Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spiritual Ribs

A long time ago when I was a college student I drove from my university’s town to my home town almost every weekend. Rarely did I stay on campus other than through the week. The road home was quite narrow, a snake-curving drive. But I became so familiar and accustomed to it that there were times I got home and realized I didn’t remember long stretches of the road at all. And that was slightly frightening because there were places on that route home that were and could have been treacherous, but for some reason my mind went on automatic—body and muscle recall.

This memory surfaced when a friend and I were talking about having idols, making choices and turning a blind eye. She said there were periods in her life she couldn’t remember mostly because of lifestyle choices she made. During this time she had embraced hidden idols and the sacrifice they had required was that she didn’t remember long stretches of time from her past and her young motherhood was a blur.

I understood this.

When I look back on my life there were several periods and long stretches in the road I don’t remember traversing. There were high and treacherous places I don’t remember navigating. In retrospect I don’t remember how in the world I did it. But I am here.

During that time I was partly in survival mode: do what you have to do, what you need to do and there wasn’t room for much more.

This is true not only of my daily physical life, but of my spiritual life. I leaf through the thin pages of my bible and read notes made in the margins. There are dates marked and tiny writing next to verses and passages. The writings are explanations and road markers of where I was. During this period I created paintings. Several of them. These paintings are wordless, but they speak volumes about the stretch of road that I was on at the time. And I have my journals. Stacks of black books that open to expose not only my cursive handwriting, but my very soul—the essence of me, and far more importantly the faithfulness and goodness of God.

The notes in my bible, the paintings and the journals remind me that God has never left me. Never forsaken me to travel alone.

He never was or is absent—perhaps silent—but never absent.

Even in the midst of my survival modes when I could only whisper sentence prayers he was present. When I didn’t know how to pray, when I didn’t know how to ask the Spirit to apply the truth of God’s word to my life he was being faithful.

I know during these times I was spiritually and emotionally emaciated. I was living on the barest of it all. You could have counted my spiritual and emotional ribs.

The years of famine.

Those were the years I don’t remember several long stretches of the road. Like Naomi and Ruth on their way from Moab back to Bethlehem, I trudged putting one foot in front of the other.

I understand and know the famine years were partly a result of my own poor choices. There were signs that famine was coming, but I didn’t heed the warnings.

Those were the lean years. Lean, ugly years.

The strangest thing? I had very little real cognition of how critical the state I was in; I was too busy trying to survive and trying to make sure everyone else survived.

Just as I have experienced the years of famine I have enjoyed the years of plenty.

And I am in the midst of them now.

And theses years have been years of fatness: of feasts, of tables laden with the richest of food, of good wine, of deep fellowship, of spiritual healing and of iron blades being sharpened.

But there are so many people in my life, so many (especially women) I love and care for, who are in the famine. Daily they live on and in the barest of it all. Famine ravages. It pilfers in coffers already empty. Famine causes us to forget the abundance or to believe it will never come our way. We’re blinded from the hunger and thirst. And we just plain can’t see our way out.

I had years of plenty in the past, but I neglected to do something crucial: I failed to store away for the times of lean. I didn’t have a deep or broad enough reserve to take me all the way through the famine. Thankfully there were wonderful people around me with reserves who were willing to share.

I understand, now, that there may be another famine in my life, but I am putting God’s word and his promises in my storehouse. I am recording his faithfulness, his goodness, and his workings in my life. Because I will go back to them. I will reread; they will help me remember. They are mile markers. Altars named by the lessons I have learned about God and his character and his involvement in my history.

No longer am I na├»ve enough to think that there are no more treacherous places in the road. No longer am I gullible enough to believe that I can drive based solely on familiarity. I don’t want to lose seasons of time again. I want to be awake and aware and very present—and I want to have plenty in my reserve to share. Before and when famine has reduced others to bone thinness I want to have something to offer.

I never want to be able to count my ribs again.









Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Tribute: My Big Girls



Years ago when all my daughters were still at home we had two sets of girls. In conversations and discussions we referred to the oldest girls as The Big Girls and we referred to the youngest two girls (4 ½ years after them) as The Little Girls.

The oldest two are very close in age and then there’s a gap and the two youngest girls are very close in age.

These monikers have fallen out of use. I haven’t thought of them in this way in a very long time. They have all grown up. They aren’t girls anymore. Even the youngest two are now young women, but my big girls are now women grown.

Mother’s Day 2013 was a fabulous and humbling day. I sat in church and looked down the row and all but one of my daughters were there (one had to work). And the feeling that crossed over me was just too much to attempt to explain. But I have thought about my daughters all day long. Seriously, all day.

I have thought a lot about The Big Girls. These big girls are now mamas themselves. They both sat in church this morning with their sons in their laps—great big boys already. And as I looked sideways at them I watched them do things that mothers do—things good mothers do, and I smiled. And for a few minutes I was transported back.

Back to when they were babies. Back to when, as a young mother I panicked because an elder’s wife passed my first born six week old daughter across the pews to anyone who wanted to hold her. My young mother heart was frantic as I looked across what seemed like a sea of people trying to find my daughter—my beautiful daughter. I was so mad. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been. But I was. She was being held by someone I didn’t even know; I hadn’t even met the woman and she was cradling Anna in her arms five pews away. I learned my lesson: from then on I carried Anna’s car seat into church and she stayed in it—I was the only who got her out after that. And when Katherine was born I followed suit.

Elijah got his finger hurt during the service and I thought about his mama. She was barely walking, but independent and curious. She reached into the trash and pulled out a ravioli can. She stuck her hand into the can which was fine, but the cut tin lid remained attached. When she attempted to pull her hand back out she caught her pinkie finger on the edge and almost sliced off the pad of her finger. Moving at what I considered warp speed I ran to try and stop her, but I failed. I packed Anna and Katherine into the car and went to see Dr. Becknell, our family doctor. He was in his eighties and still practicing medicine. He had seen much and he did a great deal to calm my mothering fears. He knew I was feeling inadequate and like an awful mom because I allowed my child to get hurt. He assured me her finger would be fine, but that this wouldn’t be the last time. He was right.

These Big Girls taught me more about mothering than any book or any other person. They exploded all my theories about motherhood and they found all the holes and gaps I had in my knowledge of children and development. They taught me that mothering wasn’t for the weak, or the timid or the impatient. They taught me that theories were just that—good ideas that sometimes worked and often didn’t. I thought I knew so much when Anna was born—I had taken care of my much younger brother and my step-nephew. I had baby sat and been a summer nanny. I really thought I was well educated, but what I learned is that I didn’t know much.

When they cried I couldn’t hand them back to my mom or my step-sister. When they cried I had to decide what was hurting them, what was lacking or what was wrong. And I learned I was inadequate. I was not an expert. I learned that the scant amount of knowledge was not enough.

This Mother’s Day I want to thank my oldest daughters—my big girls. They helped me grow up. And now they have children of their own. Because of these two older girls I was a better mother to their younger sisters. And because of them I am a better grandmother.

Occasionally I wish I could go back and repair and fix my regrets—all the things I did wrong. All the things I should have done differently. There’s a sore spot in my mother’s heart for what I didn’t know when I had them because I was ignorant, because I was clueless. But I do pray and hope that when I erred I did on the side of love. I wanted to do what was good and right for my girls. I wanted to do what would benefit them. I know I didn’t always get it right.

Now, on this Mother’s Day one of the very best unsolicited pieces of advice I can tell my big girls is that you won’t always get it all right with these sons of yours. You won’t always know what to do or how to help them. You won’t always be able to keep their hands out of ravioli cans or from being in awkward situations. And there will be times that you hold them and just simply cry because you seem to be at a loss.

But…

I have watched you mother these boys in the past eight months. I have watched the tenderness in you toward them. I have watched you hurt when they do, cry when they have. I have seen you love them, hold them, comfort them, soothe them.

