Category Archives: motherhood

A Very Different David

In our culture and in our flesh, we love flashy beginnings. As of this year, the wedding industry brought in a staggering $57.9 billion dollars. We love a good grand opening or ribbon cutting. But biblically-speaking, how people end their lives is far more significant than how they begin.

Often, when we think of King David, we imagine him standing with his sling before a toppled Goliath. Or we think of him being set apart as the future king and selected from among his older brothers by Samuel. Perhaps we think of his massive failures which included adultery, murder, and cover-up. Maybe we remember him fleeing from his life from his best friend’s maniacal father, hiding in caves.

While David’s entire life is both fascinating and instructing, I find the David at the end of his life most compelling and comforting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows at the end of David’s life. In fact, the aged, well-seasoned David continued to struggle with sin.

David’s Latter Days

In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan incited David, through his pride, to instigate a census of Israel. While that does not sound like the stuff of scandal or sin to us, the scheme was a prideful attempt to show his power and prowess as a leader. Joab, the leader of Israel’s army, sought to warn him against this selfish scheme, saying, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21: 3).

Even Joab’s cunning appeal which sought to steer David’s decision through his idolatry of pride and power failed; for “the king’s word prevailed against Joab” (1 Chron. 21:4). David would have his way, would force his will, and his people would experience the consequences. At this point in his life, we wonder if David will ever learn his lessons.

Thankfully, the Scriptures don’t leave us with this David. The same David whose heart was pricked by the skillful prodding of Nathan and whose repentance penned Psalm 51 received the Lord’s correction. He recognized the staggering effects his selfishness had on the people whom he was supposed to be serving.

“And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let your hand, O Lord, my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.’ (1 Chron. 21:17).

In fact, in the very place where the angel of the Lord graciously relented of the plague (the threshing field of Ornan), David devised an elaborate plan to build a temple to the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory.

Do you see what I see? Do you see a very different David?

A Very Different David

Yes, he still messed up royally (pun intended) even when he was well-advanced in the process of maturing in the Lord. But I find his repentance and recognition of sin to be a powerful encouragement.

He went from being the kind of man who, though owning flocks of sheep, would steal the one beloved sheep of another man (Nathan’s story which convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba) to the kind of shepherd who says, “Punish me, not the sheep.”

He went from slyly stealing that which was not his (an abuse of his power and position as king) to paying full price to Ornan for the land which would be reserved for God’s temple (1 Chron. 21:22–24).

He went from wanting to count heads to ensure his own enduring legacy to spending the rest of his life making elaborate plans to ensure the legacy of God’s great name. He went from forcing his own will and plans and desires to accepting the Lord’s will, plans, and desires, even when those shattered his own. Multiple times at the end of his life, and once in front of the gathered people of Israel, David showed that God’s will carried far more weight than his own (1 Chron. 22:6–10; 1 Chron. 28:2–8).

He admitted the depth of his own desire to build the Temple for God himself, but he also submitted to God who said his son would be the one to build the Temple. Rather than push though, chasing his own desire, or sit and pout, David poured himself into preparations for the Temple. He had blueprints drawn up, he gathered all the building materials, he coached up his son, Solomon.

David learned his lessons. It took an entire lifetime, but he learned. This gives me great comfort. For the same master who trained David trains us. This reality left me in tears as I studied the end of 1 Chronicles this week.

Glory to the Master, Not the Pupil

God’s disciples will learn their lessons (Luke 6:40). God will finish the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

As a woman who sees the scary strength of her own will and longs to place more weight on God’s better will than my own, the mastery of the Master gives me hope.

As a mother of teenagers who is constantly wondering when my children will learn, the mastery of the Master settles my worried heart.

As the wife of a pastor who seeks to shepherd a young flock in an arid spiritual terrain in the midst of massive cultural and spiritual warfare, the mastery of the Master emboldens me to stay the course.

Stay the course, my sin-weary and world-weary friends. Trust your Master and teacher. Receive his discipline as true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12: 5–11). Don’t begin to believe the lie that he is a hard master. Trust his heart for you is for your good and his glory.

