oreo cat

Not Exceptional Things, Exceptional In Ordinary Things.

Cold Shower

Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle at me too.

Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if– my latest grandiose conception- adopting siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull off a 50% increase in our family size like we pull off hosting a birthday party.

As if.

(For the record, that’s what this is for now- just a conception. No paperwork has been filed. But your prayer for he siblings to find a loving home, and for us, is welcome.)

Big And Small Things, Upside-Down

That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.

And balk I did Saturday morning when the doorbell ring at 8:15. I was looking forward to a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.

That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.

But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.

Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?

Now that’s hard.

Choosing What We Did Not Choose

It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.

When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining

Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?

Or maybe we just prefer the drama.

He Would Have Done Any Great Thing

While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.

Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.

The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.

Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?

Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.

He would have done any great thing to be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.

But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never. 

Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)

Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.

Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.

In “Impulsiveness Or Discipleship?” Chambers explains,

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises- human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.

Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.

Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder

Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. 

My heart has grand adoption plans. I’d love to expand our family. If God makes it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat. If they come here.

But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here. 

We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional- and I take that for faithful and obedient- in life’s cold showers and among ordinary 10-year-old boys.

That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Mother Teresa

oreo cat

More Than Conquerors: Not Somehow, But Victoriously

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The greatest truths don’t always feel true. Sometimes “more than conquerors” don’t even feel like conquerors.

Sometimes “super-conquerors” feel like losers.

More Than Meets The Eye

In fact, the “more than conquerors” are described one verse earlier as slaughtered sheep, who face death all the day long.

And back-to-back, just like that, slaughtered sheep are more than conquerors.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to students of the Word. The Bible’s full of that sort of upside down kingdom talk. Because the earth is full of things are not what they seem.

It’s full of firsts who are lasts and lasts who are first and greats who are servants of all.  Full of weak who are strong and poor who are rich and mourners who get up and dance. Of persecuted who bless and wounded who pray and hurt ones who overcome evil with good. Of the hard pressed but not crushed and the fighters for rest and of the sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

The heroes are the saints who, like Mary and Joseph, and Joseph and Moses and maybe you and me- who choose what they did not choose.

Reality for these is far more than what meets the eye. These set their sights on things unseen and are never too old to see.

These are more than conquerors, in all these things.

Not In Spite Of, But Because Of

All means all. In all these things. For me, all these things means decades of longings unfulfilled and repenting of the same things and years peppered with rough scrambled days. In all these things.

What are your all these things?

Whatever they are, they can be your launching pad to spiritual growth. Because of that little preposition in. 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him. Not despite them, but because of them.

Do you remember the Old Testament Abigail? Abigail was “discerning and beautiful, but the her husband Nabal was harsh and badly behaved,” (1 Sam. 25:3).

In her study on Abigail, Nancy DeMoss Wolgumuth posed two questions that pulsate:

What if she was beautiful and discerning not in spite of the harsh and ill-behaved man she had been married to but because of her relationship with him? Was it her difficult circumstances that made her seek to know God and to become God’s woman?

Leading questions, those. No, Paul wrote, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In all these things. Not in spite of them. In all these things. 

Not Somehow, But Victoriously

We’ve all heard it and most of us have said it:  I’ll get through somehow.

But come now. These aren’t the words of a super-conqueror, are they? Somehow it’ll all turn out.

Somehow?

And we who are in Christ are. We are super-conquerors. Not will be- are.

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains how it is we gain victory in all these things.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

In other words, our sufferings become stepping stones on the path to glory when we score off them. When, instead of shipwrecking our faith, they cause our faith and love to grow.

Not somehow, but victoriously. In all these things.

But Not Without A Fight

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without a fight.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

We learn to cling to him and run the race score of things that come against us. We overcome.

And, in all these things we are super-conquerors through him who loved us.

What Super-Conquerors Know

Super-conquerors don’t just triumph over evil things. We win by trampling- spiritually- on the things that would destroy us.

We score off suffering and sickness and mistreatment and conflict and injury and hardship and loss.

I love how John Piper explains what it is to be a super conquerer.

