Fearfully, Wonderfully Snowed In: God in the Blizzard

snowfallAs a Florida girl living in Virginia, right in the bullseye of Jonas, I keep looking out my window utterly amazed. The snow is up to the roof of my children’s playhouse. I see the little chimney of it poking out with a pile of snow on top, a little frozen smoke puff. I know friends further north have seen more, but for this girl, this is the most snow I’ve seen in my entire life. And I keep having two simultaneous thoughts: how beautiful and how terrifying. As these thoughts keep colliding in my mind, I can’t help but think that all this snow has something to teach us.

The snow has made a new world out there. Everything is pristine, blanketed in purity. The trees are bedecked as brides. The limbs shimmer with powdered diamonds. Even the wind is in on the party, tossing sparkling confetti on the festal firs. As far as the eye can see there is the blinding brilliance of white. And just as when a bride enters the room, there is that reverent hush of a world watching in stillness and in awe.

snow in trees

And yet even as I stand back admiring this lovely world, there is another part of me that is afraid. The snow is so high; it’ll be days before we carve our way out. It is so soft and comes so lightly and yet it has the power to smother, to break, to bend, to bury. Even our toughest machines get caught in its drifts. Even our might is no match for this light beauty, should it continue to fall from heaven.

And as I feel the weight of wonder, I’m moved to remember a God who is simultaneously all-loving, all-good, all-beautiful and yet all-powerful, almighty, a force with which no man can reckon. Love the Lord. Fear the Lord. The burning brilliance of holiness is both something which compels our eyes and causes us to fall on our faces.

Like the awesome Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia, we might wonder with Lucy, is this lion safe? “’Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This world blanketed in white is a reminder of both aspects of our good and mighty God.

So what are we to do with this beautiful and yet fearful God? Like the snow, we better be prepared. For those well prepared, the snow holds no terror. But for those who have shirked its power, there is fear. God is good; but God is also coming and He is a mighty, beautiful force with which to be reckoned.

So how do we prepare for His coming? By confessing that we are utterly unprepared. By falling at the feet of this terrifying, beautiful God and pleading for His mercy. Repentance: I am undone by your holiness, Oh God. Belief: You alone can save me.

And here’s the wonder, He has and He does. God has turned that whole crushing weight of His wrath on His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. He was smothered, crushed, buried, that I might not be. The weight of this heavy load fell on Jesus that I might only feel the light cloak of righteousness on my shoulders. Oh weighty wonder. Oh heavy lightness! Let me remember both as I stare out my frosted window.

 

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Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

Life with Kids: Lessons from the Open Road

Open Road text

This summer we put the miles on Homer. Homer is, of course, the only thing a Lit Major can think to name the Honda Odyssey. (Coincidentally, the more contemporary associations with the name, “Homer” also work well, of course, when there are break-downs: “Doh! I think we just got a flat.” Or “Doh! Not another dent in a parking lot! ) And so with more than a month on the road, Homer the Honda earned his “epic” road trip merit badge this summer and so did we. Perhaps it takes a special kind of brain derangement to willfully spend that kind of time stuffed into a car traveling with a 4 year-old, a 2 year-old and an infant. Or perhaps, it is the mere act of having that many children who have not yet entered formal school that causes someone to lose that kind of brain cells.

Either way you learn a lot about yourself when strapped into tiny spaces with your family. You learn that your arms can stretch way further than you thought humanly possible to fetch a dropped French fry, crayon, juice box, matchbox car or stuffed animal. You learn your own personal threshold for the timeless question, “Are we there yet?” And you learn that you’d do just about anything to avoid stopping the car if any child has happened to fall asleep for some small stretch of miles.

But this summer, we also learned a more tender lesson, kindly taught to us by our 2 year old. To know our sweet Isaiah is to love him. When he smiles, there’s an explosion of dimples and a flash of mischief in his eyes that puts a deep-down grin in your heart. His hugs (or are they love tackles?) have literally knocked me over. He’s a rough-and-tumble boy who will pummel you with love and pin you with kisses. And there’s no doubt in my mind that God built this boy with a deep-down need for all things physical: from running and jumping to wrestling to hugs and holds and kisses. So when you take a boy like that and buckle him in a car-seat for an eight hour trip, what happens? Well, something that melted my heart every time.

Though our car was well-stocked with games, and crayons, DVD’s and snacks, each time we took to the road for more than about 30 minutes, Isaiah would call from the back, “Mommy?”

“Yes, Isaiah?”

“Mommy, I miss you.” The word, “miss” held for emphasis while the bottom lip rolled down and pouty eyes let you know this was a serious request.

“I miss you too, baby, but I’m right here. I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“Mommy, I miss you,” he would reiterate holding the words “miss” and “you” out for a few seconds longer than the first time and the pouty lip almost quivering now.

What I came to learn about that oft-repeated phrase during our summer of travel was that even a two-year old knows that nearness is not the same as closeness. Being near mama is not the same as being held by mama. Seat belts don’t exactly lend themselves to hug-tackles and games on the floor, for holding a child in your lap while reading a story, or walking hand in hand.

As Isaiah’s words have hung in my head and heart, I’ve thought about other relationships in our lives where nearness does not equal closeness. You know what I mean: the shared couch and television does not equal closeness with your spouse. The shared shuttles back-and-forth to practice and school do not necessarily equal closeness with your kids. The shared shopping excursions or tailgate parties don’t necessarily equal closeness with your friends or neighbors. And just because you make attending church or going to a bible study a priority, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are close to God.

Someone misses you. Material possessions can’t substitute for you. Entertainment may distract, but it’s no substitute for what you have to offer. Someone wants you: your heart, your embrace, your attention and interaction. Someone wants to be in real relationship with the unique soul that is you.

Can you hear it? That plaintive voice saying, “I miss you.” Where in your relationships is it time to put the brakes on, pull the car over, and get out?

Can you remember a time when closeness was more than nearness? When closeness was a depth of relationship that is not there now? Or maybe your closeness has always been a counterfeit. What can you do now to change it? Will you make the first move? It’s not too late to pull over. Someone needs you. The road can wait.

 

Have you missed me? Sorry for the little blog hiatus. Travel and life with littles got the best of me this summer, but hope you enjoyed this post. If you like what you’re reading and don’t already have me coming to your inbox, why not subscribe? And if you want to read more, check out some previous posts here or mosey on over to Amazon and check out my books. And yes, I do think moseying to Amazon is a legitimate way of surfing the wide wide world of web.

Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

momfail

The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

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