Can You Come Over?

sunrise lighting and easter cross

I can still hear the little voice on the other end of the phone: “Nana, we’re having Easter at our house next Sunday.  And . . . can you come over?” 

“Oh, how I wish I could, Soren.” My four-year-old grandson, who lives in New Hampshire, had no idea what it would take for me to just “come over” from where I lived in Wisconsin at the time.

Suddenly I am transported to that long ago afternoon when Soren’s father, 4 years old at the time, had invited a friend to come over during Easter week. The boys were playing on the back porch while I was busy in the kitchen. “No, Mark,” I hear Bjorn say. “No, remember you are the angel and you say ‘He is not here, He is risen, just as he said.’” I peek out on the porch. Bjorn, who always loved to act things out, is apparently staging and directing a small Passion Play. I smile and wonder what Mark thinks of all this. The next day, Mark’s mother calls to thank me for the play date and adds: “And Bjorn did such a wonderful job of explaining Easter. We have just stuck with the bunnies and eggs and had never known how to tell Mark the real story. Thank you.” 

I sit here by my fire this morning (yes, it can still be winter—sort of—in April in New England) and wish all of you could come over. To meet my neighbors. To talk about Easter. How this Pivotal Event in all of history alters our world view entirely.  As I wrote last Easter, the cross and the lily change everything.

Why do I wish you all could come over and join my neighbors and we could chat?  Because we live in a broken and bleeding world.  Because I know many of you, like the many moms I see every Thursday and the moms I pray for every day, are struggling with all kinds of broken things. Broken career dreams for you and/or your husband. Broken relationships. Broken finances. Broken bodies—sick kids, secondary infertility, chronic diseases, special needs. 

I live amidst what my new favorite poet Ben Palpant calls the “Broken Brave” (Sojourner Songs, p. 32). Friends and neighbors grappling with failing eyesight and fading memories and compromised mobility due to brain tumors. And no, I don’t actually live in a “senior neighborhood”; there are also two babies due—arguably a different kind of bravery.

So what does Easter have to do with all this? It’s a reminder. No, more—it’s proof.  God loved us enough to enter our broken world and become broken Himself—and rise again whole—that we might one day be completely whole again. We say it at communion: “the body of Christ, broken for you.”

One day what is broken in our world will be restored. And whole. 

My friend asks the question.  A friend who has lost much. We are talking about medical conditions that seemingly have no earthly “cure.” I share with her about a time of disappointment when what seemed to hold promise of a cure didn’t work out that way.

“So what did you do?” she asks.

“I talked with God about it,” I say. 

“And what did He say?” she presses. 

“He reminded me that one day—in Heaven with Him (an unfamiliar concept to her)—all will be well and whole again. Forever.” 

Then comes the real challenge: “And that was enough for you?”

A long silence while I ponder: What is the true answer of my heart here?  And then: “Yes, my dear friend. That is enough.”

Is it? It’s the Big Question, isn’t it? We grappled with it last week in Mom to Mom talking about prayer. We struggle with it often in everyday life. Much too big a question to address in this humble blog post, which is one reason I wish you could all “come over” and we could talk about it. We could listen together to one of my favorite songs: “Even If” by MercyMe. And talk more.

But in the meantime, Good Friday is coming. And—praise God!—Easter after that.  He Who was broken for us conquered death for us—and for our children. It is enough. Because HE is enough. He Who was Himself “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” walks alongside us every step of the way in this broken world. He gives us strength in our weakness, comfort in our sorrow, mending for our broken places, and—sometimes—healing in the here and now.  But always, Hope. Hope in what is yet to come: “. . . the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (C.S. Lewis, at the end of The Last Battle)

Because of Easter. Come on over!

March Madness and Music Therapy

MarchMadness

March Madness is alive and well at our house. You could take this in a number of ways. For us right now, it’s all about basketball. Woody loves the suspense and drama of the NCAA tournament with all its twists and turns. And often, I do, too.