If you’re a conqueror, your enemies are dead at your feet. And if you’re more than a conquerer, your enemies get up…and serve you. The point is God doesn’t just protect you from all these adversaries, he makes them serve you, which is another way of saying Romans 8:28. The devil’s efforts are turned to work for our good.

This is the super conquerors’ secret: all these things are stepping stones to glory. What the enemy intends for evil, God turns for our good.

We look the worst straight in the eye and fight the faithless sin that would threaten to undo us and, through Christ, we fight for faith and strive to love and so we win the victory.

Through him who loved us. 

Stepping Stones To Glory

Christ was perfected through suffering and so will we be. Super conquerors use the same wounds that could be victim-makers and faith-takers and walk over them- as stepping stones- on the path to glory.

So we rejoice in our sufferings, Paul wrote, because we know that through Christ, these things serve us. They are precisely the means God ordains to grow us up and strengthen our faith.

Because these things-all these hard things– serve us. They pave the way to glory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:57

oreo cat

Still Teaching Me

IMG_4451
Grandma reading with great grandson Gabe, June, 2016.

Grandma was a teacher. Even though she’s been home with Jesus for a year- as we count time- Grandma is still teaching me. But not just me.

Grandma had lots of students.

Decade after decade after decade-33 years, I think- she taught first and second grade. She didn’t stop teaching when her own kids came. Grandma kept teaching right on through the raising of the five she bore plus the seven more that came when she married my widower Grandpa.

Grandma didn’t stop teaching when she retired from the Portage School District. She kept right on teaching her beloved Sunday school kids, up to her last few months. She taught those kids Adam and Ahab, Joshua and Jacob, Elijah and Deborah and David. And learning faith from Grandma means those lessons won’t soon be forgotten.

Grandma also taught the ladies she she affectionately called her “jail girls.”  Somehow Grandma found a righteous way into the prison system after she left the schools. How many girls learned real mother love and true life skills from Grandma, we’ll never know.

Grandma was always ready with a lesson.

One Saturday two months or so before Grandma passed, I happened to be there when one of her jail girls called. Grandma listened a while, nodding now, furrowing her brow then. And the lesson was ready:

Happiness comes from giving, she assured one who was consumed with what she was not getting.

Grandma was a teacher and grandma was a giver.

On her last Mother’s Day she explained to her Sunday school class, “Kids, Elaine is not well. Her body has a problem that will not get better. Ms. Betty will teach you now. I know you will listen well to her just like you listened to me.”
Grandma was still teaching then, lessons in grace and faith. And not just to her third graders.

 

Grandma taught lots of lessons.

 

And even though she’s been gone for a year, the lessons remain. Lessons like these:

Thank. I remember when I helped her into the tub last summer for one of her last beloved soaks in the big old tub. Maybe, in ignorance and haste, we even got her stoma gear wet and had to unpeel and reseal and it was a bother. But Grandma just said,

That’s great. Thank you. Hallelujah!- This feels so good. 

Grandma taught me gratitude.

Fight. It was the fight of her life, facing her death with strong, living faith, but Grandma was not fearful. George Washington said as he lay dying, I die hard, but I’m not afraid to go.

Grandma said the same thing, in her own way. When we’d ask her to rate her pain, she said,

I’m not in a pleasant place for pain. 

And she fought on, with her sword of the spirit and helmet of salvation. Strong in her faith, Grandma was taught me how to fight the good fight.

Joy. Grandma was- and still is, I’m sure- a merry, exuberant soul. I recited a verse last summer I’d been memorizing about being sealed for the day of redemption. Grandma fist pumped exultantly and said,

That’s me. I’m sealed.

Or when she told me that joke about the wife who told her husband, I’d like something that’s shiny medal and goes 0-150 in seconds. Grandma paused, then grinned. 

So her husband bought her a brand new scale. For sure, Grandma taught me to laugh.

IMG_4654Pray. It seemed such a strange inversion for a dying grandma to be praying for a healthy granddaughter. But she did. How she did! Before I left on my two hour ride home she’d pray travel mercies for me.

I remember, too, how she asked me to pray for her as she met with a troubled young soul weeks before she died.

