Ashes and Hearts

Such a topsy-turvy day it is. An emotional maelstrom. How can Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday share the same day? My heart doesn’t know how to feel.

I love Valentine’s Day. I always have. But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine. For Woody and me, Valentine’s Day was always a family kind of day. Some cards and candy. Maybe a special breakfast even as everybody rushed off to work and school. Perhaps a note in the lunch box or making cut-out heart cookies after school. But always a family dinner in the dining room with a family favorite dish and a little surprise at each place. A time to remind each family member how loved and cherished they were.

In this chapter of life, we have to do that through Face Time and texting and sending small Valentine surprises through the mail. This Nana loves to do that!

But today is also Ash Wednesday. A day to remember both our origin and our future. Ashes. From dust we came, to dust we will return. It’s a strange time to be thinking of hearts.

Or is it? This particular Ash Wednesday comes at a time when I am more mindful than ever of the intersection of ashes and hearts. Broken hearts. My own heart has been broken recently alongside friends who grieve the tragic loss of a young son. A brilliant young man, the “baby” of the family, gone much too soon. Like the young son of other friends who visited us recently. “Every day is hard, and we are exhausted,” they told us. Exhausting, excruciating, ongoing grief. Someone has observed that “Death is a date in the calendar, but grief is the calendar.”

So what are we to do with all this love and pain? With these ashes that call us to remember our death and these hearts that remind us of both the joy and the price of love?

I’m not sure I know what to do with all this. But I do know one thing. This is not the whole story. Definitely not the end of the story. Because what we are called to remember is not just our deaths, but HIS. Through His death, which broke the heart of God His Father, we have life. Life eternal, yes! But also life in Him between now and then.

So there is reason both to grieve and to rejoice. Because of His death, our death is not final. Because of His great love (what better to celebrate on Valentine’s Day—and every day?) we will one day be reunited with those we love.

So back to my maelstrom of emotions. Can I really wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day on this Ash Wednesday? In the midst of our beginning journey through Lent, and against the backdrop of sorrow and loss this real life brings, is there a place for happiness?

YES! But maybe what I really mean is not so much happiness as joy. The joy to which we journey as we walk through Lent. The kind of joy Walter Wangerin defines in my favorite Lenten devotional, Reliving the Passion, (p. 31):

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not . . . disappoint us.”

So, because of the ashes, in the midst of the ashes, because of Heaven, because of His death and resurrection, I can wish you a truly joy-filled, hope-filled Happy Valentine’s Day!

Unseen? Or Not?

Unseen

Do you ever feel invisible? As if somehow your children don’t even see you running around the house like the energizer bunny? As if your husband is entirely oblivious to the mighty work you are doing on his behalf? Certainly the world outside your home is quite unaware of the miracle of survival inside your four walls every day. Especially in January.

A common mom dilemma. Perhaps that’s why I was so attracted to the title of the book I’d like to recommend this month: Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed, by Sara Hagerty. This little gem is not a book on parenting, though it is written from a mom’s perspective. Rather it is a call to return to our Maker, to remember that there is One Who sees us even in the most invisible places. One Who actually invites us into those invisible places so that we can see Him better.

In a culture which continually celebrates our achievements—what we can produce—it is all too easy for us as Christ-followers to think that’s what He values most as well. Whatever our workplace—home or office or classroom or even ministry—we feel the need to have something to show for our work. Great kids. An organized home. A shining witness in the office. Ministry successes. After all, doesn’t God want us to perform well for Him?

Not as much, it turns out, as He wants us to hide in Him. Yes, hide. It seems He wants us to know Him even more than He wants us to work for Him. The invisible places are often where we see Him best. Sara illustrates this great truth as she weaves her own life—transition from ministry to a seemingly much more mundane job, years of feeling unseen in the deep valley of infertility, and now her “invisible” role as mother to six kids, four of them adopted from Ethiopia—into what is really a “God story.”

