We the Sheep

It is no small thing to be touched by the love of Jesus.

There are always things in our past (or present), big uglies, that we somehow feel can never be forgiven us.

It is, however, miraculous to see the seed of of earnest prayer finally fruit as we began to see ourselves or our loved ones as sheep of the Good Shepherd.

Wholly, recklessly, perfectly loved.

Washed clean.

New men.

Free.

As His sheep, we are buoyed by this promise:

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice  (John 10: 2-4).

They know His voice.

I had the opportunity the other day to visit some friends who had just bought a farm.

Corralled in a back pasture were 80 or so sheep, lazing under the shade of some distant trees. My farmer-friend, wanting to both check on their welfare and show us the animals up close, knew the way into the pen was by stepping over the electric fence, and this is what he did.

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Curious, the sheep turned their soft eyes toward him.

Kindly, he called to them, “Hey sheep,” and, one by wooly one, they stood up and began to munch their way over to him.

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They came to him with such trust and unworried-hurried expectation it broke my heart.

They knew his voice.

I want to be like that.

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As we watched, my farmer-friend petted and fussed over each one, calling them by name and telling us of all their needs.

Little lambs that needed to be weaned, to have their childish ways put behind them.

Exhausted ewes that needed rest and nourishment.

Bossy rams that needed to learn some manners.

The sheep trust my friend with a relaxing ease. He, in turn, is forever vigilant, scanning their pasture for nettles, filling their water trough, trimming their coats, checking for parasites, chasing the coyotes away.

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They delight in him, as he delights in them. They can rest in his presence, because he is trust-worthy.

Trust rests .

Sadly, there is a villain to every story, and the one in this tale is called the enemy of our souls. Jesus calls him a thief.

Once Jesus was teaching, and he told the Pharisees, “Very truly I say to you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;  [but] I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:1,10).

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So often, we allow the thief to rob us of all that the Shepherd came to protect us from. We take our eyes off of Him and think somehow that the grass over there is somehow better – tastier, sweeter, richer than the grass we have been given. We even think that the Shepherd Himself is responsible for withholding that good good grass from us.

But that currented fence in between is not so much a barrier to keep us in, but a fortified wall to keep the evil out.

How many times do we open the gate ourselves, invite the destroyer in, through our own stubbornness, pride, or dissatisfaction? Too late, we discover that the enemy is not our friend at all, but a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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Sometimes, we are unrecognizable as the sheep we are. I am saddened by this, but forever hopeful, as well.

Watching the farmer interact with his sheep, I was encouraged by Jesus’s promise to lay down His life for the sheep (v.15). 

We should not worry, because He declares that His sheep will follow Him, that He gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of His hand (v. 28). 

He is the Shepherd who will leave the 99 to go after the one. Matthew 18

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I want to delight, to be a good sheep, to think contented fuzzy-sheep thoughts, graze good grass, and follow the Shepherd wherever He leads. To restfully trust and trustfully rest. To have life to the full. 

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I confess that this is a daily fail.

There are many wolves out there.

Our side of the fence is sometimes desperately hard, but it’s a pasture safe.

We are only truly free if we remain inside.

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On Remembering Well

Today, you would have been 23 earth years old.

There is so much I want to remember about you, so today I pull out old snapshots and try to place myself back in each scene, willing the weather, words, wisdom, and wonder to bring me back to that time when you were here and whole.

Baby-you and college-you, silly-you and sober-you, you in tubs and ties and T’s and teams, in costumes and cowboy hats, surrounded and alone.

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It’s an ache-y pursuit.

I’ve been trying to throw away your old dorm fridge, the one with the Holderness stickers and the magnet that says life-is-not-measured-by-the-number-of-breaths-we-take-but-by-the-moments-that-take-our-breath-away.

Charley used it last year, and you know your brother. It came back dented and done, but still I cannot will myself to drive it to the dumpster and bid it adieu. So it rides around with me, round and round and round, until we end up where we began.

