Friday, July 26, 2013

Grace Goes on a Family Vacation (And Lives to Tell About It)

I just got back from vacation.

(Insert maniacal laugh here).

I have 2 bee stings, traveled over 700 miles with 2 children under the age of 3, and submitted myself to at least 4 hours of crying. I swear my trusty old SUV is still shaking in our garage after withstanding an emergency side-of-the-road potty break, five spilled drinks, and those DVD-player-just-died tantrums.

My eyes are sunken. My hair is windblown and frayed. (And its not in the beach-beauty kind of way, but in the 'I just stuck five fingers in a family vacation light socket' way.)

I know, I know. I shouldn't be complaining. This is a first-world problem. I just got back from vacation. 

But in all fairness, the prophet Paul who wrote Philippians 2:14 to remind us that we should do everything without grumbling or complaining didn't have children or a spouse. (OMG, did she just say that?) Yes. It's been that kind of day.

But if you've read the Huffington Post blog on "The Real Reason Parents are Always Tired", you may have a very clear picture of how I feel right now. If not, here's the truth.

Even though there is still Lake Chelan sand in the bottom of my diaper bag and a fuzzy layer of dust on my cowboy boots, (we spent our final vacation days at the family farm)-- I cannot say I feel rested. I cannot say I feel grateful. I cannot say I feel like a very good Christian.

Like there is such a thing. 

Instead, I feel zapped. Zonked. Empty. Cranky. And Desperately in need of wine.

And this makes me seem spoiled and just as bratty as any two-year-old. I wish I was one of those people who could take the highs and lows of raising little children with grace. Especially when those highs and lows take place in some of the most beautiful places in the country. But instead I feel graceless.

And I realize that that word grace runs through my fingers like water. I can't fully grasp it. And yet, I can't help but thirst for it.

Like a moth to a flame.

I know I need to burn my hard heart into soft wax, but I'm not there. I have read Give Them Grace, Grace-Based Parenting, Loving the Little Years, and am currently downing Glimpses of Grace.

So I know Jesus wants me to "get" this word, because he keeps leading me to it. But he can't make this horse drink. I know understanding and implementing grace means the difference between accepting my lot and flourishing amid a whole lot- but I'm not getting it.

I keep reading, but not digesting. I keep pouring it in, so why isn't it coming out? Or is it?

Above all irritation and inconvenience, I deeply love my family. Even in moments of fever pitch, I desperately love my husband. I love being able to have places to escape to when the beautiful weather in Washington State really shows itself off. And I hope I get to spend many years continuing to do so.

However, tonight I am fighting the urge to sleep on the couch. Or in a tree in the backyard. Or just walk and walk and walk until I get lost. Or found. Or at least feel something other than cheerios under my feet and anger sitting on the tip of my bitten tongue.

And it's these kinds of moments that I have to write. I need to anchor this unbridled temptation to tear myself away. I need to fend off the urge to separate and replace it with the glue of fellowship.


I know that's a Christian word. It's also one that can seem so very, well, mundane. Like a musty-smelling church hymnal that seems to sigh in boredom every time you crack its spine- fellowship is one of those words that have lost its weight with me. I don’t usually use it. Unless, I mean it.

And tonight, surprisingly, I do.

Isn't that a word reserved for church? Can it really apply to your family? Yes, fellowship is family. Whether you share blood or not.

And inconvenience is just one way the enemy likes to cut links in your family chain.That desire to remove yourself from the pot when the water gets too hot is a sneaky way of removing yourself from the soup of surrender.

Sometimes fellowship seems like a whisper in the middle of a thousand screams. I know it seems like a very thin veil when what you really want is a bullet proof vest.

But even when seeking fellowship with your family in the middle of discord may not seem like it's enough, it totally is.

Because you see, what I'm learning (when I can hear myself think for a few minutes)-- is that this family of mine; this crazy, some-days-I-want-to-run-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool, family-- gives me life. And life abundantly.

I never wonder what I am doing with the days I have been given. I know. I am molding little hearts.

And in the process of softening theirs, I am forced to throw mine in the blender.

So while a family vacation with a 3-month old and a strong-willed toddler isn't something I would recommend for the faint of heart, I will say that grace is found in the fellowship somewhere if you look hard enough.

It's found when you finally tuck your babies into their own beds upon return. It's found when you rifle through days of mail and get wedding invitations and thank you cards. It's found when you inhale the smell of your own clean sheets. It's there when your daughter rolls over for the first time while you’re unpacking and your son whispers Jesus’ name for the first time during his night time prayers.  

It's found when you realize the people you all of a sudden miss the most are in the rooms next to you. And then it dawns on me: those same people you envisioned strangling with your seat-belt or at least throwing yourself out of a moving vehicle to escape from- are no longer your moving targets.

Grace has moved me to the bulls-eye.

So I am going to go crawl into the empty space next to my husband. Because in this place of absolute exhaustion- even when I still can't seem to sort out my tangled bundle of strung-out nerves, I have found one thing to be true: grace isn't gone. She's been here this whole time.

Grace is the glue that’s holding this family together. And suddenly I realize that maybe I don’t have to get grace, she just shows up when the cracks begin to show.

