Hope for moms raising kids against the odds

pexels-photo-934717.jpeg“No father-no family-no faith. Winning and keeping men is essential to the community of faith and vital to the work of all mothers and the future salvation of our children.” (Lowe, 2003).

I recently ran across this statement in an article born out of statistics gathered in Switzerland in the 1990’s. It’s not the first time I’ve heard such a conclusion. Mom’s like me, who are raising kids without their fathers leading them to Christ, hear messages like this intended to emphasize the impact of fathers in their children’s lives, and we wonder, “What about us? What is the hope for mothers raising children against the odds? How do we press on in faith raising our kids? Shall we fear the frightening conclusion that without the vital role of a godly father in their lives their future salvation is hopeless and give up?”

By no means!

No doubt, we need Christ-like men who will do as Paul charged and act like men, being watchful, strong, motivated by love, standing firm in their faith (1 Corinthians 16;13-14). We need them in our homes and churches. Without them, women and children suffer. Our kids need Jesus-loving fathers, but their hope for salvation does not rest on their dad’s faith or lack of it. The Bible points moms raising kids against the odds to the God who defies the odds in the lives of women like Jochebed, Moses’ mom.

Jochebed’s faith saved Moses’ life (Hebrews 11:23, Exodus 2:2). When the authorities said Moses would be killed, she saw his worth and hid him. Moms, we may not have ideal situations to raise our kids in, but their lives are worth saving! Jochebed’s godly refusal to obey Pharaoh is an example of where our ultimate allegiance must lie. Yes, we will be obedient citizens. Yes, by God’s grace we will be Christ-honoring wives, even if our husbands don’t believe. But we won’t hand our kids over to destruction or enable those in authority to do evil. Moms, look at this Image-of-God Bearer entrusted to you and don’t surrender to the odds. Stand firm in your faith! Do what you can to expose your kids to people who display life-giving, Christ-like examples. And if you can do nothing more, hide them and put your hope in God! Resist evil and do good in their lives while you can.

When Jochebed could no longer hide Moses from the evil edict intended to drown him, she committed him to God’s sovereignty by placing him in a little ark on the river. We commit our children to the good sovereignty of God in circumstances that feel like a statistical death sentence against them by dedicating our kids to Christ. We do this by putting them in the church where others, especially godly men, can teach them about Jesus along side us. Single moms, moms married to unbelievers, we need our local church! Men in the local church, we need you! We need you to show our sons and daughters what it looks like when a man follows Jesus and leads others to follow him too. We need you to be like Paul to our Timothys.

Jochebed committed her son to God on the river, and God entrusted Moses to Jochebed when Pharaoh’s daughter paid her to nurse him. Moms, whatever time you have with your kids, is time God has given you to feed them the gospel and display your genuine faith. I remember a very difficult time when I was alone, in a small apartment with a newborn at my breast and a toddler at my heels. The odds were against them, but God had given them to me. So, I did what I could. I filled their ears with songs, scripture and prayers. Through the years my sons have seen my sinfulness and heard me frequently confess I’m a sinner who needs a savior and that savior is Christ. Has it done any good? According to the odds it hasn’t. According to the statistics neither of my sons will believe.

Moses’ upbringing was not statistically favorable either.  Whatever age Moses was when his mother returned him to Pharaoh’s daughter, surely any statistics about Moses’ childhood would have destined him to be hopelessly lost to the Egyptian gods, wealth and power. But Jochebed’s hope for Moses wasn’t his favorable odds. If we start looking to the odds, we start setting up idols. God’s message to us in Jochebed’s story is this: Salvation for your kids is not by good circumstances or favorable odds. Salvation is a gift of our God’s miraculous grace. As Jochebed hoped in the God who rules rulers, guides rivers and gives beautiful children, we can hope in the God who placed children in our care.