Pray Lacy will see God’s love.

And Grandma taught me to pray.

Read. Not that I needed too much instruction here. But she also helped teach my son Gabe to read. To sound out words and think about them as he did. Last summer, while reading about a funny goat named King Puck, she corrected,

“Disappear” not “desire,” Gabe. 

And while her library shelves overflowed with books of all sorts, there was one she read by far the most. Every morning she’d read the next chapter, from the drawer in the kitchen table the Amish built special for that book. Then in bed at night, she’d open it again for more. Grandma taught me to crave that living Word.

Give. Even in the last months, Grandma kept a stash of candy in the pantry. In the last months an aunt would fill it up, but even before those days, when there no solid food would stay in Grandma’s stomach, Grandma made sure the jars were filled up.
That was nothing new. One of  my earliest memories of she and Grandpa from 35 years ago was how they’d dole out baggies of M&M’s- maybe to help keep us quiet in the pew. In M&M baggies and from ever-full candy jars, Grandma taught me to to give.

Sing. How Grandma loved to sing! So they came. Her family came Sunday night after Sunday night in Grandma’s last summer to sing. Uncle Nathan brought a box of hymnals and cousins and aunts and uncles would sing hymns. Grandma loved them all.

But one of her favorites was Trust And Obey. Her choice- one of Grandma’s funeral songs- is still teaching me.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet. Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.

What He says we will do, where He sends we will go; Never fear, only trust and obey.

The book she loved to read the most- the book that taught her to thank and fight and rejoice and give- has in it this line: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

So while Grandma is now happy in fellowship sweet, her lessons are still teaching me.

breakfast-1730921__340

A Letter To The Boys After Bad Scrambled Week

 

Dear Sons,

Last week was a rough one, wasn’t it? I’m glad it’s over too. (My, but didn’t Aunt Danielle’s cookies last night and that rhubarb crisp today taste good?)

It was tough- four whole days without dessert and five full days without a screen. I know it was hard for you. Being disciplined is hard for me too. If I told you once, I told you twenty times: Being disciplined means you’re loved. 

And more times-maybe than were helpful and good- I got on a roll and you got the whole spiel. You know- that hunk of Hebrews 12 you heard me quote so often that by the end of the week you were reciting it too:

The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there who is not disciplined? If you are left without discipline, you are illegitimate children and not sons… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 

I know it’s hard to trust us. It’s hard to believe that discipline is a sign of our love. I get that too.

Because no discipline seems pleasant (For the moment). No ice cream and no screen time did not feel like love. (And A#1 Son, it was divine poetic justice, wasn’t it, when you had to pass on the National Chocolate Chip Day treats at the orthodontist’s office because you’d dumped those scramble eggs and the reason I made those scrambled eggs was because of your new braces? You -child with brand new braces, you and me- we smiled.) Even though no after school iPad time and writing I’m sorry notes did not feel good.

But God’s promise is true. If you’re trained by the tough stuff, it will yield good, sweet fruit.

You know it’s almost strawberry season in Grandpa and Grandma’s garden. You guys know how those pale pinkish-whitish berries taste? When you were little guys you couldn’t wait and you’d pluck one or two before you knew. (Bleck!)

But in a couple weeks- come the first of June- and those once sour berries are heaven’s sweetness come down. Yes. This discipline will yield a sweet peaceful, righteous fruit. It will.

That’s why Dad and I discipline you. That’s why I tell you that over and over (Can I say it too much?): Trust us. We love you. We’re training you. It’ll be good. 

We pronounce it in the big stuff, how discipline means love. In the willful defiance that dumped those scrambled eggs upside down on the table like a toddler one-sixth of his age might do and in the video games stolen late in the night and in the blurting-out, not-so-silly “joke box” talk by which you tormented your poor substitute teacher last week.

But we remind you of that truth in the small stuff, too. Like when you have to place your mud-caked shoes on the mat and keep your napkin spread on your lap and look grown-ups in the eye when greeted.

