Sometimes having a discontent child is not a bad thing….. In fact, we might have a thing or two to learn from them about wanting more.
I pushed the knife gently down into the cake, which bounced back up around the blade; soft, moist, chocolate perfection. A first birthday cake for our youngest, who turned one year old today. Only this first slice was not for our birthday boy.
I set the oversized piece down gently onto a paper plate next to a ham sandwich. I scooted the sandwich over on the plate, making room for a pile of tortilla chips and some guacamole. I carried a second plate of sandwiches over to the picnic table, and then handed the first plate to my husband. “Do me a favor?” I asked him. He waiting for my request. “Take this to the homeless man lying over there?” I looked over to the edge of the parking lot; to a man lying on the pavement, his head resting on his meager belongings. He was high as a kite; his arms outstretched to the sky, waving back and forth as if chasing imaginary birds. My husband nodded, and walked in the man’s direction.
I watched from afar as my husband set down the plate of food. The man continued to sway his head, hardly aware of my husband’s presence. My husband returned to our table, and we sat down to our own sandwiches as our boys leapt from rock to rock by our picnic spot.
A few minutes later I stood to get something from our car, and noticed the man, still laying on the pavement, but this time holding a sandwich to his mouth.
Here is where I must make an admission. Ever since moving to a new city a couple of months ago, and noticing right away the large population of homeless individuals, I have felt a pull to help. But I have not acted on that conviction. Until today.
A few days ago, out of the blue, my husband had told me, “I’ve been thinking lately about how to help the homeless population here.” I found myself surprised by his comment, because it was the very thing I had been pondering for weeks. I find that when something has been on both of our hearts and minds, it’s usually best to give that thought some strong consideration. My conviction grew. But I was unsure of how to help. After all, there are so many in need.
The picnic spot we chose today, we had driven past it a few weeks back. On that day there had been at least a dozen homeless men and women on the edge of that parking lot. Today, there had been only one. That man. And as I stood at the back of our SUV, staring at our loaf of bread, cooler of sandwich makings, and a birthday cake, I knew that we could help one. If there had been many more, like the other day we had driven by, I would not have been able to help. But today I could.
And here is where I make another confession. In the past, I have been one to silently question why a person ends up in homelessness, or similar situations. I have questioned their work ethic. Their priorities. Their addictions.
Today I chose not to. Today, I did not care what brought this man to that spot at the edge of the parking lot. I didn’t care that he was under the influence of drugs. I didn’t care how he had spent his time the evening before. All I cared about was that when he returned to a clear state of mind, that he would discover a meal waiting for him, and a slice of birthday cake. That he would know that someone saw him, and for more than a nuisance. I cared that he would feel cared for. Thought of. Considered.
After all, when Jesus cared for the sick, the lonely, the destitute, the ignored, the disdained—He did not stop to question how they had ended up in their circumstances. He simply loved on them and served them. He did not stop to qualify them for His care, He just chose to notice a need and meet it.
I think that so many times we hold back from caring for the poor and needy because the need seems so big, so overwhelming, and so hopeless. But I wonder how different this world would look if we all began believing that we could help just one person. That we could toss our preconceptions aside, bringing love and kindness to one person’s day. That we could show one person that they are not forgotten.
It begins with each one of us. It begins with noticing. It begins with not walking on by when we know for certain that we can do one thing to help. It begins with something as simple as a ham sandwich and a slice of birthday cake.
“One, two, three, four, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…..eighteen…sixteen…twelve……………I don’t know. Ready or not, here I come!” He popped his head up from behind the large fake rock in front of the house. He looked back and forth, watching for movement, considering where to begin his search. I kept silent as I watched him search high and low throughout the cul de sac for his two new buddies.
Inside my husband and our two youngest boys napped, weary from a whirlwind three days. A half hour before, Zeke, our four-year-old had been munching on granola when I heard the boys playing outside. “Do you want to go meet some new friends?” I asked him. He had thought for a moment before replying, “Uuuuuuummm, yes.” He abandoned his snack and grabbed his shoes.
His hand clung to mine as we made our way across the street; the boys greeted us with an eager hello. After the older one, age eight, told us of his love for shrimp, and the youngest, age 6, described every detail of the bicycle he received for Christmas, all three boys were quick to challenge each other to foot races between houses.
