Holy Audacity: The Church as Christ’s Vice-Regents

Last Saturday morning I jumped in my van and pulled out of my driveway. Lately I’ve been introducing my kids to the tunes-of-choice of my college days, so Steven Curtis Chapman was cued up in our CD player. Track 4 started playing when I got in the car.

It’s all yours, God! Yours, God! Everything is yours!

I was driving toward a local shelter where I was to meet a desperate mother and her four young girls. Through Safe Families for Children, I had agreed to host two of them for a night.

I have my doubts in these moments. I am keenly aware of my privilege and my naivety. I am comparatively young, comparatively wealthy, and comparatively whole. My story reads like a fairy tale compared to the brokenness and devastation survived by many of the parents I meet through Safe Families. I imagine they must find me irritating. Maybe they groan to themselves about yet another Well-Intentioned Well-To-Do who thinks she holds the keys to hope. “As if she has a clue. As if she’ll care enough to go the distance.”

As I drove I wondered out loud: “Who do I think I am, going to get these girls like it’s just a regular Saturday morning? How is this my business? What gives me the right to waltz in offering my remedy? My relief?”

But Steven Curtis Chapman was still singing, and his worship reminded me of another lyric I sing to my kids often: “This is my Father’s world.”

This is my Father’s world.

Suddenly my heart was flooded with confidence. It wouldn’t be putting it too strongly to say I felt a sense of entitlement in that moment. “Holy audacity,” I heard myself say to the empty passenger seat beside me.

So I parked my van just a mile from my own house and walked to meet these struggling strangers. On behalf of my Father in heaven, I had work to do. In some sense, these girls belonged to me. Their mom belonged to me.

I believe that my identity in Christ (and more to the point, my identity as part of the Church, His Body) includes a right to ownership of the whole world. If “everything is Yours,” as Chapman sings, then it must be true that everything is mine, too. God has called His people to love the world on His behalf. He has called us to practice His kingdom.

I’m not saying we can achieve world peace and end world hunger by our efforts. We believe the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. Someday. But today, while we wait with hope, we enact that vision. Today we are Christ’s vice-regents, commissioned for the flourishing of His world.

I stood waiting to meet the little girls I was to take home and Meghan (our local director) began to wonder where the second host family could be. When they still hadn’t shown up fifteen minutes later Meghan called them, only to discover there’d been a mix-up and they were out of town, thinking their hosting was to be the following weekend.

Suddenly we had a situation on our hands, and any minute this mom was going to be walking through her doors with four little girls to hand off.

Steven Curtis Chapman must have gotten into my bloodstream in college, because I buckled all four of those little girls into my van twenty minutes later. I turned the key in the ignition and Track 5 began on cue:

It’s crazy when love gets ahold of you
It’s crazy things that love will make you do

I laughed.

I knew I could do anything for 30 hours, and I knew I would have support.

My husband was in the middle of painting our bathroom so I was on my own for the first few minutes as he finished up. I don’t remember much from that mayhem, but I remember playdoh on the bottom of shoes, mass-production of snacks, and six little people coloring at my dining room table. Suddenly I had seven kids, and my 5yo son was the oldest.

The other thing I remember distinctly is the number of attempts I made to send a single text message. After an hour of sheer pandemonium, I finally got it typed and sent.

And so began the unfolding of a most amazing day. The text was to Brad & Caroline Tubbesing, the directors of Reformed University Fellowship at Indiana University. I knew when I agreed to take all four girls home that I’d need help, and by the time I heard from Caroline I had little more to say than “Send back up.” I asked her to connect me with college students, and I told her I didn’t want their phone numbers, I wanted them on my doorstep ASAP.

Mike finished painting and we started suiting up to walk everyone to the park. At one point the door to the garage got opened and kids started escaping. Mike picked up one tiny person after another and set them back inside until he realized that no sooner would he reach for the next escape artist than the one he’d just retrieved would head back out the door. He called for help. “Babe, we’re hemorrhaging babies over here!”

