Bless Mine, Bless Me

On the evening before the new school year opened, we asked each of the kids if they would share with us two things we could pray about for them during the next day. Their requests were full of the usual kid-sized pleas for obedience, fun, and good-ness.

Macy contributed an honest, “About being shy?” I didn’t know she was even aware of that as something to be overcome. She’s four years old. Since she’s come home both days with a grin from ear to ear and bouncing non-stop until bedtime, I’d say things are working out for her.

Jesse’s request was also general but genuine, “Just nervous about everything, I guess.” I didn’t think 5th grade would be much of a concern to him, but he’s expressed that thought more than once in the last few weeks.

Imagine my joy, then, when he came home after the first day full of hope and excitement. His teacher has given their room a Monopoly theme complete with locally named properties and special prizes (including a chance at a private plane ride). Jesse was all smiles. Every fear dissipated. My little boy back. At least for now.

If it’s possible, I feel even more thankful when someone takes care of my children than when they do something for me.

I suppose it’s similar for God. Bless mine, He says, and you bless me.

 

*Note about school: We’re year-rounders here. We get a three week break when it is time to switch grade levels (most of June) and then we’re back at it. We also get a one-week break about every six weeks, including extra time at Christmas. Just wanted to make sure you knew this wasn’t a re-post from last fall!

*Note about photo: That’s Jesse swinging on an artificial vine in the Jungle exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE.

Helping or Hurting?

more from PRODIGAL GOD

The message of great grace in Keller’s book was a reminder of freedom for me. In the parable of the prodigal son (or, as Keller points out, in the parable in which Jesus begins, “There was once a father . . . .”, indicating the true protagonist in the narrative), I relate most to the elder brother. I have mistakenly believed that doing good, being right, and working hard would earn me favor with God. I would have told you this was not true, but I would have been lying (even to myself).

The true message of the gospel is extravagant love, forgiveness, sacrifice, and reconciliation. I’m a part of that story and completely on the receiving end – so are you. So as I fight my moralistic, man-pleasing tendencies, I wonder if my focus here on this blog is wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t point out ways to become more spiritually disciplined. Maybe I’m just busy making more older brothers like me.

I don’t want to do that because I believe there is a feast that awaits us and all we have to do is walk through the doors. So I don’t want to distract you (or me) with ideas about washing garments or hands or faces. I just want us to see how wonderful Father is and want to be with Him at the feast no matter what. I want to inspire worship, not create more reasons for you to feel guilty.

Is this blog was too focused on elder brother ideas? With all my talk of humility and making good choices, am I leading you into the ditch of religion?

One section of Keller’s text focuses on the materialistic nature of salvation – the way God really is interested in this material world and its restoration. Keller’s prime example: most of Jesus’ miracles are about the restoration of the way things ought to be in this world he created – disease doesn’t belong and death has to go. He cares about our world.

So how is it not a works mentality when Jesus tells his followers that on the judgement day we’ll be asked if we have fed, clothed, and sheltered those in need?

He is not saying that only the social workers get into heaven. Rather, he is saying that the inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. Younger brothers are too selfish and elder brothers are too self-righteous to care for the poor.

This reminds me that the answer is really about my focus. I’m not going to get into heaven because I was spiritually disciplined, but, I desire spiritual discipline because I’m going to heaven. The focus is my relationship with Him – and the way that relationship changes my perspectives, my actions, and my purposes in this life.

Still sounds like a Rare Rock to me! What do you think?

THE PRODIGAL GOD

I often mention books here or summarize their best points.

In this post I want to BEG you to get this one for yourself and read it. I took my time with it’s almost 135 pages (it’s a handy little size) and let each chapter soak in deep before I moved on to the next. It’s been in my purse for weeks. I literally pull it out, read a little, and then have to put it away and think deep about what I’ve just read.

I took it along on a trip to Wyoming. In Starbuck’s I read one section – a list to help you determine if you have elder brother qualities – out loud more than once. (The answer to the question for me, if you are wondering, is YES.)

I’ve long admired Keller’s life and work, but only through video clips now and then.

I love a book that gives language to my hunches and also challenges my understanding of Christianity’s authentic expression. This one also renewed in me a love for and appreciation of the gospel in a way that appealed to my mind and my soul. A perfect combination.

I hope you’ll check it out. I know it will be the inspiration for some upcoming blog posts. In fact, after reading it I wondered if I should change the focus of my blog altogether! Yeah, it’s going to mess with you.

If you have read it already (I know I’m late to this party), would you like to discuss? How were you challenged or affirmed by Keller’s message? Did it inspire action in you or maybe worship? I’d love to hear!

