Thursday, December 29, 2016

I Am a Terrible Person

The other day I got to chat with my wise friend Jocelyn.  Joce has successfully survived the baby stage with three, count 'em, three boys.  During our conversation, she said many things that brought me freedom.  Like, "Stay alive," which coincidentally is the same advice that Haymitch gave Katniss before the Hunger Games.  I suppose the arena is somewhat analogous to life with littles.  Among her sage advice was this:  "You are a terrible person."

"So I'm not a terrible person?" I had asked.

"The good news is you are a terrible person.  But you're swimming in oceans of grace," she answered.

I've always known that I was terrible, in theory.  I mean, I knew that whole saved by grace thing--at least in my head.  I could have told you, "I am a sinner saved by grace."  I knew that Jesus died so that I could be forgiven.  It's just that now I really know.  I'm coming face to face with just how terrible just how big God's grace is.

My house perpetually stinks.  I don't call my friends. I curse at my baby when he won't nap.  I nitpick my husband's every move.  I complain about how unfair it is that I don't get to sleep.  I look longingly at other people's lives.  Instead of living out of my principals, I just do what it takes to survive the day.  Through all of this Jesus doesn't even flinch.  He's just there, loving me like always.  

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Nothing to boast about here.  Just a mustard seed worth of faith, and oceans, and oceans of grace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mary did you know...what you were getting yourself into?

Somehow the Christmas story becomes fresh for me each year like an untouched covering of snow. As life changes, I am able I see Jesus' birth in a new light.  This Christmas season I find myself reflecting on Mary.  No, I haven't converted to Catholicism, I just feel like I can relate to her now more than ever before.  I know what it's like to carry a child, give birth, and care for a newborn.  I keep wondering how Mary did it.  

Her birth story happened amidst extenuating circumstances.  As a woman pregnant outside of wedlock, she was looked down upon.  Many judgmental glances passed her way.  Her fiance almost up and left when he found out she was expecting.  She and Joseph were scorned by their family who didn't buy the whole "immaculate conception" story.

As Mary drew near to her due date, a census was taken. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register.  This meant that Mary had to ride for miles on the back of a donkey--while she was full term.  I could barely handle being in the car for two hours when I was that pregnant!  After that long journey, Mary couldn't even find a place to kick back and put up her swollen feet. There was "no room at the inn."

According to some biblical scholars the "Inn" referred, not to a hotel as we'd understand it in modern days, but to space in a home.  In this time period, hospitality was the norm.  Rather than staying in a hotel when you traveled, a family would host you.  Since Mary and Joseph had traveled to Joseph's hometown to for the census, this actually meant that Joseph's distant relatives wouldn't take them in, and instead pointed them to the nearest stable.  "No room," was just an excuse.  Can you imagine being so shunned by your family members that they would turn away a woman who was nine months pregnant? This is how God chose to come to earth.

When it came time to give birth, Mary's delivery happened in a cold, dark cave probably next to a pile of sheep poo.  She had no midwife coaching her.  No mother encouraging her.  No epidural.  Nobody bringing her ice chips or wet rags.  Her only support came from a man, her betrothed, that she barely knew.  Yet this is what the Lord tasked her with.  He gave her this job because he considered her "honored," "chosen," and "favored."

Even after the birth she had to go into hiding because a jealous king wanted to kill her son.  Joseph and Mary had to flee to a foreign land to escape his wrath.  How alone they must have felt.  Throughout all of this adversity, Mary had to take care of baby Jesus.  She was promised a savior, and yet for months he was just a crying, pooping, (hopefully) sleeping baby.  It was years before Jesus did anything remarkable.  I wonder if Mary ever grew weary waiting for God to fulfill his promise.  Did she ever get lost in the mundane chores of keeping this little "Son of God," alive and well?

Not to mention, Mary had to do all of this without the modern conveniences that we have today.  Mary didn't have nursing pillows.  She didn't have lactation consultants or nipple butter.  What if Jesus had latching issues?  Or Mary got Mastitis?  What on earth did they use for diapers back then?  How did she wash Jesus' clothes when he had, yet another blowout?  Who did Mary ask for help?  She couldn't google, "Is his poop supposed to be that color?" She couldn't text her mom, "Is this normal?"  Or "Will this get better?"  I don't know how she did it.

I find myself asking, "Mary did you know?"  And not the cutesy version.  More like, Mary did you know what you were getting yourself into? Did she know how this was all going to play out when the angel came and she humbly, boldly stated, "I am willing to be used by the Lord."  If she had known what this was going to cost her, would she still have said, "Yes," to God?  At any point throughout this journey did she begin to ask, "Really God?  This is the honor you chose to give me?"  Did she ever think to herself, "Some favor."

Without a doubt, Mary suffered. It might sound strange and a bit sadistic, but that fact gives me hope.  Because, to really be honest with you, I have been suffering for the past four months. It feels wrong to even say that.  The words come out with a tinge of guilt.  A baby is a blessing!  I love my son more than I have ever loved anyone else.  There are times that I just stare at his face and think, "How did I get so lucky?"  I have a husband who loves me.  I got pregnant without difficulty.  My son is healthy, happy, and thriving.  Yet, at the same time, this is the most difficult thing that I have ever done.

