I’ve been focusing a lot of attention and study lately to Isaiah 61:1-3 for the R&R Women’s Retreat in January.  (Which if you haven’t registered yet, get after it.)

It says,

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]

This passage contains a “beautiful exchange”…in which Isaiah prophesies the replacement of all our mess with something beautiful, something peaceful, and something  purposeful.  As I’ve been meditating and studying on this part of scripture for a while now, I’ve run into a problem.  Evidence of this beautiful exchange is lacking…lacking in the church.

  “If you can’t show the difference between religion and the gospel, people will confuse morality with a changed heart.”-Timothy Keller

My husband advised me that there’s already been a lot of ink spilled over the whole religion vs. gospel argument.  Perhaps, but the very heady conversation has heart level implications of which I am becoming more aware.  When we “confuse morality with a changed heart”, the church cannot function in a way that honors Jesus and the beautiful exchange described in Isaiah 63.  Until one experiences the effects of a religion/gospel discrepancy, the emotional hurt and distrust that follows can’t be fully realized.  Often we don’t even realize our gospel has switched over to religion, it’s a slow slope that we ever-so-slightly slip down.

I believe a vast majority of churches have unknowingly muddied the distinction between religion and the gospel, so much so, that those within confuse authentic transformation in others for self-righteousness.  And conversely, even more confuse working really hard through behavior modification with their own spiritual growth and transformation.  The first example leaves those who are experiencing risky, yet honest, spiritual change discouraged, hurt, and deflated by the church.  The enemy uses this to hinder further spiritual maturity and he attempts to tear down that which Jesus has built up in the person.  The potential blessings this person offers to the church as a whole and to the community around them are derailed.  The latter results in the perceived spiritually mature trying to pour into others, while they are empty from their strivings and performance.  If our church leaders, staff, and volunteers are driven by this, they will burn out trying to maintain their own performance and that of the church.  When we are focused on the perfection of our practices, we are fueled by fleeting successes and extinguished by everyday failures.  Grace goes MIA.  Without grace, we’ve got nothing to give.

We are called as Jesus-followers to let Him live and work through us.  This is the Gospel: that He (who is pure and blameless) has taken my place–the place of death and destruction–and has set me in His place–the place of righteousness and sonship.   His Spirit now lives in me and guides me.  What an exchange!  This absolutely results in personal change, without any effort of my own!  This absolutely means things start to look different.  So where’s the “change” within the church?  How does the church “look different?”

By definition, the church is the bride of Christ, set apart as Holy and blameless, through the blood of Jesus.  Therefore, one can expect that the church and its people should act and look differently than those who have not embraced Christianity.  However, today the church, whether traditional or contemporary, looks more and more like big business, commercialism, and materialism, as well as, biting sarcasm, deception, and lawlessness.  We’ve exchanged-out undeserved grace and favor for the exhausting work of maintaining face and trends at any cost.  We stress making sure our practices look different and appealing, but miss how we as the children of God should look different, and therefore, what we have (Jesus) will naturally become appealing to others.

Religion as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is: “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; OR scrupulous conformity”.  We have become so tied and conformed to our institutions and what the Sunday morning routines and practices look like, (and how they might look to others), that we have forgotten the lack of “systems” that Jesus had.  We acknowledge the fundamental belief in the Gospel but rarely leave space and time to live it out…through each individual and their personal transformation.

A whole city believed because of the personal interaction between Jesus and a single woman.

We have become consumed with our overall performance and growth as a church instead of simply sharing our individual stories of redemption.  In an effort to put on the best show, we’ve spent less time letting the love of Jesus transform our hearts and minds, conforming us into His image, and more time trying to conform those around us into our image and preferences.  What we really need is a Gospel transformation of our own hearts.  If we are losing our voices of intellect to sarcasm, bitterness, crudeness, and apathy towards our sin,  what really needs to happen is a change in us.  Jesus cares about the way we treat each other, speak to each other, and represent Him.  Thankfully, He has a beautiful exchange for all of our misgivings and disgrace.  He offers something better, richer, and more satisfying.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen church communities thrive on grace alone.

When churches focus on statistics, numbers, and performance, we slowly morph the good news into an alternative works/righteousness slant.  (This is not a traditional vs. contemporary argument.  Both styles of worship fall victim to trying to impress their guests.  Both manner of churches have taken on a “if you build it, they will come” philosophy.)  When churches aim to look more like the world to “reach the lost”, we end up stifling genuine and true transformation in our congregations.  If we started to look more like Jesus, maybe we’d look less like the world…and then we wouldn’t be “edgy” or “attractive” anymore.  We’ve arrogantly got this beautiful exchange all twisted and backwards:  we’ve secularized the spiritual, rather than spiritualize the secular…as if any of it was in our control or power to begin with.  Our presence in the community shouldn’t cause churches to act more like the world, rather we can expect to see the world start to act more like the body of Christ because of the presence of Jesus in us.