Unexpected Expertise

Riding home yesterday from Claire’s check-up with her surgeon, I realized I’m becoming something of an expert at living with a child with mild cerebral palsy. For eight years now I have sat in small exam rooms while an information laden physician sits across from me on a short padded stool reviewing the most recent research on spasticity, high tone, dystonia, contracture, and other vocabulary words specific to Claire’s condition.

When I was dreaming of careers or areas of life I’d like to know more about as a young person, I don’t remember having cerebral palsy on that list. But eight years ago it took a place at the top when Claire was born prematurely and we were almost guaranteed at least some form of CP in our future.

Now here I am. It is so common to me, I often forget about her special needs until I see a struggle in her that the other girls don’t face or someone asks a question about why she walks the way she walks.

Last night at her tee-ball game, which we had rushed home (St. Louis is a three hour drive) to make, she was stopping grounders better than ever before. In the doctor’s office that day I had just mentioned her perseverance and love for the sport despite the fact that it was difficult for her to catch  with the mitt on her sluggish left hand. She has a way of defying me. As I inspected further, I realized she was using her strong right hand to literally pull down on her mitted left hand, forcing it to the ground in front of the softball rolling her way. She thought of that herself. I had decided she was just going to have to get used the ball rolling through her legs. She wasn’t ready to accept that.

Welcome to my world with Claire. Every time I think we’ve finally reached something she will have to give up, she proves me wrong. I thought Claire gave up dancing here – three years ago – and now we’re here – still at it!

So this is just one of the areas that I’ve become an unplanned expert. Others include leading kids in worship (from volunteering to lead songs when my son was a preschooler), spiritual disciplines (from taking over an orphaned course from a departing instructor), and hobby flower gardening (I don’t know where that one came from!).

How about you? Are you an unexpected expert in something? Do you think we have the responsibility to share our wealth of knowledge now or is this just the way life goes?

*Photo note: This is from last year’s season. This year I worked as an assistant coach (I’m good at bossing little girls around and bribing them to stay out of the dirt!) and there was NO TIME to get out the camera. Notice Claire is running right out of her shoe . . . that about sums up life with that girl! : )

Patriarchy Works for Me

a belated Father’s Day post for my theologically-minded Dad

In our culture, patriarchy – the social system centered around and continued through the male – gets a bad rap. That’s understandable. I have seen enough evidence in CNN headlines to convince me of the injustices that often accompany this system. But I have to tell you, patriarchy worked for me.

I don’t think patriarchy as a system is broken. The problem is that we have too many bad or absent fathers. Bad fathers abuse the intended beauty of a patriarchal system. Absent fathers wound their children in the deepest ways and the result is a widespread social crisis.

There is a story in the folklore of my family that goes like this. Between 30 and 40 years ago – we’ll just round it off, OK? – my Dad and my Mom went on their first date to Pizza Hut and ordered ham and cheese sandwiches.

They fell in love. At least, my mom was sold. (And when you hear the next part of the story you’ll know why!)

It was on this date that Dad told Mom that he wanted to name his first daughter Felicity after watching an old Western movie. Apparently, a beautiful woman stepped off the stagecoach in a new town and the ripples of voices collectively asked, “Who is that?” The answer was “Felicity” and my dad thought it was a perfect name.

So here I am – named by my dad and living in the blessing of his decision making ever since.

That was the significance of the father in Bible stories: identity, protection, blessing, inheritance, etc. You were known by your father’s deeds and conquests and character. This worked for me.

I’ve always loved the uniqueness of my name. I never remember wishing I had anything different. But I think it is more than just the arrangement of syllables. I loved this naming story as a child because it reminded me that I was thought of before I was born. I was wanted and planned for. No one flipped through a name book on the way to the hospital for me – my Dad gave me the prettiest name he knew.

And my dad didn’t just name me well. He provided for me well – he gave me a home; he taught me how to put myself to sleep; he walked me through decisions as a teenager, not just telling me what to do, but going through the implication of each possible choice and letting me come to my own guided conclusions.

Patriarchy worked for me. Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

Post-Vacation Sweet List

 

Birthday Bike

After a few days of vacation in Dan’s beloved Omaha (hOme-aha to him), I have a few reflections.

These things are sweet:

1. Connection time. Dan and Macy share a birthday. When he greeted her Saturday morning with, “Happy Birthday!” She replied with, “And Happy Birthday to you!”

My youngest sister, Charity, and I spent one morning getting haircuts and then eating lunch at a trendy spot we’d both wanted to try. We even day-dreamed a little together as we drove around. Those are fun times you don’t get often when you live 6 hours apart.

