Tiny Worlds of Wonder

Growing up, a vacant lot and a wooded area bookended our house.  My sisters and I would put on our hot pink fanny packs, fight to find the perfect walking stick, and set out to conquer the world.  We built shanties that we thought were mansions, created small mounds that we considered challenging BMX bike tracks and got ourselves into all sorts of muddy messes.  I distinctly remember feeling so adult when my mother let us venture to “Fletcher and Maple” an intersection that we felt like was miles away, but was in reality three streets over.

We took many great vacations, some lavish and exotic; we had more toys than we would possibly use. But when I look back on the treasured moments of our childhood, they all include the little worlds of tiny wonder we were free to create and explore, even if mom did check us religiously for ticks after each outing.

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I long for our children to have the freedom and space to be creative, to interact with nature, to learn how to explore and conquer a small corner of their world.  We aren’t an REI, camping, National Parks visiting family, and we probably never will be; however, I want to pass on to my children both a respect for and a joy from nature.

I am afraid of snakes, but I am more afraid of the effects of screen time. I don’t like the idea of parasites in creeks, but I like that risk more than the risk of raising children who don’t know how to wisely risk and explore.

Of late, I have been reading two books in tandem that have been re-opening my eyes to our need for and negligence of nature and the natural.  While Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv has been practically helping me to pass on a love of the natural world, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard has been inviting me into an adulthood awed by the little worlds around me, even here in semi-urban San Diego.

Annie beautifully writes the following:

“I am no scientiest. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest cllue where he is, and he aims to learn. …Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startling set down, if we can’t learn why.”

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Richard Louv writes along a similar vein.

“The dugout in the weeds or leaves beneath a backyard willow, the rivulet of a seasonal creek, even the ditch between a front yard and the road – all of these places are entire universes to a young child. Expeditions to the mountains or national parks often pale, in a child’s eyes, in comparison with the mysteries of the ravine at the end of the cul-de-sac. By letting our children lead us to their own special places we can rediscover the joy and wonder of nature….By expressing interest or even awe at the march of ants across these elfin forests, we send our children a message that will last for decades to come, perhaps even extend generation to generation. By returning to these simple, yet enchanted places, we see, with our child, how the seasons move and the world turns and how critter kingdoms rise and fall.”

We probably won’t go back-packing in the Tetons with our gaggle of boys, but I can first model and then teach and nurture an awe and interest in the tiny worlds of wonder right in our pavement-filled neighborhood.  During our two week spring break, we went to the movies and did other spring-breaky things. But the things that brought our children the most joy were catching shrimp and chasing crabs, tidepooling and taking care of a lame little birdie. As I have been practicing this lately, I have found my own soul soothed and sighing in relief.

The Gifts That Will Keep

Rather than teach kids wonder,
We’ve brought them to the store.
Rather than offering lasting things,
We suffocate them with more.

The free gifts are the most costly;
It’s easier to purchase the cheap.
But imagination, awe and wonder:
These are the gifts that will keep.

Free time and margins and presence,
These are the tools of the child;
But these cost us our own agendas,
So we settle for presents less wild.

 

Stewarding Self

Self. I have one of those. You have one of those.

I cannot speak for all selves, but I can speak on my struggle with stewarding my own self.

I am a mother and I consider one the greatest endeavors to which I will give my self, but that is not the totality of my self. For the past decade, self has rightly taken a healthy back seat to stewarding the precious and pivotal early years of my three children. Yet as I am emerging from the baby phase of stay-at-home mothering, I find myself renewed in the wrestle of self-stewarding.

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While motherhood is not a degree program from which one matriculates, the seasons of motherhood change. For me, the early elementary season has cleared out a sliver of space for my self to reappear.

While initially that sounds lovely, it has propelled me into a season of wrestling and wondering over how to steward my self when given more space in which to stretch it.

There are two prevailing notions of how we steward our selves, and neither work well. I know from experience.

The society in which we live stains our souls with the idea that we must be self-actualizing people.  In this vein of thinking, the self is exaggerated, placed at the center and allowed to rule supreme. Self-development and the satisfying of the noisy self takes center stage, determining the course and demanding that its needs be met.

