Why We don’t Pee in the Dog Pool

I saw a picture the other day of a vacuum cleaner that was still going strong after 40 years. Hundreds of comments were posted, admiring the beauty of this old machine that  with general maintenance and some loving acceptance of the noise it generates has lasted even with daily use. Many comments noted that memories of visits to grandma’s house include that equipment, nostalgia trips that felt cozy and stable during current unsure times. I was left wondering what future generations will recall of visits to grandma, what will be the lasting impression when our society has accepted the concept of disposability. Our mantra:  broken? buy a new one. New model has arrived? Get in line for the first release. I can see that this is where we lost the ability to offer grace, to be humble people,  to seek forgiveness. We have internalized the disposable ideology to include relationships with spouses, children, employers, most importantly with our Creator.

Babies learn object permanence between 4-7 months old. We are designed to spend, shy of a few months, the entirety of our lives understanding that just because we cannot see something, it still exists. We are created to look for what we know is missing, to seek out what was just in front of us, to search for what we know to be true.  To learn object permanence, stability must exist, same items around the house, the table in the same room every day, constancy of environment. When something breaks and we change up, we are teaching our children that broken means bad and new is better and then wonder why they whine at the store for a toy every time. No we did that, with our new phones and better watches and nicer shoes and fancier cars, with a new toaster and blender and vacuum. What could we teach them and remind ourselves if we leaned into the space of brokenness, if we struggled to fix what has stopped working?

I see broken people all around these days, marchers who are filled with hate and friends who post about hurting with depression, parents who are struggling to pay for school supplies and marriages that are on their last breathes. What if we stuck with each other in that broken place, what would that look like? I know I have worked hard to teach Plum personal responsibility, the old “you break it, you buy it” mentality. Just yesterday he went outside with me in the early morning, straight out of bed, no stopping for a potty break. He loves to pee outside among the bushes. I know, another post, different responsibility. Still, he got some wild idea to pretend he was one of the dogs and go about  the yard marking his territory, leaving his scent. Early morning, secluded yard, cover of darkness, all good until he chose to pee in the dog pool. Yes, that is where I drew the line. The dog wading pool where our beasts go to cool off after many romps across the grass catching the ball, chasing each other or just relax during the heat of the day. HE peed in their pool. When I told him he had to empty and refill the pool, he claimed it was an accident, he said it would be too hard to empty it, he looked for any way to slip out of his responsibility for the wrong doing. No matter, even if it had been unintentional which being half an acre away from the indoor plumbing we have graciously supplied for his bodily needs, several feet away from his normal hiding places in the bushes, the guilt was his. He aimed, he peed, he must fix. “But gran, it is too hard!”  Indeed.

As I watched him pull bucket after bucket from the urine infused water, I knew he wouldn’t do that again. He would not only chose more carefully what to destroy but also appreciate that we show respect for the belongings of others, that we fix what we destroy. Much like when he was attempting to throw tantrums early on, I allowed him to do so in his own room with his toys, encouraging him to break his things which would not be replaced but setting the boundary that tantrums and destruction would not be allowed in common areas. Incredulously, he told me he didn’t want to break HIS things! Of course not, and neither did I want to sacrifice mine. Thus, no tantrums. Patience, persistence comes in that very fixing, the moments or hours devoted to nothing else but concentrating on righting a wrong. Grace meets us in those places, when we are repentant, straining muscles of our own ego, dedicating ourselves to the task of restoration of another, to the parts we broke. Rushing the task like buying a new pool or for me to clean it out for him, speeds us on through our encounter with the Holy Spirit, our opportunity to ask for forgiveness and receive it.

