Category Archives: from the heart

What Death Put On Display

We had “said goodbye” at least five other times, but we knew this time was different. Parkinson’s Disease is a marathon, not a sprint; however, the finish line was finally in sight. My husband hopped on a plane while I busied myself at home, doing chores, running errands, holding down the home front in the frenetic busyness that is usually my first line of response to grief.

It only took one picture to shatter my busyness and bring me back to gospel reality. My husband snapped a picture of Appa’s closest friend whom we call Jose Uncle, sitting by the bedside reading Scripture to his friend in his last days. I lost it.

Neither of those men who met at engineering school in India could have engineered the stories they would walk each other through. Yet here they were loving one another to the end. Impending death was putting on display a few things that we all too easily overlook as we go about life.

The Extraordinary Blessing of Ordinary Friendship

In a story only the Lord could orchestrate Jose Uncle and Appa ended up in the same place in the massive United States. Having been through their college years marked by dreaming and a seemingly endless horizon of possibilities, they lived the reality of their adult years together in Houston, Texas. There were parties, but there was also pain. Jose Uncle’s wife experienced two strokes that left him as caregiver, while Appa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease that left Amma as primary caregiver. A world away from India and worlds away from the futures they imagined, their friendship has continued.

When we buried Appa, sweet Jose Uncle came up to give one last tap to the coffin before his body was laid beneath the ground. Another gesture of enduring friendship that both choked me up and sobered me up to the reality of our fleeting days on this earth.

In a world obsessed with following the extravagant and dramatic lives of the rich and famous, ordinary friendship seems underwhelming. In a day and age that has flattened friendship to a screen and trivialized it to a few emojis, the depth of the real friendship they put on display refreshed and challenged me. It reminded me of King David’s grief at learning about the death of his friend Jonathan and his father Saul (despite all the tumultuous waters that had passed under that bridge).

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. You daughters of Jerusalem, weep over Saul…How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle!” (2 Samuel 1:23-25; 25).

In a world of flash, friendship is an often-overlooked gift given from God Almighty for our days as elect exiles on this earth. Death became the dark backdrop that put such ordinary beauty back on display for me. It made me want to savor times walking with those who have walked through so much life with me. It made me want to call loved ones and catch up with them. It made me want to not forsake meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but rather to continue to stir one another up as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).

The Power of Covenant Love

I have written extensively about the lessons I have learned watching Amma care for Appa. If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

They married only have met one another a few times, but Amma fulfilled her covenant vows to the end. She put skin on the skeletal promise, “In sickness and in health.” They don’t make many movies about caregivers because care-giving is a messy sludge in a culture that loves sterilized ease. But I am thankful for the front row seat I inherited to watch the power of covenant love on display even and especially on the dark backdrop of death.

The Universality of Gospel Hope

We had the privilege of sitting through Appa’s funeral service in the Mar Thoma church. While Paul was pioneering the gospel to Asia minor, as is recorded in Acts, Thomas was bringing the gospel the southern tip of India; thus, the Mar Thoma or St. Thomas church. Outside of showing me how accustomed I have become to hour-long services (man, do they have some worship endurance!), the service was a beautiful reminder of the universality of the gospel.

As an American and as a sinner, I have this strong tendency to put myself and my culture in the center of all things. Listening to (and attempting to sing) hymns in Malayalamwas a refreshing reminder that the gospel belongs to every tribe, nation, tongue, and dialect (Rev. 7:9). While death is a universal reality for every human, the gospel is a universal invitation to a pathway through death and into everlasting life. Listening to priests from both the Indian Church and the Syriac Church as they declared the same gospel truths we declare in our little church plant every Sunday fortified my soul. They wore different robes and chanted in different ways, but they held to the same gospel hope through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Such realities put me rightly in my place and postured my heart for the worship that will exist in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For the believer, death doesn’t win. Resurrection life through Jesus does. What is mortal will be swallowed up by an even fuller and more lasting life (2 Corinthians 5:4). Death becomes the sobering backdrop that puts on display not only God’s dazzling offer of life but also his gracious provision of all we need to pursue him in this life (2 Peter 1:3).

Before we lowered Appa into the ground, we left roses on his grave. It felt right to bury him under the weight of so much love. It will feel even more right to see him resurrected with no trace of Parkinson’s Disease. We have a lot of living left to do, so let us seek to number our days that we might gain hearts of wisdom in a death-weary world (Psalm 90:12).

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve. 

Between the Ropes

This morning I found myself in a very familiar place: in the ring with God, wrestling.

