Sullivan, on motherhood.

Excerpts from a sermon by Rev Edward Taylor Sullivan, on the generational and future impact of mothering:

“I am taking a text this morning from President Coolidge . . . ‘The destiny of America lies around the hearthstone.’ . . . ‘If thrift and industry are taught there,’ he said; ‘if the example of self-sacrifice oft appears; if honor abide there, and high ideals; if there the building of fortune be subordinate to the building of character—America will live in security, rejoicing in an abundant prosperity and good government at home, and peace, respect and confidence abroad . . . Look well, then, to the hearthstone; herein all hope for America lies.’

“But the hearthstone is an emblem. Beside it is enthroned the mother. The Creator lays the next generation in the lap of the mother; and we have high warrant for the belief that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.’

“When God wants an important thing done in this world, or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He does not release His thunderbolts nor stir up His earthquakes. He simply has a tiny, helpless baby born, perhaps in a very obscure home, perhaps of a very humble mother. And He puts the idea or purpose into a mother’s heart. And she puts it in the baby’s mind, and then—God waits!

“‘The great events of this world,’ says someone, ‘are not battles and earthquakes and hurricanes. The great events of this world are babies. They are earthquakes and hurricanes.’ Oh, the secrets that lie all about us, hidden from our eyes! We glance at a tiny child, and we do not see, we do not know, what a thunderbolt of the Almighty is wrapped up in that little child.

“‘I walked down the furrow in the field,’ said a humble mother who lived on a New Hampshire farm; ‘I walked down the furrow with the Governor of New Hampshire in my arms, and the Governor of Massachusetts clinging to my skirts.’ She said that afterwards, long afterwards, in her old age. For she knew not then, and no one knew, that her two baby boys would be governors of two New England states.”

*****

I love that picture of a farm wife. If she had known, would she have done anything differently? If I had a glimpse of the future, would I do anything differently?

Truth is, I do have a glimpse of the future. I see what God is doing and that He is returning, and today, I can sow into my children knowing they are men and women of destiny, whose lives (whether they be “earthquakes” or the quieter deep bedrock faith) are meant for impact. I can lay aside every selfish motive and short-sighted distraction, and invest into them for the long-term.

“I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

I need Thee every hour

This picture makes me laugh. So much personality in this split second, which, now that I think about it, is consistent with every other split second of my life: SO MUCH personality.

My house is full of people, not just kids. People. And some of them are 18 month old babies determined to make a statement and show me who’s boss, while others are nearly my height and beginning to straddle childhood and mature responsibility.

My head spins. It really does.

And there are moments of calm, but here’s the thing: I can’t just go into survival mode between those moments, because my real, actual life and their real, actual lives are being lived all the time. I love sitting at my picnic table for a few minutes, just listening to the birds, but God hasn’t really called me to be a bird-listener. He’s called me to mother these children. The often loud, sometimes chaotic, always active, full to overflowing life is where I’m to pour myself out.

And I am a leaky bucket.

I try to create systems and patterns and habits that keep us all moving together in harmony, but it’s easy for me to go into autopilot, never stopping to notice how I’m not really heeding the admonition to be filled with the Holy Spirit — or be being filled, which I learned is a more accurate translation. Constant, never stopping. Because our hearts are leaky vessels and we always need more of Him. He gives me wisdom and strategy, but He wants to be with me in each moment as we flesh it all out. I need Him. So much and so much more.

These are my thoughts tonight.

BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

We know not what to do; but our eyes are upon Thee.

My book-a-month pace was completely thrown off when I decided to pick up Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy as my read for the month of March. At 500+ pages, I anticipated it being an effort to get through in one month; what I didn’t factor in was the emotional toll it would often take, and how I would read a couple of pages only to put it down, too undone to continue.

It is a deeply human story of Germany in the the 30s and 40s: the agony, painful naiveté, perplexity, suffering. Reading of the unfolding of the Nazi reign of terror from the perspective of a proud, deeply German family was heart wrenching and enlightening.

And against that backdrop, the story of a young man’s faith, which was intellectual in nature, until the Holy Spirit began to beckon him into something deeper. What if we lived like this was true? As the world around him began to unravel, he began to learn what it meant to walk by the Spirit, and the simple decision to obey Christ at all costs set him on a course toward martyrdom, yes, but also deep Kingdom impact.