It’s crazy, I know that. It’s just a fridge, and a broken one at that.

But still.

I’ve just read C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and the great man has me a bit unsettled.

Granted, I only understand about half of his words, but some of the things he confesses are darker than I thought him capable of.

Listen.

Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any new bend may reveal a totally new landscape….sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley is a circular trench.

Or a fridge that follows you around.

But it isn’t, Lewis writes. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.

The sequence doesn’t repeat.

That I understand.

Some days I gaze at a picture of your face and I can manage. I can pick up my bag and my mug of coffee and march into that rowdy room of middle school boys and smile and laugh and almost forget that tenuous place in my heart.

Other days, though – like today – like when Coach Sink reaches out to give me a hug in the dining hall and I choke it all back, chokechokechoke back the grief, hold it in until I can scurry to the closed-door-behind-me of my apartment and give that grief my full attention until it almost breaks me.

People are nice to us, Love, since you left. They are just so, so nice.

What good is it then to think of your cold hand?

What good to remember the phone calls from police or the sound of your brother collapsed on the floor, your sister’s sobs?

Grief could so easily become the dry that wastes me, but I am not interested in its insistent, vice-y grip.

I want to remember well.

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So I gather myself, meet our friends for dinner – Aggie, Zach, Ralph, Sue – and talk about heaven, of constellations and Jesus and an eternity of guilt-free gluten.

We remember you, son.

You were lovely and kind and courageous and strong, and you propped me up when I couldn’t do much more than slump through the day. You’d be so proud, now, of your brothers and sister and momma and friends.

We are remembering.

Thank you for the feather that blew across my path on the way to class this morning. The lone widening contrail pinking the sky when I woke. That fat robin singing on a dew sparkled branch.

It’s your birthday and I remember you.

How could I ever forget?

On a Place for You

The day my son died, I bought a new pull-out couch.

That morning, while he was running around a lacrosse field in 90-degree heat, I was breezing through air-conditioned furniture stores trying to find the most comfy, best looking, Goldilocks-just-right pull-out couch for him to sleep in the house I was about to buy.

He was already an itinerant in this world, but I didn’t know it yet.

Moving from a spacious four-bedroom, three-bath to a four-room tiny had its challenges, and one of them was finding a place for all of my kids to sleep. The two youngest would have extra-long twin beds crammed into one small room, the young marrieds were content to sleep on camping mats wherever they landed, but because Gordie was planning on living most of the time in his first real off-campus apartment, he would be assigned the sofa bed.

So while my son made the fatal decision to get behind the wheel of his car and start driving home – HOME I tell you – I was driving home from a showroom full of fluffy comfort, happy I had found the perfect place for my son to sleep when he came – well, home.

Home.

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Before HE was about to die, before HE was about to return home, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

The place where He is going?

Those disciples had a lot of questions, as so, of course, do we.

What does this house look like, Jesus? Will we live in it, like we do here, in our families, or does heaven negate the need for such distinctions, since we are all your family, the body of Christ? Is it a real, brick-and-mortar house with bathrooms and such? Can you make sure Gordie has a bed?

There’s been so much new in my life lately.

I find it interesting that when you buy or sell your house – both of which I did a few weeks back – they call it a closing. It’s the perfect word to describe what transpires when you box up your life, walk the empty rooms of your old house with a heart heft with memory, and say good-bye to the former things.

The door jamb with the pencil record of your children’s growth.

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The trees you loved to watch cycle from green to red to bare and back again.

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The spot out front where your lawn mower stood for days, keeping silent vigil, abandoned there after the police showed up at your door.

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My new street address is #88. I find it interesting that the number 8, Biblically speaking, represents Resurrection. Regeneration. New Beginnings.

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Only God!

And 88 – double 8 – is said to symbolize Immanuel, Godwithus.

In all this new, I want to train my eyes on the Timeless One.

