I feel helpless.  For big reasons and little reasons, life has me grasping at the wind, desperate for something to hold on to that will make anything better.  I’m not a pull yourself up by the bootstraps kind of person.  I’m flailing.  All of the things that I’ve never felt good enough at anyway are slipping through my fingers more and more.  All of the things that I’ve never quite been able to organize are just becoming more of a mess.

And what I find perhaps most frustrating is that I don’t actually care about much of it.  Honestly?  How well my kids learn history doesn’t matter to me.  Diagramming sentences seems absolutely ridiculous.  I’m not bothered by dust on the bookshelves.  Most days, I don’t even notice unfinished window trim and peeling wallpaper.  But for various reasons, these are all things that have to matter to me, whether they really do, or not.  And I should be able to do something about all of them.  The problem is that there are things that are monumentally important to me, that I desperately want to fix, that are out of my hands.  So, I am distracted and unmotivated with the rest of life because my brain burns itself out trying to solve an unsolvable problem.

I’m failing.  And I wonder where God is.  Why isn’t He helping me?  Why can’t I sleep more than a couple hours without back pain?  Why can’t I exercise without getting headaches?  Why is it so hard to follow a schedule, or speak gently, or correct schoolwork?  Why are we alone in this?  Why are we in this at all?

I ask, but I don’t get answers.  It makes me want to give up on all of it.

our twelve year old

It happens every year.  The calendar turns and then – right away it seems – we celebrate another birthday for this oldest son of mine.  A part of me clings to the notion that he is still my little boy.  I don’t want to think about teenage years and hard(er) questions and high school and the future.  But I know all of those things are inevitable.  So, I take stock of where we’re at, and I find myself hopeful for what God has in store for him, and thankful for the character and conviction that are being revealed in these days.

Caedmon doesn’t really care what other people think of him, and for that I am so relieved.  It’s not that he doesn’t want to be liked…that desire just isn’t strong enough for him to change who he is to fit in.  This is the boy who still gets excited when a fresh order of missionary biographies comes in the mail, the boy who already has a longing for babies of his own, the boy who asked for a croquembouche instead of a birthday cake.  He’s okay being different.  He doesn’t apologize for his differences.  And he doesn’t criticize others for their differences.

He is a thinker, and a debater, for sure…and of course he wants to always be right…but he’s starting to learn when he needs to hold loosely to an idea, and when to stand by his convictions no matter what.  Although we’re still working on not trying to justify wrong actions, we’re finding, too, that he more readily understands and accepts explanations about humility and repentance.

He is a self-starter who doesn’t prefer to wait for someone else to do something when he can do it himself.  He will get the hammer and search out nails protruding from the floor, just because they’re bothering him and he can do something about it.  The other day, he grabbed a pair of pliers and climbed onto a chair to fix a non-functioning door latch.  He spear-heads all science experiments (albeit occasionally with a bit too much of a commanding attitude) and helps keep everyone on-track with chores and schoolwork.

He loves to laugh.  He loves music.  He loves reading.  He loves writing.

He diligently spends time each morning reading his Bible and reviewing memory verses.  Although he’s not our most exuberant worshiper, he knows the lyrics better than any of us (even me, usually).  The Word of God is hidden in his heart, and while his understanding is still unrefined in many areas, we see in his moments of uncertainty and frustration about life that he recognizes the authority and truth of the Bible, and is willing to let it shape his response, and speak hope and peace into the hard moments.

I love Caedmon.  And I like Caedmon.  He is such a gift to our family, such a treasure to this mama’s heart.  It is a privilege to be celebrating his twelve years today.

finding good

I had a conversation yesterday in which I was asked about ‘the rest of life’.  My initial response was that there was nothing else to life right now.  Which, I know, is categorically untrue, but my mind and my heart tend to get tunnel vision and miss, or at best discount, everything else that happens, and so I have a hard time seeing any good.  But after that conversation, I thought I should at least try.  Here’s what I’ve come up with…

:: We have a new refrigerator.  It was an unexpected purchase, but since our old one decided to stop keeping things cold, it was necessary.  Though not high on my list of what I would have wanted to spend money on, it is nice to have a new, bigger, prettier, functioning refrigerator.  And the expense didn’t throw us off financially…which is a testimony of God’s faithfulness to us, especially considering that last year at this time Tim was out of work and our bank account was getting very low.

