When the nurse takes your child away, the child you have borne, nursed, tended, and loved, there is an emptiness and you turn to the only place worth turning.
When the doctor tells you that all is indeed not right, that your fears were not the imaginings of a hypochondriac mother, but in fact correct, there is an emptiness, and you turn to the only place worth turning.
When you turn to God, the perspective changes. What is pain becomes joy. What is loss becomes opportunity. What is lifeless clay, dead wood, or hard stone becomes beauty with purpose.
I see now that the child I was gently trying to shape with education, family time, Bible readings, and chats, is in the only place worth being, in the hands of the Master. My careful designing, delicate sanding, gentle rubbing are all acts of a mother without the Master’s vision. A wimp. A dreamer. A woman afraid.
The Master takes the clay and breaks it down and builds it back up until the day it is ready for His delicate design.
The Master takes the wood and hews large chunks, chiseling away the dead wood until it is ready for fine sanding.
The Master takes the stone and attacks it with a vengeance, bringing forth form from stubborn stone, until it is ready to be polished by the rubbing of the Master’s hand.
Such transformation can only succeed in His hands, in the hands of the Master.
The Master knows when to force and when to touch gently, when to chisel and when to sand, when to cut and when to rub smooth.
As a mother, I let my children fall, so that they may pull themselves up and walk. I let my children fail so they may learn the hard work of success. I let my children know disappointment so they may enter life with realistic empathy, not an entitlement mentality bred by misguided parenting.
As the Master, God does the same. He lets us fall. He cuts and hews. He polishes and adorns.
Making us what He wants us to be.
Making us His.
Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand,
so are ye in mine hand.
At 26 months, little Rebecca holds her audience of one Mama spellbound as she relates the story of the Three Little Pigs. It is filled with emotion and hope, fear and trepidation. Finally the story reaches its climax. The Big Bad Wolf pounds on the door of the third Little Pig’s house.
Does the Little Pig let Big Bad in? Does Big Bad eat Little? What happens? This Mama needs to know!
Rebecca closes the book, sets it down, and looks me seriously in the eyes.
“Mama. I wouldn’t let the Big Bad Wolf in our house.”
“Neither would I,” I assure her.
And off she runs, her trusting smile pushing out her cherubic cheeks, her soft curls bouncing at the nape of her neck.
“Or would I?” I ask myself.
How often does the Big Bad Wolf come knocking on my door and I open it with a warm welcome? He doesn’t always announce his intentions as bluntly as Rebecca’s wolf: “I’m hungry. I’m going to eat you and your children as soon as you open this door.”
He doesn’t always wear an identifying tag: “Caution: Big and Bad. Stay away!”
Sometimes he shows up as a catalog of “needs,” too easily twisting joy into grumbling and malcontent.
He slides in through magazines and websites, seemingly innocuous, turning attention toward obtaining an ideal–the perfect homeschool, the well-adjusted family, the ideal marriage, the successful businessman, the cool mom status, the clean (or even clean-ish) home.
He surfs in riding the wave of the media–a curse word here, suggestive commercial there, inappropriate song messages everywhere.
He even rides in on the backs of family and friends–a little gossip, a few comparisons, misplaced criticism.
He can be the inexplicable lure of a wild time or the entrapment of legalism. He can be the controlling arm of anxiety or the sneaky grip of fear. He can be the desire to fit in–fashionably, financially, socially, in the world or in the church. He can be the temptation of complacency–good enough, close enough, just enough. He can be the eternal lie–I can make it without Christ. He can be a small nagging doubt–am I “Christian” enough? am I good enough? is grace enough?
He also knew that sometimes these straw and stick houses of ours would not be able to stand up to all that huffing and puffing. That’s where his promise comes in, a promise of hope for all the Little Piggies…and Little Lambs, too. A promise for me. A promise for my Littles. A promise for you.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:1-15: ”
Take that, Big Bad Wolf!
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
We subscribe to Netflix. (I know. Who cares, right? Stick with me.) For a “low, low fee” we receive a DVD in the mail. We watch it, send it back and receive another one. Good movie. Good popcorn. Good company. Not quite enough room on the couch. No movies to stock at home. Good times.
For a long time, I liked adding things to our queue. When everyone else was in bed at night, I would sit at my computer and add “things” (carefully selected “things,” of course) to the queue. I’d rate what we’d seen so the automated powers that be at the Netflix headquarters could, in their ultimate techno-wisdom, suggest more things that I’d love! I’d look through their suggestions and add those to my queue. Never mind that they were often wrong. I kept doing it! My queue was up to 386 shows–wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting shows. Yup…386 of ‘em.
Why? Because I didn’t want to miss anything. I didn’t want to miss the great special on Roman architecture when we study the Ancient Romans…in six months. I didn’t want to miss the eye-opening documentary on the children of World War II when we study the twentieth century…in two years. I didn’t want to miss that great chick flick that I would never watch because I never watched chick flicks. In fact, I never watched any flicks in my queue.
