Sunday, October 28, 2012


Final move, hopefully, to without the hyphen.  Thanks for continuing to read!

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Site Has Moved

Please keep reading at the new location that my wonderful and extremely talented sister created for Compelling Grace.  Most of the posts here have already been moved and I've been writing new ones on that site since last you visited this blog.  Thanks to both of you for reading! (:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lavish Love

How can I love a little guy so much who just yesterday I wanted to send to 6 year old reform school? I just got all choked up and teary as he was waving continuously to me with his gloved hands, a huge smile from under the brim of his big winter hat, saying over and over in the sweetest tiny boy voice, "Bye mommy!  I love you!  Bye!  Bye!  I love you Mommy!"  His little head barely seeing out of my parents' car window, which he had rolled down to keep in communication with me until they had turned the corner, he headed off to Ellie's soccer game and then to meet Terrell's parents for a spend the night.  He is this collision of juvenile delinquent and perfect, cuddly angel baby.  In one moment I want to envelope him in big hugs and smother him with kisses and never let him go and in another moment I'm ready to send him to obedience school like the place we're sending our dog, "Learn for Life" where they are boarded and trained for two weeks to be changed forever.  Do they have one of those for kids?  And it is so very clear that his story is my story and is the dynamic, messy and beautiful story of God's children in all of history.

My counseling professor, as I may have mentioned before, told me in a clinic day, "There is part of me that wants to hug you and part of me that wants to punch you...there is something about you that is totally engaging and then there is something about you that just totally exhausts me."  Adam, God's image and enemy.  Israel, God's beloved and betrayer.  Jesus, in whom both met and the latter (enemy and betrayer) was put to death so the former (image and beloved) would live forever.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  Heb. 10:14

I am in Him, identified by the person and work of Jesus, already and forever.  But the sin nature in me is being removed and I am being made to look more like Him and less like my rebellious self gradually, over time.  Being God's beloved means that because of His amazing grace, His tears of a cherishing and adoring love are evoked toward me as mine were this morning towards Chad.  But unlike me, His love doesn't ebb and flow based upon the adorable qualities of the object of His affection.  His love is perfect, protecting, understanding, compassionate and full of mercy and forgiveness when I am that kid in need of a Learn for Life boarding school just as much as in the moments when I seem more snuggly.  He does not withhold His love from His people, no matter how unfaithful, hateful and adulterous they are.  I think it is because He knows that even their faithfulness and love comes from Him and He understands the powerful nature of sin better than we do.

I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.

And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
  So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7: 15-25

I get so mad when Chad does these outlandish things (like growling at a 1 year old friend because he, as a 6 year old boy didn't want her to play with her own toy that he wanted in that moment) because such behavior seems shocking to me and disappointing.  My response then is something like, "What in the world was that!?  You cannot do that!  Do not ever do that again!"  OK mom, done.  But when I growl at my own children, or internally at someone in traffic or on the radio, God answers those very same questions with what is said about me in all of redemptive history: that was sin, you will continue to obey sin first unless I change your heart, and that heart change is a process that will be complete one day but is not yet.  While Jesus declared "It is finished!" about the final outcome of things, God never screams at me, "I'm done!" meaning that He quits.  Unlike the way I respond to my children and often other people in general, His behavior and attitude toward me is never based upon my behavior or attitude toward him.  His cherishing of me is always based on His perfect love and the glorified version of me that will be finalized one day.

What might it look like for me to start loving my little boy, and disciplining him, with a heart that sees him as he one day will finally be?  What would happen to my own heart if I was less startled by his sin and more confident in the righteousness of Jesus at work on his behalf?  What if compassion for the struggle we all share in doing what we do not want to do and not doing the good we wish we would do replaced condemnation?  What would it be like, if in response to this reality, I began to love him in the heat of his worst behavior as ferociously as I felt it this morning when we were saying goodbye?  While I was/am yet a sinner, Jesus lived and died for me.  I love only because He first loved me, when I was His enemy with arms crossed and a hateful scowl covered my face.  He pursues me with the same heartbreaking love that made me want to chase Chad's car down the road and bring him back home.  But God doesn't wait until the mornings I am at my cutest to feel and act this way.  Would He make me one who loves as consistently and lavishly and unreasonably as He does!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  1 John 3:1a 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trust Him

I'm sure I've seen more than once that scene in a movie where two or more friends are hunkered down, breathing hard in a clearly intense and precarious situation and one asks, "Ok, now what is the second step?" and another answers, "I never thought we'd actually get through the first step so I never made a second step!" That is a good description of my mental state right now. We had these HUGE events on our horizon for so long and now we're on the other side of them, which is great, but here I am not exactly sure where that leaves me.  And, needing to know "step 2" but not having a step 2 makes my heart race and moves the anxious meter up into the red zone these days.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matt. 19:23-26

I am that rich man who just cannot fathom God's ability to do what I continually assume is mine to handle.  It is what Scotty Smith in Nashville has labeled "Gospel amnesia".  My racing heart is a light on the dashboard indicating something isn't working.  For me, the fact that I cant' "figure it out" or "make it work" has me stressed, condemned, fearful, sad and still searching for magical answers to bring peace and solve the riddles all as one who is limited to my own resources and abilities. I have absolutely forgotten that there is no area of life outside of the scope of God's initiation, involvement and intervention.  Instead, I think I got myself here and I need to get myself out.