:: I started a Bible reading plan about a month ago.  It’s nothing revolutionary…pretty standard two or three OT chapters, one NT chapter per day…but this is the first time I’ve started a Bible-in-a-year plan and found that I get to the end of my scheduled chapters and want to just keep reading.  It’s been life to me.  Not warm-fuzzy, revelatory, deep moments with God, but daily bread – sustaining, mind-renewing strength for my days.

:: My kids.  I love them so much.  And as I ponder making adjustments to our homeschooling, and try to find ways to make up for activities they will now be lacking, I’m finding a renewed zeal for these amazing people I get to call mine.

:: My husband.  He works hard every day.  He holds me up even when he’s hurting.  He keeps the Word of God as his standard even when it’s difficult.  He cleans up middle-of-the-night throw-up, and bloody noses, and wetting accidents.  He gives our kids running shoulder rides up the stairs.  He tells me I’m pretty when my hair is all over the place in the morning.  He fixes our washing machine.  Plus so much more.

:: A tax return that, for the first time ever, resulted in us coming out thousands of dollars better than we anticipated.  We over-estimated in quarterly tax payments, and didn’t realize it until figuring out our taxes for the year (note: I use the term “we” very loosely.  Tim does it all).

:: A new mattress that, while not resulting in always completely comfortable sleep, has at least greatly alleviated my problem with my arms falling asleep all the time.  I’m thankful.

There is probably more if I thought longer, but this is at least a start, right?

My natural bent right now is to want to do whatever is necessary to end the conflict.  I run from fights. I hide when I am afraid.  My initial response to all of this was non-stop shaking, episodes of hyperventilating, and hours of crying.  Who I am cannot handle stress like these days have brought.  And I find myself desperately wishing that I could believe that we’re wrong in this.  The thought of repenting and being restored just seems…easy.

But I can’t lie.  The thought of admitting to a wrong that I am convinced we’re not guilty of makes me nauseous.  The thought of allowing the truth to be distorted so that we can find some level of momentary peace seems like compromise of the worst kind.  So we pray, and wait, and cling to seemingly threadbare hopes that God will somehow bring Himself glory through all of this mess.

My one son just doesn’t understand.  The one whose thoughts and feelings always run deep.  This one who found someone he really looked up to…someone he really thought cared about him.  And none of it makes sense to him.  How could it?  It doesn’t even make sense to me.  He does his best to hide his hurt, but it’s there.  The tears that make his eyes glisten, but never quite spill down.  The questions that reveal a wrestling, a desperation to know how this good man – these good men – could knowingly cause us pain, knowingly cause him pain.  I don’t have answers.  So I tell him I don’t know.  I tell him everybody fails.  I tell him we need to love them anyway.  I tell him God is still good.  What else can I say?

on my mind today…

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

                                   —Micah 6:8

Elijah is six

Wait…so he’s been only five for these past months?!?  As I’m buying size 7 clothes?  And giving him short chapter books to read?  And expecting him to get the fitted sheet on his bed by himself?  I keep forgetting he’s still such a little boy.  I forget, sometimes, that it’s okay to let him watch Curious George in the morning and not have a long list of chores like his older siblings.  I forget, sometimes, that it’s okay that he isn’t moving at a lightning pace with adding 3-digit numbers.  I forget, sometimes, that it’s gotta be hard for him to sit patiently and attempt to listen to a long chapter in a Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography.  I forget, sometimes, to soak up the hugs and the giggles and the endless offers of help.

I forget because he can so capably keep up with his big brothers in many things.  I forget because because he’s so articulate and asks such thoughtful questions.  I forget because he’s strong and persistent and independent in a lot of ways.

But I don’t want him to get lost in the shuffle of life.  I don’t want to forget that he still needs me to be there for him in all the myriad of ways that six-year old boys need their moms.  I don’t want him to think I’ve forgotten that he needs me.  This year especially, I’ve felt a burden to really make sure he knows he’s someone special this birthday.  I’ve seen in him lately a searching for assurance that who he is matters and is precious…maybe partly because of his sensitive heart, but maybe partly, too, because I’ve assumed that he can figure things out on his own more often than I should and he finds himself flailing a bit.