It’s a book for all of us. Whether God is currently “hiding you” in a chaotic household full of kids, a seemingly mundane work cubicle, or in a chapter of caregiving for one you love . . . this hiddenness is not wasted. Or rather, as Sara asserts, maybe it is just the kind of “wastefulness” God desires. Kind of reminds you, as it did the author, of Mary’s lavish “wasting” of luxurious perfume on Jesus’ feet.

As I read this book, I kept hearing ancient words from the book of Genesis ringing in my ears. “I have now seen the God who sees me,” exclaimed Hagar, the lonely slave girl running away from her abusive mistress (Genesis 16:13b). And when we see the God who sees us, it changes everything. As Hagerty puts it, “Being elbow-deep in soapsuds and breakfast sausage looks and feels different when we know God sees us there.” (p. 57)

So how do we get to this point? How do we train our eyes to see Him seeing us? The last couple of chapters of the book were my favorites. They flesh out the principle of what Sara quotes one of her kids saying to her with pleading: “Up, please.” It begins with desire. When we echo Sara’s prayer: “God, I barely know You and I want to know You more. My life is found in connecting to You, not in following what I think I already know about You.” (p. 205) Prayer “laces our hearts to the unseen” (p. 208) and grounds us in what is truly most important.

I hope you will read this book. We all need reminding on a regular basis of what Sara Hagerty writes that she already knew but needed to hear again:

“. . . the story of God and me is my most significant story. His eyes on me and into my life are the source from which I draw everything else. Whether I am folding laundry or speaking from a platform, my exchanges with God are always about His reach for me and my reach in return, again and again. The rest of life is the overflow.” (p. 212)

The overflow. Indeed. And Amen!

Home for Christmas . . . or Not?

AllHeartsComeHomeSign

I almost wasn’t brave enough to put it up this year. Do all hearts come home for Christmas? Really? In this season of life, I’ve actually given this question considerable thought. Slowly, I am learning that hearts can come home even when bodies don’t. Good to know.

These days we do not often have our whole family together for Christmas. Our kids are doing what we loved to do when they were young—celebrating Christmas in their own homes, building family traditions and celebrating Christ’s birth in ways that give us great joy. Some years we travel to celebrate with them. Some years we get to celebrate with our nearby New Hampshire kids, and this is happily one of those years.

So why was it extra-hard to put up my favorite Christmas sign this year? There are a number of reasons, I know. But chief among them is what I wrote about in the last post—that we haven’t been able to travel this fall and thus haven’t seen our 8 distant grandchildren for way too long. Too long for this Nana, at least. I miss them deeply. Viscerally. Physically.

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I am also approaching the 10-year anniversary (on December 19) of the Homegoing of my mom. My beloved mom, who was, next to my husband, my best friend. I am taken back to our last days with her in hospice. The song comes back: choking back tears, I remember singing to her “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, ‘Come home. Come home. Ye who are weary, come Home.’” More a grief-strangled croak than a song, really. But I think she heard it. And she did just that. She went Home.

All these thoughts about home. And Home. And suddenly it hits me. What we celebrate at Christmas is actually not a coming home. It’s a leaving Home. The One whose birth we celebrate actually left His Home to come to our earthly home so we could one day go to His. Our true Home. Another song: “Thou didst leave thy throne and thy heavenly home / when thou camest to earth for me . . .”

Such an unlikely story we celebrate at Christmas. I love how Frederick Buechner puts it:

“. . . the child born in the night among the beasts…and nothing is ever the same again. Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of Him again. Once they have seen Him in a stable they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of man. . . . He comes in such a way that we can always turn Him down as we could crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail Him up when He gets too big for that.” (The Hungering Dark, pp. 13–14)

His “wild pursuit of man.” Of us. It’s why Matthew reminded his readers of what the prophet Isaiah had foretold: “. . . and they will call him Immanuel (which means God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23)  Reason to celebrate, I’d say: God is with us. He came quietly. He left in both alarming violence and stunning triumph. He went Home.