The One who told His disciples to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24), and maybe I’m slow, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus told His disciples this before He went to the cross Himself. 

He is never going to lead us where He has not already gone.

Sometimes it’s shiny, and sometimes it’s scary, and sometimes it feels as though you are blundering through tunnel darkness that never seems to end. But I’m beginning to understand that through it all, adventure awaits when you squeeze the hand of your Savior and stop kicking and screaming long enough to just hold tight and follow.

When I’m sold into God, into oneness with Him, I listen – and can hear His voice.

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I obey – and the power of sin is destroyed.

I weep – and He comforts me.

I pray – and He answers, in the subtle wind of my soul, like the touch of a feather, gentle and quiet and perfectly right.

Go there. Call her. Say those words. Run. Walk. Wait. Be still.

Hope.

Sometimes, I stand on my deck and look at the moon, that faithful witness in the sky, and it feels like I’m camping. Temporary. Itinerant.

I pull my son close and breathe him in and wait for a sign.

Where are we going, Papa-God? What will You do next? Is it safe?

Jesus’s words come echoing back.

Do not let your heart be troubled.

I am coming back.

There’s a place prepared.

For you.

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Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Reduction

Ah, the New Year.

Such optimism. Such naiviete. For some reason, we feel that the turning of a calendar page will be the launchpad, the propulsion that jets us into new health, new habits, new bodies, new lives.

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We vow to take on a new exercise (Crossfit! Yoga! Zoomba!), a new habit (Read the Bible one hour every day! Balance the checkbook! Stop procrastinating!), a new diet (Vegan! Paleo! Raw food! Whole30!), a new outlook (Be thankful! More organized! Less tardy!).

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been as guilty as the next one.

Sigh.

I’ve been watching a show about tiny houses lately. What would it be like to condense one’s life into 300 square feet? Ever since living in a tent for six months, I have frequent daydreams of ditching all the stuff and living “deliberately,” as Thoreau did.

However, since there are still children at home and, annoyingly, they feel the need to sleep in an actual bed in a space where crouching is not required, I am still a few years out from living my tiny house dream. (Plus, where would I store the hockey gear?)

So, what I thought I’d do instead is to start the new year not by adding, but by reducing. Starting Monday, January 4 (because who starts something new on a Friday?)(thank you for that wisdom-pearl, Carla; it gave me a three-day stay of execution), I am going to literally eat myself out of house and home.

It’s ridiculous how much food I have stored in my house. Here’s just some of the evidence:

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And:

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Although I keep a running grocery list on the door of my fridge, before I write “mustard” or “balsamic vinegar,” I don’t ever seem to check  if there might be some downstairs, or even in the cabinet right next door.

Years of this sloppy habit has resulted in an accumulation of frozen, canned, boxed, bottled, and bagged goods that would make a doomsday prepper proud.

So, I have decided to fight back.

Here’s the plan. I will not buy any new groceries until absolutely everything I can possibly eat – within culinary reason – is gone from the house. From the freezer. From the upstairs cupboard.  From the downstairs pantry. From the counter space and refrigerator and storage bins.

I will also endeavor to use as many of the various ingredients that are stored in canisters, jars, Tupperware, and Ziplocks – in the lazy Susan or above the microwave, or under the sink – until every conceivable combination has been explored and exhausted.

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No bread? Make some. No more granola? There are nuts, oats, and seeds galore; toss, toast and serve. A snack for after school?  How ’bout muffins? I think I have everything I need.

Whoops – what’s that on the grocery list? Sugar? Sugar!

Perhaps sugar is one of those items I use, ahem, so frequently that supply never seems to catch up with demand. Fortunately, mid-muffin-mixing, I remembered I had a slew of those mini-sugar packets that are usually found next to one’s hotel coffee maker. Why did I have so many, you ask? Well, I admit that those powdered creamers are a treat with my coffee when I go backpacking, so if there is ever any left after a hotel stay, I grab the rest of the bag of goodies and throw it all in the back of the tea drawer when I get home.