We have broken the backs of our brothers and sisters of color, we have broken boundaries within our marriages, we have allowed children to be hungry and parents to struggle to provide even as they work 40 hours, we have hurt each other. Until we accept responsible and stop shifting blame, looking for wiggle room that eases our conscience and lets us zoom into new relationships without fixing what has been broken within the old ones, we are continuing to miss our own encounters with God. We cannot fast forward to the good parts, we cannot have memories of grandma’s long lasting sweeper if we don’t repair the hose along the way.  Those encounters with grace, those times we have restored what is broken, when we have admitted our own broken selves to another, fessed up to our sins, well, just like anything it gets easier the more you do it. A skill practiced, a habit built. Given my own history, I cannot hide behind false pretenses, say I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me. My sin is out there, yet it makes it even easier to confess more and more when I am wrong, to admit when my own impulses led me to pee in the pool. Further, the gift of grace that I receive so lovingly pushes me to share, I want everyone to feel those sweet moments that come from a cleansed soul, the relief of restoration, coming closer again to God rather than hiding in darkness and shame. Grace is an investment God has made in me, one He urges me to make in others. But first must come confession.

Friends, have you hurt someone? Like a crystal heirloom vase you knocked over as you raced through the day, it cannot be swept under the rug and ignored without cutting someone’s feet. Go get that sweeper, fix the mess, own up to what you have done, make restitution.  It won’t be easy, it may take time away from other fun exciting events, you may have to listen to the vase owner’s hurt and disappointment for longer than you wish. Still, stick with it. Grace will find you right there. The alternative is just more brokenness, more pools filled with pee, more cut feet, more hurting people. Shall we work on restoring, shall we remember to value what we have, can we commit to just a bit less disposing of what really matters? Lets take some tender time with each other and listen as the Holy Spirit guides toward grace. All the best memories reside right in that place.

 

What I Have Learned from the Tooth Fairy

It has been a week since I was forcibly pulled from my routine, slowed from commitments and chores and larger responsibilities to rest my brain from another concussion in only two months, this time after being rear-ended by a bus. I am not healed fully yet, I am still supposed to avoid screens and allow my eyes to look at apparently nothing beyond flowers and butterflies. I hate not being able to read constantly, I hate not being able to write daily. I want my life back, I want my schedule returned, with maybe a few adjustments. Yet the events of the past week have made clear that taking time to see those flowers and smell them as well, to be completely present as my Plum heads into first grade with time to notice all the changes this summer has brought, this time is a gift. Much like the wand that the tooth fairy left him last night, sometimes the best gifts are tiny, filled with magic that I miss. I am often too busy to notice them. More often than not, I need a major shift in my universe to clear my thinking and sharpen my vision.

My Plum has held on to his first loose tooth for many months, avoiding letting go of the inevitable. He was afraid of the pain, freaked out about losing what was clearly part of his body. Even as a new tooth sprouted up behind this wobbly baby tooth, he refused to follow the wise words of all around him, he wouldn’t wiggle it. He chose to eat around it, then began to choose soft foods to ensure he didn’t bump it. Finally nature prevailed and last night his tooth was hanging on by a literal thread. Reaching for a bit of gauze, I asked once more to feel how loose it was. One tiny tug and out it came. His relief filled the room, he rushed to look in the mirror, a spontaneous hug came my way and the decision was made that I am in charge of extracting all future teeth. As he slept the tooth fairy visited, bringing delightful gifts I had purchased over a year ago from an Etsy shop in preparation. Today he is twirling the wand she left behind and reading his note again and again, glorying in his elevation to “big boy.” I realize as I often do, I can learn from him.

I know I hang on to my own “loose teeth,” those things and people and roles in my life that need to be released, even as new growth is trying to emerge. I am fearful, anxious about the pain, I want to keep it all. My own “row of shark teeth that will ensure braces” and corrective measures later, even greater pain and discomfort, yet tightly I grip. I don’t wiggle and bite hard onto life, I avoid risks. I will never find my own little wand under my pillow, no notes congratulating me on moving forward in life if I stay stuck in what is so evidently not meant to be. My Plum believes I am strong and sure enough to always remove his loose teeth, he doesn’t know how scared I really am to remove what has already separated, what is trying to move away, in my life. What if I gave one good tug and accept that freedom, that relief? Like my best boy,  I recoil at the thought and stick to soft foods and easy choices and wallow in the misery of limbo. Not quite attached, not quite gone.

