And I Helped

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
(Genesis 15:4)

And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
(Genesis 16:2)

When my first child was born, one of my sisters had two young daughters. The first time I visited my old hometown with the baby, my nieces were fascinated by the tiny little boy and flocked around me. While visiting, I recall having to change him on a bed. My sister told her girls as they catapulted with the enthusiasm of the young onto the bed, “You can watch Aunt Heather change him, but DON’T HELP.”

A couple of years and two babies later, I understood the wisdom in these words.

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My older two helping console the baby

It seems a child’s enthusiastic help sometimes falls a little short of the adult standard.

Take Sarai (later known as Sarah). The Scriptures do not say specifically, but I have a strong suspicion the imbroglio involving her servant, Hagar, began as an attempt to help the Almighty fulfill His promise to her husband.

Certainly by now, her beloved Abram (later known as Abraham) had shared with her the Divine Promise of descendants as numerous as the dust.  The Lord had even reiterated the promise that a direct descendant of Abram/Abraham would be his heir.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the anticipated event added spice to their dinner conversation for many weeks to come. Yet when months, then years, passed and there was no child, it seems they became discouraged.

I can imagine their suppers gradually becoming less and less about dreaming of their son and more and more about fueling up for the dreary days ahead. And despite the barbed nature of her own words (see verse 16:2 above), I rather doubt Sarai thrust Hagar into the mix as an act of revenge.

Surely, she must have rationalized the choice. After all, she wasn’t getting any younger. It seemed pretty clear by now that God must have meant to use some other mode or method than her to fulfill His word. And besides, other people did it this way.

But despite what we ought to assume were the best of intentions (after all, isn’t that what we want others to assume about us?), Hagar’s pregnancy did not initiate an era of familial warmth and unity.

And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
(Genesis 16:5-6)

Oy. Not a pretty picture.

(If you want to find out how the story turns out, go ahead and read the rest of Genesis 16. Heck, while you’re at it, read the rest of the Bible. There are plenty of little lessons like this one tucked in those pages.)

You see, this story came to me recently in a very personal way. Around the same time God was chopping up a root of bitterness to bake into the humble pie He was preparing for me, He also pointed out a little corner of misplaced childish enthusiasm.

While I can’t share details, suffice to say there was an area of my life where I, with absolute sincerity, was driving forward full-tilt, eager provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.

I thought I was tilling the soil but in actuality think I was just making scratches in the dust. Over time my endeavors consumed increasing amounts of energy for decreasing amounts of fruit.

And when I’d finally had enough, I cried out to my Father, begging Him to tell me what I was doing wrong. And He did.

First, He reminded me of Sarai’s story. Persistently.

And then, of course, He reminded me that if I want to see His power at work, the best thing I can do is wait on Him.

Oh yes, and DON’T HELP.

Ariabooks copy

Reflections on the Heart of God

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
(3 John 1:4)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my heartache as I cope with a child who appears to be walking away from the Lord. But the story doesn’t end there. With the Lord, it never will which is just one of the many perks associated with belonging to an infinite yet personal God.

There is a strange and wonderful beauty associated with being a parent. I am convinced few other experiences rival it in bringing a peculiar depth and breadth of understanding and insight into my Father’s breathtaking love.

For you see, I do not only have a single child. I have three – or rather, I have at least three if you count several non-biological but equally beloved children I treasure and adore.  But for today, I will stick with the three I birthed and raised as a full-time mom until a year ago.

Lest you think my brain is only occupied with gloomy “what-ifs,” I thought it prudent to share some of the more exciting goings-on at this season of my life. My son may concern me by seeming apathetic to God, but my girls are really just starting to bloom in their faith.

It is astonishing, really. The older of the sisters just got back from a month of volunteer work, home only for part of each weekend. She served kids in the kitchen and cleaned up after them for two of those weeks, and for the other two she was a day camp counselor and helped in kitchen during her time off.  What’s more, she LOVED the whole experience and thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the Word and prayer with other young ladies.

The youngest has also been growing in Truth.  She, too, has been enjoying her time in the Word. During the spring, she saw a notification in a church newsletter about a summer mission trip to New Orleans. Turning to me with eyes shining with a delight every parent loves to see, she said in an awed tone that she could afford to pay for it and had been praying for just such a chance.

And there you have it. Between the somewhat melancholy musings of one morning and the singular satisfaction behind today’s meditations lies the whole spectrum of parental sentiment.

