Tuesday, December 24, 2013
I see this hashtag a lot: #winning. Sometimes it accompanies a picture of a chocolate drizzled eclair cake, other times a bottle of unpasteurized green juice. Sometimes I see with an accomplishment: graduating, excellent latte art, a workout. Other times, it's a sarcastic celebration of spilled food or injury or a stupid comment. Whether used seriously or not, the idea of "winning" suggests a prize or an end and its attachment to anything reveals the implied "finish line". We "win" when we enjoy good gifts or make it to the top or get stronger and bigger or get fitter and skinnier or maintain neatness and health and wholeness and intelligence. We "win" when we don't screw up and we get everything right, all our t's crossed and i's dotted.
The new year is coming soon and people, myself included, are making their resolutions. Instead of resolutions, I make a list of goals. I'm a stay-at-home mom so no one hands me progress reports or gives me milestones to achieve. I set them myself and it helps me remember what is important to me and what I want to accomplish with my life. The goals I set determine my actions. I want to read my Bible every day, so I need to get up early. I want to clean up our food choices, so I need to plan my grocery trips strategically. I want to learn sign language, so I need to use nap time to my advantage. I set my sights on what I want and I gear my actions toward that end.
We can't know how to do life until we know what we're shooting for, until we know the end game and our goal and our why. We can't figure out our actions, our game plan, set eyes on our target, until we see the finish line and know what we're shooting for. What is real "winning"? What is the real prize, end, finish line? It is exceeding simple and complicated and altogether Christmas: man with God.
It started out that way, right? Adam and Eve, walking with God, talking with Him. No barriers of shame or fear. No anger or confusion. No one had to take a sick day or make custody arrangements. Just God and His children and love and joy. But then we broke it. Satan broke it. And now we're afraid and pissed off and trying to figure it out. We are orphaned from our Father and we hate Him but also want Him back and that makes us so terribly mad. Man with God -- we had that and we had it easy, but we broke it and all of history has been God moving to get that back.
The plan was so big and took thousands of years, but when it came, it came small. It came in the painful, bloody way we all come. It cried and needed diaper changes and fed from its mother's breast. The plan was a person, is a Person, will always be that Person. The plan was man with God, so with God, that God was man. One and the same, inhabiting the body, being the body. Feeling and hurting and thinking and walking on dusty roads with dirty feet, the same dirt He once used to form the men He walked amongst. The goal is so man with God that God became man to fulfill it.
And men die. We can spend our lives building our towers to God, trying to be with Him, but once your eighty years pass, you die and your tower crumbles. Men die, and God made man -- He died. The squirming, bloody, crying nursling hung and died, obediently bleeding as He cried out to His Father. But then He was alive. Christmas comes and He is born and praise the Lord, there is an Easter! Because man with God did not end with God as man. God as man was just the beginning and because He lives, we can once again achieve man with God.
I will be very happy if this is the year I finally start getting up early to exercise and read the Word. I will be very happy if this is the year that I finally create our household "binder" and read books with my husband and stick to a budget and a cleaning schedule. That would be great and not just because it means I'll get to check off all the little boxes on my chart. But I have only one goal this year (and every year): man with God. Because what once was and then broke was repaired again by a little baby. And the whole end of this is still man with God, me with my Father, you with your Father -- no anger or confusion or pain or brokenness. We have to know this is where we are going if we will ever figure out how to get there.
The miracle of the truth lives in how we get there. We set our eyes on man with God and we do not get there through our wealth or our intelligence or our health or our strong work ethic. We do not get there by crossing our t's and dotting our i's or being bigger or being smaller. We do not get there through a "what" but through a "who". Man with God is achieved by the God as man whom we serve. The baby born is our bridge to the Father and all we do is walk across. We don't have to walk in the straightest of lines. We don't have to race to be first. We don't really even have to walk there because it is God who delivers us home. If the end of it all is man with God, only one way will deliver and that way is Jesus.
#Winning on earth is a lot of things, and trust me, I love a good eclair cake like the rest of y'all. But #winning doesn't end here. Nothing ends here. And the end we're aiming for is higher, bigger, more than all we see here. If we're going to do this right, we have to set our sights right. If we're going to run the right race, we have to set our eyes on the right finish line. The finish line is a reconciliation, a beautiful adoptive homecoming when a Father welcomes His babies home, and everything, every day should move us in that direction. Our lockstep with Jesus, our service to Him, our shining light reflection of His love and His life carries us to where we need to go. We go on a walk in a garden, leave through the gate, visit a baby in a barn, watch a man die on a tree. And we sit and weep outside his tomb until the angel says, "Do not be afraid... for he has risen... Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead."
