Freedom

October 13, 2013

I can’t think of anything to write today. I have a weekly deadline to produce a blog post for Restore Ministries and even though I’ve written three drafts, I’ve deleted each one because after reading them, I thought to myself, “Gosh, who is this person? I don’t like her.

Why is this so hard today?

The topic is “Living in the Freedom to Believe.” Oh, wait! Suddenly I realize why this may be difficult. This is the last thing the devil wants us to be thinking about–the gospel and freedom. So I pray, “Jesus, help me write something that will encourage us to have a biblical understanding of belief.” I realize I’m not really qualified to do that, so I pray again, “Jesus, help me write about belief.” Still, something doesn’t seem right, so I pray once more, “Jesus, help me.” Then it dawns on me…with my eyes closed, hands open, I whisper, “Jesus.”

I can write about what I know, and that is Jesus.

The Bible says that it’s not enough to believe in Jesus; even the demons do that (James 2:9). Belief requires repentance. And to be clear, repentance is not just telling God you’re sorry for what you did but that you’re sorry for why you did it. The sin is in the unbelief, as much as the behavior. True repentance doesn’t say, “God, I’m sorry I complained all day about how hard the writing process is and that I squandered my gift.” It also says, “I’m sorry I felt the need to produce my own righteousness by being an extraordinary writer.”

Last week I wrote about how our need to repent is grounded in forgetting one or two things about the gospel: 1.That God has given me the righteousness of Christ and/or 2. I have a loving Father who’s given me everything needed for this life.

So, once I repent, then what? Belief.

Believe in the gospel. What does it mean to believe? First, I know what it doesn’t mean–it doesn’t mean that I’m not scared or disappointed or angered by the harder moments in life. It doesn’t mean that I call ‘bad’ circumstances ‘good’ when they aren’t–marriages should survive, a paycheck should come, a 36-year-old mother with three small children should live. Belief means that when all of these emotions are in play–anger, confusion, heartache–I am sustained by God. It means that I believe Jesus and take Him at His word in spite of my pain.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [John 6:28, ESV] And what are we to believe of him? That my righteousness is in Christ and that because of Jesus, I have everything I need in this life–this one, not just the one that is to come, but right here and right now: without a spouse, without an income, without a cure, without savings, without a resolution.

Believe is, after all, a verb and not an emotion. But tell that to my heart. The act of believing means that I accept the truth of God as Provider and Provision as if it really is true and apply it to my everyday life. But as we all know, this is done imperfectly, especially in a crisis. When I am faced with an overwhelming situation, my truest theology is exposed.

This fall my seven-year-old son is playing on a youth football league. Football is his passion. His wardrobe consists of various jerseys from his gridiron heroes. Anything that doesn’t have a number and a name on the back is considered “church” clothes. Honestly, I had concerns about him playing tackle football because of his size. He’s adopted from Guatemala, and even though he’s an average-sized kid for his culture, he doesn’t quite measure up to the biggie-sized American boys on his team. What he lacks in height, he makes up in heart. The first game of his season came with a great deal of anticipation. These boys practiced seven hours a week for a month. After sixty minutes had come and gone in his first game, he didn’t play a single down. I was in tears behind my sunglasses. After the game, none of us knew what to say to him. Finally, my daughter offered, “Buddy, you look so cool in your uniform.” He didn’t say a word on the long drive home. Later that night, I emailed the coach to ask why he hadn’t played. The coach apologized and said it was a mistake; he called it “first-game glitches” and promised to make it up to him in the next game. A week later the same thing happened; he played two downs. Several other boys never made it on the field. I was upset but remained quiet because my son was happy about their win. By the third game, however, after only participating in the last play of the first half, I was furious. You know that “warning light” you get when you’re about to say something you’ll regret? Well, I ignored it. As we left the field, I approached the coach–who was all smiles because of their undefeated record–and asked to speak with him privately. I told him that, if he thought playing the same boys on both offense and defense during each half of every game while other boys sat on the bench was something to smile about, then he should reevaluate his priorities as a coach. Then, I told him that his obsession with winning had clearly made him lose sight of the purpose and privilege of coaching. I finished by saying that the weekly six-hour investment these boys (and parents) make was not worth the poor return.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

See what happens when I forget that the condition of my son’s heart is not my responsibility? I get ugly and mouthy.

I didn’t only forget the gospel for myself, I forgot it for my son. Have you ever done that?