By the time we’d set out with two kids on bikes, three kids in strollers, and a baby strapped to each of us, I’d started to get text messages from our College Student Fairies.

Elizabeth was the first responder. She was at Kroger and decided to pick up groceries for lunch. Just as we returned from the park she showed up at our door with fried chicken, watermelon, juice, cookies, and even flowers.

Brad himself showed up with his preschool-aged son to lend a hand while I escaped with my own daughter for our long-awaited ballet matinee.

At 4:00 Xinzhu showed up and helped while I started giving everyone baths. At 5:00 Matthias walked in and found me up to my elbows in shampoo. Xinzhu made rice. Matthias read stories. Luke arrived in time to help set the table. We all sat down to lentils and rice at 6:00 with four kids bathed and jammied and only three to go.

The kitchen was in quite a state. After dinner Luke ran Xinzhu home and returned to read stories, color, and generally offset the average household age. Matthias rolled up his sleeves and attacked the kitchen. He didn’t quit till it was sparkling. There wasn’t even rice under the table, and that’s saying something.

Around 9:00 Matthias and Luke left, promising to return in the morning to help caravan us to church since we’d be short on seatbelts. It was 10:00 before I’d finished settling the four sisters into our guest room. The 3yo fell asleep on my arm. The 2yo went from whirling dirvish to snoring angel in mere seconds. The baby wiggled around quietly in her crib. I told kitty stories with the 4yo in the dark and then escaped to attend to the laundry and set out seven church outfits, raiding my stash of outgrown girl clothes.

By this time three of our closest friends had gathered in our living room. This is not unusual in our house and I don’t know what their excuses were for showing up on that particular evening. But at midnight – as Tyler, Nicole, and Fr. Raymond stood in our basement folding a mountain of laundry – it was obvious to me that God hadn’t been finished chasing me down with the love of His people.

Sundays are always an ordeal for my family. My husband works as the organist at a local church. My kids and I worship with a different congregation. Mike leaves by 7:00 a.m. most Sundays and it’s my job to get the family out the door on my own. This particular week was no exception.

I have it down to a science after several years of practice. Still, it isn’t easy. And Sunday mornings are excruciating when I’m sleep-deprived.

After about three good hours of sleep I was standing in my kitchen slicing a very large collection of strawberries when it occurred to me that I was neither anxious nor stressed. If I’d had to make those breakfasts and pack those bags and dress those babies in a filthy kitchen and a house full of chaos I would’ve been a basket case. Instead I was at peace and there was only one explanation: Matthias.

Matthias cleaned my kitchen like it belonged to him. He had the holy audacity to step into my world and enact his vision of the Kingdom. While I was giving myself for the flourishing of these girls and their mom, he gave himself for my flourishing.

And it worked. I flourished.

We say often that it takes a village; but I think it’s more accurate to say it takes a church – an audacious community of vice-regents, working on Christ’s behalf for the flourishing of our Father’s world.

I understand Safe Families more now than I did before last weekend. It’s common for people in Safe Families to tag social media posts with #bethechurch. My understanding of our mission deepened as I found myself surrounded by Jesus’ hands and feet, held up by an audacious church as I ventured into My Father’s World with my own audacity.

Hopefully that single mom felt as much of Jesus on that weekend as I did while slicing strawberries in my clean kitchen. Hopefully she felt the embrace of our Heavenly Father, a whisper of the reality that (as Steven Curtis Chapman sings) He’s the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything.

It’s all Yours.

There Is No Crisis Here. Everything Is Fine.

I’m here to reason all this stuff out.

In a pause of the vacuum cleaner just now I spoke my mind:

“Will you drink with me tonight?”

It didn’t need an answer, really.

Tonight we get to see each other, my husband and I, for the first time in over a week. I mean, we sleep in the same bed and we greet each other and we are present, but never alone together lately. There wasn’t a single night this week that we kissed the kids goodnight together. We spent date night working.

But before we get to sit down together we vacuum most of a large bottle of glitter out of our carpet.

