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.

Six

Chuckling this morning as I reflect on last week and how our whole world erupted.

“Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”

We love the Sabbath, though it’s been a concept we’ve struggled with a lot since our profession and even our calling within the Body of Christ has us anywhere from busy to frenzied on Sundays. But still, we’ve found a rhythm that works at present, that’s true to the spirit both of Sabbath and of Feast Day, that gives us the space to look back on six days to pronounce it good and that heals us and restores us for the next six days.

So then I thought about six again, since it’s been six years since we launched this epic marriage thing. I’m not sure what else to call it right now, because “thing” is about as true a description as I can find right now, and because it has felt epic thus far, not even on the surface (moves, degrees, babies, houses, travels) but simmering underneath, too, slowly developing us toward an ever-elusive finished product. So I use the word “epic” in a more literary sense than usual.

Anyway, it feels these days like perhaps our six years so far have brought us to the brink of a Sabbath, like a bit of punctuation. We’ve intentionally claimed this year as a chance to heal, to explore and learn and practice self-care. We are completely exhausted, and I use that word in its rather scientific sense: there is not much left of us. Of me, of him, or of us. So it’s nice to imagine – hopeful, and maybe not just a dream but an intention we’re already beginning to attain – that this seventh year will be a Sabbath, to say “Very Good” and to rest for what lies ahead.

And most of all to celebrate victory: Resurrection and its unavoidable framework. (“Behold! New Creation!”)

Sunday was yesterday, and it was not what we’ve come to know as a Sunday. After years of chaos and making do we finally have this weird but perfect niche involving two different congregations and a lot of quiet family time. We are happy. It is working. But this week, oh.

Every circle that we exist in called on us this week.

The funny thing was, it wasn’t just Sunday that was bad. This whole week was hilariously full, but only hilarious because it was reminiscent of a lifestyle we have rejected and replaced. I thought this on Saturday night as we were arriving home from the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. on our anniversary: Today we did at least eight things, any of which would have been enough for a day’s events for me in this new healthy finitude we’re trying on for size. But this day with its at least eight things was our daily pace all of last year.

No wonder we both feel traumatized.

I thought about journaling the events that made this weekend hilarious yesterday. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to do a ninth thing yesterday. (Same reason we have still not sent our already-written Christmas 2015 letter.) But today I’m still inclined to journal, still finding it hilarious, still feeling like I could benefit from my catharsis-of-choice (writing). So here is the tale of that week that marked six years of marriage in a fitting frenzy of Everything.

Monday night (after Mike’s weekly 6:00 p.m. class period) friends came to watch a movie on our couch while our kids slept and we attended a dress rehearsal for an upcoming school event. The organ department puts on a choral program every year at this time and I’ve enjoyed jumping into the fray the last few years, not only singing but reading (and in the case of this year, selecting) selections of poetry to punctuate the music and propel the program. We go to bed by 9:00 most nights these days. We weren’t home till well after 10:00 Monday night.

Tuesday night Mike had a church committee meeting that had me flying solo on bedtime. Tuesday I spent most of the day at the library with the kids, coming home to fix a dinner which Meredith barely touched, complaining that she felt like she was going to throw up. Stubbornly resolute, I did not cancel my Wednesday morning coffee date with a precious new friend, and enjoyed leaving the house before sunrise when I woke up to discover that morning had come without puke. But of course when I glanced at my phone as my friend left for her work day I saw the text from Mike: “Merry just threw up.”

Of course she did.

But it wasn’t an ordeal. (Any parent who knows childhood puke knows this is always a lie to some degree.) She was eating and bouncing off the walls almost immediately, and it was clear that whatever had been wrong had sorted itself out, and was probably exacerbated by a very empty stomach. So she watched a movie and ate yogurt and had a bath and then we carried on with a normal day, thankful. I think “stomach flu” just felt it deserved a place in our line-up of events for the week. Ya know, since we were including everything.

Thursday I put away my chores when Mike got home from school and left him to put the kids in front of a movie while I got out for a run on a magnificently warm February 4. During my first mile I tripped on a curb as I was looking over my shoulder at an approaching car and I hurt my foot really badly.

Of course I did.

