New Every Morning. Even in January.

New Every Morning. Even in January.

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.

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The Party’s Over . . .

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.

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Watching God at Work ... Happy Mother's Day!

Watching God at Work ... Happy Mother's Day!

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.

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Advent: The Coming of Grace


“Every hour is grace.”  Nobel Peace Prize winner and famous author Elie Wiesel said that.  I’m not familiar with the context, but I suspect his definition of grace may be different than mine.  Still, I can’t get the quote out of my head.  It seems to capture the essence of my life.   

For me, as I’ve written elsewhere, this is a season of grace.  A season both on my calendar and in my life.  I seem to come across grace everywhere. 

I recently read a fascinating novel entitled Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger.  There’s a lot about grace woven into this piece of fiction.  A quote from the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus about “the awful grace of God” provides background music for the whole story.

I’ve also been working on a new retreat topic: Gritty Grace.   I’ve been combing through scripture verses on grace—124 of them, it turns out.  I’ve also come across some great quotes on grace.  I like how Max Lucado put it: “God answers the mess of life with one word: Grace.”  One of my favorite Philip Yancey books is What’s So Amazing about Grace?  I remembered this recently when I saw the title of his latest book: Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? I can’t wait to read it.

Then I exchanged emails with our son-in-law about his most recent sermon.  “This one was harder to prepare, he commented.   “It was on grace . . . so maybe it should be hard to understand?”  Richie has a way of saying some pretty profound things in short sentences—a gift I’d like to have!  But it got me thinking. 

Grace is indeed hard to understand.  God’s relentless, remarkable, amazing grace.  Free, but not cheap. Costly grace. Oh, how it cost Him. Words from an old hymn come to mind: “Amazing love! How can it be?  That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?”   I resonate with Anne Lamott’s words: ”I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Grace: It came with Christmas.  The Gospel writer John heralds its coming: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 17)

This is a good season to be thinking about grace.  Of course, that’s true of any season.  But Advent may help us focus.  I’m finally reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas—way behind many of you, I suspect, as it came out in 2013.  I’ve just started the book, and grace has found me again. I love how she describes Advent: “This slow unfurling of grace.” (p. 5)

Wishing each of you a “slow unfurling of grace” in the days ahead.

Grooves of Grace—for Lent and for Life

“Grooves of grace.”  I first heard that phrase many years ago from a great giant of the faith, Dr. Vernon Grounds.

Dr. Grounds was a man with a brilliant mind and a huge heart.   President of Denver Seminary for many years, he is now with the Lord he served so faithfully.  I once had the privilege of hearing him speak about daily disciplines that helped him grow in his relationship with God.   I remember particularly his time in the Scripture and daily prayers walks.  These routines, he said, provided “grooves of grace.”

Recently in my Lenten readings I have been reminded of the importance of daily disciplines in our spiritual formation.  And in my daily life, I’ve been reminded loud and clear that I am 100% reliant on my morning time with God to get through each day.  As I read God’s Word, pour out my heart to Him, and try—really try—to listen better to His voice, I feel His presence and His peace pouring into these grooves of grace.

These days I actually have time and space for “morning time with God.”  But it wasn’t always this way.  When my kids were young, they were—as many of you Mom to Mom friends know—some of the world’s earliest risers.  My days began as if I’d been catapulted out of bed into a traffic jam of constant noise and activity.  So where were the grooves of grace then?   Often in a whispered one-sentence prayer before the launch: “Lord, please help me get through this day.  I can’t do it without You.”   OK, that’s two sentences.  But some days I only managed a single word: “Help!”  Even that opened up a groove of grace.  Sometimes it was a Bible left open in the kitchen, with a passage I needed to focus on amidst the frenzy.  Or a verse posted on a bathroom mirror.  Or favorite Scripture I could meditate on during a stroller walk.  All were grooves of grace.

God’s grace.  It’s what we live on—and live in—every moment of our lives.  Or at least we should be living on.  It’s always there.  Abundant.  Rich.  Free (though not cheap, as Bonhoeffer reminds us).  But are we providing the grooves into which God can pour that grace?  Sometimes I wonder if the grooves are filling in with other “stuff,” blocking access to God’s grace.  Busyness.  Fuzzy priorities.  Mom-life.

Or, in my case, anxiety.  Going through testing and inspections and contingencies amidst the sale of our home is providing plenty of that.  But I wonder: Is it clogging up the grooves of grace?  What am I opening up more access to: what I’m worrying about or what God says?

How about you?  Are you opening up grooves of grace in your life?  Some days it may feel like just a trickle.  Enough for that day.  But sometimes it floods in.  You can almost feel it sloshing around.  Either way, it’s worth digging out the trench.

Mom-mirrors of Dangerous Grace

Nothing has revealed my sinfulness and need of a Savior like being a mom.  Parenting my children showed me aspects of myself that I never knew were there--and didn’t like much!  I never knew, for example, that I had a problem with anger until I had kids.  In my teacher-life, I’d had plenty of students that pushed my buttons.  But never the way my 2-year-old or 10-year-old children could.

Walter Wangerin's book, "Reliving the Passion"

Maybe that’s why I was so struck by one of my Lenten readings this week from Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion.  Wangerin points out that one of the reasons for reliving the Passion of our Lord during Lent is that it helps us to see our sin.  He talks about how his relationship with his wife becomes a mirror in which he can see, when he sins against her, the suffering his sin has caused.   A mirror that hides nothing and breaks through his denials and excuses.   He calls it a mirror of dangerous grace.