So tired that I may be sleeping in my swimsuit tonight,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lost in the Brambles: Loving Our Little Prodigals

 If you have had any experience with the church you may have been exposed to a little thing we Christians call, sharing your testimony.

Much like being a keynote speaker for some of the most unattractive aspects of your own life, this open expression usually includes a series of moments when people reveal how far they fell before they came to know God. Very rarely does it not include some sordid details- and I think this happens for a reason. God loves the broken. He loves to drink some of the best wine with the worst people.(Matthew 9:11-13)

And this makes me smile.

Let me tell you why. First, I am broken. Terribly broken. I had hairline fractures that turned into noticeable cracks that ultimately became canyons so wide they could only be filled with Christ. These very same places that used to pull me away from my faith now act as the tar that wholly heals up my holes and steadies my hobble. I still hobble. I will for the rest of my life.

So will my children.

I started to re-read Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick over the 4th of July holiday weekend. I read it when my son was 1, but realized it was a little soon. Obviously, we couldn't have long winded conversations about God's grace and our sinful motivations at that time because he couldn't even identify his own foot. Nowadays, I can apply some of her teachings a little better, but still not fully.

However, her chapter, Jesus Loves All His Little Prodigals and Pharisees caught me in my tracks. She basically speaks of two children groups: those who outwardly sin (prodigals) and those who inwardly sin (pharisees). Regardless, its all sin. Fitzpatrick puts it this way, 'We're all law-breaking rule haters.'

My daughter is only 3 months so I can't tell you what kind of sinner she is going to be- but I have a hunch she isn't going to be the outward one. My son at her age had already set the stage for his energetic nature- he hit the scene with a party-like persona which became evidenced in sleepless nights that turned into months which turned into lost fragments of a year I can't remember.

My son leans more towards being a Prodigal. OK, let me rephrase that. My son runs towards the path of the Prodigal while roaring like a lion at the top of his lungs. These are the types of kids that don't care what other people think when they are disobeying openly. These are the kids that throw tantrums about you giving them a box of apple juice when they just asked for a box of apple juice. These are the kids that demand your attention. Every day. Every minute.Whether that be through tears or uncontrollable laughter, these kids are either full speed or asleep. There isn't any in-between.

And so it is with his sinful nature. He is obvious about it. Sometimes he will even tell me that he ate "tandies" (candy) after I told him not to. He is open about his struggles and I hope I can have enough foresight encourage that. Not to turn him into a Pharisee that has a rule for how many M&M's it is OK to eat before it slides into sin. (Now sliding into a sugar high, that's a different story.)

But before you are tempted to believe that this is just a bitch-fest about my oft-times difficult son (and yes I did just use the B word), I want you to see clearly that this is not my intention. My intention is to prove why my son is the perfect candidate for a wild, crazy love affair with Jesus Christ.

Jesus loves the prodigals. The only times that Jesus would lose his cool was with the Pharisees- those who were hellbent (literally) on being good enough for God. These are quite often the kids who are well-mannered, but manipulative. Conversely, our children who tend to be more like the prodigals are God's favorite dinner companions. And while their lives may be more messy, more dramatic, and a lot less polished- they are the exact people that Jesus came to save and chose to share his meals, ministry and life with.

And this is where I see that I have failed.

I don't understand the Prodigal, because I am a Pharisee.

My son makes me uncomfortable when he throws tantrums in public, because I throw my tantrums in the private of my own mind-- like all good little girls do.

I just want well-behaved children who obey what I command. I want an easy life twisted around the pulsating vein of comfort.

Let me be frank, we need to love our children better. I need to love my children better.

We need to give ourselves over to the overwhelming task at hand of managing and nurturing personalities unlike ours with a wildly, outlandish grace-drenched love because that is the way God loves us. If we try to manipulate the outside we will only become a facade of faith- and no one will see something in our lives that looks any different than theirs or anything more enticing than the one they are living without Jesus.

Here we get a picture of how Jesus views clean-cut religious types who have all the right answers. You know the good little kids that know their place and recite Bible verses in their sleep but hearts are far from the truth? Jesus' rant goes like this in Matthew 23.

 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence."


Our children can become such idols. And their behavior can become marionette strings that we decidedly flick and pull in the direction of our choosing. But thank God for the Prodigals- the ones who will learn the hard way. The ones who will shake up our ideas of control. Blessed are the mothers who have children who march to their own drummer and who openly sin without feeling the need to impress. Those children are the ones that God finds great joy in welcoming into the fold.

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?", Matthew 18:12.

Of course He will. And with a huge smile on his face- even when he finds them tangled in the brambles of their own creation.

So here's what I plan to do. Confess my sin of wanting to be a Pharisee to my children and to myself often. To learn from the Prodigal that outward sin isn't worse sin- its the kind that God truly loves to wash away in the bloody beauty of his cross.

I plan to confess my sin to my children in moments of flared tempers and gritted teeth. And above all, "as parents, our only hope for our children's salvation lies in the rich mercy of a compassionate God and the atoning work of our perfect representative, Jesus Christ".

By grace,