And now He not only beckons us Home—eventually—He also reminds us, as He did His puzzled band of disciples as He ascended into Heaven: “. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

God with us. Always. Even to the very end of the age, our age. Surely reason to celebrate. No matter what. No matter where. Home. Or not. Because Home is waiting.

As C.S. Lewis observed, “God refreshes us along the way with some very pleasant inns. But He does not encourage us to think of them as Home.”

So, as we celebrate His leaving Home and ultimately beckoning us Home, from my “pleasant inn” to yours: Merry Christmas!

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Thanksgiving Dissonance: Going Deeper

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV)

I keep hearing this plaintive cry of the Israelites from the pain-laced Psalm 137. Though I’m not living in exiIe as they were, I am living in a strange land of my own. It is strange for many reasons, some sharable and some not. As I near completion of radiation for breast cancer, I am also struggling with glaucoma issues that cause me to live my life between the radiation clinic and the ophthalmology office—and the couch. And November is always my month of special thanks-giving.

Though my “strange land” often feels quite lonely, I know very well that I am not alone. Many of you reading this are dealing with your own strange lands. I know. I know because I know some of you personally. But I also know because we all live in a fallen world, the backdrop against which we sing our redemption songs.  Strange lands are sometimes visible to others who live alongside us. But sometimes the strangeness lies deep within, where no one else knows. I think often of author Skye Jethani’s observation: “There is a sorrow words cannot express and no embrace can remove. It abides deep within, and is accessible only to the one who carries it.”

And there is this backdrop of the news. Every single day seems to bring more tragedy, hurt, and heartbreak. It comes in many forms—from earthquakes and floods and mass shootings to sexual abuse and domestic terror and all kinds of silent screams and secret suffering.

How shall we sing a song of thanksgiving amidst all this? Slowly, painfully, I’m finding out the answer. It is totally counter-intuitive. But it is true. We can sing a truer, deeper song of thanks when we walk along paths that push us to go deeper. This is not a new truth, and certainly not my personal discovery. Saints and sages have expressed it in many ways for centuries. When much is stripped away, what really matters most becomes clearer. A few verses (out of many) illustrate this great Biblical truth:

“. . . when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8b KJV)

“. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV)

This is only the tiniest sampling of a Very Big Truth. Here’s what it has looked like in my life lately. When I am at my weakest, I feel His strength all the more powerfully. When He is all I have in the loneliest places, I want to know Him more and more. It turns out the view from the couch—or the radiation or ophthalmology waiting room—is clarifying. 

It’s a deeper Thanksgiving this year. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The tangible blessings I have to count are endless. With six great kids and eleven precious grandchildren (just for starters!) I have more than enough to focus on in the “seeing the glass half full” department. All of us who live with full bellies and warm homes and accessible medical care have myriad blessings to count.

But here’s what I really want to say: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is not always easy. It actually takes quite a bit of practice. But the song is all the more meaningful. And necessary. Beautiful, even. Because, as my grandson Bengt observed many years ago as a 4- or 5-year-old, out of the blue from his car seat in the back of the van: “Dad, I don’t know if you know this. But God is all the light we ever really need.”

Indeed. The Lord gives songs in the night. Day or night in your “land,” sing with me this Thanksgiving.

  

  

  

How Shall We Hold Such Heaviness?

New heaven and a new earth

“Dear World, It will not always be like this.” This Facebook post caught my eye yesterday.  Particularly because it comes from a beautiful young mother of four who is wise beyond her years as she grieves the tragic loss of her Marine pilot husband less than two years ago.

It didn’t just catch my eye. It lingered in my heart as I walked into our Mom to Mom Leaders’ prayer time. The group around the table was smaller than usual. Three leaders were out attending the funeral of the beloved niece who was like a daughter to one of them. Last Thursday we prayed for this 34-year-old as she was just beginning a series of cancer treatments. We prayed for the long road ahead. Two days later we got the news: She was dead. Silence. Then another leader shared her prayer request: A family with six children, one of whom is her grandson’s best friend, is reeling from the tragic unexpected death of their father. The oldest of these children is in 8th grade. The father was well known in the community, and both father and kids active in sports and other community activities. More silence, as we imagine the ripple effects on so many tender young hearts.