That’s what my family is to me.  My husband—and especially my children—are mirrors of dangerous grace.  When I put self ahead of them—or even them ahead of God, a subtle but tempting idol—I see in their faces and behavior both my sin and its consequences.   I see my desperate need of a Savior.   A Savior Who actually chose to bear the consequences of my sin (while my kids, of course, had no choice).

When I apologize to my children, as I’ve had to do countless times, and receive their forgiveness, I am reminded of my need to confess to God and be forgiven.  And I learn what the freedom of forgiveness feels like.

I’m also reminded of my constant, daily, moment-by-moment need of Jesus.  Recently my daughter, the mother of a 3-year-old and 6-month-old, posted on her Facebook page:  “My needs today--sweat, coffee, Jesus.”  A friend commented: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”  Two moms who know what their deepest needs are.   Sort of a “severe mercy” (borrowing from  C. S. Lewis) that we receive by being a mom.

I suspect the words will haunt me throughout Lent: dangerous grace.  Dangerous because I see my sin in all its awful reality and realize that (Was it Luther who said this?) “We carry His nails in our pockets.”  Grace because He came.  He died.  He rose again.  He forgives.  He lavishes His grace upon us.  He grows us all the way into Glory.

It snowed this week in Wisconsin.  Normally not an unusual event here.  But we’ve had little snow so far this year.  So when I woke up yesterday morning with a winter wonderland in my back yard, it took my breath away.  All the dreary, shabby winter had been covered with pure, sparkling snow.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  Thank you, Jesus, for mirrors of dangerous grace.  Thank you that I can say with the Psalmist: “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  (Psalm 51:7)

Thoughts on Tiger Mom

Tiger Mom is everywhere.   Ever since the publication a couple of weeks ago of the now best-selling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the author, Amy Chua, has been omnipresent—interviewed on TV news and talk shows, featured in a Wall Street Journal article, discussed all over the internet, and even featured on the cover of Time magazine.

The book, which extols the virtues of strict (some would say harsh and excessive) “Chinese parenting” over more permissive “Western parenting,” has ignited a firestorm of controversy.   No wonder.  Chu’s parenting rules for her two daughters, now both high-achieving teens (one’s a violin virtuoso, the other played the piano at Carnegie Hall when she was 14), include: no play dates, no sleepovers, no TV or computer games, no being in a school play (or complaining about not being in a school play!), no playing any other instrument than the violin or piano (or not playing either the violin or piano), no getting any grade less then an A, no being less than the #1 student in every subject except gym or drama—among other things.  While the merit of some of these rules may be debated, it’s probably her tactics for enforcing them that have gotten even more attention.  Stories of keeping a 7-year-old at the piano for hours without food, water, or bathroom breaks until she got a piece just right; of threatening to burn all her daughter’s stuffed animals if she didn’t practice; of throwing back in her face a birthday card one daughter had made for her because she knew it had been done carelessly and quickly; of calling her daughter “garbage” when she behaved disrespectfully.  You get the gist.

But these attention-getting anecdotes (highly successful marketing tools no doubt) probably obscure her main message, which seem to be that kids need to be pushed to succeed—and will be happier in the end when they see how much they can do.  She claims she drove her two daughters because she was preparing them for life.  After all, that’s what her parents did—and now she’s a highly-educated professor at Yale Law School.

My purpose in telling you all this is not to critique the book—and certainly not to sell it!  Rather, the “Tiger Mom” controversy has just gotten me thinking about some very important questions for us as moms. Let me share three with you very briefly:

First, what is our highest goal for our kids?  Is it for them to become super-achievers in some field?  Or is it that they grow up to love and serve God and others?  Of course part of their love for God may include great achievement.  But what is our highest goal?  Kids know what matters most to us.   For me, I can’t help but hear III John 4 here: “I have no greater joy than to know my children are walking in the truth.”

A second question: What do we hope will be the basis of their sense of worth and value?  Chua claims that driving kids to do their best actually elevates their sense of worth and value.  Conversely, when anything a child does is praised and rewarded no matter how little effort went into it, it’s de-motivating.  There’s some truth here.  Admittedly, the current American obsession with building kids’ self-esteem has become, in some cases, pretty crazy, with every child thinking he’s a genius and schools and teams completely eschewing any rewards for merit in favor of an “every child wins” philosophy.   But as Christian parents, don’t we want our kids to find their worth in the redemptive love of Christ and in being sons and daughters of God?  And, as they grow and develop, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to have a “sane estimate” of their abilities, as Romans 12:3 in the Philips paraphrase reminds us?

Perhaps the most important question of all:  How much of how our kids turn out has anything to do with what we do—or don’t do—and how much is pure grace?  It seems that in Chua’s parenting paradigm, children are clearly the product of their parents’ drive to make them “achievers” (as defined by the parents’ standards, of course).  But isn’t each child a special creation of God, uniquely endowed with their own particular mix of gifts, challenges, personality, and passions?   It seems to me that what we as moms want to do for our children is what a mentor of mine often described as “holding a crown over their heads and helping them grow into it.”

It’s always tricky, isn’t it, this balance between “works” and grace?  Certainly what we do as moms profoundly impacts our children.  But however we raise our children, they ultimately have the “terrible freedom” to choose to follow God—or not.  And ultimately, aren’t we all living--really, when it comes down to it—by His grace alone?

I don’t know about you, but as I look at my own parenting—and the parenting of countless moms I know—all I can think is that “It’s grace.  It’s all grace.”  Certainly that doesn’t discount our giving parenting our very best efforts.  We are called to do everything to the glory of God.  But ultimately it’s by God’s grace that I am who I am as a mother—and my children are who they are.

In Chua’s world, it seems grace is in short supply.  Not in ours, I hope.