I’m guessing you’re sensing a trend…

Anyway, as I was cutting open the little paper packets of goodness, trying to fill a half a cup, in walks the oldest boy child.

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Hey, I remark. What you’re looking at is a genius at work.

What I’m looking at is a crazy person, he replies.

So I guess not everyone appreciates the efforts I am making to not bury myself in foodstuffs. He is the only child left at home on a looooong college break, so perhaps he has more to lose, an unwilling prisoner in my noble experiment; still, I did manage to make the muffins and he managed to eat almost the entire dozen, so who’s the real crazy person?

I digress.

Week one.

Things go smoothly enough. I decide three days in, however, when the coffee cream (real, not powdered) runs out, that there is no way I can go without cream until the shelves are bare. I rewrite the rules of engagement and allow myself a $5.00/week allowance to buy whatever I want, whether luxury or necessity. This seems reasonable.

I head to Hannaford with the best intentions, excited to see how far $5.00 will carry me. I am aware of the irony – the blasphemy! – that there are people living in my community for whom a $5.00 outing holds anything but excitement. I sub in the public schools, and my heart breaks for the kids who are not learning simply because they are hungry.

How can this be?

I want to wrap these children in my arms and invite them home for muffins or my latest improvisation, PB&J on crackers (bread requires sugar). We can never solve the problem of Common Core or Sally lagging behind in math and science or any other yada yada yada problem with education today until we figure out how to fill hungry bellies.image

This will be good for me, I decide. Align myself with those hungry bellies, walk a mile in their oftentimes bootless feet.

I blame my first blunder on ambiguous advertising.

Blinders on so I won’t be distracted by the glitz and glamour of SO MUCH FOOD, I head to the back of the store and find something called “table cream” for $1.99. Not my usual organic brand, but we’re talking $5.00-wiggle room here. I add a dozen eggs for $2.19. Some quick math tells me I have less than a dollar left, but I spy a bag of apples for $.99. Ninety-nine cents for fresh produce that is likely to last a few weeks? Heck, yeah.

Cutting myself myself some slack for the $.17 overage (don’t be a Pharisee, I rationalize), I head to check-out.

On the way, as I have also promised the oldest boy child I will splurge on some yogurt (for HIM, not for ME…the rules seem to keep shifting)(don’t be a crazy person, I tell myself)(wait – do crazy people talk to themselves?), I throw in a container of Stonyfield vanilla for good measure.

As I smugly watch the figures adding up, one assaults me. $5.03 for the apples? What the what? Ohhhhhhh. Oh dear. It’s not $.99/bag, but $.99/pound. For 5.06 pounds. Dang it.

Reluctantly pulling the extra bills from my wallet, I vow to go back and look at that treacherous $.99 sign. When I do, I discover, hidden behind the mounds of MacIntosh, what I already know to be true. Sneaky Hannaford.

New rule: I will spend an average of $5.00/week throughout the month. This means, of course, most of next week’s $5.00 is already spent, so I will have to make do for another seven days with what I already have.

But I guess that was the point all along. Reduction is sacrifice, and if I am to benefit from this experiment at all, it’s going to have to hurt a little. Perhaps a lot.

Jesus once cautioned, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

It’s comforting to know that my treasure does not reside on my shelves, in my bank account, or even with the others that I love. My treasure is and will always be Jesus Himself.

With Jesus, there is never a $5.00 limit, as all the riches He earned for us on the cross have been paid in full and are at our disposal. With Jesus, it’s always surplus, never deficit.

My tiny house dream will have to wait, for now. Until then, I will practice reduction so that I will be ready when the time comes. Until then, I will rest in Jesus’s promise – “My Father’s house has many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-3).

I will always have a place to live, with Him, whether here and now, or there and then.

