Tag Archives: Christianity

My Heart Knows

originally posted in December 2011. 

Last night, I was singing to this boy, Jackson, at bedtime. I don’t often sing to them at bedtime any more.
Jacksoninbox

Sometimes we read. We hug and kiss. And we pray. Always, we pray. But I don’t often hold them and rock them and sing to them as I did when they were smaller.

But last night I did. I sang You Are My Sunshine and Jesus Loves Me.

And then I started in on Te-ell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue. And I will tell you just why I love you. 

Jackson leaned in closer against me and started humming along, singing a word every line or two. As I finished, I do be-lee-eve that God above created you for me to love. He picked you out from all the rest. Because God made you, I lo-ove you best, Jackson sighed and smiled up at me.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words, he said.

Tears sprang to my eyes. All the nights of holding a baby Jackson, whisper-singing that song to his tiny ears. All the nights of standing over a crib, patting his back, hushing his cries with this song. The naptimes I held his chubby toddler body and sang about God making the blue ocean and the climbing, twining ivy. The nights I cuddled in next to his preschool body, worn out from running and climbing and playing with his brothers, and I sang this song. All of that. All of it settled its way into his heart.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

Sometimes I feel that way about God. My heart, my soul responds to his song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

I see a beautiful sunset or the shadow of birds flying over a lake. I watch ducks bobbing along on the choppy water and feel the wind tickling my hair around my red cheeks. I sense His protection as that 18-wheeler swerves back into his own lane and the accident is narrowly averted. I sing that old hymn asking Him to bind my wandering heart to Him. I read a Psalm reminding me that I cannot flee from the Lord. I taste a juicy clementine. I see the redbuds blooming on the mountainside. I wake to my children’s giggles that turn to roaring laughter.

And my heart leans in closer to Him. Snuggles up against His side. And I hum along, unable to put it all in words.

My brain may not comprehend it all. I can’t explain it all in logical, scientific words. I can’t even explain it all in long, multisyllabic theological words.

But my heart knows this song. My whole life, my Father has been singing over me. And His song has settled its way deep into my heart.

Some days or weeks or months, I rush about or busy myself or go my own way. I don’t slow down and take time to sit with Him and listen to Him or maybe I even avoid Him, preferring to do my own thing for a while.

But when I finally do stop and listen, my heart sighs and leans in to the familiar tune. My heart knows that song.

Do you hear it? Does your heart respond? Do you lean in a little bit closer to Him? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fat, Fat Christian

Flashback Friday. I wrote this in October of 2007. 

We have become spiritual consumers. Perhaps we have become so steeped in the notion that we are consumers in all areas of our society, that it was inevitable for it to invade our spirituality. Nevertheless, we have become spiritual consumers.

 

Just look at your local Christian bookstore. Not only can we buy Bible studies on every facet of our lives, but we can buy Christian fiction that reinforces the things we learn in our non-fiction Bible study and self-help books. We can buy coffee table books with artwork based on scripture. We can buy t-shirts with our favorite Bible verse emblazoned on them. And we can buy every sort of Bible imaginable — old-fashioned translations, modern translations, hip paraphrases, the Bible in a sing-songy poem for our children, and the Bible in a magazine format for our teenagers. We can buy Bibles in soft leather, pastel suede with pretty butterflies in coordinating pastel suede, or in studious black hard leather that cracks to show how much it is used. As one missionary friend of mine said, we can even buy scratch ‘n sniff Bibles.

 

I’m not so sure about the scratch ‘n sniff, but it really is quite obnoxious how consumer-driven even the sale of the Bible has become. Especially when we consider that millions of people in the world don’t have one word of the Bible in their language, but that is for another posting on another day.

 

We gobble up books about our own spirituality and line our shelves with books about theology. We fill our iPods with music that expresses our spiritual beliefs and we fill convention centers to hear our favorite authors and musicians. We fill ourselves with teaching and exhortation and blessing. We consume, consume, consume.

 

We choose our church based on what we’ll get out of it. We tell our friends they have to come to this Bible study with us because we’re learning so much, getting so much. Rarely have I heard someone say, “I just love my church because I have so many opportunities to serve and give and spend myself for Christ.” Rarely have I heard someone say, “You must come to this Bible study with me. You have so much to offer there. It would be a great way for you to help groom someone else’s faith.”

