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

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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.      

  

Whatever he’s doing . . . Happy Father’s Day!

A little boy is on the phone in a long-ago kitchen with his best friend, Adam. It’s Saturday morning, and Adam is trying to persuade Bjorn to come over and play. “Not today, Adam,” Bjorn says. “My dad’s off this weekend and that means we get to spend the morning with him.” Adam is insistent: “O come on, Bjorn. What are you going to do this morning anyway?” Bjorn: “I don’t know, Adam. But whatever my dad is doing, I’m doing.”

Woody and his two young sons

“Whatever my dad is doing, I’m doing.” The words have echoed in my heart through the years. So many memories of Woody’s Saturday morning adventures with the kids. Sometimes they’d drive up to the rocky coast north of Boston and climb the rocks and collect sea glass and make up imaginary stories of sea kingdoms and castles and fairies and monsters. Or go to the historic Concord bridge and climb around the banks of the river throwing sticks in the water and just “mucking around.” Or, in the winter, sled down the fearsome hill at Tower Park. Or just hang out in the basement with Dad while he cleaned up down there—probably making a game of it somehow. Or at least drinking root beer in the basement and having (OK, I said it) burping contests!

Three Anderson children at the beach

Later, being with his children meant Woody needed to go where they were—to soccer games near and far; to a college apartment 10 hours away to arrive early on a 21st birthday to take a very surprised daughter to breakfast before turning around and driving back in order to teach Sunday School the next day; to many a college mailbox and computer inbox with hilarious cards and encouraging—or entertaining—emails. 

Always, the theme verse in Woody’s head was Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” When the kids were little, he loved carrying them everywhere in a backpack. Of course they quickly outgrew the backpack. But he continued to pursue creative ways to let them know they were beloved and secure. It was meant to be a picture of their Heavenly Father and how HE carries them from here to eternity “between his shoulders.”

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“Whatever he’s doing . . .” Being present with our kids, and being a model of a Godly man (not perfect, you understand—but God-directed) with Godly values, and loving God in ways they watched—all the greatest gifts Woody could give our kids.  All the more important in these parenting days. A much-needed contrast to the “20 minutes of action” philosophy!

And now the next generation is passing it on, living out Deuteronomy 6, each in their own way with their own kids. My greatest joy in this world is watching this happen. So, as Father’s Day approaches, I want to give a shout-out to the dads in my family—Woody, Bjorn, Lars, and Richie. They all do it in such different ways, but each of these dads is living life with his kids in such a way that my grandchildren are getting to know their Father’s love through the love of a human father.

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Another very important shout-out: I feel huge gratitude when I see Christian dads reaching out to those around them who don’t have a “present dad” in their lives.  For a host of different reasons (so many of them heart-wrenching), many kids in our world do not have a dad who is able to be with them and model their Heavenly Father’s love. I also want to give a shout-out to moms who are marvelous conduits of God’s love to their children; many single moms I know are Jesus-in-the-flesh to their children with a grace and power that astounds me. But it is a gift to us all when Christian dads come alongside these kids to do fun “guy things” and model the love of our Father in masculine ways. We need reminders of the stunning love of the Father we all have through Jesus. No matter what. The real reason I can wish every one of you a Happy Father’s Day!

One little bonus: As I was writing this, our son Lars posted this on Instagram: 

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 A great idea for celebrating with the dads in your lives!     

  

Can Prayers Be Only Tears?

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A sweet mom from across the country posts the question on Facebook: “Can prayers be only tears?  Cuz that’s all I’ve got now.” Yes, my friend. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.

I know from experience. My own—past, present, and most likely, future. I also know from the shared tears of many friends. Turns out we’re in good company. Job’s eyes poured out tears to God (Job 16:20). God told King Hezekiah, “I have heard your prayers and seen your tears.” (2 Kings 20:5) The Psalmist said God even kept track of his tossings and tears: “You have kept my tears in your bottle.” (Psalm 56:8 ESV) Sometimes tears are all you have. 