As I trust Him to meet my every need, whatever this new year holds, I can be confident that it will always be “exceeding abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

P.S. My BFF Aggie gives me a whole bag of sugar last night. Exceedingly abundantly.

 

On the One Thing

 

“Martha, Martha.”

She must have frozen at His voice. Was it gentle, scolding, smiling, stern?

We’ve probably all been there. Rushing around, doing doing doing, trying to cook, trying to impress. Meanwhile, she just sits there, NOT DOING ANYTHING TO HELP.

I’ve been thinking about Martha this Thanksgiving week, the story about when Jesus pops over for dinner. Luke tells it this way:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s so easy to judge Martha, 2,000 years and a Bible later. We read this story and tsk tsk her, wondering how she could ever be so clueless as to be worried about the hummus and naan when GOD’S VERY OWN SON was hanging out in her living room.

Martha was the practical one.

By the time Jesus arrived at Martha’s doorstep, His ministry was picking up speed, and there were a lot of people following Him around. In fact, just a few paragraphs earlier, Luke relates the story of the 72 disciples Jesus sent out, and how they came back rejoicing to Him that even the demons submit to us in your name. They may have been rejoicing right up to Martha’s front door, and who can blame her for looking out the window in horror, wondering how she was ever going to feed them all.

Martha, Martha.

And there was Jesus, dusty and tired, surrounded by perhaps a few dozen of His closest followers, relaxing, talking, laughing, teaching. And who is that scooched up right under His very sandals? Could it be? Is that my lazy sister Mary?

Yes, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all had our Martha moments. Moments when we feel unhelped, unnoticed, unimportant, unloved. When maybe we even feel that we’re the only ones doing the right thing, and the rest of the world is a bunch of slackers.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Outrageous.

Martha spouts off at THE LORD and tells Him to tell her sister to helpoutwithdinnerforthelove. Did Jesus get angry, rebuke, scorn? All we have are the few words of Jesus that Luke records, but when I imagine the scene, I picture Jesus with a small smile teasing the corner of his mouth, His eyes dancing with love and fire.

Martha, Martha. I see you working over there. I see your heart, Martha. I know you want only to please, to bless. And, yes, we have traveled far and we are hungry and you are seeing to it that our simple needs are met. I so appreciate that.

I see you, Martha. I see you, but come over here. Come closer. I have something important to tell you.

Worry and disorder are not of My kingdom, Martha. Your distracted mind and troubled heart have no place in My presence. My kingdom is a peaceable one, even in the midst of strife, yes, even then. Especially then. Yes, we are many and we are hungry, but did you not hear how I fed the 5,000 with but a few loaves and fish? I AM not worried, therefore you need not worry. Don’t you trust Me?

We are constantly told as parents that we should never compare our children, so it has always surprised me that Jesus tells Martha to regard her sister Mary, sitting at His feet. Few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

My own kids love to tease each other about who is “the fave,” but of course they know there is room enough in my heart to love each of them with an abandon that sometimes hurts. So surely the Creator of the universe, Maker of hearts, knows His children well enough, knows the love between the two sisters, knows that Martha would not resent the comparison.

Only one thing is needed.

It’s a picture of the cross before the cross. That’s the whole point: Jesus isn’t asking us to perform, to work, to earn His love. He already loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time. We don’t need to rush around, to jump through spiritual hoops, to do or be anything other than ourselves.

Only one thing is needed, and, at first glance, it sure looks like the least practical thing. Sit with Me. Be with Me. Listen to Me. Choose ME.

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

I have to say this is quite the relief as the chores begin to stack up from a day spent giving thanks. I’ll just sit here with Him. The dishes aren’t going anywhere.

Plus maybe if I wait, somebody else will do them.

 

 

 

On What I Miss About Being the Mom of Littles

I was sitting in church the other day marveling at all the wee ones bouncing, crawling, drooling, spilling, and giggling all around me. We have a remarkably fertile church – I think there’s an actual term in Christian-ese called “biological expansion of the congregation” – and watching all the littles and their beautiful mommies and daddies brings me great joy.