Mothers, we need to put our hope in God, not the odds. And brothers, we need your servant-leadership to help us point our kids to Christ. Despite all that is against us let’s hear Jochebed’s witness and keep doing good, without fearing the frightening odds against us (1 Peter 3:6). If our children are ever going to trust and follow Christ it will be by the same grace that saved Moses, and us (Ephesians 2:8). We need to stand firm in our faith, even if our children’s fathers leave us in fearful circumstances. We need to plant ourselves and our kids in a local church. And we need to do what we can to feed our kids the gospel of Christ in our daily lives. The hope for our kids rests in the mercy of God, not our children’s fathers. Our hope is the promise that God is faithful to generations of those who love him (Deuteronomy 7:9). Our God is the God of Jochebed. He is Jesus who said, “With man it is impossible, but with God nothing will be impossible.” (Matthew 19:26).

 

 

Hope grows where the light shines

rucola-salad-plant-leaf.jpgThe tension was thick. My husband and I sat opposite ends of a 6 foot couch and 23 years of piled up trouble from each other in a last ditch effort to save our marriage.

“Well, what about you?  Your wife shared where she thinks some of her wrong thinking has come from. What do you think has influence your thinking in your relationship?” the counselor prodded.

“Well, um, when my parents were getting a divorce I had to go to some class and I remember the adult there asking me to draw a picture.  I drew a picture of my family at the fair.  My mom and sister and I were all going on rides and my dad was sitting on a bench. I guess if I had to think about where my bad habits came from maybe they came from what I learned from my dad.  I guess I’m kind of on the bench?”

I was floored.  I sat at the opposite end of that couch in the counselor’s office listening to the man I was ready to legally cut out of my life and for the first time I felt a glimmer of hope.  It wasn’t so much what he said, it was that he said what he said because I had finally stopped being quiet.  I had thought for sure that by speaking up, taking a stand, calling him out I was putting the marriage to an end. But hope was springing up it’s verdant head up out of the light-deprived soil of my messed-up marriage because I had exposed a dark area and said, “No more!”

I didn’t grow up thinking that’s what godliness looks like.  It certainly wasn’t what I was taught a Christian woman looks like.  But hope was rising out of the dark place where my complacency had let things that love the darkness hide because as hopeless as I was, the love of Christ was compelling me to stop clinging to my life and love my husband by speaking the truth!  The proverbial scales were falling from my eyes and for the first time I could see that loving my husband didn’t mean hiding his sin for him under a rug of passiveness. It sounds so obvious, but when you’re blind, hopeless, stuck in a cycle of enabling sin, it’s not obvious at all.

Jesus said, “If you’re brother sins against you, go tell him…”  When he was about to face the cross and knew Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him, he called them out on it. In fact, every time Jesus interacted with people caught up in a sinful pattern of living, he exposed it and dealt with it. But somehow, growing up I heard that as a woman I shouldn’t do that.  I should be quiet.  I should be submissive.  I should turn the other cheek. Somehow I ended up 23 years into a marriage thinking if I wanted to be Christlike I would just hide one offense after another under my passiveness rug and try to stomp down the big lump that formed.

Hope sprung up for me that day in the marriage counselor’s office because the love of Christ was moving me to expose sin, not hide it.  Hope was shinning in that room because the love of Christ was saying through me, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. We’re dealing with this.”  Hope had been buried under a heap of offenses piled under a rug I called forgiveness.  It needed light.  It needed to be exposed to the light that says, “Let me wash your feet. You’re dirty.”  Just when I thought there was no hope at all, and that surely my pulling the rug off that pile of sins in the counselor’s office was going to end what I thought I had fought for by shoving more garbage under the rug, my husband opened his heart and let me wash his feet.

Hope is a beautiful growth of goodness in the land of the living.  And the living are a mess.  It’s the springing up of something that breaths life and grows.  But it has to spring up out of dirt. And it can’t spring up if it isn’t exposed to the light. Ugly things may come to light, but they get dealt with in the light. Hope grows where the light shines.

