What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

The Gospel Unravels Strength

“If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

I had the opportunity a few years ago to experience what my denomination calls church planting assessment center. Imagine Hollywood Week on American Idol. Long hours of learning the ways God has woven together the unique patchwork of your heart, opportunities to share your testimony in front of your peers and moments of walking down a long aisle where three assessors sit at a table and tell you whether or not you are wired and ready to go and engage as a couple in the kingdom building work of planting new churches.

I walked into the week performing, prepared and properly attired. Church planting is simply starting new churches under the authority of a larger church in our denomination and church planting is statistically proven to be an effective way to share the hope of Jesus with the unchurched. My heart yearns for everyone to know and experience the hope I have in Jesus. I wanted church planting. I deeply desired for God to use me in a place where I felt comfortable enough to swim strongly, I wanted to reach people who were just like me.

Michael Craddock and I sat up front. Michael Craddock loves front row living. There were nine or so other couples in the room with us. Each of the couples is randomly assigned throughout the weekend a time to share both their testimonies and the husband preaches a brief sermon. My desire was to go first. I personally knew I could not sit there and marinate on what I had to say and wrestle with my “I am not enough” demons. Walking into the week I had such an impressive and well prepared speech, I am from total darkness so I believed my story was the kind of story that would certainly be a home run.

But in God’s good plan and perfect timing even with our front row living, Michael Craddock and I did not get the opportunity to stand up in front of the room first, Michael Craddock and I did not even get the chance to share the first night. In God’s good plan, I had to sit and I had to wait. I had to marinate. I had to listen the stories of others and wrestle with the self-pity threads of not being good enough I have woven around my heart. Wrestle with the fact that maybe my story was not that impressive at all. Wrestle with the fact that maybe God wasn’t calling me to what I believed to be was my filet mignon on the buffet line of ministry opportunities.

By the second day around lunch time I still had not had any opportunities to impress anyone. But I found myself sitting next to a pastor I had never met before at lunch, he was an assessor so I had my performance face on. He began to engage my heart and I very safely stayed at the surface. After fifteen years of discussing anything that had to do with the loss of my mother as a child I was very good at rotely responding to questions about my childhood. Beneath all my winding up tight and bootstrap pulling up this was what I had learned to do. But this man wouldn’t let me stay at the surface and I felt the threads from all my winding up tight begin to fray. I could feel hot tears in my eyes. Tears that were supposed to be hidden beneath my tough exterior.

In the waiting I then heard a sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

And then the questioning, the unraveling, the wondering if I am defining strength by the ways of the world or by the ways of the gospel. God’s power was made perfect in weakness? God’s grace is enough? I can be content and even boast about my weak places because the power of God rests upon me? Weakness is strength?

As I sat there, tears still so close to the surface from lunch, I thought about these truths From 2 Corinthians. I thought about the gospel. I thought about living a life of pulling up bootstraps and covering up weaknesses and hardships since that graying day in March in the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I thought of the years I had spent as a Christian covering up weaknesses with scripture to appear impressive and pulled together. Using scripture as a tool to protect instead of a tool to transform.

In God’s perfect timing, we were called up for our turn almost directly after this sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. Right as I was sitting there in my head planning to rewrite all of the things I wanted to say. Hot tears so close to the surface. All my prepared words written out of a worldly view strength, performing well and impressing others now unraveled in pieces around me. I listened to Michael share and when my turn came some words came out that I knew and had rehearsed and then some other words I wasn’t even planning on saying at all. Something about feeling a deep burden and need for planting churches to bring the hope of Jesus and but then tears.

I began to cry. In front of a room of my peers and a long table of assessors I broke out into a hot mess of embarrassment level tears. The next words I said through sobs went something like, “I want to plant a church but I think maybe I haven’t been a Christian for long enough to be a good church planting wife. I just don’t know all the church songs.”

In all my preparedness and pulling up bootstraps I stood in front of that room and ending up sobbing about not knowing all the church songs. It was like my clenched jaw, the gatekeeper of all of those tears opened wide and every single tear I had bottled up for fifteen years began to flow. The words of my pastor friend and the words from 2 Corinthians were like a branch that just gently touched the surface of my frozen pond and I cracked open completely.

This was the beginning of the gospel unraveling my ideas about strength. My learned behaviors of gate keeping tears and hiding behind walls and verses. This is when I began to see I have so much unraveling to do beneath the surface when it comes to processing what strength looks like in Jesus. I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian. So many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As as I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness and rejoicing over healing tears I am slowly unraveling what I how I used to define strength to how God defines strength.

