To the Peanut on her second birthday

Dear Peanut,

I am having trouble believing that it has been two years since we got our first glimpse at your peach-fuzz covered head. It just doesn’t seem that long. At the same time I am having trouble believing that it has only been two years since you got here. It seems like you have been with us forever. I guess that’s what happens when people belong with you. They just fit.

Sometimes, like after your bath, when you insist on sitting in my lap all wrapped up in a towel and have me rub it close to you, that you are simply my baby, cuddle loving as always. The second before I blink I can see the baby that you were in your face. Sometimes when you are careening through the yard, you turn around just long enough to make sure I know where you are headed, and I am sure I see the 16-year-old you will become, standing right there in her homecoming dress asking me for the car keys. You my dear, are who you are.  I admire you for it.

A few months back the woman who I have come to think of as your unofficial God-mother told me that she noticed how much more I dance since you have come along. Mulling that over I thought of the line from that song we sing in church (the one from the Psalms), “You turn all my mourning in to dancing.” I remembered how I cried out to God after the ultrasound that revealed you were one girl. I was so hurt and confused. How could he tell me one thing and give me another? Where were those twin boys? Why would God do that? I mourned for the loss of the family I had pictured, I mourned for the boys I was expecting, for my own pride and the way it was “supposed to go” and God in His infinite wisdom gave me you.  I dance, with you, for you, to get you to dance, because you invite me to dance with you. God did turn my mourning into dancing, He did that through you. Your dancing has become contagious in our house. I dance at work when good things happen, I dance at the grocery store when we find a fifty percent off sticker. We dance because we can, because it is an outward expression of our joy. We dance because it is fun. I dance because of you.

I look at you and am reminded that my worrying is futile. Your peach fuzz has turned into a mass of red ringlets, you walk and run just fine, you adore your life as a big sister, you (mostly) sleep through the night. You do all those things I feared you would never do and so much more. You bring joy; you carry it on you like a natural perfume. Your natural tendency is to yell and laugh and clap in delight. It brings those around you joy too.

There is so much I want for you, such big dreams I have for you. But I am learning to let that be between you and your God. I am trying to be a woman who lets God do big things through her, who knows when to step up and when to get out of the way. It is my greatest hope, that you would follow hard after Jesus. May you learn to love Him, to dance for Him, to dance with Him. His plans for you are extraordinary, and I am so blessed to watch them play out.

I love you!

Mom

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When I am desperate, God is till enough

It got a little dark around these parts on Wednesday.  I have the strong desire to tell you that when my sister therapized me she pointed out my nature to catastrophize things and then make some self deprecating joke or point to my own sinful nature and laugh it off. Isn’t Abby silly, she gets so worked up over stuff when God really has it. Sigh. Maybe one day I will learn. (Insert patronizing head shake and finger wagging at myself here.)

But today the Spirit is leading me to leave it. In that moment, it was that bad. It was worse. Some days this Jesus-filled-spirit-lead living thing is hard. Whether it is because you have as many diapers that need changed as hands every morning, or you drive into work everyday thinking that if you got into an accident you could skip today (hello, first year of teaching), you feel like you are suddenly in a situation that you did not sign up for and you have no idea how to get out.

Even though I try desperately to be a Jesus Lover, to live by the Norman Family Creed, to dismantle the Failure Siren, it all came to a head last week. I now understand better than ever before why the Lord implores us to humble ourselves. Being humbled by the reality of your own sinful nature totally sucks. The difference between knowing in your head that you are a sinner, and watching your sin punch someone you love in the stomach is severe.

In the midst of that I called out, Is God enough? And my call was answered. Because He is enough. He is enough and He is faithful. Not in that, yes, yes, the Bible says He is faithful so it must be true kind of ways, but rather in a visceral I did not deserve His grace and the Lord chose to lift me from my pit of self loathing anyway kind of faithful.

God was enough when  I confessed to my small group ending in “my heart is so ugly”, and they all laid hands on my head and chose to love me anyway. He was faithful in the Peanut placing her little hand on my head and patting. “Okay, mommy? Okay?” and “Jesus, Jesus, Amen.” I hope she never grows out of praying more Jesus over people. I have yet to run into a circumstance that wouldn’t be helped by more Jesus.