Or even groans.  Or stony, dazed silence. I am taken back to dark moments long ago when I sat up all night in a little apartment staring into space, unable to pray.  Even—for that one night—unable to cry. The pain of loss was just too deep. The feeling of betrayal was paralyzing. “Why, God?  Why? Why? Why?” Actually, to be completely honest, I guess there was one prayer I croaked out: “I just can’t talk to you right now, God.” 

In the long hours of that awful night, three thoughts penetrated my numbness. First, I knew friends were praying for me when I could not. Second, I thought I remembered reading somewhere that Jesus “intercedes for us at the right hand of God.” (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 10:10-12) And I had long loved that verse in Romans that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Wordless tears. Deep groans. Lonely loss. The times when—at least for quirky poetry lovers like me—you remember random lines from Emily Dickinson. “I felt a funeral in my brain . . .”  And “After great pain, a formal feeling comes/The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs . . .” 

For most of us, unlike Emily, at times there simply are no words. But there is God.  He knows our ragged hearts: “How long must I wrestle with my tears and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2) He hears our sighs: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Psalm 38:9)   He sits with us in our sorrow. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s plea from Lament for a Son comes to me: “Come and sit with me on my mourning bench.”

HE sits with us. And He does even more. He gives us hope. Sometimes earthly hope. There’s so much ahead that we cannot see. Tears are blinding. But—I have to be honest here—sometimes it’s not earthly hope. But always, always eternal hope. “. . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:18b-19a) Eventually we learn to take hold of that rope offered to us. Like those toddlers holding on to the rope as they follow the teacher, we learn to hold on. And no matter what, He holds the end of that rope.

So, my sweet Facebook friend—and every other friend whose prayers are only tears right now, here is my prayer for you (borrowed from the Apostle Paul): “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

There will come a day when there will be no more tears.  But we’re not there yet. So in the meantime, cry when you need to. Just remember Who is sitting alongside you.          

Watching God at Work … Happy Mother’s Day!

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C.S. Lewis said it best: “We may ignore, but we nowhere evade, the presence of God.  The world is crowded with Him.  He walks everywhere incognito.”  (from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 75) 

Yes, He often walks incognito through our world. But now and then we get glimpses.  I’ve had more than a few “God glimpses” recently—and most of them seem in some way to involve mothers.  

First, there is the flurry of activity among mama birds in our neighborhood. We walked by a picturesque little robin’s nest a couple of days ago. We also have a mama bird (I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe) building a nest in our front entrance. It’s really quite a mess (not at all picturesque like the robin’s). But I have learned that warm and cozy and safe homes don’t need to look Pinterest-worthy.  They just need a mama.  (I don’t dare try to take a picture of this one, BTW, because mama bird is very skittish and protective, and I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship.)

Then there are other mamas through whom I have seen God lately.  Mamas who embrace their children with God’s love even when they are lonely (Dad’s gone again for work?) or chronically sleep-deprived (Whaat? This 7-month-old baby still isn’t sleeping through the night?) or even comforting their children (“It’s going to be all right, honey”) when their own heart is shattered by grief into a million pieces (All right? How can it be all right when the love of my life, the father of these children, is snatched away from me in one tiny terrible moment?)  Through these mamas—and so very many others, I see God. He’s the only explanation.

Last Thursday I had the joy of hearing moms at a local Mom to Mom share their hearts about this past year. These are just snatches of what I heard (composite paraphrase):

  • I’ve recently come to see how different parenting with God is from parenting without Him. Also how different parenting alone is versus sharing the journey with other moms.
  • This is the church being the church. It is my primary source of spiritual nourishment.
  • Mom to Mom has ignited a fire within me that has been simmering for a long time.
  • Here I can be completely myself. I am listened to without judgment. I am reminded that I am not alone. Both my Titus 2 leader and the very practical biblical teaching help me release my burden of perfectionism and trust God with my kids.
  • Moms suffer from a kind of occupational irony. We spend our lives continually caring for others. Who cares for us? This is the one place in my week where I don’t have to prepare anything: coffee, goodies, or childcare.  Here I am not only cared for but also given dignity and confidence in my role as a mom. A rare gift in our culture.
  • In this past year, not much has changed in my circumstances. But a lot has changed in my heart.