People are Not Puzzles

As luck (or more accurately the Lord) would have it, I have been alternating reading two books which seem to have little, if anything, in common. The first is a modern work written by Ian Leslie called Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. The second is Norman’s MacLean’s short story “A River Runs Through It” in which he beautifully and honestly explores the relationships between the men in his family and the Montana past time of fly fishing which they all share.

I told you they didn’t seem very connected; however, the Lord used the strange pairing of these two books to push more deeply into my heart a truth which I already know but for which I am in need of constant reminders: people, though often puzzling, are not puzzles. They are mysterious image-bearers of God we are invited to love, not solve.

The Difference between Puzzles & Mysteries

In Curious, Leslie draws a distinction between puzzles and mysteries.

“Puzzles have definite answers… Puzzles are orderly; they have a beginning and an end. Once the missing information is found, it is not a puzzle anymore. The frustration you felt when you were searching for the answer is replaced by satisfaction.

Mysteries are murkier, less neat… Progress can be made toward solving them…but they don’t offer the satisfaction of definite solutions…Puzzles tend to be how many or where questions; mysteries are more likely to be why and how…We have a tendency to prioritize puzzles over mysteries, because we know they can’t be solved.”

This distinction helps explain why people (myself included) can get sucked into a vortex solving crossword, Wordle, or Sudoku puzzles. It we stick with them long enough (or glance to the answer key often enough), we will experience the satisfaction of completion.

According to Leslie, mysteries, which require more of us, “have a longer half-life than puzzles,” as they are “more challenging, but more sustaining.”

Puzzling People

It is far easier to stereotype people than to actually know them. In fact, sometimes the people who are the hardest for us to wrap our minds and hearts around are those with whom we spend the most time and whom we love the most.

The tension of “A River Runs Through It” depends on the complexity of relationships between two sons and their loving father. While the three have nearly mastered the art of fly fishing over decades of sharing it as a hobby, they are far from mastering or even beginning to truly understand one another.

At the end of the story, reflecting on the death of his brother, the narrator makes two stunning statements of truth that must be paired together. The first: “You can love completely without complete understanding.” The second: “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

When I am lazy or grasping after a false sense of control, I tend to turn the people I love the most into puzzles, looking for a solution that will lead to a sense of completion and satisfaction. I do this in marriage, motherhood, and even in the ways I think about myself. I have found myself often lately looking quizzically at my teenage sons, trying to find the missing bits of information that might “solve them.” I don’t say this aloud, but thoughts like, “Once they ____” or “If they only could ___.” betray that I am making them into puzzles.

However, God doesn’t invite me to solve them. He invites me to love them in all their mystery.

Inviting Mystery

As image-bearers of an infinitely mysterious God, people are complex and deep, changing and growing constantly. Proverbs 20:5 tells us, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

I long to be and to become a woman of understanding who is patient and humble enough to draw people out. However, weekly, I feel as if I am operating above my pay grade in seeking to love people who puzzle me. God has been slowly teaching me to leave space for mystery, both in my relationship with him and my relationship with others, especially those closest to me.

We will spend eternity unpacking and exploring the glorious depths of our mysterious Triune God. So it seems that our time on earth is well spent when we practice appreciating the mystery within his individual image-bearers. I am fighting to learn to leave space for the depths in those I love most deeply to cry out to the depths in our God (Psalm 42:7).

When I lack wisdom in how to approach them or love them or serve them, I am slowly, fitfully learning to ask him for the perfect wisdom that he gives freely without any reproach (James 1:5). While they remain mysteries to me, their hearts are uncovered and laid bare before his eyes (Hebrews 4:13). He knows who they are, how they operate, where they are headed, and what they need far more than I ever could. For now we see in part, as in a mirror dimly, but one day we will know fully when we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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.

Hefted like a Herdwick

I love reading about both vocation and location. In a world that is increasingly full of generalists and largely globalized into a strange digital sense of sameness, learning about people who are experts in one job and/or one place is refreshing. Reading about their place and their task strangely resharpens and refocuses me on my own place and my own task even if they are quite literally world away.