“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:13-14

 

The needy in the American Church won’t always be forgotten: Meditation on Psalm 9

pexels-photo-67101.jpegWhen I was pregnant I noticed everyone who was pregnant. When I had a 1969 Volkswagen bug, I noticed everyone with a classic Bug.  And today, when the fire in my belly is still burning from the issue of abuse and the message Christian leaders like Paige Patterson send women, I’m noticing every message in my morning readings of scripture that speak to God’s love of justice, defense of the oppressed, and promised recompense for those in need who seem to be forgotten.

Psalm 9 is what I’m listening to this morning. Like David, I’m overflowing with thanks to Jesus for how wonderful he is.  What he has done, how he lived and set an example for us, how upside-down wonderful he is compared to us who are so messed up.  I see Jesus, and then I look at the church in America and Jesus’ men stand out like food lights in a very dark place.  Jesus came to the people who claimed to worship God, and the didn’t recognize him as God.  Jesus is still coming to the people who claim to worship him and he’s cleaning house!

Jesus is maintaining the just cause of his people who are often oppressed and shushed by people who claim Jesus but live blind to their oppressive ways.  He judges his people with righteousness.  He doesn’t ignore their sin. And he doesn’t condemn them for it either, he deals with it.  He calls them out on it.  He exposes it and gives them hope for repentance.

The needy in the American church won’t always be forgotten.  And I feel like with the recent exposure of racism in the church, abuse in the church, misogyny in the church, sexual immorality in the church and how we’ve strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel in our religious-right stance, neglecting the weightier things of mercy, faithfulness and justice, Jesus is showing the needy he hasn’t forgotten them.

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God…” (1 Peter 4:17)

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” (Hebrews 12:7)

Jesus, you are good.  And your men and women in this land are those my heart delights in! You have swept my house, exposed my sin, offered me your hand and drawn me to repentance with your kind, just, merciful and faithful dealings with me.  Have your way with me Lord.  Have your way with us here in the U.S.  May your name be exalted in us as it should be!

 

Messages women need to hear from leading men in the conservative evangelical Church

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Statements from the president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson,  have stirred up a dark message I heard as a young girl and still hear as a 43 year old woman in the conservative evangelical American church. The message goes something like this:

Being a Christ-like means being passive, quiet, soft-spoken…don’t upset the apple cart. Being a Christian woman especially means you exist to please men, serve men, and submit to men. When people hurt you, turn the other cheek and don’t say anything.

Those messages are the dark hiding place for abusive men. And they aren’t Biblical. But it’s the message I heard as a girl.  I heard a lot of teaching about wives being submissive to their husbands, that they should be quiet, and that Christians turn the other cheek.  I accepted these messages and formed my relationship with my husband at the young age of 19 with those messages in mind.  After 24 years of tumultuous marriage marked by unhealthy cycles of separation and “reconciliation,” I found myself ready to file for a divorce in a marriage counselor’s office. There, unhealthy patterns, both on my part and my husband’s that helped hide and grow sin in our lives, were exposed.  A lot of my unhealthy thinking came from growing up in a church environment where submission, anti-divorce and turn the other cheek was preached but condemnation of abuse, the empowerment of women’s voices, and true Christian love which deals with people’s sin rather it hiding them wasn’t.

When I read Mr. Patterson’s statements this old, disgusting feeling crept up in me.  I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced the dark, unhealthy thinking where abusers hide in the church.  Although my husband has never been abusive, the unhealthy patterns of not dealing with the sin in my husband’s life because I thought I was supposed to be quiet to be loved by men and God allowed an evil to grow that nearly destroyed our marriage. That kind of thinking is the kind of thinking women in abusive relationships have.  They  hunker down in churches where pastors aren’t exposing abusive thinking, quietly telling themselves that to love their husbands and obey God they needed to be quiet and endure abuse.