Put on your listening ears. It’s life application time.
My life queue, much like my Netflix queue, had gotten too long. I spent all my time researching what we would do, organizing what we would do, planning what we would do, dreaming about all the things we would someday do, getting other people’s opinions on what we should do. They were all wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things. I didn’t want to miss any of them. I spent whatever time I had left over sifting through my life queue for something to fit into that precious bit of remaining time. I was busy, I was exhausted, but I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.
I was so afraid I would miss something, that I was missing out on my own life.
Did you catch that?
I was missing out on my own life.
I don’t remember a time in my adult life when I had not struggled with the heavy chain that my life queue had become. Projects were started and not finished, children were disappointed by one more “we ran out of time,” friends were neglected, my husband had a cookie drought. I was involved in everything, but truly involved in nothing. Even when I completely cut out my out-of-house activities, my want-to-dos took over.
It was my husband who finally helped me understand this debilitating obsession with not wanting to miss anything, thereby missing everything. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I cried. Yes, I did something about it.
I lugged six enormous bags of magazines to the library, magazines full of wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things that I would never do. I filled two garbage bags with catalogs full of wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things I would never buy. (Don’t nag me about recycling. Being nagged is not currently in my life queue.) I emptied filing cabinets, boxes and binders–all highly organized, all full of wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things that I had not looked at since the time I organized them. (I didn’t recycle those either!) I threw away countless notebooks full of wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things I need to know to be healthy and productive, and it was the most empowering and productive thing I ever did with those notebooks.
I purged wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things from the stack of piano music that we would never play, and left the music we love. I ceased my ongoing search for wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things to add to our homeschooling queue, because what we’re doing already is good enough. I took the grocery savings book I’m writing, which, by the way, is full of wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things about feeding your family for less, and I filed it away for a day when my queue has room. I closed my email account so I did not have to deal with the 15,000 emails that poured in while we were traveling through the States this summer, emails that may or may not be filled with wonderful, interesting, educational, quality, uplifting things. And I purged my Netflix queue.
Then I sat down and watched a show. The whole thing.
The purge continues.
I’m giving the boot to lonely socks, because, let’s face it, they ain’t never (and I mean AIN’T and NEVER) going to be anything but lonely socks. I’m bidding a joyful adieu to those horrible based-on-the-movie Disney books I can barely tolerate reading. I’m getting rid of every self-help book I can lay my hands on, and finishing my read through the Bible. I’m saying farewell to the curtains that never got put up, the art supplies that never got used, the curriculum nobody likes, and the patterns and material that remind me how much I did not get done when my bigger girls were small.
But it’s not about the stuff. It’s about the mindset. Most importantly, I am purging my mind of the things in the world that tell me I’m not good enough because I feed my children macaroni and cheese from a box on Tuesdays, because they’re not studying Latin in third grade, because I’m not involved in a single organization, because I haven’t sent Christmas cards in four years, because I don’t know what herbs will cure the croup, because I’ve made only $500 over the past five years, because my thighs jiggle, and because, by golly, I still wear my favorite cardigan from the 90s…the early 90s. I’m purging unrealistic expectations, negative opinions about our family and our God-directed choices, legalistic (but not Biblically supported) mandates, and unhealthy comparisons.
I am standing taller, smiling more, and getting things finished. My family is having fresh smoothies every morning because I don’t spend an hour sifting through the daily 250 emails. I am more patient. I have time to kiss my babies, kiss my husband, pet the dog, and kiss my husband again. I can see my desk, find my dictionary, and my phone is always charged…and that’s a really big deal for me.
Best of all, whenever a new idea, a new plan, a new curriculum, or a new “thing” pops into my life, I just pop it right back out with no regrets. There’s nothing out there worth missing what God has given me right here.
And I will restore to you the years the locust hath eaten.
Father’s Day finds us again. Just us. My man, our children, his favorite pie, a new atlas for the perpetual explorer, a pile of handmade cards reflecting varying degrees of ability and all slathered with love for him.
No other father shares the pie, not his, not mine.
One was carried too soon away; one walked too easily of his own accord. One left memories, the other scars.
I watch my girls with their father, and I smile, and I cry.
There is something beautiful, something touching, something indescribable and wonderful about a father who loves his girls.
There is a hidden blessing in the casual way they take him for granted, knowing he will come home, knowing he will sit at the head of the table, knowing he will lead his family in prayer, knowing he will set them back on the path when they stray, never doubting, never questioning, just knowing.
And I smile, and I envy, and I praise God for him on his day, every day.
And when I miss what might have been, and long for what will be, I remember that, although He takes no pie, my Father is here, loving, leading, setting me back on His path. There is something beautiful in just knowing.