I stopped and waited to see how it felt, started walking again, and the endorphins (and Jon Foreman) took over from there and I literally forgot about the whole thing. Two miles later I was home, very late to put dinner in the oven. I raced around the kitchen, sweaty, chopping vegetables to roast, and had to speed it up even more when Mike told me that he’d need to leave twenty minutes early for choir practice. Again with the solo bedtimes… As I finally sat to eat I realized my foot was bothering me, and by the time I remembered what had happened it was hurting so bad I almost couldn’t walk on it. I hobbled through bedtime and got a shower just in time to leave for an 8:30 pub conversation hosted by my church, which I was really invested in listening to. Again, 8:30 is my bedtime. I went to bed at midnight after forty-five oblivious minutes of conversation with one of my dearest friends in the parking lot of her apartment and a return home to the discovery that Mike had tried to call me thirteen times to say that Joshua was flipping out. Usually a pretty awesome night sleeper, he thought this would be a good week for feeding three times a night.

Of course he did.

Friday as everything that had been looming began to actually transpire I found myself unable to think more than ten minutes ahead, just methodically triaging one thing after another all day, a day which happened to include last-minute Japanese food with an out-of-town visitor before a 2:00 p.m. massage. (I’m trying to eradicate migraines, and this seems to be working.) By the time I was home from that there was just enough time to abandon my strata menu plans in favor of quick quesadillas and sit at the dining room table putting on make-up for the concert while Jacob & Merry worked on their Valentines. The massage had left my hair a greasy mess, which I only noticed after I’d painted on a full face of make-up, so I had to get creative. We left the kids at 6:15 after a quick bedtime and Mike dropped me off (I still could barely put weight on my foot) for the concert and went to park. The concert was beautiful and a delightful success. I’m not saying the things our week was full of weren’t good things. (Well, except for the foot injury. But again, this week needed to represent all our major life themes.)

There was that funny moment late on Friday as we were snarfing quesadillas and donning concert black when Mike said “I’m guessing this is not the right time to let you know that I have practice time tomorrow morning in the concert hall from 8:00 to 8:45 for that radio broadcast next week…”

Of course you do.

Ironically, I’d managed to think ahead more than ten minutes that afternoon to realize that I could kick off our anniversary with breakfast in bed.

I did it anyway, launching The Craziest Anniversary Ever. At 6:30 Mike jumped in the shower and I pulled on my robe and slippers and mixed up pancakes and broiled grapefruit in our filthy kitchen. We had just enough time to enjoy it by candlelight on our bed before the kids arrived, groggy and curious, and reminded us just how many years it had been since a similar breakfast in a tiny carriage house in Stillwater, Minnesota. And then Mike was off to practice and I went into Beast Mode, cleaning the kitchen thoroughly and getting the household’s day begun before he returned. Because looming at the end of the Tunnel of Crazy was the nagging knowledge that we were hosting a party on Sunday night.

Of course we were.

We spent two beautiful, quiet, slow hours at an art museum while our friend watched the kids and then had a fantastic lunch and a piece of chocolate cake at a foodie cafe in our neighborhood. We spent lunch planning the menu for the party we were throwing.

We returned home around 1:30 and Mike went to prepare for Sunday and I did some more chores and lay down to nurse an inkling of a migraine until my friend arrived with her kids for our bi-weekly meeting. The ladies chatted upstairs and the kids raised hell downstairs, and I ran referee a lot and tried to contribute to the grown-up conversation a little. These Saturday afternoons are good, a lovely instance of mutual love and true community, and they are perhaps the most exhausting thing in my world right now. I always want to sleep for two days when they are finished.

When that was finished we made dinner for the kids and read them a few stories (as a good-faith pledge that we still loved them despite appearances) and then the next babysitter arrived and we left for a little more celebrating, talking long, really knowing each other for a change, and laughing over calzones and cheesecake and red wine, stopping at the mall just long enough to remember how much we hate it and how well James K. A. Smith has ruined it for us, and winding up our crazy day with a trip to buy the groceries we’d planned for at lunch. Who goes grocery shopping at 9:30 the night before the Super Bowl?! Answer: Everybody. (Except everybody who went earlier than that and bought up All The Things.) Oops.