The sun cast a bright orange glow across the horizon as it made its descent behind the mountains. I set out a folding chair in the front lawn and took a seat. There I sat for nearly an hour, doing nothing but listening to the boys’ laughter as they raced across front lawns. It was a perfect end to our first full day home in the mountains.
A friend asked me a question recently, one that has left me thinking about my answer this past week as we packed up our life and relocated our family. As we drove West with all of our earthly belongings packed into a homemade trailer, her inquiry stuck with me. She asked me how our move to Colorado had come about.
After all, not many families who are settled into their first home with secure jobs, friendships, and a church home decide to uproot their family and start fresh in another state.
Her question was the same one that I have been asked over and over again throughout in the recent months. Whenever it came up that we were moving from Kansas City to Colorado, the first question people asked was always, “Why?”, or, “Is it for a job?”
Each time I would smile before explaining, “No. We just need the mountains.”
A year ago, I don’t think that I could have given that answer. I think I would have felt like I would have to justify such an “extreme” decision with more solid reasoning. But over the past year, God has been revealing to me a piece of His heart that I hadn’t quite understood before. He has been opening my eyes to the pleasure that He takes in His children, and His simple desire to bless them and see them thrive in His presence. This life altering lesson all began with a simple list.
I blogged about it a while back, when we first announced our intentions to move to the mountains. I shared of this simple list we wrote out almost one year ago, a list of family values—of everything we want out of life.
It is not a bucket list. It is not a goal list. It is not a to-do list.
It is a list of all that God has set a fire in our souls for. It is a list of passions. It is a list of where we want to go in life. It is a list of what we want to mark our days with—and what we want our boys to grow up knowing intimately. It is the forces that we want them to be shaped by. It is the values we want to govern our life and family with.
The values penned on this list each act as a gear, setting into motion the life we most desire. They are strategically composed together to create a rhythm to our years, one that will make up the melody of our family’s legacy.
Our list is made up of exploration, financial stewardship, generosity, physical activity, a deep understanding of Jesus’ commands, respect for nature through travel and exploration, wonder, journaling, and a love for life-long learning. The list is rough, and still unfinished. Yet it created a framework for how we want to do life; acting as a compass pointing us towards the life God uniquely created us to live.
The past few months have been full of arduous work and heart-wrenching goodbyes. Yet, sitting now on the other side of our decision—on the fulfilled side—I am discovering that taking big chances and making “extreme” choices is not so risky after all. Perhaps the big risk is found in not making these kinds of choices. Because never taking the risk or making the choice is a surefire way to never get to where your spirit longs to be.
Maybe you are in this place; yearning for something more, but unsure of how to get there. Perhaps you don’t know what it is that you really want in the first place. That is the first step, you have to ask the important questions, ones like, “What do I value most in life?” and, “Which values do I want my family to be governed by?” and, “What makes me feel most alive?”
At the end of your life, what would you regret not making a priority?
It’s not about chasing after every whim of our hearts. It’s about sitting down (with your spouse, if you’re married), and digging down deep to the roots of what God has planted in your spirit.
It’s about naming those things that light a fire within your spirit, the things that bring your family together, the things that most inspire you to worship the Creator, and bring you closer to Him—and then chasing after those things with full abandon. We only have one life on this earth. So go ahead—take the first step, begin your list. Believe in something fiercely enough to make it happen. It might just set into motion the most fulfilling life you’ve ever known.
I heard him whimpering behind the closed door. Moments before he had been sent crying to his room for bad behavior. This was not my boy. He kept promising to listen and obey, and then failing to deliver on that vow. I knew fatigue played into his non-characteristic behavior—the child hadn’t napped in a week. But there was more; something deeper, something troubling, something he could not tame.
I crept in and placed one foot followed by another into the wooden ladder of the bed his Daddy made for him. I snuggled in beside him and pulled him near. He turned into me and the tears began to flow.
“What’s bothering you?” I asked. He tried to gather his words; to push them through the sobs. He managed to still his quivering lip for a moment, and choked out the words, “I’m just sad.” I wrapped my arms tighter around his little body.
