Wednesday, December 7, 2016

how we find our way when we can't see a thing

We sit at our usual table, with our books and our discussion questions and our coffee in our hands. Cookies wait on a happy plate of sweet friendship to share as we discuss our week's reading. I read a passage from Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, then ask a question of my own:

“Faith is in the gaze of the soul. Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God, the saving God of twisted bodies, the saving God of harvest moons.”

How do you open the eyes of your soul to see?

Because maybe I'm a woman groping in soul darkness. I grasp about for a solid hold, but my hands never land upon what I really need.

I yearn for Christ, but I'm not even sure what that looks like right here, exactly.

Faith is the assurance of what you can't see, I know that much. Even so, what I can't see taunts me with its haunting, transparent nature. My soul squints and I follow God's voice, but I'd like to find peace in the middle of this harried hunt for God's will.

I tell the women at that table the truth, because that is what we do here:

I need God to do what only He can do, because He's asked me to live a life that only He can live. 

"Be holy, love me sacrificially, leave the old, crooked woman at the door and take up a life in Me," He says.

And so I have, but this new way of living takes practice and I can never see well-enough here in His way of doing things. I stumble, I freeze, I fall, and I wonder if I will ever really know what I'm doing, where the path is heading.

After we have finished our discussion I drive home with headlights whizzing past and the night-sky sprawled out overhead. I ponder the prayers I hold up in His presence like white flags. I will do Your will, and I need to see You move the mountain of my lacking ability, Lord.

This is the will of God, that we follow faithfully even in the darkness. 

I step in line behind the many men and women who have gone before me. I take my place here behind my Jesus, laying a blind hand on the shoulders of the One who obeyed without fear, who lived without sin.
"This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." -1 John 4:17-18 
My soul sets its gaze on His love that drives out all fear. Nothing makes me more brave than knowing His will, and His will is for me to be made like Him. 

Once I get home I eat another cookie and take in the view out the kitchen window that is only darkness. My eyes still can't see a thing, but my soul seems to know the way now. This girl will grope about no longer.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

an advent prayer for the weary parent's heart

Morgan and I always seem to have these deep parenting talks in the dark of bedtime, when the day is over and dishes are done and we can rest at last. The conversation always begins the same way:

"I'm not sure the kids are doing so great right now..."

The sun has gone to bed, but my heart can't rest after the long day of raising big kids. This weariness is different than the exhaustion of tending to squishy babies, tantrum-filled toddlers, and squeaky elementary goofballs. Back then I wished one of my kids could just Do Something to Be Helpful, instead of Needing Me for Everything. Every day back then was a repeat of the one before it: change the diapers, fill the sippy cup, wipe the bottom, make the macaroni, clean the mess, set up the train table, do the dishes, push the stroller. On and on life went, an eternal drumbeat of laborious servitude.

But this preteen and teenage weariness wants to make me afraid. It feels like losing; losing control, losing babies, losing sight of where they actually are heading. Everything up until now basically could be predicted: they would learn to sit up, walk, use a spoon, throw a ball, say all the words, read all the words, tie their shoes, etc., etc. Nothing seems predictable any longer.

I stare into the faces of my children now and I am shocked at how little I know. I don't know who they will choose to be. I don't know what the challenges ahead will mean for them. I don't know if those new friends are people my children will follow off the proverbial cliff, or if my kids will lead the doomed parade themselves. I don't know if they'll be willing to work hard enough to become who they say they want to become. I don't know if I've spent enough time praying, enough money investing, or enough time tending their character. Most days, I don't know much of anything- which my kids seem to sense and use to their advantage.

The most terrifying part of all of this is that all the unknowns I struggled to sort out in my own coming of age, my children now begin to face. (Lord have mercy!) It's my job to let them find their own way through, despite the drive within me to machete away all the scary underbrush and vines in their paths. I am here, ready to catch them when they fall, cheer them when they valiantly rise, and love whoever they are on the other side. But I have to sit off to the side, present and accessible, but very quiet, observing them like some kind of wise Jedi master.

Except most of the time, I feel more like a frantic basketball coach, about to throw a chair across the room.

But here we are in the advent season, and it seems God has come again to quiet my heart and teach me what it means to wait and love and trust that He is Immanuel, God with Us, the Prince of Peace, and our Everlasting Father.