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Baby girl, today you are six months young! Your half-birthday, your unbirthday, your mid-way through your very first year day. We will celebrate today with a cookie cake that you cannot eat but that your brother will thoroughly enjoy. We will celebrate your birth and your life and your health, but most of all we will celebrate one nearly unbelievable were it not for what we've seen truth: God answers prayer.
Baby girl, I am not the one to explain to you the theology of how this prayer thing works. How an all-powerful, sovereign God who formed the stars, spoke them, and knows the depths of the oceans, commands us to pray, to offer up our petitions to Him, and promises to listen. How Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you" and how that matches up with "the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." But I know that the Word says, "Pray without ceasing" and I know that here we are, December come, and God answers prayer.
Baby girl, months and months and months ago, I prayed for this day. I sat with you while you slept and you held my finger and I prayed, wept, for December. Please, Lord, carry us through. Please, Lord, let us see Christmas. Please, Lord, let December come, let all this pass, and let my baby girl still be. I prayed for platelets and pounds and antivirals and appetites. I prayed for nurses and doctors and rest and tests. I prayed for your brother and your ears and your brain and your father. But mostly, most of all, I prayed for December.
Baby girl, today we celebrate a baby unplanned. We were not expecting you, but there you were. (Your mommy even said to your daddy, "Well, this sure is a God thing!" Silly mommy, right? Everything is a God thing.) But you came, and you grew, and I carried you. Then you came and you suffered and we prayed. And sometimes, I could feel the hand of God turn to me, palm out, and say, "Wait, child. Wait while I work." And sometimes I could feel the blessings of God, victories practically raining down on us, and I could see the face of God, beaming with joy, so pleased with His creation. And though we did not plan for you and though when you came, you suffered, now we rejoice. We rejoice for your health. We rejoice for every last ounce you gain. We rejoice that you finally feel well, have room to grow, to become the sweet-souled girl who God knit together in my womb.
Baby girl, we rejoice in all these things, but most of all we rejoice because God answers prayer. Because in June, I prayed for December and here we are. Here we are in December and in ten short days, we will celebrate a baby unplanned (at least to His mother). We will celebrate a baby, given to the world, who came... and suffered. Who bled while His Father held out His hand and said, "Wait, Son. Wait while I work." Who waited to His death. In ten short days, we will celebrate and rejoice with that same baby, grown to a man, who after death, rose again. He lived again and He walked again and He spoke again. And when He spoke, He said, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." We celebrate this baby because the Word tells us that right now, in this moment, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes for us. Intercedes. He intervenes, mediates, serves as our go-between, between us and the Father.
Baby girl, God heard each and every one of my prayers for you because of Jesus. Jesus heard my cries, my pleas for your life, and He turned to the Father and appealed for them all. Obedient to God, He sat to His right and delivered my pleas. He prayed with me and waited with me and wept with me and encouraged me. He held my teary face in His hands and hushed, "Ask and it will be given to you." He reminded me in the scariest of times that He was with me, with you, always. We rejoice for your health and your life because we rejoice in Jesus' birth. We rejoice in His birth and His life and His death because all of that made possible His resurrection to new life. All of that made possible His place by the Father, as the One to hear our prayers and hand them to God. In every answered prayer is a baby in a manger, a man on the cross, a Son shining in the glory of His Father. In every answered prayer is the goodness of God, His mercy, and His love.
Baby girl, your life, all six months of it, by usual standards, has been quite difficult. And I'm not here to tell you that all your troubles are behind you, that life won't throw you any more curveballs. Because that is not the promise in the Word. That is not what God says He will give. But I am here to tell you that despite all the difficulties, all the troubles, all the odds that might stand against you... God answers prayer. I will say it again: God. Answers. Prayer. It is not an illusion of your mind, a grasping at straws, an attempt to form conclusions out of confusing situations. It is a truth and a plan and a reality far greater than what we can see. When the fog rolls in and the road clouds out and you get turned around, not sure you're going the right way or are even on the road at all, remember the promise. Remember the promise of December come. Remember the promise of a baby born. Remember the promise of a Father who hears, even when we can't. Remember the promise of a Love that endured all, that you might endure all. Remember the One who waits for you to call and who will answer when you do.
