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Perspective for Those Being Pruned

We don’t need Angie’s List to verify the expertise of our pruner. We need only look to the record of the life of Christ and the living annals of his work among His people. Yet, when we look upon the work of the pruning knife in the lives of our dear ones or feel its sharp incisions in our own lives, we tend to find ourselves questioning.

Does He know what He is doing? What are His intentions? Did He not know that was already a struggling sapling? Did He not see how fruitful that bough was before He lopped it off?

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Our Sight of Pruning

On a road trip this past Summer,  our family drove through the Edna Valley, a tiny Central Coastal version of the more famous Napa Valley. Some of the vineyards were lush. flourishing, and easy-on-eyes. Others looked like they had been abandoned, as they only had stumpy stalks to offer passersby. Upon a closer look, however, one could see that the wines were receiving proper irrigation and were carefully tied and trimmed.

A thoroughly pruned vine, from our sight, appears haphazardly harmed, if not dead. No grapes hang heavy on its tendrils. No green shoots promise a healthy harvest.

So, too, do the lives of people in the midst of the pruning process appear. They look lifeless and limp, stubby and stripped. It is as if each disappointed prospect, each announcement of hard news is another stroke to an already languishing plant.

His Sight of Pruning

Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Maturity: Growing up and Going On in the Christian Life, has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of the Divine pruning process.  He writes the following:

“The skillful vinedresser distinguishes between adequate pruning and over-severity.  A  vine severely pruned will produce leaf-bearing shoots which invariably become fruitless stems. Pruning  is a skill. If the vinedresser cuts too far from the bud, the stub will die  and harbor disease. But if he cuts too close to it, the bud itself may  be damaged. The skillful vinedresser cuts close, but not too close, to the bud-and produces strong, fruitful, lasting growth.”

Our God is the heavenly husbandman. He is an expert pruner (John 15). After all, He created both  the concepts of xylem and phloem and the more complex inner-workings of each and every human soul (Genesis 1 and Psalm 139).

“God knows what he is doing in every situation of our lives, not least in our darker moments. Pain, times of disappointment, or sorrow, all serve as his pruning knife. His providences seem to cut deeply; but his purpose is to enable us to grow strong enough to bear new fruit. He prunes with perfect skill. We are tested, but not beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

When the vineyards around you or within you seem to be lifeless stubs and feel severely pruned, it is helpful to look at some of the previously pruned fields now fruiting at the hands of the same Pruner. And  really, we need only look to one field, the life of Christ.

The Pruned One

Century upon century before Christ came to earth,  the prophet Isaiah, filled with the Spirit,  poetically predicted His coming.

For he grew up  before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground  (Isaiah 53:2). 

The picture here would have been clear to the Jewish people. What once had been a healthy vibrant nation at its height under the rule of King David had become a stump. Through stubborn sinfulness and resulting exile, God’s people no longer looked like a tree of promise. Rather, they seemed a forgotten, nearly rotten stump. Into this context, Isaiah promised that a new shoot would grow, breaking tenderly through the remains with new hope and new promises for God’s people.

Certainly,  when Christ came to the earth and began his dynamic earthly ministry which was paired with powerful signs and wonders, God’s people began to wonder if He might be the promised shoot, the green one come to fill God’s people and place with new vitality.

However, at the height of his ministry, just as the tree seemed poised for power and promise, he willingly let himself be mangled by men. The tender shoot was on the tree of punishment, yielding himself to the Pruner’s knife.

And all seemed lost. Until the Resurrection where the pruned Person of Christ showed the first fruits of the coming harvest.

The Heavenly Pruner had known what He was doing all along. Out of death would come new life.

Our proof of the expertise of our Pruner lies in the life of Christ and its continued work in the world. As such, we may rest secure that, in time, the pruned parts of our lives will bear lasting fruit. What now appears to be a dead stump will bloom like the Cherry Trees in D.C in the Spring.

Until that day,  let us rest in the expert hands of the Pruner.