But there are many kinds of madness. And I suspect that one or two of you reading this may be experiencing a different kind of March madness. Maybe crazy schedules. You find yourselves caught between winter and spring sports, and the carpool schedule has become a tangled, impossible mess. Or never-ending winter. Will this cold and snow never go away? (If you live in Massachusetts, who knows?) Snow days, sick kids, and being housebound are making you crazy—a different kind of madness. Or the biggie: sleep deprivation. Someone is always up during the night. If you’re lucky enough to get the baby sleeping through the night, your 5-year-old is having bad dreams, your 7-year-old is throwing up, or your 3-year-old has a monster under her bed. Maybe all three . . . in the same night. It’s enough to make you crazy. Really truly crazy. The real March madness.

In the middle of all this, I have one small suggestion. Music therapy. I remember times in my mom-life when 15 rare and precious minutes of Mozart (Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who likes almost all kinds of music—even classical—sometimes especially classical) through my headphones got me through those “piranha hours.” (Remember what Max Lucado called those times when “everyone wants a piece of Mom”?) I also remember marching up and down our upstairs hallway singing “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases . . .” at the top of my lungs. Until I believed it. Some days it was a lot of singing.

I know many of you already live on your music—at least, whenever you can get it. Even though you can access your favorites in many ways these days, sleeping babies, nap times, and kid music choices for carpools do take their toll, no matter how good your headphones are. But still, you know what a mood-changer music can be.

Yes, you already know that music is life-giving. But I want to remind you of two gifts of music that you may not always remember.

First, God uses music to remind us of deep truths about Him that are easy to forget in the midst of March madness. Any kind of madness. In every season of life. In recent months I have been waking up with the words of old hymns floating through my mind. I also have found myself adding music to my quiet times with God. Whether it is old favorites on the piano or Fernando Ortega filling the living room or prayer time with Sandra McCracken’s Psalms. As I pray for the many I know with “troubled bones” (Psalm 6:2-4) or hurting hearts, I begin my prayers with Sandra McCracken’s “Dear Refuge for My Weary Soul” or MercyMe’s “Even If.” Or Shane and Shane’s “Though He Slay Me.” Or “Eye of the Storm”(Ryan Stevenson). Balm for the soul. Not only for others for whom I pray. For me. For you.

Music also is a powerful voice in your children’s ears. Some children receive and remember truths about God far better through music than in any other way. But I believe all children benefit from music. I remember great kid conversations about the fruit of the Spirit because of an album we frequently played called The Music Machine. And I’m sure nearly every one of you can add lots of current examples.

Singing!

But here’s the other thing: The songs you sing to and with your children will remain with them the rest of their lives. And yours. I know this because I hear our children singing to their children some of the very songs I sung with them. Our grandkids ask for those songs when we put them to bed. Even, in one case, in Swedish! And guess what? Some of these same songs now sing in my heart when I most need to hear them: all the verses of the old Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” have new meaning for me in this chapter of life. And words to a song called “Peace” (also from The Music Machine): “Knowing that my Daddy’s home [my caps], God gives me peace.” And “Peace, Peace I think I understand. Peace, Peace is holding Jesus’s hand.” Yes. For me. For my children. For my grandchildren.

So keep singing your way through March—and beyond. A letter one of our kids wrote to me recently included an old Victorian quote that says it best: “. . . the songs sung over the cradle hide themselves away in the nooks and crannies of the tender life, to sing themselves out again in the long years to come.” (J.R Miller, 1880)

Keep singing! 

Then Came February

SnowScene

So it’s February. Actually, February 9 as I write this. And—you guessed it!—it’s a Snow Day. All the schools in the area are closed. In fact, nearly everything is closed today due to “heavy bands of snow” and potential blizzard condition whiteouts in some (unpredictable) spots and very cold temperatures combined with the 8-14” forecast.