One never knows when a wave of nostalgia might break. Seeing all those littles called to mind the many things I miss about being the mom of littles, now that my four babies can dress themselves and load the dishwasher and roll their eyes. Here are just a few of them:

~Naps…Yep, not gonna lie, the struggle to get a house full of toddlers and infants to sleep all at the same time was a gargantuan challenge. As soon as one would drift off, sweet milk seeping from the corner of rosebud lips, another would pop his or her curious tousled head up out of the covers and ask, “Can I get up now?” Dear One, it’s only been five minutes. NO YOU MAY NOT GET UP NOW. Mommy needs at least an hour before she can cope with the afternoon. One ridiculous year, I had not only my own children, but also the daycare kids I watched to “put down” (that sounds so deliciously final, doesn’t it?) for their naps. Every day, one little, whose mom confessed, “I can never get him to nap; it’s just too hard,” protested during this most holy time with a violence totally out of proportion to what I was asking of him. (It’s a nap, Cooper, not the SAT’s). I, being the ADULT, and hence, in charge, would wait out his tearful protests until at last, with great drama, he would succumb. Hours later, he would awake in full scream, always with a diaper full of poo; I suppose he thought that made us even. But when it worked…all of us deep in REM unison, the house’s hushed ticking like the rocking of a boat, it was a marvelous and spiritual thing. Of course, I can nap now. But without the struggle, it doesn’t feel nearly as victorious.

~Nursing… Are you kidding me? Is there anything more intimate and soothing and sacred than nursing the blood of your blood, flesh of your flesh? (Well, perhaps the event that inspired the baby’s genesis, but this is a post about littles). Morning, noon, and night – and mid-morning, late morning, late afternoon, late evening, midnight, dawn, and any other time an empty belly cries – mothers are given the awesome privilege of actually feeding their human babies with the extract of their own bodies. This is a deep, deep mystery, and one that I dearly miss. Young mothers, may I suggest that never again will you be able to meet your child’s express need so precisely than when you are able to nurse them from misery to bliss? Stop, sit, cuddle, coo. With all the other crazy that comes with the territory of being a new mom, I think God really knew what He was doing with this one.

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~Smaller battles… Honestly, I can remember times when the little’s decision whether to wear a sensible outfit or his Pokemon costume to a playdate was a battle to the death (and looking back, why did I even care?) Now that my littles are big, however, and can speak with real words and use sneaky logic, it is harder to know who’s actually in charge. Smaller people, smaller battles. But make no mistake: we are exhorted to train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Train, train, train with everything you’ve got because, sooner than you’d ever believe was possible, your little will be asking for the car keys or talking to (gasp) girls, and unless the seeds you have sown are faithfulness and self-control, you will be fielding phone calls from the police or your son’s school (or so I’ve heard…wink…sigh).

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~They stay put… When you put a baby down, say, on the floor or in a jog stroller, as a general rule, that’s where you will find them when you look for them again. Teenagers have way too many moving parts and are unwilling to be tied down to anything as tedious as an agenda. I’m heading out to hang with the boys, Ma, I’ll see ya later is the most specific information I can expect from my 19-year-old on any given Friday night. Which boys? Out where? Define “later.” It’s constantly in flux, and for this reason, I am grateful for the iPhone. On the other hand, that astonished look on a baby’s face when you pop yours back into their field of vision after a short hiatus is as comical as it is dear. Wait! You were back there the whole time? Nobody told me! I miss that.

