sacred moments

I had a moment of vivid memory last night: a sacred time in my life, the place startlingly clear. An almost tangible presence of Jesus, with me, meeting me. Exhaustion graced with joy as His strength filled my weakness.

It was in a little kitchen — dark oak cabinets and yellowed tile counters, faux-brick linoleum floor always dingy no matter how hard I scrubbed. A tiny table, barely big enough for three, and washer and dryer hidden behind louvered doors.

That kitchen was holy ground.

There, at that table, I read my Bible morning after morning. My 18 month old baby learned to join me without whining for food. I’d never had an 18 month old before, and that was all new for me. He learned — Mama is reading, and you may join quietly. We shared many, many special mornings together.

I bent over that washer hundreds of times, switching loads, filling a basket with clean diapers to hang in the sun. The back door was open with the two year old running in and out while the baby clung to my legs.

Dishes were washed over and over, cupboards filled with the staples from Trader Joe’s after a morning of errands, the very first chore chart developed and displayed on the fridge for a growing little boy to use.

But mostly, just minutes and hours and days of pouring myself out till there was nothing left, and then faced with two little boys who still needed more, crying out to Jesus. Singing as I washed, singing as I laundered, singing as I simply held them and swayed, not sure what else to do at times.

And not for a moment did He leave me. In that kitchen, I knew that I knew that God was equipping me and providing me with the grace for that sacred moment of service — and He would do it again in the next moment.

I love the season of life I’m in right now. But I’m not gonna lie — there was something so raw and real about the way God walked with me when it was just me and a couple of babies. The demand on me was so intense and completely unlike anything I’d experienced, but the profound (and incredibly simple) way in which I met Jesus in those moments of my deep need was incredible.

That linoleum was really pretty hideous, but somehow it has found a place in the treasure chest of my heart.

S I X months

Six months! Where, when, how? But somehow, over 180 days of holding this sweet boy in my arms morning, noon, and night, and I still can’t get enough of him. None of us can. He was instantly the dearest thing and yet grows more dear every day. Isn’t that amazing? Love is like that. It’s vast and complete, but then the details get filled in as time goes on.

He’s a solid 27 pounds, which just causes anyone who sees him to break into laughter. Who knew baby thighs could make anyone and everyone laugh out loud? His fat little hands are my favorite. He has a mouth-wide-open smile for anyone who makes eye contact with him, and his deep blue eyes are so friendly and inviting. He rolls but still doesn’t sit without help, and I’m assuming he’ll just be on the slow track with all that movement stuff, as was his similarly-round brother, William. His siblings adore him, his daddy adores him, and I certainly do. And when we see the way he lights up at each one of us, we’re fairly certain the adoration is mutual.

He is a treasure, and my soul is fairly bursting with the wealth that’s been poured into my lap. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over — a house full of children formed by God, put into my hands to love and nurture and steward as disciples. It’s overwhelming — and I don’t just mean in the 5pm dinner is burning the baby is crying and there is noise everywhere kind of overwhelming. I mean I am overwhelmed by the bountiful goodness of God. It is so much.

And yes, the treasure and gifts of God require something of us, and when He expands our territory we find ourselves stretched further than we’ve been before. There is weight to it, soberness in it, the sense of stewarding the treasure of another. I’ve been tempted to say about so many things, “I’m not sure I’m really up for this,” but then I catch myself and think, “What are you talking about?? Serve the purpose of God in your generation! Now or never!” And suddenly it all becomes clear again: I just need more Jesus along with the increase of blessing.

Yes, I have grown. I have been expanded. I am probably more wise, less frantic, and don’t react to every seeming crisis. But also?? There is fruit. God knows what He’s doing! Our house is so loud and busy but it is teeming with capable children who delight in one another and in serving me. I’m pretty sure 28 year old me would have an emotional meltdown at the level of “lived-in” my house daily achieves, but that makes sense: 28 year old me had to stay on top of it all by myself. And now? Now we are a team.

But so much more than the practical blessing I’m living in (pinch me, is this real?, I think whenever I walk into a clean kitchen after guests leave and I spent the whole evening visiting and didn’t lift a finger), there is fruit in their hearts. There are young men who I simply enjoy, who make me laugh, who I lean on for help and encouragement. Daughters who spill joy and kindness everywhere they go. Little ones who are caught up by older ones, taught and read to and led by example. I know that I know that I planted seeds and watered and weeded for day after day after week after month for years, but this fruit that I see? I can’t begin to take credit for it any more than I look at the stunning beauty of my favorite peony and pat myself on the back for my stellar planting job. My part and the result just don’t add up, until you factor in the faithfulness of God. It’s Him.