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?  The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.  For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name.  I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand— I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”  Is. 51:12-16

I am not a homeschooler.  School was my favorite place for all of elementary school but really the center of my life for all the years I was a student and then after that when I was a teacher.  School is where people are funny and teachers are creative and memories are made.  Now, my children are home and I feel like I'm ruining their lives because I'm not all that funny and seem to have lost the limited creativity I ever possessed and oh yeah, the three R's seem to be lost.  I can't do this, never really believed in it to begin with and yet, I might whisper to you in a moment of vulnerability, there is something in me that really romanticized the idea of being that magical mom for my kids.  I wanted to spark their imaginations and remove all the stress from academics.  I wanted to enjoy the freedoms of life outside the confines of the frantic and limited school day.  How did I get here?

That is when the person and work of Jesus reminds me, "I brought you here.  I put you here.  I have you here.  I even I am the Lord of everything, every moment, every aspect of creation and yes, even this, even here and even now."  He is the Lord of the hours I have, giving no more or less than He knows I actually need.  He is the Lord of ideas and will make them flow when that is what His purposes require.  He is the author of laughter and imagination.  He is in control of all things...even the step 2 that I haven't planned and looks like I'm trapped and about to be captured and destroyed by the "bad guys".  It may feel like I'm getting it all wrong, and I may be getting it all wrong...but He is not getting it all wrong.

I know that you can do all things; no purpose of your can be thwarted.  Job 42:2

With Job, I must remember that this moment falls safely in His purposes even if I have no idea what that purpose it.  And, no matter how disappointed I may feel about the seeming failure and limitations of my abilities and resources, His purposes will never fail.  My limitations, my failures, my disappointments are actually safely and purposely part of His good redemptive plans...not just for me but also for my children and even His Kingdom, somehow.

So, for me, as I start another day that looks just like the ones that led me to this place of bewilderment and discouragement, step 2 is to trust Him with whatever transpires.  Trust Him.  "But my gun is out of bullets!" Trust Him.  "But our captors are coming and are bigger and stronger!"  Trust Him.  "But everything seems to be going wrong!"  Trust Him.  "Who are you O Man", God asks us through Job..."were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth or gave the sea its limits or..."  Trust Him.  He's at work so I can rest.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grace for the Conflict

I just overheard a mom telling her children to shut the "f" up. My first reaction, reasonably, was horror. Then I let Jesus pretty immediately remind me that while my language isn't as colorful, that is pretty much what I have communicated to them this week. I have done it with a stomp on the floor (yes, much like a child less mature than my own) or even once this week, a slam of the door when I gave myself time out. But I am no more honorable than the angry lady I overheard. That finger pointing at her definitely had four pointing back at me.

So what is it about motherhood and anger? Really, it isn't just mothers. Or in traffic when someone cuts in front of another driver, either intentionally or absent mindedly, their angry horn does the yelling. A grocery story check out line is another place to overhears loud, exasperated sighs because the clerk isn't going fast enough. Have you ever been in a location where a school field trip was taking place? There is always some lady yelling at some group of kids as her last hope of regaining control. That must be it. Control. It is more than just wanting what I want when I want it. I want to be wanted also. I think that is at the heart of the anger. When I'm cut off in traffic it is offensive because I feel personally disregarded or even shoved aside. When a clerk or other vendor doesn't appear to be concerned about my time or even my presence, I feel minimized and insignificant. And when my children or husband or neighbor or other family member directly defy my desires, is there any stronger way to say, "You don't matter to me!"