Providentially, I picked up a book that caught my eye at the used book sale: The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. Written by a shepherd from the Lake District of England, the book captured my imagination from the start. After being introduced to the area and the arduous work of shepherding Herdwick sheep on the fells (which means craggy hills, it seems) It is not hard to understand why the author chose to return to them after being the rare shepherd’s son who received an Oxford education.

In addition to exacerbating my desire to visit England, the book left me briefly wondering if I should try my hand at farming. But then I realized that I can barely keep my succulents alive in one of the sunniest climates in that States and struggle to herd my three children on the daily. Ultimately, the book led me to deeper intimacy with my own shepherd even though the author did not likely intend such an outcome.

Hefted Sheep

The book begins with an introduction to a shepherding term: hefted. In its noun form, a heft is a piece of upland pasture to which an animal has been hefted (which doesn’t help much if you don’t know what hefted means). In its adjectival form, hefted describes a sheep that has become accustomed and attached to a particular area of upland pasture.

In non-shepherd terms, the sheep don’t need to be fenced on these hills which are common land. Though there are no barriers or barricades, the sheep don’t want to leave their particular pasture and place. Rebanks explains hefting in the following manner:

“Beyond our common lies other undenied areas of mountain land, other fells, farmed by other commoners, so in theory our sheep could wander right across the Lake District. But they don’t because they know their place on the mountains. They are ‘hefted,’ taught their sense of belonging by their mothers as lambs- an unbroken chain of learning that goes back thousands of years.”

Essentially, hefted is another way to say these sheep have found their deepest and preferred home. This seems strange, especially when you realize that the fells to which they are hefted are not an easy-living environment. In fact, the Northern Lake District fells are extreme pastures with harsh winters, which leads me to the next point.

Herdwick Sheep

My knowledge of sheep reaches to the level of the average preschooler. They say bah. They start out white. They get dirty. We get wool from them. They are not the brightest of animals, thus they need the near-constant care of a shepherd.

But, as I learned from the book, not all sheep are created (or should I say bred?) equally. Herdwick sheep are a prized commodity among shepherds in England because of their hardiness which has been passed on for thousands upon years. Having wintered within their mothers in the biting weather on the harsh landscape of the fells, the lambs become tough cookies. If they can survive the fells, they can thrive on any other pasture in England, thus, explaining their place as a prized stock. Those who shepherd Herdwick sheep take great pride in their choice flocks largely because they have taken great pains to keep them alive, constantly caring for them and thinking for their welfare.

Below, Rebanks describes the importance of the winters in raising a true Herdwick sheep:

“These cold, hard, wet weeks are when Herdwicks come into their own. Few other breeds would survive the winter here carrying their lambs in their bellies…the bond between shepherd and flock is formed in these cruel months.”

As I read about this prestigious breed of plucky sheep, I found myself praying that God would shepherd me and our flock to be like them.

Hefted to the Good Shepherd

The more I read about the incredibly monotonous and grueling yet deeply thoughtful and considerate work of being a shepherd, the more I found myself worshipping the One who is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:1-18). God could have chosen someone from nearly any vocation to replace the apostate King Saul, but he chose a shepherd boy. David, who knew the sobering and strenuous work of shepherding, brought that knowledge into the task of leading God’s people (1 Samuel 17: 31-37). The Scriptures, from the Old Testament all the way through the New, are laced with shepherd and sheep language describing God’s interactions with his people (Isaiah 40:11;Isaiah 53:6-7; 1 Peter 2:21-25).

Rebanks’s detailed descriptions of caring for his flock included his waking up early with the sheep chief on his mind and not stopping to pause until all their needs had been met and ailments addressed. I found his three rules of shepherding helpful as I seek to be a spiritual shepherdess to our own little flock:

“First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you, it’s about the sheep and the land. 
Second rule: you can’t win sometimes. 
Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work.”