“Does thinking about moving make you sad?” I asked.
“Yes.” he replies. I whispered silent prayers. Lord give me the words.
“What makes you sad when you think about moving?” I press on gently. At four years old, his spirit is fragile, this sensitive boy of mine.
“I just want to be with you.” He replies.
“Oh honey,” tears sting my own eyes now, “I will always be here for you. When we move, I will be here with you.”
“I’m just sad.” he says, unable to explain his emotions any further.
“Are you scared when you think about moving?” I ask.
“Yes.” he replies.
This is when I begin to doubt our decision. I wonder if this is right; if he can handle it. Emotions cloud what I know to be certain. I press my face into his hair and take in his scent.
“When you think about moving, what makes you sad?” I ask him.
He thinks, and I can see his mind straining, trying to form his fears, his emotions, his unknowns into words, He mumbles something about a dinosaur. I assure him there will be no dinosaurs.
I walk him through the process, step by step. Today we’ll clean. Tonight someone will come look at our house, decide whether they want to buy it. If they do, there will be many days of getting ready. Some things we will get rid of, but we will keep his favorite toys. Yes, we will bring your cars and books. Yes, we will bring our dog. His body begins to relax in my embrace.
We’ll find a new house, we’ll make new friends. “Things will change,” I tell him, “but even when that change is sad or scary, we’ll be there for you. And when you feel afraid or sad, you can talk to us.”
I pray he always will.
And he does, over the following weeks he brings up his concerns and fears, dotting our everyday conversation with thoughts of what our new home might be like, and asking how we will make new friends. I see the fragility of his spirit through glossy eyes and a quivering lip as we leave his friend’s house, and I explain that we won’t be seeing him for a while.
One morning about a week before we move, I can tell that he is struggling. I might be, too. I busy myself with packing lists and projects. I have been shrugging him off, apologizing for my busyness and suggesting he goes and plays.
He lays down on the floor, pulling a blanket around him, and welcomes the heat of the furnace blowing against him. I set my laptop down next to me, and crawl underneath the blanket next to him. For days it has been like walking on eggs shells with him.
I begin with the same question we’ve been revisiting to for weeks. “How are you feeling about moving?”
His face turns from sad to angry. “It just makes me a little bit mad.” he tells me.
“Why does it make you mad?” I ask.
“Because I want to stay here and move to the mountains.” he explains.
His words are saturated in grief. This four-year-old boy of mine is mourning the loss of what has been his life for the past couple of years. I can feel the pain in his heart, because the same pain resides in my own. He has voiced what I have been afraid to. I picture myself just that morning, standing next to my husband in church, his hand in mine, and the tears I fought back all through the service. Tears of grieving, of leaving behind everyone and everything that has become so woven into who we are.
It is often these difficult decisions and big changes that make up an intentional life. They are choices that we know will cause our children, and ourselves, some pain, but will ultimately lead us on to the great things that God has in store for us. And as we go through the mourning of losing what was, we find that we have a Heavenly Father whispering into our spirits the same words I spoke to my son as we laid curled up on the floor next to the heating vent.
In the big changes of life, just as I promised my son, our Heavenly Father promises to us, “I’m here, my child. It’s ok to be sad. But take heart, I have great things in store for you. Just trust me, take My hand, and follow My lead. We’re on this adventure together.”
Her two-month-old daughter was still nursing at her breast when she ran in the door, screaming at her preschooler to get inside. At the sight of her young children, I assumed that her alarm and urgency was the result of a spit-up mishap or pants wetting.
I was completely unprepared for her words when she began explaining the gunshots outside.
My husband left me at the glass display case where we had been choosing our ice cream flavors. Our boys sat feet away at a metal table digging into their sorbet, licking sticky red sugar from around their lips. My husband cautiously glanced outside and confirmed that yes, there were police—and a lot of guns. He told us to go to the back. The young woman working the ice cream counter ran quickly to the front door. I heard the “click” of the dead bolt lock as she secured the building, and then turned to usher us all to the back room. There we waited, a handful of strangers amidst shelves of chocolate syrup and jars of cherries. My boys stood innocently at my feet, licking at their dessert.