 

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A Risky Friendship

When we think of Paul’s conversion (or rather Saul’s conversion to Paul), we think of the Road to Damascus and the brilliant light and him falling to the ground. In Acts 9, where the conversion of Saul is chronicled, the first nine verses refer to this dramatic and memorable scene; however, the next ten verses tell the other incredibly significant, often-overlooked and over-shadowed part of the story: the story of a faithful believer in Christ who followed His master into a very risky friendship.

Ananias. A disciple in Damascus, the very town to which Saul had been headed, breathing threats and murder, according to verse 1. Going about his normal life until he had a vision that radically redirected him towards an incredibly incongruous and unlikely relationship.

Just as the Lord had appeared to Saul and called him by name, the Lord came to Ananias in a vision, calling him by name. Both sons, though very different sons.

The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said to him, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

The Lord did not need to give details to the name of Saul, for all the early church knew of Saul of Tarsus. He filled their nightmares with his violent zeal. According to Acts 8, Saul had been ravaging the church and had been a key player in the execution of Stephen, the first martyr. The Greek word for ravishing, lumainomai, literally means to wreak havoc, to corrupt, to defile or to soil.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard much about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name.” 

What confidence the Lord had in his servant Ananias. After all, Saul had already seen a vision that Ananias would come and lay his hands on Saul. It is not unlikely that Ananias had thoughts to lay his hands on Saul in anger for his violence against his fellow believers and the pain and panic he was causing in the lives of believers who were fleeing from Jerusalem to save their lives. Yet, the vision had shown Ananias coming to lay hands on Saul to heal him, not to harm him.

He was to heal the eyes who had likely relished the sight of Stephen being martyred by stoning. Talk about a risky friendship. What if it was an elaborate trap? What if the repentance had been a farce? A ploy to lure believers to harm?

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 

On the Word of the Lord, Ananias went. He did as the Lord said. He set himself vulnerably in the presence of one who had ravaged the church and touched him, becoming an instrument of healing to the one who had been an instrument of harm.

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and taking food, he was strengthened. 

Had Ananias listened to fear or to prejudice or to even the advice of well-intentioned believers around him, the scales may not have fallen from Saul’s eyes. Had the scales not physically fallen from Saul’s eyes, countless Gentiles and Jews would not have had the spiritual scales fall from the eyes of their hearts which had been blinded by the Enemy (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

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The story of Saul’s conversion is, in some ways, the story of two conversions. Saul’s spiritual conversion to Paul and Ananias’ different conversion to friendship with a former enemy.

Today, I find myself praising the all-powerful God who writes straight with crooked sticks, who uses risky friendships to advance His kingdom. May we learn from Ananias to listen to God’s Word and to step out in obedience towards intentional friendships with those very different from ourselves.

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On Greater & Lesser Advocates

I am not a lawyer, but I am a mother. Which means that though I am neither demanding in personality nor powerful in presence, I turn into a fierce advocate for my children. Watching the classic courtroom scenes from A Few Good Men and reading To Kill A Mockingbird are about as close as this girl comes to training in argument or advocacy. However, when someone I love is threatened or put into a difficult place, tenacious advocacy erupts from a dormant place deep within me.

I have watched the most shy mothers turn into brave warriors on behalf of their children, advocating for their rights, their treatment, their place at the table. It is a scary and stunning thing to watch someone advocate for another.

At some point in life, we all find ourselves in need of an advocate to greater or lesser degrees.  Whether in an interview, a legal argument, or a garden-variety misunderstanding, certain circumstances will trigger within us a deep desire for someone to advocate on our behalf, someone to take up our cause and go to bat for us.

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Advocacy in the Scriptures
Advocacy seems to be woven into the very character of our God. As such, it should come as no surprise that we find in ourselves a corresponding hunger to both give and receive advocacy.

While the taste of the forbidden fruit was still on Adam and Eve’s tongues, God undertook on their behalf. He, the betrayed party, killed an animal to graciously provide clothes to replace fig leaves for his ashamed creations (Genesis 3:21).

A few years later, the Lord advocated on behalf of the slain Abel (Genesis 4:10).

When Abram threw her under the bus, God Himself advocated for the vulnerable Sarai. Twice. (Genesis 12 &  Genesis 20).