I’m sitting here by my fire reflecting on all the mixed emotions I’ve always felt about snow days. First of all, I wish they didn’t happen on Mom to Mom days; I hate missing Mom to Mom. But then, there is the excitement and beauty of a good old-fashioned New England Nor’easter. I remember the glorious excitement of kids jumping up and down with joy when they see their school on the TV cancellation list. We’d celebrate with pancakes or French toast and hot chocolate. Followed by layers and layers of snow apparel to prepare for a day of sledding and

snowmen and snow forts and gigantic snowball fights and general snow bliss.

And then—seemingly only 5 minutes later—someone (or several someones) tromping in with half the snowfall attached and trailing through the house to get a drink/go to the bathroom/need a snack/have to warm up/complain about sibling injustice . . . You know the drill. Let me just tell you: A mother never forgets what it takes to undress a snowsuit-clad toddler for the bathroom break that seems to occur every few minutes. And then get them dressed for the Arctic all over again. Or what the whole house smells like at the end of the day with wet mittens and scarves and snow jackets and pants and boots draped absolutely everywhere. Unless you happen to have (sigh) a mudroom the size of a gym. Still, I miss those days.

At this point I’m guessing some of you are nodding in recognition of all I’m describing. Others are probably gloating and thanking God you don’t live in The Land of Snowsuits. And others may be a bit envious. Your kids would love to play in the snow.

Somehow this snow day feels like a microcosm of the mixed feelings February generates. For those of us who love the snow (or at least love looking at it out the window if we don’t have to go anywhere or have kids with very large bladders who love being cold and playing out in the snow all day without needing breaks at 15-minute intervals), let me say it: It IS beautiful. And February seems to be the month that brings the most snow drama—at least here in New England.

February also brings Valentine’s Day. I for one have always loved Valentine’s Day. I liked making Valentine boxes and exchanging valentines in school. Especially if there was candy involved. Years later I loved the great “excuse” for romantic dinners. And more candy. I especially loved making Valentine cookies (I did do that some years—right, kids?) and having special Family Valentine’s Dinners. And now I love sending Valentine boxes to our 11 distant grandchildren.

But not everyone loves Valentine’s Day. For some it is most dreaded or best ignored. Maybe it’s long ago hurt and scarring associated with this day or it could be recent loss and pain—or maybe a lifetime of feeling alone more than ever at this time. This is a hard time—and February is a hard month—for many.

So it is that as I sit here looking out at the beautiful snow and feeling a strange mixture of delight and melancholy in the memories of many years of February, I find myself praying for all the moms I know. For joyful fun in the snow (or joyful gloating in the sand). For patience and endurance when the Snow Days (or any days) get long and lonely. And for healing of many hurting hearts in this February. Psalm 34:18 keeps coming to mind: “The Lord is very close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

For all of us, a reminder that both snow and hearts bring to mind our loving God. The One Who inhabits “the storehouses of the snow” (Job 38:22). The One Who loved us enough to die for us, that our sins, as bright and deep as scarlet, might be “as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And The One Who also “loves us with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

An old hymn comes to mind: “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.” Quiet rest? Are you kidding? For moms? In the heart of God, yes. Yes. Yes.

Feel loved this February, in the snow or not. Because you are.

New Every Morning. Even in January.

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So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.

But there’s also, once I get past my goodbyes to Christmas, something good about January. A sort of cleansing. The house looks pretty good after all without all the clutter of Christmas. And there’s something hopeful about turning the calendar page on to not only a new month, but a whole new year. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead?

There’s a reason why the month is called January. It traces back to the legendary Roman god Janus, who had two heads, one looking back and one facing forward. He was the god of doorways, gates, and bridges, symbolizing beginnings and ends. Reflection and remembering the past. Hoping and praying into the unknown future.

But you moms of young children are not, I am quite sure, spending hours in reflection. You probably feel jolted into January. Back into school routines and (for us in the North) early morning jackets and boots and lunch boxes. And homework. Yes. Homework.

