The Way Back to a Heart Ablaze

heart-fire-1249098-639x424 (1)The Emmaus road felt as dry and dusty as their hearts. You see, on Friday, the man for whom these two weary travelers had hinged their entire lives had been crucified. They’d given this Jesus their everything. They’d turned their worlds upside down for him, and now he was dead. Heart-broken, life-broken, these men plodded on talking about the shattering events that they had witnessed and the strange rumors they’d heard—rumors that this Jesus had been raised from the dead.

And while they walked on in this dejected state, their hearts raising so many questions, a traveler joined them. He traveled with them in the midst of their disillusionment; he traveled with them in the midst of their despair; he traveled with them in the midst of their disbelief.

What do you do with your life when you’ve lost your center? How does life feel when there is no ballast, nothing weighty, nothing of substance to keep you in balance? And what if in the midst of that very lost-ness, the answer was right there in your presence, walking the hard road with you? That is the case here.

For you see, Jesus, the very one whom they had been grieving, the very one who had changed everything for them, was right there with them—risen, alive, and full of unimaginable, enlivening power, and they didn’t even know it.

So this stranger began to talk with them about the Scriptures. He began to retell the stories, the stories which all pointed ahead to him—to Jesus—as the key which unlocked every door, to the piece which made every other piece fit, to the answer which made all the questions suddenly seem elementary. Everything past pointed to him, but everything future also suddenly became infused with meaning because of him.

And suddenly their hearts burned within them as this stranger spoke and opened up their Scriptures to them. Their hearts burned within them, not only because he was there, and because he opened up their eyes to the prophesies which foretold him, but also because with him everything ahead had meaning again, a purpose which thrusted them with passion into their future. With him, suddenly even the most mundane parts of life became infused with a greater purpose, with a weight of importance that they could never have without him.

I keep coming back to this passage in the Bible and re-reading it. If you aren’t familiar with the story, found in Luke 24:13-35, go back and reread it. I’ve come because I’ve been weary, dejected, and lost like these travelers. I’ve come because I’ve wanted to feel my heart burning within me again like these travelers. And I’ve come and camped out on these pages, hoping.

Have you ever knocked on the door of heaven for so long that your knuckles got scratched and bloody? Have you laid your pillow down on God’s door and said, “I’m not going anywhere until I hear from you?” If you have, you know that God loves that kind of persistence. He loves it when everything comes to a roaring halt until we find our center again. He loves to answer that kind of prayer. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Do you feel like someone has pricked the center of your life and let the air out of it? Are you meandering, aimlessly, hoping that no one will notice you’ve lost the zest for it? Maybe you are on the Emmaus road and you need to realize that you aren’t alone. Even in your lowest place, he’s with you. Even at your ugliest and worst, he’s been by your side. Even in the doubts that might have felt like a betrayal to another, he has been on your side pointing your eyes to the trail-marks which have always pointed ahead to him. Even when the mundane drum-beat of life has so beat you down, that you’ve lost sight of why you were marching in the first place, if you come and seek, really seek for answers, he won’t disappoint you.

He’ll lift up your eyes and let you see glory: two hands breaking bread—a sign for you of a body that was broken for you in the midst of your sinfulness. He’ll lift your eyes up and let you see that in the midst of your powerlessness an unlimited death-shattering, life-creating, hell-binding, heaven-opening, power has been in your presence all along. If you come to the table hungry, he’ll satisfy you. Come with nothing and you will not leave empty-handed. Seek, knock, and you will find that you were found long before you knew you were missing. You were rescued before you knew you were lost. He’s on the road with you. He has places he wants to take you. If you truly look for him, you’ll glimpse him once more and get to say with those who’ve been undone in his presence, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us?”

Ask.

Seek.

Knock.

Don’t give up until you feel his burning presence again.

 

I started this blog with a purpose: to invite my readers to a deep and fearless faith. That’s a faith that burns inside you without consuming you; it’s a faith that compels you into purposeful risk. It’s a faith that is all about this risen Jesus. If you’re looking for that kind of faith or need to renew a faith that is in embers, explore this blog, sign up to receive it in your inbox, or drop me a note. I’d love to pray for you and encourage you to keep asking, seeking, and knocking.

