A Sacred, Messy Sunday

At 2:30 am, Sophie awoke and the intestinal eruptions commenced.  Then two cups of rocket fuel coffee later, last glance at the clock ticked ten in the morning, kid and canine eject simultaneously like geysers— violent, unrestrained.  A messy Sunday ensues. Several changes of clothing and bedding later, the six year old and the lab sleep.  Sophie naps on the couch strewn with coloring books, a worn copy of Why Germs Make Me Sick, because for the life of me I can’t explain the concept as well as the book can and inquisitive little Sophie inquires about the origin of her wrecked Sunday.  In between naps, she requests the movie,Little Women, for her viewing pleasure; she claims it relaxes her.

Then I hear from Haiti.  The father daughter duo send a video from the hotel.  A calm pours over me like the Tension Tamer tea I often gulp down on rough home schooling days.  A bit past noon, an email from the duo arrives, photos included.  As I study the photos and the captions from my daughter, my messy Sunday suddenly transforms into a sacred sanctification Sunday, right there in my kitchen.

This young girl told the dynamic duo about her hunger so they rummaged through their bags and pulled out neatly wrapped packages of food; the plentiful sort we dismiss daily.  They offered her a lollipop; the kind the bank tellers at our drive thru window give out for free and I usually throw away or stash in the console.  She gobbled the offerings.  They will feed her the Bread of Life, too, which fills her belly to overflowing, eternally.

My so called messy Sunday prevented me from going to church and hearing the sermon from my fifth row back, cushioned seat.  Not really.  My man preached this morning and even though I don’t know what he said, His words made me squirm in my comfortable computer chair.

While in Haiti, Mark, the agronomist, teaches the people of the Village of Hope how to cultivate good, rich soil in two ways: the farming way and the Gospel way.

 My messy Sunday turned sacred as I viewed this home, some Haitian family’s cherished home, as I scrub my carpet, bathe my sick child, launder my soiled clothes using hot or cold water; I have the privilege of a choice.  Messy turns sacred as I offer my kids a menu of possibilities for breakfast and they get to refuse from the list of choices.  I pray, like Paul,” may the God of peace himself sanctify [me] you wholly.”  And I didn’t need to leave my messy house this Sunday, the Sacred found me.

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Taking Flight, Part 2

My husband and our college age daughter leave tonight to spend their spring break together in the Caribbean.  Warm weather, sapphire blue sea, long stretches of beach to roam, orphans to nurture, soil to till, gospel to share.  The girl with a gift for teaching and the father with the heart to farm venture together to the Village of Hope.  Not your typical Caribbean get-a-way but a Jonah-like trip, an answer to His command expedition.

As I reread my post from last July, “What’s a Girl to Do?” about my daughter Olivia, the one with chestnut brown tresses that spiral in ringlets  down her back, I watch her pack for the trip that may very well rock her middle class American world.  Olivia and my husband leave behind the warmth and comfort of the home and hearth in exchange for a missions trip to Haiti. The father-daughter duo plan to serve, the white knuckle kind of service that reaches deeper than any pocket or purse.

Eight months ago, this daughter of mine, sat cross-legged on the floor in her room asking me with tears streaming down her flawless ivory cheeks and a wet, shredded tissue in hand:

“What am I to do; I want to do something worthy.”

Where did the time go? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she ran about the farm in dress ups fashioned after some medieval princess?  The braces, glasses, and bruised knees replaced by womanhood.  Just a breath ago, I wiped chocolate from the corners of her mouth and now she will do the same for a precious Hatian child living in the Village of Hope orphanage.

As she prepares for this trip, I often silently reminisce about our summer tea parties under the big maple tree and the afternoons we spent nestled in the porch swing reading Charlotte’s Web count as some of our favorite memories of her childhood. And now, my little girl turned woman, God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do His work that He planned beforehand ( Eph. 2:10), touches this little piece of the world with compassion and the love of Christ.

So the man to hold her hand in this maiden voyage is the same God fearing man that held her tiny, crinkled hand the second she made her way into this world—her dad.  What more could a mother ask for? As I make the final inspection of the packing, I imagine the two of them hand in hand running together through the airport, giddy with anticipation of what God will do through them while in Haiti.  I close my eyes and envision Olivia resting her travel weary head on her father’s strong, protective shoulder.