I drove to the pharmacy for my daughter’s antibiotic (she has an ear infection) while he tucked them in, and I thought to myself “‘My life for yours’ is only fun until there’s glitter on the carpet.”

The pharmacy was closed.

As a highly sensitive person I find myself reciting this mantra to myself often these days:

“There is no crisis here.”

My body feels crisis in too many situations. My vision of the good life is clean, minimalist, tidy, calm. Things move slowly and in an orderly and sophisticated way.

What I’m learning – what “There is no crisis here” means – is that I can still allow myself to feel those slow feelings when there is glitter on the carpet and everyone is talking at once. When my house is still full of people over an hour after I thought my kids would have their jammies on. It means that even when I am busy and I know I haven’t paid those bills that were due on Monday I still have time to listen to what my kids are saying and say yes about the Dr. Seuss book. There is no crisis here.

There was crisis most of the time last year. But noise and glitter are not a crisis.

I also breathe “Everything is fine” a lot because often I feel like it’s not fine. But everything is going according to plan. Glitter on my carpet means everything is going according to plan.

We believe in “My life for yours.” We believe in a porous household (except for when it’s time to close up shop for a week or a month or a year) because we believe in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I’m part of a team supporting a single mom these days, so every other Saturday crazy things happen in my house while we women sit and share our hearts and our Jesus. On this particular day the craziness was glitter. We only discovered it as we walked down the stairs to tuck in the kids, ready for that “finally” moment when we’d see each other for the first time in a week.

There is no crisis here. We believe in vacuuming up glitter. We believe in welcoming a tiny newborn into our family for a week or two , especially when it’s Lent and we’re asking our children to recite Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I choose? To take the homeless poor into your house.”

Back in our college dorm hallway conversation days we envisioned this. We didn’t realize that what we believed in looks like glitter and chaotic Saturday nights at the end of a brutal week, but we just weren’t there yet.

Redemption is found in the specifics, my friend said.

There is no crisis here. Everything is fine. I believe in all of this.

Apparently I believe in glitter.

Thoughts on Spring and Standing Still

or Thoughts on Broken Bones and the Power of God

I’m not good at sitting still. I mean that. When I sit down, I get up again. It’s a compulsion, but more than that: It’s a desire and a delight. I like doing All The Things.

Sunday morning my pastor was talking about healed lepers as I was looking at the boot on my foot, aware that all I’ve been told to do is stay off it. Stay off it and it will heal.

This weekend was spring. It’s still February. But it was spring. The birds and I were euphoric for no reason but how the sky looked and how the air felt. There in my front yard, barely an inch tall, a bunch of purple crocuses opened. All I had to do to make that happen was nothing.

I’ve been thinking about life-force a lot these days. Paul writes to Timothy about “the power with which God raised Christ from the dead.” I’ve been thinking about how that power is in the warp and woof of our whole existence. Not only for the whole world: bones and bodies that heal, crocuses that didn’t need any help, and the first warm day of February when even the bare trees and brown grass magically look like Aslan has been here. But doubly for us, children of the resurrection: We belong to God. Spring is inevitable even for souls marked by death with more than annual ashes. Mine, my children’s, my husband’s. Yours.

The conjunction of spring and the X-ray that revealed that my foot has been broken for four months, not strained for two weeks as I’d assumed, was loudly incongruous for me. Every year when spring comes my eager spirit comes out of hibernation. My inability to sit still reaches fever pitch. I do more things, think more thoughts, and feel more feelings in the first weeks of spring than in an entire Minnesota winter.

But not this time. This time I watched my kids at the park from a picnic blanket and I read most of a book and dozed on the couch, because I know that the only way my foot will heal – the only hope I have for my next run – is stillness.

Sit still and let it happen. Sit still and it will heal.

Perhaps second to the story for which this blog is named, my favorite Old Testament story is in 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat is king and the people of Judah are facing disaster at the hands of their enemies. The people cry out God: “We are powerless against this! We do not know what to do! But our eyes are on you.” And God’s answer comes, perfect:

Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them….You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.