We look around the table at each other. We pray fervently for one another, so we know the deep waters many of us are walking through. But this early morning prayer time is generally focused on the young moms who will soon be making their way in. We pray for them, knowing many of them carry heavy loads in addition to the everyday heavy lifting of “just being a mom.”

And all of us are living in a country that seems to careen from one tragedy to another. The worst mass shooting in US history. With seemingly no explanation of motive. As if there could be an “explanation” that would make it any easier to hear about 59 lives cut short and hundreds wounded. One hurricane after another, with tragic pictures of suffering filling our TV screen and news feeds day after day. Constant turmoil and division in our own country, which is part of a huge world in even more turmoil. We either avoid the news or cringe as we hear it. So much of it is ominous. Threatening.

So. Will we sink under this sadness? Well, honestly—almost. Because, speaking only for myself here, I truly cannot bear this worldwide, nationwide heaviness along with the daily challenges in my own life and family. Not alone, I can’t. Not alone.

But there are words marching through my mind. And a song echoing in my heart. The words are from the Only One who can truly understand and shoulder my sadness. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart every day?” (Psalm 13:2) And then I am reminded: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9) So where do I go with my sadness? “Hear my cry, O Lord. Listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:1-2) And what does this Great Listener remind me of? “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

And then there’s that song. A friend recently sent me the link to this music video by Casting Crowns, and I can’t even tell you how many times I have viewed it: 

The words are seared into my soul: “Oh my soul, you are not alone/ There’s a place that fear has to face the God you know. One more day, He will make a way. Let Him show you how, you can lay this down/ Cause you’re not alone.”  You can lay it down. You can lay it down. You’re not alone.

And . . . let me go back to the opening Facebook post. Under “It will not always be like this,” these words: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

So yes, we are sad. Sometimes, very sad. As a precious little 4-year-old once said to me as I tucked him in bed after his beloved grandparents had gone home from a visit with us, “Even Christian boys can be sad—right, Mommy? “ Oh yes, Bjorn. You are so right.

But we can bring our sadness daily, maybe even hourly, to the One who knows us best and comforts us most. And we can lay it down. And we can look ahead to Hope.  May that Hope become contagious. 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?  Really?

HappyStudentsReturning

After all these years, it still rings in my ears every September.  An office supply store in our area used to run a commercial featuring a parent waltzing happily through the store buying school supplies and singing ecstatically “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . !”  Many a mom, often including me, echoed the sentiment. Of course, for moms sending kids off to daycare or preschool or putting kids on a school bus for the first time felt differently. I remember that, too.

The start of another school year is emotion-laden. Yes, in many cases, there is joy. But just behind that comes another reality: The 3-11 shift. With the start of school comes the return to car pool runs, after-school sports or other activities (depending on kids’ ages and family choices), and always—always—the homework grind. How does one mother manage the needs of all four (or more—or even less) of her kids and still devote to each one what they particularly need? Especially if they range from 2 to 12 (or somewhere on either side). And even more especially if any of them have special needs. All the while, of course, dispensing snacks and preparing (or at least pondering) dinner and preventing tragedy in the lives of young crawlers and climbers or exploration-oriented toddlers. Mission Impossible. The real one.   

And somehow buried in all this sentiment and whirlwind of activities is a deep-down sense of this being like New Year’s. A chance for a fresh start, a clean slate, a new-and-improved way to manage it all. Good motivation to a point. But also, yet another way for moms to feel not only overwhelmed but also inadequate, inferior, never enough. There’s extra need to guard your heart and beware the social media monsters who “have it all together”—or at least present that part of their reality (often inadvertently) and lure you to the sinkholes of comparison and feelings of failure.