A few of the gems I collect when I really pay attention to the unintentional comedians in my midst, God’s little gifts of laughter:
From a then four-year-old Hannah paging through our now-worn story Bible:
“Look Mommy! It’s a picture of Adam and Evil.”
From Elijah, apparently quite fed up with beans lately:
“There’s nothing that I hate in this food. Cool!”
From my then three-year-old Marissa trying to call her aunt in Wisconsin and getting the phone answerer:
“Mommy, the washing machine is talking to me.”
From my nine-year-old Elisabeth, the philosophical one:
Me: What is discord?
Elisabeth: Unplugging cords.
A conversation among many after a trail ride in Bryce Canyon:
“I’m glad we got to ride horses instead of the plodding mules.”
“Plotting mules? What were they plotting?”
“I doubt mules would really want to take over the world.”
“It could happen.”
“Nah. They’re too slow.”
Elijah: Are there any bad guys here?
Elijah: Good, ’cause I don’t want to have to fight anyone.
Emily watching the luge:
“If I were in the Olympics, I would throw up.”
Children with goals:
Elisabeth (9 years): “When I grow up I’m going to go through all the corn mazes I can find.”
Hannah: (13 years): I wanna be an old lady when I grow up, ‘cuz old ladies rock!
Elisabeth: Oooo, I want to be an old lady, too, so I can sit in a rocking chair and knit.
“Mommy, I think you really need to get your OWN pancake.”
“Mommy, there’s chocolate spilled on the table. Should I taste it off?”
Elijah at the chess table for an hour:
“I’m playing chess. The knight is throwing all the bad guys in the lava. I call him Superman.”
I stayed up far too late listening to my then six-year-old Emily read me her entire journal. She ended with a reminder and a warning:
“Remember, Mommy, you’re not supposed to read my journal.”
Whispered by a confused Elijah when visiting a church with a cross hanging behind the altar. The Jesus carving on the cross looked remarkably like the David from his David and Goliath action figures:
“I didn’t know David died on the cross, too.”
And I leave you with these words of encouragement from my husband:
“Just remember, the best is already behind you.”
There is a little voice inside of me that has been a nagging beast to live with, a real fun-sponge, sucking all the joy out of life. It’s the “not-enough” voice.
You’re not smart enough.
You’re not pretty enough.
Your children are not trained well enough.
Your house is not clean enough.
You’re not loving enough.
Your homeschool is not productive enough.
Your writing is not earning enough.
Your habits are not consistent enough.
Your character is not solid enough.
Your cooking is not healthy enough. (And have you even tasted it?)
Your little light is not bright enough.
You’re not friendly enough.
You’re not improving fast enough.
You’re not gentle enough.
You’re not strong enough.
You’re not perfect enough.
Christ died for me. He loves me . . . enough.
Not the Hallmark kind of love, which isn’t enough, but the “you can’t imagine the hell I’d go through for you” kind of love. The love that takes all my not-enoughs and sends them on a long walk off a short pier.
I will continue to struggle on in this life, making mistakes, falling short, taking too many do-overs, disappointing myself, disappointing those I love most, disappointing people I don’t even know but who are just looking for someone to get down on, never attaining close to “enough” in anything.
I will never be enough. Period. But He is.
If He forgives my not-enoughs, maybe, just maybe I can too.
So, little voice, little buddy, little pal, little scourge of my existence, you can just take your self-deprecating self-centered not-enoughs and shove ‘em back down your throat, and, while you’re at it, you can take that long walk off that short pier, ’cause I’m listening to another Voice now.
My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
~2 Corinthians 12:9
Fans of Stephen Bautista, hold your breath no longer! Stephen’s second Nashville-produced album, A Childlike Faith, is currently in duplication and will be here before month’s end.
And the crowd goes wild!
A Childlike Faith is a call to all Christians to live with a humble, childlike faith while remembering their God-given mission in this life–to gently and humbly spread the Gospel to a hurting world.
Through May 31, Stephen is offering the new CD at a 20% discount as a pre-release special. Because he’s such a swell guy, he’s also giving away a free digital download with each purchase, so you can listen while you wait for the CD. Sweet!
Jump on this deal! The powerful message of A Childlike Faith is something we all need to hear.
I’m not saying this because we want your money so we can buy a smokin’ camera or a playset for the gang. Every dime goes right back into the mission. Every penny is redirected toward “enlightening the lost and encouraging the found.” The mission doesn’t even take us out to lunch. (Stingy mission. Ha ha!)
Take a minute (actually 19 minutes and 48 seconds) to check out the samples at Stephen Bautista’s website.
I leave you with this thought from “You Never Did” on A Childlike Faith.
“you freely took that heavy cross
when you could have easily left it;
you let them pierce your mighty hands
when you had the power to stop it;
you could have flown at lightening speed
when they challenged you to come down off that tree;
but you never did…
you could have left us all
wrote us off as a lost cause
but you never did.
you could have left us all….
He could have left us all. Think about it.