Passages in the Bible such as Matthew 5:38-42 where Jesus teaches us to, “turn the other cheek,” can be confusing to people living in abusive, unjust or unhealthy situations. In fact the whole crux of Christian living- that we take up our crosses and follow Jesus– can be misconstrued as a call to live passive lives enduring abuse in the name of Jesus. The concept of being Christ-like can be miscommunicated as being doormat-like to the people on the receiving end of the abuse of power. Passages that teach submission can be communicated in such a way that women in abusive marriages or women living with husbands who abuse alcohol/drugs, use pornography, commit adultery, lie pathologically, and other sins which destroy the trust in a marriage, feel like if they are going to be Christlike and pleasing to God they must quietly endure.

I believe in the complementary nature of the male/female relationship.  We are made for each other, to help each other. But women are not first and foremost made for men.

I believe we are called to self-sacrificially love each other.  But love abhors the evil of abuse. It exposes darkness. It’s love that compels us to call each other out on sins such as abuse, adultery, pornography use, etc.  And in some of these cases, loving each other self-sacrificially may mean losing the man your married to because he has to go to jail or to an inpatient treatment program.

Because abusers of power can twist precious truths in scripture and use it against those who are on the receiving end of their abuse, pastors must shine light where these wolves are hiding in their churches.  A few months ago I heard my pastor preaching on marriage from Ephesians, and it was the first time I had heard a pastor say, “Listen, I’m afraid that I’m going to teach what this passage says to you wives and some of you are going to think I’m saying you should stay in your abusive situations. I’m not!”  It was like someone opened the door to a very dark dungeon and let the first glimpse of light in a room that has been festering with things that love the darkness for too long.

No doubt being a Christian means we will endure suffering.  Jesus said that and modeled that very clearly.  But there needs to be a very clear message from the pulpits of churches, a message that Jesus brought, that God hates abuse of power and taking advantage of those in vulnerable positions.  We women need to hear our brothers in Christ standing up there in their positions of leadership in the church saying, “If you are an abusive man, we will not tolerate your abuse! You can not hide in this church behind passages in the Bible directed at self-sacrificial men and women who love Jesus.”

We also need to hear the message of empowerment of women’s voices. We need to hear Jesus’ men in positions of leadership say, “Sisters, we don’t want you to be silent! The Bible doesn’t want you to be silent! Jesus wants you to address the sin of your brothers, husbands, dads, pastors, teachers, etc.”  As a woman in the conservative, evangelical American church, it’s the silence from our brothers that speaks the loudest.  But thank God the silence is being broken.

I know there are men who love Jesus, who affirm women, protect them, empower them, stand behind them, and lead them in self-sacrificing ways.  And I’m so thankful.  We need to hear from you brothers!  We need to hear you being like Paul to Peter and calling out leaders in the church who are getting it wrong when it comes to loving, leading, protecting and empowering women like Jesus does. We need you to be like our Good Shepherd and take on the wolves. We need to hear you in the pulpits.  We need to hear you telling us what Jesus told us, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers...”

The gospel when your kid screws up big time.

pexels-photo-256658.jpegBeing a believer in Christ means I believe the story that God sent his Son to be born as a baby, live the life I was meant to live in perfect love of God and others but don’t (can’t), and die as the only God-Man who’s death could absorb all the judgement of God against me and live.  I believe Jesus is who he said he is.  I believe the gospel. But what does believing the gospel look like in my everyday life?  What does believing the gospel do to me?  How does it effect my life? What does believing the gospel do when say, hypothetically (trying to preserve some privacy… for a friend), your child gets suspended from school?

I’ve found especially in the last 3 or 4 years raising my sons that my hope in the gospel effects how I respond to situations where they have done something wrong. Every time my kids screw up I have an opportunity to show them what Joseph showed his brothers, and what Jesus showed me: grace and truth.

Without the gospel, my parenting would only be an effort to manage their behavior.  Notice I said only.  Believing the gospel doesn’t mean I don’t manage their behavior.  But it’s not the only motive behind my parenting. Because of the gospel my aim in parenting is not to manage their behavior and raise them to be good citizens that make me proud.  Because of the gospel my authority in parenting is not from me, or the government, or even my child. It’s from Christ. I don’t think in terms of what makes me look good or bad or what my kids will do or not do that will be good or bad for them or me or society.  Not that I don’t want them to do good things that make me proud, but my thinking about parenting isn’t born from those tenants.  Because of the gospel, my aim in parenting is speaking truth into their lives, pointing them the direction of Jesus, and living a life laid down to build them up.  Because of the gospel I speak truth and grace into their lives.