I have watched you challenge and push these boys—putting things just beyond their reach so that they will move forward to gain what they need and want. I have listened to you talk to them in a grown-up way. There has been no diluting of language for them with you. I have watched you play and laugh with them.

I have listened to you hush them to stillness. I have watched these sweet boys go limp in your arms—feeling safe, secure and loved—their little bodies sinking into you. I have watched them look at you with ecstatic recognition. I have seen you gently correct these boys already teaching them that it is good for a man to be gentle. And I know you have held these boys and whispered prayers over them.

And my own mother’s heart has been enlarged. I am so proud of you. I am so proud of the mothers you are. Elijah and Judah will be richer because of you. They will have a perspective of the world that will be different because of you. They will engage life diffently because they have you in their lives. And I am so glad.

I hope you hear me: I am very proud of you.

My big girls are women grown now, and they have become beautiful, beautiful mamas.

Happy Mother’s Day my daughters.

May these boys teach you as you taught me.



Katherine and Elijah

















Anna and Judah

Friday, May 10, 2013

Easier Said Than Done, Part 1



Lately I have had many conversations with women about beauty. Earlier this week a group of women met in our local coffee shop (a gorgeous place by the way: The Cairn). Six women. Eighteen and nineteen year olds and forty- somethings. The conversation meandered and found its way to a topic for the day: are we beautiful? Am I beautiful?

I’m not sure how the conversation meandered to this subject. I just know that every woman at that table had struggled with this question.

“Every woman wants to be beautiful,” said one of the forty-somethings. “All of us, deep down, want to be beautiful. All little girls need to have their daddies telling them they are beautiful.”

She is right. And the enemy knows this. He preys and feeds with great frenzy on the tender flesh of this fact. The enemy has distorted, warped and bent the definition of beauty until it is unattainable.

We have bought into the lie.

The lie that beauty is equivalent to model perfection.

Often we have traded beauty for slick, cool sensuality—not even feminine allure, but an empty sexual magnetism that is for exhibition and exploitation.

And we find ourselves and our daughters struggling and grappling with devastating disappointment.

Beauty is examined, discussed and touted in magazines, talk shows and in the media as if it were a commodity to be bought or attained at all cost. But it seems that the media and the fashion industry hold the only acceptable definition of beauty. And they keep it ever beyond our reach.

Little girls want to be sexy before they even understand sexuality. Young girls and women are starving themselves to whittle their bodies to look like the glossy magazine photos of women who without the aid of photo shop would never appear as they do. Women are looking into the mirror and hating, even loathing, what they see because the image reflected does not look like a Victoria’s Secret model.

Women often cry fat and ugly because they are constantly comparing and being compared to a standard that is arbitrary and unrealistic. Men do not escape. Men are bombarded by these images and they look and find that very few women in their lives meet this stringent definition of sexual allure and beauty. This creates a huge gap between expectations and reality.

As I listened to the conversation earlier this week my heart broke. It just split right apart.

I’m very sorry to say I believe with conviction that the church has bought into this lie too. Perhaps not as blatantly. Maybe not as openly. But allow Beth Moore to gain a size or two on her small frame and see what happens. Let Priscilla Shirer cut her ebony locks into a short bob and hear the talk. Doubt me? Ask Mandisa about the sting of the image censor on American Idol several seasons ago.

A new friend and I were discussing this same subject. We talked about how this image mentality affects us regardless of age. She is a nurse. She shared something so sad that it actually made me ache. During her rotations as nurse and caregiver to the terminally ill she encountered this negative image consciousness: women in their eighties would want their gowns pulled and fixed in a way not to show the fat of their bodies.

The image of a worn, wrinkled and dying woman pulling at a hospital gown so that a nurse couldn’t see her fat just tears at my heart. What have we done?