Are You Who You Want to Be?

Conquering flower

About a month ago, I was driving home late one night by myself. Now if you are at a place in life where alone time is a common occurrence you might have just skipped blithely by that little prepositional phrase like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. So let me repeat it. I was in the car BY MYSELF. As a mom of 3 children under 5 this alone time thing is very rare. And so as any responsible adult who suddenly finds herself shed of her responsibilities, I was blaring the radio entirely too loud, the way the teenager that still lives trapped inside me likes her music. So on this night, this alone night, a song by the band Switchfoot from a few years ago happened to be playing on the radio and for some reason, though I’d heard the song before, the lyrics hit me in a fresh way. I haven’t stopped mulling them since. The song’s chorus is simple. It repeats this statement and question:

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; is it everything you dreamed,
when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

Of course, a question like this coming as you drive your mini-van, strewn with Cheerios and sippy cups, your shirt stained with baby’s sweet potato mash, on a drive out that is the first little bit of truly alone time you’ve had in a month because everyone in the family has been sick, sick, sick, is bound to make you stop and think. “Hmm… this mom-life I’m in the thick of, is it everything I dreamed?”

But it was the pronoun in the song that caught me off guard. The question isn’t are you “what” you want to be or are you “where” you want to be. The question isn’t: “Do you have all you wanted?” or “Are things going like you expected?” The question is: “Are you who you want to be?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of identity and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager and young adult, I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over the question of what I would do when I grew up. And yet, I don’t remember asking myself about “who” I wanted to be when I grew up—not in a way that would have elicited thoughts about what kind of character I wanted to possess. I had grandiose dreams of being on stage or being a writer. And I had more ordinary dreams of being a wife and a mother. But I don’t recall dreaming about becoming a woman of kindness, a woman whose first impulse is selflessness. I don’t remember dreaming about being a peacemaker or having that kind of deep joy in your heart that lets you smile even on the really rough days. I don’t remember dreaming about that, but I probably should have.

So I’ve been mulling this. And then this week and last, I’ve been making my way through a book called, “Expectant Parents” by Suzanne Gosselin. After reading my book, Waiting In Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, Gosselin, who formerly worked for Focus on the Family, wrote me last year to ask if she could interview me for her book. I was honored to share a little bit of my motherhood journey with her and her readers. And I’ve been delighted to see the final product in my hands. Gosselin has created a wonderful resource–a book that truly will help both moms and dads prepare not just their homes, but their hearts to welcome a precious little one.

So anyhow, I’m reading along in the book and I come across this chapter called “Roots” which is all about being the best parent you can be whether or not you’ve come from a strong family or a very broken one. And here, I stumble over these sentences where Gosselin is quoting Chrystal Evans Hurst: “Regardless of your situation—the pregnancy is earlier than planned, it’s unplanned, you’re by yourself, maybe you’re not with the guy—from this point forward you get to choose. You get to choose what kind of parent you’re going to be. You get to choose what kind of childhood you’re going to give your baby.”

And all I can think about as I put the book down is this: “This is your home, are you who you want to be?” My children will only get one childhood. They will only have one natural mother and father who shape their views of the world, of God, of love, and of who they are. This is their life; am I the mother I want to be?

Now of course, none of us will parent perfectly or even anywhere near it. But the fact that I will not be a perfect mother, doesn’t excuse me from striving to be the best mother I can possibly be for my children. As Hurst goes on to say in Gosselin’s book, “We create healthy kids by giving the best we can out of what we have to give.”

But this is what I think is so key: we spend way too much time thinking and worrying about the “what”, when the thing that is going to matter most of all for our kids is the “who”. Whether they learn to swim or ever hit a homerun, whether they read early or late, whether you move them cross country or stay close to home, whether illness strikes a blow at your family in a way you never imagined or a job-loss cripples your dreams—no matter the “what”, the “who” of you is what will be shaping them. And hopefully, as you shape them, loving them, however imperfectly, yet with all you have to give, you will also be pointing them to the much greater “Who”—the One whose nature never changes, the One who is perfect, and who will parent them perfectly even when you fail. This God we know as our loving Father.

