of another baby irresponsibly.  I wanted a second child, but I feared this could be God’s hard way of teaching me to be content. 

Why I ever try to read God’s mind is beyond me, because I’m usually wrong. Two years later, I was completely surprised, excited, and terrified when I found out I was having another baby. I worried about having another preemie, an earlier, not as healthy baby. I held my breath from 6 weeks to the 32 week mark, the point when my older daughter had been born. I worried something would go wrong with this birth, with this baby’s health. 

What I had to learn, again, is that God doesn’t sadistically laugh at us from Heaven as He puppeteers our lives.  He wants to make us happy- like we want to make our own children happy.  He sometimes uses dark providences to draw His beloved children to Him, to help us depend on Him. Suffering exists because of the Fall. But He came to redeem and give life. The lie that God does not want us to be happy has been craftily used for generations to play out the enmity between God and Satan. 

God hears us when we pray- and when we do not. God knows the desires of our hearts. He created and loves us and knows us better than we know our own selves or our own children. The night before I was full term (37 weeks), I sat in the hospital ER and my tests showed hints of preeclampsia surfacing. That night, my healthy beautiful second baby girl was born at 5 lbs, 12 oz.  No major complications occurred; there was no time spent in NICU rooms.

We forget something in our worrying and stewing and chasing after dreams.  A Father who would sacrifice His son in an intricate redemption plan – to rescue our lives and souls- cannot possibly have our demise in His heart. There is only goodness and love in the Father’s heart. 

God is not a magic genie, granting our wishes as we squint and rub a lantern. But, God hears us, just as I hear my children speak. Just as I know what they love and want. He listens and answers. He did not have to give me a second baby, but He graciously did. He knew we had more to learn from adding a person to our family. He has unique plans for each of us and every family is different. But no matter the situation, be assured that God is loving and good. He does want us to be happy, to dwell in His grace, to find our peace and fulfillment in His arms. 

My Eliana child will be a year old this week. I watch her, trying to take steps on her own. I see God’s gracious character personified. I see the result of His listening and answering. I look forward to recounting to her one day soon, the goodness of God in her very own existence. 

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

* Make sure to stop by tomorrow for a great book review, author interview, and… a GIVEAWAY!

 

 

 

 

Who Made Heaven and Earth

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I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121:1-2, 7-8

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An Ever Fixed Mark

I sat on a swing, holding my youngest daughter, watching the lines of trees, full of flowers, white veils, pink shrouds, coloring the world with swarms of blossoms. The green leaves are in their youngest stage, with pale green – almost yellow – canopies just covering the bare branches like a light, spring sweater.  Daffodils and forsythia, azaleas and cherry blossoms are splattered brilliantly across the newly green grass and freshly mulched gardens.  The world feels young again. For the moment.

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And I realized as I swung, back and forth, feeling the breeze and listening to the delighted squeals emitted by my swinging partner, that this is the last spring I will hold a baby.  A real, by definition, baby, who does not yet say connected words or walk for more than two steps at a time.  A baby who is squishy and cuddly, who waves haphazardly at me and grins in delight when I appear around a corner.  A baby who still needs me for most items relating to survival.  Last Spring, I was impatiently waiting for this baby to make her appearance.  This Spring I listen to her giggle.  The reality is that I will never have another baby to hold like this – unless of course, one appears on my doorstep, abandoned, which I think only happens in books.  There are a number of reasons why this is the right decision for our family.   But, there is something slightly sad and intensely powerful about holding a baby close and recognizing that life flits by too quickly, punctuated by seasons and human age categories.

 

I watch her. I feel like her first year has slipped like sand through my fingers in a flurry of life changes, job transitions, and schedule adjustments. I watch this tiny baby start moving forward with shaky steps and I wonder about her life. I wonder about the plan God has for her days.  Some people are waiting to meet babies.  I know that some people long for new babies.  Other mourn their babies.  Some worry about their babies, with good reason. Some people are saying goodbye.  Our lives change, constantly, each day different from the one before.