I am not sure why I am surprised when I end up within the ropes again; after all,  Israel, the name God chooses to call His people over and over again, literally means “one who wrestles and strives with God.” God, it seems, is not surprised that wrestling matches between He and His children occur. On the contrary, He seems to encourage and use these wrestling matches in profound ways.

Jacob, the premier wrestler of the Old Testament, received the name Israel after an all-night, twelve-round wrestling match with God Himself. What were Jacob and God wrestling over? Why all the hours between the ropes?

God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself, to the end of his ceaseless striving to gain power and control and a blessing on his own terms. God longed to have Jacob submit to Him, trust Him, and learn to limp with dependence upon Him rather than run in his own power for his own purposes.

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In his commentary on the Genesis 32 wrestling match, MacLaren asks the following insightful questions.

“What, then, was the meaning of this struggle? Was it not a revelation to Jacob of what God had been doing with him all his life, and was still doing?..Were not his disappointments, his successes, and all the swift changes of life, God’s attempts to lead him to yield himself up, and bow his will? And was not God striving with him now, in the anxieties which gnawed at his heart, and in his dread of the morrow?”

What I find shocking is the fact that God so often continues to refer to His children as Israel. To wrestle with one stubborn man is one thing, but to proudly refer to your people as those who wrestle with God seems to be quite another. Wouldn’t it seem more honorable to name your child, “One who loves God,” or “One who trusts God,” or “One who serves God?”

But that’s just the thing. God loves our wrestling with Him. In fact, according to MacLaren, “A true Christian is an ‘Israel.’ His office is to wrestle with God.”

God says that the Christian’s job is to continually wrestle with Him. He even goes so far as to lovingly lure us into the ring with Him. He doesn’t shut us down or just knock us out when our desires and prayers seem to strive against His will or His providences, though He could easily do so. He condescends and wrestles with us. He is willing to go twelve rounds or two-hundred rounds to finally bring us back to a place of trust and dependence upon Him. He will have us limp joyfully by His side, not sprint off in our own self-willed ways, no matter how much better those ways often seem.

The narrative of God’s interaction with His people is littered with a long line of wrestlers. Psalm 42 gives the reader audience into the internal wrestling match between the psalmist’s feelings and the truths of God. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope In God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” In the New Testament, Paul invites us to the wrestling mat of his heart in Romans 7 where he describes his continual struggle to gain control over his flesh. He also shows us the result of having wrestled with God when he describes the peace and joy of the prevailing gospel in Romans 8.

It’s not that the Christian life is one giant, exhausting wrestling match. We seem to take turns rotating roles in the arena. Sometimes we are the wrestler sweating it out between the ropes; sometimes we are the support team in the corner of the wrestler, sending a tired wrestler back into the ring when they would rather throw in the towel; sometimes we are the spectators cheering when the gospel and its peace and joy ultimately prevail.

Whatever our current role, our hope stems from the fact that it is a good God who is wrestling against our unbelief and sin and for His life and truth to be wrought in us.

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

Lessons from the Border

Our first mission trip as a family was an assault on the senses. We took in so much in such a short amount of time while moving at such a dizzying rate that I am just beginning to prayerfully process nearly a week later. Two particular images keep coming to my heart and mind: the tidiness of a tent city and the cartwheeling son of a fire-breather.

The Tidiness of a Tent City

Our first full day in Tijuana, we went to serve at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States (currently waiting at the border). When we parked the car, I was overwhelmed by the dirt, feces, and subsequent flies in the street. I held my son’s hand tightly as if to protect him from all he was seeing for the first time. Thus, you can imagine my shock when we walked into the semi-open-air shelter of corrugated metal to see a tidy little city of well-kept tents. The place was immaculate by any standards, but especially considering the fact that over one-hundred-fifty women and children were living in such a small space.

The families living in the shelter seemed to take great pride in the fact that they were among the lucky few who had shelter, food, and bathroom access for three months. As we were playing with the children, I even found myself feeling something like jealousy at the kind of community they had become. The children acted like siblings to each other, and the adults stepped in to love, direct, and even correct the children, even those who were not their own.

Having so little, they had a vibrant, generous, ordered community life that few Americans experience though they have so much. We gave them medicine, but they gave us the better medicine of a joyful heart despite jarring circumstances (Proverbs 17:22). Those tidy tents taught me a thing or twenty about community, gratitude, and grace.

The Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-Breather

We all know the statement that truth is often stranger than fiction, but it can also be sadder. After three incredibly long days of helping put on multiple medical clinics, our crew loaded up in our over-filled car to head back home. We anticipated the long wait time at the border and I thought we were accustomed to the things we would see as we waited, but I did not anticipate the way one of the side-acts would since take center-stage in my mind.

