“A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” —Saint Teresa of Calcutta
After the tears finally stopped flowing, I scooped him up in my lap and looked him straight in the eyes. “You are wonderfully made,” I tell him. “You think mommy loves you? God loves you so much more. You are His masterpiece.”
It was only a small incident at school that set off my son’s meltdown. He was having trouble with personal space, as active five-year-old boys tend to do. But when he saw me, he melted into the tears of one grieved by a great failure, insisting he was bad. My heart broke as I saw shame in those heavily lashed chestnut eyes.
We talked a few minutes and he accepted the consequence of no technology with a, “yep, I deserved that” nod. He turned to go but I returned his gaze to me and said, “Now what are you to God?” He fidgeted and squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable in my arms. “No, I’m not a masterpiece,” he insisted. Finally, he conceded, repeated what he knew he should have said and ran off to play.
Left alone in the silence, I felt raw and exposed. I want to shelter him from the years I have spent shrouded in guilt and doubt. I want him to be firmly established in who God is and who he is as His child. Only a few years old, the world is already teaching him the same lessons it taught me: You are too weak to be good; You not enough; You’re not worthy. Were these tears that stung my eyes for him—or for me?
I devour the stories I read with my kids about God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love,” which are so different than the King James Bible I read as a child. I tell them about grace and love, trying to focus more on the motive than the behavior. But each time I tell them these things, I am telling myself. I have to preach grace to myself every day. Because my own weakness is all I have believed in for so very long ...
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. – Ephesians 5.1-2, The Message
She’s got my bent towards anxiety. I can see it in her already, even in her early years. My little one frets over her art, erasing and erasing when it isn’t up to her standards of perfection. Tears threaten and she moans in frustration, throwing down her pencil in defeat.
She also has my fierce belief in hope; that I can see, too. In her innocence, she believes she can change the world. She hasn’t seen the opposition that is coming nor felt the weight that can crush a hopeful heart. I want to protect her from those hurts, but I also know they will make her stronger if she can endure them.
When the calendar pages turned to 2017, she went back to school, the last half of second grade awaiting her. My little bundle of light and dark warring against each other—worry and wonder shining in her bright blue eyes—bounded in the house, excited to tell me about her day at school.
She asked me what that “R” word is that means you make a promise you have to keep. A little confused, I pressed on and she said, “You know, you make them at the beginning of the year?”
“Oh, resolutions,” I said and she nodded furiously. “Yeah, we made resolutions today and I have two.”
Crawling up in my lap, her eyes brimmed with excitement and I asked her to tell me about them. She recited them like the lines of a play she had committed to heart.
“First, I am going to be grateful for each day I have because God made that day and we have no idea how many days we get. Each might be our last and I’d rather spend my last day happy than with a bad attitude,” she said proudly. Wow, she has been listening in our quiet times of bedtime prayer when she fidgets and squirms, when I think her thoughts are anywhere but on praying.
“Second, I promise to do something kind each day for at least one person,” she said between swings of her legs and shifting, her way of moving every second she is awake.
I stopped her for a moment, holding her face to mine so that she had to look in my eyes. Be still a moment. Just a moment. Hear me, little one...
It’s the first morning of Advent—the season that embodies longing, the pause between waiting for deliverance and the arrival of Emmanuel. The only sound I can hear is the ticking of the clock as I scribble in my journal that’s lit only by the soft white glow of the Christmas tree’s lights. It’s one of those moments you wait for—hushed and holy.
But I hang my head in regret in the still of that tender moment. My first act of Advent is repentance as I read the words that describe exactly what I did the day before:
Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. –Romans 13:11, The Message
I wanted everything to be perfect that day. Thanksgiving was behind us and Christmas was close enough to touch, to start the daily countdown written in chalk next to the stockings. We have the tradition of decorating while listening to Christmas music and sipping cocoa before we watch the first Christmas movie of the season, always Elf.
I worked myself into a frenzy trying to create that perfect moment. The furniture had to be moved to make room for the tree. That meant cleaning the baseboards where the couch had been. It also meant packing away the fall decorations to make way for the collection of mangers that adorn every surface of the dining room. But those surfaces were all covered in dust. One cleaning project turned into another until every space was spotless and by then the time to decorate the tree before we went to evening church was limited.
There are no pictures of the kids laughing while they hung the ornaments. I didn’t have time for that. We had cocoa with dinner but drank it quickly and rushed off to the next thing. In all the preparations for that special moment, I missed it altogether. There were no prayers said beside the tree. The joy of it was lost to me.
I am sure the kids saw nothing but magic; the lights, the cocoa, the music were all there. But I knew better. I was waiting for this magical moment. I was trying to whip up some sacred experience like a batch of Christmas cookies...
In the hustle and bustle of the season, do you find yourself trying to get through your to-do lists and keep the moments going? Join me at SheLoves today and pause during the sacred and mundane moments to wait on the Lord.
