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

 

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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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

The Already and Not Yet of New Years

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“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

Why Christmas Lights Matter

She kept saying that she was making things beautiful. This is the first year she has actually been able to really help. Only one ornament broke. She was so excited to be a part of what we were doing.  So now, the tree is up. And lit. December is here.  And we forge ahead, into the end of the year, as new moments and memories, still unrealized, wait to join our rituals. DSC_0273

Lights, warmth, company, food, laughter, presents, memories, hope and good wishes. These are the images that march through our minds when we think about Christmas – in our non-cynical moments.  These are the feelings we crave and hope for each year. And these are also why holiday seasons are hard when our memories are not all happy, when health has broken down, when loss is a gaping hole in our hearts, when our expectations are violated, leaving us sad and empty.

It’s fairly easy to remember Christmastime as a pleasant part of childhood. But as we age and life breaks on us like waves on the sand, it can be harder to conjure the feelings of hope and joy that are scrawled across cards and commercials. Conflicted feelings of happiness and anxiety, hope and fear fight and battle for the seat of honor at our table.

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But why, despite loss, life, and harsh reality’s glaring presence, are we still drawn to the Christmas season?

Because in the darkest season on Earth, light came. Because in our sickness,  a physician who heals wholly, completely, came. Because on the coldest night, there is warmth for the heart. In the middle of isolation, there is acceptance. In our loneliness, we are made the friends of the eternal God.

Because in our losses, a Father suffers with us, because He too, once gave and lost  – so that we could be His children. Because with our isolation, Christ remembers that a baby born in a manger was left alone, to die under our sin, so that we would be free from the darkness, the cold, the emptiness, the violated expectations in our lives.

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The expectation of future joy and peace replace the holes left by the need of grace and redemption.  And, while some see the activity of the Christmas season as superfluous, we must see it as the mirror of a beautiful redemption.

We make beauty around us because our Creator is beauty and His creation cannot resist following His lead.  In our deepest, farthest, almost unknown places of our souls, we crave everything that Christmas brings. We crave purpose and meaning and belonging. Those are gifts found only through Christ.

We watch the brilliant Christmas lights as they shine into the dark wintery nights.  We crave light.  We crave beautiful light that will open our hearts and make us know what we want and who we are meant to be.  We long for our Creator and Father, our Redeemer.

DSC_0284As the trees go up and the decorations multiply and the music cheerfully lilts, find the beauty of Christ in the shimmering and the sparkling.  Watch the lights shine across miles of shops and homes and landscapes and take comfort that no matter what memories of Christmas surround you and no matter what dread encloses you, there is peace from the Prince, promised and complete, propelling us through the cold darkness, to a warm Spring, to resurrection power and glory.