As my emotions run from a knife-edge of longing through to a joy so keen the tears well up as if the two were one emotion, I begin to see my God with a whole new level of wonder. He, too, pines for the one errant sheep even as He rejoices over the 99 who have never been lost or have strayed from safety and returned.

And if my emotional spectrum is broad, His is infinitely wider and deeper.

There must be no end to His grief for those who reject Him, for then He must watch in agony as they march jauntily to eternal destruction. Indeed, He alone understands the totality of their doom and thus understands the deepest reaches of grief.

But His joy and rejoicing are endless for those who choose to trust Him; whose trust and worship are not diminished by persecution or hardship. For these will come through difficult seasons victorious, still proclaiming the good news of the Son of God who conquered death to set us free from captivity so sin.

These are the ones who are more than conquerors through Christ – conquering not armies but the seething evil of our own depravity. These are not left to walk the dark valley alone but have the Lord of Hosts to walk with them and so can find joy in the midst of suffering.

And these – like me – can find a shared grief for a straggling sheep and yet have peace that the Most High will bring His plans to success in the end.

…For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 3:2b-5)

Oh what a wonder! Oh what a God we serve! I thank You, my King, that You have lit the fire of Your Spirit in the hearts of my girls and I pray my son, too, will be caught up in You until we are all consumed by zeal for Your Kingdom. Make my heart and the hearts of my family faithful to You, amen.  

Blueberry Musings

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

In the not-quite-cool of a July morning in Tennessee, I picked blueberries as I talked with my Father. One thing at the forefront of my mind was my teenage son’s seeming indifference to all things having to do with God and His church. As I spoke to my Lord about my concerns, the old, familiar mom-guilt rose to the surface

The thing is, I homeschooled my kids for years. My son, the oldest and now a rising senior, was taught at home from Kindergarten through his freshman year of high school. Currently, he attends a private Christian school, but outside of school he does not seem (to me) to have interest in the things of God.

Oh, he aces his Bible class. They grew up in the Word at least. However, this last year or two have made me question how well I modeled a life of faith.

In my fervency to lead my kids to God, did I actually push them away? Was I too stringent? Too critical? Too lenient? Too lax? Did my walk not match my talk? Or was it a walk that my son found uninteresting because I shared too little of my joy or my delight in God? Was I too stern-faced and solemn? Have I given writing too much emphasis? Too little?

The mom-guilt train chugs on and on. Its refrain is unchanging: I have failed. My efforts are not good enough.

And it was into these failures the Spirit of my God spoke in wordless truth. If I could put words to the experience, it would go something like this: Whether you failed or not is irrelevant. How does it change the present? You cannot change the past and bemoaning it is not the same thing as learning from it. However, one thing is true: your efforts aren’t good enough. But I AM. Do you trust Me?

There in the blueberry bushes with one elbow covered in spider webs and a few purple stains on my hand, my King reminded me of something. He alone has the power and ability to draw my son – or anyone else – to Himself.

This doesn’t free me from obedience or due diligence, but it is nonetheless freeing. Even if I were to perform flawlessly, my efforts would be inadequate. I cannot save a single soul.

But my God can.

He is both the Author of faith and its Perfecter. The question is not whether I was successful in leading my kids to Christ. The question is: Am I successful in trusting God to bring His own work to completion. In short, do I trust Him – even if it means one or more of my kids has to walk through the dark valley for a time? Does my love for Him compel me to trust in His love for my children?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28)

On my way back to the house with a container full of blueberries, I repented of my unbelief and chose trust. Specifically, I vocalized my trust to my Lord that His Spirit will work and produce fruit in my son and all my kids.

I may have planted a few seeds of devotion, I may have watered them, but it will be God who makes the fruit of His Spirit grow.  Until then, I will remain faithful in prayer, eagerly anticipating the work God will do in and through my family.  I will trust God to work out even our errors for our eternal good.

Whatever happens in these next weeks, months, years, or even decades, I know my God will bring about His purposes.

And He will do it in His time, not mine.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
(James 5:7-8)

 

 

Assassination of Self

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…
…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11, 17-18)

The call to homeschool is a call to sacrifice.

No, wait. It’s been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself advocating for a troubled young lady. But there’s more to it. Hmmm, maybe –

The call to be a parent is a call to sacrifice.

No, no. Not there yet. To be married? Single? To work? To stay home with your kids? Be a missionary? Be a friend? Be alone? Write? Eat? Breathe?

Ah, yes. It’s all of those and more.

The call to follow Christ is a call to sacrifice.

Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  (from The Cost of Discipleship)

Let me speak frankly here, my friends. The more I walk and talk with my King; the more I read His word and put it into practice, the more I surrender to Him and learn to trust Him, the more I see the beauty in sacrifice. In death.

Last week, I wrote to you about a confession of my own sin and of the good which came of being hurt by church. Today I can tell you I still feel free from the taint of bitterness. But it was not a process either quick nor comfortable. It was long and terrible, for the root of bitterness was wound tightly around not only my heart, but around everything else as well. And it did not begin with confession – it ended there.

In some ways, it was nothing short of spiritual open-heart surgery. Or, if you will, circumcision of the heart. It was painful. It was bloody. And it was completely worth it.

And there’s the thing – no matter what the King of kings calls us to give up in this life – even if it’s hurt feelings or pride or selfish ambition – it is worth it. Not only will it be worth it for the next bazillion years, it will be worth it here and now.

An image comes to mind here from one of my pastor’s sermons. He spoke of putting to the sword any temptations, selfishness, envy, pride – literally anything which distracts you from the Lord.

Guys, let’s be real here. These are not vague words encompassing ideas of “bad stuff” to avoid. These can even be good things. Praise music. Family visits. Fun times. Entertainment. Anything which has become an idol for us and merits more attention than the God who gave them to us must go. Anything. 

(…and a quick aside for the record, I am not advocating putting your family or your movie collection to the sword! Just the idolatrous misplacement of our own affections…)

Whatever it is which entices us away from the Lord’s best, from growth and humility and Truth, we need to put it to the sword – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Let’s think about the use of a sword for a moment. To put anything to death by the sword, there’s a necessary intimacy. A gun is cold and impersonal; the slight pressure of a single finger and the deed is done. I can shoot from the relative anonymity of a passing car or a window. I can put a neat bullet hole right into a skull without ever seeing the face of the one I robbed of life.

Not so with the sword. To put a person to death with a sword takes proximity. There’s some degree of effort involved, as even a sharp blade will not penetrate far into muscle, bone, and tendon by accident. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be screams of agony and it is likely I will see the eyes of the one I destroy – the windows to her soul.

Look in the mirror, Soldier. There’s your target. It’s time for the assassination of the old self. But it has to be personal. You have to mean it.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s embarrassing. That’s just the death throes of our pride, friends. Bloody, messy, agonizing, horrible to endure, but so, so worth it in the long run.

Lord, may we all be willing to let You show us what must die, then give us the strength and trust to put it to death. Forgive us for clinging to what we believe are good things when You truly do know best. No matter how painful or shaming, expose them in us. We yield them to You to rip out, and we take up the sword in cooperation and obedience to You, our King. 

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(Romans 6:6-7)

 

Gross But Good

… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:28)

Last Friday night, I spent some time with my 14-year-old and two adorable little girls wearing a sweatshirt and yoga pants merrily festooned with vomit.

It was glorious.

Well, OK, not the vomit of course…

My Sweet Potata had agreed to babysit for some friends but had neglected to tell me the two previous nights had been sleepless for her. Once my gang arrived home from school, her bleary eyes and slumped shoulders told the tale even before she could confess.

So I decided to tag along and be her wingman. We had a fantastic conversation on the drive over, and the first couple of hours were filled with joyful giggles and silly games. At the appropriate time, my no-longer-little girl tucked the two sweeties into bed we both settled in to do a little reading.

Twenty minutes later, I was bathing the youngest while big sister provided Sweet Potata with a detailed narrative of the differences between her sister’s vomit and the one time she had thrown up.

At this point, I wasn’t sure if excitement or illness had caused the event, but I was thankful God had worked things out so Sweet Potata and I could switch hit. Once the little one was bathed, Sweet Potata sat with the sisters and read books while I cleaned up the crib. Not long after, she had big sister back in bed while I held the little one in another room.

Seconds later, said little one was back in the tub and my clothing had acquired some distinctive new attributes. Even still, it was a wonderful evening.

You see, now that my own children are teens, connection with them does not always come as easily as it did when they were small. They no longer believe I know everything and in fact are often convinced I am not even capable of spelling my name correctly. They definitely doubt my abilities.

But all of it – the pulling away, the incessant questioning of my motives, the disbelief that our family rules are there for the good of each person, the reluctance to believe my insistence on a hygienic household and on the nutritional deficit of Pop Tarts have merit– all of it is a natural and necessary part of growing up.