When we meet new people we often have to clarify our closeness. We finish each other’s sentences and laugh at jokes that others around us don’t get. We see eyes dart with questioning looks and have to qualify it with, “Oh, we’re sisters” and then we see them nod with understanding.
My sister’s favorite thing to ask people next is who they think is older. Most of the time my wrinkles give people the impression that I am the elder sister, though I am actually four years younger.
The truth is I show most of the characteristics of a firstborn—structured, cautious, and controlling. She has all the fun loving, outgoing traits of the lastborn. Over the years we’ve each taken on the role of leading the other, following in each other’s footsteps.
It hasn't always been this way though. There were times I thought I had it all figured out when I really needed to humbly learn from her.
When I became the first follower of Christ in my family at 14, I plunged into a rule-based faith like my very salvation depended on it. I think my motivation was right—I loved Jesus and wanted to follow God well. But I separated myself from the world and my family. I alienated those who loved me best.
I was defensive and self-righteous, intent on “saving” my family. I created a divide between us when I should have loved and served.
I know I wounded my sister deeply in those years. I called out her sin (ignoring my own unloving, prideful spirit). I picked fights over creation and evolution. I did all but call her a heathen.
Yet she met me with forgiveness. The sister who followed the Savior who modeled ultimate forgiveness held a grudge against her lack of faith. The one who wasn’t ready to embrace Jesus acted more like Him than I...
Have you ever experienced walking with someone towards faith? Today I am at SheLoves Magazine sharing the legacy of love my sister gave me and the faith she taught me. Read on.
A journey through old photos of my life will quickly reveal something most people who know me could tell you—I am a restless soul.
I have a hard time staying in one place too long without at least an adventure or two. I love exciting, new beginnings and want to be a life-long learner. I guess my passport would tell you that, too. I am most at home in cultures not my own and love venturing out into the world to learn all I can about a new people, a new place.
It’s evident in those photos of me through the years that I love change—just look at the constant evolution of my hair.
When I was a kid all the adults in my life loved my stick straight, bright red hair. Other kids would hurl the typical “carrot top” insult my way though. While other nicknames cut me deeply, this one bounced right off. I didn’t mind that other kids teased me for my unusual hair. Every adult in my life adored it because it was so unique, and so I, too, loved my fiery hair.
But my restlessness kicked in early and I begged to cut my hair that was long enough to sit on by the time I was ten years old. I don’t know how long I had to beg to wear my mom down, but the photos tell the truth. My formerly curled or crimped locks gave way to a pixie cut that made me resemble Peter Pan. I hated it with a passion. (But I never told my mom that. Remember the years of begging? I couldn’t admit I had been so wrong!)
Flat-ironed straight. Layered with side-swept bangs. Permed (so big!). Short and spiky. A stacked bob. Every couple years there has been a new look. A reinvention. I couldn’t stand my hair to be the same style for too long. I get bored with it after a while. My husband learned this quickly when I chopped off the curls he loved so much the very day we returned from our honeymoon and replaced them with a short-spiky look. I am not sure he knew what he was getting himself into!
My life has often been a reflection of this reinvention. I lived in only two homes during my entire childhood, in the same area my whole young life. As soon as I was on my own, I set out to explore. In the six years between graduation and marriage I lived in six different homes, spent significant time in five different cities and visited my first three countries. Then there was marriage, an international move, a move back home, and all the changes starting a family brings.
Not much has stayed constant in my life. But as much as I like new beginnings, I love stability, too — something I can count on in this wild and ever-changing world. That has always been my family...
Today I am over at SheLoves reflecting on the changes in my life and the constants that anchor me to home. This month's theme is "hair." Come see how old photos and memories are speaking to me of what is constant in this world.
My love quickly turned to a need to please and my feelings of being loved to a fear of failure.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by love when I started following Christ, but the feeling didn’t last long. Like a hamster on a wheel, I started performing. I learned all the right things to say and do, the places and people to avoid, the ways a Christian is “supposed” to look.
I was overtaken with a fear that I wouldn’t measure up. There was a story that was read to us one day in youth group. The gist of the story was a man who found himself in a room full of file cabinets. On the cards in were written every sin, every evil thought and dark place inside of him. Jesus read them all and then canceled them out with his blood, showing the man he was forgiven.
Looking back, I know the intention was to show us that we can be forgiven but all I heard was the part where every horrible thing I ever thought of doing was laid bare before Jesus. I spent so much trying to please him and when I failed, I ran the other way instead.
After years of running from Christ, so tired of that endless race of striving, I found myself sitting again in a room of students. A woman passionate about us wayward college girls was trying desperately to convey God’s love to us. She read us words from the book of Romans telling us that no matter what we had done it was forgotten forever.