Clearly, this approach is unbiblical; however, self-annhiliation, the common over correction to self-aggrandizement is equally unbiblical.  In this form of self stewarding, the self is denied and strangled rather than coddled. Self is seen as the enemy and the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

I can speak much on this end of the spectrum because I gravitate this way. As a mother, I have grown even more comfortable with starving the healthy self that the Lord placed within me. But the sanctified self in me is stubborn and keeps finagling its way into my thoughts. I do have desires and talents and interests; I just don’t know how to handle them in a way that most honors God.

If one extreme exaggerates the self, the opposite extreme effaces the self. Both stretch the self out of proportion into caricatures. Both are attempts at controlling the self.

Christianity offers us a third way of stewarding self, calling us neither to self-aggrandizement nor self-annihilation, but to to self-entrusting. Rather than seeking to control our selves by shrinking or swelling, we are invited to let our selves be controlled by the love of Christ.

This third way is no rulebook and requires personal relationship with the Lord Himself. This third way of entrusting the self to a faithful Creator who controls and compels requires trust. And trusting is much harder than shrinking or swelling. While the third day doesn’t answer the practical questions of how to spend my time, what to pursue and when to pursue it, it gives me a scaffolding out of which to make those decisions.

He has wired me as He has for great purpose. I am called to entrust my self, again and again, to His purposes and plans. He gently bids me to present my desires, my talents, my dreams with trembling hands into His loving, sacrifice-scarred hands.

May we be women who steward our selves in a way that honors Christ by choosing the tension of the third way.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Parental Pledges

Before I was a parent, I used to think of infant baptisms at our Church as a sweet opportunity to watch kids dressed in cute clothes do funny things. I listened to the vows as earnestly as I knew how, but they were not the main event.

A decade into parenting our three boys, the vows spoken at baptisms have taken on a whole new level of significance and sobriety.  When I hear and watch parents taking the vows on behalf of their children, my soul shakes a bit in reverence at the beauty and the weight of the promises spoken.

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Whether you are an advocate of infant dedication/adult baptism or infant baptism (another topic for another person at another time), there are profound principles of parenting that can be drawn from the parental questions recorded in the Book of Church Order.

Parenting can be utterly overwhelming because it is so all-encompassing. The questions below help to provide a sort of rubric for parenting, giving us categories in the spiritual development of our children.

1. Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
2. Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (his) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his) salvation, as you do for your own?
3. Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (him) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (him), that you will teach (him) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (him) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

The third question particularly provides a checkpoint for me whenever I hear it from the front. In this one verbose yet very significant question, I find four guiding principles by which to evaluate our parenting in regards to the faith: dependence, decision, demonstration, and development.

Do you promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace…Dependence.

When I first took these vows, I think I glossed over this phrase. Yet, three children in and many stages and seasons of parenting later, that is the statement in which I find the most comfort, the phrase that jumps up and clutches my heart when the questions are asked.  Parenting is one the highest and hardest tasks in the world; one will not get far in the task until one begins to realize that a desperate dependence upon God and His empowerment must be the basis for all godly endeavoring. We cannot do this task alone, nor were we meant to. Like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, we cry out, “Who is adequate for these things?” 2 Corinthians 2:16. 

That you will endeavor…that you will strive...Decision.

We make a decision, a resolved choice of the will to lead our children by demonstration and development. In a culture that does not commitment and that is often tethered to emotions and feelings, we must recognize that we are, at once and then daily, choosing a course of action and setting our faces in a Divine direction. There will be days when we are exhausted or don’t feel it, yet we have made a decision before God and others to keep pressing on toward the upward call of Christ in our lives and in the lives of children.

To set before him/her a godly example…Demonstration.

More is caught than taught, and our children are watching the trends and trajectories of our lives. They take note of our immediate and reflexive responses to daily duties, disasters and decisions. Do they see us depending daily upon the Lord? Do they see us scouring our Bibles for the the daily bread we need? Do they see in our lives a deep commitment to the people of Christ? Do they see the ways our hearts break for the lost world? Do they see us moving towards the broken people and places or watching with disdain from afar? This dynamic of the question always convicts and challenges me, reminds that little eyes are watching to see whether I am watching Him and looking up to the hills from whence shall come my help (Psalm 121).

To bring him/her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…Development.