I am learning that following Jesus isn’t about being good enough, living a moral life or how well we can clean ourselves up on the outside. The gospel turns that all upside down and inside out. Following Jesus is about how broken we are and how willing we are to let Jesus shine through the broken places. There are many instances where I am still the insecure, guarded girl in the front seat of the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. God isn’t completely finished with me yet, but he is working on me every so slowly. Philippians says, and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6).

God never did call us to church planting. In God’s good and perfect plan God has continued to make me wrestle in waters in which I feel uncomfortable and not quite strong enough to swim. Just a year and a half after church planting assessment my husband was called to be the lead pastor in an already established church. A role in which I feel inadequate and unequipped for but now that I have unraveled in the gospel I know I can be content in my weaknesses because I am willing to let Christ shine through my broken places. I am enough because Jesus makes me enough.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

C.S Lewis, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

A Mother Who Dwells

The bare soles of my feet are on the hardwood floors in the dining room, my hands are busy folding the third and fourth loads of laundry for the day, my son playing in the family room and my daughter with three rows of dining room chairs lined up in the office. She is driving a minivan full of Disney Princesses to Target in her imagination. I can see her from the dining room as she buckles each one of them into their seats with fingertips still orange from the cheetos she had with her lunch, she tells each doll “I love you so much” and places a bag of extra clothes and pretend kitchen food in the floor of the minivan for the journey.

Easily I see myself playing there in that office. I remember a walk in closet in my parent’s master bedroom from childhood. I would take my dolls into that space and line them up, drive them somewhere with my pretend husband, Davy Jones or Joey McIntyre in the front seat. Easily I am taken back that place and I can see my mom, too. She is full of life and she is fully present. I think of her and I think of how she always showed up. She entered into our games and our lives.

For a moment my grief returns when I think of her, only grief now doesn’t have the sharp painful edges it once had before. The sharp edges of grief have now become smooth with time and heart work. My grief has been loosened from anger and now the weight of the sadness feels smoothed out and clean like a freshly laundered bed sheet on a warm summer day. The sadness brings comfort and wholeness, it is now crisp and clean.

My son comes to me as I fold, he begins to pester around me like a gnat in the summertime. As I fold the tiny shorts and match the socks I am stirred to thinking of the kind of mother I want to be. I am stirred to thinking about what my mother would do in this moment if she had just one more day with us and I thought about what I would want to do if this was my last day here too. I know for me I would not want to be buried in a task list of making the house look just so- I am pretty sure that is not how my mother would want to spend her time either if she was given just one more day to soak up childhood imagination and cheeto-fingered hugs. I believe she would want to dwell in the moments with us, lingering there for as long as she was able.

My thoughts switch from past to present and I think about the ministry I have to these children in my home, the privilege of being the one to fill their buckets and care for their hearts. In the present I am stirred to think about how Jesus was with those He came to minister to, how He dwelt among them, how He reclined at the table, how He was right there, Jesus loved by being fully present and showing up.

I think about how a lifetime from now I want my kids to remember me as a mother who was with them, a mother who was fully present, a mother that showed up physically, emotionally. Not as a mother who always had empty laundry bins or all the toys picked up off the floor. I fight to lay the ideal of perfectionism down, the old must unravel away before I can embrace that an unfolded pile of laundered clothes is evidence of a life lived alongside my kids. I must be renewed in the spirit of my mind to see the undone housework as the healthy fruit of a life lived showing up and dwelling among the ones God has given to me to care for during these fleeting days of motherhood.

Reminded of what my mother would do if she had just one more day, I walk the half-folded laundry upstairs and I sit with my the son who was pestering around me. I place him in my lap. He has grown so much it is difficult for me to gather him up, but for a time he lets me hold him. I listen to him, we laugh. I then go to my daughter and she lets me hold her too. I hold onto her, I rock her. She melts into me for minutes. I think about my mom and I believe this is what she would do if she had one more day. I think about how Jesus knew the number of His days and how He spent them dwelling among people, the people who He loved so much and would love enough to give His life for.

Oh how connection is so needed. Connection is so much more intergral to the whole-children I want to raise up in the Lord. More important than children who remember how clean the house was or my fussing over neat piles of clean laundry.  We are all thirsting for just a few moments to dwell among those we love and melt into them. How we all just want someone to sit with us and hold us.

I want to walk in a life that produces the fruit of remembering what my mother would tell me to do if she just had one more day. Be fully present and full of life. I want to show up and dwell among the ministry of motherhood I have sitting right in my lap. And one day, I hope to be recovered from perfectionism. I hope my children remember piles of half-folded laundry and a mother who dwelt among the childhood imaginations and cheeto-fingered hugs. I want to be a mother who dwells.