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Psalm 139 talks about how God searches out our paths and knows our ways before we ever speak a word.  He is behind and before, all around us, the beginning and the end.  I love verse 6.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”  It makes our human heads hurt when we think that God has gone before us, and yet knows our ends and all the in betweens. He knows all the seasons, the times, the joys, the tears. He is the giver of life –  the one who wipes aways tears, through the giving of His life.  We cannot understand this plan to give us eternal life, to set love on us, to give His life to ruin death.  The knowing of this knowledge is too wonderful.

When I think about the season here now, I am happy.  I wonder what other seasons will hold. Perhaps they will be happy ones.  Perhaps they hold sadness.  But here is what I know.  There was a cross.  There was a sacrifice.  God had unfathomable love  to rescue us. He had unimaginable ability to know the beginning from the end, because He is the beginning and the end.  Shakespeare talks about love being an “ever fixed mark… that looks on tempests and is never shaken,” in Sonnet 116.  This can be true of human love, but ultimately this is the Cross. An ever fixed mark.  God is not shaken by our season changes.  He has always known about them.

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John Donne writes the last stanza of A Valediction Forbidding Mourning 

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
   Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.
The imagery is of a geometry compass.  The middle stays, ever fixed and holds the rest of the instrument in place.  Again, humans can only mirror love found in God.  “Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.”  The beginning and the end meet – in geometry, in the Cross, in God’s love, in our lives.
We might be wildly happy or soul crushingly sad.  We may have constant mental stimulation or be living in isolation.  Spring flowers may gather in bowers around our lives or growing briars may push on our hearts. The Cross remains an ever fixed mark that gives us a place to fall and rest. This knowledge keeps the wonder in every season of our lives.

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being exceptional in an (amy) glass world

DSC_0187Last week’s post was precipitated by the fact that I was feeling a little overwhelmed, grappling with the expectations of working for myself, that I had created for myself. 
That is, specifically, the expectations of being a self-employed business owner -musician, artist, and teacher who must constantly find new business leads, new creative ideas, and new ways of explaining musical concepts to people ages 4-72, in addition to keeping business records, returning phone calls, maintaining a cost effective web/social media presence, and staying organized sane.

This week I have the opposite thoughts going on in my head. The thoughts about the expectations I had about being a stay at home mom and a stay at home mom who worked. Then there’s this insecure female out there blowing up the internet with her bombastic, banal rant against women who only want to stay home.

“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.” Amy Glass

I worked for one of her kind, not that long ago. The kind of woman who hated men, hated being held back by anything, and had the ambition of an elephant stampede across the Sahara. She loved me until I came back from maternity leave with my first child. Then the dynamics changed. When I finally had to tell her I was having a second child, she asked me if “this one was planned?” and then when I had a minor complication at 33 weeks, her question was, “are you going to have your tubes tied after this one?” I kept a post-it note at my desk with a number on it and every week the number got lower. It was the number of weeks until my maternity leave began and I could be free forever of the hateful environment known as my office.

The day came when I finally got to stay home. And I got to start my own business and open a piano studio, which some would still refuse to call a real job, but I can let you know it is. My expectations as a mom were that I would always be organized. I would never be late or rushed again. The laundry would always be clean and folded. Groceries would float into the house and place themselves on the shelf. Dinner would always be ready at a perfect time and temperature. I would write prolifically. I would increase my daughter’s vocabulary 600% from all the reading and literacy games we would do together. There would beautifully crafted toddler structures gleaned from Pinterest created daily. My daughter would be regularly well behaved perfect. I would finally have the ability to balance what I HAD to do with what I WANTED to do.