Whatever it is, the truth that I want to convey to him is that he is remarkable.  I adore his heart for people.  I am blown away by his…insightfulness (?).  I am blessed beyond description by the way he encourages me (today, he was showing one of his siblings his birthday cake and said, “Doesn’t Mommy do a great job making cakes?”).  He is one-of-a-kind; a priceless treasure.  And I hope he will remember that every day of his life.

Elijah is loved more than I can express and celebrating him today is simply joy.

Jasmine

We got Jasmine 13 years ago, almost exactly.  It was a few days before Thanksgiving and Tim saw her in the pet store.  He had Fridays off of work, but I didn’t, so he had gone on his own to look at the puppies.  She was the runt of the litter – half border collie, half golden retriever – with the color of a golden, but the size and spunk of a collie.  He called me at work to see what I thought of him buying her.  Honestly, I had zero interest in having a dog.  But Tim had jokingly made the stipulation before we got married that we had to have a dog, and I had agreed.  My preference was for one that didn’t shed, lick, jump, bark, or bite…but in the end I let Tim decide, and he picked Jasmine.  She didn’t bite, but none of my other preferences were met.

She was a cute puppy.  A four pound bundle of golden fur.  A day or two after we brought her home, we headed to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  I let her ride on my lap in the car and she gnawed on my fingers with her toothless gums most of the way.  Her puppy days were full of wetting accidents (she relieved herself anytime she got excited), chewed-on furniture, lots of shedding, licking, jumping, and barking.  She figured out easily how to jump over gates and knock over other barriers we tried to use to keep her in a certain room, or out of others.  She was full of energy and was easily excitable from day one.

As she grew older, and we began our family, she proved to be extremely gentle around children and very tolerant of fur pulling and tackling and attempts to “ride” on her back.  She often got into mischief and we had countless instances of loaves of bread, sticks of butter, candy bars, and even yucky baby diapers that got consumed while our backs were turned, or when she escaped from the kitchen when we weren’t home.  One time, she even got into the Christmas presents under the tree, unwrapped and ate two pounds of chocolate.  She didn’t sleep for two days, or even sit for more than a few seconds during that time.

Up until three or four years ago, most people who saw her for the first time thought she was still a puppy.  In recent years, though, her age became more obvious.  Her sight started to fade, and the past six months or so, her sense of smell did, too.  She developed a recurring incontinence issue and more and more white fur appeared around her face.  Her energy level became more reasonable for a dog her age.

Then, this past Tuesday evening, she got sick – weak, lethargic, feverish, bowel and bladder incontinence and bloody stool.  Tim took her to the vet on Wednesday and they said it seemed like a bacterial infection – probably from something she ate – and they gave her an IV and sent him home with some antibiotics.  They said she would most likely get better, and for a few hours she seemed a little bit perkier.  By Wednesday night, though, she wouldn’t even stand.  All day Thursday, she lay on the floor, only moving to try to adjust her position.  Tim had to force-feed water and medicine and she wasn’t eating anything at all.  About midnight last night, she started squeaking (the only noise she had made all day) and Tim went and sat with her for a while, petting her, trying to help her get comfortable.  He came back to bed around 1:30.  She died sometime between then and 7:30 this morning.

I cried.  Tim cried.  Our three oldest kids cried, hard.  In truth, I haven’t been a fan of having a dog.  I just don’t see benefit in pets…and, to be brutally honest, I never really wanted our kids to form an attachment to Jasmine.  It just seemed like wasted effort and emotion to have affection for an animal.  I know that seems heartless to most people.  But even in spite of my general apathy – and, at times, desperate wish to not have a dog (fleas kind of made me flip out last year) – there is no denying that I had a soft spot for Jasmine, after all.  Even through the years of bemoaning the dog fur everywhere, and the inconvenience of finding dog-sitters when we wanted to leave town for a few days, and having to avoid the “land-mines” that she left in her wake, I have always known her to really and truly be a good dog – kind and affectionate and exuberant and gentle.  I am thankful that she was dog my kids spent their youngest years growing with.  She will be missed.

advent

I’ve been thinking about advent the past couple days.  I know I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself.  Right now is typically a time for reflections on thankfulness, but just the word thankfulness makes my heart close up tight and raise defenses and try to convince me that any amount of thankfulness must somehow mean that this hurt I feel isn’t warranted.  And I’m struggling to get past that.  So, I’m sidestepping it…or maybe just looking for a long way around to where I need to be.