Along with the haunting question posed in the Switchfoot song, “Are you who you want to be?” there’s also this warning and injunction, “Today is all you’ve got now. Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.”

Everyone says it—you’ll blink and their childhood will be gone. So remember this: Today is your gift. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t miss it. Instead lean in. Worry less about the “what”; care more about the “who”. Be who God made you to be because God made you for them. They need you. They need God shining through you.

 

Hey, thanks for stopping by this little outpost of grace in a world that’s too weary. I hope you’ll stay awhile and be refreshed for the journey ahead. I write a lot about motherhood and have even written a book or two, which I hope may lead you or someone you know to walk just a bit closer with Jesus in this humbling journey they call life.  And if you’d like to hear more from me, I’d love to be one of those little voices of encouragement you look forward to finding in your inbox.

Parenting with an Eye to the Harvest

Harvest Parenting

It won’t be long now before we wake to a nip in the air. Soon enough days will be upon us again where maples blaze like Horeb’s fire, birches melt into gold, and redbuds bear their garnets and purples with royal dignity.

I’ll admit to you that I’ve already marked my calendar for apple-picking. I’ll admit that I get uncommonly giddy at the jeweled tones of root vegetables, of pumpkins popping color from every neighbor’s front step, and the perfect blue of a cloudless fall sky. But though I’m a lover of all things fall, when I examine myself closely I must also confess that I often largely miss one of the harvest season’s chief lessons.

Somehow in my world where dirt only gets under my fingernails when I’m cruising construction trucks out back with the boys, I miss the whispered truths known so intimately by those who stay attuned to the earth’s rhythms. I miss this law that is fundamental to the way God created the world–the law the farmer knows so keenly: we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).

In a world where I can plop down my credit card and receive the fruit of the sweat of another man’s brow, it’s easy to take for granted the patience, the foresight, the diligence, and the perseverance of the one who follows life from seed to sapling, from first fruits to final harvest. My character hasn’t been shaped by the long arc of expectation and toil. And I know I’m the poorer for it.

I’ve been thinking about this law of sowing and reaping a lot lately, especially as it relates to raising children. When I look out to the horizon, to that cusp of time where my children will change oh-so-gradually and yet oh-so-quickly into adults, (the way the sunset is both gradual and yet quick) I can’t help but think about this present moment. I can see that glimpse of the kind of men I want my boys to become: passionate for God, secure in Him and in who He has made them to be, wise, bold, and true to their word. I can see that glimpse and yet be so careless as to the numbered days between now and then.

I’m used to immediate results, the waxed perfection and uniformity of the produce aisle, and the fruit devoid of the sweat it took to taste it.

But the good news is, I can come to the Lord of the Harvest knowing my ignorance, my impatience, my lack of discipline, my short-sightedness—in short, knowing all the weaknesses I bring as a parent–and pray. I pray for my children and for that eventual day where all that my husband and I have sown into their young lives bears or fails to bear fruit.

I can come asking for that which I do not have: I can ask for the patience to persevere through many fallow days. I can plead for the foresight of the one who surveys the field, who studies the curves of the land and the composition of the soil and who carefully calculates what and when and how to plant. I can petition the Lord for faithfulness and diligence in the daily care of tender saplings. And I can groan for the grace it will take to trust that He is ultimately the Lord of it all, the one who enables the plant to grow, who provides the rain, and who ordains whether or not that tree bears fruit. I can come in my weakness, expecting His grace, wisdom and mercy.

And so I come knocking on Heaven’s door these days, for the strength to be the kind of person I want them to become and to love, and live, and parent each and every day with an eye to the harvest.

 

 

For our further meditation: Matthew 9:37-38, I Corinthians 3:7, Galatians 6:7

For our personal reflection:
One of our goals as Christian parents is to raise children who walk in relationship with Christ, depending on Him, finding their joy in Him, listening to and leaning on His words. How are you doing in modeling this? Is there a joy your children see in you—a joy they know that comes from walking closely with Christ?

