Rock of Ages

I find it is easier to obey a Cause rather than a Person. I like to rest in its shade and safety, content in my own virtues. Each Cause gives me a whole new pile of bricks with which to build a strong tower of righteousness for myself.

Many Causes have crossed my path in my adult years. Depending on the circumstances of my life some are more compelling than others. Worship music and liturgy; gender roles; politics; schooling; grief and loss; infertility; orphan care; adoption; mercy ministry; evangelism methods; disability care; hermeneutics; biblical studies; the role of the local church; hospitality; parenting. The list goes on and on.

And, of course, all of these things are important. The Church has faced these issues and concerns ever since the dawn of time. Each one takes its place in the life of a Christian community. Each one must be reckoned with and somehow assimilated into a community’s life and ritual.

At bottom, each issue of importance is simply a means by which we obey a Person – not a Cause through which we see our righteousness. “Temporal things are but Material for Obedience” as that wonderful Oxford Don once said. When I am faced with an orphan who needs care and if I am in a position to care for that orphan then it is obedience to do so. Plain and simple.

But what I want to do is grab a Cause to myself and to see my righteousness through the lens of that Cause. I lay brick after brick, building the tower of my Cause and I feel more and more secure and safe in my standing before God. I hasten to say as often as possible, “See, Lord? Look at how faithful I have been in this issue!”

God is the One who sets the boundaries and parameters of our obedience, who carries us along various “temporal things.” He sets them and re-sets them according to His good purposes.

So what happens when he re-sets the boundaries of my obedience so far away from where I was before that my strong towers of righteousness are nowhere in sight? Then what? Where do I find my shade and my safety and my righteousness out in the middle of a desert where I have never been before?

I could set to the work of building myself yet another tower of righteousness. They are so safe and familiar and it’s scary out here alone without them. But if I chance to look back at all the towers I have built and I get a good look at the landscape left behind, then all I see are mounds of rubble, crumbled and dusty, good for neither shelter nor safety.

There is another Tower; another Shelter; another Righteousness that speaks for me. When the parameters for my daily life are re-set by the Hands of an all-knowing, all-seeing, loving Father and new material for obedience has been laid at my feet there is only one thing to do. I turn and take refuge in that Strong Tower, pierced with nails, that has been standing fixed and unmovable in this very place long before I was ever here.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

Posted in The Daily, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Not My Own

photo-191We went to Sam’s the other day to shop and get our tires rotated. Of course if you take Judah to Sam’s you must buy him a hotdog. It’s the deal. (I blame his daddy entirely for this.)

So there we were in the Sam’s cafe area, Judah’s eyes trained on the football on the television above us while he stuffed hotdog into his mouth. I was cutting up little pieces and giving them to Evangeline, grabbing a bite for myself every so often. An utterly forgettable, mundane moment in the giant superstore.

Behind us an elderly, African American woman was also eating her hotdog and it took me a few minutes to realize her eyes were fixed on us. She was watching us – to be precise, my children – quite keenly and with seeming enjoyment. When the moment presented itself she asked if they were my foster children. I said, “No, Ma’am, these are my babies.” “Your babies? You adopted them? You and your husband?” “Yes, Ma’am.” “They’re yours to keep?” “Yes, Ma’am. They’re mine to keep.” Her smile got wider as I answered her questions.

She came close to Evangeline, got level with her eyes, felt her hair and started talking to her. Told her she would grow up to be good and safe and told her she wouldn’t grow up to be a heart breaker. Told her she was beautiful. She brought her face close to mine and told me to keep on doing what I was doing and that they would be good kids. “It’s what happens in the home,” she said. I looked in her eyes and wondered what burdens she carried and what stories she held in her heart.

“God bless you,” she said. “God bless you as you raise them.” She walked over to Judah and took his hand. His eyes were still trained on the television, completely unaware of this entire conversation. “You look at me when I talk to you,” she said. He did. “God bless you,” she said.

And with that she headed toward the exit. I sat there, my fingers full of hotdog, my baby getting impatient of the shopping cart and my toddler drinking as much of the soda as he could without me noticing, and the force of all she had said washed over me.