Abraham would later advocate for Lot and the inhabitants of the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33), urging God to spare them if there were even ten righteous people in the whole populace.

A hardship-weather yet God-protected Joseph advocated for the very brothers who had begun his long journey of suffering  (Genesis 47).

We  have not even exhausted the examples of advocacy in the book of Genesis, but I think I can stop advocating for advocacy Scripturally.

When God established His people through Moses (yet another advocate) and the laws and precepts given through his mediacy, it should come as no surprise that advocacy found its way into the fabric of God’s people. Priests were established to advocate for the people before God through an elaborate system of sacrifices. God’s people were to advocate for the sojourner and stranger and even the accidental murderer (Deuteronomy 19:4).

The Greater Advocate
All these stepping stones of advocacy, whether human or divine, were meant to point us towards and lead us to the Greater Advocate, our Great High Priest, Jesus.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews  2:14-17).  

That the eternally offended party would come to earth, put on flesh and become the atoning sacrifice for our sins is shocking enough. But Christ not only died to make us right with God, He lives to advocate for us.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). 

Goaded to the Greater Advocate
Lately, I have found myself looking around for an earthly advocate, someone to plead my cause, to back me, to believe in me to no avail. Yet, as strange as it sounds, I am slowly becoming thankful for the absence of earthly advocates.

The lack of lesser advocates can goad us to the greater one. Rather than allowing us to stop short, the Lord will sometimes lovingly force us to walk, by faith, all the way up to His very footstool. There we will find the Son seated at the right hand of the Father, pleading for us, advocating on our behalf.

 

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Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126. 

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As It Seemed Best: Encouraging Words for Overwhelmed Parents

As it seemed best.”

These four words have been a continual source of healing and comfort to me in my  earthly parenting; however, I am even more comforted by the fact that they have no place in God’s heavenly parenting of His children.

In his letter of warnings to the Jewish Christians, the author of Hebrews addresses the concept of biblical discipline.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as  it seemed best to  them, but disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For  the moment all discipline seems painful  rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:7-11.

As Seems: Parenting from Our Limited Perspective

Discipline is a loaded and misunderstood word, especially in our culture.  However, the biblical term translated discipline holds a greater range of meaning than mere correction  or punishment. The Greek paideia means instruction that trains someone to reach maturity and full development. While it includes correction, biblical training goes far beyond meting out consequences. It is a multi-faceted process that addresses and presses  the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional lives of our developing children.

As it it were not weighty enough, this biblical definition takes the conversation around the discipline and training of our children to a whole new level. Instead of staying in the common wrestling mats of “What kind of consequences do I give my children?” and “For what actions will they receive consequences?,” it creates many more mats upon which to wrestle.

  • What is our developmental plan for our child’s spiritual well-being?
  • In which school environment will each of our children be most stretched?
  • Will this risk that we are encouraging our child to take (trying out for a sports team, taking a challenging class, going away for a church trip. etc…)  be a healthy stretch or something that snaps his/her spirit?
  • Are we over-correcting our child to the point of constant critique?
  • When do we address the various patterns we see in their lives? Do we pray and let the Lord work in His time? Do we bring them up? If so, when and how? In what order?

Even when we think we have arrived at an answer for this child in this season,  there will be another season for this child (not to mention, other very different children, for many families).  So many potential pieces. How will they ever become a cohesive whole?

These and countless other questions should cause parents to drop to their knees in prayers for discernment and wisdom.

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Parents are called by God to lovingly,  intentionally, prayerful discipline their child(ren). He knows that we are limited in our understanding of our children’s hearts and hard-wiring. He knows that are bound by time, unable to see the future into which we and they are walking. He knows that we have our own pasts, foibles and blindspots that affect our parental vision.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-14.

As Is: Parenting from His Perspective

While we, through prayer and discernment and many teary or heated conversations, parent as seems best,  God works providentially as is best. There is no seeming best to Him.