A perfect time, I believe, to introduce you to my new favorite parenting book: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp. If the author’s name sounds familiar, you may remember (or also be reading) my current favorite devotional, New Morning Mercies, also by Paul David Tripp. I have to admit that I approached this book with a tiny bit of skepticism because I feel ever-defensive about anything that presents unrealistic goals or places an unnecessary load of guilt on the backs of already overburdened moms.  No need to worry here. The book has (or at least I hope it also has on other readers) the opposite effect: It is very freeing.

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First, a caveat that the author is very clear about. This is not a handy how-to guide to help you solve in practical ways each daily parenting dilemma. Rather, it offers what Tripp calls a “big gospel parenting worldview” that can alter your basic understanding about your role and responsibilities as a mom. For those of you who have been or are in Mom to Mom, I honestly (and prayerfully) hope it feels like a reminder of many of the premises of Mom to Mom teaching.

Tripp is a very good writer. When I sat down to list favorite concepts and quotes, I filled a whole page. There are far too many to include here, but all the more encouragement for you to get this book and read it yourself (and with your husband as well if you are currently married and he will join you). The underlying theme of the book, as it always is with Tripp, is grace. As recipients of God’s grace we are called to be tools of grace in the lives of our children. First, we must clearly understand our own need of grace—not only foundationally for our salvation but also in our daily, hourly, need for “moment by moment grace” (p. 70) to be wise and Godly parents.      

I said the book was freeing. You really need to read it all the way through to understand that. But I know that, for some of you, reading a whole book may sound like yet one more mission impossible. So may I suggest that you start by reading his introduction on our being “ambassador” parents rather than “owner” parents. Then read my three favorite chapters (“Calling,” “Grace,” and “Inability”). By then you may be hooked.  But I hope you will at least be encouraged.

Just a few favorite quotes that I hope will encourage you even in this moment:

“. . . aloneness is a cruel lie that will defeat us every time” (p. 182)

“in every moment you are parenting, you are being parented.” (p. 187)

“God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you.” (p. 33)

“Good parenting lives at the intersection of a humble admission of your personal powerlessness and a confident rest in the power and grace of God.” (p. 69)

Reminders that are good for any time of year.  Starting right now.

   

Nineteen at Nana’s: Lessons Learned from My Grandchildren

Those lazy, hazy days of summer. Where did we get that phrase anyway? All I knew was that whoever coined it was definitely not a mom. But a quick Google inquiry tells me the words are from a Nat King Cole song title. So definitely not a mom. But the title also includes one more word. Key for moms: “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.” So the one word is right: crazy. Who knew?

Moms, of course. And, I might add, Nanas. After a fabulous four weeks of three-generational fun, one in Virginia, where four of our grandkids live, and three in our own home, with various family groups coming and going, I am more certain than ever. Lazy, no way! Crazy? Absolutely! For four wonderful days, we were all together: nineteen at Nana’s. Just for the record, Nana and Farfar (as the kids call Woody; it’s Swedish for “Father’s Father) have a small condo. Fortunately, its three levels do stretch a bit when needed. But still, nineteen, with 11 kids age 11 and under (including one baby and two toddlers) is, well, nineteen. Here are a few lessons I learned from my grandkids. Perhaps one or two will come in handy in your summer.

  • Having fun times 19 can be chaotic . . .  but it is well worth it!Collage-1Andersons2017
  • Whatever you do, always remember to eat. And eat. And eat. Collage-2
  • Sometimes you even need to sneak an extra snack. Collage-3
  • Siblings care for each other—or even borrow a cousin or two. Collage-4
  • Be sure you travel with friends . . . or find some. Collage-5a
  • Play outside as much as you can. Find water whenever possible. Collage-6
  • But sometimes, when it rains, you have to make your own inside fun.  Collage-7
  • Dress for fun. A little pizzazz never hurts!  Collage-8
  • If you are a Nana, you need to play on the floor. . . But don’t forget short breaks on the couch.  Collage-9
  • No matter how creative and flexible and fun you try to be, some days are just . . . well, you know.  Collage-10

So it’s all over now. Families have gone home to face the re-entry process (“So what are we going to do today? Are we going anywhere? Why is it always raining where we live?) You know the drill.

