Monday, February 27, 2012

God of the Practical

I love mountaintops.

A refreshing stiff climb.  The mysterious feeling of boldly going where few feet have ever touched virgin heights before.  Spectacular views to match soaring emotions.  Fresh air and freedom.  Awe.  Exhilaration.  Renewal.

My husband.  A while back.  In the Alps.

But, always, I then have to climb down.  Down in the valley, my muscles ache, the air is hot and sticky, and the roads are crowded and noisy.  Multitasking clouds my focus.  The dirt on my boots leaves tracks through the kitchen.  I have to mop.

Was it worth that climb only to return to the dreary level again?  The Lord of the heavens and earth seemed so close and accessible up there where the horizon circled me.  I felt renewed up there, near to Him.  But down again on the other side, too soon, I can't find Him so clearly in the drudgery of the every day habitual life.  Or at least, I don't expect to.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills," said the Psalmist, "from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth."

Have you ever hiked a mountain with a kindergardener, a preschooler, a toddler, and a baby?  My back aches after a "quiet" day around the house with them; mountains are out of the question.  It may as well be Everest for all the impossibility.  Leaving them in the hands of a capable babysitter so I can set off upward alone is nearly as improbable.  If I had a day by myself, fighting gravity on a long dirt path for hours just wouldn't top my to-do list.  But even if I wasn't after a physical mountain, the idea of spending a day alone soul searching and refocusing just isn't that feasible.  It sounds wonderful, but so does Cinderella's castle, and Narnia, and an unhurried shower; it just isn't reality.  Not now.

Ever imagine what it might have been like to hear Jesus teach?  How incredible it would have been to hear the sermon on the mount first hand!  To sit near Jesus as He spoke, looking down over the undulating hills of Israel, must have been awesome and life changing.  Biblical in proportion!
But after challenging and renewing the focus of everyone up there on the mountain with Him, Jesus went down.  He didn't live on the mountain top, after all.  He hitched up his robe and plodded back down the slope to the hot, dirty, crowded life on the lower ground.  He spent several chapters up on the mountainside, in the clear, bright air, but in Matthew 8, Jesus went back down to the daily grind.
First person He's recorded to have met?  An outcast.  A leper.  Contagious, diseased, dirty, and desperate.  A man who couldn't have gone up the mountain, probably; it would have been painful or physically impossible, and he wasn't allowed to be near people anyway.  He couldn't have heard Jesus teach up there.  But suddenly, there was Jesus, in front of him, at the bottom of the mountain, in the middle of his path of regular life.

"If you are willing, you can make me clean."  The sinner in the broken body knew His Savior.
"I am willing." Said Jesus.  And He healed the man of his incurable disease.
Then he raised a dead servant back to life.  He cast demons out of people and healed a lot of sick folks.  He even healed his friend's mother-on-law's headache, so she got up and made them all lunch!
There, right in the midst of the normal, the daily, the real, the painful, the hum-drum and drudgery, Jesus was willing to be.
Willing to rub shoulders with the dirty folks.  Willing to tenderly fix the hurting folks.  Willing to eat a fish sandwich with Peter and his mother-in-law!  Jesus put Himself right there in the middle of run-of-the-mill reality.  The leper, the dead guy, the demon possessed, Peter's wife's mom - they weren't up there on the mountain to hear Jesus' words of exhortation and comfort.  They couldn't be.
So Jesus met them in the midst of their ordinary.
Did that mother-in-law grumble when Jesus and His friends left muddy footprints all through her house?  Well, maybe.  At least, she probably figured Peter should have known better.  But the Creator of the world was standing in her kitchen, choking down warm fish and stale bread (since she probably hadn't baked any that day, being out of Motrin and stuck in bed with a fever and all.)  He had come to her.

He likes to do that, I think.  Even still.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just lounging around all day, bored...

I was pulling crayons out from the couch cushions this afternoon, thinking about blogging.  The last post was almost done, but didn't save overnight.  Discouraging.  Already, I don't feel like I have enough time to accomplish even the basic necessities for the six lives who rely on me.  Nearly an hour of my life, wasted on a blog that the computer didn't keep.  Blah.

Time is precious.  My husband asked me what I wanted most on my birthday a couple weeks ago.  "Time."  I answered ruefully.  The one thing I can't have more of.  No matter how much money or power I have (and that isn't much anyway), the same number of minutes are allotted to my every day.

A sundial in the marketplace of old Philippi, Greece

Funny, I've always had the same amount of time, every day of my life and every season.  The hours seemed endless in those weeks before each baby was due.  I counted each little contraction for weeks, wondering if they would turn into the real thing, only to wake up every morning still pregnant.  In high school, waiting for English class to end after lunch seemed interminable.  Counting the days in middle school until my family went to Disney World...  A long night with a crying new baby who didn't understand darkness meant sleeping and daytime meant eating...  Time was too much.

Only two people in the history of the world have ever had time altered for them.   Joshua, when he was fighting the kings of the Amorites in Joshua 10, needed more time to finish the battle (what man can stand an unresolved project?)  God granted him almost a full day when the sun did not go down.  Then King Hezekiah, in 2 Kings 20:9-11, was granted several extra hours as a sign he was going to live longer.  So there is a whole day missing from the record of history.

I don't think God's going to give it back to me just so I can get the laundry folded.

I know about redeeming the time, not wasting it, being wise and efficient - I know all that - I'm trying.
But here's what I'm realizing.  I can't get everything done in the 24 hours of every day right now.  Period.  That's not a revelation, just a frustrating reality.  But would I like more?
More time would mean the dear old great-grandmother sitting for long hours in a sterile nursing home would have more hours to pine away in her forgetfulness.  More time spent in suspense for someone waiting for important test results to return.  More time for the widow stuck in a country plagued with famine to tell her children there is no food.  More time for me would mean my husband would be away longer at work.  Some mommy might have to be pregnant for longer.  More time would mean a longer winter.  Heck no!
No, I must learn to be content with those 24 short hours of my own day.  They are enough.  Somehow, though everything won't get done that I would like to, they are enough.  Schoolwork won't always get finished.  The fridge, the floor, the bathrooms, the laundry, the van, the lawn, won't always (or ever!?!) be clean.  All the words I wanted to say to my friends and family won't be all said.  I will have to finish my kids' baby books when they are in college.  And I'll be wondering then where the time went.  
The time I have, it is enough.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give it time.

Five year old, pouting over reading homework and grumbling about an odd phrase, "I don't believe in anything I can't see!"
Me, pouncing on the opportunity, "Oh, well, do you believe you have a house?"
Five year old, "Yes, I can see it."
Me, "Do you believe in the wind?"
Him, "Yes, I can feel it."
Me, "Do you believe I'm your mommy?"
"Yes, because you take care of us every day and feed us and change diapers."  (Yup, that about sums it up...)
"Ok, so do you believe in God?"
Him, still pouting and realizing this is a chance to tell mommy what she doesn't want to hear, "No.  I can't see Him."
I expected this from little Mr. Attitude, "Well, I believe He is real because somebody had to make this earth and the trees and the clouds.  And somebody had to put a lot of thought into making you."
"Nope.  I don't believe it if I can't see it."
"Well, He is real, whether we believe it or not."  I let the matter drop.

The next day, at breakfast, I asked again.
"Gav, do you believe God is real?"

He sighed, but being in a better mood and full of bacon, replied, "Well, maybe a little... It just makes sense."

A day and a slab of bacon can really help with perspective.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


The house smelled of vinegar yesterday.
Three boys, with spray bottles full of it, let loose on the windows last afternoon.  White vinegar does a great job of making things shiny and spotless - if you wipe it dry afterwards.  That detail was mostly lost on little fingers consumed with the power of the spray nozzle.  But they are learning.

The house smelled of fresh sourdough bread this morning.
I mixed it up last night.  It rose slowly until morning, when I threw the puffy sour-smelling lump into the oven.  Half an hour later, the aroma of fresh bread permeated the house as we prepared to run out the door for church.  (No, I'm not super mom because I made fresh bread early on a Sunday.  I sacrificed the dishes, my kids ate Cheerios for breakfast, and we were a bit late for the service because my kids were being neglected and playing outside in the snow and dirt and were smeared with cold mud when it was time to pile in the van.)  It was lovely to come home to warm homemade bread.

I am thirty years old today.  In the past 24 hours, I've cleaned frosting off the chalkboard.  I've discussed warthogs with a five year old.  I've unclogged two toilets.  I simultaneously showered and wiped clean the bathtub.  I washed and dried and (mostly) folded five loads of laundry and put fresh sheets on all the beds - with help from toddlers, which takes it to a whole new level, especially the bunk beds.   I changed baby diapers and fought over which underpants the potty-trainee would wear.  I vacuumed twice. (The flour bucket was pushed into the bathroom and left a trail yesterday.  This evening, I vacuumed the rest of the downstairs so we wouldn't start the school week with an extra point on my to-do list.)  I've retrieved at least three pairs of mittens discarded outside.  Well, one mitten got frozen into the driveway; that pair will have to be reunited at the next thaw.  I've made lots of meals and washed countless dishes.  I planned a basic menu for the week and an overview of school plans.  I inherited a big freezer from a Nascar driver's driver (the fella who drives the race cars to all the tracks.)  I wiped tears.  I kissed my husband.
What changed between the sour vinegar day and the fresh bread day?

"Set up signposts," says Jeremiah 31:21, "Make landmarks."  Remember the way from which you have come.

One year ago was my due date for my fourth son.  He came early; I didn't end up sharing my birthday.  But the birthday mark makes it easy to remember the past year.  My husband had just been very sick with the flu.  I had just gotten home a few days prior from the hospital after the emergency visit that resulted in brain surgery to place a shunt in Ben's little body.  It was our first few days of normalcy in the midst of the new baby fog of tiredness.  We sat on the sofa.  We talked kids, the weather, whose turn it should be to catch up with the pile of bills and mail.          
Clean windows were far from priority.
Homemade bread was farther.

To remember from whence I've come is good.  From the stark smell of cleaning to the homey welcoming  aroma of yeasty flour...  From the days of my son's fragile infancy to his round chubby-ness sleeping peacefully in his brothers' room through the night...  From back, from my own childhood, to now.  Remembering.  How God has kept me.  How God has taught me to know Him.  He is faithful.
What does the future hold?  Maybe I will die tomorrow.  Maybe I will live fifty more years, or seventy.  Maybe the hardest lessons are still to come.  Probably.  Here I am, somewhere in the middle, marking memories.  My skin doesn't fit like it used to, but I still get pimples sometimes.  Birthday.  It is a good time to mark.  To remember.
Today, I have clean windows (sort of) and fresh bread.  Memories.  And hope for the future.  And cake.        

Henry, with birthday cake.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


We don't see eye to eye on a lot of things.
But there are 15 inches between our heights.  That was inevitable.
If I'd married someone who did see eye to eye with me, we'd have some very short children.
But I didn't marry to have perfectly proportioned children.

He commented to me during our last pregnancy, "Remember when we used to just argue about what movie to watch on the weekend and what junk food to buy?  Now we argue about what neurosurgeon is best for our son and whether to buy a second minivan.  Times change, huh?"
I smiled, but responded, "Nah, we still argue about money."

And the LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him."
Genesis 2:18

Comparable.  Of equivalent quality.  Similar.  Proportional.  Like.

Yup.  Man needs a helper.  The first thing that God said was "not good" was that man be alone.  He made the guy, put him in the garden to take care of it, and gave him one rule - eat.  Eat from every tree except the one with the death penalty attached.  That's Genesis 2:17.  Genesis 2:18 says he needed help with that eating rule.  The other commands God gave to them both.  Genesis 1:26-30 are addressed to "them." They are supposed to be in charge of the animals and they are to be fruitful and multiply.  But the first rule - the command to eat and not die - Adam needed help with that.

A dear old friend who had been married nearly 50 years once told me a joke.
He said that Adam was talking with God one day about Eve.
"Lord, why did you make her so beautiful?"  Adam asked.
"So you would want to look at her." God replied.
"Well, why did you make her so soft?"
"So you would want to touch her."
"Ok, but why did you make her so stupid?" Adam asked, perplexed.
God replied patiently, "So she would love you."

I will be honest.  I find this helping thing difficult.  Often.  He will be talking about morals in politics to me and my mind is wandering into school lessons for the next week or my frustration with disciplining a certain two-year-old.  I sigh and grumble over the supper dishes when he walks in the door after a busy day at work.  He agrees with me that my days are full and busy; so are his.  He affirms that the mundane tasks of raising our little brood are extensive, tedious, and yet, of great importance.
But they are not my most important job.

Why did God tell Adam not to eat from that tree?  Eating that fruit barred him from the communion with God for which he was created.  God created Adam to know him, but eating that forbidden fruit separated the sinner from the One who knows no sin.  Adam chose the knowledge of evil even though he already knew the Good - personally.  Creator and created became incompatible.
God, in His grace, did make a remedy.  His Son paid the blood price for our sin, dying in our place.  He traded His perfect life for our imperfect one.  God can now look at us and see the purity of Jesus' life, and our communion is restored when we choose to trust Him for that.  We can know God; we can be with God.

Eve was supposed to help Adam eat right.  His whole reason for being depended on it.  They both were going to take care of their homes, get fruitful, get busy with daily life.  Some of that work was better suited for Adam, some for Eve.  He made man and woman to be different and think differently so that it could all get covered.  All the work would be important.  But what came first and foremost?  The chicken or the egg?  Well, I guess the chicken; Eve was going to need to be around before he attempted to cook any omelets.  Man needs to be continually aided in his primary purpose.  He was created to know God, eat, and multiply.  He needs help with that.

So when I fuss and gripe about the impossibility of my own day's work, I'm really not paying attention to that which matters most.  In the grand scheme of things, my kid's hangnail really pales in comparison to my husband's relationship with God.   In fact, my whole day, necessary and vital though much of it is, isn't the initial purpose of my being.  We don't see things the same way.  God made us that way on purpose.  We are supposed to challenge each other to grow and learn and eat and not die in disobedience to God.
Maybe the forbidden fruit wouldn't have been so tempting if Eve had introduced him to steak first...  Next time, when the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is on our path, I'll have to remember to grab his hand and walk on past it.  We'll probably argue about it.  And I'll sigh that the hill is so high and I have to drag the kids along with me.  But the tree of life is just over the next rise.  It will be worth the trip.