“How old is she?” I asked the woman who had run in to escape the scene. She smiled slightly and answered, “7 weeks”. Her infant girl nuzzled against her shoulder.
“I think we’re good.” My husband called us out of the back room. “The police seem to have it handled.” he added, his eyes still locked on the scene. We joined the other bystanders outside, staring at the pharmacy parking-lot-turned-crime-scene. People pulled phones from pockets, uploading the events to who knows where. Our boys climbed back up into their chairs. “Why were we in the back, Mama?” my four-year-old asked me. I told him we were seeing how they make the ice cream. My husband and I returned to choosing flavors, and then joined our boys at the table.
In between bites of dark chocolate and raspberry swirl, I couldn’t help but wonder, yet again, what type of world my boys will grow up in. I can do everything in my power to keep them from evil, and at the same time feel completely powerless to keep evil from getting at them. A simple trip to the ice cream shop could change everything. A visit to the playground, a field trip to the library, a day out at the zoo–how can we not be suffocated by the fears that threaten to unravel us at any moment?
That very morning as I was reading, I had wondered why the verse had seemed to stick out amongst the text. How many times had I read it before? And yet today the words seemed to hold more weight.
“So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
In those instances when my child is threatened, I feel as if man could do the very worst to me. My whole life could fall to pieces in an instant. Evil seems so big, and I feel so small. Powerless. Vulnerable.
The moment we become a mother or a father is when a whole new world of fear opens up to us. Suddenly our life is capable of shattering in a million new ways.
As author Lisa-Jo Baker says it in her book, Surprised By Motherhood,
But how does the mother in Syria, wrapping her body around her infant son to protect him from bullets, choose to embrace life?
How does the father, receiving a phone call that there is a bomb threat at his daughter’s school, choose to embrace life?
How do I, while sheltering my boys in the back room of an ice cream parlor from the gunshots outside, choose to embrace life?
The Lord knew what we would face on this earth. He knew that His beautiful creation would become marred by unthinkable violence.
He is a God who knows. He is a God that sees.
Right now, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, whatever deepest fears are haunting your soul–He knows, and He sees you.
The Bible, speaking of Sarah, who was called to embrace life and promise despite fears of the unknown, says, “…you are her (Sarah’s) children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Peter 3:6)
He does not call us to pretend that our fears don’t exist. He calls us to find shelter in Him, and trust that He is a God of peace that knows no bounds.
He calls us to live as if our lives depend on His promises, because they do–promises such as, “If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the storm of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” (Proverbs 3:24-26)
He knew that the storms of the wicked would come. We have a God who does not dismiss our fears; a Heavenly father who knows the anguish of watching His own child suffer. And this is the God who promises us an abundant life, unriddled by fears and anxieties. He is the God who knew beforehand the things that our fears would be made up of, the realities of a harsh and terrifying world, and gave us His promises to stand up against them; to find peace when the world offers none.
Our world is pocketed with uncertainty and tarnished by evil. We can live our lives struggling to keep afloat amidst a sea of fears, or we can allow His perfect love to drown our fears and set us free. Which will you choose today?
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
The words interrupted my quick scanning, and persuaded me to slow my reading, take it in again, read it aloud to my husband, and dwell on it long enough as to stitch it into my memory. I am helping a friend who happens to be a writer with her website, and it was a quote she had shared that stopped me.
It was a sentiment that my soul knew well. I feel it as I write these words, a struggle against the difficulty. Writing is not easy, but to have written is life-giving.
I think we all know this, in one sense or another.
I felt it a few days ago as I ran alongside of a glassy-river pocketed with thin ice caps. It was more miles than I had run in a long while. My legs stiffened, willing me to stop. My mind fought against the physical resistance, and when I climbed that final hill and glanced down at my tracker to see my distance, it was life-giving.
I remember it during that labor, the one that would last longer then an entire rotation of the earth on its axis, the pain and the wait and the fear; and then, the life-giving sound of my son’s first cry.
I see it on that Calvary hill, sun setting and blood spilling, as my Jesus hung on that tree heaving last breaths. The pain was anguishing, His heart was splitting. And yet, as He whispered, “It is finished”, it was life-giving.