The month doesn’t slow down. Suddenly all the realities of the world we live in can hit hard. New diagnoses. New challenges at work or school. Back to the grind . . . it can be jolting. Suddenly (or so it seems to me since I’m not the one to whom it is happening) I’m hearing of sad goodbyes two of my friends are saying to their beloved fathers. Two precious ones I pray for are either awaiting or receiving stem cell transplants. My only remaining aunt, dearly loved, is facing unexpected surgery. And one very brave very godly young mom I know is commemorating, along with her four precious children, the sudden death of their husband and daddy in a Marine helicopter crash one year ago in mid-January. There can be a lot of tears in January. And a lot of Hope.

new_morning_mercies_book

All this is why I am delighted to have a great book to recommend to you. It’s a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp called New Morning Mercies. Wait. Don’t stop reading because the last thing you need is a new devotional to stack with all the other unread volumes—or someone putting you on a guilt trip because you never get to any devotional time at all with young kids needing you every waking moment (even those intended for sleep)! Before you give up, let me tell you what I love about this devotional.

First, it grew out of daily tweets that the author sent out, and every day’s reading begins with a tweet-length thought that will fire up your day even if that’s all you get to. Also, it is saturated beginning to end with grace. And if there is anything we moms need, it is grace. That’s because it is full of Biblical truth (thus infused with grace). This truth is passed through the filter of the author’s experience (seminary training as well as training and experience as both a counselor and a pastor) in such a way that it hits us right where we need it. Yes, it is convicting as well as comforting (remember it is Scripture-saturated). Nearly every day it feels as if it were written just for me. Maybe you, too.

I want to leave you with just one favorite quote. But it is very hard to choose because nearly every page I’ve read is totally marked up with “favorites.” And by the way, a note for you Type A Firstborn Perfectionists (How do I know you so well?!): Do not hesitate because you didn’t start with January 1. I first got this book in September and started reading from there. It works perfectly well wherever you start.

From January 10: “The DNA of joy is thankfulness . . . [but] If my heart is ever going to be freed of grumbling and ruled by gratitude, I need your grace: grace to remember, grace to see, grace that produces a heart of humble joy.”

Grace to remember what God has done in the past. (In his Introduction, Tripp reminds us that “remembering is spiritual warfare; even for this we need grace.”) Grace to see His work in what is before your very eyes. Right now. Right here. Even in January.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)

  

Disheveled December?

Sad looking Christmas tree

“Well, I’m looking at our Christmas tree, which already looks disheveled, and I’m thinking that’s how I feel.”  This text came to me last week from an overworked, overwhelmed mother of 4 young kids whose 15-month-old had HFMD (hand, foot, and mouth disease—ugh!) and whose pastor-husband is extra-busy all month and who has absolutely no family or support system living nearby. It happened to be from my daughter Erika. But, with a few slight changes in detail, I’m thinking it could have come from many of you.

Feeling disheveled? Done in by December? Ricocheting between the joys of the season and a dull aching exhaustion that doesn’t want to admit this but wishes it were already over? You are not alone. I am sure of that. I have heard it from many moms (and dads!). And I see it on weary faces everywhere I go. December is a killer.

And I think it is all the harder for those of us who really love Christmas. I know, because I am one of these. Every year I looked forward with delight to December. The fun. The parties. Choosing just the right gift for each precious one I love. Celebrating Advent. Getting (and sending? Well. Maybe.) cards from long-lost friends. The music. Oh, how I love the music! I even love the baking. Let me correct that: I loved the thought of baking. Until I actually did it. You know, the never-ending cut out Christmas cookies you do with your kids? The kind that spread frosting all over your family and dust the entire kitchen with a fine layer of flour and colored sugar? We did it every year. Some mamas never learn . . .

It all felt great in anticipation. And then I turned the calendar. Yikes! It was already full before I started adding Christmas. That’s when it hit me. There really ought to be a moratorium during December on normal things—you know, everyday life for moms. No annual physicals or dental check-ups or school conferences or PTA meetings or… Come to think of it, why do we have to keep doing laundry and dishes and meals during December? But there is no moratorium. Even though my kids occasionally ate Christmas cookies for dinner, basically normal life just kept on. Even though I wanted to do all those other fun things.