 

No, we consume, consume, consume. Until we’re fat, fat babies, like that old song Amy Grant sang way back on one of her early albums. And to what end are we filling ourselves up?

 

My pastor said once that most of us are knowledgeable far beyond our obedience. We are hearers and studiers and even memorizers of the Word, but are we do-ers? Or do we just fill our minds with all sorts of knowledge — Greek meanings and cultural context and nifty facts? Do we hang up beautiful artwork from the Christian bookstore and listen to the latest Christian top-40 and wear the newest Christian slogan on our t-shirt? Or do we actually live out our knowledge? Do we obey that which we have learned?

 

And those of us who do not stoop to the base culture of wearing Christian t-shirts and hanging up pictures of the Last Supper can certainly quote C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias. We can tell you all about church history and debate 5-point Calvinism and describe the difference between a Zealot and an Essene. But do we put all this knowledge to good use?

 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with Beth Moore Bible studies and Women of Faith Conferences and books by Karen Kingsbury. I don’t think there is anything wrong with going to a Steven Curtis Chapman concert or buying the newest Casting Crowns CD. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Christian t-shirts or Thomas Kinkaide paintings or that cute mug with butterflies and flowers and a Bible verse painted on it. I just think we ought to be more than Christian consumers. I think that sometimes my stomach turns when I get a CBD catalog in the mail and see how commercialized my faith has become.

 

And, to be honest, I do get queasy thinking about a Purpose-Driven Life money clip or a WWJD day-planner. Somehow, I just don’t think God is all that impressed with all the Christian stuff we buy when we could be buying a slave’s freedom or buying an eleven year old out of a brothel or supporting a missionary who is translating the Bible into a language that didn’t even have an alphabet ten years ago. WWJD? I think Jesus would buy less bracelets and send more money to World Vision or International Justice Mission or New Tribes Mission.

 

So, for starters, I want to examine my heart — what is my attitude? my mindset? Am I consuming Christian culture the same way the world consumes secular culture? Am I fattening myself up with learning and exhortation just so I can be a spiritual couch potato, doing nobody else any good? Am I grooming my own faith just so I look good for the sake of looking good?

 

Or do I have a greater purpose in mind? Am I studying the Bible so that I can take that knowledge and go do something with it? Am I learning so that I can, in turn, teach others? Am I asking God to fill me so that my overflow can bless others? Or even better, am I trying to empty myself only to find God filling me as quickly as I pour myself out?

 

 

#TBT ~ Distraction

A ThrowBack Thursday post for you. I wrote this in October of 2007

soccer4This was just before a game, but it happened in the middle of games too. 

Soccer season is winding down. We’ve had four children playing for the past month. The girls play on a team on Mondays and Wednesdays and two of the boys play on a team on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those Tuesday, Thursday games are quite entertaining. Kindergarteners and First Graders. If you haven’t had a good laugh in a while, go watch 5 and 6 year olds play soccer.

Last night, I stood next to a mother and father and we laughed for most of the game. Some of the children spent more time rolling around on the ground than standing up playing. At one point, three kids kicked at the ball. They kicked each other, but none of them made contact with the ball. One little boy is fascinated with the chalk lines on the field. He spends the majority of each game walking the lines, stomping and watching the chalk fly. Occasionally, he bends over and rubs the chalk with his hands, covering his palms in white chalk. One little boy was standing on the sidelines, waiting for his turn in the game when the ball came near. Quickly, he ran on the field and picked up the ball with his hands. He was so excited to touch the ball that he completely forgot the rules, nevermind that he wasn’t even supposed to be playing at that moment.

 

soccer3It’s important to stop for teammate hugs in the middle of a game. 

It reminds me of my older son’s, Caleb’s, first season. He played defender, which really means he stood around near the goal and his coach hoped he wouldn’t do too much harm while a couple little boys actually played soccer around him. Caleb loved to play in the dirt. He dug so many holes in the field that first season it looked like a groundhog had made his home there. Ever the class-clown, Caleb also loved to make his teammates laugh. So he fell down often. On purpose. Just to get a laugh. His favorite part of every game, though, was to lift his jersey up over his face and wave his arms wildly while screaming, “Who turned out the lights?” It was a sure-fire way to make his teammate Max double over laughing. All while the opposing team was racing past them with the ball ready to score a goal any second. Max’s competitive parents weren’t Caleb’s biggest fans.