Twice in the last week, I have made soft boiled eggs and buttered toast. And twice in the last week, I have eaten them stone cold, because promptly when I swiped the last ripple of salted butter over the warm toast, my eight month old managed to spread excrement throughout her diaper and onto her clothing, which requires she have a diaper change, a clothing change, bath, re-diapering, redressing, washing out of soiled clothing, all while said child is uncomfortable and fussing. My coffee is often left cold. I have to clean up 16 messes before I can put cream into the black coffee that helps my brain function (kids or no kids), I answer 42 questions and explain 26 things while I stir honey into the once hot substance. The organization skills and prioritizing ability that I prided myself on is somewhat subpar these days. The laundry is usually clean and yet unfolded. The house is clean, but as soon as I vacuum, there are crumbs on the floor. Buying groceries (after deciding which ingredients are needed for meals,with minimal help from caffeine), hauling them to the car, from the car to the house and then onto the shelves while pushing a 25+ pound infant carrier with a baby and wrangling a walking three year old is a feat that most (male) doctors I’ve come in contact with couldn’t attempt.

And those are just the silly everyday things that I did anyway while I worked in an office. The really interesting parts are when I have to remember how to imagine being a princess, a dragon, a monster, a pirate, a horse so that I can play along with a three year old who is always off on an adventure in my living room. It’s a new challenge to plan the Pinteresting crafts only to be met with three -year old whims of opposition and refusal to participate. Most challenging is probably the near insurmountable task of reading a mind to understand what is happening in a little developing brain, to keep from hurting her feelings, squelching her creativity, to know what will interest her, to keep her curiosity satisfied, while, most importantly, teaching her to obey for her own safety, to be polite, to be kind, to be generous…to be, oh, exceptional!

Playing with and taking hygienic care of and loving others WHILE you try to get something, anything, done is where true exceptionality comes in. It is not exceptional to just work. It is not exceptional to go on a hiking backpack trip through Asia. Virtually anyone can do those things. But putting your work and to do list and life plan on pause or hold until nap time, or bed time, or until later in life, to live for others, ultimately – that is exceptional.

I know stay at home moms who accomplish more than I can fathom, while being dressed, with their hair done. I know working moms who accomplish so little it is pitiable, and their hair is in serious need of help. I know stay at home moms who are pathetic and working moms who are superwomen. I know women who have never wiped a nose or backside other than their own, but who live for others in ways far superior to anything I’ve ever done. I know women who have cheerfully worked jobs and thrown themselves fully into others’ lives because they never conformed to Glass’s “societal conventions” and married or could never hold their own children in their arms for one reason or another.

Being a “stay at home” working mother is far more chaotic and less Pinteresty than I would like. Once, maybe twice, I’ve thought about that steaming cup of coffee that I consumed every morning at a quiet desk while organizing my thoughts and lists for the day. And then, I look over across the floor (where I am sitting with my laptop) and I know I have to teach piano lessons this evening and I would like another cup of coffee, and I have a project to finish for my piano studio and three more on the list, but a little thing with bright eyes comes rolling toward me and a three year old is telling me that the big bad wolf is going to get me and I laugh. Life is so interesting and entertaining and absolutely wonderful with two little people and a job I like doing, even without proper caffeination. And the bonus is that there are no elephant stampedes occurring in my house while the elephants prey on potentially weaker species.

BUT, if there is one thing I can say about the last few months, it is that I have never felt so free to be exceptional in the last eight years. I have never had the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be as exceptional as I wanted to be. I can finally follow my ambitions as aggressively as I care to expend energy. I have no insecure and angry feminist ranting over my head on a daily basis. I am surrounded with people who love and support me. I am free to treat others like HUMANS, not numbers, which is what mothers do. We help humanity survive. Just like doctors. Just like scientists who discover cures. Just like Steve Jobs. (Ok, that example might be subjective for some of you). Mothers, fathers, people, are all here to help others, to live for others. Without people who live for others, there would be no people. That is what Ms. Glass ultimately doesn’t understand. It does not matter if you choose to wipe a backside, or study saliva swabs to find disease cures, we all eventually have to devote some part of our lives to living for others. The real cliché of society’s convention is to give into a feminist’s self-absorbed world rather than to live for someone beyond me. We have lost our way, ignoring that Christ gave His life for others. God gave His son for others.  We are offered salvation because God’s redemption involved sacrifice.

The reality is that all humans are exceptional. Some are strong and some are weak. But we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, we are all exceptional. Only those who do not believe this have to find some skewed standard by which to measure exceptionality.

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