Having a baby has brought much joy, but also much pain.  I've had to give up my independence. Live life according to another's whim.  Give of myself whenever this wee human beckoned.  I've had to go without sleep.  And finally start getting some sleep.  And then go without sleep again, without any foreseeable cause.  I've gotten lost in the drudgery of another diaper change.  Another rocking session.  Another mess to clean up.  I've felt alone.  More alone than I've ever felt--like the walls of my home might close in on me.  I've wondered, what is the point of this?  This work that God has asked me to do, will it amount to anything?

Then, I think of sweet Mary.  God chose her.  He had a great work in mind for her.  She was blessed among women:  hand-selected for this particular role.  Did he make her a preacher?  An evangelist?  A missionary?  A philanthropist?  Nope.  She was just a mom.  I find strength in knowing that part of God's great rescue plan for the world involved a woman doing the very things that I do day in and day out.

Mary's suffering lead to hope.  She suffered through pregnancy and childbirth and the light of the world came.  She suffered through raising her child, and he became the hope of nations.  Then, Jesus following suit, suffered the cross. His suffering brought forgiveness and reconciliation.  Through suffering came hope.  I can only hold out as much hope as I can muster that maybe, something good will come of my suffering, too.  That like Mary, the things I do every day might mean something.  That through my suffering, I will find hope and bring it to others.  Maybe, my ordinary, at times painful, life will make a difference in this world.  I will hold on to this hope.  (And on the days that I can't, will you hold onto it for me?)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Show Me Your Heart

Emerson was sleeping soundly in the Ergo, I was standing off to the side of the sanctuary. The lights were dim, I was praying for a middle school student, and the lyric "Show me your heart," flickered across the screen and played softly in the background.  I was asking, "God, show me your heart," and he was answering, "Here it is."

I have been lucky enough to be able to continue to be involved in ministry even as a new mom.  My church is baby-friendly, so to speak.  The youth pastor and his wife, dear friends of ours, have a young son just one month older than Baby E.  Both she, and I, bring our babies to youth group each week and just wear/hold them as we interact with students.  There is even a quiet, comfortable room that I can sneak off to when my little chub needs to fill his belly.  While I thought bringing Emerson might make ministry too difficult, I have mostly been able to still lose myself in loving and serving because my baby typically stays so content.  He has even become a point of connection with some girls who fight over who gets to squeeze his cute cheeks.  

One of the best parts of the weekly meeting, for me, happens during worship.  For one song, leaders are shuffled off to the sides of the room and students are invited to come and receive prayer.  I can't tell you how many awkward preteens have been bold enough to come up to me and ask for prayer.  Almost every week I've been able to pray for at least one person.  On days when I miss out on sermons because I'm nursing my baby, or when I'm chatting with students while distractedly shoving his binky in his mouth, I'm ever-grateful that I got those few uninterrupted moments to spend crying out to the Lord on students' behalf (because the combination of soft lights and soothing music always tends to konk my son out).

This last week I felt like God gave me a picture of himself.  When I asked during worship, "Show me your heart," his response was it is with these young people.  It is in their struggle.  I was able to see God in their broken places.  Scripture says that Jesus is near to the brokenhearted.  He holds these children through struggles with sexuality and acceptance and depression.  Through loved ones lost.  Through parents with broken marriages.  Through bullying.  Through siblings with disabilities.  Through having to grow up too fast.  When I go to these raw places with students I find the heart of God.  I see a glimpse of him and his compassion.

So if you seek God, if you search for his heart, you might find that it's right in front of you.  His heart is for people.  The essence of Jesus is that he values people (John Maxwell).  And he is with us in our brokenness.

We Hosted Thanksgiving

Hebrews 13:2 "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

Hospitality is something that I enjoy, that I haven't participated in much.  Largely because I've spent my adult life in dorm rooms, my parent's spare room, and teeny apartments.  Now that we live in a duplex and have a little more space, I have been able to practice hospitality more often.  This year we had to travel to the west side of the state for my brother's engagement party (that turned out to be a surprise wedding!) the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We typically travel in the other direction to spend Thanksgiving with Philip's family.  We didn't want to do so much driving especially with our little guy in tow, so we offered up our home as the place for the Arnold's to feast.  To my surprise, they took us up on the offer.  There were eight of us total.  Now, cooking is probably the part of hospitality that I get the least excited about.  Luckily, Philip's dad volunteered to do pie and turkey.  Philip and I just needed to make the snacks and side dishes.  I had so much fun getting my hands into all the little details and trying to make the day special.

My simple centerpiece.

One of my favorite touches:  I hung a piece of paper with each guest's name on it and instructed people to write what they were thankful for about each other on them.  I sent them home with the guests at the end of the evening.  

What's on the menu...

I got into teacher mode and made everyone do this Thanksgiving Madlib.  I was literally like, "I'm forcing everyone to do an activity."  There was some grumbling, and I did have to explain verbs and adjectives more than once, but I think that everyone secretly enjoyed it.  The results were pretty humorous.

We made two special cocktails:  Cranberry Moscow Mules and Caramel Apple Sangria (not pictured because we didn't have a pretty pitcher so it just went in an ugly non-photogenic plastic jug).

Emerson with Grandpa.

Emerson with Grandma.

My brother Connor also joined us because he wanted to stay on this side of the state so he could go to the Apple Cup.

I thought that the day was an overall success, and can't wait until I get another opportunity to hone my hosting skills.

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