Baby girl, your life paints a picture of faithfulness. Every celebration of you shoots right up to Heaven. Every celebration of you shines light in the darkest, scariest places. You have seen those places and God has been faithful to show you light. In Jesus is life, and the life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The darkness did not overcome you, nor will it ever, because pleading for you, petitioning for you, going to God for you is One, December come, who is for you. And when He is for you, nothing can be against you. Happy six months, bitty. And praise God for them all!
Thursday, December 12, 2013
You know the names you call yourself inside your head. You are a whore. You are a failure. You are an addict. You are stupid. You are lazy. You are obsessive. You are a liar. You are greedy. You are a thief. Maybe you feel ashamed of these names. You feel dirty or vulnerable, weak, out of control. Maybe you are proud of your name, like it's an accomplishment. You are proud of your sexual prowess or your ability to fool people with your words or how you can slick that handbag past the store clerk. You are proud of how drunk you can be without anyone knowing. Maybe you picture your stacks and stacks of cash, visualize yourself rolling in them like Scrooge McDuck, and take pride in how you've provided for yourself, protected your future.
We all have our name. You're thinking about it right now. Whether you're ashamed of it or proud of it, you know what it is. It's not the first thing you tell people about yourself, often times the last. It's what characters in books or movies or TV shows reveal about themselves that makes you feel squirmy inside, like they should have just kept it quiet, but also what you secretly enjoy knowing. Like their Achilles heel or the soft spot that makes them human. It's why PostSecret is so popular. We want to know the dirty ugly parts in others that reminds us we aren't alone in our dirty uglies, even if they're different things.
I read the other day about Abraham. His name originally was Abram, but God chose to change his name. "No longer shall you be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations." (Genesis 17:5) Several times in the Bible, God changed people's names. Abram to Abraham, Jacob ("deceiver") to Israel ("he strives with God"), Simon to Peter ("rock"). Each time, God changed their names to indicate a future state. When God named Abram "father of a multitude", Abram's wife was barren. Father of a multitude? How? His wife couldn't conceive. When Jacob became "he strives with God", he was on the run. When Simon became a "rock", he still had yet to deny Christ, hardly a sign of someone strong and stable. But eventually, God blessed Sarah with a baby and Abraham became a father. Eventually, God used Jacob in the line of generations leading to Jesus. Eventually, Peter would become the mouthpiece of Jesus's ministry, spreading the Gospel around the world. These men weren't fathers of multitudes or striving with God or rocks when their names were changed. These men would become who God said they were.
If you are a Christian, God has given you a new name. "Christian" means little Christ, means "like Jesus". The Word says you are a conqueror, a child of God, an heir with Christ, a new man. "You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:19-20) You have a new name, Christian. Your name might have been slut. It might have been liar or thief or adulterer or murderer. Whatever it was, it isn't anymore. And your new name? It might wear a little big, like you don't quite fit it and you aren't really sure of it. Who is sure of it? God. He gave it to you and not because He felt bad for you and wanted to give you a self-esteem boost. He gave it to you because He will make it fit, He will make it true, and of that, you can be sure.
What we call ourselves matters. The more we replay the names we give ourselves, beat them into our minds, the more true they seem to us. We often become who we say we are. Our own name for ourselves means much more to us than others' names for us because we are the ones living in our own minds. We know the real truth, despite what others may see or say. But sometimes we get the truth wrong. Sometimes what we think we know isn't at all what is. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) You are a new creation, right now. The "old"? The not-nice, ugly-awful? It's dead. It may not feel like it. It may not look like it. You may not believe it which is why you need to hear it.
For my children more than for myself, I need to hear this. If I am a mom who constantly beats herself up, my children will learn from me and beat themselves up. If they hear from me all their faults, they will live in that pocket, preach that ugly to themselves. For my daughter, this is even scarier. She faces a future of hearing loss and possibly brain damage. She faces taunts from children who will mock her for being deaf or having strange hearing aids. You know all the names they will call her if she is developmentally delayed and to think of it, to think of a sweet little child being called those names, it makes your stomach hurt. And so for her sake, for her sake, I need my life to preach "Redeemed". I need my life to preach "Loved". I need my life to preach "Precious Child" and "Citizen with Saints" and "New Creation". I need to picture myself not as broken and dirty and discarded, but as polished and clean and cherished. I need to know that I am who God says I am and not what I say I am or what anyone else says I am. My daughter needs to know this too.