That is the bounty that makes me want to weep in thankfulness. And it gives me hope for tomorrow, because guess what? I am so far from a perfect gardener when it comes to my children. I do my best, by the grace of God, to show up and ask for help, but repentance is my most-often used tool. The skill is all Him. His Spirit pursues their hearts as I apply faith and diligence. I never feel that these children are somehow mine, or my doing — I am so aware that these are people God crafted and called, and is asking me to serve in a truly precious and unique way. But as they grow, and I see softness and humility and forgiveness flowing from their hearts, I marvel even more at the things God has done, and what a tremendous honor it is to be used by Him.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

forty.

40.

It feels like just a number, it feels like “the new 30,” it feels like I was just 20 and I still think I am. But the Psalmist says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Wisdom is to look that number right in the face and recognize: my years on earth are numbered, and they are fleeting. How will I live them?

This morning I ponder that, and my heart is stirred by the favorite scriptures that shaped me so many years ago, gave direction to my steps and fire to my soul. The grace of God in my early life looked like amazing men and women, among whom my parents stand out as chief, who lived and spoke these truths with zeal in their eyes and passion in their hearts. That living Word was passed on to me as treasure and life.

And so I share these today — a few passages and a song — because I am challenged again to live in the fear of the Lord, laying hold of wisdom for the next leg of my race. Maybe they will stir you afresh, too.

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3)

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12)

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3)

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing You, Jesus
Knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all, You’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love You, Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Knowing You, Jesus
Knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all, You’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love You, Lord

Oh, to know the power of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death, my Lord
So with You to live and never die
(All I Once Held Dear, Robin Mark)

repentance: a gift

Repentance is a gift.

I’ve been thinking about that lately, after praying with several carrying the weight of failure on their shoulders.

Falling short — that’s something we all do. We know, deep in our hearts, the standard of a holy God. Made in His image, our hearts imprinted with a moral code we did not write, we struggle in our brokenness to hit a mark light years beyond our own ability.

Individually, we pledge to not raise our voices so much. Say no to that cookie. Read more books out loud. Compost and recycle. Look better, do better, be better. Corporately, we convince ourselves that if we just rewrite the penal code, if we just hand out more tax dollars, if we just add one more layer of accountability, if we just outlaw this, that, and the other…

And still, we’re a mess.

Because yes, we fall short.

Enter: the gift of repentance.

Romans tells me that, for me, one who has believed in Christ, been purchased with His blood, whose life is hidden in Him, there is therefore now no condemnation.

And it’s not that there’s a free pass to sin. Nor is there a promise that I will now have a sinless life. But rather, my failure no longer can torment me with the whispers and weight of condemnation. It does not own me. I can repent. I have access, in every moment, to the throne room of God, and when I lift my eyes and my heart, I find grace to help in time of need.

The enemy of my soul wants to make the most of those failures. Hold me there, convince me that not only have I failed, but that failure is my name, my identity. His whispers become shouts in my soul until I’m carrying the weight of not only my failure, but condemnation, too, and I am convinced there is no way out.

Not true. There is repentance.

I will stumble. I will. I will raise my voice, I will snap under pressure, I will eat the stupid cookie, I will cave to selfishness and pride. The things I don’t want to do, I will find myself doing. (Romans 7.) But in those moments of failure, I can find immediate freedom through repentance. I can name the sin, repent, and turn away — and be free.

Condemnation has no place operating in my life any longer. I am not condemned; I am redeemed.

Today, find freedom — not in perfection, but in repentance. Grab a hold of His hand, reaching out to you in every moment, drawing you further along in the good work He began and has promised to complete.

“to love their children…”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much my heart bursts with love for this baby.

Or any of my babies.

Because isn’t that natural? Regardless of how “good with kids” any one of us may naturally be, don’t we love our own with a fierceness that is unparalleled? I’ll give any Mama Bear a run for her money ANY day in my love for my kids.

So, then, I have to wonder, why is “love their children” listed among the things that younger women are to learn from older, God-fearing women?

Is it possible that God is calling us to love our children in a deeper, more profound, more godly way than we ever could apart from His help and instruction?

Possible that our selfishness, humanism, and general environment of “you’re okay, I’m okay, we’re all okay,” leads us astray? Instead of pressing into greater grace and selfless giving, we decide that if our natural wellspring of maternal love is dry, then either we’re not really cut out for this kid thing after all, or at the very least we deserve a break to commiserate with our girlfriends.

And maybe, too, it’s possible that our love is needing to be refined, submitted, to Jesus? That as Augustine said, we have a case of disordered loves, or idolatry? A Mama Bear identity that leads into all sorts of trouble — the trouble of prioritizing them over Jesus. Taking up offenses, coming up with excuses for sin, moving ancient boundaries in an attempt to keep our kids inside the pasture… oh, it happens so easily.

Yes, my heart bursts with love for these children. The moment my first baby was laid in my arms, I exploded with feelings I didn’t know I could have, and it’s happened seven times over! But we are called to even more than just what may (or may not!) occur naturally. We are called to learn a holy, God-fearing love that ultimately surrenders our hearts, and our children, to the hands of an all-sufficient Father.

the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.