Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

The Mathematics of Grace

It’s no surprise to me that “Math” is a 4-letter word. This is what I am thinking right now as I wait “patiently” (or not) for Chloe to get done with the second of three Math reviews to finish our school year. Yes, THREE. Who needs THREE reviews to end a school year? No one ever, that’s who. For the love of all things bright and beautiful, what are you thinking, Singapore Math? Keep your superior mathematical practices. Seriously, I am ok with the dumbed down American version. This is brutal. Torturous. And I am totally over it. Math. Sheesh. Die already.

Now, I am the teacher. In theory, this means I could do something to alter the schedule. I could abbreviate the Math lesson, or chuck it altogether. Right? Wrong. See, I am the teacher who feels chained to complete the curriculum just as it is written…in its murderous fullness. I toy around with the notion that I have more freedom than that. After all, this is homeschool. Right? Wrong. Today, as I listen to the snap-pop-crackle-hiss of my last nerve endings mocking at me, I must face the truth. I am slave to the schedule. Unremittingly so.

Thank you, Jesus, for lunch breaks and sunshine, or we would be doomed. I am hopeful review number two will go down in the books after we refuel. And that leaves ONE more between us and summer. Bring it, Math. You are going down!

I think we are close enough to the finish line now to thank God for His grace to get us through another year of homeschooling. And to answer the question, “Are you smarter than a 5th grader”? Umm…No.  At least not in &^%! Math. Now that we have that all out in the open, I may as well ask for prayer, because Chloe will begin the 6th grade in the fall. 6th grade!? Middle school. I am not ready for junior high. Can you imagine the end of year reviews? Good grief, each day has enough evil of its own.

It is funny how quickly we’ve found ourselves here. I remember when I started homeschooling – 6 complete years ago! I have almost been homeschooling for 7 years! That is unbelievable. People always ask me, “How long do you plan to homeschool?” And I always answer, “We are taking it year by year”. I guess this many years into it, I have to admit we are in it for the long haul. I am always amazed at how God helps us. His grace abounds more. He truly is all-sufficient. Even more than enough to get this frayed mama and student to the end of Math yet again. Nothing short of miraculous.

1 + 1 = Grace wins, every time. Oh, my friends, I intend to soak up every mathless ray of His matchless grace this summer. Not a gloomy word problem in the sky. :)

Surrendering to the Season

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to uproot
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain.
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace”.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

It is a humbling thing to ask for prayer. Especially about matters that induce shame, even if you haven’t done the wrong. The first time I spoke in my Bible Study this year, it came with an unexpected wave of tears, as I struggled to share that I have a son in prison. Giving voice to this reality confronts me again with such force that I can barely breathe, much less speak. So much for first impressions. I left the group that night feeling raw, vulnerable, and unsure of my own stability. This is not like me. Why did I feel so compelled to blurt this out in my introduction? I didn’t know. But it made me uncomfortable, and a little afraid. Could I be trusted to compose myself in public? Clearly, I could not hold back the torrent of emotion that had overwhelmed me that night, from the very first hymn. At the words, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do”, I blinked back instant tears, and my heart burned within me. Dare I believe it? Allow my mind to consider what good God might bring from all this pain? My battered heart so desperately wanted to believe it possible.

Since I put it out there in my first encounter, I thought I might as well ask for prayer for an upcoming visit to see Eddie. So, I asked for prayer two weeks prior to my visit. The last visit in June had nearly destroyed me. It took about four days to recover from the fear that gripped my heart. I didn’t know if I could do that again. It is so hard to come back to the rest of the family and be who I need to be for them. I have to fight against the grief that threatens to swallow me. And sometimes you just aren’t up for that fight …again. So, this time, I reasoned, I needed as many people praying for me as were willing. And since I had already made a blubbering mess on my first night, what did I have to lose? 😉

My first observation on the morning of my visit was how physically fit I felt. I really felt good, all the way around. The visit itself is physically demanding because it is a four-hour drive, over 200 miles away. I’ve driven it plenty of times, emotionally wrecked, head-pounding, pulling over to take out contacts so foggy that I can’t see to drive. So, to feel this good was a gift, and my heart was so glad. Then, all of my favorite worship songs came on the radio, one after the other, as if cued from on High, a personal sermon to my soul. Danny Gokey’s song, “More Than You Think I Am” is always a comfort. The line, “You always think I’m somewhere on a mountaintop, but never think behind bars” reminds me that Jesus goes places that even a mother cannot go. The day before, my friend wrote to me, “Jesus goes with you”, and the lyric reaffirmed this truth. Then tears came as I sang “Praise you in this Storm”:

“Once again I say Amen, and it’s still raining”.