Another evening we gathered around Papa Don’s fire pit and roasted marshmallows for s’mores. As Claire crammed in a bite of gooey mess she chirped, “We should do this every night.”

2. Surprises. First of all, we expected to swelter in the June heat. But it felt more like spring the entire weekend.This was a pure gift, friends.

Second, one of Dan’s cousins had an extra ticket to see Wicked in its final show at the Orpheum theater in Omaha. I went with her, and it blew my mind! Have you seen it? How have you kept this secret from me, world?! During the first big surprise, I inhaled audibly and smacked myself in the chest. For the final and biggest surprise, I slapped the thigh of the young man next to me who was so tall his knees were close to the ears of the lady sitting in front of him. He was on his fourth showing. Now we’re in it together, he and I and the rest of the Wicked devotees. I wouldn’t dare spoil it for you; the surprises are so fun. The story alone was fascinating. (Have you read the novel?) Then add spectacular music, talented performers, and a funny script . . . I was over the moon with inspiration and pure enjoyment. (What beloved story could I re-invent? Now that sounds like a great way to make a living!)

3. Unscheduled, flexible days. Dan and I both work full-time; our kids go to year-round school. Add in sports teams, dance performances, heath appointments, and various church and family events, and we don’t find ourselves with many unscheduled days. We took our time on this vacation. Two of the days we made the choice just to stick around the house and relax. Naps were taken, magazines were perused, movies were watched, and restaurants were enjoyed.

By personality I am tempted, even while on vacation, to look at the event as a means to solving the problems of the world. All the talk time! We could surely plan out our next 20 years together. All the free time! I bet I could finish those twenty-five books on my desk at work. For example, I sat through the first half of Wicked analyzing whether or not it was produced with a post-Christian emphasis on reversing the definitions of right and wrong. By the conclusion of that second half, I gave up. Elphaba soared at the top of center stage singing “Defying Gravity” while lights, smoke, and the rest of the cast accentuated her dramatic climb. I knew my analysis was over. I allowed the story free access to my heart and smiled, clapped, and gasped through the rest of the show.

These were the sweet spots. Do you have vacation plans? I think you should, even if it just means an unscheduled day around the house with the people you love, a movie or series you’ve been meaning to catch, or a quiet drive to a yet-to-be-determined location. Find a sweet spot.

His Pleasure

I have this idea in the history of my personal version of the Christian faith that is grounded in a certain truth but bathed in a particular lie. It is the idea that God will only call me to do hard, difficult, even painful things. I say it is grounded in truth because I do not believe that God’s purposes for our lives are all about our health, wealth, and prosperity. I believe He wants us to learn to live well according to the principles of an unseen Kingdom and that may or may not include health, wealth, or prosperity. But it is a lie because by focusing on the inevitability of suffering in this life and the fact that God is not solely interested in my own particular happiness, I forget that God’s plans for me also come from the kindness of a good Father.

I know I am not alone. I know others share this imbalance because I hear it in their decision making, in their explanations about life choices, and in their praise or disdain for the plans others make with their lives. We forget that sometimes God leads us to green pastures. Sometimes he “satisfies us with good things so our youth is renewed like the eagle” (Psalm 103).

It can be confusing. Coming from a place of loss after the birth of premature twins, I feel pangs of sadness when I hear a proud parent say, “Praise the Lord! We prayed and He blessed us with two healthy babies.” Are they wrong? Of course not! It is just that I remember that I prayed too and my result was different. Does that mean I am not blessed? No. It means sometimes life does not go according to what we hope or want or desire. But we are always blessed. We can’t censor our language for every possible scenario. We’ll have very little left to say.

After a day like today, I remember His goodness. Today, the day before Macy’s fourth birthday, we traversed the zoo at her every whim and wish.

“What do you want to see next?”

“OK – to the polar bears!”

Polar Bear at the Omaha Zoo

All day long. And she never once took advantage of that gift. She simply enjoyed it, soaked in every moment, savored every exhibit. I can’t always give her exactly what she wants. (In fact, even today she was denied the most expensive of plastic toys in the zoo gift shop.) Sometimes I even have to watch her suffer when I wish it could be different. But I never leave her in those moments, and I share her tears and I hope for better days – days like today when even the heat and bugs seemed to stay at bay for our occasion. If I can’t get a better day, I’ll have to hope for an entirely better life, an everlasting one.

He is God in every circumstance,

and I trust Him even in the storms,

but it’s good to have a day to remember that He is also

the God of pleasure and kindness and generosity.