I went to bed angry but unsettled, and a subtle shame snuck up on me. By the time I awoke the following day, I felt sick inside. Rather than having cereal for breakfast, I was about to eat crow. I realized the reason I was disturbed was because I worried about how not playing was affecting my son. He’s a boy in a broken home. He’s also aware that, because he’s adopted, someone who should’ve wanted him didn’t. He wrestles with rejection and anger. I was so bound up with fear that my son wouldn’t have what he needed from this experience–or worse, that it was doing irreparable harm. My nail biting kept me from entering into the experience with him. I was as much of a spectator of him as he was the game.

In my unbelief, I thought I could fix the problem by “talking” to his coach, but all I’d done was take off my robe of righteousness in exchange for a filthy rag. I wish I had taken that rag and stuffed it down my throat instead.

I didn’t believe that God is my son’s righteousness. I forgot that his identity is not in his broken home or his orphan status but in Christ Jesus–solid and secure. I didn’t believe that God had given him the resources to cope with this disappointment. I didn’t believe that God could be using his pain for a greater and glorious purpose that will serve him beautifully in his future. I didn’t believe in anything other than the sharpness of my tongue and my ability to use words like weapons.

I called the coach and apologized. I kept it simple because that’s what coaches do. I strapped on my “big-girl’’ chinstrap and said, “Coach, I’m sorry for what I said last night. I was wrong and it won’t happen again. Will you forgive me?”

I wanted to say, “You see, I’m worried about my son. He’s already endured so much pain and I’m afraid that not playing him is crushing his fragile spirit. He needs this and you aren’t giving it to him.” But I knew that wasn’t repentance, so I didn’t. The coach said, “All is forgiven.”

All is forgiven. All is secure. All is provided.

My son’s team is undefeated after seven games. He plays regularly and even scored a touchdown last week. I later learned that he’d been kept out of those earlier games because the opposing teams were so big that the coaches worried he might get hurt. Ahh, humility. I’m glad I didn’t know because the experience allowed so much unbelief to be exposed in me. “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” [Romans 2:4, ESV]

This day, I choose to believe that Christ is my righteousness and not how I respond to disappointment. I choose to believe that God is a Good Father and that He’s using everything for my good and His glory. In other words, I don’t have to make a way for myself (or my child). Will I forget? Probably by the end of the day, maybe even the hour. That’s why I stay in the Word, not so much that I won’t sin (though that’s the idea) but rather when I’m tempted to unbelief, I know the truth from the lie.

     “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” [Galatians 5:1, ESV]

I’m free to try and fail without either defining who I am or how I live. I’m free to believe.

Advertisements

Valentine Rewind

February 15, 2013

I awoke to a friend’s text yesterday morning that read, “Don’t let this stupid retail-manufactured day upset you.”

I replied, “You can bet Cupid’s bare-bottom I won’t.”

Valentine’s Day.

It’s impossible to ignore especially since I spent most of the previous night stamping and stuffing 64 Valentine cards with tattoos and candy. Consequently, I went to bed after midnight, so getting a text before my morning alarm was not my box of chocolate. Knowing I had another twenty minutes to sleep, I closed my eyes and drifted off again immediately.

Suddenly, there was a pounce on my bed.

Then another.

I could feel a soft, warm voice whisper in my ear, ”Hey, Mom, it’s Valentine’s Day,” like it was his and my little secret. “Mommy, wake up! I have a surprise for you, too!” said my happy-morning child. I’ve turned my kids into occasion-crazed junkies. We celebrate everything around here; I make big deals out of even the smallest of things. “OK, OK!” I said and asked for a few more quiet moments to wake up slowly…..and alone. They agreed but only after a hot chocolate deal was brokered.

I rolled toward my bedside table, fumbling around for my glasses when I felt something unexpected. It was a vase. I sat up and to my surprise was greeted by a dozen white roses. If they could speak they would’ve said, “Good morning, beautiful.” That’s how they made me feel anyway. Next to the flowers was a note that read, “Mom, of all the things you could’ve chosen to do in life, being a mom probably required the most patience, the most sacrifice, the most love. And that’s what you’ve given. The most and the best of everything. Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”

Wow.

As if that wasn’t enough there was also an invitation from my little man asking me to be his valentine along with a love letter and a Hershey’s kiss. Wonderful homemade cards and candy-coated affections filled my entire morning.

Love was in the air. No one fought over school snacks or who sat where on the way to school. It was a divine blessing bestowed by St. Valentine himself. Even as we said goodbye to each other in morning carpool we did so with such serious devotion that my son responded, “Geez, it’s not like I’m going off to war. I love you all, too.” We all laughed. His words reminded me of something Rumi wrote, “Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love.” I like that we aren’t afraid to “be in love.” And in doing so, I discover yet another way to live “naked and unashamed.” What a mercy on a potentially difficult day.