 

Like what you’re reading? Click the “subscribe” button to your right to get these posts delivered to your inbox. Want to read more from me? Grab a copy of my devotional for expectant mothers for yourself or as a gift (Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting). Not your cup of tea? Check out my chronicle of a most unlikely story of forgiveness: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda

High Hopes: The Upside Down Path to Giving Our Children Greatness

Matthew 2

Every mother wants the best for her children. From even before she holds that baby in her arms she’s already hoping great things for the life of that someday man or woman. The mother of James and John, two of Christ’s disciples, was no different.

Their mother, traditionally thought to be Salome , and perhaps the sister of Mary was likely also one of the earliest followers of Christ. Many Bible scholars believe this not only because we find her at the foot of the cross during His passion, and also going to anoint His body at the tomb, but also because the evangelist, Mark, identifies these women as ones who had followed and ministered to Jesus while in Galilee (Mk. 15:50-41, Mk. 16:1). As an early follower of Christ, this mother knew that the best for her sons could only be found near Christ. So she asked Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Mt. 20:21). Here’s a mother who seems to be looking out for her sons, asking a very special favor of Jesus, who did indeed hold these “sons of thunder,” as he called them, close.

When this mother made her request though, it’s likely that she envisioned greatness for her two sons, perhaps a seat of honor and power, and likely an earthly kingdom. Christ replied to her question with a question for her sons, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” The sons’ reply, “we can,” showed they likely had no idea what their mother’s request entailed. To drink from Christ’s cup meant to share in his sufferings. To sit near Him meant, not power, but meekness and servant-hood. To be first was to be last.

James and John did indeed follow Jesus in this upside down path to greatness. It is believed that James was the first of the 12 apostles to face martyrdom (Acts 12:2). And while tradition has it that John, the beloved disciple, author of 5 books of the Bible, outlived all the other apostles, he did face his fair share of suffering: he was thrown into prison with Peter, faced the persecution of Herod Agrippa, the loss of his brother, and the subsequent scattering of Christ’s followers, and later in his life after more persecution ended up in exile on the Isle of Patmos he wrote the book of Revelation (Acts 4:3, Acts 12:1-17, Rev. 1:9).

This isn’t exactly a mother’s dream come true for her children: early death for one, imprisonment, suffering and persecution for the other. And yet, while the earthly life of these two sons was anything but easy, they lived the fullest of lives: walking with Jesus up-close, attesting to His resurrection, glorying in His ascension, proclaiming the way to abundant life to all who would believe. As my former boss, and dear friend, Chuck Colson, would have said, they did indeed, live “the good life.”

The message here is a hard one for us mothers. And for me personally, with two little ones three and under and another on the way, I feel like I haven’t yet even begun to truly and deeply understand the letting go that is required for a mother who trusts her children into the good—but not safe—life of a sold-out follower of Christ. This is where we must not only believe the message of the Gospel, but place our entire hope into it, and into words like those of St. Paul who said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Roman 8:18). We have to believe that the sufferings of this world that we or our children will undoubtedly face if we follow Christ with any reality at all will indeed be but “light and momentary,” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits us (1 Cor. 4:17).

The ironic lesson in this story is that if we truly desire greatness for our children, we must help them obtain it by modeling the heart of a servant. In God’s kingdom, a leader leads by taking up the basin and the towel and washing the feet of another. This is the way of his upside down kingdom. The only way up is down.

Talk to me: Sometimes our dreams for our children do not align with God’s dreams. One mother dreamt of greatness and power for her sons, when true greatness meant serving, not being served. How do we submit our dreams for our children to Christ? How can we make this both a habit and a posture?

On your own: Motherhood is by nature a journey into servant-hood and sacrifice. Write a prayer asking for God to help you serve joyfully and as unto Him.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider subscribing to get these posts to your inbox and also check out my book for expectant moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a perfect gift for any expecting mom you know. 

 

 

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