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3

So, after I finished my last post about God's love being needed and that He would provide even though I was struggling with frustration and anger, guess what I did? No, I did not get up from the computer, hug my children and join them in a dance of joy and peace. The minute I finished a complaint was issued from the sofa behind me and I lost it. I mean, I am woman hear me roar came into being. "I'M DONE!" I yelled at my two stunned older children, then I dramatically (as mentioned here in the first paragraph) slammed the door and went straight to my bed and hid under the comforter. They soon came and softly said, "I'm sorry Mommy." But of course, I had to offer the bigger apology...which came later in the day because I wasn't ready to be sorry yet. (:

So, before the ability to be truly sorry came, I had to deal with the fact that time in Scripture or a time of listening to beautiful Christian music or a nap or night of sleep did not, in fact, change my heart. No "new attitude" or "new perspective" could accomplish what needed to take place. And in those moments of anger I also felt the heavy weight of condemnation. I have the heart of a monster and the monster seems to be winning. I have ruined my relationship with my children and have modeled for them the absolutely wrong way to handle frustration (yelling and slamming doors in this case, but giving into the heat of anger or desire for control is a dangerous road no matter how it plays out). Condemnation feels very permanent. Conflict, for me, always includes condemnation. No matter who is right, everyone loses in conflict. Conflict divides. Conflict injures. Conflict sucks life out of those involved.

Condemnation is very permanent and devastating. Condemnation is a dead end, end of sentence and end of story. Because of the condemnation inherent in conflict, I like to avoid conflict by denial or self-defense so that I also can avoid condemnation. Interestingly, the person and work of Jesus tells me something I have to face about condemnation, and therefore conflict:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Col. 2:13-14

All have sinned and fallen short..."when I was dead" and "the charge of my legal indebtedness which stood against me and condemned me" both speak to that reality. Condemnation can't be avoided or denied or corrected by the condemned. Here is where this is headed to hope and very good news: Because my condemnation is the starting place for redemption, it is no longer the end of the story or the devastating final death blow. This means that while my anger rightfully condemns me, the person and work of Jesus meets me in my sin and moves me through it to reconciliation. That means I don't throw in the towel and give up. It means there is hope that no matter how sick my heart is, total regeneration is coming and I will get to enjoy small tastes of that promise even now.

It also means I have to trust God with that and not my own eyes. It means that this hope isnt' placed in my getting up from computer with blue birds singing on my shoulder (do blue birds actually sing?) and never again letting my frustrations get the best of me. It does mean that there is greater life offered to me through repentance and a strengthening of my relationship with my children, or the store clerk or the neighbor when I ask for forgiveness and we move through the conflict to genuine reconciliation. Love and grace do not mean never having to say I'm sorry. They mean that even if I have to say it again and again and again, there is hope for restoration and that God's hand of redemption is not shocked or disabled but is at work even when I feel powerless. He can pick up the weight of my sin which is crushing me. And unlike the people in traffic or the grocery store or standing with arms crossed looking up at me saying no in my own home, He regards me, He sees my helpless estate and by grace, He cherishes me there.

Does this mean it is fine for Ellie to hit Chad when she is frustrated or for Chad to punch his sister because even that is within God's redemption? Of course not. But it does mean they can get off the tightrope in my eyes of either being juvenille dilenquents who are destined for prison or perfect angels who act like gentle 80 year olds at the ages of 6 and 8. It means there is freedom to get it all wrong, to respond totally inappropriately and to fail miserably without it being a game ending, career ending, hopeless and tragic dead end of condemnation. Grace means that my only hope isn't it getting it all right the first time or 31st time. Grace means I rest in His righteousness, in His perfect love of those I hurt, in His power to reconcile when I am out of strength to do the right thing, and in His promise to make all things new. And sometimes, this process of growing my faith requires that I be shown just how dependent upon it I really am.

‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ Haggai 2:5

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Strong Weakness

A barking dog, a screaming baby and an argumentative six year old boy.  Baby poop all over pjs and crib linens, a dog grabbing things to eat that are actually are shoes and a demanding 6 year old boy.  A six year old boy who responds to almost every request with a long, moaning, "Noooooooooo", an increasingly mobile baby curious about all the forbidden spots in the house like under the kitchen sink, the dog bowl and the trash and a dog who leaps on people and furniture no matter how many tactics we try to change this.  So, it is Thursday morning and I was pretty wiped out by about 10am on Monday.  It has been the week that won't stop and I'd like to say I've responded like a graceful ballerina, but that would a big fat lie.  Instead, I pretty much am beginning my days angry, impatient and lacking in all humor in response to the day before and anticipation of the one ahead of me.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21

Yeah, no kidding that anger does not produce righteousness.  That love which never dishonors others, is not self-seeking and is not easily angered is clearly barely present in my words, attitudes and actions.  "Accept the word planted in you, which can save you."  Jesus.