This is what struck me most: he was not spectacular. He never made a decision to do crazy things. His was not a philosophy of ends justifying means. Rather, he purposed each day to make sure the next step was consistent with the truth of Scripture, as revealed to him. Would I have reached all the same conclusions as he did? I’m not sure, and certainly not every believer around him chose the same path, but even in that, Bonhoeffer’s example of grace and care toward another brother’s conscience was incredible.

He dug deep into life, convinced that God meant to inhabit and redeem our human experience, not take us out of it. He was calm and courageous because he simply did the next thing. The supporting characters in the story mirror the deep conviction and courage that we see in his life. His deeply intellectual, thoughtful faith left me mulling over concepts of conscience, ethics, truth, and obedience.

When I read the last page, and closed the book, I wanted to weep: weep with sadness, weep with inspiration, weep with thankfulness. This gentle man gave his body to be burned, but left a legacy of one whose eyes were fixed on Jesus until the end.

Highly, highly recommended.

Such people [of private virtuousness] neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities.
But . . . they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest. They will either be destroyed by this unrest, or they will become the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.

The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully. To try to explain “right” and “wrong”—to talk about ethics—outside of God and obedience to His will is impossible.

life and peace.

I think so often about being the one in my home responsible for setting tone, atmosphere, soul-aroma. Like it or not, that’s who I am as the wife and Mama. (And if I go on strike, that action has its own aroma. Or stench.) This home culture — it’s my domain.

I’m painfully aware of how often my heart is churning out fumes of annoyance, frustration, worry, anger, envy, discontent, judgment… Need I go on? Ugly. Poisonous. If our eyes could see the thick black smog those things produced, wouldn’t we just be horrified?

So I am continually crying out to the Lord to continue to do in me a deep heart-change, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those breathing in my soul-fumes!

And oh my, is He ever. Such a deep down, turning things upside down, helping me to get it kind of work.

Rest. Peace. Work. Grace. It is finished. These are the themes that suddenly are everywhere, grabbing my attention, showing me clearly my brokenness, illuminating a path of freedom. Old patterns, dyed-in-the-wool weaknesses, things I’ve limped along with and thought maybe I’d just get better at limping — He’s able to address it all and make me brand new. That in and of itself is life giving. Wow.

This week’s verse for meditation is Romans 8:6, and oh, how it has struck me in a whole new way.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

What does that mean?

It means that when our mindset is one of “do good, earn favor; do wrong, you’re a failure,” we are living under a construct that can only mean death. We can never do enough good. I will live my whole life under pressure that will never let up; I can never satisfy the gaping void between my best (and I’m rarely at my best!) and the holy God whose approval my soul craves! And that pressure breeds anxiety, stress, anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, pride, insecurity, hatred, selfishness… Death.

When my mind is set on the flesh, and we don’t have a “good” school day, the poisonous fumes of failure are the result.

BUT.

But.

In Christ, there is the most beautiful but.

When my mind is set on the Spirit, I realize that my worth is found in Christ. The deepest things my soul craves and is tempted to prove through my best efforts — value, meaning, goodness — are fully satisfied in the Cross. That to-do list is completely crossed off.

Done.

And now, I wake up and work and do my best each day as wife and mother because it’s the work my Loving Father has given me — not with an underlying drive of needing to finish, complete, perfect, produce.

The fragrance of that is life and peace.

I love the smell of a good scented candle, of freshly baked bread, and just-shampooed babies wrapped in clean towels — but the homiest fragrance I can bring to my family is the one that comes when my mind is set on the Spirit, and I am working to bless, not to prove.

For more great insight into Romans, the law, and the Spirit, listen here.

Every Good Endeavor

This month I read Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor.” Hearing a few podcasts of his on the topic whetted my appetite and I was eager to read his deeper thoughts on the theology of work.

Because yes, God has much, much to say about the topic of work. In fact, as I read, I became more and more struck by how “work” is not a topic. It is an intrinsic part of our design. A correct theology of work is so important because it is actually a correct theology on who we are and how we are meant to relate to the world.