I thought of this moment in history again yesterday as I sat listening to the story of healed lepers and looking at my broken foot. Sometimes we do not need to fight the battle. Sometimes our work is to stand still and hold our position and see: The world is hard-wired for life and for spring. For resurrection and for the victory of Christ the King.

Things I Thought in the Now Yesterday

I’m thinking Switchfoot this morning:

Hello, good-morning, how you been? Yesterday left my head kicked in.

Sunday my pastor preached about normal. About small. About reveling in it. About being here. Now.

Apparently I wasn’t the only mom who went home and scrawled “Revel in your smallness. –Dan” over the top of her weekly planner page.

Yesterday I was in the middle of smallness.

I can’t say I reveled, but at least I didn’t self-destruct, and I’m calling that a win.

In fact, I’m thinking being in the middle and not self-destructing is the whole goal. (For now.) It’s like holding a yoga pose. There’s nowhere you’re going, you’re just there and that is the whole goal. I think sometimes that’s what grace means. I mean the kind of grace that strengthens and equips. Living in the middle of grace means accepting things as they are, reveling in the reality that you are not necessarily doing it right but at least you’re aware of that.

I’m thinking that living in the middle of grace means submitting to the awareness that you (and everyone else) are in a jam, in a hard place, maybe even dancing around your freshly-minted golden calf (we read about that with our kids last night). Somehow in the middle of that dance you are still opening your heart to God: letting him tinge – temper – your mess with His love.

I’m thinking that’s better than trying to control it, anyway. Trying to fix it so it’s not broken anymore. And it’s better than accepting it, letting go and living – really mucking around – in the mess of your garbage and everyone else’s.

I’m thinking that it’s better than visualizing tomorrow, when you will no doubt be able to keep things a little more pulled together so you can feel better about yourself, or maybe a year from tomorrow, when you will all no doubt be so much more sanctified and wise that there won’t be a mess in the first place. THEN you can revel. THEN you can claim grace.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your 4yo son quietly crawls across the floor and throws two tiny dirty socks at your legs with all the strength he can muster, instead of shutting him down, telling him that he can’t be angry, means figuring out the anger instead. “Are you angry at me?” “Yes.” “Listen. It’s OK to be angry. We need to figure out what to do about it. Throwing socks at mommy is unkind and disrespectful. You may not be angry in ways that are unkind and disrespectful. If you are angry you can say that, and I will listen. I will listen to you. You can tell me that you’re angry and I will listen. And I will help you figure it out and I will try to comfort you. But you may not be unkind and disrespectful.”

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when your preschoolers fail a half-dozen times in a simple task that you know they need to muddle through without help (you know, so they can move past preschool) is entering their foolishness-zone a half-dozen times (and not less) to discipline and re-assign without giving up on them. Without indulging that sarcastic cynic in your head telling you that they will not get it, ever. After all, this is their now. If they are bad it, so are you. Grace and hope, not despair. Be here. Now.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for not listening to you is going to your room with an explanation over your shoulder: “I can’t hang out with you right now because you are being rude to me and I feel really mad. So when you are ready to tell Mommy you are sorry for treating me like that, you can come find me.” And then when they do come to find you, claiming grace (and hope) means recalling how much you love them and how lovely they are instead of handing over forgiveness like a compulsory tax.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you recognize that your kids are up to their eyeballs in their own foolishness and sin patterns means recognizing, too, that what is needed is not so much training for them as patience for you. Being here, now, today, means that today I need to choose (and ask for) patience instead of coercing (and expecting) altered behavior. They will always be up to their eyeballs in this and so will I. This is now, after all. So yes, my 3yo needs to learn to mentally check in when she hears the sound of my voice and at least twitch a hint of acknowledgement. And yes, my 4yo needs to learn that he cannot respond “But” or “What!!?!” or “Why?” to every instruction. But today that is where they are so today what they need is for their earthly mother to see them as their heavenly Father sees her: “He remembers our frame.” He is nothing if not patient. My kids will discover that by its reflection in me. That my own need for patience even occurred to me above the noise of my “righteous” anger in the face of their shortcomings means I’m calling this a win.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are spitting mad at your kids for going ape-sh*t in the doctor’s office, for sassing you when you say simple things like “Can you push the door open for us?” is to decline to chat with them. “Mommy, what does that sign say?” Instead of bitterly engaging in casual conversation as if there isn’t disaster afoot, “Mommy is really angry right now and I know if I talk I’m going to say rude things, so instead I’m not going to say anything. You need to leave me alone. We can talk later.” I’m calling this one a huge win, because it kept me from saying something stupid and it modeled for them a way to acknowledge (and live in the middle of) their anger without using it as a weapon.