Meanwhile the Rooster was tickling my foot and checking for smiles. Bringing me joy, being the change she was insistent on seeing. I suppose you could say that a 7 month old was only grabbing what was right in front of her, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed her looking. I wasn’t even the first. Her looking and tickling and smiling, that is what was right in front. God is enough. He is faithful.

Thursday I received an email from Sarah Bessey.  I hope to never get over how much this means to me. There was a marked change in the way that I write out my life when I read hers. Her honest living and writing gave me permission to be the me God is molding me into. The Lord saw fit that I receive her words to me on my lunch break and cried big fat ugly tears on the keyboard until the bell rang and my freshmen were about to walk in the door. (The only crying that is acceptable in my 9th grade class is the crying I cause.)  She did not smack my hand for bringing her name into all of my mess, but instead offered prayer, understanding that grad-school is hard for the wife too, and assurance that as loud as we howl, it is enough. God is enough.

Then, Friday another email. Grace extended that I do not deserve, hope and restoration chosen when death and excommunication would be easier. Understanding and assurance and the door left open when I was sure it would be slammed in my face. There is no clearer way to see Jesus in a believer than when they extend unwarranted forgiveness to you.

Sometimes God has swooped down and healed my heart. BAM. Done. I am forever changed. I can mark the day on the calendar that He healed my body. It is finished. This change, this enough, God’s faithfulness that I am sure I do need and will need all the days of my life, this is a healing that God is asking me to choose, that He offers in this moment, and this one until the “and this moments” are linked in an eternal chain that I must continue to grab on to.

And I will, continue to grab on to that glorious chain. Because today I know that falling is hard and it can get lonely in those moments when you are no longer sure where that healing is. That chain gets covered in the muck that is the moment right here. But it will be unearthed because my God, He is faithful. My God is enough.

Sometimes on Saturday

Sometimes all it takes is making coffee with the french press to be reminded;  Out of what looks like muddy water to us, God makes beautiful things.

Sometimes your friend sends you a text message with the word “ass” in it and it makes you think: “She has grown so much since I have known her!”

Sometimes you wake up to your oldest babbling through the baby monitor. She tells Teddy all about J, and M, and S each in turn. You are reminded how blessed you are that God saw it fit to give your daughters a whole bonus family.

Sometimes you are sitting in the bathroom waiting for your child to agree to get out of the tub when she stands up and announces “All done!, Towel.” When you wrap it around her, she insists on crawling into your lap and having you rub the towel close. You learned how to do this from your mom. You tell her that this is the very best part of the bath and she agrees.

Sometimes both kids take a nap at the same time and the dog insists you sit outside with him. You agree so you don’t have to clean the house.

Happy Saturday! Hope yours is going just as swimmingly.

Bullies and the Hands and Feet of Jesus

The movie Bully is coming out in theatres everywhere tomorrow. It has been creating a lot of press, and I am intrigued. The movie follows the lives of kids who are currently being bullied, and also the stories of a student who committed suicide and a young girl who brought a gun on her school bus in response to the people bullying her.

I have yet to see this movie, but the morning radio show that I listen to ran a segment on it. The main radio personality took his nine-year-old to see the movie and they taped the conversation that they had after the movie. (FYI: Said personality says that nine is too young and only reccomends this movie for those thirteen and up.) Parents and kids who have been dealing with bullying called into the show. If I hadn’t have been driving, it would have brought me to my knees.

As a High School teacher I see the way that kids can be, the cruelty is not often in my presence, but it can be brutal. I do the best I can to keep a positive tone in my room. My general rule in my classroom is that we are going to be nice. Period. But it is hard sometimes even for me to figure out if the joking is all in good fun, or if it is something that has been going on for years and everyone is just used to it.

Every adult I know can name the names of the people who were mercilessly picked on for years. Bullying is not a new problem. But like most things, new media has made things easier to do and harder to catch. As a teacher there is nothing I can do to alter a kids Facebook page and Twitter feed. I can’t police the bathrooms and hallways all the time. But I see what the torment can do to the students and I remember some of my friends from High school and Middle school being tormented at my own school.