Often what we desire most in life is not easy to come by. Goals demand perseverance, success requires hard work, a life well lived is built of intentional choices and sweat. Temptation to throw in the towel, to give in, and to give up lurks around every corner. The opposition looms large.
What kind of resistance are you facing today? Is it that first step? The tying on of your gym shoes? The picking up of the pen or paint brush? The silencing of those inner doubts? The phone call to that potential new client? The next piece of paperwork in the adoption journey? That letter of apology?
The most daunting resistance that you are facing right now—it might just be your biggest opportunity to move forward today. It might be your next greatest step.
For me, it was sitting down to write these words.
It was the “just showing up” to what I know God has called me to.
What is He calling you to, and what is your next move in that direction?
Today, just show up. Hands open, feet ready, ears listening, knees on the ground, heart willing and unafraid.
Stop looking at that next move as a task to get done or a burden, and begin seeing it as an opportunity to practice obedience, remembering that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” (Coloassians 3:23)
The showing up, the walking, the doing—this is the hard stuff. But the path of least resistance is not the one that will lead you to what you want most in life. Rather, perhaps it is time to chase the resistance, to chase the hard, to chase the scary—when you know that what is waiting at the end of the path is Life-Giving.
Whatever you do today, don’t settle because of fear or doubt. Don’t “eat the bread of idleness”. Instead, know that “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) and that, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter1:3)
That thing He is calling you to? He has given you absolutely everything you need for the task—because he has given you Himself. He calls us to greater things than we can see, and sometimes the path to those things is not easy. But the way of the cross was not easy, either.
Pursue what is lovely today, what is pure, what is good, what is His. Chase what you want most in life; chase the life-giving. Chase after His great plan.
Begin by answering this simple question: How will you show up today?
Friends, if you are looking for a great tool to help you dig into Scripture, consider Biblegateway.com. I have found their passage lookup (and tools for finding similar passages), as well as their keyword search tool very helpful for my own Bible study.
Backing out on the gravel drive, I breathed one last quick prayer, that all of my crazy effort to deep clean the house over the past two hours would pay off. That we would finally get an offer. As I prayed, my heart ached with regret. The past fifteen minutes had been ugly. The volume and tone of my voice aimed at my sweet boys had gone completely against the words I had copied down in my journal the morning before,
I had thrust the sword.
I slowed the car and pulled over to the curb. Turning off the engine, I glanced at my side mirror before opening the door and winding my way around to the other side of the car. When I opened his door, he was bouncing his cars up and down on his lap—unaware of my shattered spirit.
I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his little chest. Then I pulled back and looked straight into his eyes; my own began to water. “I am so sorry, Buddy. I am so sorry that I yelled. I know that I was stressed and trying to get the house ready, but I should not have yelled at you. That was wrong. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” He looked at me with his eyes sparkling, and he hardly gave his answer a thought before replying, “It’s so ok Mom. And you are very pretty.”
I thanked him before softly closing his car door, and then making my way to his brother’s side to make my second apology. And then I climbed back into my seat, started the engine, and we made our way towards the park. They had forgiven, and I willed myself to do the same; to forgive myself for the harshness in my quick, sharp words.
Yet that was only my first yell. The second came minutes later.
I hoisted the car seat up and out of the middle of the back seat. My infant boy squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight. As I lowered the carseat into the stroller, I did what I had done countless times before, and sent the bigger boys ahead to the playground a few hundred feet away. I shoved my bag into the bottom of the stroller, pulled on my hoodie, and gave the baby his bottle, and then we made our way toward the swings to meet the boys.
As I came around the big red slide, something did not set right. My boys, always right there busy at play, were not. I looked up from the swing set and caught a glimpse of my eldest boy. His white-blonde hair shimmered in the afternoon sun—almost as bright as the thin layer of ice on the pond that he was standing next to, just a foot away.
My heart stopped in my chest. And this is when I yelled for the second time that day—only this time my voice was high and tight with panic. “Zeke! Zeke come here now!” His little brother stopped, about a hundred feet away from the pond himself, and turned back towards me. My eyes remained fixed on Ezekiel as he turned to me, then back to the thin layer of ice. I prayed he would not trust it.