She felt ownership of my babies. That’s what it was, plain and simple. There was no resentment that they belong to me but there was ownership there – she felt invested in them, in how I raise them, in what they will, one day, grow up to be.

This is a new feeling for me. I don’t really know how to think about it. I know that I don’t resent it. Somehow she made me feel a part of something bigger, something I can’t quite put my finger on. But I also felt somewhat perplexed – not sure where to put this new thought and new feeling.

And then during our five minute family devotions the next morning Josh asked Judah the first catechism question we’re working on with him.

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

No clue what they mean, but happy to recite the answer and with a big grin, the words pour out of his toddler mouth: “That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sin…”

Yes. That’s the narrative, from beginning to end, always and forever. I have a sense everything else will somehow fall into place. And I think that dear old lady would agree.

Posted in Adoption, The Daily, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Outpost Theology and Another Reason to Read Tolkein

Why is it that we never need much of a reason for doing something fun? A friend of mine asked to take me out for my birthday recently. I didn’t text back to say, “Wow. I’m going to need to pray about that one.” I didn’t need a reason – or, at least, I didn’t stop to think of one. I just knew it sounded fun and I wanted to go. No need to pray, no need to come up with a good reason, no need for a robust theology, for a vision of a better world.

If someone tells you they are going to “need to pray” about something you can bet they don’t want to do it. I think, after all, we are hard-wired to protect ourselves from difficult things. Hard-wired indeed for the fun and the happy and the joyous, created to smile and laugh.

And, no matter who you are or what your life is like there is already plenty of suffering at your own front door and in your own spirit and your own family. The fall has had its effect on your own life, from beginning to end and in the middle parts too. No need to go looking for extra suffering.

So when someone asks you to bring someone else’s suffering into your life, and not only that, but your own home, you better have a good reason for doing it. Why deal with suffering you have nothing to do with and probably can’t fix anyway?

God says to care for the orphan. He also says to serve the poor. Surely there’s a way of doing that without bringing all of that suffering into my home especially when I have enough of my own crap to deal with. Especially when my home should be a place of peace and nourishment for me and my children and my husband.

I am realizing that if I decide to pursue someone else’s suffering – suffering we had nothing to do with – then I need to want to do it all the way down. I need to feel it in my toes. I need to know the theology behind the action inside and out and I need to feel the force of its truth reverberating in my core.

We had two 7 year old guests stay with us last week for a few days. (If you are unfamiliar with Safe Families for Children please take a look – you won’t be sorry.) They brought their own heartbreak and tragedy and dysfunction right into our family circle. It was pure hard work – the kind of hard work that made me ask myself many times a day, “Why in the world are we doing this?”

Josh took them home Monday night and then we sat on our patio, under the stars, beverage of choice in hand, and I asked him again what he knew was coming, “Why are we doing this again?” “What if it makes no difference to these kids in the long run?” “What if we are simply enabling poor choices?” You know, all the standard questions asked by Christians ever since the Church existed.

I didn’t want him to pull out the Bible. I know the passages. I didn’t need verses read to me. I needed a vision. I needed to be pulled into a world that is bigger than me and my small life. Because he’s a preacher and because he’s my husband he knew exactly what I needed.

He painted a picture for me of the Church as an Outpost of New Creation, a base of operations that signals greater and better things, a concrete place that is safe and beautiful, full of people who actually believe that one day the world will be made new and whole. And full of people who are willing to spend themselves to share that vision with others. I guess you could call it Kingdom. I’m liking Outpost these days – it’s what my imagination needed.

And as I was mulling over these thoughts and picturing what this kind of place is supposed to look like an analogy came to mind that I’m loving more and more. It’s Rivendell. Don’t you think? Frodo’s place of safety and nourishment and rest on his terrible and heartbreaking journey. If Elrond had insisted that somehow Frodo demonstrate change as a result of staying at Rivendell the whole purpose of the place would have crumbled. He welcomed the hobbits, even though they carried darkness and evil with them; welcomed them into his own safe haven, his own place of beauty; gave them the rest that they required, strengthened them for what lay ahead and then sent them on their way. Because, in the end, only the elves could give that kind of nourishment and strength.