I’m thinking claiming grace (and hope) when you are in the middle of self-imposed silence on the drive home from the doctor’s office and your 3yo calls out “Mommy, look!” means making room in your heart for your second thought when your first thought is “OMG I SAID SHUT UP” but your second thought is “I bet she just saw the mums in front of that store and she’s excited to share that special moment with me.”

I’m calling this a win because in the instant she interrupted the silence I was mad and wanted to shut her down: “Do you not care that I said not to talk to me?” I wanted to show her only the angry side, as if I wanted her to believe (perhaps as if I believed myself) that there was no other side. For an instant I labeled myself and my forever-relationship with my daughter: “She is going to learn not to risk intimacy with me for fear of what she’ll find. If I’m going to have angry days like this we’re doomed to live a life shaped by my sin.” But in the next instant I knew I had a better option, and I’m thinking this is claiming grace: (Caged, a little grumpy. Terse): “What, Merry?” “Look! Those are mums over there!” (As fully cheerful and enthusiastic as sharing my love of horticulture with my kids makes me): “Yeah! That’s so cool! Thanks, baby. I’m so glad you showed that to me.” That was all and then we were silent again, and I was still angry. But I knew that the silence held not only their sin and mine, but our best attempt to hold that pose with grace and a tinge of confident hope, too:

I’m thinking claiming grace means recognizing that sin, in Christ’s economy, does not mean despair. You can be angry and still love each other truly, wholly. My kids can feel the weight of my angry refusal to talk to them without concluding that our future is doomed to vengeful distance and cautious calculations. In other words, sin, tempered with grace (and hope), doesn’t have to be poisonous. There is an antidote. This is big news for me.

Switchfoot: I’m learning to breathe. Learning to crawl. Learning that you and you alone can break my fall.

Last night I let him break my fall. After we got home from the doctor I called on my husband to speak some sanity: “You guys have had a terrible day. That is done. We are going to have a happy day together starting now.” (Talk about hope.) And then I parked my kids for quiet time and I retreated to their 100% filthy room with some good music and a spray bottle of Murphy’s. All alone with a little sanity spoken by JJ Heller I cleaned and organized, not to enact my anger – “What a mess my kids are” (I’ve done that) – but to say “I love them.” I didn’t run away and shut them out. I didn’t despair. I didn’t change the subject. I chose hope and claimed grace and made something in our world for us to delight in together.

I doubt they’ll be much better at listening to me today than they were yesterday but I am remembering that I love them and that happiness (like, for example, a tidy room) is our grace-earned privilege anyway.

I call this reveling in smallness.

There and Back Again: Thinking about Home

Dear Baby,

Pretty soon you will have a name (you do already, but that’s our secret…) and you will get your monthly missives here just like your big brother and big sister. But today I am thinking about you, thinking how one month from this very hour we will be holding you for the first time. I am thinking about you because this week is a landmark for our family – one which we have worked hard for, almost since we first heard of you.