However, I could not help but contrast his rules with our perfect Shepherd who always wins and has already done all the work. While my prayers for myself and my flock have not changed, they have deepened and grown more descriptive. I want us to be like a Herdwick flock, only I want us to be hefted not to a particular place, but to a particular person: the person of Christ who is our Perfect Shepherd.

The Transition to Teens: Showing Hospitality to the Strangers in Your Own Home

As a family, we are committed to practicing hospitality. This does not look like a Pinterest-inspired meal with neatly-folded napkins and elaborate, earthy centerpieces. It looks like a commitment to make space for the other and to seek to see the stranger and the alien in our midst. It takes effort and intentionality. It often causes stress and stretches us. But it is worth it because God is worthy.

As those who have been recipients of the hospitable God who makes space for us to such a degree that he actually stepped into space to save us, we reflect his image even in our shoddy attempts at showing hospitality to others. God’s word commands it, and his love compels it.

I thought I had been stretched appropriately in this arena; however, lately, I have been learning a new form of hospitality: making space and room for the resident aliens in my own home (our teenagers).

Resident Aliens

Teenagers are strangers, even to themselves. Outside of their initial growth as babies, at no other time are they changing, growing, and stretching so much (physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally). It helps me to remember this God-ordained reality when the boys with whom I have shared my heart and my home for fourteen and fifteen years suddenly seem like an alien species. Their voices are different, the synapses in their brain are being re-circuited, and hormones are rising like sudden tsunamis that neither of us expect.

Their interests are changing (sometimes daily), and that often leaves me feeling like I’m lost without a map in uncharted territory. As soon as I get my mind around being a skater-mom and start to understand skateboard brands, they have moved on to surfing or videography. I knew that the teenaged-years would be a transition for them, but I don’t think I knew it would be such a transition for me as well.

I find myself continually grateful that Jesus lived through this phase himself, thereby acknowledging and sanctifying these years. I find myself in places of deeper dependence upon prayer than I have since those early newborn days. I am having to keep shorter accounts. I am daily confessing my idols of control and facing my own insufficiency. In fact, the pages of my Bible are growing thin in a few places.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

Peter challenged the early church to remain fervent or earnest in their love for one another, knowing that they would need God’s abundant love to cover a multitude of sins, mistakes, and missteps in their attempt to do so. The Greek word, ektenés, translated earnest or fervent, literally means “stretched out fully” and is the root word for the English terms “tense” and “tension.”

I am so thankful that Peter chose to use this word, as it aptly describes the tension and the strain involved in loving one another earnestly and showing hospitality to one another, even to the ones who live in our homes. These verses leave me clinging to another verse:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

A Delicate Dance

Teenagers need both space and presence. Loving my teenaged boys looks like a delicate dance with lots of stepping on toes, apologies, and tearful conversations on both sides. But it is an incredible dance that leads me to both dependence and delight.

Our Dance

I struggle to get the spacing right
As we learn a new kind of dance. 
I loved our past choreography-
Its simple steps, your typical glance. 

There’s a depth now to your eyes,
Matching the mystery in your soul. 
We still move in a partnership, 
But I’m a bit unsure of my role. 

You keep growing and changing,
Finding your own tempo and pace.
Balancing proximity and distance 
Requires great measures of grace.

I’m learning to let you lead, son.
You are learning you know how,
We’re both preparing for a future 
When another will kiss your brow. 

The dance isn’t always graceful;
We’ll step on an occasional toe. 
But know it’s my distinct delight
 To dance with you as you grow.  

These resident aliens are keeping me on my toes and on my knees. What a privilege it is that God would entrust them to me.

A Declaration of Dependence

I am incredibly grateful for and deeply benefit from the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson; however, my soul needs to be stamped with deeper declaration daily: a declaration of dependence.

My flesh recoils against such a declaration, but my soul was sewn with its principles. I go against the grain of universe when I try to defy it, yet I wonder why I am left splintered and sore.