December. Truly my favorite time of the year. And also the most exhausting. And maybe the most dangerous. Dangerous because we can so easily miss the moments in front of us because we are drowning in to-do lists and distracted by disillusionment. We had pictured it so differently. The tree was so magical just a few days—or weeks—ago. And the planning so careful. We wanted to not miss Christmas this year. But sick kids and broken appliances and extra work schedules and complicated family. Those weren’t in our pictures.

And so it is that once again, an Ann Voskamp quote comes to mind:

“In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: ‘I thought it would be easier.’ And your God comes near: ‘I will provide the way.’ You may not even know who to tell: ‘I thought it would be different.’ And your God draws close: ‘I will provide grace for the gaps.’ You may not even know how to find words for it: ‘I thought I would be . . . more.’ And your God reaches out: ‘I will provide Me.’ (The Greatest Gift, p. 60)

There it is. The Gift. The Grace. GOD. What we truly celebrate in December. He came. He comes. He provided—and provides—grace for the gaps. We know that in our heads. But here is my December prayer for every one of you: May you know this in your hearts. No matter how disheveled you feel. No matter how disappointed you are. No matter what you didn’t get done on your endless lists.  Nothing keeps Him from coming. It’s just that He came so quietly that not many noticed. Except what Brennan Manning has called the “shipwrecked at the stable.” I want to be one of those. You too?

What Song Shall We Sing This Thanksgiving?

“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”  In our family, we’re singing a new song this Thanksgiving. Woody and I have just welcomed into the world our 11th grandchild, Bjorn and Abby their third son. Now we are nineteen!  I’d like to introduce Lars Wheeler Anderson and his very grateful little family:

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God gives great gifts, and we are overflowing with gratitude.  It’s easy to sing a song of Thanksgiving just now.

But thanksgiving doesn’t always come so easily.  Especially if we see the giving of thanks as dependent on particular circumstances in our lives. The interesting thing is that God calls us to more: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) In everything . . .  How in the world do we do that? How in this world do we do that?

At this time in America when our country is election-weary and future-wary and fractured down the middle in so many places, how do we do that? It’s hard for Thanksgiving songs to be heard amidst the chaos. It is, after all, an American holiday. And yes, more than a few people are finding their thanks-giving voices more than a little bit strained.

But the question becomes much more personal for so many people I know and love—and pray for every day. How do we give thanks amidst deep personal loss, terribly sick children, scary financial stresses . . . you know the list goes on and on.  But still, we are called to give thanks.

Maybe sometimes it’s easier to sing it. I always think of Martin Luther’s friend’s advice to Luther amidst struggles with depression: “Let’s sing the Psalms, Martin.  Let’s sing the Psalms.” 

So what song shall we sing this Thanksgiving? I offer you my favorite. A favorite because it is so very real. It reflects the good times of life as well as the bad and the sad. But I love it mostly because it reminds us of the true basis of our gratitude. And above all, the One we should thank every day of our lives. It’s an old Swedish hymn, one we sang at the Fall funerals of both of Woody’s parents. One that sings in my heart often.

See the words below.  If you’d like to hear it, here’s a link.

1. Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide.

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side.

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and dreary fall.

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul.

2. Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply.

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair.

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare.

3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain.

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain.

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee.

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity.

So there you have it: 24 reasons to give thanks.  In the good times and the bad. In a word: Our Eternal God . . . with His Everlasting arms underneath. Always. Forever.

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I’d like to leave you with a picture. It’s a picture that embodies much of my heart this Thanksgiving. It includes so much that I am thanking God for at this time of year. The pilgrims on the table were Woody’s mom’s. They joined our every Thanksgiving celebrated with her. The chairs in the background were my mom’s. I sat in them and admired them each time I visited with her in her little Florida condo; and when she moved to hospice, they were still there . . ., and now here. I love the view out our window. And how I cherish the family God has so graciously given us! Us . . . the ones who once wondered whether we would ever have children!