Why We Can’t Stand Alone In Our Grief

I have many friends who have known me in my grief and many friends who have loved me in my grief. Friends who loved me when I was so guarded, I completely detached from the roots that make me uniquely Rachel. I have a great community of people who have shared my grief and entered into it and for this reason, when I was ready, I believe I was able to heal and find fullness once again.

Shalom. Wholeness. Fullness. Contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.

I believe we can never stand alone in our grief. I have been there. When we stand alone in our grief, grief consumes us. Grief is all enveloping. Grief is like a heavy cloak that is so heavy you cannot remove it on your own.

Before belief in Jesus, The Gospel and The Bible, I believed in grieving behind closed doors. I believed in suffering in silence, giving safe answers to hard questions, holding back tears and flashing “I’m fine” half smiles. Before my understanding of a Jesus who wept and a God who gave His one and only Son to give His life as a ransom for many, I believed in a life of bootstrap pulling and suffering behind closed doors. I believed lies that told me I was alone in my suffering. I believed the lies that I was different and unworthy because of my grief. I believed the lie that it was wrong to be broken in front of a watching world. I felt shame. For a long time I felt there was something wrong with me because of the broken heart of grief I carried silently around within my chest.

Before a changed heart and a changed life in Christ I believed in half-sightedness. I covered that broken heart and the shame with mask, upon mask, upon mask. Masking hurt with pretend strength, worn out boots and a calloused heart that could never fully heal alone behind those closed doors. A heart that could never heal when it was threaded in lies and tangled up in masks.

And I believe, belief in Jesus has changed the way I view my grief. And overtime I see Christ, by His grace and through His church transforming me.

In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus heals the blind Man at Bethsaida. And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

I believe Jesus does not want us, as his people to be walking around behind masks upon masks on our hearts, living with half-sightedness. In the passage above, Jesus heals the man, but when he looks around all he can see are men that look like trees. The man’s whole sight isn’t restored. So Jesus, lays his hands on the man’s eyes again to restore him to whole-sightedness. Wholeness. Jesus doesn’t desire for us to be healed only half way, Jesus wants us to be whole.

Wholeness. Shalom. Peace, Complete restoration.

Charles Scriven (The Promise of Peace, 2009):

So when the prophet Ezekiel spoke words of hope to the exiled people of Israel, he used the word shalom–“peace.” He did this because in the Hebrew tongue, shalom was about food, safety, and freedom; it was about prosperity, well-being, self-respect for the whole community. All this is what people need and want when they feel anxious or think their lives are hanging by a thread. Ezekiel, therefore, thought of God’s promise-the Great Promise–as a “covenant of peace.” The partnership between God and Israel meant that someday the things that hurt would lose out to the things that heal and restore. Someday, God’s people would flourish and be fully alive. (p. 57)

When I think of the shame I had over my broken heart, the hiding, the half-sightedness. I think of how desperately I wanted to live with whole-sight. With wholeness. Shalom. I wanted to feel the truth that someday the things that hurt would lose out to the things that heal and restore. That someday, Someday, as God’s child I would flourish and be fully alive.

Tim Keller Generous Justice (2010)

It means complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension–physical, emotional, social, and spiritual–because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy. (p. 174)

Shalom. Wholeness. Whole sight.

I often think about the years I sat in my shame and grief alone, hidden behind those masks upon masks. When I first believed, I knew enough scripture to be able to walk in half-sightedness. I knew Jesus wanted me to find comfort in Him. I knew Jesus wanted me to rest in Him. “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I just didn’t know how to find wholeness alone. I needed others to come alongside me and share in my grief, cry tears with me and preach truth to me. Because with half-sightless and masks over my broken heart I could not see truth with full clarity. I could not see truth with half sight.

We need others to share in our grief so others can preach truth to us when we can’t see it for ourselves. Community draws us out of the lies we preach to ourselves in our grief. Community draws us out of the shadows of shame and into the light of Christ. 

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22) 

We cannot be pushed out of our youthful passions and the shadows of shame unless we are alongside others, calling us out of it and helping us pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Shame is too big. Shame is all consuming. And walking along in shame is a breeding ground for lies.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8-9)

We are drawn out of the darkness and the shadows of shame and into a people. A priesthood. A nation. We are drawn out of the darkness and into a community of others. A community of the marvelous light of Jesus where we can be seen and unashamed because we belong to Christ.

We cannot stand alone in our grief because we cannot bear the burdens of grief alone. 