Down to the tiny things (Believe me, these can make a wife very happy someday) like putting the lid down and the cap on the Crest and your dirty socks (Not your dirty sockballs) in the basket.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I tell you this stuff- about how discipline means love- I’m talking to myself probably more than I’m talking to you. Because this last week, these last months, the better part of the year have been hard for all of us. We’ve had some painful, loving discipline. I’ve been sifted. We’ve been in the fire. But we’ve endured.

Some of my friends say what a strong mom you guys got. But I want you to know that being trained by discipline- yours and mine- takes every bit of strength I’ve got and then some.

To run this race and fight this fight, to love you guys right and endure my hardship (And, just sayin’- part of it is the discipline of you two) as the loving discipline of my heavenly Father takes more reserve and drive than with-all my muscle- even I alone possess.

But we’re all in this together- you two, and Dad and me and God. So it’ll be okay.

That’s why I saw more than the scrambled mess I scraped off the table when you left for school Monday. It’s why I didn’t cry about the better off in an orphanage comment you made as you headed out the door (And #2, I did see that teeny smirk as you said it). Or the two Friday afternoon phone calls- one from each of your teachers. (As if you’d planned it.)

Thank God, I saw more and I didn’t lose heart. Because God gave me faith-eyes. Eyes to see that in love God was disciplining me. That is the the only way I could shake off that utterly scrambled week.

So make no mistake. I am not writing this to cause guilt or elicit sympathy. I’m writing this to remind you what you both already know. Dad and I love you so much. That’s why we discipline you.

I know in your heart of hearts you already know that. You know that only sons without moms and dads who care would dump their eggs and shove their plates and taunt their teachers and get away scot-free. You know Dad and I care. We love you-4VR, U know! (Are you almost done, Mom?)

Yes. I’ll end with that bit we just read from The Horse And His Boy. You know the part when Aravis and her talking mare Hwin and Shasta and his talking horse Bree are pressing hard to escape evil Prince Rabadash and save the Narnians?

“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach Anvard in time. Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war horse.”

It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions; but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing.

At that moment everyone’s feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. It was not the sound they had been expecting to hear- the noise of hoofs and jingling armor, mixed, perhaps, with Calormene battle-cries. Yet Shasta knew it at once…Bree knew it too… And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast- not quite as fast-as he could.

“It’s not fair,” though Shasta. “I did think we’d be safe from lions here!”

He looked over his shoulder. Everything was only too clear. A huge tawny creature, its body low to the ground, like a cat streaking across the lawn to a tree when a strange dog has got into the garden, was behind them. And it was nearer every second and half second…the lion rose on its hind legs, larger than you would have believed a lion could be, and jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders.

Discipline pushes us on, guys. It gets us doing more than we thought we could do to get away from the dangers to our souls. It gets us home safe in the end. But it is not pleasant at the moment. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it hurts.

It took Aravis until the second to last chapter to realize that truth. It wasn’t until Aslan introduced himself face to face that she finally understood.

“Draw near Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time.

“This time, sir?” said Aravis.

“It was I who wounded you,” said Aslan. “I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?”

Aslan told Aravis, then. I want you guys to know now that tears and scares and roars are needful for us. But identical for no two. (Remember what Jesus said to Peter, ‘What’s that to you. You follow me!’)  

When Aravis asks Aslan the fate of the slave girl she hurt, Aslan tells her the truth we – all four of us, desperately- need to hear.

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

God loves me. He wants me to look and act and think more like his A#1 Son. And so he gave me you two to to train me into Christlike lady I need to be. Scrambled eggs and teacher telephone calls and orphan talk and all. That’s part of my story.

And God loves you guys more than you know. He wants you to grow into godly men with strong faith, big love and stout, soft hearts and he knew you’d need a mom and dad like the ones you’ve got. That’s part of your stories.

We’re all being disciplined. But I know you know all that, after last week, guys. This week’s a new week. We shake off our bad stuff and run on.

Dad and I love you two and discipline you and God loves Dad and me and disciplines us and that’s all how it’s supposed to be. Sour now (Like strawberries in May). Sweet later (Like in June). 

That’s all how it’s supposed to be.

I love you guys,

Momunnamed-2.jpg