Today I feel a new kinship with God as a parent. I am in awe of the way He laid His Son here in our lives. What was God the Father thinking all those years ago? Sending Jesus to a world full of sinners suddenly strikes me as The Scariest Idea Ever. The world was full of bad characters with even worse morals who loved jumping off cliffs. What if Jesus got in with the wrong crowd in Jerusalem and God's plan for redemption was thwarted by the thrill of cliff diving into oblivion? 

For goodness sake, it would have been so much safer to just stay home in heaven.

But maybe safer isn't God's ultimate goal for us. Maybe happy and risk-free lives won't satisfy our heart's longing to live the gospel. Maybe a predictable path is over-rated and an easy life is a sham.

I look up to dark ceilings on these weary nights, my gaze settles on the dark horizon of the future, and I know so many new things. I want to be a brave parent, who lets Her children run after God's heart, no matter how winding their path may seem from my view. I want to throw confetti instead of chairs, and carry hope in my heart instead of judgments

And, oh man, I want to see how high and far these kids of mine are going to fly. But to do that, I really will have to let go. Advent means that I don't have to be afraid of what could happen any longer, because we all have a God who has promised to be with us, and love us to the very end.

"Lord, I put these children in the manger of your will. I lay them down, I set them loose. But my eye will always be on them. Give me Your vision for their hearts. My voice will be close. Grant me Your words for their needy hearts. Let me be the kind of parent who is close but not controlling, wise but not annoying with my knowledge. I trust You to hold them when I can't, to see them when I am blinded by my humanity, and I know You will carry them when they lose their way. My love for them is wider and deeper than the ocean, and yet your love for them dwarfs my own by infinity. Let my heart rest in that truth when it feels afraid. I trust You. I am waiting for You in so many ways today. I put all my hope and faith in You. Thank you for being God With Us."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

waiting for Christmas

The gift catalogs are here and Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. I saw a jewelry store commercial on the TV at the gym yesterday that advertised a free bonus XBox with the purchase of a diamond tennis bracelet. If we don't stay focused, we might forget what Christmas really is.

Christmas is waiting.

This week actually marks the beginning of Advent, and therefore the beginning of the time God's children wade deeper into what it means to wait for God to keep His promise of Love.

We are those who long for Him. We are shepherds on a hill, cowering in the light of heavenly glory. We are a small, powerless girl with a womb growing wide with God's plans, yearning for the moment of delivery. We are the prophets dwelling in the temple, looking at baby after baby, seeking the One that will take away our sin and shame.

There once was a baby who was delivered for our deliverance, and the depth of that can take years to fully sink in.

Advent teaches me the lesson I tell my kids way too often, that we don't get to choose if we wait, but we do get to choose how we wait. The angels give us hope, though, don't they? This is what they told the shepherds, words that chase away the fear that there may not be not enough joy this Christmas:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

There is good news for those who wait: The advent of joy will chase the fear away.

And, oh, how our longing for God deepens our belonging to God.

Advent is when we remember how far we were from God the Father before He sent His Son to save us. It is when we fill our hearts with the marvelous way He loves us. Advent reminds us to wait patiently for the appearance of the God to whom we belong.

Our family will be reading a beautiful family advent devotional this year to set out hearts above Christmas lists onto the one who has listed our names in the Book of Life.

We will pop open the windows of a Trader Joe's advent calendar every day, then enjoy the sweetness of a tiny chocolate in the midst of the waiting for Christmas morning. We will cherish the knowledge that our God is the One who comes.

This morning I sit with my advent devotional before me, a cup of coffee in my hand, and a stillness in my soul. After all these years, here I am waiting... again.

I am one who longs and waits for His advent all the days of my life. In desperate times, in dark seasons, in happy days of joy, and in days of peace: I want Him most of allThis will be the way my life will go for many, many more years. There is something deeply comforting about that.

Peace is knowing the end before it comes, even if I don't know when or how it will happen. Everything sad will be made right someday, because in the end the fight will be won by the God who promised to show us the way home.

I hope you find your heart full of waiting this Advent season, and that when Christmas morning dawns, you find He has come for you all over again.

Merry Christmas, you guys. I hope you enjoy the sweet depth of the season of waiting.