Watching these little kids get so totally distracted from the game can be very funny. It does make me laugh to see the goalie climbing the goal posts or waving to his sister when he should be ready to defend the goal. They are little and they’re still figuring out the game. Their distraction is cute sometimes.

silassoccertotal cuteness

But I’ve been thinking. I tend to face life and my relationship with God the same way these little guys play soccer. And it’s really not funny or cute at all.

I have a tendency to get distracted. I watch the sidelines; I watch the other players; I obsess over whether my teammates like me. I focus on something totally unimportant, like the dirt or the chalk. I don’t keep my head in the game, so to speak.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Paul maintained his focus. He pressed toward the goal. He didn’t stop to play in the dirt or compare himself to his teammates. He didn’t stop to wave to his mommy on the sidelines or stare at the big dog somebody’s dad brought to the game. Paul did not approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. (I know, it’s a very deep, profound, theological thought. It will probably shock you that I haven’t been to seminary.)

I don’t want to approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. I want to maintain my focus. I want to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to press toward the goal. I want to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) I want to press forward to maturity and perfection. I want to keep my focus on Christ’s Kingdom.

How about you?

 

 

Love – with all your broken, tattered heart, LOVE

This-is-my-command-LOVE

Jesus was pretty clear about what he wanted his followers to do — love God and love other people. Over and over and over in the New Testament, we’re reminded to do everything in love, to be rooted in love, to bear with each other in love, to put on love like clothing, to spur each other toward love, and to love in action, not only in words. Paul even says the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. And just in case we may not understand what love looks like, Paul spends a lot of time in his letter to the Corinthians describing what love is and what love isn’t — love is patient and and kind and protective and hopeful, but it is not envious or boastful or self-seeking or easily angered.

I know all this. I know that my main job is to love people. And I do love people. Or at least I try. But I’ll be honest with you – sometimes it’s just too much. I know loving people means my heart is supposed to be tender toward other people, but sometimes I feel like my heart is a big piece of meat that is constantly being beaten on by a heavy metal tenderizer. Because loving people means hurting with their hurts. And there is just so much hurt.

Right now, people in my circle of love are fighting cancer and nursing sick parents and looking for jobs and trying to hold broken marriages together. People in my circle of love are recovering from past hurt and learning to forgive. And some people in my circle of love are not recovering, not learning; they are hurting themselves and flailing and floundering, and I am praying enough life preservers are tossed so they can grab onto one. And loving all these people pounds and pulls at my heart until I feel so raw and ripped up.

So I pray and lay bare my broken, shredded heart before God. And when I am alone with God, I don’t even have intelligent-sounding words to pray. You know, sometimes my prayers are more like suggestions to God of how to fix the problems. But when love has made my heart so tattered, there are no words, no suggestions. There is only Oh, God, please help. I don’t even know. I can’t even imagine. Please, please help. 

In those groaning prayers, I find a little peace, a little comfort that God draws near the brokenhearted. Being near God fortifies me so that I can get back up and love some more.

There is the temptation to toughen up, to harden my heart a little, barricade it, protect it. There’s that self-preservation thing in me that suggests maybe I should keep people a little more at arm’s length, that maybe I could care and help and be kind without loving so daggone much. We’re afraid to love any more because it’s just so exhausting and painful and messy. But you know how things are always so upside-down with God? With him, the more we receive his love and then love others with his love, the less afraid we’ll be. Because perfect love drives out fear. So if I resist the natural urge to protect myself and go against my instinct and keep on loving, the fear will get smaller.

And loving people may keep my heart raw and broken, but if God is near to the brokenhearted, then broken is OK. It’s better than OK.

And so I pray for strength and stick-to-it-tiveness to keep on loving. I ask for help to not grow weary in doing the right thing, in keeping his command to love. And then I love. With all my raw, stretched-out, tenderized heart, I love. Because the only thing that counts is my faith expressing itself in love.

The Sunrise of Grace

 

Back Camera

 

I love Easter. Resurrection. Hope. New life. Beginning. Overcoming. Love. All of that. I love all of that. And Cadbury eggs, I love those too.

I love that Easter is the sunset of Working hard and doing it myself and the sunrise of Jesus did it all for me. That’s it. When I wake up to the Easter sunrise each year, I am reminded all over again that it’s not up to me. And what a relief that is!