A thanksgiving challenge for you: Take a picture of things for which you are thankful. Make a list. Sing a song. Maybe sing a new song . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!    

Gutsy Gratitude

“I feel as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.” The words keep echoing in my mind. Really, in my heart. They’re the introduction to a paraphrase of Psalm 34 that is, in a sense, our family Psalm. More on that to come.

“Really? Praising God? Now? In the midst of this mess? As I sit by this hospital bed? After I’ve just buried my husband? When I am so desperately concerned about my child’s special needs? While it seems I’m always waiting for a doctor to call back about the next diagnosis/surgery/meds? When my marriage is struggling so? Rejoice? Really?” These are the other words that echo in my head—and heart. They’re not necessarily spoken words. But I see them on strained faces and hear them in worried voices and watch them in weary walks. When I am at Mom to Mom. When I visit with my neighbors. When I answer the phone. I hear them.

It’s these voices, actually, that make me love Psalm 34. I originally loved it as my Nana’s favorite Psalm. It is inscribed on her tombstone. Then I came to love it at deeper levels at the time when my father-in-law was dying by inches over a nine-week period at the age of 52. During those long weeks, my mother-in-law drove into that Chicago hospital every day and sat by his bed. They read this paraphrase of Psalm 34 together nearly every day. I often mention Psalm 34 in my teaching and writing. I often pray this Psalm in dark hours of the night. But in this chapter of my life—and in this month of giving thanks—it means more than ever. For me, it defines gutsy gratitude:

Paraphrase of Psalm 34 (from Psalms Now—Leslie F. Brandt)

I feel at times as if I could never cease praising God.

Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!

I reached for Him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage.

I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me.

What He has done for me he can do for you.

Turn to Him; He will not turn away from you.

His loving presence encompasses those who yield to Him.

He is with them even in the midst of their troubles and conflicts.

He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.

Listen to me; I know whereof I speak.

I have learned through experience that this is the way to happiness.

God is ever alert to the cries of His children; He feels and bears with them their pains and problems.

He is very near to those who suffer

And reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair.

Even the children of God must experience affliction,

But they have a loving God who will keep them and watch over them.

The godless suffer in loneliness and without hope;

The servant of God finds meaning and purpose even in the midst of his suffering and conflict.

I reached . . . He gave. I wept . . . He was near to help and support. His loving presence wraps around us. He meets [my] emptiness with His abundance and shores up [my] weakness with His divine power. He is ever alert . . . He is very near . . . He reaches out to help.” These are the reasons—at least a few of them—that we can say the opening lines with integrity. These are the foundation of gutsy gratitude. These are the reasons we can say thank you even when it takes extraordinary courage to hang on to His truth amidst our current realities. Even in the midst of . . .  Even “if He does not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18) Even after . . .

These were the words of the ancient Psalmist (probably David, in a time of great trouble). This was the testimony of my grandmother. These were the words that sustained my husband Woody’s parents through a long dark passage. These are the words I live by. This is the truth about our great God. These truths are the reason the Apostle Paul could command us to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Wherever you are in your life, whatever your journey in this November 2016, whatever courage it may take to praise God, even though _______, I do hope these good words from our God will invade your soul and ignite within you a gutsy gratitude. A joyful outpouring of thanks that only He can give. For this I pray—for you, for me, for all of us. Because, as Ann Voskamp says “Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 190)

  

Groans and Grace

wheat field

There’s a lot of groaning in my world lately. Not whining. Not self-pity. Not, to use the Irish word that says it perfectly, whinging (it’s pronounced “win-jing,” and according to my daughter, my Irish grandkids do it a lot. I think I do, too). Groaning. There’s a difference. Whining, self-pity, whinging—they’re all full of words. Groans are wordless. They’re the deep-down ache of ongoing, private pain.