I guess in other words, Rivendell was the cup of cold water we have been told to give to others.

That’s my working vision these days. It’s that picture that makes me sure we will do this again and probably again and again. You know, after we have dealt with our own mess for a while.

Posted in Christian Ritual, Suffering, The Daily, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Tickle Monsters and the Narrative of Fun

ImageMy dad was brilliant at crafting a narrative for us kids that spelled fun. I’m not sure how he did it, but he managed to tease the silly and the funny and the happy out of a whole lot of mundane, tedious moments. 7 people plus one dog squeezing into a small, crummy, stinky hotel room on our annual roadtrip? A total blast! Getting caught in a rainstorm in the mountains that left us drenched and miserable? A fantastic adventure! Going to MacDonalds? Oh my word. It just didn’t get any better.

Of course as a child I had no idea why he did it or why it was so important or what it did for me in the coming years. I just loved it, plain and simple. Getting our grump glands massaged (being tickled until we couldn’t stand it) was a frequent occurrence. And often we would sit at the dinner table watching our parents laugh hysterically at each other, having absolutely no idea why they were laughing, but loving the moment anyway.

Now that I’m a mommy and know what my childrens’ laughter and smiles do to my heart I am finally understanding why my dad worked so hard to make our lives fun, even as he carried very heavy burdens and devoted himself to his calling as a pastor.

Fast forward 20 years and imagine my surprise this summer when Josh discovered that tickle monsters live in the tunnel on the way to our cabin. I had no idea! A whole new world opened up to Judah. It’s about a 30 minute drive from town to our valley. As soon as our wheels hit the Gold Camp Road we had to talk about the tickle monsters and how they lived in the tunnel and we were almost to the tunnel…almost…almost.

And then we finally arrived at the tunnel and, what do you know, every single time the tickle monsters were waiting to pounce and our car would ring with peels of laughter. Of course I was encouraging Josh to get out of there as fast as possible, not wanting the thing to collapse on us, but I was blatantly ignored.

And then we would turn onto the last stretch – just wheel marks on grass winding through the valley to the cabin and Judah would have to sit on Daddy’s lap so he could help drive. Very slow through the ranch yard where the horses lived. Stop at the gate so Mommy can open it and then close it. Careful over the bumps. Turn right towards our yard and then over the cattle guard. Our two-year-old is already such a good driver.

Image

We had some rough moments on our vacation – another ear infection, a few colds, some traumatic potty training moments, general difficulties from being away from home and out of routine. But I think the ritual of the tickle monster will stick more than the other things. Throwing rocks in the stream will form his narrative more than the disrupted sleep. Mostly because he thinks his daddy is the most fun ever.

It seems to me that holy fun will go a long way in helping our kiddos to love Jesus.

Posted in Christian Ritual, Mommying, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Absorbing the Fall

Yesterday was pretty sucky. Not a nice word, but there you have it. I took Evangeline (who has yet to be properly introduced here!) to the Social Security Office to apply for a social security number.

When we emerged from the building the first thing I saw was our Ford Fusion bearing a spectacular dent on the front passenger door. This was not a scratch folks. It was the kind of smash that prompted colorful language from the cop who came to file the police report, and then confirmed to our autobody people that we now need a whole new door. Yay.

Needless to say there was no note and no one had come inside to confess. An employee had seen a red car driving away and thought the license plate had the numbers 8-8 in it. The kind of information that will, no doubt, lead to a full scale manhunt all across the entire Twin Cities metro area. Because our law enforcement officers have nothing else to do with their time. Right.

It was interesting to me how visceral my reaction was to the obvious injustice of the act. I felt myself so wronged…so aggrieved. Anger. Frustration. The desire to speak to the first person who would hear me – someone who might do something about it! And I wasn’t the only one. The employees at the office; the passersby; the policemen. They all expressed the same sentiment on my behalf. My favorite was an elderly African American woman who was obviously quite the character. She had a head full of white cornrows and a t-shirt with a cross on it. She told me she had once backed into someone else’s car and had gone into the building to find out whose car it was so she could confess because, well, my goodness, that’s.what.you.do. She said it turned out well for her and she gave the credit to God. I saw my cue and was grateful for it. “God is good all the time,” I said. Her face lit up. “Yes, He is!” I needed to say the words and the Lord provided a witness.