So my girl followed her life map to Haiti, for now.  My little bird grew strong wings and she’s putting them to the test; she’s soaring into flight and I couldn’t be more proud.

In Good Company

I keep a copy of Tony Reinke’s (formerly a journalist, but now a theological researcher, writer, and blogger) 15 Tips on Blogging from John Newton next to my computer as a reminder that my writing is a ministry NOT an industry.  When I stumble upon nuggets of gold like this one by Reinke, I pass them on to my budding writing students who one day may blossom into the next generation of bloggers, poets or novelists.  So for homework next week, my writing students will read the Reinke post and learn that writing is to edify one’s audience, but most importantly, writing is to glorify God. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/15-tips-on-blogging-from-john-newton

(click link)

Writing takes muscle, my students have heard me say, it’s not for the faint of heart.  However, I remind them, if God stirs a desire to write, then, by all means write even if it begins in the quiet corner of your room at your desk where you scratch out thoughts in a journal.  That’s the beginning.

I remember the day I realized I needed to write.  The summer I was ten, maybe eleven, I woke up with the notion of hoisting myself on my way too big for a ten year old shiny red three speed and peddling non stop some three miles to the neighborhood grocery “Lucky’s Superette.” My goal on that journey was to purchase a pack of loose leaf paper or spiral notebook (not a hint of schoolsupplies around the house until September), whichever one fit my meager budget. Lacking height to peddle and operate breaks simultaneously, I spent most of my time in the bike-stand mode, which is what happens when a kid needs to grow into the bike.

The round trip produced droplets of sweat and fatigued thighs but they were no match to my eagerness to begin writing my first book. One might muse, write a book about what? What wealth of wisdom or experience would a ten year old impart to the world? That wasn’t the point. That summer ride served as a declaration of my life long love for words and my calling to write.  My windswept, crinkled brown paper bag contained, what I thought at the time, the only tool I needed to write—paper.

That summer I put pen to paper and embellished stories familiar to me. Stories of beach combing on blistering hot summer afternoons on a deserted local island where my father and I searched endlessly for beach washed relics from the people that once occupied this tiny speck of land sandwiched between the Chesapeake Bay and the Tangier Sound.  I scribbled narratives about standing on the edge of the town dock listening to the drone of the local lighthouse and hearing the early morning voices of local fishermen echo across the waterway as they readied their boats and their hopes for basket fulls of harvest from the bay.

As time passed, writing proved arduous. And one day, not quite a decade later, during English Literature class Professor Vargis scribbled a note along with the glaring “F” on my inaugural essay requesting that I meet with him after class.  The professor whom I revered sat across from me in  his hallowed office where the works of  Chaucer, Wordsworth, Elliot and others lined the walls like literary trophies listening to him shatter this girls world:

“Have you considered another major?” he gently suggested.

His words choked me, cut off my air for a few seconds until I reached back to that summer bike ride and pulled out a handful of ten year old tenacity and respectfully slapped it on the professor’s desk with an emphatic:

“No, never considered anything else.”

 My Burning Bush Moment: every word and phrase the professor spoke chiseled a crack of inadequacy and a crevice of doubt into my “red bike” calling to be a writer.  The professor tactfully delivered the message that he didn’t think I had what it took to be a writer.  My writing lacked style, a disciplined technique, and on and on.

Like Moses, I am not the likely candidate to get the job done.  I spent my childhood being just that a kid who collected experiences ignited by imagination, not some child prodigy plucked from academia, like the pre-med student that sat behind me in that English Literature class.  I was ordinary, unequipped, inadequate or so it seemed to the outside world. A good deal like Moses.

“I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12) whispered God.  My words scrawled to paper may never find themselves bound in leather resting on a bookshelf but my calling, and yours, is based on what God wants to do through us for his glory not ours.

For years, I stalled the calling through avoidance, surely God picked the wrong person, a similar response that Moses gave God in Exodus 4:13, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 

The Aaron Period: over the years, God orchestrated circumstances that placed people in my life who mentored and assisted me so that I could get the job done, which echoes the scenario between Moses and God in Exodus 4:15-15, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well…I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.”

Reinke parallels the sense of inadequacy Christians experience as they face their calling with the glossophobic (fear of public speaking or of speaking in general) Moses who received the mammoth task of leading a society out of bondage http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/don-t-feel-qualified-for-your-calling. A great read.