You know that part of the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus asks for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven? I feel like that happened in my home yesterday.

photo-9

“That which God said to the rose, and caused it to laugh in full bloom beauty, He said to my heart, and made it a hundred times more beautiful.”

 

 

The Remains of the Day

December 19, 2012

I wrote this two years ago. It seems right to post it again while I recover from neck surgery. I’ve changed the title and I even tried to tweak the content but the literary gods would not allow it. Hope you like it:

The Remains of the Day

I took eight kids ice skating. It was so much better when I imagined it in my head. The day started off great. As I drove around town collecting children, I was singing along with the radio, showing off my Justin Bieber trivia and cracking grade-school jokes.

“Hey, why are teddy bears never hungry?” I asked.

“Um…….beeeecause…….?” wondered my eight year old out loud.

“Because they are always stuffed!” I said.

Laughs.

Encouraged, I continued, “Hey, what do you call a dinosaur that sleeps all the time?”

“Boring. Like these jokes,” heckled my teenage daughter.

“Noooo,” I said while making eye contact with her in the rear view mirror, “a dino-snore!”

More laughs. Squeals from the toddlers and rolled eyes from the teenagers.

“Tell another one, Mom, tell us the one about the cow!”

Blushing with false humility, I conceded, “What do you call a cow in the Hundred Acre     Wood?” I watched my thirteen year-old put on headphones while the rest of us chimed in perfect unison, “Winnie the Moo!” I did, however, catch her crack a smile.

I was feeling unusually optimistic and invincible on this particular day. Maybe it was the Christmas holiday infusing my heart with hope. Maybe it was the grace to rise above personal pain for a few hours. Maybe it wasn’t that complicated at all. Maybe I just felt happy because I was doing something other than laundry. I am not like Ann Voskamp. I find it impossible to discover transfigurational glory in the matching of socks. For whatever reason on that morning, my enthusiasm was genuine.

By the time I was driving home, however, I realized I’d been overzealous in my optimism.  Also, I had grossly underestimated the affects of sugar and caffeine on small children. I was exhausted. At five o’clock as the winter sun began to set, fatigue cast a shadow on my mood. Rather than telling knock-knock jokes, I enforced a strict “no talking” policy while children were returned to their homes. I had thrown my hoodie over my head like some perimenopausal, middle-aged thug. I looked as if I’d narrowly escaped Dante’s Ninth Circle. My eyelid was twitching. I sat staring off into the afternoon traffic like I was looking for my lost soul.

It had, after all, been a rough day. Granted it was not “rough” in a Third World sense but in a First World, single-mommy kind of way. After having laced eighteen skates, bought nine cups of hot chocolate, tied ten scarves, recovered one lost glove and made twenty-six trips to the bathroom….all on skates, my maternal ambition had melted. Somewhere between this Groupon “Deal of the Day” back in November and driving home that afternoon, I wished I had been run over by the Zamboni.

One of the reasons why my Nancy Kerrigan fantasy turned into more of a Tonya Harding reality was the four buses that showed up from the YMCA. Children poured out of those buses like ice cubes from an automatic ice maker. Besides contending with the 60 latch-key kids from the Y, there was also the “professional” skating crowd. They ranged from four-year-old ice princesses whose mothers watched from the bleachers with gluten-free snacks, home schooling manuals and binoculars to a forty-year-old man in a lime green, full-body leotard.

He required an explanation on the drive home.

Then, there was the small minority of the rest of us who simply had the good intentions of making a memory for our children without checking the event calendar on the Ice Center’s website. Clearly, it must have been “Paroled Kids Skate Free” Day because for the next two hours, my kids were bumped, shoved, trampled, run over and used as human catapults. I didn’t even see the eight year old and older crowd that I’d brought with me. At one point, an ambulance showed up and carted some kid away on a stretcher. My four-year-old asked, “Is that Laura?” I gave an ambivalent shrug and sipped my coffee never taking my eyes off of the guy in the leotard. I figured if it was a child with me one of the other kids would show up complaining, “Why does she get to ride in an ambulance?” or “I want a neck brace! Don’t you know the homework I could get out of with a neck brace?” I just hoped for the best while I wondering if that guy bought his man-size leotard online or in person.

