in pieces: why we need to remember we are the Beloved

It happened when a six-year-old was crawling on the kitchen counter to get a cup out of the cabinet. She slipped and dropped the cup, which landed on several other dishes next to the sink, including Vince’s favorite mug…the handle of which immediately broke into three pieces. Did I mention it was handmade pottery?

in pieces: why we need to remember we are the Beloved

She knew it was her fault – an accident, a sad loss, but not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. But when it came to apologizing, something flipped.

“I didn’t break it!” she insisted. Technically, this was (sort of) true…the cup she dropped is what did the breaking. And yet she was the one who dropped it.

We went round and round with the logic of this, but the real battle wasn’t logic. The real battle was two-fold, part of which was admitting the truth — because if we admit the truth we must also admit responsibility for our part in it. The other part was fear clouding her identity, and she forgot that she is more valuable to us than a broken dish.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re the Beloved so we can be secure enough to face the truth.

It’s imperative that we teach this to our kids. If we don’t, we’ll end up raising a generation of middle-aged juveniles who would rather be willfully out of touch with reality than admit their own mistakes. And we really don’t need any more of those.

Avoiding truth and responsibility are both rooted in fear, and given enough time they distill into narcissism. We think of narcissism as something that values self over others to an extreme measure, but the truth is that it’s the essence of insecurity.

And our culture is full of it. We diminish our own value out of insecurity, and then entirely eliminate the value of others in self-defense. Like a bully who picks on the weak to hide his own fear, the nation that justifies slaughter and harvesting of body parts for scientific advancement is a nation steeped in its own self-loathing.

We don’t need to look to ISIS for atrocity. We have evidence of the most barbaric acts on video, in our country, against our most vulnerable, for profit. It has occurred without the influence or design of any religion. It does, however, have the backing of an inflated government and a culture drunk on its own narcissism and insecurity.

It’s not that these videos show how wrong abortion is – abortion is wrong whether it is done for profit or not, whether it happens in the third trimester or not, whether the baby is wanted or not. What these videos reveal is how debased we are as a culture that it takes something this barbaric to wake us up to the evil of it.

If we deny what is so clearly shown here, we are willfully out of touch with reality – because if we admit the truth, we must also admit that we are responsible.

Our culture is responsible. Our silence is responsible. Our turning away, not wanting to be made uncomfortable, is responsible.

And I want to say, I’m sorry. We have dropped it, we have caused breaking, we have allowed a culture to grow up around us that divides the unborn into pieces for profit, and doesn’t even care if the heart is still beating or not.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

While no life is perfect, every life is beautiful and has purpose beyond being relegated to a bunch of line items for Planned Parenthood.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are the Beloved. You, reading this. Me, typing this.

This one, with this face.

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photo source

He was only six months younger than this one, with this face.

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We see a culture rising up out of this that knows what it is to take responsibility. We see generations who are willing to look reality in the face and say No more of this, not on our watch. We see families and churches stepping in to do more than say they are pro-life but are also showing that they are pro-child – adopting, fostering, providing, and praying. We have a culture that is moving from the relative comfort of shaking their heads in disgust over headlines to stepping into the front lines to stand up for children, born and unborn.

When we know we are the Beloved, we’re not afraid of the truth. Insecurity is no match for people who know they are image-bearers. And those who recognize their own value are those who also value the lives of others – not as a commodity for personal gain, but a person with inherent value — because they are also the Beloved.

unearthed: what is created under pressure

The highway is framed and divided by road construction, the right lane penned off with traffic cones. The dump truck in front of us, in lieu of actually slowing down and using his blinker, does a wild maneuver with agility usually unseen in construction equipment and whips into that right lane, just barely brushing one of the cones — it wavers, but doesn’t topple over. Pretty impressive, Alaska.

I’m not saying it was safe or responsible. It was reckless and probably the impulse of a moment, not a practiced move. And it’s easy to take risks on impulse.

unearthed: what is created under pressure

Risks that ride sidecar to obedience are harder: Confronting a loved one. Loving a hardened one. Taking on a new ministry. Opening our homes. Being transparent and vulnerable. Choosing life in all of its pain and uncertainty. Choosing faithfulness in spite of failure. Choosing to do the right thing when the wrong thing seems so much more appealing.

These are calculated risks. They are the ones that really make our hearts palpate, hefting the weight of bravery or cowardice.

He tells us to do something bold and sometimes we stall, spinning our wheels and skidding in fear. Dirt flies everywhere and we lose traction. We’ve been burned before, maybe, and aren’t sure we can take it again. So we tend to shrink back, flinching into isolation, fear, or depression. Our footprint constricts and we lose ground, eroding a tiny hole for ourselves in our comfort zone where things are safe, familiar, quiet.