  • I am a dignified derivative, I was never meant to exist alone (Genesis 1:27-28). As a sentient being made in the image of a Trinitarian God, my soul craves relationship, most notably with the relational God out of whose fullness I was born. 
  • I cannot love myself or accept myself without reference to God. To do so is to love a lesser self and accept that which is unacceptable. When I love sin, I hate and hurt myself (Proverbs 8:36; Psalm 16:4; James 1:14-15). Even though sin overpromises fulfillment, it delivers only death and addiction (John 10:10). Therefore, the only way to truly love myself is to hate my sin. But I cannot do that, try as I may. I am desperately needy and sick, and I cannot earn my way out of this state (Romans 7:21-24). 
  • As prone as I am to performance, I do not trick the one who sees all things. My soul and thoughts are laid bare before him, the one to whom I must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13). Soul audits only confirm and deepen my diagnosis (Isaiah 1:2-6). 
  • I am more entrepeneurial and creative in devising ways to glorify myself and expand my own kingdom than I am in seeking to worship and glorify the only One who is worthy (Hosea 8:11-12). I am more resolute at running after lifeless idols than I am at following the One living God (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7).   
  • Yet, all these hard-to-admit realities are meant to lead me to Life. Only when I see them in all their hideousness can I find the life that is truly life (Galatians 3:24). In coming to the end of myself and my own resources, I stand at the shores of grace and find oceans of undeserved favor. 

For, the only uncreated One became dependent on my behalf (John 1). Though I hated him, he loved me  (Romans 5:6-8). Though I loved the sin that hurt me, he let himself be harmed and hung on a tree to love me (2 Corinthians 5:21;1 Peter 2:24). 

  • Now, I am able to work from my deepest identity rather than work toward it (Philippians 2:12-13). 
  • What I used to think a solid foundation for life (success, significance, comfort, approval, etc…) are exposed for the shifting sands that they are (Matthew 7:24-27). I don’t have to chase after them anymore through everyone around me and the remnant of flesh within me urge me to do so. In a world that says chase your dreams, I am invited to chase after righteousness (Matthew 6:33). 
  • I don’t have to expend myself climbing the ladder of success, because the most successful One climbed down from heaven to bring me up to him (Ephesians 4:10; Philippians 2:5-11). I don’t have to force my way, because I know that He will have his way in me (Job 42:2).
  • My own needs, though real and significant, no longer have to dictate my every action. I can entrust them to Him who delights to give me all good things (Luke 12:32; Romans 8:32). There is now space in my heart to join Christ in his sufferings and apply his sacrifices to the lives of those around me (Colossians 1:24; Philippians 1:29). 
  • In a world obsessed with power and beauty, I am free to be vulnerable and weak (2 Corinthians 12:9). In a world obsessed with prestige and honor, I can sit securely in the low seat because I know my high place in his sight (Luke 14:7-11). In a world obsessed with the big and quick, I can do little things with great love and sow to the Spirit patiently knowing that, in due season, a harvest of righteousness will be reaped (Luke 16:10; Galatians 6: 7-10).
  • I will forget this entire declaration on every day that ends in -Y. But he will not forget me (Isaiah 49:15-16; Hosea 11:8-9). He is patient with me and promises to complete what he has begun (Philippians 1:6). 

It may not be as beautiful as Jefferson’s parchment, but its truths are far more potent. While Jefferson’s declaration initiated a nation, the declarations of dependence found in God’s Word establish an unshakeable kingdom.

The Inflation We Tend to Encourage

I’m not usually one to keep up with economic trends like inflation, largely because I don’t fully understand it. However, even as someone who is accustomed to exorbitantly high West Coast gas prices, the cost of filling my car with gas is something I can no longer ignore.

I may not understand inflation, but I sure am discouraged by it. All this inflation talk has had me thinking about the kind of inflation we tend to encourage: the inflation of earthly knowledge.

We live in an age of competing knowledge where armchair experts claim to know better than everyone else. We love to clean on phrases like “Clinically-proven” and “Studies have shown.” In our day and age, people tend to wield knowledge like a weapon, using statistics, studies, and even sometimes sermons to try to decimate intellectual sparring partners.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowledge and always have. I take great joy in learning and teaching all kinds of things. And I hope that I have passed such a passion for learning on to my children. But knowledge (not even knowledge of spiritual things) is not the end all be all; being known by God is. There are plenty of people with parades of accolades after their names who have knowledge but are not known by God and growing to know him more.