~ Bedtime… Don’t get me wrong. Spending the day with a little, or a herd of them, can be wild and unpredictable and exhilarating. I loved every waking moment I spent with my wiggly littles. But no matter how you may feel, you’ve gotta put your game face on every morning, especially when it involves a trip to the grocery store or your in-laws. Days with littles are looooong. At the end of the day, though, when all the tears have been kissed away and they’re bathed and jammied and tucked in tight, the most magical thing happens. You open their favorite book and even though they’ve heard goodnight comb, and goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush a million and one times before, and even though you might still be harboring a wee bit of resentment over the jelly incident at lunch, the warmth and the stillness close in until the universe compacts into just the two of you. Your breathing slows as a chubby hand reaches out to twirl a strand of your hair. Your cheeks touch. You whisper prayers. Soon, your little’s tiny body is curled up like a comma and you wonder if it’s even worth it to get up and move to your own bed. These days, I’m lucky if I outwit, outlast, or outplay my bigs’ bedtimes. More often than not, I’m poking my head into their room on the way to making the next day’s coffee and smiling at the bulky heap of their cusp-of-adulthood bodies, so reassuringly there, a shadow of what once-was. I suppose this, too, is magical, but not at all in the same way.

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My biggest little is married now. And though I miss her once babyfine curls and small sweet voice, I am comforted by this profound truth found in the book of Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…

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One day, she and her brothers might have littles of their own, and what joy will fill my heart then!

The apostle Paul reminds us that it is not God’s way to leave us in one place for too long. He writes: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Our wise God has given us seasons to enjoy, and it’s good to revel in the now-ness of them as well as to look back and treasure.

As much as we would love to linger, He moves us ever-on, growing and learning and becoming, so that one day, we will stand before Him in all our Christ-likeness, no longer in-part but, at last, complete.  

On Equilibrium

So I was subbing in a biology classroom this week.

First, let me offer how grateful I am to have a job, a steady job, in my field (sort of), that pays reasonably well, keeps my mind animated, and gets me out of the house so that I may interact with other people besides my cats. I’m blessed and I know it.

One of the wonderful things about substitute teaching is that every day is different. (This can also be its curse, but let’s not go there today.) A sub can be coloring zoo-phonic animals with chatty kindergarteners one day (G-Gordo-Gorilla! Guh-Guh-Guh!), or solving algebraic equations with squirrelly sophomores the next.

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Quickly one discovers the culture of each school, which is, unfortunately, disproportionately dependent upon Those In Power – the principal, the deans, anyone responsible for maintaining order: The Ones Who Have Your Back. This is important for a sub, for as every student knows, it is open season to misbehave when Mrs. Peterson is out sick. It is a lot more fun to sub at a place where discipline is not a naughty word and Those In Power have firmed established a culture of kindness, trust, and earnest expectation.

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The particular high school where I found myself subbing in this bio class was one of those coveted kind places. I’m happy when I get called to go there, and I was happy when, after handing out the reading on volcanos, the students were immediately productive, each finding a quiet place in the lab or hallway to digest the information.

This left me with nothing to do. Typically, I might catch up on the news, check my email, or subversively snack, periodically taking a tour around to make sure students are on task. Anything more invasive is seen as hovering, and teenagers are not huge fans of hovering.

I also like to learn. Since these students were being quiet – in a non-suspicious way – I grabbed the volcano handout and started to read.

The first paragraph transported me back to August 27, 1883, to the island of Krakatau where, at 10:02 AM, an explosion likened to the force of a nuclear bomb blew the tiny island to smithereens, producing 135 foot tsumanis, a column of ash and debris 3 miles high, and an airborne sound that traveled half way across the globe, the longest distance ever in recorded history. All that was left of poor Krakatau were two small, denuded humps they had to rename Anak Krakatau and Rakata.

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For a moment, let’s not focus on the enormity of the cataclysmic event, the 40,000 people who died, or the geological re-ordering that occurred when the displaced sea flooded back into the newly formed subterranean caldera. Let’s just say it was big.

What truly amazed me was reading about the re-colonization of Rakata. Nine months after Krakatau blew herself apart, French scientists were combing the sterile surface of Rakata for evidence of life when they discovered one microscopic spider. It was the first living organism to appear, so they were puzzled. How had it come to be on the now-naked island?