I was in the middle school cafeteria when the Holy Spirit broke through the chatter so clearly it was almost audible. “Abby, go sit by that kid.” I didn’t want to. I only had a few friends myself and I feared alienating them. But God would not leave me alone. So I did. I moved my lunch three tables down and sat by a kid who regularly got his head slammed into lockers. The next day or maybe a few days after that, that kid showed me the imprint of the belt he had wrapped around his neck in an effort to make it all go away.

I don’t tell this story to make you impressed with me. It was not my idea to be looking out for anyone but myself.  Now, I am very grateful that the Lord broke through that day. At the time, I was mad. I can honestly say that I was Jesus to that kid, if only for a moment in the school cafeteria. It is a testament to the few friends that I did have that they invited that kid to sit with us. I can’t say that we were truly friends with him, but we were friendly. We at least provided him a safe place to sit and eat his lunch but we did not invite him places with us. He still had it hard when we got to high school. The bullies nominated him for turn about king as a joke and then mocked his reaction to the situation they put him in.

I was reminded of this story as I listened to the radio. Listening to a mother cry as she explains what it feels like forcing her son to go to school every day, like she is sendng him off to be tortured made me ask myself this question: Lord, where are you? Where is Jesus in this mess? Why don’t you do something already?

But I already knew the answer. You are the answer, I am the answer. The church is the body of Christ, and we need to get up off the couch and do something. One of the reasons the movie Bully is so controversial, is because the camera crew (adults) just stood by and filmed while these kids were abused. They didn’t participate in the ridicule, but they certainly did not help the situation. They simply stood by, watched.

I can’t help but wonder where the classmates are who confess to knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder that in my own classroom and school. Why are the Christian kids just standing by? Maybe it is too much to ask a 15-year-old to stand up to all of his friends and the kids who are bigger than him in defense of a kid he doesn’t even like. Maybe I am expecting too much spiritual maturity to hear and heed that call, the one to serve, and identify with the least of these. Maybe, but probably not.

One of the reasons I enjoy my job, is because of the amazing things I see my kids do every day. I know that they are capable of thinking big thoughts and backing those thoughts with honest intentional outcome. These are just every day kids. Imagine the possibility of spirit-filled kids.

At another local school there is a student who got removed as student council president because (he claims) he introduced a bill that would allow for two students of the same gender be made prom kings or queens if the student body so chose. It made national news because he is suing the school. His attorney has come out recently with a statement claiming the kid is being attacked at school, in the hallways between classes.

I don’t know anything else about the situation, but I began wondering out loud what it would look like if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes said “enough.” What if they arranged to have two kids escort this kid between classes? What if they treated that kid with the humanity he deserves even if they disagreed with him? What would that look like to that kid, the other high school students, the world?

I think it would look like Jesus. Jesus stopping the stoning of the woman, Jesus advocating for the poor, the widowed, the outcasts. If the christian teens at high schools would literally stand in solidarity against the bullying, they might lose friends. They might lose popularity. They might get bullied too. After all, I have already admitted there isn’t anything I can do sometimes. But they might just get to experience what it is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that might be completely worth it.

Easter Sunday: Still Not Over It

I wrote yesterday about my reminder on Easter Sunday, that I follow a God who came as a man and defeated death. I don’t ever remember not knowing…but it somehow struck me as new. Maybe that is a part of the whole “God’s mercies are new every morning” business.

Not only have I been marveling at the fact that it happened, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I have been thinking about the implications of it. What exactly does that mean for me if I identify with Christ? (Which I do, see here.)

Somewhere along the way I became deeply connected to my identity with Christ on the cross. In the third grade, when I prayed the sinners prayer after Wednesday Night Alive with Mrs. Wiegand, it was because I knew that I was not enough. Somewhere deep in that 9-year-old body I knew that I was never going to be good enough on my own. I needed saved. I did not have to be convinced of my own sinful nature. I just knew.