When writing to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul addresses a sinful inflation that comes from thinking we have superior knowledge to others.

“This knowledge puffs up but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

Through James, the Scriptures offer us a similar plumb line or a standard against which to measure our knowledge. Writing to believers in the early church, he draws a clear distinction between wisdom from above and earthly wisdom.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18).

I memorized this in college when I was first beginning to try to kill the monstrous idol of academic pride I had fed my entire life up until that point. I borrowed David’s prayer for truth in the inner parts and wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51: 6) . I sought to trade my prideful, noisy knowledge that wanted to make itself known to the watching world for the kind of knowledge that can rest quietly and peacefully in the heart of one has wisdom (Proverbs 14:33).

Earthly wisdom puffs up self, creating swollen, easily-inflated (and equally-easily-deflated) egos, whereas godly wisdom builds up others. Our culture and our flesh flaunt the former and shun the latter. In fact, the Greek word that Paul used while writing to the Corinthian church about earthly knowledge, phusioó, literally means to over-inflate by blowing or to cause to swell up. Scripture juxtaposes such breathing which swells up with the wisdom that comes from the pneuma or breath of the Holy Spirit. Such wisdom sustains and fills us, but not so that we think more highly of ourselves but, rather, so that we think more rightly about God, self, and others.

Earlier in the same letter to the puffed-up Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul clearly equated the person of Christ with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 8:24). Drawing out this reality, the Apostle Paul further explained to these contentious believers that it made no sense to boast in men or the wisdom of men when you have all things already resting in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21). I wish I did not find so much of the Corinthian church in and around me, but I struggle similarly to them still.

Tomorrow night, we are headed to an academic awards night for our eighth grader. ‘Tis the season. But I find myself praying desperately that he and our entire family (beginning with me) would be marked by true wisdom that can only come down from above. Like most things in God’s kingdom, such wisdom is not gained by granted as gift to those with space. The only need for such wisdom is to be deeply aware of our need for authentic wisdom and deeply suspicious of its cultural counterfeits.

I am fighting to be weary of all inflation, not only the economic kind but also the academic kind. Our wallets may deflate a bit each day due to inflation, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can encouraged and appropriately filled with the kind of knowledge that does not inflate self but rather builds up others.

Baseball & Broken Plans

Real talk: our youngest who breathes baseball did not make the All-Star team. In the grand scheme of things, this really is a blip on the radar. However, God has been showing me so much about my own heart and His heart through something as insignificant as baseball.

This is not a post about the dangers and idols of youth sports, as there are plenty of those. Nor is it is a rebuttal explaining the way youth sports are an inroads into the last frontier of neighboring in our increasingly isolated culture (though one day I want to write that one, too).

It’s about the heart of an earthly parent and the better plans of a perfect Heavenly One. It’s about how my heart breaks to see my son’s little heart crack a bit over baseball. It’s about how his forced smile and attempts to shake it off cause tears to puddle in my eyes. It’s about bearing double disappointment as a parent. It’s about the mysterious mixture of largeness of love and lack of control that marks parenting. It’s about God’s gracious response to the feebleness of my faith when things don’t go my way or their way as a parent.

We pray that God would give our children not only exposure to the truths of Christianity, but real, nuanced experiences with Him personally. In a world that screams, “Be impressive” our prayer for our children has always been that they would be impressed by God, His Word, and His ways. And I mean it.

Most of the time. But sin creeps into even Spirit-sealed hearts. The insidious lie that we can have uncommon intimacy with Jesus by following the common way and with all the creaturely comforts and accoutrement has crept into my heart. Jesus was so gracious to use broken baseball dreams to expose it.

In his gentle way, Jesus led me to a pair of rhetorical questions he once asked a disappointed prophet:

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5).