The One who ordered the stars and hummed hummingbirds into existence has hard-wired each of our children. His Spirit goes where law and even loving parental interrogations cannot (1 Corinthians 2:10).  He stands outside of time and sees the full frame of the future that is coming for each of them (Psalm 139). He will not break a dimly burning wick, and a bruised reed he will not break (Isaiah 42:3). Every incident of their lives He will work with intention to their good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Oh, what a net this reality provides to the weary, wondering parent. Rather than leaving us paralyzed by a sea of choices and potential consequences, these promises free us to move forward in fear of God and trust in Him, rather than our own limited perspective.

 

 

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Look for the Larks: Wise Words from Corrie ten Boom

I often hear three voices echo through the walls of my house and in the confines of my cranium: Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Eliot, and Amy Carmichael. This week, Corrie’s words have been coaching and coaxing me.

Corrie ten Boom, best known for her book The Hiding Place, experienced the anguish of Nazi Germany and lost her beloved father and older sister Betsy to the concentration camps. God sovereignly allowed her to survive, and she spent the rest of her years as a self-proclaimed “tramp for the Lord,” going wherever He would send her to speak of the faithfulness and incredible forgiveness of God.

In her daily devotional book Each New Day,  she wrote the following thought that continually reminds me to look for God’s provision and presence even in the darkest dungeons of human experience and suffering.

“Once, while we were on a roll call, a cruel guard kept us standing for a long, long time. Suddenly, a skylark began to sing in the sky, and all the prisoners looked up to listen to  that bird’s song. As I looked at the bird, I saw the sky and thought of Psalms 103:11. O love of God, how deep and great; far deeper than man’s deepest hate. God sent that skylark daily for three weeks, exactly during roll call, to turn our eyes away from the cruelty of man to the oceans of His love.”

“For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. Psalm 103:11.”

On a national front, my heart has been weighted. El Paso. Dayton. Refugee crisis at the border.

On a local front, my heart has been weighted. Church demands and decisions. Friends who are trudging through the swamps of aggressive childhood cancer. Another dear friend who, though a brilliant and qualified scientists, has been out of work for over a year and just found out that she did not receive the potential offer she has been waiting on for months.

On the home front, my heart has been weighted. Seeing how much I have allowed consumerism and comfort to steer my parenting. Separating sibling squabbles well into the summer. Feeling powerless to help my husband navigate work situations.

On the heart front, my heart has been weighted.  Realizing how deeply entrenched my desire for instant gratification truly is. Wrestling against the leviathan of discontentment and self-pity, even though I know that the aforementioned three fronts should put self in its rightful place.

Weights pull downward, hunching me over, leaving me staring at my navel or the dusty earthy reality around me. When I am looking down at self or around at others or circumstances, I cannot see the providential larks that a loving God has purposefully placed to point me to the vastness of His love.

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Today, I am asking the Lord to make me more like Corrie who found the little messengers of hope sent from the Lord, even in the most cruel circumstances imaginable.

I am asking the Lord to send little larks that lift the eyes of my struggling friends.

For on the Cross, there was no lark for the Lord. He experienced all the pent-up anguish and wrath of God against sin and all its devastating, spiraling effects. Yet, He still entrusted Himself to the Father who turned away His face, knowing that there was no darkness that His dad would not illuminate in His time.

He died lark-less that we could live lives anchored in hope, looking for reminders that He    will come again in glory to finally eradicate evil and repair all brands of brokenness.

Jesus, may we look for the larks today. May we be anchored in Your Word in the midst of gathering cultural and personal storms, until the day when there is no need for larks for we will be face-to-face, fully in the presence of our Lord. Amen.

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A Species Survival Plan for Childhood

As a proud zoo-loving biology nerd seeking to raise the next generation of such nerds, we talk about SSPs on our frequent visits to zoos. Species survival plans. Every species that is somewhere on the endangered spectrum receives an SSP, an intentional plan created to help bring the species back to thriving.

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Being as I find motherhood my full-time job these days, I try to read as much as I can regarding parenting, children and families. I do this both as a form of self-induced continuing education and also as an attempt to not lose my mind amidst the potty humor and silliness which often seem to engulf me.