It was foolish indeed – thus to run from farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a  fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.

– George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

That is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.

We burn that hole right into our comfort zone, and it gets deeper as the walls go higher. If we’re not paying attention, we find that the safety net we’ve made for ourselves isn’t a sanctuary at all…it’s a pit. A dry well with no water, no oxygen, walled high all around from the limits we’ve put on ourselves.

Pa and Ma were both turning the windlass. The rope slowly wound itself up, and the bucket came up out of the well, and tied to the bucket and the rope was Mr. Scott. His arms and legs and his head hung and wobbled, his mouth was partly open and his eyes half shut…

Mr. Scott had breathed a kind of gas that stays deep in the ground. It stays at the bottom of wells because it is heavier than the air. It cannot be seen or smelled, but no one can breathe it very long and live.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

It takes that holy stubbornness to kick our toes into the hard-packed earth and dig a stairway out of it. We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls…

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Steadfast. It’s a quiet word we might not pay attention to, like the kid in the back of the classroom who works two extra jobs after school to help his family and still manages to graduate with honors, while his classmates make their own assumptions and garner C-averages. It’s not showy, not impulsive, and rarely wavers.

Steadfastness is the alloy of humility and dogged perseverance, the power of a strong will channeled for holy purpose in the face of fear. It is where bullheadedness meets obedience, the faith in action that happens both behind the scenes and in front of others.

I’m not saying it’s safe or responsible. It is always created under pressure.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

– 1 Corinthians 15:58

We try a new foothold – a friendship, a book, a course, a conversation, an event, whatever He says – lest we hem ourselves in too deep without oxygen and fresh water. A step gained, a little more light, a bold move, and new thoughts stir up ideas and victory that otherwise would’ve stayed unearthed.

What could God do with a family, or a church, or a city, who knew no fear? What if we didn’t shrink back from getting our hands dirty, clawing our way out of the comfort zone?

We’d be the ones who changed history. Any coward can stay in the comfort zone, but those who obey in the big and little things, who do the brave thing in spite of fear, are those who determine the headlines of the future.

P.S. What if that pit is full of mucky regrets, a rotten past, and more pain than you know what to do with? Sign up for the newsletter coming later this week. xo

grace is the shelter

The wind, this wind. It shakes the house and bows the trees. Ground is blown bare and small snowdrifts press against the edge of the house. The windows creak and the vent above the stove rattles, and the wind whistles between trees and across our chimney tops.

grace is the shelter: where we go when the wind blows

 

We try to be ready for power outages. We keep the laptops charged and the teapot full, and I’ve learned to use the threat of an outage to motivate the kids to clean up better before bedtime because no one wants to trip over toys or skid across books lying on the floor in the dark. In other states, these winds are recognized as hurricane force and mentioned on national news; here, schools are open and it’s business as usual — you just hang on to your car door as you open it to make sure it’s not ripped off the vehicle entirely. And you might want to drive a little slower on the highway, too, so you can get a good look at the semi truck that was blown on its side with its wheels in the air.

The wind keeps on for days and nights, and it’s 75 miles an hour outside with flying debris and a wind chill of about minus fifteen. But inside, everything is still. Six kids, all asleep. Half as many cats, also asleep. The computer hums, the teapot ticks as it’s heating, and between gusts there’s a perfect calm.

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In the morning we check for fallen trees and there aren’t any, though branches are everywhere like so much littered confetti. A couple of plastic grocery bags have flown in and attached themselves like windsocks to our trees, and across the street it looks like our neighbor has gained a shiny new trash can from probably three houses over.

We’re getting together with friends in the evening, and if they weren’t close friends — you know, the kind who are allowed to look for stuff in your fridge even though you didn’t even clean it before they came over — I might squirm a little and apologize for the mess outside. Not that the weather is my fault, but it just looks so ugly out there. Even though I have no control over it, and their yard has seen the same wind and is probably in the same shape, it’s not the first impression I’d want to make to anyone who’s never been here before.

But I don’t need to apologize, and they wouldn’t expect it. We have seen each other’s messes before. Marriage, special needs, dirty laundry, parenting kids unborn through adolescent. These are friends who are family, and we can let go of insecurities about the messes we can’t control outside, and just focus on the messes we can control inside — vacuuming, cleaning toilets, washing the dishes. Well, the dishes, I dunno…that might be asking too much.

There’s a turkey in the oven and stuffing on the counter, a green bean casserole in progress and pie crust to be made. It’s Thanksgiving at the end of winter; it’s February and we’re still thankful.

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Whipped cream is melting into late morning coffee and sweet potatoes are peeled and ready to boil. We send one kid to throw out compost and send another kid to timeout for throwing a temper tantrum. I make a note to ask my friend about different therapists and pick her brain about various issues we’re both facing. Because sometimes we can’t control the messes inside the house, either.