If I am this disappointed by God redirecting baseball plans, how will I respond when harder suffering lines the paths of my son’s lives? The resilient faith I pray for my children and myself requires meeting resistance early and often. But I am excellent at regularly resisting resistance.

I am so thankful that we rely on a perfectly Heavenly Father who disciplines according to perfect knowledge unlike earthly parents who do their best with their limited knowledge (Hebrews 12:7-11). I am thankful that our good God does not cave to our constant cries for comfort and ease. I am thankful that the scarred hand of Jesus holds the quill that writes the stories of my children. He gently chides me when I attempt to grab it to write a less-glorious, more controlled story.

I can trust the One who write their stories because He wrote himself into our tragedy. He bore unthinkable pain and lumbered under the punishment of our sin so that we could be brought into the story of His redemption. His stories are far better than mine. The largeness of His love swallows my love for my own children whole. He gives me ample practice entrusting to him these children who have been his all along and will be his for all eternity.

The Quill

You can pray, process, and point,
But you cannot steal the quill. 
You can help me hold the paper,
But you cannot change my will. 

Besides, you wouldn’t want to
If you saw what I have in store. 
Every loss and limp and lesson 
Is an attempt to give them more. 

More humility, more dependence,
More soul space for more of Me.
Momma, move out of my way,
For I have plans you cannot see. 

They won’t know uncommon love
By following the common way;
Let me lead them by the hand,
Let me order each and every day.  

I know it seems small and silly, but I am learning so much from baseball and broken plans. I am thankful that as I walk my children in one hand, I am held by God’s greater grip in the other. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but thankfully, our Heavenly Father knows that in ways we never will.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)..

On Sloppy Soldiering

While nothing about my life or personality screams soldier, the Bible is replete with images of Christians as soldiers. As one who has lived her entire life in the privileged place of safety from wars and one who has not married into the military, the soldier mantle feels far from fitting.

I can most assuredly say I would never make it through boot camp, yet, if I take the Biblical imagery seriously, I have to consider myself as a soldier.

In addition to screaming of discipline, training and a life of service under careful command, the soldier imagery also forces me to remember that life is war.  Laced throughout the New Testament, one finds the language of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians, Christians both ancient and new are bidden to put on the whole armor of God, to wage war against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness.

When Christians are born again by the power of the Spirit, no matter the times and places in which they live, they are children born into the ravages of a war. As C.S. Lewis so powerfully wrote, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

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The final letter of a near-death Paul to Timothy, his replacement in the kingdom cause, exhibits a similar thread of soldiering.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 2 Timothy 2:3-4. 

As I was walking yesterday, the Spirit brought this Scripture to mind, gently convicting me that I have been living this week as a sloppy soldier. While I haven’t defected or deserted, while I am indeed actively enlisted in His service, I have found myself more and more entangled by civilian affairs.

The Greek word emplekó, translated entangled above,  can also be translated to weave or to entwine. It comes from a root meaning to braid, to plate, to twist, bringing connotations of threads being woven together tightly.

Christians are not called to neglect civilian affairs like their children’s education, their homes, their futures, their possessions and the likes. Yet, they are warned to not become entangled by those things. It seems that God knew that such things have a way of finagling themselves into the holes in our souls and getting entwined in our deepest senses of identity, security, contentment and worth.

As soldiers who must be ready at any time to follow the orders of their direct report, we are called to live lightly, to sit loosely in civilian affairs. We are supposed to be ready to leave our current stations and situations should our Commanding Officer redirect us or have need of us for the sake of the greater cosmic war. We are commanded to leave room in our hearts and lives to become entangled in the fight for the kingdom of God to come to earth.

My heart has become entangled with civilian concerns which, in and of themselves are legitimate; yet, their hold on my heart this week has been illegitimate and inordinate. I have been anxious and worried over house offers and counter-offers, over school zoning lines and other decisions which are gifts and privileges, not weights.