As childhood readers of Charlotte’s Web may remember, newly hatched spiders spin a thread of silk from their tiny posteriors; when this filament catches a passing wind, the baby spider soars up and away, joining (and here’s the amazing part) an entire microscopic universe of creatures called aeolian plankton. I was familiar with your garden variety sea plankton, the huge masses of algae and protozoa that course through the ocean on currents, like a mobile delicatessen for the more ambulatory critters of the deep; but AIR plankton? Who knew?

Do we breathe in these planktonic bacteria, these fungus spores, these small seeds and aphids and insects and the myriad other invisible creatures that blow around us waiting for their BIG CHANCE to land somewhere hospitable and begin terrestrial life? Apparently, we do.

More incredible facts about the re-life-ing of Rakata emerged as I kept one eye on my students and the other on Southeast Asia. As the invasion of the aeolian plankton began to green the barren surface of Rakata, other players began to arrive. Lizards negotiated the straight between Rakata and the nearby islands of Java and Sumatra, dining on sea crabs along the way. Birds flew over, and bats, butterflies, and dragonflies. One reticulated python, a serpentine version of Michael Phelps, took to the water and slithered up one day. Lazier species hitched rides on log rafts or buoyant pumice stones, so that decades after the eruption, frogs, rodents, and other small animals once again began to hop and crawl and glide over the island, defecating and dying and decaying, leaving a trail of rich soil behind them for more flora to take root.

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Species surged and waned, advanced and retreated, checked in and checked out, until at last, after about a century, the island ecosystem reached an equilibrium.

It made me wonder.

Do we ever reach anything like equilibrium in our own lives? And what would that look like?

I know for a fact that there are times when we ourselves are scoured clean, Krakatau-style, by what the apostle James calls “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I don’t think James was talking about the I-didn’t-get-a-parking-spot-at-the-mall or there’s-no-milk-for-my-muesli trials, annoying though they be, but the BIG ONES. The death of a loved one. Job termination. Loss of relationship. The inability to conceive. Sickness. These kinds of trials grab us by the throat, cut off the oxygen, force us blue-faced to the throne of grace where we plead and rant and demand that God TAKE IT AWAY.

Instead, we are met with silence. Or worse, His unmistakable answer: wait. What advice does James have for us then?

The answer may be as surprising as aeolian plankton:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-5).

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Perhaps for God to repopulate the weedy islands of our hearts with all of the good, fertile things that should be growing there – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22) – He must first create an environment of disorder, even chaos: a soul-slate wiped clean of hatred, pride, jealousy, unforgiveness, lust, bitterness – all the uglies that take root and try to choke out the “Christ-in” us.

When the volcano blows, instead of hiding under the dust, perhaps we need to be open to all of the re-ordering God must do in us and through us. Instead of heading back to the mainland of our old comfort zone, we must, like the reticulated python, persevere to the new landscape of hope up ahead, even when we can’t see anything that looks even remotely hopeful. Instead of desperately trying to squirm out of the discomfort and pain, or try manipulate and scheme it away, we can, like the baby spider, abandon all notion of control. Trust in the One With All The Power, who is always good all the time because He is only one who can see the big picture and because He has our backs.

Maybe there isn’t any such thing as true equilibrium. Looking back on my own life, there have been seasons of violent erasure followed by seasons of slow but gentle growth. Much as I wish God could teach me some other way, He knows my stubborn heart. Knows I can only be truly His when complete surrender to His hand is my default setting, when my desire to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” overrides my desire to have my own way.

Yep. It’s a battle every day.

This side of heaven, we will never completely be all that we were created to be. I’d like to think, however, that the more we cooperate with the Father, the more we will come to resemble Him. We are His beloved children, after all.

May I ever be able to declare like my big brother Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.”