I’ve ruined gravy the last four times I’ve made it — too thin, boiled too long, not enough cornstarch in the world to redeem it — and our friends arrive right at that crucial juncture of constant stirring and watching for the first bubbles. I pass the task to a child with explicit instructions to only let it boil for one minute and then turn off the heat, and then run to greet friends at the door. I get halfway there and realize that child is right behind me — I stop, turn both of us around, and remind him of his task. For the love of gravy, watch this, stir it, and don’t let it boil for more than a minute. I’ll be right back andyouneedtostayhere. Double-back again to run to the door, hug, welcome, make a pile of jackets in the corner, laugh, go back to the kitchen.

And that kid has pawned off the gravy (sans instructions) to Vince, who is stirring away at what has obviously been boiling hard for a little less than three minutes and is destined to remain the consistency of half-and-half. So help me.

The house is full and a dozen kids will crowd around our table, but before we even got that far our friends asked me about the book I saved for them — that little book that is supposed to be about adoption and boundaries but is actually mostly about grace and shelter; the little book that was birthed here and grew through its childhood and adolescence and is now a big kid, not quite grown up yet but still launching off into the world of Amazon and reviews and grown-up real-bookishness (but yes, still a free PDF download here for you readers).

And these friends whom we’ve shared messes with, who have been in the trenches far longer than we have, who showed us grace when we didn’t even know we needed it — these friends, we saved the first copy for them. And if I had been thinking correctly during the formatting stage (but wasn’t, because, oh, the morning sickness), there would have been a dedication page, and it would have said what I scribbled to them on the inside cover:

To Cody and Sara: You have long been our heroes.

And I would have added: And to Larry and Sharon, who were wise and crazy enough to introduce such humble troublemakers to us.

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And now it is days later. The wind has subsided and the leftovers are pretty much gone. We have a new box of books that are shipping out all over the country in the next week. The ground outside is still a mess, and there are still messes inside, too, and I’m not just talking about the dishes…but it makes all the difference to know we are not alone. These kids, those issues, that grief, the big decision. The house shakes and the ground is blown bare, and we can still throw the door wide open. In all those storms, you are not alone. We shelter each other with grace.

thrown a curve

Don’t hate me, but my husband is amazing at doing the laundry. He tackles most of it on Mondays when I’m puttering around the house with other projects — and I guess I never noticed this before, but even though he does the bulk of it, I’m usually the one who folds the fitted sheets. I finally realized this because as I was getting fresh sheets out of the closet, they looked…well, not like I had folded them. More like they’d been used to loosely mummify someone’s forearm, and then firmly stuffed into the shelf to avoid unwrapping. Vin later confirmed that this was exactly what he’d done.

thrown a curve: navigating unfamiliar territory without fear (Copperlight Wood)

Now, if the fitted sheets in your closet look like that, I’m not judging you. I never thought fitted sheets were actually supposed to be folded once they came out of the package, but that for the remainder of their days the owners must resort to wadding them up like a fat gauze bandage. Or, like a huge replica of a salvaged roll of toilet paper after Knightley has unrolled approximately three miles of it.

But I was nurtured by a sweet and savvy grandma who not only introduced me to Jesus, but also taught me mysteries of the gospel including, but not limited to, old hymns, soup on Sundays, and the art of folding a fitted sheet. And no, height wasn’t an excuse, because she was just a wee nudge past five feet tall. Despite the fact that I had grown up thinking that it just isn’t done, she au contraire’d me and showed how simple it was:

It’s the pockets. Make sure they’re empty – no straggling socks or unmentionables hiding in there – and just tuck them in each other. Fold over, retuck. Fold in the curved sides. Fold again, with straight sides, and done – a beautiful rectangle of linen closet goodness.

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It was not impossible. It was amazing. Anyone can handle a flat sheet with straight sides, but the fitted sheet throws us because of the curves. Like so many tasks in life — dumb stuff, big stuff, life-changing stuff — what seems to be impossible is usually just unfamiliar territory.

Buttercup: We’ll never survive!

Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

– The Princess Bride

Every endeavor that we tackle has innumerable details and problems that we don’t know how to solve at first. Starting a business, starting a family, starting a mission, or just starting over – we quail too early, too often, when thrown for a curve. So much is at stake in our wavering.

We all know the stories about how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. But we forget in hindsight how unlikely it was that our forefathers would succeed. Many times defeat seemed all but inevitable. Yet that small band of patriot-statesmen achieved a victory against a long-established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other…fighting hard at every turn…knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they, or possibly any people, would ever fight again for the great cause of self-government.