So when they screw up big time, the gospel means I can say something like Joseph said to his brothers.  I can say, “What you did was wrong. And I love you.”  The exposing of what they did wrong, the handing down of a consequence, as well as the imparting of grace, forgiveness, and assurance of love and acceptance all say that.  They all say gospel. They point my kids to a hope greater than my or their ability to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and “be good!”  The gospel of Christ is the greatest hope for any person, including moms and their kids who will at some point, screw up big time.

My kids see me screw up.  They hear me fly off the handle in anger without good cause or pout like a 43 year old woman because I’m not being cared for the way I want to be.  And the gospel allows me to sit on the bed next to them and tell them, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.  I need Jesus!”  And when they screw up, because of the gospel, less and less do I feel angry, offended, ashamed, embarrassed or disgusted.  Because of the gospel I feel more and more a confidence that says, “I’m accepted.  Discipline is love.  And I want to show you that acceptance and love.”

The gospel doesn’t cause me to poopoo my kids screw ups.  It doesn’t cause me to ignore their wrongs or sugar coat them.  It doesn’t cause me to enable them to keep doing what’s wrong either.  The gospel allows me to hand out firm discipline and boundaries that say, “You are my child! I love you! I want what’s best for you! And therefore you will suffer these consequences.”  The gospel enables me to expose their mess, not let them hide from it, and walk with them through the hard consequences that come.  And when I say, walk with them through hard consequences, that may mean staying home with them while their suspended from school, creating a day’s worth of studying for home and work.  It means laying down my life.

When Joseph’s brothers knew they were in for it cause they screwed up big time and their dad wasn’t there to shield them from Joseph’s rightful anger, Joseph foreshadowed the gospel by saying:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20

That’s the message the gospel brings to people who find themselves having screwed up big time. It doesn’t excuse or ignore the evil done.  But it looks to God.  It looks to what he’s done and it brings hope to others.  Jesus said he came to give his life as a ransom for many.  He laid down his life to save us.  And when our kids do wrong, we get to be the messengers of Jesus who lay down our lives pointing them to Jesus.

As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can. -Julius Caesar

pexels-photo-277325.jpegDon’t worry about tomorrow.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  For sure.  But from where I sit on this fine Sunday evening, today hasn’t had any more trouble than no AC on a 92 degree desert spring day.  It was a good day.  And from the goodness of here, tomorrow and the day after that and Friday look a bit ominous.  The truth is, despite my dread for tomorrow’s manic Monday morning routine, the mercy meet for tomorrow’s needs will show up like a faithful friend just as it did today.

Tomorrow and Tuesday are work days at the hospital. And if they’re anything like what they’ve been like lately, they’ll be 13+ twelve hour shifts full of call lights, chair alarms, overhead code calls, phone ringing, vocera messaging, and to do lists that won’t get completed competing with the 5 minutes spent in my patient’s room listening to their story.  13 hours divided into 55 second intervals of perpetually interrupted management of the health needs of people made in the image of God.  And as crazy at it’s getting, the more intensely I feel called to minister to people as a nurse.

Wednesday and Thursday will be working on finishing my final draft of a 2500 word paper on the thesis that having a wound champion nurse and wound-huddle for each unit, each shift will help drive down the incidence of hospital acquired pressure injuries.  Additionally Connor and I have a couple doctor appointments those days.

Friday morning at 7 am I’ll be a patient in the hospital where I work.  I’ll be on the receiving end of nursing care and having my uterus removed.  My uterus and I have had a difficult relationship.  She’s served me well despite the pain and now I have two strapping young men growing under my care. But it’s time for her to go with all her fibroids and endometriosis and monthly trouble.