Advent isn’t something I’ve given much attention to, ever.  Honestly, until recent years, I only ever heard the word in reference to cutesy little calendars that sort of ostensibly recounted the days and hours leading up to the birth of Jesus, but really mostly served as an anticipation-builder for eager young hearts that could just barely wait to tear into the stacks of colorful packages crowded under the tree.  But this year in particular, my heart needs to know that the not yet of this faith has purpose and value.

Because, in this moment, my temptation is to say that God is failing me.  The reality of these days has been a dichotomous warring within me – a pushing back at His Word, His promises, His expectations because there’s this devastation that seems at odds with any thought that His goodness to me could possibly be true…but at the same time, there’s a desperate desire to find Him, to figure out how this all makes sense, to trust that His ways are higher and better and completely infallible.  And every time I try to argue with Him that there’s no way I could possibly believe that He’s loving and sovereign in the midst of these days when He seems to be a silent observer to the anguishing of my heart, I can’t get past His Word that insists that His love and faithfulness are non-negotiables that I never get to reason away just because I don’t understand.  It’s the age-old question of how a loving God could let bad things happen to us, and a sobering realization that it comes down to the choice to believe Him, or to count His Word, and ultimately faith itself, as unreliable.

So, I’ve found myself slowly pondering His coming…not the days and hours leading up to it, but the seemingly agonizingly long millennia between man’s first defiance of a holy God – followed so quickly by a promise of a Redeemer – and first coming of our Savior.  And now, still, the waiting for fulfillment, while the earth groans and souls strive sometimes against imperfection, and sometimes against the call to perfection, all while longing for the not-yet so much so that it can be easy to forget that there’s no such thing as heaven on earth.

I’ve wondered why He made humanity wait for their Rescuer.  Why did he leave longing hearts unsatisfied?  Through the flood, and enslavement, and wilderness wandering, and a promised land, and great victories, and heart wanderings, and captivity, and brokenness, and restoration – He waited.  But He didn’t only wait.  It was a lesson plan, of sorts, this meandering road to the cross.  It’s easy to see, with the hindsight we are afforded.  It was necessary for mankind to see the impossibility of human ambition and human wisdom and human morality and human sincerity to fix the problem of sin.  God was writing it across history – who we are and Who He is can never, ever meet through any effort we put forward.

It makes sense.  It’s rational, calculated.  It’s loving, maybe mostly in a big-picture sort of way.

And, eventually Jesus came.  He bridged the unbridgeable gap and won salvation for our souls.  But still we stand here, waiting for His coming.  We have the promised redemption, so what is the waiting for, this time?  Why doesn’t this life just cease the moment we believe?  Or at least become easy?  Among at least a few possible answers, I have to be able to see that a recognition of sin and its consequence is not the same as really knowing the Lord.  If we could believe, and then never have to face the temptation of sin again, how would we ever know grace in its full measure…both to free us from sin’s grip, but also to unfailingly restore us when we fall time and time again?  If we could believe, and then never face the loss of good things again, how would we ever be able to proclaim that He is truly enough?  If we could believe, and then never have to love the unlovable or forgive the unforgivable, how would we ever be able to comprehend to any degree His love for us that compelled Him to the cross?  If we could believe, and then never find circumstances frustrating, or confusing, or painful, how would we ever be able to realize that there is Truth that is never dependent on circumstantial proof?

One day, it’s possible we will have no more opportunity to learn of these facets of His character.  There’s a depth of knowing that God allows us to pursue with Him, an intimacy unlike any other.  It necessitates forsaking all else.  Sacrificing, letting go, trusting only Him.  Safety nets get pulled away.  Heartstrings get cut.  Ambitions lie in ruins.  So that we can be found in Him.  Nothing before or beneath or beside but Him.  He holds us.  He sustains us.  He fulfills us.  And we learn, in this world that tempts and tries, as He tarries and we look for Him to come again, that He is worth it all.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? —Mark 8:34-37

Or, in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

 

but God

The reminder in the kids’ devotional this morning.

But God.

Apparently, the phrase shows up almost 4000 times in the Bible.  God looks into our lives and sees reasons and purposes and possibilities that are beyond human comprehension and ability.  No matter what circumstances say, no matter what emotions say, no matter what logic says, God has the final say.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  —Psalm 73:26