Two recurring themes in what I heard: We are cared for. We are loved and accepted—even welcomed—here, just as we are. No matter what. Really. No matter what. And our hearts are changed.

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like grace.  Sounds a lot like God. “Surely the Lord is in this place . . .”  (Genesis 28:16a) Because the deep deep love of Jesus flows through the “Titus 2 Moms” who have themselves received that love, these moms feel loved. And they can pass that love along to their children.

One reason, I would guess, why “the world is crowded with Him.”

So, as Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, a shout out to all of you who love your children, another mom, or even a would-be mom (I have not forgotten) with His love. Through you we see glimpses of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Cross and the Lily

CrossLily

In the midst of Lent and as Easter approaches, a brief reflection from the past. And for the present. And the future.

I was a craft-challenged mama. Sort of the anti-Martha Stewart. The very words “Next week we’re going to do a simple craft” struck terror in my soul. When it came to “making things,” my fingers just didn’t seem to work. The fingers that could play the piano and write essays and turn book pages by the hour simply froze when the popsicle sticks and glue came out. My heart just wasn’t in it. It’s a good thing Pinterest wasn’t around when my kids were small. I can’t imagine how I would have beat down the false-failure-as-a-mom (please note the word “false”) feelings. 

I was also a tradition-oriented mama. I loved creating family traditions that would make memories for our kids and help them remember the things that really mattered. I believed deeply that children often remember feelings more than facts. I also knew my three children had very different learning styles. One remembered every word ever read to him. Another wanted to build things and take things apart (and put them back together—the only one in our family who could do that!). Our third loved—and remembered–anything you could sing and dance to.

So what do our kids remember about Easter? A cross and a lily. Every Easter morning (well, most Easter mornings), they awoke to something special for breakfast (the kind of “special” that you can manage when running off to teach Sunday School classes before church). And Easter baskets accompanied by an “Easter book” which was a Bible story of some kind. But also—and maybe especially—an Easter lily with a simple white cross in it. I even made the cross—very simply cut out of cardboard and planted in the midst of the lily.

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons. First: Because of Mom to Mom, I know—and love—scores of young moms. Very dedicated moms. Very gifted moms. Very busy moms. They want desperately to make memories for their children. To help them know and treasure in their hearts the things that really matter. They have tons of great ideas for ways to do all that. They do, after all, live with Facebook and Pinterest. And, those glossy magazines illustrating all-you-can-do-with-your-kids are still there at the checkout. And most of them are probably not craft-challenged like me. But these moms also have children. And, as you may have noticed, children can be very time-consuming. And they tend to get sick at holiday seasons.

So I want to commend to you the simple lily and the cross. Not elaborate. Very simple. But they remember it. Also the reading of the Easter story. Again and again. From different age-appropriate Bible story books with different styles and illustrations. Act it out. I still remember our 4-year-old on our back porch instructing his mystified (but learning!) friend in his role in their self-directed little Easter play. (“No, Mark. You are the angel. You say “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”) Build the story with blocks. Use some of their action figures to represent the major players.  Sing it. With “He’s alive!” hand motions if possible. Or maybe dancing.

Because here’s the second reason I’m telling you this. The cross and the lily are, in the end, what matters most about Easter. In any season of life. In the good times and the bad. When you have a houseful of kids or grandkids. And when you don’t. Jesus died. He rose. He lives. All for the love of you and me. And when you “get” that love (and help your kids to), it makes all the difference. As one physically-challenged young mom told me years ago, “Linda, here at Mom to Mom I have understood, for the first time, how much God loves me. And when you get that—really get it—it makes all the difference.”

Yes it does, sweet mom-friend. The cross and the lily. They make all the difference. From here to eternity.

Happy Easter!

    

  

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