And Nana? She’s sitting in a ridiculously neat house that is way too quiet and lonely. But now there are even more memories in the walls. And in many hearts. Nineteen, I hope.

And in the quiet, a friend just sent me a link which reminded me of a long-favorite song, Stuart Townend’s “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” Maybe you need to play it at this point in the summer too, whether you have an empty house or a way-too-full house eagerly awaiting . . . Well, you know “Even so, come quickly school. Come quickly.”

Happy last few days of summer!       

   

Enough

SingleFlower

The word bounces around my brain these days. Echoes through the chambers of my heart. Enough. We use it in all kinds of ways. “Enough is enough,” proclaimed the Prime Minister of Britain after the most recent tragic terrorist attack in that country. “Enough!” we tell our children. “I’ve had enough!” Authors, commentators, and wise observers of life remind us: “We live in a ‘never enough’ culture.”

Wise words from and about mothers float back to me from long-ago gleanings.  One speaker we had at Mom to Mom reminded us: “Whatever you can do today (with and for your children) will be enough.” I remember reading an article written by Ann Graham Lotz years ago about her mother, Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham. “I learned from my mother that God is enough. God was enough for her when she had everything else, and when she had nothing else.” Indeed. Enough.

God Himself seems to be very interested in “enough.” When the Israelites were given manna in the wilderness, they were to gather just enough for each day. In a story recorded in 2 Kings 4:1-7, the prophet Elisha learned of the plight of a poverty-stricken widow whose sons were about to be taken into slavery to pay back debts her late husband had owed. After learning that all she had in her house was a tiny bit of oil, Elisha instructed her to gather from her neighbors and friends all the jugs and bowls she could find. And start pouring. God provided oil to fill every container she had. It was enough. Not only for her family, but enough to sell to earn their living. 

Earlier, in 1 Kings 17, when there was a time of drought and a famine in the land, Elisha’s predecessor and mentor, the prophet Elijah, had his own needs provided by a different widow who, along with her son, was on the brink of starvation. When Elijah asked her for food, she was gathering bits of firewood to cook what she thought would be the last meal for her and her son. Then God stepped in. The woman obeyed Elijah’s instructions and scraped together the last flour and oil to make a meal which she thought would be the last, for the prophet and her family. Then, as 1 Kings 17:16 puts it, “. . . the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry . . .” till the famine was over. Enough.

What does this have to do with us? Plenty. Especially for moms. It’s June now, technically the start of summer. For many of you, summer seems to have already started. Here in New England, we keep hearing rumors that warmth and sun are just around the corner—maybe in the next ten-day forecast after this one. But whatever the weather (especially in cold rain!) summer can loom long and a bit scary. “What will occupy this busy brood during these summer months?  Will I have enough ideas/ creativity / flexibility /stamina/ patience . . . ?” You know the drill. “Will I be enough?”

For this we have God’s firm assurances. “My God will supply all your need . . .” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19 (KJV).  And Peter chimes in: “His divine power has given everything we need for life and godliness . . .” 2 Peter 1:3a (NIV). Everything we need. God will supply. Enough. Good news. Whatever may lie ahead in your summer, God will be enough. And, through His power and by His grace, you will be enough. Now that’s something to celebrate!

But here’s the really good news.  This is not a promise just for summer. It is for life.  For life. For the big-picture questions we all face sooner or later.

Some of you may remember a conversation I related in a recent post. That one about God being enough even in the face of disappointment, loss in this life, and uncertainty about the future this side of Heaven. My friend’s question still lingers in my mind. I think of it nearly every day. It is, in many ways, the central question of life. The hope we cling to no matter what: that God will never ever leave us and that a glorious eternity lies ahead. “And that is enough for you, Linda? That is enough?”