As we were waiting in the long, slow lines of traffic, my eyes were drawn to a father and his two sons. Leaving the younger child in the stroller, he stopped and began a fire-breathing act along the barricade. While the fire-breathing tricks initially did their job in grabbing my attention, the son of the fire-breather stole my heart. Seeking to help his father earn some change, he began doing some unbalanced and unpolished cartwheels and handstands of his own.

At the time, I catalogued this act along with countless others who were performing songs, playing guitars, and selling their wares. But this one was different, as the Lord would continually bring it back to mind and memory.

As many times as I have read or taught on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you would have thought I would not have missed the moment. But I did. I fell right into the role of the priest: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). We are usually quick to assume the worst about the priest, but it is likely he had been serving all day, fulfilling his priestly duties, and meeting needs in sacrificial ways. Having “clocked out,” and being wearied from service, few would fault him with following convention and tradition to avoid an unclean situation with someone who was not even among his flock. But he missed it. He missed his chance to see and experience and become more like the Savior whose coming he eagerly sought. And I did the same.

Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-breather

Cart-wheeling son of a fire-breather,
As you did your tricks, I turned away.
I tried not to notice your plight,
Yet you come to mind everyday.

Your earnest, eager desire to please,
To add to your dad’s dangerous show
As if your life depended upon it
Shakes all that I think I know.

Tired from serving, I sat and watched,
But now, I wish I had run –
Through traffic, past convention –
To point you to God’s Son.

You don’t have to grab his attention;
You live always under His sight.
And, unlike me, his broken servant,
He never turns away from your plight.

I don’t want to keep being the priest who missed his moment with the Lord he served. I want to have eyes wide-open to encounters with the Christ who in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “plays in ten thousand places/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

I don’t want to be led by convention or convenience. I want to be compelled and controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The Dispersed Lady

Have you ever been reading fiction and felt like a line was reading you? That happened to me last night as I fell asleep reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. In this particular scene, a couple was discussing one of their dear friends as they lay in bed one evening.

At least they’ve got money.”

“That does help,” I said, “It even helps her hire a nanny to look after the children she’s already got, so she can be out promoting culture and singing in the chorus and cleaning up Wisconsin politics and being kind to the wives and the children of starving instructors. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.”

The last sentence of five words slew me. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.

While they were speaking of Charity, one of the main characters in this particular story, they could have well been speaking of me.

Dispersed

Dispersed. Spread out. Shed abroad. Scattered. A tendency to be all over the place and in everything.

Maybe you are not as prone to dispersion as I am, but even the most gathered and collected of us live in a dispersed and scattered culture. Even before the internet and its eery invitation to peer into the lives of others all around the world and to disperse our opinions and energies towards every possible cause, we were a dispersed culture. Sometime in the American experiment, better came to mean more and best came to mean most. Wider now seems synonymous with more accomplished. Our culture constantly leaks this truth into our lives, “The wider your sphere of influence, the wider the reach of your followers, the wider you have traveled, the more significant you must be.”

If people were speaking of me, as Sally and her husband were of their mutual friend, I pray that they would say of me, “That’s a pretty dependent and deep lady.”

Apart from the grace of God, this will be never be true of me. I tend to be more of a whirling dervish of energy and excitement and interest. Due to the fact that I am a mother of three busy boys, my schedule has me dispersed in twelve places at once. Add on top of that the reality that are planting a church and you have the recipe for a dispersed lady.

Dependent, Deep, and Focused

Yet, the gospel invites me to be both dependent, deep, and focused. In a culture permeated by self-will and self-talk, God asks his children to be God-reliant and God-directed. He invites us to draw from a well of strength that the world cannot see and guides us by priorities that world doesn’t always share.

In a culture spread thin running in every direction, our God invites us to be people of depth, a people deeply rooted. Rooted in his word, rooted in his promises, rooted in the messy community called the church, rooted to the people and purposes he has allotted for us (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 10:22-25; Psalm 16:5-8).

When offering us images of what it looks like to walk with God, the Spirit inspired the psalmist to give us the picture of a tree firmly planted by the water (Psalm 1). When Jesus sought to paint a picture of the kingdom of God for his disciples, he used similar imagery of a small seed which grew into an expansive tree offering shade and nesting branches to all in its surroundings (Matthew 13:31-32). Both of these word pictures share not only depth and rootedness but also dependence.

In a scattered, distracted culture, we are pulled in a thousand directions towards a thousand causes. It doesn’t help that our sin predisposes us to chase after everything but God. Yet, God commands his people to live with a clear focal point: Himself.