If the gospel ended right there, if Jesus dying for our sins was the last chapter in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, then that would have been it. No Acts to Revelation. No early church, no current church, no Christians. The power of the cross is only realized when linked with the power of the resurrection. Jesus died for our sins, yes. Sin leads to death so even though it is an amazing sacrifice that someone else would die for my sins, a sinless God who is also fully man, in a way it is expected, credible. The story had to go there if we were to be saved.

I am in no way trying to diminish what Jesus did for me. I am so very grateful He did it. But I think perhaps I have been ending my reflection there, at the cross. The reason Jesus died on the cross for me, and for you, is so that the story doesn’t end in death.

The story doesn’t end there. There is more. Jesus Christ was resurrected into a new body, a new creation. The old went and the new came. My sins died on the cross with Jesus, and I have been resurrected with him. I am a new creation too. The sacrifice on that cross lead to the incredible miraculous transformation of the resurrection. The man who was killed, became the living God. Hallelujah. It is unexpected. It is incredible. It is beautiful, and miraculous, and completely indescribable. It is big and unexplainable. Perhaps that is why I have kept my distance. But the resurrection is also personal.

I am supposed to identify with the resurrection as much as I do with the cross. I am a new creation. When I got baptized on Easter Sunday morning in the sixth grade, Mrs. Wiegand’s husband, Pastor Wiegand, didn’t leave me at the bottom of the baptismal, symbolically buried with my sins. He brought me back up, as a new creation. I was buried with my sin and then resurrected as new.

The newness, the holiness, the miracles. I get to claim those too right along with the sinful nature now pierced and dead. Because the story didn’t end at the cross. There was a resurrection. I don’t know that I have been lately, claiming the new creation that Christ has promised me. Sometimes the sinful nature still seems so evident to me. I am sure I have not been identifying other Christians in their newness.

The sinful nature not only can be conquered, it has been conquered. The old has gone, the new has come. Hallelujah. I am not sure what exactly this means, walking it out day by day. But I am excited by the possibilities that this newness has to offer, the hope of the resurrection. Yes that sounds good to walk in. I’ll take more of that.

We Still Want a Political King

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I grew up in church so I’ve heard the Palm Sunday stuff before. That it was traditional in the day for a ruler to come through the town. A stallion meant war, a donkey meant peace. But I heard a new tidbit this year (Thanks Pastor Tim). The palms that were waved as Jesus passed through signified that the people still expected Jesus to lead the political revolution.

A week later the same people who were screaming “Hosana” were screaming “Crucify Him!”  They did not recognize Jesus for who he was. Their savior, someone who came to deal with the depravity of their own hearts. They were looking for someone to come and revolutionize the political system, to finally usher in God’s law and then they would get to be the ones on top.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus came back, would we recognize him? Would we be paying attention to the people and places that Jesus would go to? Would we beg him to get off the cross and go in to congress and do something already? Would we understand it any better the second time around?

I think we are still looking for the Political messiah. We are still waving those palms, begging God for our nation to turn toward Him. We still want a political messiah, not a personal one. Because a political savior deals with them and all of their stuff, and a personal savior deals with me, and my stuff.

And it is a whole lot more comfortable to have others change based on what I think, then to allow the Holy Spirit to rearrange my life, and trust that He will rearrange other people’s lives as well. I do want Americans to come to know the Lord, every single one of them. But I don’t think that is going to happen one law at a time. I think it can only happen one person at a time, one heart at a time turning toward God.

This Holy week, as I think about the beauty of the cross. I cannot get over how very personalized it was. For me. For you. To connect us to God. I think Jesus could have come to reign as king of a nation. It probably would have been a lot easier to rule a people who adored his decisions. Instead, Jesus chose to die on a cross, to sacrifice himself for people who literally curse his name. He was dying for people’s sins even as they became angry with him for saving them.

We are still clamoring for a political king, but Christ wants so much more than that. He doesn’t just want the hearts, and minds of the nation as a whole. He wants my heart, my life. He wants us to follow him regardless of what the laws say. He knows that changed laws do not change hearts. Christ centered hearts create Christ centered lives, and people are drawn to those lives. Then their hearts change too, and pretty soon no one cares what the law says. We just all follow Jesus.