Somehow in the middle of all this insanity and just as I was wishing that a disgruntled Olympic hopeful would crush my skull with a crowbar, I ran into a friend from college. We spent the next 90 minutes talking about the ironic and unwanted twists and turns in our lives that were (very much against our wills) making us better women. Between nursing bruises, handing out cash like congressional lobbyists and directing children like traffic cops, we unpacked our lives. My friend asked me what it was like to be a single mother of five, a new job description for me. I said, “It’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant.” I asked her about the difficulty of having a chronically unemployed husband. She confessed, “I blame him for everything that’s wrong in our lives.”  Having found a kindred soul in one another, we shared all we could until each of our tired children made their way back to us. Realizing our time was over, we unlaced skates, bandaged blisters and agreed that grace isn’t overrated and Jesus really is everything He’s cracked up to be, despite our hardships. Finally, with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” blaring over the sound system and exhausted from the energy required to do what was the emotional equivalent of a triple-toe-loop while managing toddlers to teenagers, we said our goodbyes. I had skated a nearly perfect routine as a mom in that everyone had fun and no one was going home in a neck collar (not every kid that was there can say that) and aside from losing my three-year-old at the very end of the day, I felt accomplished.

Gold-medal mommy material.

Four stops and one hour later, I was finally approaching the last exit off the interstate. My hands had thawed from the frigid air inside of the skating rink and I could almost feel my feet again. I was thinking about steeping myself in a hot bath to wash away the stress of the day. I imagined how good it would feel to slip between the cool sheets of my soft bed and fall asleep. Then, I saw her. This waif of a girl, a teenager,  sitting cross-legged on the frozen ground at the bottom of my exit ramp. She, too, had a hoodie over her head. I wore mine to put a barrier between myself and the juvenile annoyance in the back seat but she wore hers to put a barrier between herself and the whole world. Even though her body was buried in oversized clothes and addiction, this girl’s frail frame was no match for winter’s cold.

She held a sign that read, “Please help. God bless.”

I felt around in my purse, pockets and cup holders for money. I drove slowly trying to buy myself more time to gather loose dollars and spare change. As I finally came to the stop, I was frustrated because all I could find wasn’t nearly enough. Most of my cash had been spent bribing my children with food and drinks in exchange for my grown-up conversation at the skating rink. I even asked my eight-year-old to give me back the dollar I’d given her thirty minutes earlier to stop talking. I’m not sure why but I felt desperate to help this young wisp of a girl. I wanted to give her my keys and my hot bath and my cozy bed but all I had left were the remains of our day. Embarrassed, I rolled down my window and handed her the cash. I said, “I’m sorry there’s so little.” As we exchanged the money her fingers skated across my hand like one of those tiny ice ballerinas I had seen earlier. Her fingers were thin and fragile as if they were made out of paper mache. I was surprised by her delicate touch and without thinking I held onto her hand. It was only for a second. I wanted to replace some of the dignity that had been stolen from her with the willingness of my own touch. I hoped my gesture was worth more than my spare change because I wanted her to feel me noticing her behind her hood and her shame. I waited for a chilly response but with her hand in mine, she lifted her head and looked at me with hollow blue eyes. Her face was beautiful and her skin looked translucent like bone china.

Then she smiled.

I smiled back and drove away.

It’s possible that she had a bigger wad of cash in her pocket than I did. I can hear some cynic say, “Well, you know, she probably bought liquor or drugs with that money.” I hope she didn’t. I had no guarantee that she wouldn’t but what I did know was that something is badly broken in that young girl and that badly broken thing forces her to sit in the freezing cold, stripped of all her dignity and ask strangers for money. She didn’t have to prove to me why she needed my kindness or that she wouldn’t abuse it. What she did with my offering didn’t determine if I should give it.

So, there I was driving home with my hoodie over my head, staring into traffic like I was looking for my lost soul when I saw one. Perspective is a gift. I don’t always get it. I don’t think the guy in the lime-green leotard gets it either but, today, I was touched quite literally by a lost soul. In those empty eyes and in her brief touch, I could see and feel the winter kill of her spirit. That young girl could have easily been any one of us and, in a sense, she is and we are. She felt as kindred to me as my friend from college.

As I was driving away, I looked back in the rear view mirror and saw that vapor of a girl sit down again on the cold ground, continuing to hold her sign. Also in my mirror, I could see the happy and laughing faces of my kids safely where they belonged. I pulled the hoodie off my head and made myself vulnerable again to the needs and noises coming from my back seat. When I got home, I took a hot bath. I fell asleep in my king-sized bed under layers and layers of velvety blankets. I did so, however, with less of a feeling of accomplishment and entitlement simply because I’d taken my kids skating but more so with a sense of humility and gratitude.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I returned to the stop sign where she had been sitting to give her one of my favorite blankets but she was gone.

mqdefault