But what does that look like, not just on the first argument of the week about something small, but on the 135th argument of the week over putting on long sleeves or finishing school work?  In those moments, I want to become the Incredible Hulk and roar ferociously as my green bulging anger muscles rip off my sleeves and lower pants, forcing my opponents into wide eyed compliance.  I just want compliance.  I just want the dog to be well behaved (even though we've totally neglected her and never provided consistent training), I want our precious youngest daughter to know and trust that we're taking care of her and that sometimes I can't carry her to the next room RIGHT NOW or sometimes I have to tell her no about such things as ripping bulletin boards off the wall.  Do we have to have all that screaming about it?  And I want my truly very sweet (except that sin at birth reality) son to accept the answer "no" and trust me enough to just do what I've asked without nearly killing us all in a battle each time.  At the very least, couldn't just one of these things happen in a given day rather than all three seeming to happen simultaneously and constantly all day each day like it has been this week?  Maybe then I could handle it.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;  Psalm 121:1-3

The word planted in me, the person and work of Jesus, is my help and my strength. I do not have to look to all of these sources of excruciating stress for my help, as if only in their change is my peace and love toward them all possible.  Instead, I can remember both that 1)I am the screaming baby, disagreeable 6 year old and destructive dog in God's creation and 2)He is slow to anger, abounding in love and begins each day with new mercies not just in general but directed to me in all the ways I must anger Him.

Am I changed now after processing this a bit?  Don't I wish.  Are my nerves still raw and my energy totally depleted as I begin this day?  Absolutely.  So where is the person and work of Jesus in that?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:9-10 Do I feel delighted right now to enter into more conflict today? Am I eager to do the jobs that I am supposed to do rather than just sort of avoid them and stay hidden until bedtime? Yet, He has not given me a spirit of timidity but of power...not superpower like the Hulk, but He gives me more faith to trust Him and His presence in the face of these stressful moments that I cannot handle in my own weakness. Somehow, by faith, I will love today because He has first loved me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life Through Death

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deut. 31:8

I'm finding myself staring at the walls of Facebook friends who are still in Uganda, for long periods of time, reading and reading and reading. I'm not sure what I am looking for or why it is the place I gravitate, particularly when it was an experience from which I was desperate to return home. Maybe because it was just so hard and as if I ran sprinting out of there like a refugee fleeing for his life, that I find myself feeling "abruptly" home and missing something.  But I don't know what it is that I am missing or what business still needs to be finished or what it is that happened to me there that makes those Facebook walls feel safe and comforting.  Search me oh God and know my heart...

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.   Psalm 68:19-20

I was stripped of power there, stripped of control, stripped of a voice or at least had the volume turned down so low it could not be understood, and stripped of certainty, answers, strength, autonomy,...and who knows what else.  And over there, apples found in a street supermarket (or fresh strawberries) are like the golden egg found in the backyard on Easter.  American friends spread the word about such finds and meet to share them in one another's company.  A Saturday night gathering of new friends, bonded by the same homesickness, is precious because the evening feels "normal", like something precious from that longed for life at home.  And then it turns out, it was precious in a way that daily life at home will never allow.

Maybe it is the intensity of the time in appointments with officials whose language you don't totally understand, which are preceded by hours and hours of packed yet quiet waiting rooms where you are forced to entertain babies and children who have accompanied you with whatever you find in your backpack or can make use of in that room itself.  Maybe it is the rarity of a dependable hot shower at then end of a long, dirty day.  Maybe it is the lurking possibility that the power will go out at any moment or maybe not until tomorrow night, like an effective thriller, the tension of possible loss is always active just below the surface.  Maybe it is that your own family and personal life is taking on a radical change but doing so in a setting so drastically unfamiliar you aren't sure which requires more energy.

I think it has more to do with the stunning shock to the system similar to that of jumping into cold water when a hot summer day has raised your body's temperature way beyond comfort.  There is something jarring about going from overheated to freezing just as there is something dangerous in moving quickly from starvation to feasting.  I went from survival living conditions to relative luxury just by stepping on an airplane.

It feels like an answer came before the question could be fully formed.  But what is the question?  What was happening in my heart through that grueling experience, that particular suffering, which has been relieved in such a way that it almost mirrors the unexpected experience of the power going out which causes sight of the surroundings to be lost?  What was I shown, or given sight to see, or just on the brink of seeing that pushes my attention back to the place that was so very hard?

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. Job 36:15

Ever since Adam and Eve broke their covenant with God, redemption comes through suffering.  God delivers every single one of His children in their suffering.  He speaks to me in my affliction.  

Over and over there, I was shown my weakness in ways I couldn't pretend otherwise.  Over and over there I saw my selfishness, my entitlement, my impatience, my critical attitude, my lack of love, my lack of faith and so on.  And over and over again there I was shown His kindness, His generosity, His patience, His compassion and His love in ways I couldn't miss.  When I am less, He becomes more to me.  Here I am more, and too quickly, He becomes less to me.

And so, it seems, that is why I lurk in front of the walls of comments of others sharing the same experience and linger longer on those pages.  The rawness is fresh there, the weakness and helplessness palpable, and with it, so is the presence of my Father who never leaves me nor forsakes me.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.  Romans 8:10-11