I know myself. I know the deepest, darkest, most unattractive corners of my heart. I know that no matter how many times I tell myself Today, I will not lose my patience. I will try hard and speak kindly no matter what grates on my very last ever-lovin’ nerve, I still lose it and feel annoyed and often, I act and sound annoyed. I know that no matter how many resolutions I make to do better, act better, be better, I fall back into old patterns and habits. No matter how many times I turn over a new leaf, my old self turns right back up. If it were all up to me, if a relationship with God or an address in Heaven were all up to me, then I would have no hope. No way would the good I do outweigh my every mistake and bad thought and selfishness and outright, willful sin.

That is what I so love about Jesus! He is all about loving people like me. Jesus knows we could never be good enough. He knows that no matter how much I try, I just can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and get my act together. And so Jesus came to be perfect and die and come back to life again. For me. As a totally free gift. Grace. Sweet, sweet grace.

The cross is the death of my working hard and trying to earn God’s approval. The cross is the end of my own efforts. On the cross, Jesus did for me what I couldn’t do. And Easter is all about giving up and receiving Grace. Easter is all about this new life, this living in Grace. Resting in Jesus, trusting that He is enough.

If you’re exhausted from all the hard work of trying to do it yourself, maybe you’d like to let all that die this Easter. Maybe you’re ready for the Easter sunrise of Grace, a new life of resting in what Jesus has already done. Or maybe you just need a reminder – stop trying so hard, as if it all depends on you; we’re living in GRACEland now, Friend.

Happy Easter!

My King & His Amazing Love

*originally posted March 25, 2013 

Yesterday morning I stood in church singing, “You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” As I sang, I imagined people lining a road into Jerusalem, laying down coats and palm branches for Jesus to ride over. I imagined their voices rising, “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of David!”

I imagined they too were singing, “Jesus, You are my King!”

For a long time I was baffled that some of the very same people who lay down their coats and shouted, “Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” would, just days later, shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 

Yet there I stood on a Sunday morning singing with all my heart, “You are my King. You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” And hours later those same lips would be stretched tight in anger, shouting to my sons to put the mattresses back onto the beds, to stop trashing their rooms, to stop disobeying me. And later, that same heart that overflowed with praise for Jesus would ignore His Spirit’s promptings to calm down. Instead, I’d go right ahead and speak angry words to my husband.

My own sin would cry out my need for His crucifixion. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 

And that’s not the first time. Many times – an uncomfortably embarrassing amount of times – my heart has filled to brimming over with praise for God and His goodness. But then, He doesn’t perform as I expect. Circumstances don’t turn out the way I plan. He’s not the King I anticipated. There’s far more suffering and pain and blood and gore and sacrifice than I ever imagined. So my heart fills with disappointment and anger. I move on to Plan B, figuring I’ll just take it into my own hands because I could probably do a better job.

So, I understand. I get it. I can see how even good people could stand alongside a dirt road in Jerusalem and shout “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. . . . Jesus, you are our King!” I can believe they meant it with all their all-too-human hearts. And then they watched as their expectations crumbled, their hopes were dashed, their plans fell through. I can understand how they’d think, “Wait! . . . He’s not the King I anticipated. This isn’t the way I planned for it all to work out.”

And though I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been one of the many screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I know chances are I would have either been shouting with the crowds or hidden away in fear with the disciples. And whichever the case, my own sin would necessitate the cries, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

But the beauty is — Jesus knows this about me. He knew it about me before I was even born. He knew it about that crowd in Jerusalem that day when He rode the donkey and watched them hail Him as King. He knew the truth about His disciples, that they’d run and hide and deny Him. He knew it as He taught them and poured into them and loved them all those three years. He knows we’ll fail. He knows we’re capable of praising Him one minute and cursing the next.

That’s why He came. That’s why He died for us. That’s why He rose again. To overcome our sin. To overcome our failures.

“Amazing love, How can it be, That You my King would die for me? Amazing love, I know it’s true. And it’s my joy to honor You. . . . Jesus, You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.” (*lyrics by Chris Tomlin)

 

We Are Weak Together

You know, I appreciate the idea that in my weakness I most see God’s strength manifested. I do. I appreciate the notion that I am completely dependent on God, totally reliant on Him to accomplish anything worthwhile. Those are good thoughts. They come straight from the Bible. I know those principles are true. Set against a lovely sunset and worded in sing-song verse, they make the perfect To Encourage You greeting cards.