With our eyes fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and our gaze directed to Christ who is our life, we can do diverse things with a united heart (Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4; Psalm 86:11).

The only reason we are able to become this kind of people is that Christ was the seed that died so that many might live (John 12:24). He was dispersed so we could be focused on him and rooted in him in deep dependence. Oh, that we would be deep, dependent, and focused people. When we are such, we will be free to disperse the seeds of the gospel to a world that desperately needs truth.

Adversity Anniversaries

It does not surprise me that calendars don’t include “Adversity Anniversary” among their Hair Appointment and Birthday reminder stickers, as there is not much cute or marketable about remembering devastating days.

But then again, usually these days don’t need marking out. The amygdala and the soul have their own built-in reminder systems. Smells, sounds, temperatures, songs. Even the smallest things have a way of alerting us of the approach of a weighty anniversary, whether it mark the passing of a beloved family member, an exile from home, a day of sudden disaster or a dreaded diagnosis.

On these weighty days, time seems to stand still and lives are turned upside down yet again. Haunting memories are relieved, even if one has come to the other side of the trauma. Like regular aftershocks after an earthquake, anniversaries of adversity have a way of once again shaking the ground that has been slowly settling with time.

My dear friend is approaching the anniversary of a sudden sickness that left her fighting for her life. Although God graciously spared her life and miraculously brought her back from the precipice of death, she lives with daily reminders of the trauma.

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She and her family have no need to mark out this day, this day and the subsequent days have marked them. Time is now measured and remembered as before the sickness and after.

Of course, they have deep gratitude for her life being spared. Yet, this first anniversary will be far from a day of celebration. Despite so many answers to the desperate prayers of so many loved ones, questions still swarm.

As I was processing their approach to this anniversary, the Lord was gracious to lead me to a book by the talented Michael Card. A Sacred Sorrow attempts to bring back the language of lament to an often overly-victorious Western Christianity. Card winsomely and beautifully makes the case that lament is a gift that will lead us to our lasting home.

“Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world. It provides the only trustworthy bridge to God across the deep seismic quaking of our lives. His life reveals that those who are truly intimate with the Father know they can pour out any hurt, disappointment, temptation, or even anger with which they struggle. Jesus’ own life is an invitation to enter through the door of lament.” 

The pathway of lament is not a popular highway; in fact it is not even a highway at all. For each person, it is a unique path through our own particular pains and problems, losses and longings. Yet, this path was trodden by our Older Brother Jesus who followed it to Golgotha, the place of the skull.

We know that the Cross and the tomb were not the end of His journey. We know that He wrestled with questions and wept in lament in the Garden of Gethsemane that one day His purchased people might weep and question no more.

Yet, the journey between the Cross and the Crown feels long.

May we help our friends grieve the days that have marked them; however, may we also be those quick to remind them and ourselves that all our days have been marked in His book, but that they have been written by a hand marked with the scars of a sacrificial love.

In a culture that thrives on optimism and victory,  may we become a people comfortable with lament. May we also have eyes fixed on the Coming Christ, who has prepared for us a city without walls and tearless days without end.

What My Afghan Friends Have Taught Me About Abundance

This year my heart is uniquely primed for Thanksgiving (and I most certainly don’t mean that my turkey is already prepped and my house is prim and proper). As I prepare to stir gravy tomorrow, I am deeply aware of the ways the Lord has been stirring my heart through an unexpected, God-given friendship with an Afghan family.

I thought I was bringing them groceries, but God knew they had much to give me. This brave family who literally lost everything trying to get out of their country through the Kabul airport has given me the precious gift of perspective. I am seeing the abundance around me with their eyes.

Photo by Karen Sewell on Unsplash

We have given them puzzles and rides and help with paperwork, but they have given us much more. They have shown me that we can become so accustomed to abundance that we lose our ability to be recognize and appreciate it.

Seeing our country and our lives through the eyes of newcomers has left my heart filled with gratitude for things I have grown to expect as an entitlement.

I drive by parks and playgrounds without thinking twice; however, my friends have taught me to savor the simple excitements of swinging on swings and chasing squirrels.

Outside of the present pandemic vaccination conversation, I tend to not think much about my children’s vaccination cards; however, receiving yellow vaccination cards was a hard-fought victory for our friends. W celebrated like we had won the lottery when we finally had cards for each child in our hands.

It’s easy to become demanding and narrow in our friendships. We want to hang with people who “get us” and share similar interests. Befriending someone when neither of you can speak to each other outside of body language has reminded me that we often make friendship more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t know any Farsi, but I have been reminded lately that mutual feelings of deep care don’t need translation. Eyes and souls have a language all their own.