But as a parent, it is a painful part.

And crazily, as I sat in the floor with the towel-wrapped toddler by my side (because my lap was, shall we say, no longer a pleasing place to snuggle), I had a powerful glimpse of the enormity of God’s love for me.

Like my teenage daughter, I spent much of my life pulling away from my Father. In truth, I rejected Him entirely.

All of humanity did. We all wanted to go our own way, test our boundaries without the pesky interference of thoughts for the future. We all disbelieved His laws were given out of love and concern for us. We all sinned and fell short of His glory.

Yet so great is His love that He did not give up on us.

Instead, He sent His Son away from Glory to immerse Himself in humanity. The Creator subjecting Himself to all the vile things which occur in a human body since the day sin entered and brought decay and death into His creation.

While here, Yeshua reached past the festering reek of leprosy and touched those who were infected by it – despite the social stigma of being unclean.

He raised the dead. He endured being spat upon, mocked, and brutally tortured. It is likely there were times when He was covered in worse things than vomit.

Suddenly, as I sat with one arm wrapped around a sick little sweetie, listening to my daughter’s voice mingled with big sister’s and ignoring the clammy funk of my own clothing, I realized something.

Yeshua came and suffered the nastiness of being human because it was worth it.

To me, all the cleaning up – and yes, even the light coating of vomit – was worth it. That night, I was able offer friends who are dealing with so much a chance to have some time alone together. I had the privilege of offering comfort to one I claim as a part-time daughter.

But most of all, it was worth it to reach through the wall of adolescent stubbornness and bring a little restoration into my relationship with my daughter. To talk with her and enjoy each other as we did when she was small. To know I was there by her side in a difficult situation.

And that is precisely why my Lord came. To restore the connection He once had with His beloved creation. To walk through the yuck with us.

For Him, I believe, it was worth wearing a bit of foulness to walk and talk with His beloved children once more as He used to before sin entered the world.

Which just makes me love Him even more.

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
(2 Corinthians 1:5)

Then and Now

To all my blog friends and followers, I am in the midst of a new novel and working with a deadline. I asked the Lord to make His will clear and help me meet my writing goal last month in the midst of impossible circumstances. Contrary to all human logic, the goal was met!  But my blog networking/reading/commenting had to be sacrificed… Still love you all, though!

God has been reminding me of much. Below is a post I wrote back in July of 2008. It came to mind yesterday and as I read it, Psalm 126 continued to reverberate through my mind, in particular verse 3.

Have the battles I mention below been won? Not by a long shot. If anything, they have intensified. Yet God is good, and today I can praise Him because through it all, He has done great things for us!

” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
(Psalms 126:3)

My Father’s Love – July 2008

One summer evening, I was frustrated

An escalating discipline issue with our son left me feeling like a failure as a parent. The homeschool year was looming and I did not feel ready. My once healthy body seemed to be falling apart, treatments for one set of problems did not always work in conjunction with treatments for another set, and bits of me seemed to be aging prematurely in the most depressing ways.

I was (and still am) tired of pain, tired of medicines, and tired of being tired all the time.

There was more, but suffice to say that I was overwhelmed. After putting the children to bed, I trudged downstairs ready to attack chores which piled up during the all-consuming battle with Little Man and his great, big stubborn streak.

As I wearily prepared to wash the dishes, I felt a strong urge to go outside. I started to resist but recognized my Lord’s quiet voice urging me. So I abandoned the dishes and went.

It was beautiful out. The heat of summer had mellowed into a pleasant warmth. I began to pray, laying all my frustrations at God’s feet and trusting Him to know the ones I couldn’t voice.

As I prayed, tears began and I fell silent, gazing at the horizon. The sun was just setting and the sky was streaked with faint color. For a moment, I sat then stirred myself to rise and go back indoors.

Again, that urging, “Just sit. Wait. I have something to show you.”

I sat.

I listened.

The cicadas were beginning their evening song. I realized that I used to enjoy listening to the cicadas on summer evenings but had not had the time since moving into a larger house.

As I listened, I began to hear not only bird song, but individual birds and became aware of their locations around me. Always, the cicadas hummed their rising and falling song in the background. Peace washed over me and suddenly the pale colors in the sky began to seem a little richer… and a little richer… until the sky blazed a red-gold tinged with violet.

Still, all around me birds, cicadas, and frogs in the lake sang their goodnight praise to their Maker. Distant voices, rather than disturbing the symphony, were simply a part of it; the owners an unknowing participant in a harmony of worship.