Recently, I read Neil Postman’s fascinating book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future. Postman includes an entire chapter on children, which he opens by writing the following:

“Childhood was invented in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, it began to assume the form with which we are familiar. In the twentieth century, childhood began to unravel, and by the twenty-first, may be lost altogether – unless there is some serious interest in retaining. This summary of the rise and fall of childhood will strike some readers as startling, especially those who believe that where there are children (that is small, young people), there must be childhood. But this is not so. Childhood is not a biological necessity but a social construction.”

Postman follows by painting in broad strokes the different historical views of children including the Lockean or Protestant view and the Rousseauian view. I know my teacher friends had to learn all about these fellas in their history of education classes; however, most of us mom-folk haven’t learned these things. While I found the history lesson interesting, the point Postman was leading to is alarming.

Today, according to Postman, “Children are neither blank tablets nor budding plants. They are markets; that is to say, consumers whose needs for products are roughly the same as the needs of adults….The point is that childhood, if it can be said to exist at all, is now an economic category. There is very little the culture wants to do for children except to make them into consumers.”

Ouch. That’s a scathing and scary indictment of where our culture is and is heading regarding childhood.

If childhood is truly endangered, which from a sociological standpoint is what Postman suggests, then what are we to do? What is the species survival plan?

Postman concludes the following:
“If parents wish to preserve childhood for their own children, they must conceive of parenting as an act of rebellion against culture…to insist that one’s children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend.”

I so desperately need to hear reminders that childhood and family are species worth fighting for.  Sometimes these reminders come from Biblical studies and a Christian worldview, but sometimes they come from the corner of common grace through the social sciences or biological research.

Recently, I hit a momma wall. I was worn out from the tedium and the seeming insignificance of playing “Catch the Orange” in the kitchen or spending an hour with my toddler using wipes to clean and re-clean every plastic animal in the house. I wanted out or I wanted easier. In my flesh, I want to have my cake and eat it too. Even though I want balanced, healthy children, on the long and lonely days, I don’t always want to have to give of myself to create an environment and home in which healthy and balanced children grow and thrive.

It is a fight to limit screen time and to load up my kiddos to find some green space where they can roam and be wild. It is hard to keep Christmas gifts and birthday gifts limited and reasonable in our culture. It is excruciating to hold a high standard (with high tolerance for mistakes, as they are only tiny humans) when the bar seems to be set so low. Many days I fail. But I know that this is an endeavor worth fighting for, this species survival plan for childhood and family.

The Lord, through Neil Postman, gave me the encouragement I needed this week.

“Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help keep alive a humane tradition. It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it has children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service for themselves and their children.”

Oh, God, you are the one who created children and families. You alone have the SSP needed to help them thrive. Give us the grace that we need, the supernatural strength to treat our children as you intended and to give ourselves to the survival of childhood, not for their sakes or for our sakes, but for Yours. 

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The Case for Clippers

I never thought I would be that lady, but I am. Every month or so, usually when their sideburns eerily resemble chops and the top of their heads could double as mops, I get out the clippers to cut our boys’ hair.

We are really professional around here. Our wobbly kitchen stools become the barber’s chair, our back deck becomes the shop, and I, against all odds, become the barber (ess?).

The boys and I both grumble about this set up, but both parties secretly like the arrangement for different reasons. The boys endure my slow work for the grand finale, the blower. Our efficient yet unconventional way of clearing off hair remnants includes directing the intense air stream of our electric blower at our children at a close range. They love it and don’t realize that they look like little chipmunks in a wind tunnel.

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As much as I complain about the squirming and impossibility of getting around their ears, I secretly look forward to this arrangement. And it is not because of the money we save, though that is a perk.

As my boys get older, cutting their hair provides a continual connection point, a place where I can serve them in a tangible way without being overbearing. When they were little, their actual and felt needs were ubiquitous. I remember longing for the day when they would not be quite so needy. Yet now that I have two boys on the precipice of adolescence, I find myself cherishing any and every opportunity to meet needs and spend precious time with them.

In the midst of helping with homework, folding laundry, stocking the pantry and driving carpools to sports practices, I sometimes lose touch with my boys as humans. They can too quickly become problems to solve or situations to manage rather than people to love.