Whether our calling is to mothering or writing or serving, kingdom work is joyfully grueling work, a paradox only understood with an eternal vision. Moses understood the gravity of what God called him to do and he also realized his dependency on God in order to get the job done.

Yes, some writers always get it right the first time: the right verb, the exact punctuation, the eloquent style.  As I study Moses, I see an unpolished, humble (Num. 12:3) man who made mistakes, just like me.  A man who spent his calling wanting to know God and His ways and to see God’s glory.

At my desk, a copy of Reinke’s blogging manifesto, my trusted thesaurus and faithful dictionary close at hand, a tattered copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (one of the best investments, thanks Professor Vargish), photos of my children, and my most important tool—my Bible. As I move forth in my calling, I am comforted to know that I am in good company with the likes of someone like Moses.

Heavenly Timeline

Walking by 2

Kindergarten by 5

Proficiently reading by, oh say, 6

Driver License (in the state of Maryland) at 16

Vote by 18

Graduate by 18, immediately into college

Graduate college by 22 

Land a great job by 22.5

  This is a list of just a few prospective items in life that individuals in our culture, although unspoken, are expected to attain. Timelines stare us in the face every time we log onto Facebook. Parents hear them reviewed at each visit to the doctor.  Media publish, post, and paste various types of timelines with the hope that parents adhere to the expectations established by experts.  As a parent, resisting the urge not to plop my kids on a timeline interval or measure them up to the benchmarks defined by people who don’t know the intricate weaving and knitting of my kid’s heart proves more difficult sometimes than not accruing late fines at our beloved free library. (Just an aside, when the last kid from this household graduates, I’m going to suggest that our local library erect a new wing in the children’s section using the decades of perennial overdue fines accumulated and paid by our family.)

I look to God’s word for guidance:

I ponder on Moses and the timeline in which God had him on.  Moses, as a babe meandering down the river in a basket, as a fierce protector of his people while enslaved in Egypt, as a fugitive, all this before he led God’s people out of Egypt.

Then I study Abraham’s timeline — the man waited 25 years for a child.

I often linger over David’s timeline: shepherd, boy-warrior, fugitive, then king. 

One can’t forget Joseph, the youngest of a brood of boys who became a fraternal outcast, slave, servant, prisoner, interpreter of dreams, Pharaoh’s right hand man, and his most important role: that of forgiver.

I watch how Paul, initially, followed his own timeline and how God abruptly interrupted Paul’s narrow Pharisaical path and widened his road.  Even then, once on the road of salvation, Paul waited it out for some time, probably for further equipping, before throwing himself into his new calling.  God fractured Paul’s timeline and redesigned it for eternal purposes.

So with my children, the world may dictate timelines of all sorts.  As each one of my children are uniquely designed, I need to unabashedly defy what the world dictates and peer into the heart of each child and let that determine the timeline and the length in which we remain at each step of life’s timeline.

Image by Google

In timeline matters of the heart, do I see spiritual readiness or spiritual deficiency, growth or immaturity with this child?  My child may be chronologically eligible for dating or driving or college, but what pours out of the well spring of the heart? Does that child drink from the fountain of Life or is that child drawn to the troughs of the world?

Then, we adjust the timeline accordingly.  As in the lives of Moses, Abraham, David, and Joseph, God maintained the timeline and did not release them to do His work until they were equipped and ready.

On timeline matters of physical and intellectual development, like academics and sports, the same standards apply.  I must examine the unique creation, the child, before me with eternal eyes rather than the specs borrowed from the culture.  As a parent, grandparent, caregiver, mentor, resist applying the culture’s timeline to children and bask in the beauty of who God set before you to love and nurture.

I pen these words with humility gained from the bumps and bruises of  wrongly comparing the successes or failures of my children to the standards the culture set before me.  Time, experience, and heaps of grace taught me to look culture square in the eye and resist it’s claims about how my kid ought to perform in the world.

A heavenly timeline might look radically different than a culture timeline.  Time is the critical word.  Before moving to the next rite of passage on the timeline, I need to equip my child for the next benchmark or interval on his/her timeline and not proceed until evidence of readiness prevails.

So before that next blip on your child’s timeline confronts you, stop and prayerfully consider, “Is this child ready to move on?” Open the pages of scripture to see how God manages the timelines of those who were dearest to him.