I hope to be home by Saturday afternoon and begin my 4 to 6 week recovery.

It’s gonna be a busy week from where I sit.  But from where my Lord sits, it’s gonna be a week of his faithful work to complete what he started in me 27 years ago.

I’m in good hands.

 

My relationship with the Jesus I’ve never seen but love

pexels-photo-296282.jpegIf I was one of the disciples who followed Jesus while he walked on this planet, I would have been one he looked at and said, “Oh ye of little faith. Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31, 6:30, 8:26, 16:8, 17:20).

My faith-relationship with this Jesus I’ve never seen but love (1 Peter 1:8), is overwhelmingly more held together by Jesus than it is by me. In fact, it’s totally held together by Jesus. If he let go, I would fall deep into the waters of unbelief and drown.

But he has me. Me of little faith. He has me like he had Peter. And like Peter I look at this Jesus in the Bible, out there walking on the stormy waters of my life, in total control, bringing me peace in the midst of my turmoil, building up our relationship by increasing my trust in him, and I get a rush of faith. I believe him. I know that I know that I know that he’s got this. I trust him so much in those moments that I ask him to let me walk out there with him, in the miraculous place of not be ruled by my circumstances.

He smiles. Glad I asked. Says, “Come out here daughter!”

I climb out of my safe little boat- sleeping in, to-do lists, schedules, meal plans, exercise routines, Bible devos…all the things I do to try and keep some order and safety in the midst of the troubling waters that threaten to destroy. Those dark waves of depression, hard marriage, challenging teenagers, pressures from outside and pressures from within engulf me. All the time. And it’s good to have a boat to keep those things from ruining. But it’s even better to walk where Jesus is, with all that threatens under his feet.

I start making my way to Jesus. I choose prayer over a little extra sleep. I choose meditations on scripture before I plow into my to-do list. I choose words of life over criticism and jabs when I feel hurt. But most days, just a few seconds into those steps of faith I realize, “I’m walking on water! I’m trusting in someone I have no control over!” And I start to doubt. “He might let me sink!  I can’t handle all these hopeless attacks that come with depression. I can’t make my husband love Jesus with me. I can’t make my sons want to follow Jesus for themselves. I can’t handle all these pressures in life…. I can’t!” And just like that, I’m under water, struggling to come up for air.

Disoriented by the waves of my hopeless, unbelieving thoughts, I kick my legs, push water with my arms, trying with all my might to find my way to the surface. And there I feel his warm, strong hand in the cold, violent waters grabbing my flailing arms, pulling me with his steady strength to the surface. There, drenched in unbelief, I cling grateful to this Jesus I’ve never seen.

The metaphor of me, walking on water with Jesus, and sinking in fear and doubt, plays out in my day to day.

The other day, I woke up late after working three long twelve hour shifts at the hospital, hurried to wake my teenage son, and went about my morning routine at a faster clip. In thirty minutes or less I read the Bible verse of the day on my phone, made my son a quick breakfast to-go, slipped on some shoes and drove him to school in the dark. We drove in silence while I prayed for words of life to speak to my strong-willed son who’s been resisting boundaries since he found out how to escape his crib at 11 months of age. None came to mind.

We pulled up in silence to the high-school at the coldest point in the morning, when the sun’s light just begins to drive out the darkness. “Ok, I’ll see you this afternoon at your game son. I love you.” He mumbled, “Thanks mom” climbed out of the car, threw his backpack over his shoulder and made his way into the institution that will not teach him about this Jesus I’ve never seen but love. I sighed a pleading prayer and started driving home.
On my way back home burning tears welled up, my throat tightened, I felt like I couldn’t breath. I was sinking. “How will he ever believe?! What if he never believes?! Why can’t I think of any life-giving things to say to him? I’m doing nothing for him…” And then I felt the strong grip of God’s faithfulness yank me out of my faithlessness. The remembrance of God’s sovereignty in the stories of Joseph’s betrayal, Moses’ call, Ruth’s redemption, Daniel’s answered prayers… and Peter’s restoration came to mind. And my tears flowed with thankfulness. This Jesus I’ve never seen whispered to my heart, “Oh you of little faith. Why do you doubt? Remember who I am. Remember what I’ve done.”

