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.

Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

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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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For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

afloat
There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Lean into Grace in 2014: Change the Way We Think About Change

contact Catherine Claire Larson

I don’t know about you, but this time of year stresses me out. We go from bowing our hearts at a manger cradle, embracing family, lavishing gifts on loved ones, and feasting to burying ourselves in guilt, resolving to do better, and flailing. Give me Christmas, please. Give me advent. Give me anything but this New Year’s I-Can-Do-It-If-I-Just-Try-Harder death trap. My throat’s constricting just thinking about it.

Lord knows, I want to do better. I want to be more, and in some ways less. I want that so very much. But I’ve been around this guilt-track one too many times to know that if change is happening in my life, it won’t be happening because I finally willed it enough. Change happens by the grace of God. Repeat: change happens by the grace of God.

I have tried to make change happen in my life through white-knuckling it. I’ve tried to make change happen in other peoples’ lives by loving them into it. I’ve tried to make change happen with schedules, regimens, and to-do lists. It doesn’t work.

Now hear me, I’m not saying we can or should be lazy, flippant, or haphazard in our pursuit of change. I’m not saying that schedules or to-do lists or scales or love or determination may not be advantageous in our pursuit of change. What I am saying is that they will never get you to change without the grace of God at your back.

Dear friend—dear self—please remember, nothing changes unless God fills the sails with the breath of His pleasure.

Do you want to live a life more pleasing to God? Good. Do you want to be more faithful in your time alone with Him? Good. Do you want your words to be full of grace and wisdom when you speak with your children or co-workers or neighbors? Good. Do you want to live a healthier life-style? Good. Do you want to dedicate your time to finally learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language? Good.

But if you have the audacity to think to attempt any of these things in your own strength, for your own purposes, apart from the grace of God, well friend, enjoy the rollercoaster. I’ll see you on the other side. Because when we attempt things, even good things, without even petitioning God about them, something’s bound to go haywire. You may end up rocking that resolution while totally neglecting other important aspects of what God has called you to do. You may flail when you run out of strength and despair of ever changing. Depression may ensue. You may nail the change but become arrogant and suffocating to be around in the process. Or you may, and I hope this is the case, end up on your knees before God asking Him if this change is one He wants for your life and if so if He’d be pleased to strengthen you with whatever it takes to make it.

So, dear ones, let’s just skip the roller-coaster, please. Can we instead both start 2014 off right? Can we start it on our knees? Can we start it by asking God what changes He wants to see in our lives? Would we be willing to listen—truly listen—to His answer? It may not be where we want to put our energies. Can we just go ahead and confess that in ourselves we are not enough to be better, but that we truly and desperately need help to change? Let’s get real; we desperately need help to even truly want to change. That’s better.

So God, here we are, a mess, at your feet, desiring (but not nearly strongly enough), the changes that will bring us more of your abundant life. Here we are, so blind to the changes we need the most. And here we are asking for your grace, leaning into it, falling. By your grace and only if it is for your glory, help us. Change us and empower us to change. Change the way we seek change.

 

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