Come here, my boy. Don’t trust it. Trust me.
I continued to yell, and then exhaled as he began jogging back towards me, away from the ice.
When he was still thirty feet away from me, I calmed my shaky breath and addressed him sternly, “Do you ever, ever go by the water alone?” I asked it short and sharp. Loud. Intense. He looked down to the grass. “No…” he answered softly. He looked up, noticing my eyes beginning to fill with tears. “Why not, Mama?” he asked. I tried to gauge whether he could handle my next words, and decided that he needed to hear them. “The ice is not strong, Love.” My voice was choppy as I choked out the words. “It will break, and you will fall through. If you fall in the water you could die.”
I then wrapped him as tightly as I could into my arms as he buried his tears into my chest. “You scared me, Zeke.” my own tears mixed with his. “It scared me too!” he wailed. And I knew that we both had much to learn from this.
There is a place for raised voices. There is a place for yelling; to turn a child away from danger, and guide them back to safety. I yelled twice on that day. One warranted, one not. One yell evoked pain, and one brought life.
As a mother, the temptation to yell can be fierce and persistent and can seem impossible to control. But if I fail to harness to power of my yell—if I use it where it has no place, then it might just lose its power when I need it. When there comes a time when my child is in danger, and my raised voice induces no alarm because I have abused its power—that is where tragedy may strike.
Let it be my prayer—let it be all of our prayers as parents—that we will not abuse the power of a yell. That we will not speak harshly except where harsh words have their place. That the hard words will be said only when they give life, not take it.
Let us be careful to raise our voice only once—when it will be a “fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 13:14)
We know it at the outset; rubbing that first swollen belly, that the precious one inside that we can hardly wait to hold, caress, kiss – we know that we will pain their tiny, precious heart. Our actions, reactions, and words hold the potential to leave scars. Our love is fallible. Moms and dads are superhumans, but they’re still humans: fallible and finite.
We know these things, but we can’t understand it until we rock the broken child, wipe his salty tears, and whisper apologies. With the slip of the tongue we fall very, very short of passing onto them the love of Christ.
The years we have with our children are so very short; far too short for empty words. We are called to pack into these years all of the words of life that we can.
What we say absolutely has the potential of tearing our children down. One quick word, one harsh reaction, one slip of the tongue can undo days, weeks, even years of relationship building. It is both terrifying and sobering to hold this power, especially when we so often fail to wield it well.
Yet it is also in the power of our words that we can gift our children with the most abundant kind of life.
Our words can impart to our children the very life of Christ, and all because Christ has bestowed His very own righteousness on us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God looks beyond our fallibilities and regrets, and He sees only the blood of Christ. He sees us as whole, clean, and in completely right standing before Him. He calls us righteous, and I fall to my knees in absolute gratitude. It is this righteousness, a righteousness not of our own but only by His gift, that we have full power in Christ to speak life straight into our child’s spirit.
When we are walking in Christ’s righteousness, claiming it as our own and fully depending on Him to make it more of a reality in our life every day as we seek Him, then He will speak life through us. When our words are influenced by Christ’s righteousness, our children will find life, hope, kindness, and truth that will guide them into the most abundant life, a life with Christ.
I don’t always get this right. My words have been the cause of tear-streaked cheeks and trembling lips. But during those times that I have sought out God’s grace and help as I intentionally speak life to my children, I’ve witnessed the great transformation that takes place in within them. These words change everything.
Confidence, security, and joy bubble out of them, and they begin to speak their own words of life. My son climbs into my lap, burrows deep into my side, looks up and smiles before speaking his own words of life to me.
“I’m going to give you a kiss because it makes you so happy. I’m always here for you. I’m always here to make you happy.”
An incredible thing happens when we choose to intentionally pour words of life into the soul of our child—the same words begin to pour out from their own hearts. Begin today by claiming Christ’s promise of righteousness, allowing His words to transform you and your children.
Further Study: Proverbs 31:26, Prov. 12:18, Prov. 13:14, Prov. 15:4, Prov. 15:28, Prov. 16:24
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Her words were in Times New Roman, 12 point, only because she had fallen too weak to script them by hand.