I also began to worship, enjoying the show, enjoying feeling wrapped in my Father’s care.

When my husband arrived home from his errand, I was still lounging in the grass. I knew in my heart that my problems were not miraculously resolved. I knew that my health trouble was not over, nor was the battle to apply my son’s stubbornness to the correct path.

Instead, I had something better–my Lord had reminded me that He would be with me every step of the way. He had reminded me not to forget to praise Him through it all.

By bringing my attention to the song of His Creation, my Father caused me to remember that He loves me too much to remove the trials.

No matter what comes of it all, He has my best interests at heart. After all, no matter what happens to me here on earth, this is only the prologue. The chapters of my story are yet to be written – though God knows the words already.

I came away that night, not with solutions but with the peace that comes from understanding in a more complete and deeper way that I am in training for eternity.

Yes, the work is hard, but it will be worthwhile. And most importantly, my Father truly does love me. Me personally. That amazes me most of all.

Innocent as Doves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. ”
(Matthew 10:16, NASB)

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a couple of friends when these words, spoken by Yeshua to His disciples, suddenly resonated with me.

…wise as serpents and innocent as doves…  Other008

Almost six weeks ago in a neighboring community, a 50-year-old teacher – a married man, a father, and a grandfather – disappeared along with a 15-year-old female student. While stories like this happen, this one really grabbed my attention for several reasons.

Besides the fact that I have a story of my own from when I was an emotionally crippled 19-year-old, I also have a daughter who will soon be 14 – a mere year younger than the girl who went missing (and who has, as of yesterday, been found, thank the Lord).

Thus it was that my friends and I were discussing the fact that now that our kids are mostly teens or tweens, we almost fear for their safety from sexual predators now more than when they were small.  For one thing, kids at this age feel grown up, and so a little attention applied in the right way only enhances that sense; a fact which can be easily exploited (and please note that I am not saying this teacher manipulated his student – I do not know the full story; simply that it reminded me of mine and of others).

Yet despite adult-sized bodies and interests, the adolescent of today’s world is in a weird limbo between childhood and adulthood. Their decision-making rational is not often as complete as that of an older adult, and many older teens and young adults are partially drunk with newfound freedoms while lacking the experience (and possibly the neural network) that lends caution and prudence in later years. This makes our young people especially susceptible to suggestion or coercion from those with more practical knowledge of the ways of the world.

But what I realized most profoundly in that moment as my friends and I discussed the falls and close-calls of our own youth and how we can best educate our kids without instilling agoraphobia or anthropophobia, was that what we really want to do is teach our kids to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the Greek word translated, “shrewd” can also be translated as “wise” or “prudent, i.e. mindful of one’s interests.”

Apparently at the time, the serpent was seen as a symbol of cunning and craftiness- perhaps somewhat like our modern-day sly fox. Certainly in the picture of the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden, we see a creature who was sly and mindful of his own interests – which in that case, unfortunately, happened to be the corruption of God’s creative capstone: Man who was made in His own image.

However, not all snakes are in league with the enemy of our souls, of course. Even in today’s vernacular, we can see that snakes are cautious to preserve their own lives, some employing poison and others mimicking rattlesnakes, feigning death, or simply beating a rapid retreat into a nearby crevice.

Our Lord certainly was not advocating deceit or malicious intent, but He was indicating that we should be thoughtful and vigilant – mindful of our interests. In our case, our interests ought to be seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and so when faced with dangerous situations, we must be carefully intent on the Lord’s leading in order to make the wisest choice.

For our children, this might include an awareness of their surroundings, a knowledge of the potential for wickedness in all mankind (themselves included), and an understanding of cause and effect.

On the other hand, a dove is the portrait of innocence and gentleness even to this day. There is little on earth less threatening than a dove, save perhaps for baby bunnies or newly-hatched ducklings. I have never seen an image portraying a vengeful or angry dove.

This, too, is a characteristic I would like to pass on to the young gentlemen and ladies under my care. Somehow, contemplating the case of this teacher and student, I had a burst of insight as to what the Lord meant when He spoke those words.

Just as I would like my own children to walk wisely in this world; to be both discerning and prudent yet to remain harmless and innocent when confronted with the presence of evil or persecution.

I would like them to understand the ramifications of wickedness without becoming jaded and to comprehend the dangers that stalk the world without becoming paralyzed by fear.

In short, I would like them to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. Unsurprisingly, this is just what my Father wants from me, too.

But there are other lessons to this story…