When your brother and your sister were where you are now I used to write to them. With Jacob I wrote often. It was my therapy. Pregnancy is distracting for a first-time mom. With Meredith I wrote a few times, but not so much because I needed it for me. I just wanted to say things to her. With you… Well, little boy, I thought I’d write to you, too. And I did, once. This is what I wrote:

28 Sep 14, 7:00 a.m. Dear Baby,

I am pretty sure you are real because of this headache that intruded through my sleep all night and hasn’t left with the morning. I am pretty sure you are real because of the gassy belly and the sleepy fatigue and the Stupid Factor. I melted my favorite plastic lid all over bread dough on Saturday. I am pretty sure you are real even though the early-response pregnancy test I took yesterday was negative. I’ll try again in a few more days, especially if this headache doesn’t give it a rest. I hope I’m right and I just have to say for now: I love you.

Love,
Mommy

And that was all. I was surprised just now to find that I’d never gone back to that document to say more along the way. I’ve thought a lot and perhaps those things will all seep into these first letters I write you this summer as we get to know each other.

For now, though, about that landmark: This week we are moving into our new house. This is uniquely momentous for us because it feels not just like changing homes but like achieving home. I have not felt as though we have had “home” for several months now. We bounce back and forth between two up-ended dwellings. On almost every level, we’ve suspended those things that we think of as “life” since Christmas when we began renovating a house for us to live in. We thought it would take less time, absorb us less drastically, be completed sooner and more completely. So as I’ve carted pillows and blankets back and forth, and sometimes the sleeping toddlers that belong to them, too; as I’ve fed my family hummus and crackers on paper napkins and washed them up with baby wipes for who knows how many meals; as I’ve missed the days of setting a table to welcome friends to it and the rhythm of waking to the same basic human necessities every morning, working a few hours and sitting down satisfied by 10:00 to read story books with the house in order, clean and peaceful…. As I’ve done all of this I’ve been waiting. Working and waiting, like a marathon that isn’t over yet. Maybe like a marathon that isn’t over yet and that keeps having its mileage reset. Maybe like a marathon that you run when you’re pregnant, which is inadvisable, to say the least.

I’ve been waiting for home, waiting for you, waiting for that magical moment when where we belong and how we live looks like what we love again. When I don’t clarify every sentence to Jacob & Meredith with an adjective: “Old house? or New house?” This week we get to move into our new house. We will tape plastic over the stairway leading to the incomplete basement and we will adjust to life at home, and to the beautiful reality that we actually have “home” again. I don’t think I would ever be able to verbalize how deeply I am craving that peace and calm and beauty. Maybe someday you will have a wife and she will be pregnant and then you can imagine what it is we did the year you were born and how it would’ve felt and then maybe you’ll know.

One day this spring a house on Nancy Street triggered a long train of thought for me. I was walking with Meredith in the stroller, carrying lunch from our “Old House” to our “New House” to share with Daddy & Jacob. At Merry’s request, I was singing, and it was her song: Shall We Gather At the River. As I admired this one house and imagined the pride its owners take in the work they’ve done to make it lovely (I know about this work now) I was singing “Soon we’ll reach the shining river. Soon our pilgrimage will cease.”

I’d never heard those words quite so loudly before. For many years I’ve thought of the nature of the Christian life as pilgrimage. As journey, to be perfectly cliche. I published an album of piano music five years ago and it was subtitled “Meditations of Hopeful Christian Pilgrim.” Pilgrimage is all I know of life. Not being there yet. It’s the way we experience God. The way we experience reality. It is about longing and waiting and trudging. In the best days, hoping. It is a good concept, and I think it’s easy to think it’s all there is.

But there’s this thing called “Home” too. It’s that thing that gripped my imagination as a deeply struggling college student just before Daddy & I met. I held tight to it: “There shall I find a settled rest while others go and come. No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Those words were my mantra for a long time and I pressed so much out of that elusive idea of “home” and what it could possibly mean. I was only beginning to learn it then, mostly learning that I didn’t know, and I suspect I’m still only beginning.

The reality is, there is a destination for this pilgrimage – a reality we are hoping towards. Pilgrimage, as good and noble as it is, as much as we name it a good thing and define our Christian experience by it – it will be done someday. It will cease.