The convergence of school, anniversary, stomach bug, and church #1 wasn’t all: It was also Transfiguration Sunday, which I only realized in dismay after having agreed to spend the morning at a large non-denominational church in town, helping to represent the non-profit I helped to launch in our community last year. Transfiguration Sunday is a big deal to me, personally, spiritually, especially during a year when I am craving Lent as I am. When I realized I would miss that liturgy I was really bummed. So of course when I saw a way to do both by taking the assignment at the west campus instead of the east campus (a shorter time-commitment) I jumped at it like any crazy person would. So I ran the usual lean-mean-Sunday-morning-machine and got us all out the door for church by 8:00. I even made myself a thermos of coffee. Needs no explanation. Of course, Merry picked this morning to have an epic attitude problem which colored the whole thing with stress and frustration and seething under the surface. Still, we made it through church, sneaking out early and breaking speed limits across town to arrive late to set up for my non-profit work. Our surrogate Grandpa arrived with his teenagers to take Merry & Jacob off my hands, and as I unloaded them from one car to another my full thermos of moderately-warm coffee quietly poured in its entirety into my open diaper bag.

Of course it did.

I’ll leave the tale of the church I visited untold, since it is not one I will forget and since it bears no public telling, in the name of charity and unity. I’ll leave it at this: Sometimes, I thought to myself, you have that annoying and embarrassing cousin; the one you wonder how you could possibly be related to. But that cousin is as much a part of the family as you are and you don’t have to be friends but you do have to be nice and you can’t pretend they don’t belong. And that is all I’ll say on this occasion regarding the staggering diversity of the Body of Christ.

I went home and had a quiet moment to walk around the block alone with Joshua and listen to the birds sing and feel the strangely warm spring. (Today it’s snowing as I write, but it’s early February so that’s as it should be.) I left the diaper bag full of coffee in the car (It’s still there.) and went inside to put Joshua down for his nap and prepare the evening party.

Because this wasn’t an ordinary Sunday: It being Transfiguration, it’d been chosen for a Worship Arts Series concert: an Evensong led by Mike. He’d frantically, thoroughly, systematically prepared every facet of it through the weeks leading up to it, and bribed singers into spending their afternoon donating their time and skill with promises of gin and tonics at the end. Hence the absurd throwing of a party the day after our anniversary.

Hannah came to be our lovely Joshua-sitter. (Steve still had Jacob & Merry) and she spent the afternoon with us, talking deep as we always do, and helping me make Spinach Dip and salsa, laughing with me as I squeezed a lime straight down the sink instead of into the mixing bowl, absent-minded and indicative of the state of my brain and psyche.

In the end, the Evensong went off beautifully and the house was tidy and the oven turned itself on at 4:30 to bake the dips while we were singing, and then we came home and laughed and talked and sipped gin & tonic with colleagues and friends for several hours at the end of Everything. And thanks to the simple finger food and disposable plates the house was still clean when we went to bed even though we did forget to set out the trash and recycling for pick-up.

I think I’m going to give up Everything for Lent.

The Dignity of the Ordinary and Adequate

I’ve had the germ of an essay bouncing around inside my brain for over a year now. The seed was planted as I wandered the streets of the medieval town of Aix-en-Provence last August, noticing the difference in lifestyle of morning markets and corner boulangeries; the humble beauty of a life in which one’s daily business is not much more than one’s daily bread.

This is not that essay. When it finally germinates and sprouts and grows into something it’d better be good, because I am expecting a lot out of it. Ya know, since it’s taken a year and counting.

But for now, the teaser. A marker of sorts, of a day when I especially noticed how I’m living this Ordinary and Adequate, and how sometimes there’s really no room for anything else. It was this morning: Jacob had thrown up immediately after waking up. Now bathed and hungry four hours later, I was literally watching myself get juggled around my house, and every little bit of it had to do with bodily needs: All in the same instant Jacob needed yogurt, Joshua needed a diaper, and Merry needed her hair washed before she got out of the bath. It was tricky to know which should come first. The puddle of pee on the nursery floor was still there from thirty minutes ago but that was obviously not important.

It was a remarkably ordinary moment. It was full to the brim but nothing unmanageable so long as I kept my wits and wisdom to handle the triage feel of it effectively. But all this work to achieve mere adequacy is exhausting. We’ve had three separate puking incidents (four if you count the week Merry had it Wednesday and Jacob & I had it over the weekend as two separate occasions) in just over a month. Let’s just say I’m gun-shy now. I just expect puke every day. And pretty much every evening by dinner time I feel awful and weak and exhausted, and I arrive at the conclusion that tonight will be the night when I finally puke my own guts out all night.