Yes. It is enough. Still. Always. When we have everything else and when we have nothing else. When we cry and when we smile and when we shout for joy. It is enough because He is enough. The God Who knows our every longing, Who hears our every sigh (Psalm 38:9). That One. He is enough. For this summer. For this life. For me. For you.

May He bless your summer!

Hello, Summer: An Encouragement Challenge for Every Mom

The title may be a bit misleading.  First, full disclosure: It’s not actually summer yet here in New England. While we have had a few brief outbursts of summer heat, it is currently cool and rainy, with little or no sun in sight for the upcoming week. In fact, here’s how it really is: when I checked my weather app this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see warmer temps and much more sun than I had heard was predicted. Just one glitch: turn out I was looking at the forecast for Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my daughter lives, not here in Burlington, MA. Those of you who have been to Ireland will get the joke!

Second potential (though intentional) miscue in the title: While I really do want to share this challenge with every mom, it is particularly directed toward Titus 2 moms (that is, older moms who encourage younger moms—see Titus 2:2-4 in the New Testament).  If you are or have been—or might become!—a mentor in Mom to Mom, it’s especially for you. But I deeply believe every mom should take this challenge.

What challenge? The challenge to keep your eyes open this summer for moms in your life who you can encourage in the midst of this wonderful, crazy, exhausting, relentless, joyful adventure called mothering. 

Women

This is a bittersweet time of year for me. Sad because I will miss Mom to Mom groups over the summer. Sweet because I love hearing from our member moms.   As Mom to Mom groups begin to disband for the summer, many of them give each group a chance to have one person share at the closing brunch what difference Mom to Mom has made in their lives. It’s my favorite day of the year. I love hearing from these moms, and this year I got to share the end-of-year brunch with two different groups—one in Massachusetts, and one in New Hampshire. Each has been using the Mom to Mom curriculum for many years: 25 years in one case, 14 in another.

There are common themes that surface at the year-end brunch every year. One of those most mentioned is always what a huge gift the Titus 2 leaders have been to the moms.  A very small sampling:

“I knew from her first phone call that this woman was going to be a rare treasure. She loved us in so many ways, but especially thought her intentionality in keeping a weekly prayer journal with our group so she could pray for us and help us pray for each other.”

“I heard God’s truth poured through her and saw it woven into how she lived her life.”

“My leaders each year have had different personalities—each amazing in their own way—but this year I have especially seen in my leader the humble, selfless, joyful peace that personifies the verse: ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’”

Another common theme: The enormous gift of loving childcare:

“This was my first time leaving my baby with anyone, and the childcare workers were amazing, freeing me up to soak in all morning what I so needed to hear.”

A Biblically-grounded curriculum which is, at the same time, welcoming to all, challenging, and encouraging is always key.

“. . . the joy of Scripture poured through me weekly . . .”

“. . . a sort of weekly mindfulness moment: the reminder of heaven.”

“. . . always challenged to grow, always leaving encouraged.”

Why am I telling you all this? Well, for those of you concluding your own Mom to Mom year, I want to encourage you leaders with the huge difference what you have done/are doing can make in many lives. Many moms mention the ripple effect on their husband and kids. And, I might add, future generations.

Moms

Years ago someone shared with me a quote. I cannot remember it exactly, nor can I remember who said it, but it went something like this: “If you can help a mom love her life, you change a life. If you change a mom’s life, you change a family. If you change a family, you begin changing a nation.”

I know not all of you are mentor moms—or even involved in a Mom to Mom group.  But I also know that every one of you reading this knows a mom in your life—or perhaps many moms—who will need some encouragement over the summer.  Keep your eyes open. Look for them. See how you can come alongside and listen to them—really listen! Laugh with them—or cry with them—or maybe both. And look for ways you can point them Godward. Be as transparent as you can about your own struggles as well as your joys. Maybe, just maybe, you can change a life. Or a family. Or more.    

  

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!

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