Yesterday, I took my overly entwined heart on a walk in an attempt to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. On one block, I would have my unruly fears and concerns and hypothetical situations in an obedient headlock. Then, on the next block, they would pull a full-nelson on me and have me back in a chokehold.  My internal WWE match was interrupted by a thumping party scene (we live in the throes of the college area, so parties are a regular scene).

I saw crowds of young ladies dressed in what I would consider less than lingerie, walking tipsily into a rowdy house party. I saw guys consuming alcohol in a desperate attempt to alter reality and find life.

The Spirit graciously cut some of the suffocating civilian cords from my heart. Life is war, Aimee. You are a soldier of Christ, positioned, postured and trained to battle for the souls of these students. You so easily forget the context into which you have been reborn and what is expected of you as a good soldier of Christ.

While we know victory has been secured by Christ, we live our daily lives on the fields of the last skirmishes of this eternal battle. I am so thankful that God promises to equip and train often sloppy soldiers like myself.

May God graciously remind of these truths when the civilian concerns threaten to obscure this reality. May we sit loosely and live lightly in our necessary civilian affairs.

 

Inscape in an Escapist World

Our newsfeeds, both the ones in our minds and the real ones that capture our attention, constantly bid us to escape from our realities. They invite us to wish we were on a secluded, tropical island or exploring the French Riviera. They tell us that if we could only get a new set of mid-century modern furniture and some macrame hanging plants, our lives would be richer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Our escapist culture allures us, whether explicitly or implicitly, to run away to external things for renewal and refreshment. On the backdrop of such an escapist world, inscape, a concept termed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, resonates deeply.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Hopkins used inscape to describe the unified and complex characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness, and he captures this concept poetically in his famous poem God’s Grandeur where he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

While the world bids us look out, Hopkins invites us to look deeper into the things, places, and people all around us. When I find myself imagining that a trip to Hawaii would satisfy me, Hopkins would invite me to fight to see the beauty of the Hibiscus flower growing in a pot in my own backyard. When I find myself buying the lie that what I need is a new set of circumstances, Hopkins gently invites me to ask God for new eyes to see the same things more deeply and differently. With the help of the Holy Spirit and an attuned focus, the mundane drives to soccer and baseball practices with my sons become opportunities to see who God has made them with fresh eyes.

When the world lures me to run away, Hopkins bids me grab a spiritual shovel to begin digging for a dearer freshness deep down the things and people in my present life. Hopkins can say this because he knew that those who dig deep enough would eventually find God, the Creator, at the bottom. For freshness can only come from the abundance of the life-giver and source of all refreshment: the Triune God.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Within Us

Scripturally, we see a similar invitation in the Word of God. Although Christianity is the farthest thing from navel-gazing and looking for life in things and people themselves, Christ gives his children new eyes to see God in all things. The Scriptures are replete with terms like “inner man,” “within,” and “the secret place” which reminds us that God sees us all the way through. While the world looks upon the outward appearance, God looks upon the heart or in the inscape, to borrow Hopkins’ term (1 Samuel 16:7).

Our God desires truth plastered not only on our newsfeeds and walls but more significantly within our deepest parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). The psalmists found hope and stability knowing that even if the earth gave way and the mountains slipped into the sea, God is in the midst of his people therefore, they would not be moved (Psalm 46:2-5). Similarly. the Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Freshness without our sin-flawed hearts only happens by grace through faith in Christ. For Christ alone had truth in his inmost part and wisdom in his inmost place. He alone constantly drew strength and life from the source of life. He always saw as God sees, looking past appearances to the reality. Yet, he took within him the foulness of our sin, drinking to the very dregs the wrath of God we deserved. After rising and ascending to the Father, he sent us the Spirit who would dwell within us, making his home in us and inviting us to make our home within the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit within us gives us the dearest freshness deep down at the soul level. Even if outwardly we are wasting away and the world around us is fading, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to begin to see as God sees and to think with the very mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:16). As such, we don’t need to escape our circumstances, but we need to run and hide in the arms of the One who lovingly ordered our circumstances (Psalm 16:5-6). We get to ask him to show us more of himself deep down in the places and people of our everyday lives.