I get frustrated when I lose my keys, yet my friends have literally lost everything and continue to press forward with patience and hope. They have to wait in lines for everything: shots, appointments, buses. Nothing is efficient, and everything requires patience and persistence. Having been successful lawyers, artisans, and managers in their country, they have to work their way back up.

Stepping into their lives has also shown me the abundance of selfishness and self-interest in my own heart. Sure, I want to serve and be helpful. But I want to do that when it is convenient and efficient, not when it is costly and circuitous. I want to help solve problems with simple fixes, but life is far more complicated and nuanced than my flat solutions. God did not offer quick fixes, but sent Jesus to be the three-dimensional, in-flesh solution to the problems we could never fix. The more I realize the wisdom of his perfect solution, the more humble and deeply dependent I become.

It seems fitting and right that the Lord has had me meditating on Psalm 104 this week. The entire psalm walks through habitats and habits. Every created things has its place, knows it place, and lives within designed dependence.

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them ,they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104:2730).

We, who are supposed to be the “very good” of creation demand, disobey, and seek to live independently. We forget what creation cannot forget: we are deeply dependent upon God for life, breath, and all things. This reality is the seedbed of gratitude. When we realize that all we have has been bought for us at incredible cost, when we see all as undeserved gift, we are inching towards a true spirit of thanksgiving.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:31-34).

I complicate thanksgiving when I tie it to my circumstances rather than the unchanging character of our Creator who became creation to save his creation at great cost.

Whether you find yourself in want or plenty tomorrow, I pray that you would know an abundance that scarcity can’t scratch and abundance cannot aggregate.

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

A Word for Weary Warriors

Even warriors grow weary. Exhausted healthcare workers, fighting to not only serve but also truly see their patients, long to be seen. Single mommas working to keep food on the table begin to run on steam. Pastors who speak consistent truth to their congregations need someone to speak the truth to them. Deployed military personnel who leave home to keep our home fronts safe wonder if anyone even notices.

If ever there was a warrior, King David was he. He was a renaissance man long before the renaissance: A shepherd who single-handedly protected his flock from a lion and a bear; an unexpected youth warrior unafraid of a literal giant; a poet who penned songs of longing and love; a furtive fugitive who stayed alive against all odds; a wise king who led a previously marginalized people through their golden era.

In 2 Samuel 23, we hear the last words of King David as he looks back over his storied life. From the vantage point of the end, he looks back and sees a God who has made and kept covenant with him.

“For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure?” (2 Samuel 23:5).

However, immediately after his last words, the writer of the book sees fit to include a lengthy section of Scripture dedicated to his mighty men. David had a mighty God, and such a God also provided him with many mighty men.

Initially the list reads as one would expect a list of mighty men to read: A warrior who “wielded the spear against eight hundred men” (verse 8), another warrior who “defied the Philistines” until his hand cramped from so tightly holding his sword (verse 10), and other such feats of strength and bravery. However, the list shifts to those whose bravery showed itself in feats of friendship and lasting encouragement.

At a low point in his roller coaster life, David found himself hiding in the Cave of Adullam with a band of strong and ruthless enemies surrounding the valley. Loneliness and fear were wearing down event this mighty warrior. After all, even those who break through impenetrable cities have penetrable hearts pierced with longings and doubts. Is life worth the pain and weariness? Would there ever be rest? Did anyone even miss him or notice his absence? Was all of this effort amounting to anything? Even worse, had God forgotten him?

Into this literal and emotional dark cave of hiding, thirty friends came bringing life and light and hope. They found their leader weary, weak, and uncharacteristically whiny.

And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (2 Samuel 23:15).

Photo by Anderson Rian on Unsplash

Moved by his vulnerability, three men were moved to action. They risked their lives to sneak into Bethlehem, which was then the garrison of the enemies (verses 14 and 16).

When they returned, David’s heart was strengthened, though he refused to drink the water. Realizing the costliness of their sacrifice and the depth of their friendship and devotion to him, David could not drink the water. Rather, he poured it out to the Lord saying, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went to risk their lives?” (2 Samuel 23:17).

It turns out our hearts need companionship and love more than even our bodies need water. The reminder of those who saw him and loved him did more to strengthen him than the cup of water ever could.

Weary warrior, I don’t know what your heart longs and whines for in your weariness. But I do know this: there is a friend who not only risked his life, but willingly let his blood pour out on the ground for you. He not only broke into the enemy stronghold, but was held captive by death itself for days. He comes to you in your dark caves and moments of weightiest weariness to be with you.

May these realities strengthen and embolden your heart today, friend.