Which got me to thinking of all the others in that parking lot who could have been hit if they had been parked where my car was and, at the end of the day, it’s ok that it was me. Sounds kinda stupid, but there you go. I have a theology of hit-n-run that a lot of folks don’t get to have.

One of the women who walked by my car as I was waiting for the cops to come shook her head and said, “This is ridiculous. This is why I never drive into Minneapolis.” She used that word, “ridiculous,” over and over. As if it only happens in certain parts of the city that simply can’t manage to be more civilized. I disagree. Wrong? Yes. Ridiculous? No. And certainly not confined to Minneapolis.

I had a mental image of the world as a gymnast, doing its routine, messing up royally and landing in a mess, but instead of breaking everything only a few bones get fractured because it lands on the soft cushion of the Church’s life and thought, welling up from the Spirit inside her. It seems to me that the Spirit in the Church is what keeps the world from breaking altogether. We can take the hit-n-runs; we can absorb the impact. It doesn’t surprise us and it doesn’t break us. But it does hurt a lot and sometimes the wounds leave scars.

This world is an unmitigated disaster. Everyone knows it. From the weather systems in Oklahoma to the sweat shops in Asia to babies who will not survive pregnancy to the international adoption scene the entire thing is broken. Christians aren’t surprised by that. We’re told to expect it. It has always been this way. And as long as the world has been broken the Church has been absorbing the impact. When Christians take in an orphan suffering from sin committed by someone entirely unknown to them what is that but absorbing the impact and consequence of a hit-n-run? When the church extends itself to help the poor, the disabled, the suffering what else is it saying except, “We know all about the Fall. We’ll absorb the impact of its smashing into your life and your mind and your spirit.”

And, of course, sometimes we don’t have to reach out to absorb someone else’s hit-n-run. Sometimes it means our own children and our own family. Today it meant our car, our deductible, our carefully saved pennies. But it’s the same thing. We can absorb it. It’s not going to do us damage. Not in the long term.

I remember a conversation after our first adoption possibility fell through in a terribly painful way. A friend who had experienced the same thing told me that she and her husband had decided after the fact that it was a good thing it had happened to them because if it hadn’t, it would have happened to someone else. They could take the impact and they could bear the resulting scars. I remember thinking that was a pretty amazing thing for her to say. I also remember thinking I had a lot less spiritual gumption to absorb my own hit-n-run as graciously as she did.

Maybe yesterday was just a small reminder of what life is actually like on this side of the Resurrection. Maybe I can take one more step to absorbing the impact of the Fall graciously and courageously…so someone else doesn’t have to.

Posted in Suffering, The Daily, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mother’s Day: Gumption, Entitlement and Holy Discontent

I have always felt ambiguous about Mother’s Day. It’s not on the Christian calendar and feels overly-Americanized to me. And I know from experience that although it makes a good number of mothers happy, it also pours salt into the gaping wounds of those women who have lost babies or cannot get pregnant or will never have the chance to mother. It can also be a hard and sad day for Birthmoms, a fact I am increasingly alert to.

But before you roll your eyes let me quickly add that this does not stop me from feeling perfectly entitled to being pampered and loved on and generally admired and petted on this day of the year. I am after all a mother. I work hard. I love hard. I spend myself for two little people who never seem to get enough. I am entitled.

Today the Lord had other plans in mind. With a pastor husband I wasn’t going to get much of a break anyway, but a flare up of Judah’s ear infection that has been our unwelcome guest for a few weeks landed me with my little ones in the waiting room of a walk-in clinic. Exchanging much-needed worship and fellowship for jeans, flip-flops and the prescription process. The hours following were difficult. I will spare you the details but when my babies were finally napping I found myself in tears, feeling all kinds of sorry for myself and whining to my heart, “Some Mother’s Day.”

