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.

joy for a weary world

“A weary world rejoices.”

Doesn’t that sum up what you’re seeing this year? Strings of lights in mid-November, trees up a good week before usual, the population in general chomping at the bit to sing Jingle Bells and spread Christmas cheer — the feeling of “we need a little Christmas right this very minute” has never been so widely shared.

And maybe this is good for us. Maybe it is right to occasionally remember that the Light came into vast and utter darkness. Joy erupted from a place of total despair. A savior was born because we actually needed to be saved. Not helped. Saved.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

We have strung lights, too, and our tree beckons spontaneous morning and evening family gatherings. Favorite songs play while the girls color yet another Christmas coloring page. The fragrance of butter and sugar and nutmeg and rum fills the air. We are celebrating, but the best part is that we’re not celebrating the lights or the tree or the music and cookies. Those are the tools we use, but the object of our joy is so much less fleeting and circumstantial.

We sense hope, but it’s not just because we think a new calendar will magically usher in a better year. Fast-tracked vaccinations aren’t filling my soul with peace. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of joy, hope, or peace to be grasped — until you stop fumbling in the dark for something that doesn’t exist and start looking toward the horizon for the glorious morn promised by a Morning Star so many hundreds of years ago.

A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices, and more than ever, it’s not just because the sounds of the King’s College choir are magical (though they are).

We are a weary world, and if the tree and lights and Hallmark movies aren’t doing it for you this time around, may I suggest a better hope, a more lasting peace? May I remind us that the angels came to announce a Savior, and He is near, ready to save.

thanksgiving

I was dumping photos from my phone and saw this one — and had to laugh. Tired much? But I remember taking it, and I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was (or looked), but just was wanting to remember his little face buried in my neck, and the swirl of black hair on the back of his tiny head.

And in some ways, this picture is maybe a great summation of how 2020 has left me feeling: utterly exhausted and ready to fall into my bed and wake up to a new day, but also with a thousand blessings I want to never forget.

We’re kicking off this holiday season with the strangest Thanksgiving of my life, due to rules and regulations. But it feels awfully silly to complain about Thanksgiving. If there’s one day of the year when my grumpy self feels slapped upside the head, it’s Thanksgiving. And I need it this year, as much as — okay, let’s be honest, more than — ever.

Thanksgiving isn’t just optimism. It’s not Pollyanna-itis. It’s the fruit of a deep, deep encounter with God. It’s born out of a confidence that He is who He says He is, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a shield against cynicism, bitterness, and disillusionment. It is, in some ways, the elusive Fountain of Youth the world has long sought after — not that it will keep you in your twenties, but it is the difference between hard and bitter, or sweet and joyful. For any who have set their hearts to run the race with endurance, it is absolutely essential. It is the lock and key that safely keeps untold treasures from being stolen away by the thieves of envy, jealousy, and negativity.

And so I’m seeing that yes, the circles under my eyes are extra dark — in so many ways, on so many levels. But also? My life overflows with blessings, not the least of which is currently snuggled in my arms as I write, making soft little baby sounds. I can succumb to the temptation to get lost in a sorry world of counted sorrows, or I can set my heart and my eyes on things above and find that His goodness and mercy have followed me every single day.

And a favorite quote regarding the first Thanksgiving:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”— Edward Winslow, 1621