The enemy wants us to believe our value comes from our appearance: the right body size, the right body shape, and the right clothes. Not only do we need all of this, but we also need straight teeth and perfectly arched eyebrows and luscious locks. If one or any of these are absent then we are lacking. Even if we have ALL the others, the one lack will be our focus.

This isn’t news to us, is it? We have heard this before. We know this is not the truth, but when you hear a lie so often and coming from so many places you begin to dance along the edges of it. Eventually you find yourself entertaining the lie on your porch.

Beauty.

Is it really that elusive? Is it reserved for only a few? Is it only physical? Is it a quality that only the elite can afford or obtain—whoever the elite might be?

Can real beauty be achieved by manufactured means?

For our sakes and the sakes of our daughters, and for our sons and husbands, we need to redefine beauty.

We need to decide—not Vogue, not Seventeen, not Oprah, not Victoria’s Secret and not Abercrombie & Fitch. No vague faceless they needs to decide.

Someone at that table this week said, “Easier said than done.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

Because They're Mine






My husband, two of my daughters and I had a long conversation at our favorite Mexican restaurant tonight. Just goes to show you that the presence of God is not confined, limited or hindered by location—for where two or more are gathered there he is also…

During this conversation, midst tears, something I had been thinking and mulling resurfaced.

Between my husband and me we have eight gorgeous daughters. Yes, you read that correctly: eight. They range from 17-27 years old. We have three grandsons between us. They are all born in September and range from 8 months to 2 ½ years old. We have two great sons-in-law and one joining us in June. This combined family has never been altogether, and one of our dreams is to have them all in one place at one time. This might just happen in June of this year as Steve’s oldest daughter will be getting married.

We love this family of ours. Surely, we do. My husband and I have talked about this—often. We have had many conversations about these daughters of ours. They are part of why my husband and I are rich.

Recently I was looking at my grandsons’ pictures. I had been with both of them during the week. I know. I know. I’m doing the grandmother thing again: bragging on my grandsons. Honestly, I just can’t help it. Anyway, I watched their sweet faces and listened to their gurgles, coos and babbling. I held them in my arms and dodged their fingers pulling on my face. I was thinking about how much they have grown and developed in eight months. I considered how many developments they had achieved. And of course I have deeply loved and crazily applauded every single one, even if in my mind.

But I started thinking about when my daughters brought Elijah and Judah home from the hospital (actually before). These babies did nothing but cry, eat, sleep and fill diapers. They didn’t hug us back. They didn’t kiss us back. They didn’t look at us with recognition. They didn’t interact with us. They didn’t talk to us.

Yet we loved them anyway.

We swaddled them in their soft blankets, pulled them as close as we could and buried our noses in the softness of their sweet necks. We stared at them. We counted their fingers and toes. We traced the outline of their ears and lips.

Why?

Because they are ours.

Even though they didn’t love us back yet, even though they didn’t respond to us we loved (and do love them) anyway.

We love them because they are ours.

Over the past eight months they have grown. In every way. They interact, respond, and react to us now. They have developed these unique personalities—serious, contemplative, cuddly and charming, curious and busy. They are so much more than those few word descriptions; they are becoming little people.

But you see I loved them before this. Because they are mine. My grandsons are my daughters’ children. Just as I loved my daughters I love these boys. I loved them before they ever loved me. I delighted in their development. I was thrilled each time they learned something new regardless of how trivial or small it seemed. I clapped and shouted often.

Just today I said it to both of my grandsons, Yay! Elijah. Yay! Judah. And my smile almost split my face.
If I can love like this…

If I, who in comparison could be called evil, if I can love like this, then what must God’s love really be like? If I, not knowing how to love perfectly, can love like this—then please tell me what the perfect love of God is like?

He loves us because we are his.

We came just like baby Elijah and Judah—with almost less than the basics. We came to him doing nothing more than eating, sleeping, and crying.

And he loved us. Just us. Our frail, fragile little selves.

And then we began to grow. We grew incrementally. We developed and reached new stages. We acquired new skills.

And the Father watched.