As I cut their hair, I am reminded of the God who created them uniquely, who counted every unruly hair on their heads. I see their double crown or their thickly textured hair, and am reminded that I have been entrusted with these masterpieces of the Master artist of all Creation. Suddenly, our back deck, littered with tufts of dark, course hair and brown, thin hair, becomes sacred ground.

The nominal tasks entrusted to me, the ones that often make me sigh in exhaustion or roll my eyes in frustration, suddenly seem weighty. I get to know this little boy’s head, to shape this little boy’s mind, to help create habits that will stick to this little human into adulthood.

We are ten and nine years into the mammoth yet momentary task of making little men. That means that, most likely, we have less time with them under our roof left than has already passed.

Roughly 72 more hair cuts per boy remain (assuming we skip a few months or pay money for a professional to correct my novice barbering). It is not a guarantee how many more haircuts my handsome boys will allow me to perform. They may wise up and begin to care more about style. In the meantime, I am fighting to cherish our sessions on the stools, to see the eternal underneath and all around the ordinary that seems to envelope me in motherhood.

But more than anything, cutting my boys hair leaves me in awe of the One who created them, knows them, loves them, weeps over them and prays for them more than my husband and I do (which is hard to imagine when you love them so much that your heart could burst at times with the weight of joy or strain of worry).

The One who numbers the stars and calls them each by name (Isaiah 40:26), has numbered their hairs (Matthew 10:30). He has numbered their days (Psalm 139) and entrusted their fleeting flight to us. Who is adequate for these things?

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3: 4-6. 

 

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A Hagar Moment

What do I have in common with Hagar? Not much externally, but I felt like the Lord used her experience in Genesis to patch me up and send me back out into motherhood.

It was bound to happen. Maybe I shouldn’t have devoured John Steinbeck’s heavy novel East of Eden in a week. Maybe I should have gone to bed earlier, but life was bound to catch up with me. Living in limbo for nine plus months as we transition to San Diego, trying as hard as I can to be a sweet and loving and patient momma to two needy little boys, G traveling so much. It all came to a breaking point when the boys wouldn’t take their afternoon naps. Unfortunate, yes. Worth weeping over? No.

The Lord was obviously bringing me to the end of myself yet again. As I was sitting on the couch, crying, and praying, the Lord reminded me of Hagar’s story. Reminded me of how she was tired, she was alone, she was wandering in the wilderness with the demands of caring for her child, even though she was empty, thirsty, and alone. Reminded me of how He gently came to her, told her He saw her, knew her needs, knew the demands on every side, knew her tiredness. Reminded me of how He wouldn’t let her run away from her post, from her circumstances. Reminded me of how He patched her up and sent her back with promises and His presence to sustain her. Reminded me of how He opened up a well unseen to her, supplying her needs and comforting her so she could comfort her son.

It’s not that I look forward to failing and being exhausted as a wife and a momma, but I have a love/ hate relationships with days like yesterday. Hate that it wears me out, hate that is takes days to recover. Love that He meets with me and reminds of HIs sweet and lavished grace. Love how He fills me back up to send me back out into the lot He has so graciously apportioned for me. It’s good to come to the end of myself.

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Hagar and I

Like Hagar in the wilderness
My soul has run aground.
It seems we are weeping here,
With no one else around.

Weeping out of tiredness,
For needs crying to be met.
The demands are more than I have
And much more than I can get.

Here I am, empty and tired, yet
Others still depend on me.
I know not what to do as
Damned-up tears run free.

The needs seem to mount,
Closing in on every side.
I’ve no one else to turn to,
To my God alone I confide.

Surface thoughts give way
To honest, urgent cries.
Hagar and I feel all alone,
But He hears our heavy sighs.

It is tempting to run away
From where my lot lies.
He won’t change His orders,
But He will give new supplies.

I want to avoid my post
Where all I do is fail.
He won’t succumb to me,
I wrestle with no avail.

He sits and cries with me,
As with Hagar He conversed.
And I know He’ll send me back,
But He renews His promises first.