While the parents’ relationships with the Lord significantly shape the children, God does not have grandchildren. Our children who initially ride on our coattails to the King’s presence must learn to walk there on their own (by grace through faith in Christ, of course). We must offer them truths and tools that will train them in how to own the faith we are trusting God to kindle in their souls. Just as we train our children to drive through painful and precarious hours of driving school, we are called to come alongside them and see that they have the tools and truths they need to get to the throne room on their own.

We make these vows within the context of the body of Christ because all of this requires the help of a supportive community of faith. We cannot do this alone. We need to share sorrows and supplies and skill sets with each other.

May we, with renewed vigor and dependence, continue to press on in this ever-important work.

Dredged to be Drenched

Dredging is an arduous process. Believe me, I know, literally and figuratively.

Growing up on the Jersey Shore, periodically large boats laden with machinery would take over the shoreline with their dredging. Loud and cumbersome, the machines would be used to dig and scoop and haul away the silt and sand deposits that had accumulated over the past years in the harbor or the waterways under bridges. To a child who wanted to play on the beach in peace, the whole situation seemed needless and inconvenient.

Yet, dredging serves a necessary purpose: to clear away and cleanse, to make space in order that boats might be able to have safe passageway.

The Lord has been dredging the silts and sands of my soul lately. And I don’t like it. It is inconvenient and terribly uncomfortable. Heaps of the stuff of my soul have been stirred up by His sanctifying hand to be scooped out. Unmet desires, misplaced identity and deeply engrained patterns of fear and shame are being loosed. Sin’s silt that long lay latent on the floor of my soul has been disturbed and exposed. My soul’s water, often clear enough, has been clouded by the tumult.

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For the past week I have responded largely in annoyance and frustration. My spirit has been sore and sad. Why all the sudden and strong activity within my soul? Where did this come from? Why are you dredging me again? Is there anything left in there to be dredged? 

In the midst of a good cry, the Spirit was gracious to bring tried and trusted Scripture to mind.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he received.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons….For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-7 & 11. 

He dredges His children with purpose and in love for greater good. Though I feel emptied and exposed before Him, He was quick to gently remind me that He loves to fill empty people. Grace runs down like a stream to the lowest places, to the emptied souls.

He dredges us that He might drench us with more of Himself, more of His likeness, more of His will.

While I am ready for the dredging to cease and desist, I also find myself oddly thankful (tired and weary, but thankful) for His love shown to me through His persistent discipline and training of my soul. Dredging today for drenching tomorrow.

Less of me and my clamoring self; more of Him and the peaceable fruit of righteousness that He is cultivating within me. The coming drenching will make the dredging a dim and distant memory in the past.

For those who, like me, feel dredged down to the dregs, take heart and heed the words of David who has gone before us.

One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beatify of the Lord and to inquire in His temple….I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27: 4 & 13-14.

Saved Has a Sequel

My oldest son voraciously read the first Percy Jackson book in five days. Two days after he closed the first, he is well into the second. He could not resist the sequel any more than I could have walked out of Hamilton satisfied during the intermission.

One fully immersed in and captured by the first act must be propelled into the second and beyond.

Salvation purchases and provides sonship for those who trust in Jesus. The two are meant to be more closely intertwined, interwoven and attached than The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mocking Jay.

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Yet, they are all too often truncated, separated, divorced. There are far too many who have been led to the assumption that salvation is a stand-alone act. No wonder so many find little to no satisfaction in their practice of the Christian life. They are living in and drawing from only the first act. They have never experienced the sequel intended to follow infinitely close upon its heals: sonship.

But the problem is not only with them. Perhaps if more of us who claim Christ lived in the Spirit of Sonship, they would be drawn to the sonship meant to be salvation’s sister and sequel.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 2:23-3:1. 

I believe there are many who have truly heard and received the gospel who are living truncated lives. They are in Christ, but they don’t even know an iota of what it means to be in Christ. I believe this because for quite some time I was one of them. The gospel had been proclaimed to me and I truly received it’s eternally good news as the unnamed truth that I had been thirsting for my whole life. My desires changed, but I had no clue what to do next.

Life-on-life discipleship provided a connection tunnel between salvation and sonship. While I may have heard in snippets that there was so much more to the Christian life, I had never seen it played out in real lives before me. When I did, I was quite literally pulled relationally into the sequel.