I get lost in my head thinking about that.

Pilgrimage, done. Home, attained.

I have no category for that.

But maybe now I do, now on the eve of rooting ourselves into this new space and re-establishing the life we’ve suspended for so many months. I can see how attaining home and retiring pilgrimage is just what a soul most wants. I haven’t stopped pondering this in these crazy months, and last night as Jacob & Meredith & I took our first walk in our new neighborhood, leaving the house with bike and stroller just long enough to wander a few blocks and wander back, that purposeless activity we call “taking a walk…” As we walked I thought of Bilbo & Frodo and There And Back Again and how I want my children to experience these things – both pilgrimage and home.

This week we are going home, not just going home, but attaining home. Achieving it. Creating it. And I’m thankful that it’s becoming a reality before you arrive. Next month we’ll bring you home and hopefully the chaos that we’ve experienced since we first heard your heartbeat will be a story to tell – our history, but not our present anymore. But that story is another story for another month.

I love you.

Love,
Mommy

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The Boy with Dirt on Him

My three-year old son found a flyer on the arm of our couch when he came downstairs from his quiet time this afternoon. I’d just finished a day of meetings for a new chapter of a non-profit we are investing ourselves in. Staring back at my son was a beautiful face of a boy not much older than himself. He couldn’t read the words on the flyer: “I need help.” But he read the face. I was in the kitchen and heard him remark, “This boy has dirt on him. And he sounds like he is sad.” Leave it to a three-year-old to hear the sound of a face. I asked him “Do you think we should help him if he is sad?” I was a little surprised when he responded “No, we shouldn’t” in his signature full-sentence way. “But if we don’t help him, who do you think could help him?” I replied. “His mom,” he nodded, looking at me out from under his big eyelids like he was thinking, “Mom. Obviously.”

My sweet boy doesn’t understand yet that sometimes it is more complicated than this. It made me so thankful in that moment that my kids know it’s obvious that if you’re sad, Mom can fix it. But that’s not all I want them to know. I want them to grow up living like the kingdom of heaven, and in the kingdom of heaven (here on earth) sometimes there is sadness that moms can’t fix. There are widows and orphans, and one thoughtful friend of mine suggested that single moms are the widows of our culture. These single moms, so often without a support network or a safety net of any sort, often find themselves in crisis. These orphans-of-a-fashion often have dirt on them and sound like they are sad. Jesus calls us to give ourselves to them, and I want my kids to grow up thinking that this is what Christians do. (“Mom. Obviously.”) Christians love the unloved and show mercy to the down-trodden.

Today was a whirlwind. I got up at 5:30 to prepare for a day that had been months in the making, a day when we’d finally pick up some momentum with the beginning of our town’s very own chapter of Safe Families for Children. Today I gathered a dozen people from almost a dozen churches and listened as the director of the Indianapolis chapter captured their imaginations – even their affections – for this work that she and I both care so much about. I went into this day with some misgivings and fears of my own. But from the first moments, it unfolded with that kind of perfection that God demonstrates in those times when nothing less will get the job done. To begin with, I got out of the shower and turned to Pandora to give me a few moments of worship and peace while I got ready for the day. Five songs in a row stunned me with the tender perfection of God’s watching over me, but the first one captured every bit of what my soul has looked like these last couple months as I’ve begun this work. I got out of bed this morning expecting by the end of it I may’ve come clean with the director overseeing our work that I wanted to take a step (or three) back. Twenty minutes later God might as well have looked me in the eye and said, “This is my work, and I gave it to you, and I will do it.” I’ve prayed the last few weeks that someone would come forward and catch my vision and say “Here, honey, you have your hands full enough. Let me.” The irony is, that’s what I felt God saying. But by the end of the day, half a dozen others had said as much themselves. But I had to hear it from God first to re-orient my heart: I can do this, because it is not my work.

My heart is so proud. My mind is so unfocused.
I see the things You do through me as great things I have done.
And now You gently break me, then lovingly You take me
And hold me as my father and mold me as my maker.