The long and short of it is I lack the gumption I need to mother my children with courage, unconditional love and a self-forgetfulness that simply must be on the menu if I am to ever reach their hearts. I am ashamed to admit that I felt much more sorry for myself than for poor Judah who has been suffering for some time now and can’t seem to get better.

The long and short of it is I feel entitled. I feel entitled to an ordered life, obedient children, healthy children, a beautiful home, a quiet home, the opportunity to be in worship every Lord’s Day. I feel entitled to the way of life that I can picture for myself. Because, simply put, the things I desire are good things and will surely lead to righteousness.

Ahem.

The long and short of it is that if I felt more holy discontent with myself and my own heart I would be much more willing and able to seize each moment to kill my sin, to die to my own desires and to spend my strength for others.

I remember my dad talking about his own life in a sermon a while ago. He was detailing the sorrows and the joys that have marked his own journey. But, when all was said and done, his greatest sorrow was and would continue to be the sin that lived deep within, that was impossible to kill, that polluted his motives, his choices and his whole life.

I’m starting to realize how this feels. When the going gets tough I automatically feel like there must be something wrong with my circumstances. I feel lonely – then surely I don’t have what I need and must work to change it. I feel tired – then I must sleep more. I feel worn out with mothering – then I must have a break. I feel discouraged about one thing or another – then I need to find something to encourage me. I feel frustration with any number of situations – then I should avoid those circumstances. Entitlement says I really should not have to feel lonely or tired or worn out or discouraged or frustrated. (And it doesn’t help that our culture tells me that too.)

I require courage, but I prefer using the word gumption. Ever since Gone With the Wind entered my world that word has become a central part of my narrative. Perhaps because I love the sound of it. Perhaps because it feels more exotic than courage. Perhaps because I feel like our culture is not encouraging it or recognizing its value.

I require gumption to face the real, foundational, serious problem – really, the only problem I face and the only thing I ever need to fear. Gumption to face it, gumption to feel the full weight of holy discontent with myself. Gumption to feel all those things that I don’t want to feel. Gumption to press for holiness more than comfort.

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Reflections on Four Years

photo-16We haven’t been out to Hillside for months. The snow and our busy lives kept us away. But standing at the grave it is easy to open the flood gates. Suddenly four years disappears and it all happened yesterday. The darkness, the emptiness, the fear, the grief – it’s all right there – like a blanket engulfing me. I have my baby wrapped tight to my chest, impatient with my stillness. I watch my toddler’s exuberance in the big, wide open space that he has all to himself. Life – so much life – right before me, and death too. Death that left a big hole in my heart.

A mommy doesn’t get much time for reflection and that’s not a bad thing really. Life goes on in Heaven and life goes on here on earth. Reflection is done on the fly, in between the peanut butter and jelly and during the diaper changes and in the middle of a quick chat with a sweet friend on my front porch.

In my fly-by moments of reflection it has occurred to me today that in all of God’s dealings with me over the last years I have been totally, completely, utterly helpless. He is the One that has shut doors, opened others, led us down the path of Sorrow and then opened up the way to Joy. I am struck by God’s decision to give us these two and then take them away. I have no idea why He did it, but there was nothing I could do.

It’s easy to believe that a mother is the one who gives life to her children. I could not do that and so two children died. But that is a whispered lie. A mother doesn’t give life. God gives life. God takes life. God sets the lonely in families and God keeps the lonely out of families.

And God gives life to mothers who cannot nurture and sustain it. That was me and that was Judah’s birthmom and my sweet baby girl’s birthmom. There is very little difference between us three women – all of us are helpless to sustain the life that has been given us. God created these lives anyway.

photo-17The children whose voices fill my home and my head and my heart these busy, crazy days; whose little chocolate hands pull and prod; whose little spirits are never satiated but always want more. These children will one day realize what I have seen – they are helpless before their Maker. He gave them life. He brought grief into their hearts before they were born. He gave them to me – to Josh – and in that act created a new family. He did it all.

There is nothing else to do but bow and say what I am teaching Judah to say, “OK, Jesus. I love you.”

Posted in Adoption, Ebenezer and Hannah, Mommying, Suffering | 10 Comments