In a recent sermon I heard in church from the series “A Community That Cares” I learned that God cares for us here on earth by giving us a community of leaders.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. “You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Heart work is hard work and being alone in your grief is not good. You will surely wear out, the task is much too heavy to bear alone. We cannot be alone in our grief, we need leaders, leaders in our Bible studies, Sunday Schools, churches and community groups. We can’t do the heart work of removing masks from our hearts alone. It is hard work.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset.

We need friends at our sides, holding up our hands when we can’t hold them up ourselves. We are human and God provides friends to be alongside to do the heavy lifting when we can’t bear the load.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Jesus is the ultimate burden-bearer. We are called to bear one another’s burden which also means we must step out from behind the masks and the shadows of shame and allow others to bear our burdens as well.

The way I think about grief, my pain and the loss of my mother has changed little by little, thread by thread. It is a process of putting off old patterns and walking in new ones.

put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

And thread by thread as I unravel untruths from truths I feel God restoring me to whole-sightedness. I feel God bringing me out of the shadows of shame and out from behind the masks upon masks upon masks, into His marvelous light.

Little by little and thread by thread as I unravel, I feel shalom-peace: complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension–physical, emotional, social, and spiritual–because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.

If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

Listening is Loving

Yesterday I was putting mountains of clothes away upstairs as I watched my three boys in the backyard below me digging in a large hole of mud.

I had a report to give in about an hour and the babysitter arriving in forty-five minutes. I was already whirling around my home. I had no extra in-case-of-mud-buffer built in to my schedule.

I let the boys dig and kept putting away clothes until the pile has come to it’s end. Then I walked downstairs trying to breathe deeply to prepare myself for three mud covered children and also a quick prayer to Jesus that I would exude the fruits of the spirit instead of spewing the impatience of my tired flesh.

To my great surprise I found muddy clothes and boots in the laundry room and my boys washing the mud off their ankles and hands in the kitchen sink, the exact same process of demudding I have walked them through time after time over the last eight years. Without me saying a word, they just did what they were supposed to do.

And when I praised them my five year old simply replied, “Mom, we were just listening and listening is loving.”

Cue a:

Wait, are these MY children?

moment.

My children and I have not gotten to this place of automatic obedience overnight and pretty much, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, sixty-five times a day it feels as if my children are not listening to my voice at all.

But this moment was my diamond in the rough. The one moment I can cling to in three hundred and sixty-five days and see just for one moment my words, my constant words on repeat all day every day are not falling on deaf ears. That slowly, ever so slowly my words are settling into the nooks and crannies of the hearts of my children.

Listening is loving was very much our summer love language last summer.

I developed this love language of listening is loving between my kids and I for the following reasons:

  1. Listening is life-giving to mommy.
  2. Listening is not just hearing but hearing followed by action.
  3. The action of listening must occur all the way, right away and with a happy heart.
  4. Listening is an important skill for all of life.

I have said listening is loving, I have chanted listening is loving, I have yelled listening is loving, I have whispered listening is loving in the ears of my four children as they sleep soundly at night.

Like a broken record for almost an entire year. Listening is loving have been the words I have both yelled and cried to my children.

As I saw my children doing what they were supposed to do I couldn’t help but remember the words a friend of mine said to me almost five years ago. Rachel, you sow. And you sow. And you sow. Then much later you will reap. 

You sow. And you sow. And you sow. Then much later you reap. Much later.

Yesterday’s scene of muddy clothes automatically in the laundry room and children automatically demudding at the sink came after an entire year of constantly repeating listening is loving to the ears and to the hearts of my children.

There are so many moments when I am so tired of sowing. My heart screams phrases similar to: Mommy does not want to sound like a broken record.

Planting wisdom and words in to the hearts of my children is very similar to the dirty, back breaking work of planting seeds outside in the fields.

I’m scattering these words like seeds into the soil of their hearts so that with hope and prayer and divine intervention one day these seeds will grow and produce fruit. Produce evidence that my words have taken root. Produce automatic obedience all the way, right away and with a happy heart.

We have so much further to go with listening is loving.

I will probably say listening is loving a million times more, have three-thousand more bad days with a few diamonds scattered here and there.

But to reap a harvest of children who know that listening is loving to others with hope that they will connect this truth of listening is loving to listening to God and believing His truth…. that is the kind of harvest I am sowing for.

That kind of harvest is what makes the broken record of saying listening is loving a million times more worthy of the dirty, back breaking work of sowing.

Listening is loving.

You sow. And you sow. And you sow. Much later you will reap.