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of slavery to your sin. I am the one that made you able to want me in the first place. I am the one who gave life to your body and made you born from above. I am the one who took out your heart of stone and gave you a tender heart to love me. I am the one who teaches you and guides you and will never leave you or forsake you. I am the one who began this good work in you and I will be faithful to complete it. I am the one who invites you to bring your children to me. I am the one hears your prayers and gives good gifts. I am God. Nothing is impossible for me!”

This is everyday real life for me as a Christian. I heard the old old story. I believed it. And now everyday I go about my daily life with a heart that beats with tender-love for this Jesus I’ve never seen, and the people he’s put around me. But I forget so easily what He’s done for me. I forget that He’s the one who made my hope in him possible in the first place. And I start to sink. Even still I’ve found he’s always there, pulling me out of death into life, over and over and over again. This history I have with this Jesus I’ve never seen but love is proving to me that not only did I believe in him in the first place because he miraculously gave me a heart to have affections for him, but every day I will only continue to believe in him because his strong arm is holding me.

Jesus saved me. He saves me daily. He’s my hope for waking up tomorrow and still trusting him. He’s my hope for the human-impossibility that my husband and sons will see his worth and love him. For with us it’s impossible. But with God, nothing will be impossible. He will keep holding our relationship together until I see him one day face to face. And then, oh finally then, I’ll never sink in the waters of unbelief again.

April fools, Easter, the Prodigal and my son

 

pexels-photo-897296.jpegI wonder what the son who betrayed his father’s love and provision, left home squandered it all and came back seeking restoration was like the years before he decided to leave.  I wonder if he resisted his father’s love and discipline.  I wonder if he threatened that as soon as he was of age, he was out of there!

Obviously I don’t know.  And I’m sure scholars who know these things could give me a better historical idea of what a father and son in the ancient Middle East might have typically been like in their culture. But I thought about the prodigal the other day when my oldest son, who will be 15 on Easter Sunday (which also happens to be April Fool’s day) scowled at my every instruction and resignedly breathed out a, “Yes, mom” instead of an argument.

He is the spice of my life and is also the reason I have so many frowning wrinkles in my forehead.  My April Fool’s day baby has been testing the boundaries and seeking a thrill since before he turned one.

As an infant, he wouldn’t be held and cuddled.  I bought a rocking chair while I was still pregnant with him, but the only time he was still in my arms in that chair was when he was nursing.  Once I tried to hold and rock him and he squirmed and wiggled and strained to raise his head. I laughed and starting tickling him and within minutes he was asleep.  This boy didn’t want to be rocked to sleep he wanted to be tickled to sleep. Before he turned one he managed to figure out how to escape his crib.  And when we decided to put his crib mattress on the floor for his safety he wouldn’t stay in his room at night.

This boy ripped out his first tooth gnawing on a bar stool before he could walk.  He fell down a flight of stairs when he was 2 because he was curious about the door we had told him, “No” to.  Everywhere we went I worried that he would run in front of a car, or jump in a pool of water or fall off a cliff because he had no fear and boundaries seemed to say, “Come here and test me!”

As I’ve watched my son’s personality come to light I laugh at God’s timing in making April Fool’s day the day he would be born.   No mom wants to call their son a fool, but I’m pretty sure that the 15 year old, impulsive, curious, pubescent, strong-willed boy is pictured in the dictionary as the definition of fool.  And to be fair, right behind it is the 15 year old, shallow, silly, emotional, pubescent, self-focused girl (that was me at 15).  This child loves to make people laugh.  He seeks thrills, often without thinking first.  He’s curious, especially when there are boundaries. He opens his mouth and at least 5 minutes of senseless arguing about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G comes out before being corrected for the offensive nonsense that just spilled out or he stops himself and walks away.