He delighted in our development. He was thrilled when we learned something new—regardless of how trivial or small. He shouted and clapped when we were obedient.

But he loves us because we are his.

It is my prayer that my daughters and my grandsons understand that my love for them is not based on what they do, but who they are. Not based on what they accomplish, but because of who they are. I love my children because they are mine.

And if I, who am frail and sinful, can love like this…

Then please consider what kind of love our Father has for us.





Because They're Ours!




Tatem Axel

Elijah David


Judah Nathaniel

katherine and Elijah


David, Katheine and Elijah

Tamera (Mama) and Anna




Noni and Elijah

Noni, Judah and Elijah

David, Abby and Tamera

Noni and Judah

Aunt Liv (Olivia) and Elijah
Elizabeth

Hannah and Tatem



Stephanie


Gabrielle

Olivia

Hannh and Trevor


Elizabeth, Stephanie and Gabrielle

Abby

Elizabeth and Keegan

Abby and Olivia


Anna and Judah


Stephanie and Tristan

Tamera and Steve










Friday, May 3, 2013

Sanctuary



This morning I sit in my makeshift sanctuary. It really doesn’t look like a sanctuary. Laundry is spread on the couch waiting to be folded and put away. Dishes from breakfast sit dirty and empty on the coffee table. Books are strewn on both sides of me. One section of a wall has been pulled away to expose our plumbing because a plumber had to come this week. The pack and play sits out because I forgot to put it back in place after the boys left one day. So, it doesn’t look like a sanctuary.

But it doesn’t have to look like a sanctuary to be one. This back room of mine is a sanctuary because of God’s presence. That’s what makes any ground, any place holy.

His presence.

Burning bushes are sacred and holy because our God reveals himself there. A sanctuary is a place set aside for the purpose of something holy and good. It is a place that has been cleansed and prepared to, at least momentarily, hold the weight of God.

In that sense we, who are his children—his people, are sanctuaries. We, these common earthen pots, hold the surpassing greatness of God. Did you just read that or gloss right over it? Paul says that we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Since April 7th I have been involved in a Bible study with a group of women. The book we use? Idol Lies by Dee Brestin. A book about idolatry. A book about cheating on God. A book about turning to other lovers. A book about spiritual adultery. It has been a hard study. But something has happened that we didn’t expect, or at least I didn’t.

We are a messy group. We have issues. We have discovered the idols under our camel’s saddle. It is not a neat and pristine place.

But!

This women’s group, the twenty-seven, has become a sanctuary.

It has become a place of holiness. A place that has momentarily held the surpassing power of God. A place where His presence hovers and abides. A place of protection and safety.

For a little while on Sunday nights these women cry sanctuary. And God hears.

And in this sanctuary I behold the glory of God.

As I look out at the sea of faces I see his weight in each of them. This very essence of Him is radiating from the portals of their eyes that usually swim with unshed tears. And I get overwhelmed. Sometimes I think they need veils. Just for my sake.

I lead this study—that really is a funny thing. Because right now all I can do is stand with Isaiah in the temple. In the sanctuary. And in this sanctuary I see the train of Almighty God’s robe in the honesty, transparency, realness and compassion of these women. I feel his presence in their longing to lay down their idols, to tear down the high places and to allow him to crush their stones.

And I, inside my heart and head, I am crying, “Oh, Lord. Woe to me. I have unclean lips. How can I speak to these women? Bring the coals, quick, before my lips even part.  "

Because in the midst of their confessions, in the midst of their tears, I hear them whispering, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.”

And I join them.

Sanctuary.

All that manifested in Isaiah’s physical temple is happening inside of our spiritual temples. These women are crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” They want their lives to whisper and shout it. And they are stepping in line to have their tongues seared.

And I see his glory.

They are reflecting his glory. They are being transformed into his likeness.

Each one.

With ever increasing glory they are housing the weight of God.







C.S. Lewis: Weight of Glory



Ephesians 4: 6

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.