As ugly as those names others might call my girl is as ugly as those names you call yourself. As sick as those words make you feel, to think of them being hurled at her, is as sick as it should make you feel to beat yourself up. You aren't those ugly words any more than she is. You aren't, not because you aren't, but because God says you aren't. The God who spoke and there was light says, "Child" and so you are. Says "New" and so you are. Says "Clean" and so you are. Live in that pocket, preach that beauty, become that truth. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death... If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:1-2, 10-11)
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Occasionally, I find myself in a funk. I decide that my life is not what I want it to be, and I get all mopey and unfun. Usually it is sparked by an especially messy day around the house or cooler weather that keeps us inside far more than is healthy for our minds or just one of those days when I seem to drop everything, lose everything, forget everything. Sometimes, it seems to come out of nowhere, but every time, it makes me question myself. I start to think things like I'm too smart to spend my days wiping poo and repeating a two-year-old. Or, Every single thing I accomplish today I'll have to do again in a few hours or a few days. What is the point? Or, I can't see what any of this is doing for me. Or my favorite, I haven't done one single thing today that was just for me or that I even enjoyed.
I flop around for a while (sometimes a few days), feeling sorry for my poor, unchallenged, unfulfilled self until it occurs to me to take action. What do you want, Aleah? That's my next question, the money question. What do I want? What are all my options? Which of them will make my heart sing? What will fix me and make me feel whole and happy? What will make this funk go away and fulfill me so well that I will never feel it again?
Every time I go through this there are a few things happening. The first is that I am fixated, stuck on the "seen". I stare at the week-old dishes and the tumbleweed of dog hair and the spit-up soaked burp cloths and the muddy dog prints on my just-mopped floor. I stare at the pile of books and magazines I haven't read and the diploma in my closet and the unused exercise equipment and the unsorted, loose photographs. All I hear is "A, B, C, D" and "can you tell me how to get" and "twinkle, twinkle". All I smell is stinky trash and lingering poo and regurgitated corn-based formula and whatever random object my two-year-old wants me to smell. I'm stuck in my sensory body and I'm stuck in what I can touch, taste, smell, feel, see.
I'm also projecting my inside onto the outside. I'm pointing to the clothes I wear and saying, "These don't fit me right." And I'm pointing to my children and saying, "You drive me bonkers." And I'm pointing at my husband, saying, "You don't fulfill me." And I'm pointing at my every day, do-it-all-over-again life and saying, "You make me hate myself." But none of these things are true. I have clothes that fit. My children are people, needy little people, but that isn't a bad thing and it isn't what's really bothering me. And my husband is loving and caring and consistently seeks to bless me and wash me in the water of the Word. And a lot of the time, I go about my Sisyphean life with a whistle on my lips and a laugh and a tickle ready to engage. I'm pointing at the trappings and yelling at them like they're all wrong when what's really wrong is my heart.
I could change everything tomorrow. I could find a job, put my kids in day care or at a babysitter's, start waking up early to exercise, take a long lunch hour to read books and get my nails done, use my extra income to hire a house cleaner, buy all the Baby Einstein DVDs to teach my kids and sing to them. I'd still have to deal with the occasional poo and bed time and the dogs, but at least a lot of the problems would be fixed. I'd be all happy again and then my marriage would soar and I would love my kids more and the hills would be alive with the sound of music. Can't you see it? Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it so much better than this?
Until 2 pm rolls around and I start to ache because I haven't seen my little boy all day and I've missed out on at least ten kisses. Until I can't bear to wake up early to exercise because I hate the morning. Until I get bored with books and just want to sing along to Sesame Street. Until I fire the house cleaner because she loads my dishes wrong. Until my kids don't care about learning letters with Mommy and just want to watch TV. Until I start to hate my job and think, Man, I really had it good when I stayed at home. Why did I change everything?
This isn't a post about staying at home versus working. This isn't a post about how letting your kids watch educational DVDs is bad or having a house cleaner makes you lazy or how getting up early will make you a new person. It's not about any of those things which is exactly the point. It's not about those things. Life... Life is not about those things. It's not about what you do. It's not about what you do every single day. It's about who you are. Where you rest. Why you breathe.