Watching people living out of the Spirit of sonship or daughter-ship (to make up a word) led me to inwardly (or sometimes even outwardly) say the following statements: “I didn’t know studying the Word could look like that,” “I didn’t know menial work could look like that,” “I didn’t know marriage could look like that” and “I didn’t know motherhood could look like that.” 

I hope that for the rest of my life, there are people practicing sonship who induce such statements in my life. Even more so, I intend to be one of those people in the lives of others.

A multifaceted life requires a multifaceted gospel, and such we have. The gospel’s good news of salvation ought to lead to lives of sonship and daughter-ship. What is believed and received in a moment ought to lead to a sequel that lasts an entire lifetime. If we are stalled out on the side of road to Glory, it is probably because our spiritual engines are running on fumes. To be refilled and refreshed in our sonship, we need to be committed to the regular means of grace,to the local body of the Church, to life-on-life discipleship in one of its many forms or fashions and to deepening our walks with God.

When sonship continues to spread systemically into every part of our lives, we find great satisfaction and the watching world sees the sequel to salvation. We and they will then proclaim with the aging Apostle of Love, “What manner of love is this? Of what kind? From what country?”

 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

On Ease and Easter

We are preparing for Easter, which means I am fighting back the urge to buy my kids more stuff they really don’t need to fill a basket. Don’t get me wrong, they will have a few surprises when they wake up, and we will do an egg hunt and such. I am not a total curmudgeon.

Yet, I feel myself torn between images of dead Syrian children being carried in the arms of battered and beyond-bereaved parents and bunnies and baskets and our children in their Easter best.

I want my children to have giggle-filled, carefree days. I want ease and comfort for them, which is a natural desire for our children. Yet I also know that a life of ease can quickly become a disease.

This year, instead of hiding candy, we are going to hide plastic eggs filled with puzzle pieces of a world map. When we gather our eggs, we are going to put the puzzle together and spend some time praying for Syria and Egypt specifically. The money we might have spent on cute new clothes, I have donated to Preemptive Love Coalition, as a paltry attempt to assuage the waves of helplessness that come over me when I think of that aching nation and all its displaced people and destroyed lives.

It is so hard to strike a balance between festive joy excitement and honest engagement in the world in a way that our children can handle. I don’t want my melancholy to efface our Easter joy, but I also want to remember and recognize that Resurrection Life is a much deeper thing than a basket of candy.

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I remember reading Frederick Beuchner saying that on the day when his first book was published, he was elated. As he walked smiling out of the publishers office, he ran into a college friend who had come upon hard times. He realized then that as long as someone else was suffering, it was impossible to be fully engrossed in our own joy.

I long for my own life and the lives of these boys of ours to exude true compassion, to be those who suffer alongside. I also know that God gives us each our own portion and does not want us to live under blankets of guilt for the good things that He allows and sends our way.  How do we live as those who graciously receive plenty without forgetting those who live in scarcity? How can we become and raise people awake to the pain of the world without being paralyzed by it?

Mother Theresa helps me. She was quick to champion the little things done in great love. She saw the next person in front of her as Jesus. Rather than throwing up her hands in defeat at the problem of poverty, she fed the next person and befriended the next lonely person.

Awareness helps. Knowing and remembering the suffering all around us, whether they be strangers in Syria or neighbors in need of a friend, keeps us from being consumed by the disease of ease.

A long hope helps. We must live as those who can enjoy the good gifts God has placed in our lives without forgetting that, first and foremost,  we are a people who are journeying to our true home. The sweet meal at a restuarant, the happy holiday egg hunt in the backyard, the small basket of gifts, these are not the end. When they become such, we can be certain we have been infected with the disease of ease.

They are gifts: gifts meant to be taken, broken and shared.

These are helps, but my only hope in living in this tension is to be hidden in Christ. He alone was perfectly balanced because He alone was perfectly in tune with the Father and perfectly obedient to His will. As I walk with Him, spend time in His Word, linger long in His presence and learn from His people, He will make me more like Him. I will increasingly see what He sees, feels what He feels, hurt for what hurts Him until the day when, in a moment, I shall see Him face to face.

Come, Lord Jesus, save us from the disease of ease. Make us more like you who chose a life of discomfort that more might be brought into the eternal ease of life with the Father. Raise up from us a generation of children who have their eyes fixed on the New Heavens and New Earth. We are inadequate, but you will give us all we need to do such.

*Beautiful petal art by the beautiful Setara.