Keller is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I am blown away by the lucidity and clarity with which he can convey profound wisdom. I wasn’t disappointed by this book. True, at the end there were several pages that almost lost me, but every time I determined to just follow his train of thought, BOOM, he led me to an amazing idea.

The big ideas in this book are “God’s Plan for Work,” in other words, what Genesis and pre-Fall has to say about work and who we are; “Our Problems with Work,” enumerating the incredibly deep ways in which sin has broken our ability to work or even understand what work is; and “The Gospel and Work” — the amazing news that because sin has broken the world so deeply, a Christian can be a profound light by simply reclaiming the truths of God’s Plan. Not easily, but simply.

Having been taught a very solid theology of work from a young age, I’m not sure there was anything brand new in this book. However, over and over, it was a message that cut through to my heart and challenged me page after page. It’s far too easy, living on this side of the Fall, to grow weary or discouraged, to assume failure on my part rather than seeing that my best work will be plagued by the results of Adam’s choice. (There will be fruit and there will be thorns.) It’s also easy to not consider how holistically we can live for the Kingdom of God — we don’t begin to make a difference when we teach Sunday school, but rather, the minute we rise from sleep and begin to maintain, preserve, and create (wiping down the sink!)

There were too many “best parts” to pick just a few, but for someone who is prone to being a slave to the “work beneath the work” (trying to satisfy some need for production and success and self-worth), the very last segment left me almost in tears — you know, that feeling of your soul being liberated from weight it need not carry?

Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ. When the work under the work has been satisfied by the Son, all that’s left for us to do is to serve the work we’ve been given by the Father.

For a read on how all your life’s work can be connected to God’s work on the earth — both your production and your consumption — I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

a passion for the impossible

I just finished A Passion for the Impossible, a biography of Lilias Trotter. (I am part of a read-a-book-every-four-weeks challenge this year and am already enjoying immensely the motivation of the group!)

Lilias Trotter was an English aristocrat whose artistic ability had the potential to launch her into the position of first great female watercolor painter — but instead, she followed the voice of the Holy Spirit to Algeria, a part of the world theretofore untouched by the Gospel. Hers was a life of faithfulness. Many times, I put the book down, thinking, “Goodness, this is kind of slow.” And then it occurred to me: that’s the point. Her life never had a fireworks moment. There was never a crusade attended by thousands. She didn’t open orphanages that reached hundreds. In fact, as of the writing of the biography, Algeria is still a hard, dangerous place for Christianity.

And yet, she gave her life, daily, faithfully. She did not judge her steps by their “success,” but by her obedience. She died having affected many fellow missionaries and her persistence resulted in 15 outposts, penetrating the darkness with the light of Jesus. Not enough to make a “splash”, as it were, but counted in the currency of heaven, a chest of treasure.

Several spots struck me especially, and I’ll record them here (for my own future benefit!)

***

“As an eagle…fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings—so the Lord alone did lead him.” Fluttereth over—the early stages of faith are reaching upward, like the eaglets for their food when the mother-bird is overhead. . . it is an older faith that learns to swing out into nothingness & drop down full weight on God—the broken up nest of former “experiences” left behind—nothing between us & the abyss but Himself—A rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true—The Lord Alone—that is trained faith.

***

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And the love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Ghost
be with you.”

We have so often listened to it as the soothing ending of a quiet sermon. In its full meaning it is a battle cry.

***

“Two glad Services are ours
Both the Master loves to bless
First we serve with all our powers
Then with all our helplessness.”

These lines of Charles Fox have rung in my head this last fortnight—& they link on with the wonderful words “weak with Him”—for the world’s salvation was not wrought out by the three years in which He went about doing good, but in the three hours of darkness in which He hung stripped & nailed, in utter exhaustion of spirit, soul, & body, till His heart broke. So little wonder of us, if the price of power is weakness.

***

How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him…

***

Along with this book, I very highly recommend the devotional, “A Blossom in the Desert,” which is a collection of her writings and artwork. It is beautiful, challenging, and bite sized! Her meditations are rich, Word-based, and life giving. Even today, her sacrifice is affecting hearts — like mine. How amazing!