I always turn out wrong, waking up the next morning wondrously thankful to be wrong again. I’m beginning to think the issue is just that by 5:00 p.m. I’m straight-up bone tired from a day of nothing more than running triage on a house full of body needs. Using up my body for their bodies, to the point that I think I’m literally ill by the end of every day, only to realize that I’m actually probably just hungry. There are heart needs to meet, too, and those are exhausting in a different way. But these days it’s an awful lot of manual labor and an awful lot of laundry, so much so that a “night off” has come to mean those evenings when all I have to do is sit on the couch and fold laundry and watch Netflix.

It’s a good thing I’ve come to see dignity and beauty in all this humanness, because on days like today when I am watching it juggle me around my house like a set of circus balls it’s good to feel satisfied that what I’m doing is enough. I’m unemployed, barely tapping into my professional skills, and empty of any grand notions of changing the world. (It’s also possible that I’m un-showered and wearing yoga pants.)

Maybe the world doesn’t need an endless procession of world-changers aware of their own unique awesomeness and ambitious to make their mark as much as it needs humans, aware that the business of being human, waking up each day to pray and work for daily bread, is not only adequate and enough, but just about as good, true, and beautiful as anything can be.

Now to finish that laundry and check on the coughing I hear that might be puking.

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.

Happy Birthday to Me

or Real Life Is All about Re-Allocation.

For my birthday, Jacob gave me an uninterrupted night of sleep and a 5:30 wake-up time, which means instead of going back to bed after feeding him, I’m up for the morning and setting out to break blogger rules by posting a whole handful of things I’ve been musing lately.

For my birthday, Mike’s giving me a required doctoral organ recital he must attend at 5:00 p.m., and a sweet family I’ve just met is giving me childcare, which means I’m actually going on a date with my sweetie tonight for the first time since we moved to Indiana. Ohmygoodness.

Anyway.

Last year I knew I was an adult when I spent my birthday money on groceries for the week.

That’s kid stuff.

THIS YEAR I know I’m an adult because I gave myself my birthday money and then spent it on last month’s groceries. All I wanted for my birthday was a $0 balance on our credit cards, groaning under the weight of a cross-country move and a summer of unemployment. So we wrote ourselves a check from our investment account and paid down our credit cards.

Oh, and did I mention I got a beautiful Yamaha piano for my birthday too? Yeah, that was money in our investment account, too. We had to scrape things around from here to there and back again to come up with that cash, which meant we waited several weeks to go get the piano after we’d set our hearts on it. A little Craigslist beauty in the hills north of Kentucky, bought almost-new from a university for a young daughter and barely touched for 18 years. Ours now, and looks brand new. Glitch after glitch forced us to wait till this week to get it, and some more birthday money I happen to know is on its way is going toward a tuning on Monday. I can hardly wait. Giddy doesn’t begin to describe it. Deep joy and anticipation, more like. I feel my soul seeping back into me, just contemplating the hymns I’ll play on that thing again.

What I’m learning at the outset of this adventure called Being an Adult is that real life is all about re-allocation. I’ve learned a big important lesson about wealth this year. I’d say we have it. But as I was struggling to balance numbers on my spreadsheet late this summer I’d keep having to close the books till the pit in my stomach settled. The numbers in the investment account, gift from a generous grandma, which in our dreams we’d earmarked for part of a down payment on a house someday, were getting smaller and smaller. I wrestled with feeling guilty that it was nearly gone, feeling despair that we’d gone and spent so much.

I prayed.

Sometimes.

Not very often.

And then one day it hit me: Wealth is not numbers on a page and a chunk of cash is merely a representation of wealth, not wealth itself. Meaningless, really, without our assignment of personal value to it. The thing I realized is that we’re still very much in possession of most of what we’ve spent this summer: A few essential pieces of furniture making our new home comfortable, functional, beautiful, and welcoming to our friends. A pipe organ. A beautiful piano. Those things are worth more in personal value than what we spent on them, and the truth is that both of the musical instruments, if we sold them for their real value, would give us a 200% return-on-investment. At least.

God has been generous to us and looking at numbers on a page to assess how we’re doing is childishness. I’ve got what I wanted for my birthday and more besides: A few minutes rocking my sleeping boy, a date night with the love of my life, the most beautiful Yamaha piano I could’ve imagined owning, and, well, an almost-zero balance on those credit cards. Sure, none of it is new wealth, but in re-allocating it I’d say we’ve made ourselves richer.

We grasped onto this verse when we read it about 6 weeks before we were married and it has shaped our thinking:

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. –Proverbs 24:3-4, ESV