At the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus paints this little picture, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:24-27) When I want to throw in the towel, start my life over, change everything, I'm letting my house be washed away in the flood. My sandy foundation -- the one based on my feelings and my direction for my life, my master plan -- can't support the weight of life, of all my questions and desires and longings and needs. The support I long for, the foundation that can hold the weight of life, that will build something permanent in a world that is wasting away, that support is found in Christ.
I can focus on the piles and the dirt and the insignificance and my fickle heart. Or I can focus on the words of Jesus. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the light of the world." "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." "Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth." "You cannot serve God and money." "Do not be anxious about your life." "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." "Judge not, that you be not judged." "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them." (Matthew 5-7) These truths anchor. These words of Jesus form a way, a path, a direction for life, these words fill in the broken places and heal wounds. These words lay down a way that weathers all of life's storms and will never wash away.
You can be salt and light and forgiving and loving and restful and God-centered and searching and golden in anything. You can be these things as a teacher. You can be these things as a stay-at-home or work-at-home mom. You can be these things as an accountant, a barista, a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon. You can be these things as an air conditioner repair man and a trash man and a nuclear physicist. You can be firm and grounded and safe from the storms wherever you are because wherever you are is not what grounds you. Where you are and how you feel and what you wear and do for a living are all secondary. The foundation of Christ is primary and necessary for fulfillment in any of these things.
Jesus never promises that if we build our house on His foundation that we will feel full and satisfied and happy. He can't fix my bad mood or my brooding moodiness. He can fix my eternity, however. This life will never fulfill me; it's just a fact. And I can spend my days brooding... Or -- I can soak in all the joy; that's a choice I can make, and while there is a better choice, and joy will bless me and the people around me far more than brooding, ultimately, it isn't what matters. What matters is the reward in heaven, the salvation of souls, Christ's fulfillment of the law, the harnessing of anger and lust and retaliation and the unleashing of truth and love and charity, the honoring of God, the preeminence of God, the rest we have in Him, the blessings He pours out on us, the grace we show one another, and ultimately, our standing before God. All these things Jesus preaches in His sermon. But just before His sandy foundation picture, He says this, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
Look what I did, Lord! Look! Look at it all! No. No, what matters isn't my job or my feelings about it. It isn't my hopes and dreams and capability, my intelligence or organizational skills or passion for learning. It isn't where I see myself in five years or ten or how many loads of laundry I will have done in that time. It isn't your job title or your relationship status or your college diploma or your life plan. What matters is doing the will of the Father. But, Aleah, what about this gem? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Remember how you told me I'm all broken and stuff? How do I do this one thing that matters? How do I do the will of the Father? We'll keep reading: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:23-24) This is the will of the Father. That instead of hanging your hat on your job and your accomplishments and listing out all your incredible abilities, instead of poking holes in your day-to-day, demolishing your importance and lamenting your life choices, instead of all that, God offers you grace. He offers you a grace that withstands the beating, crashing waves that threaten to destroy your house. He offers you a grace that washes you clean of every single time you yell and smolder inside and blame your spouse for your bad attitude. He offers you a grace that meets you in the boardroom and the bedroom and the classroom and everywhere in between. This grace was built for a life of failing and succeeding, winning and losing, feeling satisfied and feeling empty, joy and sorrow. This grace only depends on one thing: the victory of Jesus which has already been accomplished and could not depend any less on you.
I offer this up because it presents a unique opportunity. If you build your house on a foundation of grace in Christ that does not depend on your success or life plan or capability, you are free. You are free from your bad moods and your dissatisfaction and your jealousy and your pettiness. You are free from your title and your label and your job and your hobbies. You are free from who you are and how far that is from who you think you should be. You become a grace-receiving, Jesus-shining light always, in all things, in every way. Your life is important and it matters, not because of what you do, but because of who you are in Jesus. That has lasting worth. That builds treasure that isn't eaten by moths. That builds a glory to come. I may or may not fold my laundry today (or put away the laundry from last week). I might spend all my free time cleaning up toys and cooking dinner. I may not do one single thing today that is just for me. And that's okay. Not because it fixes my mood or because I'll put on my rosy glasses and be Miss Cheery Happy Mom. But because in Jesus, I am free. I'm free from my mood and my job and all the things, all the trappings, all the doings. I am free to love and give and forgive and offer a hand because I am new in Christ. I can get stuck and burrow and down and hide my head, but I'd be missing many beautiful opportunities to sprinkle salt and shine the very same grace I am shown every single day.