I ask you: “How many times will you pick me up,
When I keep on letting you down?
And each time I will fall short of Your glory,
How far will forgiveness abound?”
And You answer: “My child, I love you.
And as long as you’re seeking My face,
You’ll walk in the power of My daily sufficient grace.”

At times I may grow weak and feel a bit discouraged,
Knowing that someone, somewhere could do a better job.
For who am I to serve You? I know I don’t deserve You.
And that’s the part that burns in my heart and keeps me hanging on.

You are so patient with me, Lord.

As I walk with You, I’m learning what Your grace really means.
The price that I could never pay was paid at Calvary.
So, instead of trying to repay You, I’m learning to simply obey You
By giving up my life to you For all that You’ve given to me.

–Laura Story, “Grace”

The day unfolded from there with perfection. I told my husband tonight that it was like for months I labored in this garden, doubting, discouraged, lonely, even anxious. I was beginning to think nothing was going to poke through from the seeds I was planting and watering and watching and picking at obsessively, and perhaps it was time to try again another year. And then, today. Today the seeds sprouted and grew seven feet tall before my wondering eyes. If my work was to plant a garden here in this town, I feel like my work is done.

It’s not done, though, and there is now as much to do as there is when your garden is full of seven-foot-tall plants. But now I have a team that God has built, saying “Tell us what to do!” So we begin together. I reflected on the sheer energy and enormous number of man-hours that went into this day. Not only the scores of preliminary hours of the last few months of my life, but the dozen other people that gathered today and the two babysitters who took care of my kids and the “bestie” who met me in town to drive my second car back home since I’d left it parked there in my haste to move from one meeting to the next this morning. So many people pouring out their time and their love and we haven’t even really launched this work. We haven’t cleaned any of that dirt off that little boy or made him any less sad or even met him. But already, it takes an army of us.

It’s humbling, this work that God gives us. He gives it to us not to fix a person or save a life even, though of course that is what we are eager to see as a result of loving in Jesus’ name. He gives it to us because this is what the kingdom of heaven looks like, and we are the kingdom of heaven. It is his work, because it is his world that he wants to be this way – brokenness met by his body. So we say yes, and we busy ourselves like so many worker-bees, doing the monumental business of babysitting each other’s kids and sitting over noodles. And God is pleased. We plant and we water and suddenly there it is: a plant.

If you have never heard of Safe Families for Children, you should start here and here.

Wind the Clock Back

Have you ever reached a place where you just want to wind the clock back and have a big do-over? Maybe you only want to wind it back five minutes because you just snapped at your kids. Maybe you’re wishing for a month or two or maybe a lifetime. Sometimes regret or disappointment just wash over you. But you would never think to ask God for that because you know it’s not realistic. You know he binds up broken things and strengthens feeble things and forgives all kinds of things, but God hasn’t been in the business of winding clocks back lately.

I was driving to pick up my husband from school this morning and had the kids’ Big Picture Story Bible CD playing on the stereo. The simple words felt profound: “The hours passed very slowly. Jesus’ friends cried. They had thought he was the king. But now their hearts were filled with sorrow, and their minds were filled with fear. ‘What happened?’ ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ ‘Wasn’t Jesus God’s forever king?’ The questions kept coming until the next day turned into night. As Jesus’ followers tried to sleep, they thought, ‘We will be sad forever.'”

I am guessing that Jesus’ friends were wishing to wind the clocks back after he’d been laid in the tomb. I doubt it occurred to them to ask, any more than it occurs to us. Dead people don’t come to life again. You move on. But then suddenly there was Jesus, standing there with them. “The sadness they had felt was gone. Their hearts were glad again. Jesus was alive. Jesus really was alive. Jesus was risen from the dead.” You could say he wound the clock back, but it’d be more accurate to say he did far more than that, since in conquering death once he conquered it permanently, and now we live in this world where we don’t need clocks to go back because in having Christ, and in him the power of the resurrection, we have enough.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. –Ephesians