– Paul Ryan, quoted from Imprimis, July/August 2014 (reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)

I get confounded over the dumbest things sometimes. Most of them involve technology. We’re formatting Upside Down to paperback (and then we hope to move into large print…!) and it took me an embarrassing amount of time just to learn how to delete a page that I couldn’t even figure out how to access. That done, I had to remove a footnote separator that had been plaguing me for months. Little details left undone, pockets left with unmentionables hiding in them, stalling the clean look of a finished product.

It’s a learning curve, and sometimes I don’t want to learn. But after some tense touch-and-go strife with the lens cap, I even figured out how to use our new camera. Then I finally discovered how to change my contact email on most of my important accounts, and then, oh unstoppable momentum — tada! — converted to a Pinterest business account. All roads lead to Pinterest.

We tend to mistake the unexpected, unknown, or inconvenient for the impossible. But…au contraire

And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

– Judges 6:14-16, ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9, ESV

More than fitted sheets, more than irritating technology (or whatever your personal bane is), we face circumstances and events not bargained for on our knees. We do not know how to do this, we don’t know how it’s going to work out, we don’t remember signing up for this. We don’t know if we’re strong enough.

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But we do know that champions aren’t made on the easy paths, where every plan goes perfectly. Roads with curves are far more beautiful than straight highways. And maybe this is just my Alaskan bias, but rugged mountain landscapes always trump the flat, treeless prairies. People don’t stop in wonder while driving through flatlands like they do when they see the mountains and valleys wrought by tension that made the earth shake and change its shape.

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Your story, and my story, is more breathtaking with curves.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

– Ephesians 2:17-19

What we really need is someone to show us the way through the unknown. We fight the feelings of it just isn’t done with the au contraire of the Father who loves us and has good plans for us in the midst of the unexpected.

finishing well

It’s a really good thing you read yesterday’s post, because there might have been a remote (very remote) possibility that someone stumbling along this blog thought that a family with six kids, three cats, and special needs maintain a perfectly clean house and never spill coffee. And homeschool. And ride an exotic purple hippo to the grocery store every week.

(Which is just silly, because everyone knows we drive a Stagecoach. Really.)

finishing well: when we don't know what we've gotten ourselves into

But in case anyone still thinks this is a meticulously-run tight ship, let me share an example of how the boys’ room chore goes:

Me: “Did you clean under your bed?”

Boy: “Yes…well, I don’t remember. I think so.”

This is a sure sign that the actual answer is no.

We go check. A pile of miscellanea in the middle of the floor has already been retrieved, but I crouch down to peek into that dark underworld under the bed, and can clearly see that there is more in there still needing to be rescued.

I look back at the pile of stuff, and ask, “What are you going to do with all this?” Shirts, papers, books, a broken clothes hanger.

“I dunno where any of it goes, so I’m just gonna put it all in a baggie.” Aha. Clever. But…

“The shirts?”

“Well, I’ll hang those.”

I’m picking through, finding broken pens and dowel rods. Note to self: hide favorite pens, stop letting boys have dowel rods in their room.

“All this stuff isn’t going to fit in a baggie. You’re going to have to put it away in the right places.”

“I have extra baggies.”

Of course. Perfect solution. Note to self: stop giving baggies to Afton.

It took several attempts in fits and starts, one step at a time, but he finally put everything away in the right places. It’s supposed to be a weekly chore, but he’d been taking a bi-monthly approach to it, and the job was bigger than he expected.

Sometimes you know exactly what you’re getting into…but most of the time we don’t. The unexpected often happens: the cost is higher, the wait is longer, the deadline is shorter, or the assignment is messier.

He soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared. There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast. When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles. Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen. They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wed, scratched, and muddy. They halted, wondering what to do…

“Look!” he said, clutching Frodo by the arm. They all looked, and on the edge high above them they saw against the sky a horse standing. Beside it stooped a black figure.

They at once gave up any idea of going back.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And it’s okay – we don’t have to know all the unexpected details. He knows. If He had told us, we might never have started in the first place — or quit halfway, just pigeonholing the unpleasant parts of the assignment into a baggie. But we weren’t designed to be quitters, or those who shrink back.

And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

– 2 Corinthians 8:10-12

God, I’m praying tonight for those who are in the middle of a daunting task – they have to learn something new, do something hard, face the unexpected and costly – and I’m asking You to increase their courage and determination despite not knowing what’s over the next hill. Show them a fresh vision of the greatness ahead so they will not be unnerved by the details in the way.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:5b-7

When we crouch down to peek at the underworld, we can clearly see that there is still more to be recovered. Your calling, my calling, is crucial to the rescue operation, and we were made to finish it well. No quitting, no shrinking back, no baggies.

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This is day 26 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.