Looking back I can only imagine that the cancer had taken not only the steadiness from her hands, but it had stolen also her confidence to even try. For decades she had mastered pristine penmanship as she faithfully wrote letters to friends and family across the globe. Now her illness had stolen her ability to do so, but she refused to let it steal her letters.
As I opened the envelope, I was in Europe, the land that she loved— only she sat an ocean away. I could picture her in that burgundy recliner in the corner of her living room, the one I had spent almost every Christmas morning in, gleefully unwrapping gifts at her feet. I could almost see her now, a lamp hanging above her head, casting a dim light over her as she licked stamps and addressed letters to her loved ones.
Ten months from that moment I would sit at her side in that same spot, only this time she would lie reclined in a plastic bed. I would stroke her hand as I raised the sleeve of my sweater to wipe a salty tear from under my eye. “Guess what Grandma,” I mustered a smile as she turned her eyes but not her head in my direction. “Grayson and I are getting married next year.” And at this news she amassed what must have been all of her strength to smile. “Oh is that right, Dear?” Her voice shook as Heaven continued to beckon her arrival. “He seems so nice.”
When that letter arrived almost a year before, when she was still well, I held it delicately in my hands and read words from her still sharp mind. Her words brimmed with excitement over me, her granddaughter, experiencing the world she loved and had left behind. “On my first trip to Britain (1956) my Mother said to me one night, ‘Do you know that you’ve had 14 cups of tea today?’!!! I absolutely love it.”
As I read her letter, I sat in my best friend’s home. I was nearing eighteen years old and she had invited me to spend the holidays with her family, who lived in Northern Ireland. When I had mentioned the idea to my parents, they asked what the price of the plane ticket would be, and then purchased them on the spot. “You can’t miss this opportunity.” They had told me. Looking back I know that my father wanted me to see Europe. It was in his blood just as much as his mother’s.
I spent four weeks touring ancient stone churches and wetting my toes in the Irish Sea. Yet what I remember most about those weeks is the first thing my Grandmother had written to me in her letter. “Yes, the North of Ireland is a lot like England in many ways—especially the cups of tea, scones, and biscuits.” Like her, I had learned the power that laid in those ceramic tea cups and platters of biscuits.
For years on Christmas Eve after my family arrived to her home, Grandma would set out silver tiered trays of petit fours. We would sit around her dining room table talking well into the night, laughing at Grandpa’s jokes and asking Grandma every half hour if we could open just one gift before morning.
With her hot cups of tea and decorated cakes, she brought a little bit of her beloved Europe to that dining room table in Illinois. And now as I read her words from my friend’s home in Ireland, I understood why she did it all of those years. Grandma was teaching us the power of visiting—of stretching time and expanding its value by weighing it down with stories and steaming cups of Earl Grey.
She taught us that family is made when we sit undistracted around a table together. She showed us in a tangible and delicious way that the body of Christ is restored around a table with the breaking of bread and the sharing of stories. I saw it in Ireland as we visited with my friend’s relatives. But really I had seen it every Christmas Eve, as I sat in that wooden chair next to my Grandmother snacking on shortbreads until her clock rung in the midnight hour.
“We trust that you’ll have a wonderful time the rest of your visit. I go to the oncologist on Monday—will hear then whether the cancer is back.”
She gives her well wishes and then her typing ends, and in an almost unreadable smattering of cursive I make out, “With much love, Grandma & Grandpa”
I wonder just how many of her letters sit in drawers across the globe today. Grandma had a way of making friends that lasted her entire lifetime; the lifetime that stretched out years beyond the Doctor’s prognosis. I am sure each of her letters end in that perfectly crisp—and then later shaky penmanship. And I am sure that almost all of those letters began with a friendship formed over a steaming cup of tea and warm scones, and a blessed reminder that “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
“Mama, the song is sad.” He breaks from his block tower construction and catches my gaze.
I noticed it after he spent an evening watching The Piano Guys videos on YouTube with his Daddy, this new sensitivity to the emotion of music; a subtle awareness far beyond his two years. He had sat on his Daddy’s lap, wholly entranced in the melodic chant of a cello. The Christmas carols carrying their way through our home in recent weeks have given him ample opportunity to hone this receptivity. A Silent Night and Angels We Have Heard On High have wound their enchanting inflections into his little spirit.