I worry about him.  I know worrying does nothing to help him or me, but I can’t stop the downpour of stomach acid and tears that come with my daily interactions with this young man I would endure years of obstinance and resistance for.

The other day he looked me in the eye and said, “All I know is as soon as I’m 18, I’m out of here!”   He was angry.  He’s tired of running into his parents boundaries.  And he’s not ready to willingly bend his knee to God or his parents.  He’ll acquiesce.  He’ll do what we ask after lots of resistance, for now.  But the will to run hard into a wall is strong with this one.

That’s hard on a mom. And a dad.  But I think it’s hard on a mom even more.  I think the dad can let the resistance increase his resolve a little easier than with the mom.  With the mom, well, “…a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.”

I do have hope though. I have hope for the fool because I have been, and still show myself to be, the fool.  God broke through my foolishness and gave me wisdom and a heart to love him.  He’s done that with many an infamous fool.  Nebuchanezzar. Jonah. Paul. Peter…

It’s fitting that April fool’s day is Easter Sunday.  Before Christ rose in our hearts and we saw a glimpse of his worth and pledged our hearts to him, we were foolish, stiff-necked, rebellious, children of wrath.  We thought we knew better than the One who made us and we were going to do life our own way, thank you very much! Psalm 107 poetically tells what some of us did with our lives when we gave our Maker the finger and set off to do life better than He. We found ourselves ruined and He brought us to our senses like the prodigal son.  Then we turned to him, receiving lavish unearned favor and love.

Before my son was born I sought God, asking Him for a scripture that I could cling to and pray over his life.  The verse that resonated with me was Psalm 119: 73.

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Psalms 119:73

This little sentence has been my hope over the years for this strong-willed son of mine.  He didn’t make himself.  God did.  And although right now he has no understanding and is like a brutish and ignorant beast (just as I was) before God, the same God who made him is able to give him understanding.  He is able to take our foolish ignorance and make us wise.  He’s able to make us actually love God’s boundaries and embrace his ways as beautiful.

Before the prodigal left home and chased his self-loving pleasures, he probably spent years chomping at the bit to do so, much to his father and mother’s grief.  But the love of the father brought him to his senses.

I don’t want my son to go through ruin.  But I do want him to see the love of God in Christ for himself.  I want him to want to submit to this God who gave him life.  And so, I must trust the one who made him- who knows how to save him.

On Easter Sunday, lots of fools will gather in buildings around the world to worship the one who took them from being brutish and ignorant beasts of rebellion, to fools for Christ’s sake.  We, who once gave God the finger with our lives, now fall prostrate in awe of the one who calls us sons and daughters.  We came to him filthy and defiled like the prodigals we are and he embraced us and set a new garment of acceptance and worth on us and has called us his own children.  A bunch of fools in love with this Jesus we’ve never seen. A bunch of fool’s taking up our crosses daily and following him.  A bunch of fool’s turning from the temporary pleasures of sin and enduring suffering for the glory that is set before us in being united with the Father who has graciously forgiven, restored and loved us.

This is the foolishness this mom is called to.  Somehow, in God’s wisdom, to take what is foolish to a strong-willed son and endure, trusting in the one who takes the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

‘We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. ‘ 1 Corinthians 4:10,12-13

‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; ‘ 1 Corinthians 1:18,20-21,25,27

The real, not so glamorous, Christmas story

 

On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh.  And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.

There, the comfort of God came to Israel.

There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.

There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.

There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb.  All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made.  There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.

This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.

Today is Christmas Eve.  While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan.  Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.

We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness.  But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death.  We ruin the beauty of life with our evils.  And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.

Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die!  We were made to live!”  It’s the truth.  My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days.  And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for.  And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.

The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty.  No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth.  He comes in our mess.  He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley.  He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.

So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.

Jesus came for these.  He came like these.  There is no god like Him!

Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.

And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

 

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

From Isaiah 49, 52, and 53