Ask the people who know. A woman struggling to start over and find new life after seven years of a nasty divorce settlement. A mother who has just learned that the cancer has returned to her precious little daughter’s body, after several years of thinking it was gone. The many moms with special needs kids who get up every day and courageously face not only the ongoing daily challenges but also the battle of advocacy for getting their kids what they need. A wife bravely determined to mend a hurting marriage amidst multiple losses. Moms grappling with the deep invisible wounds of mental illness—in themselves or in their families. Caregivers wrestling with unspeakably difficult treatment decisions. A “sandwich generation” friend whose roles as wife, nana, daughter, and daughter-in-law keep her care-giving in all directions. Life at a dizzying pace.

These are all stories I’ve heard this week. All people I pray for—and groan with. And there are many more. “. . . sorrows like sea billows roll . . .” (from the precious old hymn, It Is Well With My Soul)

But I’ve also seen a lot of grace this week. Not just groans. Grace. Love. Stubborn love. Perseverance. And courage. Lots of courage. I’m reminded of the little sign Woody gave me years ago: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

So where does this courage come from? I think it comes from groans and grace. I find it so encouraging that according to the Bible, we are not the only ones who groan. In writing about our fallen world and our desperate need for redemption, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the present time. . . . In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:22, 26)  Ahh, so we are not the only ones who groan.

In another of his books, Paul writes about where the strength comes from in the face of trials that just aren’t going away: “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told Paul after not removing from Paul something he was struggling with, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) So that’s where the grace comes from. I see so much grace in the women I mentioned earlier. And power. Power to keep moving. To keep persevering. To keep “trying again tomorrow.” 

The secret? They—and we—know that they are not alone in their groaning, in their feeling, on some days, “I just can’t get up and do this all over again.” It’s in their very weakness that God displays His power. And His grace.

Max Lucado nailed it when he said “God answers the mess of life with one word: grace.” (Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine)  And, as Ann Voskamp has observed, “You can always breathe when you know all is grace.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 40)

Groanings and grace. They do go together after all. God hears us—and joins with us—in our groanings. And He promises us His grace. Grace sufficient. One day at a time.

Legacy Living: Really? Now?

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A Mom to Mom leader recently asked the question: “Our group will be doing the lesson on ‘Beginning at the End: Legacy Living from Day One.’ (Session One from Inside Out Parenting curriculum) It’s been a few years since you filmed that. Anything to add from ‘on up the road apiece?’ ”

Great question! Good enough even to make me do the unthinkable: sit down and watch my own DVD teaching. Tough. If you don’t think so, just imagine watching a 30-minute video of yourself!

It was worth it, though. It reminded me how absolutely crucial these mom-questions are: What do you want your kids to remember? Who (not what, as in a career choice) do you want them to be? Whom do you want them to serve? What legacy to you want to leave? What legacy do you want to live?

Such heady questions, these. I hear you younger moms: “You’ve got to be kidding! All I hope and pray for is day-by-day (or hour-by-hour) survival! And you ask me to consider my legacy?! Right . . .” And I hear you moms and grandmoms whose children grew up so fast (in retrospect, yes—but not in those long-ago endless days and sleepless nights) and are now off and running: “Oh, yes. Yes! Yes! Yes! Ask these questions now, right from the beginning. They really do matter.” Yes indeed! That’s my answer, too.

So here are a few “big picture” observations for Legacy Living 2016:

  1. Psalm 78:3-7 rings truer than ever. The more things change in our world, the more crucial the message becomes: “We will tell the next generation . . . the praiseworthy deeds and the wonders of the Lord . . . so the next generation would know . . . even the children yet to be born . . . and they in turn would tell their children . . . then they would put their trust in God.” Our church has a pastor of “NextGen Ministries,” and I am grateful. But it all starts with you, moms, in the long sometimes lonely days and too-short (the sleeping part, that is) nights as you do what my daughter recently referred to as the “divine invisible work of mothering.”
  2. It might seem a bit early to bring up such things in the early years of parenting. Is all this an intolerable burden to put on a young mom? This summer I had an “up close and personal” look at what parenting 4 children (ages 7, 4, 2, and 11 months) is like, as our daughter, Erika, who lives in Ireland, visited us here for nearly 4 weeks. For this Nana, it was heaven. But for the mama? Relentless. Absolutely relentless. The question haunts me: Why on earth would we even talk about “legacy living” and “crucial questions” and “intentional parenting” to a mother caught up in a whirlwind?
  3. Why? First, because it really does matter—and you will be glad one day that someone brought these questions up with you before your kids seem to have inexplicably disappeared before your eyes. Second, because the same God who gave you these children will give you the grace and strength you need to raise them. Sound familiar, Mom to Mom moms? I hope so! And HE is the one ultimately in charge of your kids. Another familiar reminder: He loves them more than you do! In the midst of the chaos of your life, He is there when you can’t be. He covers your mistakes—even your desperate “I feel like a failure” mom-attacks. He knows your heart (which is both scary and encouraging). It really does help to be asking the right questions and building on the right foundation, even in your wild crazy mom-life.
  4. Finally, this all makes me more thankful than ever that we have Mom to Mom. In our groups, Titus 2 leaders can encourage you. Not with their flawless parenting or picture-perfect families.  But with their ringing reminders: Parenting is a marathon. God is not finished with them—or you—yet. His Word is the eternal rock on which we stand (or even cling to desperately in the storms). His love and His presence is a no-matter-what promise. He will never leave you or forsake you. Never.

And don’t you forget that!

The Party’s Over . . .

The house is quiet now. Way too quiet. And way too orderly. Only the ticking away of my Mom’s grandfather clock, reminding me that time moves on. 

For 38 glorious days, our home has been filled with the voices of children. My ten favorite children, to be precise. Shouts and giggles and fun and laughter and crying and bickering and “time outs” and whispered conversations between cousins coming from the “craft closet” (our master bedroom closet, repurposed) and loud games interspersed with “No, it’s my turn!” . . . You get the picture. 38 days of glorious chaos.

And now they’ve all gone home. As I write this, I shiver with remembrance of that unforgettable sentence about Hannah after her annual visits to the temple to see the son she had dedicated to God: “Then they would go home.” (1 Samuel 2:20b) Not quite the same, for sure. But still, the going home.

Our recycling and trash tell the story. Well, part of it anyway. Yes, the party’s over and they’ve all gone home. But I am left with so much more than the after-the-party remnants. I am a different person. More exhausted, to be sure. But so much more. I am a grateful Nana filled with new memories made over the past 5 weeks.

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Games of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and Sorry and Animal Bingo. Stories read, some by me and some by the children, who range in age from 10 years to ten months. Pirate stories told by “Farfar” (their name for Woody—“father’s father” in Swedish). Trips to splash parks and playgrounds and petting farms and the gorgeous York Beach in Maine—and the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear and the much-loved Superstore of Used Books. Diapers (“nappies” to my Irish crew) changed and tears wiped and grievous wounds cured(!) by Dory or Star Wars bandaids and nights of protest (“But it’s not bedtime yet!”) and disputes of nearly international scope about who got the most wiffle-ball pitches from Farfar. What seems like hundreds of hot dogs and PB&J sandwiches and pizzas and birthday cakes and ginormous ice cream cones consumed. 

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Ah, summer with grandchildren. I really didn’t want it to end.

Yet as I write this, I am reminded of summers long ago when I felt a bit more ambivalent about summer’s end.  The start of school looked pretty good then!   So as I ponder (the end of the annual summer visit) and miss (all of them!) and cherish (such precious memories), I also think of all of you moms out there. Some of you also missing grandkids who’ve gone home. Some counting the days ’til school begins (please Lord, soon!)—or wishing your kids were old enough for school! Others celebrating because school has already begun in your world. And then those moms who’ve made that first long journey (long whether an hour away—or thousands of miles) to college. For all of us, those mixed emotions that come with being a mom/grandmom.

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May we always be grateful. May we always savor the memories. And may we always have the necessary strength that comes only from the Father of us all (and the joy as well). Summer, we salute you . . . it’s been oh, so lovely.      

  

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