What is the matter, Aimee?
Why do sit in such despair?
You cry as one dying of thirst,
Do you not see the well over there?

This well of water ever flows,
To those who will come nigh.
Not only will they have their fill
But others will share their supply.

Oh, open up the well unseen,
For I am empty, tired, dry.
Oh, God of Hagar’s tears,
Please listen to my cry.

I can’t do this lest you give me
Every single drop I’ll need.
Overflow, this, my vessel,
On your mercy I will plead.

Oh, feed and supply my needs,
Then, Lord, help me to provide
For these ones entrusted to me,
Who are ever walking at my side.

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Belief Begets Boldness

In age that loves personality tests,  it is good to be reminded that biblical boldness is not a personality thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Enneagram as a useful tool both in understanding souls shaped differently than mine and in navigating the labyrinth that is my own soul. My children and I happily do internet quizzes that peg us as a Hufflepuff or Gryffindor (but never a Slytherin).

But this morning, the Lord was quick to remind me that boldness is not exclusively an eight thing. Boldness is not primarily a matter of personality, it is the fruit of deep belief. That is not to say that every personality will exhibit the same intensity and brand of boldness; however, being an introvert or a loyalist or a peace-lover does not get one off the hook of being bold.

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Paul: the epitome of an eight
We could argue over whether the Apostle Paul was an eight with a one-wing or a one with an eight-wing, though I don’t think he would have had time for such talk. Either way, we know enough from the Scriptures to know that Paul was, by nature, bold, brazen, and unafraid.

He could command an audience, he would not be intimidated, and he persisted in boldly declaring truths that were terribly uncomfortable (see Acts 14). As a later convert who had not had the privilege of spending time with the Incarnate Christ, he even had the gaul to challenge James, Peter, and the Church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15 and Galatians 2:11-21).  For someone like Paul, it would be easy to qualify his boldness as being a result of his personality. Only,  Paul does not allow us to do so.

In his second letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul lets us know the birthplace of his boldness is not in his personality but in his belief in the gospel.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Noe that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us,  but our  sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…Since we have such a hope, we are very bold. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6 & 12). 

Here, Paul overtly tells us that his boldness is birthed from the hope that flows from his belief in the gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, not from his genetic make-up or hardwiring.

Timothy: the epitome of not-an-eight
Similarly, in his last words to Timothy,  his son and gospel protege, we overhear Paul coaching Timothy along these same lines.

Timothy could not have been more different than the powerful Paul. He was, by nature,  timid and anxious.  Timothy had to be reminded that,  while different in personality, he, too, had been gifted by the Lord. Paul says the following in regards to Timothy’s timidity (try to say that one fast five times).

For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of  fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Paul knew Timothy well. He likely anticipated Timothy’s pushback to this command being something along the lines of, “Well, that is easy for you to say, you are an eight. I’m a six. I am fearful, so I cannot be bold like you.” A few verses later, Paul, as any good teacher would, connects the dots from this command to the underlying reality that boldness stems from belief,  disconnecting this principle from personality.

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom  I have believed,  and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me  (2 Timothy 1:12).

Paul’s boldness was birthed in his deep belief in the gospel, not merely his powerful personality.

Bolstering Boldness
Perhaps for those of us who are less bold by nature, the place to begin is our persuasion of the gospel, rather than bolstering personality traits.

Rather than listening to TED talks about becoming brave and more vocal, perhaps we ought to sit and stare longer at the gospel and trace us out the powerful implications that flow from it.

People who die apart from Christ will forever be separated from God (Isaiah  59:1-3) Sitting and meditating on that reality is just about the only thing that helps me to boldly share the gospel when I hate to stir up contention. Learning better tactics on how to converse will not get me there.

One day, I will stand before the judgment throne of Christ to give an account (Romans 14:12). The only way that I can get over the Himalayan hill of my desire to please people by not stirring things up or appeasing them is to foster a deeper desire to please Christ.

May we, whether we are a one, an eight or anything else, foster our belief in the gospel which fosters our boldness, to the end that Christ may be proclaimed. Amen.