But honestly, the reality of living those thoughts pretty much stinks. It’s not fun to feel weak. I don’t particularly enjoy feeling utterly dependent on God. Do you?

No, I prefer the times God seems to say, Hey, Jenn, I made you naturally talented in this area, so I’m plugging you in here. Now shine! And there are times God works like that. I LOVE it when He works like that! When I’m doing those things I believe I was born to do, I feel confident and grateful and so alive!

Sometimes, though, God intentionally puts us in a place of dependence on Him. He makes it so obvious that I need Him. And, of course, I know I do need Him. I just prefer not to feel so desperately dependent on Him. I prefer that underlying theoretical I need Him because He’s God and I know any strength I have is because He gave it to me, now watch me keep these plates spinning on my own! 

I was talking with some friends about this the other day. We have all been stretched beyond ourselves this year doing a ministry that seems so much bigger and harder than anything we should be leading. So many times we have raised our eyebrows and looked at each other, laughing, like  Can you believe anyone let us be in charge of this?! Shouldn’t they have picked the real grown-ups?! And other times, we have floundered and cried and felt foolish and frustrated because Really, God? Really? Did we misunderstand You? Was this really Your idea? Because we don’t want to insult you, God, but we would have thought You could plan this all out better and find someone capable of actually doing these jobs well! You know, seeing as how You are God and all. 

And I’m not going to tie this all up with a pretty little Christianese ribbon. I just can’t. I’m not in that place. I just want you to know, friends, if you are feeling weak and bucking against that, you are not alone. If you are struggling to lean into God and give in to that feeling of full reliance on Him, I’m right there with you. I’m here, acknowledging that you are doing a hard thing. It’s hard to own your weakness and trust that God is strong. We are doing this hard thing together, friends. We are holding on to Him, hedging all our bets that He is Who He claims to be and that He won’t let us down.

I’m here, holding on with you, weakly grasping onto His hand and your hand. We are weak together. And somehow, it’s going to be OK.

holdingon

 

 

 

 

If they’d had Facebook, would Paul have unfriended Barnabas? (or Disagreements Among Christians)

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is — Sometimes Christians disagree with each other. As if you could spend any time on the internet and not realize that! Right?

We can read the exact same passage of scripture and pray over it and wrestle with it and come away with two (or three or four . . .) very different meanings. And I don’t claim to know how that happens. And the peacemaker middle children everywhere would probably much rather have God spell everything out exactly so there is nothing gray anywhere, then we’d all just get along already.

It’s not only our understanding of scripture that differs but our perspective and preferences and approach to life can also be quite diverse. Some of that can be chalked up to being at various points along the path of spiritual maturity, but some of it is simply because God doesn’t have one specific mold he presses His people from. We come from different places. We have different personalities. We have different passions and interests. We come at scripture from different backgrounds and with different mindsets.

Disagreements among Christians aren’t new. Believers have disagreed with each other ever since being a Christian became a thing. In the book of Acts in the Bible we can read about the very first followers of Jesus disagreeing with each other. You know, I love that the Bible isn’t a PR-spin for God showing the good and hiding the bad, but a book about real people with real quirks and warts and three-dimensional personalities. Sometimes those real people didn’t see eye to eye – which is refreshing and encouraging because I don’t always see eye to eye with every other Christian.

Early on, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they thought the Church should reflect the Jewishness of Jesus (and themselves). These believers wanted new converts to be circumcised. Other believers reminded them that God was more concerned with a person’s heart than with his . . . you know. Some early believers wanted everyone to follow Jewish dietary laws. Others believed all food was fair game, so to speak, and people could eat what they wanted with freedom and a clear conscience.

Two early Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas, even had a big argument about whether Mark could come with them on a mission trip. Paul thought Mark was an unreliable quitter; Barnabas wanted to show him mercy and give him a second chance. They had such a “sharp disagreement” that Paul took Silas and went one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went another. And the Bible doesn’t say who was right and who was wrong. It really doesn’t even seem to matter to God. He used Paul and his team and Barnabas and his team and got twice the work done in the same amount of time. Because God has that amazing way of using everything to bring good.

Sometimes, like in the case of the dietary laws and the circumcision issue, the early Church leaders met and talked it out and prayed it out and formed a compromise so as to protect and honor everyone’s backgrounds and preferences as much as possible. Sometimes God used men like Paul to encourage the people not to worry about who is right and who is wrong, but to focus on respecting each other and loving each other. He even advised the early believers who were right to give up their rights in order to better love others. It seems that being right about the nonessentials isn’t nearly as important to God as loving each other.