Yes, it is still raining. Circumstances are still bleak. To think about a child in a horrible place for a day is hard enough. But your child there, in a small prison cell, day after day. On his special day – his birthday. On Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. And so many more days to face. Seven more long years of days.

That’s a lot of rain.

And here I am, once again, saying, “Amen”.

I started to pray to Jesus, who is the Amen (Revelation 3:14), telling Him I was going today on His command to, “Remember those in prison”, asking Him to bless our visit, let Eddie see Him through our time together, and help me emotionally through it. It was about this time that I began to have an awareness of two things. First, I was being prayed for. I could “feel” the prayers of God’s people. This is hard to explain, but I knew their prayers were upholding me in every way. Second, I started to notice the breath-taking color of the fall trees lining both sides of the highway. Everywhere I turned, brilliant yellows, oranges, reds. Shades of glory all around, and the thought started to form, “surrender to the season”. I am working on a fall tree art class at the library in November, and am planning to focus on this idea as the theme. I realized this is exactly what I am doing here. Going where Jesus is calling me to go, trusting in His presence, who goes before and with me; inexplicably, but gloriously true. The beauty of those trees permeated my heart and I started to experience what can only be described as joy.

JOY? JOY. JOY!

It both baffled and amazed me. My heart was filled with praise and thanksgiving; a delight, and glory to God! The visit was much the same as my morning. All of those prayers mattered, and made a difference for us. Eddie and I shared a good time of conversation, laughter, healing. The remarkable thing is that our circumstances had not changed one iota from the last visit. It is that God is changing us. I am confident He is with us, and at work. Even if our circumstances suggest the opposite. And further, God is changing me, as I surrender to this season of life, trusting in its purpose and value. I am looking forward to a harvest as glorious as those fall trees.

So, today. “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do” as you surrender to the season, right where the Lord has you, right now. To the best of your ability, turn all of yourself toward Him. Trust His purpose in your pain, and the possibility of blessing, beauty, and an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8)! And whatever you do, ask others to pray for you. Don’t let fear of looking foolish keep you from the blessing of experiencing the hope and help found in the prayers of the saints. In the end, we will all enter the gates with singing, and the best part will be joining hands with the ones who’ve sown with us in tears, and together, reaping with songs of joy. Just imagine the sheaves from all of this rain (Psalm 126)!

Weaning, Whining, and Winning the Prize (A Special Giveaway)

It has been nearly a month since I’ve written a post, and I feel terrible about that. My husband keeps telling me it is ok to take a break, but I struggle to rest in his advice. We had quite an extensive discussion the other night about this “performance mentality” that seems to be so intertwined in my thinking. Even when I can “see” it and talk about it a little, I can’t seem to totally shed the grip it has over my life. I wish I had more freedom in this area, but admittedly, it is a daily battle within myself.

If I am being totally honest, I haven’t had a lot to say lately.  At least nothing I want to post publicly. And maybe that is closest to the truth. The inner soul’s struggle is best left between God and man. It is best to be quiet on such matters, unless God gives you something to say. The word He keeps stirring in me is, “It is time to put on your working attire”.

This is something St. John of the Cross said in his writings on the “Dark Night of the Soul” in reference to growing up in Christ. He pictured an infant drinking milk from his mother’s breast, dressed in a fancy gown, sitting in the lap of luxury; until it came time to wean the child. Then the child must climb down from the lap, and eat like the rest. Common crusts of bread and water. Nothing rich or attractive or luxurious about it. This is how He says Christ works with us as He matures us in Him. There comes a time when He will wean us from the finer, babyish things of His Kingdom, and require us to work and eat like the rest. This is what St. John calls, “the working attire”.

I’ve used his words to describe what is going on with me right now. Overall, I feel God is requiring me to put on my working attire and get to work. The days are long and hard and endless. And I don’t feel a particular sense that He is giving me much to say other than that about them. I think I am being weaned from the pressure to “perform” by putting together a fanciful word. He is training me to listen and wait upon Him to move me to writing. And, not surprisingly, I don’t particularly like this position. (Cue the picture of the weaned child throwing a tantrum at his mother’s feet. Now you have a visual on what it feels like to be me on most days!).

This combined with the passing of one of my “spiritual mothers” this month has me right on the edge of a breakthrough, or a big fit, not sure which yet. Elisabeth Elliot passed through the gates of splendor on June 15th. I’ve been reading all of the tributes to her , trying to glean all that I can from the lessons of her life. Chief among them being this “working attire”. I’ve never known a more pragmatic, unpretentious example of living the Christian life. She mastered the concept of growing up in Christ. She lived a life of resting in God amid constant unrest and upheaval. And God gave her plenty to say about it. Her books are a treasure of wise teaching from a woman who lived and worked in the trenches (literally, the jungle, with a small child, and among the people who killed her husband).  If you aren’t familiar with her story, I strongly urge you to pick up one of her books. One of the saddest realizations I have had lately is there are whole generations of women who have missed this extraordinary model of godly womanhood.

So, today, I have a special give away in honor of Elisabeth Elliot, and the working attire she wore so well. I have an extra copy of her book, “A Chance to Die” about the life of Amy Carmichael. Amy was one of Elisabeth’s “spiritual mothers”. Elisabeth’s work and life were introduced to me by one of mine. I would like to give away this copy of the book in honor of them both, and pass on this lineage of spiritual mothering. The spiritual mother work I have received is one of the greatest gifts in my life. One of the sweetest tributes I read about Elisabeth Elliot was a friendship she developed with a woman that began through written correspondence. Elisabeth signed her letters, “With my love, Mother”. How sweet to give yourself to another woman like this, how blessed to receive this type of mothering.

To enter, just comment on this post to let me know you are interested. I’d love to hear your stories of spiritual mothering. I will draw a random name from the entries sometime in the next week. Maybe we can read the book together this summer, and learn to love our working attire. It is a privilege to share life together, and I would be honored to walk alongside someone else in the growing pains of life in Christ.

Here’s to being weaned, whining (less), and winning the prize to which we were called heavenward.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

With my love,

“Mother”

PS. A couple of my other favorite books by Elisabeth Elliot:

Finding Your Way Through Loneliness

 A Slow and Certain Light 

 

 

 

Dear President Obama, What I Want You to Know About Stay-At-Home Mothers

My van is 12 years old and has more than 250,000 miles on it. We bought it brand new from the dealership. The salesman took pictures of my husband and me standing next to our new, overly priced investment; smiling proudly, and completely ignorant of the fact that we’d been had. We needed the van to support our growing family. But we did not need the top of the line Warner Brother edition, complete with DVD player and a free Looney Tunes cooler bag.

But we had money to burn.

We both worked at the time, and had plenty of income. My kids were daycare veterans. Mom always came flying into the parking lot about 5 ‘till 6:00 p.m.; always working, usually on one more call as I drove. The kids were used to being the last ones there. It was just how we did life back then. We enjoyed many a family vacation in our souped-up van. I used to buy each kid a new movie to take along as a special treat. Maybe a peace-offering for all those last-minute pick-ups.

I read the transcript of your recent speech at Rhode Island College. You know the one now being shared all over the internet, and possibly taken out of context. I first watched the short clip, like everyone else, with your comment about not wanting women to make the choice to leave the workforce, and a goal to enroll 6 million children in high quality preschool education. This is not the kind of thing I typically even engage in. I usually avoid taking any political position, and definitely avoid making public statements about my position. But this came up for me again the other day, and so I looked up the complete transcript. I wanted to better understand your message in context.

My daughter and I were driving through town the other day in our now run-down van. This daughter has never known daycare because I made the choice to leave the workforce after she was born. One of the stipulations for me to be able to afford to come home was to pay off the van. I worked until we made the last $500 a month payment. That was about 7 years ago, and each year the van problems get a little worse. My husband is faithful with the maintenance, which I know has helped keep the van running. But we never know if something will work or not. The DVD player stopped working years ago. That free cooler bag had leaked on one of our family vacations, all over the electrical wiring. The radio doesn’t work whenever it rains. It has to dry out for a couple of days first. We sing our own songs, or just drive in silence while we wait it out. The passenger-side window doesn’t go down anymore. This is a nuisance on hot days when you are waiting for the air conditioning to actually blow cold air. Which, mercifully, it does – eventually. The blinkers are hit or miss, and so are some of the heat settings. The latest problem is the wind shield wipers stand straight up when I try to shut them off. For some reason, they will not go down. This is what my daughter and I were discussing on our drive. Specifically, how dumb we must look in our rusted van with the wipers now standing straight up in the air!

I want you to know, Mr. President, how personally I identified with much of what you said to those students. Like you, I was raised by a single mom. No one in my family ever went to college. I was the first, but never finished. I worked my way up in banking, like your grandmother. Then I branched out into Manufacturing, and later Healthcare. I worked my way up to a Senior Director level by age 30. I was pretty proud of that, and of my six-figure income. I frankly couldn’t foresee any other life. I thought I was living mine pretty well. But all of that changed in 2004 when I became a Christian. As I came to know Christ more, I sort of came into my own. I realized that He first made me a mother, before I became all of these things to everyone else. I realized all the stuff I had worked so hard to provide for my family were not as important as my actual family. And slowly, God pulled me to a new understanding of motherhood, and myself. I had two more children, and felt Him leading me home to care for them. I still thought this was just while they were little, because back then I felt more suited for the corporate world than the toddler world. It’s been a real change process for me to acclimate at home. To just be Mom, and believe that is enough. I still wrestle with my choice to homeschool when the days are long and hard.

I understand many single moms don’t have the luxury of a choice. I was a single mom myself for a time. We have to work to survive and support our children. We should make the daycare environment the best we can for our kids. I also understand many women choose to work, pursuing higher education and career advancement. I celebrate women in the workplace, and the opportunities we have to advance. My family and I personally benefitted in many ways from my work income. Women are every bit as capable and should be treated equally. I don’t judge women who choose to work, or suggest they are failing their children at home when they do.

My question, Mr. President, is when did it become a bad choice to stay home with our children? Why is this choice viewed as a concession, loss, or failure for the economy?Why can’t we celebrate families who are in the position to make that choice? Is it really a bad thing for children to have their mother at home? Do we really believe high-quality preschool can do better than a God-given mother?

I hope not, Mr. President. I hope not.

All I can say from my personal experience is that I made the choice I felt God asked me to make, and He has been faithful in helping me adjust to see motherhood as He does – a high and holy calling that is precious in His sight. I realize talking about God is as dangerous as talking politics, but I felt it was important for you to understand that sometimes mothers make the choice to come home in faith, believing it is His will for them and their children. Sometimes a mother answers to a higher authority, if she has ears to hear. And I pray that you, Mr. President, being in a place of authority, will speak of mothers who choose to stay home in a way that validates and honors them for answering this calling. I pray you will see mothers at home not as making a bad choice forced on them by economic realities, but as making a valuable and worthy contribution to the world. After all, a mother does not leave the workforce when she goes home. She is the workforce who has taken an active role in training and equipping the next generation.

As my daughter and I made our way through town, I fretted about what we must look like to others with our crazy, defective wind shield wipers. It was she who paused and then said, “You know, Mommy, we are blessed just to have a car to drive around in and keep us out of the cold”. And I thought, this is the truest meaning of thanksgiving. For a child to know what truly matters in this world; to be sensitive to the real problems of life – like lack of transportation or housing in the cold, and to be able to express a genuine, heartfelt gratitude.

I am thankful to have had the choice to stay home with my children. I believe the work I am doing here matters – for all of us. If we have to drive a beaten down van, so be it. Turns out the bells and whistles don’t matter as much as having the mother to drive you through town. Not that I take any credit for my daughter’s understanding, or her wisdom. She came to that place all on her own. And you know what? She’ll make a fine mother one day, and I couldn’t be more proud.