“No condemnation,” she said “for those in Christ Jesus. Literally none. Your sins are completely gone, remembered no more.”
Brick by brick the walls I had built up to protect myself came tumbling down and I crumbled before her in tears. I had lived so long in fear of my own failure.
Through my tears, I cried out, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?”
Fifteen years later, I still struggle to remember this truth, still fighting my tendency to be motivated by fear instead of love.
I sat in another room of students last week, a very different kind. A gathering of writers, we all came to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing to learn about growing our craft and to connect with other writers. Continue Reading
Their smiles were hidden behind burqas, the black veils covering most of their faces. But there was a glimmer in their eyes as I caught their gazes and returned their shy smiles. They laughed as they worked up the nerve to ask for a photo. The encounter was repeated several more times with other welcoming strangers as we walked through the park.
My friends and I wore brightly colored salwar suits that day and tried to fit in, but we couldn’t hide the white skin that made us the celebrities of the day. We laughed later as we looked through our photos and thought how many family pictures we ended up in, strangers in a sea of lovely brown skin. The boldness of the South Asians who asked for “a photo ma’am” or snuck a selfie with us in the background made us snicker.
But a whispered second thought halted our lighthearted laughter. How do we make foreigners in our midst feel?
When we see people who obviously don’t look like they belong, do we treat them with such adoration? Do we stop to see them at all?...
His chocolate-brown eyes glitter with such an innocent joy that I can’t help but scoop him up in my arms. At four, my son still has a touch of baby in him that allows him to come running to me when hurt and lets me lie next to him until he falls asleep. But he’s a little boy in most ways and, as with most little boys, the first signs of spring are like rain after a drought to him.
After we had the mildest of winters the lizards and roly polies are out early this year. We spend most of the day after school outside as he scours the backyard for his favorite critters.
Daily he comes to me with offerings of love found beneath the trees that tower overhead. I hear his sweet voice cry out “for you, Mommy.” He presents me with a tiny yellow flower.
It’s not really even a flower, as my husband is quick to point out. It is a weed.
I can hear him groan every time one of the kids bends down to blow the dandelion seeds into the wind. The child in me loves to see the cottony white seeds take flight on the breeze, spinning like little ballerinas, tutus twirling in the sun.
My husband sees the resulting stubborn yellow flowers sprouting up in the yard, making more yard-work for him.
But my son sees something precious – a gift for his mommy.
I see a priceless offering from a son who wants to pour out love in the only way he knows how...
This week I am sharing about what my son is teaching me about offering, love, and joy at the Mudroom. Join me there?
It wasn't any secret when we met that I have a mind of my own and a will that is as strong as iron. We had barely begun when you said goodbye to me at the gate and trusted in our new love to carry us through months spent continents apart. A year into our marriage there was another month spent in which I said my "I love yous" through emails sent from internet cafes a world away.
You never once complained but rather gave wings to my dreams. I couldn't have gone had I not known you were the home I would return to.
My love for the big wide world is as much a part of me as my love for you. I cannot separate the two any more than bone and marrow. There is nothing I love more than when we get to explore it together.
My hair has faded over the years from a fiery red to more muted tones but the stereotypical fire of a redhead in me hasn't faded one bit. I walk the fine line between wanting so badly to please everyone and being just rebellious enough to let others know I won't fit into a mold they have defined for me. And you never seem to mind, either my stubbornness and strong will or my anxiety over what others think. I don't know how you do it, but you always make me feel like I am doing just the right thing and that you will love me no matter what.
Not a day goes by that I don't wonder how your quiet strength and my wandering spirit find such a fit in each other. Continue Reading
To the Ones I Want to Give the World To,
In just a few days I will have to say goodbye to you. Every time I leave I think it will be easier than the last, but it never is. Just thinking about that parting brings tears to my eyes. I am so used to you being the biggest part of my day. From waking to sleeping, there are so many moments in between in which you need me.
When I am not with you I wonder how I can be apart from someone who feels like an extension of my very being. I can't believe I have only been mother for nearly 7 years and was something else for 28 long years before that. I can't remember what it was like to not be your mom.
These moments of leaving are glimpses into what someday will be more permanent. Right now it is me setting out without you and only for a short time. One day it will be you leaving me for the big world out there and there will be a permanence to your leaving that I can't bear to think of just yet. I hold onto you as long as I can knowing that day will come far sooner than I am prepared for.
As your dad and I get ready to go we talk to you about the places we will visit and show them to you on the map. World travel doesn't seem strange to you as you speak a few words in languages not your own. I laugh at Arabic or Hindi spoken with your little southern American drawls and when you ask if the people in the part of the world we are visiting live in tents like in the Bible.
But I hope you understand more than a couple words of foreign languages or an acceptance of what is outside your own culture. I hope you grasp the reason we do what we do and it seeps deep down into your heart even now. Continue Reading