I fell asleep thinking of all the firsts I have experienced with this child. I bottle broke him, taught him to sleep through the night, potty-trained him. I took him to his first day of preschool (I sat outside the room the entire time, what understanding teachers he had!). So many more, I have lost track, some terrible and some amazing, but still he trusts me when on any precipice, when he is ready to take a big jump, he knows I will catch him if he falls. My love for him is limitless, truly accepting of even his worst days and we have those. What would it feel like to be loved like that? Actually, what would it feel like to trust that love, because I do have it, I merely need to accept it. I have a parent who loves me this deeply, who wishes to help me be free of old ways and long held beliefs that no longer serve me, to be cut loose from bonds that restrict growth and offer the relief of painful grasping onto relationships that no longer fit my life. I have that love, if only I would trust as surely as my Plum trusts me. How does he do it?

Step by step, time and again he has given me opportunities to prove that I will catch him, that I will not fail him. I don’t make promises I cannot keep. I say no when his safety requires, when he needs to rest and when vegetables are a better snack than candy. I stay up late to worry and pray while he sleeps. I don’t tug on loose teeth before they are ready, really really ready to come away. I bring new ideas and experiences into his world, allowing him to choose which he wants to grab as his. I hug him when he wants and needs and scoot further off when he wants some space. I don’t take offense when he vents his anger at me, I know his sweet words of apology will soon follow and that I am his safe place for all his feelings, even the not so pretty ones. Does my God do any less?

I know intellectually this is EXACTLY how my God loves me. All that is missing is my trust. How frustrating it must be, to have proven time and again His faithfulness and still, I resist allowing Him to catch me when I fall. During some rocky months of Plum’s past, when my relationship with him was being undermined, he didn’t trust me. It was awful. It broke my heart. I try not to remember those days, the pain of tiny acts of teaching him again that I am who I am. Yet I stayed true, little by little he let me back in to his own broken heart. God has never wavered, with big promises kept and little whispers of assurance that I can go on when I doubt. He always catches me when I fall which I do often. Rather than wishing for my own magic wand, accepting the love, trusting fully the One who is teaching me to love this child, that seems a better use of my quiet time. Step-by-step, wiggling ever closer, I am truly coming into relationship with God. Just as my patience with Plum knows no limits, fortunately God has given up on me yet.

Preparing for the Banquet

I was never the child who had to be told to clean her room, I prefer neatness and organization, a false sense of control deeply ingrained. I remember at the beginning of each season rearranging my bedroom, pushing my bed against the window, moving my dresser closer to the closet, the new space always feeling much better, wondering why I had waited so long. I loved the change, the fresh outlook even as I used the same pieces, pretending to have a window seat as I piled blankets atop my cedar chest to create a cozy area for reading. The sudden cool air, school supply shopping and apple picking have all brought on the old tickle, the need to move furniture around, to freshen up the rooms and alter our seating arrangements. More rooms to play with, heavier furniture to push, I still search for the right combination, looking for control but noticing evermore the empty areas of my life. We have too many rooms, to many chairs and tables, too many beds. I notice what is missing, what once was, forget past layouts and remember who once laid in.

This bedroom, now the toy room, was my daughter’s. The walls have a stucco finish, always a problem as we rearranged her bedroom and sought to avoid putting her bed anywhere she might inadvertently scratch her arms as she moved through the night. A huge window that looks over the backyard and brings in beautiful light was often  another obstacle. At one point her room was painted with clouds in a blue sky, a warning of her desire to fly away that I didn’t recognize. Later this room became Mama’s when she joined us, multiple times, a full apartment where she ate and hid and studied and grew into her own. Now it contains the playthings of her child, games and trucks and costumes, rocks and stuffed animals and spy gear. The room where identifies grow continues.

Across the hall was my son’s, maybe containing the most transformations. Originally a little boy’s room, then walls covered in quotes to encourage him as he began playing football, later as his substance abuse took over, the door was removed, privacy denied. After one stint in rehab, Stella and I decided to create a more grown up room, a mini apartment. Outfitted with a dorm fridge, a tv and stand for his gaming devices and paraphernalia, we sought to bring him comfort and usher him into responsibility. We gave him isolation instead, a place for his first suicide attempt. Years later, after a full sweep of the room to find hidden pills, we painted and purged and this became the nursery, my Plum’s room. Decorated still with the colorful giraffes and monkeys wearing hats alongside his own posters of Minecraft and Pokemon, this space daily brings healing of old memories as I watch this sweet child drift off to sleep, as I see him clumsily clutch his blankie and wander out in the morning. I pray often that the demons that haunted my son leave my grandson alone in here.

The spaces can be recreated into whatever we need, whatever we want. The front room has been the playroom, my office has been a bedroom. This home carries memories of children come and gone and come again, bringing friends and new loves and leaving children behind as they continue on their journey. I move the furniture and try not to count the extra chairs. The tables could tell of weekly parties and dinners for Stella’s friends and my nephew’s roommates as they touched base here during college years. The entry way could tell of police visits when our son was taken away, our desperate cries for help. I have been avoiding the front porch this summer, a place my Arrow and I sat long and talked after he came home from prison, my real son with no substances clouding his judgement, a man full of humility and gratitude. The house has too much furniture during this season, not enough bodies. Yet I wonder at what the next season will bring. We have opened our home more times than I can remember to families in need, to teens who are lost, to those who are traveling thorough. Just as surely as I move this table over there and push that couch by the window, I know I have 5 grandchildren who will someday come to play and read all of these books just waiting on the shelves for them. I can control where the lamps go but not the children. The space is ready, it is freshened. This time of preparation is surely leading to big dinners and searches for more blankets, counting pillows and bringing in chairs from the garage.

I know that my Stella remembers hours of silly talks as I lay in bed, when she would wander into my room with dinosaur hand puppets and taunt me over my door until I agreed to delay sleep and listen as she chatted just a bit longer. I know my Arrow remembers the welcome he received as he returned home with nothing, to a full fridge and closet, to a phone and the saved boxes of letters and pictures, all reminders of where he had been and who had supported him through it.  I know that just as I seasonally move all these pieces, God is move us as well, preparing our hearts for the next banquet. I take comfort in flow, in the tugging on my soul to make ready. As I listen to that urge, I know God is telling me to be obedient, stay faithful to this home, to creating hospitality. One day I will entertain my angels again.

Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.

 

Let the Clock Tick

The endless days of summer seem less so when divided up by vacations and ministries and separated into three month blocks and two are already behind us. School starts in just one more month, the rush for pencils and a new backpack, clothes that aren’t stained from mud fights and drips from ice cream cones, shoes to fit feet that grew while exposed to grass and sand and fresh air, it all speeds the clock on the last month until suddenly the noise and chaos are over and quiet has come again. I know from too many years what to expect, this last month is precious. The urgency with I will lay out paints on the porch, build fires in the back, take trips to the zoo and water fountains on campus, sure it is for him but also because I need to wring every last bit out of summer with this child before he becomes a first grader, taking more steps away from the baby I know.

Time is a cruel reminder of how little control I have as I mark my calendar, look at anniversaries and wonder about progress. I joked with a friend about how little patience I have, something I surely should have gained now at my age. Rather, I am throwing my hands up, this is now a registered character flaw I cannot fix, must manage and accept. I want everything now. I need resolution, dessert, to lose my extra weight, hotter coffee, a haircut, a nap, all now. Right as the need arises, my mind contorts in confusion when events don’t happen at my speed. Thus slowing down summer, keeping this child safely just a boy and not sending him ever out into a dangerous world of choices filled with drugs and sex and violence, I want it all to stop, an unusual speed setting for me. A contradiction, borne of too much knowledge, too much loss, heartache that steals sleep and brings unexpected tears, I just want us to play more. Then a friend posted about adopting her daughter and I was reminded again of who God is and who I am.

Without sharing too much, she talked about her desire for a child and waiting, waiting, all the while her daughter was being born far away and she would meet her years later. I know this family and the absolute joy in the mothering, the delight she takes in her children. She has talked freely about her agony during her times of infertility. Yet God had a bigger plan all along, her family brings smiles and laughter to our circle and inspires many others to consider the same road. What can I learn from her celebration yesterday? Is God any less aware of the desires of my heart? Isn’t it quite possible that what I am asking for is so small compared to what He is bringing to us?

Faithful waiting, living fully while the clock keeps ticking, continuing to do the next right thing, this is God’s ask of me. Trusting that one day I will write about joyous reconciliations, about bigger loves and wilder outcomes, that is believing that God is in control of the calendar, the world, my heart. So we will make our muddy messes on the front porch, have s’mores in the back, we will paint rocks and maybe some trees with abandon. School will start soon enough, the boy will continue to grow. God protects him more than I ever will be able to, He just wants me to love him today. My job is really quite easy when put that way. Let the clock tick, we have playing to do.

Savor

How We Survived A Devastating Year

After an intense week with little sleep or real time to think, the quiet now has descended and my thoughts are swirling, invading, pushing through weakened defenses. Memories of last year and the shock, the pain, the anger are resurrected, knowledge of what we have survived, what little we knew we were to face, I find the wounds have yet to fully heal. Last year this week Chef was quite unceremoniously, entirely unexpectedly cut off from everything he was for 18 1/2 years, we were left with no income and so began a period of mourning and self-discovery marred by the fear of homelessness. Broken promises, lost routine, expectations of the future all paled as we wondered how to pay the mortgage, soon how to even get out of bed in the morning. As the days became weeks and then months, the answers we sought, that everyone seeks during sudden loss, were elusive. Ultimately, all we truly had, all we ever can depend on, was our faith.

During this season I have watched a man with great confidence be knocked to his knees, a place God met him and lifted him again. I have watched him bravely begin anew, when he many days wanted to never try or trust again. I waited for our children who most deeply knew of his sacrifices, having lived and benefited most from his excessive work and dedication, to lay aside their own needs and reach out to him, to support him during this devastating loss, only to find this an added disappointment heaped onto a horrific year. Yet we never were left waiting for support from others as countless friends and guests that he cared for all throughout the years rushed to his side, brought him muffins and pies, sent him texts and emails, called him over and over, reminded him that he is loved and that he is not alone. These people are burden carriers, those who have walked hard times themselves and know that words will never fix anything but words are offered anyway, food will never make it all go away, but food is delivered anyway. The collective carrying of the weight of the loss, one tiny bit by many, gave us respite, encouraged us to keeping breathing.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us together rejoice in all of it, the horrible, the hurt, the lovely, the terrifying, the silly, the joyful. This is the day, a new day. We begin anew, because of all of you. This is what faith looks like, faith in action. When ours was whittled down to mere words we could recite, when it was mere hunger pangs that grew louder yet we were too depressed to even feed ourselves, you spoke Jesus in hugs and banana bread. When we had little faith beyond spelling the word you reminded us time and again that surviving within a community of faith means that others carry you until you can walk and speak and preach again. God rose our community up, near and far, always at critical junctures, to bring healing words and slices of hope and encouraging directives and sobering pushes, that pulled us from despair pits back into the faith world that understood brokenness and grace and loved us even when we had nothing to offer.

We are now on the other side of the first anniversary, the true beginning of newness. Today as I clean my home, sweeping behind the couch and under all the hard to get areas, I am mentally ridding my heart of the first year hurts, those memories of that time one year ago that our world crashed. No one is here to witness the force with which I bang the broom or slam the bucket, a release of the last dredges of anger, I hope. What we lost will become memory, what has been gained will grow. Building a more solid foundation on true friends, frugality, and most importantly shared faith will lead us into this uncertain future. Fear has been introduced into his eyes, something one wishes never to see in someone they love. Still I watch as God transforms that fright into renewed compassion, a deeper humility, a broader awareness of social justice.  What the next anniversary will bring, we are never sure, yet I trust that God is does know and our wounds are indeed healing. Our purpose is being made clear, Chef is finding his way. The tears may flow today, laughter will follow just as surely in the morning.

To all who have surrounded us this year, the many of you who have lifted us in prayer and listened to us cry and wail, offered their couches for wise counseling sessions, brought meals and taken us to lunch, found tasks to keep us busy and ministries to give us something for our calendars and to take us outside of ourselves, for all the long walks and short drives, for you all, my gratitude is as deep as the ocean and as vast as the heavens. You are wound healers, burden carriers, joy bringers, angels. I love and thank you all. I pray that you never need me to offer such gifts to you yet if you do, I pray equally that I seek out your pain in such beautiful meaningful ways, that I don’t run away from your fearful eyes, but that I too have learned to lift up my bit of your wounds, to offer you respite. Thank you for being in my community, for believing in our healing God who is bigger than any one of us. Together we survived this year. Now on to our future, the beginning. I hope you will join us as we celebrate learning to walk again.

 
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What I Want vs. What Is Right

I didn’t stay for the entire sermon, too many details and tasks in the kitchen beckoning me out of the sanctuary and into the kitchen. I was chomping at the bit, a luncheon for 40 and then dinner for around 300 to prepare. I was distracted but heard some of the words my pastor was sayings something about wanting to do good but getting tripped up. Yeah, yeah, I thought, that is me as I eased out of a side door and got busy laying out trays of meats, bowls of fruit. The week only got busier and I barely gave it a thought even though I vowed to myself to go back and listen online to the entire sermon. He may have been speaking directly to me as I snuck away, a warning that I was ignoring. Still the Word of God is not be denied and my bumbling through the days with less sleep and more activity caught up with me, my walls of emotional protection slipped and 3 days late, the message hit.

Busyness of meal planning and prep and directing kitchen volunteers and serving all the families who come to dinner before leaving their children at Vacation Bible School was distracting me from missing my Plum who is gone on a 2 1/2 week vacation with mama in an area that is so remote we cannot even speak regularly by phone. We haven’t been away from each other this long in years, not since I was the one gone and then fully occupied as well. It was creeping into my heart each day more and more how sad I was that he was missing this huge life altering event at our church, how deeply he loved it last year. He sang all the songs for weeks, he truly bonded to his friends and the other adults at church. That was the week the church fully became his family, his home. Now he was missing it. While knowing this time was good for him with his family, I wanted him at church too. When they had a good signal and we could truly catch up, I didn’t hear the voice of a child begging to come home to his Gran. Instead, this boy and his mama and sister are in wonderful hands, fishing, swimming, exploring, and bonding with each other in the most meaningful ways. This time will be looked back on as sacred in life of the family, I am sure. I hung up the phone and celebrated the good that was happening and still, STILL, I longed for him to be here at church. I want to do good and then I do wrong.

Flash forward to late in the evening as the director of this years craziness at VBS finally snuck into the kitchen for her plate of food we had set aside for her. I shared with her how much I missed having Plum there and how wonderful his vacation was turning out to be for his family. She said, he is having his own sanctuary. If my huge beast had knocked me to the ground again, I couldn’t have been shocked more. Exactly, yes. That one word preached to me, reminded me that my desires were getting in the way of the God who was handling it all, who sees the whole picture and was caring for the whole life of my sweet little boy. He may not learn the message this year with the other children that God is always with you but he is living it out. I would do well to remember that message myself.

I am not even getting into the Facebook memory from years ago that popped up where I was claiming pride because my son finally owned his stuff, showed humility and gratitude and was ready to accept his consequences. My heart ached as we are so far from that reality, addiction does that, steals our loved ones and turns them into hate-filled selfish blaming monsters. Then a friend who has walked and sobbed and only with the grace of God is still standing through times worse than ours, who is helping on our kitchen crew, with a twinkle in her eye told me her son came for dinner. My tears couldn’t be controlled, I celebrated with her, this tiny achievement for anyone else, something not many would even recognize. She and I know what it means: hope. Hope for him, for my son, for all those lost and not found yet.

So I left the sermon early because I was just too busy and God found me anyway, on a Wednesday when I needed to hear that HE is bigger and I am often my own worst enemy. I skipped the offering plate as well, so I offer this now: I am a willful child who keeps doing wrong, even for what I think are the right reasons. Still, I keep showing up and God lights the way. I give all of me, sometimes and most of me more of the time. He works with that and is sorting me out All Of The Time, even when I hang out in the kitchen. I suspect this week was about schooling Gran and not my Plum.  Well played, God, well played.

 

Romans 7:14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. The Message.

Thank you Eugene Peterson, for making the language accessible.