Paul, on authority from God, instructed those first Christians to stop judging each other in matters nonessential to the faith, to make every effort to get along, to be patient with the weaknesses and failures of others. He encouraged the believers to accept each other just as Christ accepted each of them. (Read Romans, chapters 13, 14, 15 for more on this.)

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I get caught up in debates. I want to be right, and I want to convince you that I am right. But when I read how those early Church leaders handled conflict and I read Paul’s advice, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to remember that just as I am living out my beliefs to God, other Christians are living out their beliefs to God. We will all stand before God and answer for ourselves.

In the meantime, my job is to love my neighbor as myself and dress myself with Jesus — put on Jesus every day so it’s like I’m wearing Jesus, completely encapsulated in Jesus.

My job is to love, doing no harm to my neighbor. God’s job is to be God – to judge and to shake it all out for good.

Failure, Success, My Over-Critical Brain, and God

realsuccess

Today I have been thinking about success.

I tend to be a bit critical. Sometimes of others. But I am most critical of myself. At the risk of sounding like a complete loon I will tell you — after I lead a small group or speak to a large group or participate in a Bible study or lead a children’s program or attend a meeting or (for the LOVE!) have a normal, everyday conversation, I replay every detail in my mind and analyze it all. I chastise myself for wording this thought the wrong way or for blurting out something without thinking it through. I beat myself up for talking too much, for saying that sarcastic comment, for making that joke that someone could have taken the wrong way.

I have a pretty finite idea of what success looks like. Success = top performance. Success = perfection. Imperfections, mistakes, putting my foot in my mouth — all of that = failure. And as I drive home from wherever or lie down to sleep at night, my brain whirs with the replay of failures. I don’t want to be a satan-behind-every-rock kinda girl, but I really believe this is part of what he does to debilitate us. The Bible calls him our accuser. He shoots fiery darts of accusations at us. Some of those whispers in my head telling me how I came up short again, how I flubbed this one up — some of those whispers are from my own overanalytical, neurotic self. But some of those whispers certainly come from the enemy who wants to paralyze me with fear of more failure.

And so I must recognize those whisper-thoughts as the lies and hatefulness that they are. The Bible calls this taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. 

In the quiet moments, in the aftermath of my interactions with others, when those whisper-thoughts are attacking me, I have to breathe a deep breath. Then when my brain has enough oxygen to fully function, I have to remember that my definition of success is just plain wrong.

My math is a bit fuzzy. You see, real success does not equal perfection. Real success allows for failure and growth and authenticity and vulnerability. Real success allows for merciful moments of redemption amidst the flaws and failure — because that is when we often see God’s hand at work. Real success is not about my saying all the right things and being in control. Real success isn’t about me at all. Real success is all about allowing for God’s plan to prevail. 

God’s kingdom is a sort of upside-down kingdom. His math isn’t exactly like our math. The definitions in His language aren’t the same as our definitions. God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which the first are last and the last are first. The lowly are exalted and the high and mighty are humbled and made low. Our weaknesses are exactly the best places for His strengths to show up and show off.

You see, when we’re doing life with God, our failures don’t negate success; our failures become opportunities for God to work. His speciality is making good from everything. He promises He will! When we love Him, He works everything out for our good and His glory.

So I don’t have to do the slow-motion replay after every conversation and interaction. When the critical whispers in my head start aiming their fiery dart-words at me, I can capture those thoughts and breathe truth onto them, extinguishing them. True success is about God’s working in every situation to bring good for us and glory for Himself. And any failure of mine isn’t big enough to stop God from doing His thing. That’s the truth!

The Grace Microwave ~ remix

When we moved to FL and crammed our 8-person family into an apartment surrounded by a bunch of other missionary families who were sometimes all up in our business, I quickly realized the beauty and humiliating pain of grace. In 2011, I wrote about it. 

notpretending

You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys — and certainly not in my boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. Yeah, there’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. (Shudder!) Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace. And there is something really freeing about not being able to pretend. I’ve had imperfect children and been an imperfect mother right in front of God and everyone, and the world hasn’t crashed down around us. Instead, grace abounds.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace and in learning to give grace to others. (Because they aren’t perfect Christians either.)

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave?