The Ache of a 10-Year-Old Heart (Redeeming Ungratefulness)

cslewis

I tucked him in bed on his tenth birthday that December night — my firstborn, my son. He’s so pensive, sometimes too much.  But he can’t help it.  He’s me, bless his heart. I know what it’s like to be thirsty for depth one moment and then completely drowning in self-reflection the next.

“Are you okay, honey?”

“Yeah, mom.  I wish…  Well, I’m glad Christmas is just two weeks away.”

Silence.

“It’s just that there’s so many presents I want. And yet I don’t want anything.”

My heart broke and rejoiced that very moment in the tension of real life.

For just an instant I cringed over his disappointment. Or his ungratefulness. Or both.

But, no. There was no room that night for mommy-regret or judgment or scolding. He’s getting it, I thought. He’s getting this Gospel. I understood his confusion, his mystery, for I’m living it myself. And I think you are, too.

We pondered the Fall when sin entered the world. We grieved how it continues to unravel all that’s good, even on days of celebration. We risked, admitting how sin teases and taunts us to yearn for more as we desperately try to fill the void that feels eternal.

And we recognized the Holy Spirit within him, battling the lie, protecting the little heart made for only his Redeemer.  Oh, God, send discernment.  We get so confused.

I echoed his deep complexity expressed in child words.  “Yes, sweetie.  We want, but we’re already dreading the disappointment that comes afterward.  I get it.” 

And I’m too honest, for I tell him he’ll wrestle with this his whole life in this fractured world.  Until he can be with his Rescuer.  Until he leaves the brokenness behind and his aching, striving heart is made new.  Forever.

I’ve known the ache on Christmas night.  I’ve felt the loneliness after celebration and the emptiness after success. It’s often so anti-climactic, no?

We were made for more.  We’re complex and thoughtful and beautifully deep.  Maybe ingratitude isn’t always awful, for it uncovers the truth that there’s more. It points us to the One who forever satisfies and woos us back to His embrace. It frames our perspective as we travel through the shadow toward eternity… toward forever laughter and celebration and fullness as we worship like crazy.

Happy Birthday, honey. The pain helps open our eyes. You’re understanding the deepest, greatest Gift ever.

Wisdom from My Husband

nyc

“God is willing to sacrifice what is important to us in order to reclaim our hearts…” 

I read this and for a moment I feel the Maker’s pursuit.  I breathe in His affection and His radically intolerant love.

The days don’t make sense.  And for moment, I believe they don’t have to.

My focus hugs the horizon instead of clinging to the near-sightedness mess, the clutter so desperate for empty comforts.

The world’s jagged song whispers, too, and I lend my ear until I can only hear its abrasive clanging over His whispers of truth.  And I join in.  I join the clash and replicate the dark.  And then mock His plan.  We love to blame, and I’m no different.  I shout to the Maker and tell Him it’s all absolutely wrong.  And then go sin some more and make an even greater mess of things.  It’s all so broken.

“We worship what we complain about,” my husband said one day. 

“What?!”  My reaction comes across a little too strong.  A little too cocky.  But deep down, I’m loving his counter-cultural wisdom that’s not threatened by mystery.  He beckons my mind to wrestle, going deeper than I ever thought my intellect could… past fear, past impressing others.  I’m still surprised, still challenged, after all these years.  Grace.

“Yeah.  We worship what we complain about.  At least I do.  Think about it.”

Indeed. The very things we scorn in conversation are what we ponder all the time. Our bodies. Our stories. The past. The dream of a future. Other people. Yes, the demands we make in solitude shadow our worldview until we’re practically tripping in the dark.

My Maker dares me to find the horizon.  Dares me to see the forest through the trees.  He reads aloud His Love Story full of tragedy and miracles, drama and reconciliation, grief and hope.  He sings His song to redeem the ancient brokenness I’m fostering yet today.

He delivers me from that which I worship.  From that which I complain about.  Over and over.

“God is willing to sacrifice what is important to us in order to reclaim our hearts… Much of the loss that tends to take our breath away has to do with God’s jealous love… His love is beautifully intolerant… He is willing to do drastic things in order to free us from slavery to this that were never meant to rule us.” – Paul David Tripp

Listen. Silence for clashing. Perspective for complaining. Wholeness for empty worship.

 

photo source

When You Want to Author Your Child’s Story

tumblr_ksj2kkjmmg1qzdiqvo1_400_largeI took a co-worker to brunch, craving way more than a meal. Kathy’s unnatural sense of peace literally exudes from her being. All the time. And I was hungry for it.

Maybe it’s because she’s survived a brain tumor. Maybe it’s because her children are in their twenties. Maybe it’s because she’s been married over 30 years. But she has something I’m still reaching for, and I needed to know her secret.

It doesn’t matter what she’s doing.  Whether she’s working with students, or talking with a parent, or literally just walking down the hall, Kathy just has this countenance of calmness.  I, on the other hand, am racing, racing on the inside, although I sometimes hide it well.

I’m one of those awful persons who can choose tasks over people. I have a hard time exiting the race and socializing at a moment’s notice.  And I live in a culture that marches to the beat of a different drum.  Outgoing personalities are celebrated.  Fun conversationalists are adored.  But me? I’m still finding my rhythm.  Thank you for your patience.

And Kathy, bless her, is just sort of in a category all to herself.  She is sincere and genuine and ready to talk no matter what she’s doing.

One of my idols is control. I didn’t know it until my first child entered the world.  Even marriage didn’t reveal it to me at first. No, it was a teeny, tiny baby who showed me my security was in To Do lists and my addictions were in maintaining my environment and schedule. He sort of stripped that all away from me. Add another baby into the mix, and well, you get the picture.

Suddenly the Cross became very, very big in my life.  I’m sure my Maker delighted in this.

But while my sin and misguided affections are daily erased in the shadow of the Cross, I still feel the tension within.  I still have to consciously walk away from the race.  I still have to choose what matters over what’s urgent.  It doesn’t come naturally for me.

So you can see why I was hungry for Kathy’s way of doing life.

My most recent battle over control is a bit complicated, for it has to do with my children and it has to do with fear.  You see, I want to author my children’s stories.  I want to control the pen.  I want to write the next chapter in their lives and edit out poor choices and erase all that will not produce a beautifully wrapped up ending.

It’s one thing to surrender your life to the Rescuer.  It’s another thing to surrender your children’s stories to Him.  And when fear enters your thoughts, well, it can get sort of ugly.  What if something happens to them?  What if they face injustice?  What if they suffer the consequences of their own poor choices that last years?  What if their sin hurts them? What if their their wounds don’t heal after a while? What if, what if, what if…

I envisioned scenario after scenario, consumed by it all.  I found myself daydreaming about what could happen.  And in the quiet of the night, there was no rest. I couldn’t turn off my mind. Over-thinking, planning, reflecting on my parenting regrets — it was such a burden.  What if, what if, what if…

“Do you trust Him?” Kathy asked.  “Do you trust Him with your children?”

I shook my head no, but I didn’t look away.  There’s no shame when you’re talking to Kathy.

“Being still is being productive, Christan”. Ah, she knows me well.  She knows how to speak my language. “Can you be still and trust Him?”

She unfolded story after story when God’s plan was oh, so confusing.  She referenced chapters in her family’s life she would have written differently.  Eyes filling with tears, she revealed the message God repeated to her through the years.  “Do you trust Me, Kathy?  Do you trust Me to reconcile all this to completion? It’s hard, but it’s not for you to control. Stop trying to change the story I’m writing for your sons, writing for your husband.”

Being still is being productive.

The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God. John 3:8

He’s working.  The Wind of God, He’s working.  I feel Him and I hear Him, but I don’t understand.  I feel Him and I hear Him, but I can’t harness His pen. What if, what if, what if…

Is it possible for a mother, however disappointed,
        however hurt, to forget her nursing child?
    Can she feel nothing for the baby she carried and birthed?
        Even if she could, I, God, will never forget you.
     Look here. I have made you a part of Me, written you on the palms of My hands.
        Your city walls are always on My mind, always My concern. Isaiah 49:15-16

Watch, Christan.  I have carved your children on the palms of My hands.  I have engraved them, intentionally planning their stories.  Rest in the truth that their stories have already been written.  You’re just reading them. Be the reader, not the author.

I believe, I really do, someday raw hearts will come searching and stumble upon my kids’ stories. They’ll find comfort knowing others have walked similar paths. They’ll breathe in grace as my family’s pages bandage their wounds with hope fulfilled… as that redemptive thread weaves itself into chapter after chapter of their own stories.

Surrendering, leaning, believing, watching — being still is being productive.

Be the reader. The job of Author is already taken.

When You’re Feeling Unimportant

coffeeshop

I live with the hope of being rewarded.

I get embarrassed by public acknowledgement, yet enduring the awkwardness opens my ears to a whisper, if but for just a moment. You’re okay. You’re really okay.

And then the whisper fades. Every time.

I crave admiration — even from those invisible culture-makers who convince me I’ll never be good enough. Even from those who make me feel worse. They speak louder than whispers.

It’s scary to wake up and realize you’re wrestling with the same thoughts you had as a teenager.  Twenty-five years later.

The more insecure I feel, the harder I try.  It’s painful to watch someone try too hard.  It’s even more awkward when you’re watching yourself do it.

“When you pray, do not be as hypocrites who love to pray loudly at synagogue or on street corners—their concern is to be seen by men. They have already earned their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

And I pity them, those who need to be seen and admired.  For their reward has already been received, and they’re still hungry.  I’ve known it all too well. I’ve received praise, only to find myself more insecure and empty than before.

“When you pray, go into a private room, close the door, and pray unseen to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” (v6)

What is this reward that comes in secret? This counter-cultural reward?

I empty myself of everything but hope.  I cast off the world’s measuring stick.  I come to the quiet — to the silence — before I can be filled.  I stop trying.

Intimacy. 

I’m known. And amazingly, I’m cherished.  Acknowledgement and admiration seem so empty after you know what it’s like to be cherished.

The hope of Your reward, Lord, silences me.  No words here, just a quiet longing to know intimacy that transcends mortal comprehension.  You overwhelm me.  Your Story boasts complexity.  Your reward, Your very Presence given to me in secret is more satiating than anything I’ve tasted.   

Your grace finds me moment after moment.  Your mercy is new each morning.

Forgive me for heaping up empty phrases. Give me the grace to stop talking and the courage to hear. Give me discernment to ignore the empty whispers and to listen instead to Your Voice.

My reward in private is intimacy.  My reward is believing I’m pursued.  My reward is the hope I’ll always see You running after me.

Help me get back to this place again.

 

photo credit

A Letter Everyone Needs to Read

cplettersIt’s my story, but I know it’s yours, too.

We live in a culture desperately grasping to make sense of it all. To understand. To know purpose. Or maybe just heal. Even those not perpetually chased by self-reflection feel the hunger to reconcile the drama every now and then.

The genre of mystery and bad choices and regret keeps invading our stories. And there’s such potential to engage in real dialogue — to encourage, to challenge — but we stay quiet. The pull to stay tucked away in our neat envelopes is woefully strong.  

“You are our letter,” Paul writes, “every word burned onto our hearts to be read by everyone. You are the living letter of the Anointed One, the Liberating King, nurtured by us and inscribed, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God—a letter too passionate to be chiseled onto stone tablets, but emblazoned upon the human heart.” 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

I love words and phrases written on modern-day tablets of stone, flowing forth on paper and iPhones and laptops.  But there’s more, Paul writes to the spiritually hungry in Corinth.  You are a letter written on the human heart.  Emblazoned, actually.

Ah, Corinth… that Grecian city in love with intellectual conversation, athletic competition, and sexual liberties.  Human trafficking, excessive amounts of athletic training, worshiping with temple prostitutes, craving the wisdom of man — well, they were actually enslaved by their own freedoms.

Corinth almost sounds like us.

Stop hiding, Paul dared his readers.

You are God’s letter.  Written to a modern world deep in pain.  A rescue message of sorts… so radical in its simplicity it’s hard to accept.

You’re more than ink. You’re written by the very Spirit of God.  What might our lives look like if we viewed ourselves this way?

The message – not from ourselves but from the divine Author – the message is for everyone. Your colleague angry at God. Your daughter’s ice skating instructor. Your neighbor hiding himself in his work. Yourself.

I often keep the envelope barely undone, available only to the bold and curious who dare to open it a bit.  And there are days I seal myself up. Oh, how I seal up the protection, risking nothing, keeping the truth hidden inside.

But He calls me to more. He beckons to risk and read His message over and over. Aloud.  Where there’s suffering, there’s traces of healing.  Where there’s regret, there’s redemption.

A letter “burned upon our hearts to be read by everyone.”

For whom are you written today?

 

photo source