“Sometimes sad things can be beautiful.” I tell him, and he turns back to his blocks. I watch him, and I think on another sort of beautiful sadness, one that has been troubling his older brother this Christmas season.
A few weeks ago my aunt gave them a book for Christmas, The Legend Of The Candy Cane. They were enamored with it from the first page. Their little eyes grow wide at the illustrations of a young red-headed girl helping to open up a new candy shop, filling glass jars with brightly colored candies. As we read, my boys ask what each candy is, and I can see their imaginations budding with grand possibilities, as if they themselves were in that candy shop working alongside of little Lucy.
But then one day the story changes for my eldest, Zeke. He sits in my lap, Christmas Carols chiming in the background, and the white lights on our Christmas garland shining bright as his white hair. He sits entranced as usual, asking questions about the lollipops and gum drops on the page. And then the story picks up its plot, and we learn about the Candy Cane legend, how the J stands for Jesus, and when we flip it upside down, it reminds us of a Shepherds staff, because Jesus is our Shepherd.
We read of the white stripes, and how they remind us that we can be washed white as snow. But then the red must still be dealt with. I turn the page, and his brow furrows. His face falls. All thoughts of ribbon candy and gum balls are forgotten.
“I don’t like this page, Mom.”
As his little hands rest on my arm, and the full weight of his four-year-old self rests against me, I can sense the sadness wash over him. My own heart aches as I glance at the page.
Jesus sits collapsed on the ground, a crown of thorns resting on his head, his closed eyes turned towards the ground, his palm open and empty. A Roman soldier stands next to him, whip in hand.
“Why don’t you like this page, Honey?” I prod, but gently; I can tell he’s deeply troubled.
“I just don’t like it.” he says.
But the red of that candy cane, it must be dealt with. For the white has no place without the red. I press on.
“Is it because Jesus had to die?” I ask him.
“Yes.” He replies.
I don’t like it either, my boy. Not one bit.
It is so much like those subtle tones our two-year-old has been perceiving in the slow, low melodies flowing from the radio. They stir the soul and catch us breathless and in awe of a holy birth. A harmony of the violin against the background of bass; a sad, slow, steady ballad. This is the most beautiful kind of sad–a babe born that man no more may die.
A few days later he brings it up again. And I wonder just what is going on inside his four-year-old heart. How can a little boy lost in the wonder of Christmas comprehend that a little baby would one day have to die?
“Why did Jesus have to die?” I ask him. He thinks, and then replies, “Because the Roman soldiers arrested Him. He said ‘forgive them’.”
“Yes. Why did they have to kill Him?” I ask.
“So we would not have to die.” he replies.
And there in his words are the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit and the breath of God’s living Word. There in his reply is all the proof I need that as insufficient as my explanations may be, God’s Word never returns void. It will press through, they will be received, they will bind tight to this one thing that always leaves me awe-struck–the faith of a child.
Perhaps that little manger scene is exactly what we all need to bring us back around to a child-like faith. The same faith that Mary, herself hardly more than a child, must have held on to as she rocked her perfect newborn son, her heart aching under what would become of him. And yet that faith was, and is, the very thing that carries us from the red–the blood that would one day be shed from that baby–and on to the white. The “three days later”. The empty tomb. The washed white as snow. The beautiful, heart wrenching reason for this season.
This week, as we go about our Christmas celebrations, wishing everyone Merry and Jolly and Happy, may we not neglect that saddest part of the Christmas story–the part that makes all the Merry possible. That the tiny newborn babe lying peacefully on a bed of hay, came with a holy mission: Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you.
On that starry night of splendor, when all was calm and all was bright, a wrinkly just-from-the-womb infant boy came with his destiny etched into a wooden cross. This perfect child would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” It is this saddest part of the Christmas story that we cannot shield our own children from, for this is the wonder of Christmas itself, that; “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I am praying that my boy will always be a little bit uncomfortable with the story of Christmas, because I never want him to look upon that blessed manger scene, without also thinking upon the scene of Calvary.
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas friends. May we all look upon the manger this week, and fall to our knees in wonder of the cross that baby would bear for each one of us.