Can we please give people who don’t believe in Jesus more credit?  They see through our efforts to be trendy and cool.  If they wanted to be entertained, they’d go to a show, or a movie, or go play putt-putt.  If they are walking through the doors of your church, they are hungry for something different–not hungry to see a church that looks different…but rather for something that could make them different.  They are craving something that could rid them of their broken hearts, their feelings of entrapment, their mourning, their shame, and their faint spirits.  That kind of exchange is the lasting living water that truly satisfies, while a favorable Sunday morning experience will only last 1 hour and 15 minutes.  When the people sitting in the pews have undergone this beautiful exchange, and share their personal stories of beauty from ashes, that’s what draws others to Jesus…that’s Gospel-centered ministry…and lasting church growth.  Church growth is in the hands of the people who fill the seats.  The function of leadership is to encourage and remind their people that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share God’s love through their stories.

Jesus is more than enough on His own.  He doesn’t need us to make Him “more seeker friendly”, “more palatable”, or “less intimidatingly righteous”.  Did Jesus hang out with prostitutes? Yes, but He didn’t start dressing like them.  When we focus all efforts into how we practice our religion in one building, and ignore how we are to live out the Gospel with each other outside our four walls, we inhibit spiritual growth.  We might be sweetly desiring our church to grow, but the spirituality of the people within will die when church growth and/or sustaining tradition becomes the end goal.  If the goal becomes developing the best model, we’ve bypassed the fact that the Gospel most assuredly is messy and unpredictable, and personal transformation isn’t on a timed schedule.  It’s can’t fit into a model.

In the beautiful exchange that Jesus offers, the s*** of life happens…and then Jesus happens.  He takes away the crap and replaces it.  Things will get messy, because acknowledging our sin is messy.  But getting it out there, so it can be wiped away, is necessary.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We WILL naturally look different.  We WILL inherently be more joyful.  We WILL unknowingly start to care less about what the Sunday service looks like, and more about what Jesus looks like.  We WILL effortlessly start to discern that which pleases God from that which does not.  Those who follow Jesus will be known by the fruit that they bear, not how cool they are…because He will be daily extracting the nasty flesh out and injecting much, much better.  And when we see that in ourselves and in others, we can praise God that He is at work.

I’ve heard a lot recently of the church being compared to a sausage factory.  The analogy suggests that churches put out a product, and if you knew what went into it, you’d never take part in it.  Imagine the Oscar-Meyer sausage factory, beautifully exchanged for a tiny home filled with homemade family-recipe apple pies made alongside great-Grandma.  The goal is not a product, but a family.  It’s not very impressive, hip, tidy, or efficient.  The kitchen’s small with out-of-date beaters and hand towels, your borrowed apron is awkwardly too big, there’s flour all over the place, and you’ve likely invested hours for one delicate pastry.  But there’s nothing that compares to the sweet satisfaction and aroma of love that fills the air.

Let’s not get stuck–simply complaining behind the doors of a sausage factory.  Our stories don’t end there.  A beautiful exchange has been promised to us.   Let’s hold on to the hope that times of refreshing are coming.   Acts 3:19-20 says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”  Believe the LORD God when He says in Ezekiel 36:36, “Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  He is in the business of bringing back to life that which we think is beyond repair.  He has perfected taking our mess and making it beautiful.  Will we allow Him?  Will we humble ourselves and repent?

Let’s give Him our hearts.  Let’s let Him draw out our sin, our death, and our destruction.  Let’s let Him cover all our shame and brokenness with His perfection and grace.  Let’s let Him take root in our hearts and exchange the bad for good.  Let’s daily resolve to let Him continually transform us and those around us.  Let’s get messy together and be comforted by all that Jesus has for us.  Let’s encourage each other, pray for one another, forgive one another…and taste sweet grace.

The rain dances off the shingled roof while shouts of laughter and giggles of delight bounce back and forth.  I sit in the coziness of my kitchen with my smoked berry and incense candle setting the mood.  What a calm Columbus Day home from school.  With the showers and dark clouds comes the dawning of Fall.  (Or at least I hope cooler weather is on the horizon.)

Autumn is my favorite season, with all it’s tastes and scents.  Whether it’s walking into the grocery store and smelling the cinnamon pine cones, or sitting in a Starbucks with a spiced pumpkin latte, once October hits, the aroma and palette of fall is hard to escape.

This morning I thought, I really should write a blog post today.  We are coming off a full and long weekend and though I should write, all I want to do today is sit with my coffee in front of the panes of glass and watch my children soak up the drops of joy falling from the sky…that, or take a nap.  I had to run a quick trip to the store earlier this morning for some basics as I was praying, “What do I even write about today? I got nothin’, Lord.”  Then I realized I completely drove past HEB, as if headed to school on a non-holiday Monday.  I was already sitting at the next stop light.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve done this before.  I’ve been deep in thought, distracted by squabbling kids in the back seat, or simply so exhausted that I miss my turn, pass my exit, or even drive past my own house, especially if it is a non-routine stop.  I hope some of you can identify with this…

As I sat at the red left-turn-only light, waiting to make my u-turn back to the store, I prayed again, “What do I even write about today?  I’m too tired to think, too tired to process, too tired to listen.”

Yep, there it is.  A clear word from the Lord.  Here we go:

How many times have I been too tired, too fatigued, too apathetic to listen to God?  (More times than I can count or realize, I suppose.) Our pace of American life lulls us into such monotony of routine that we drive right past the urgings of God.  When His Spirit speaks something that is outside the set boundaries of our schedules or beyond the lists of to-dos, we can sleep-walk ourselves past doors of opportunity.

Wake UP!  God is telling us, “WAKE UP!”  I have let my new-found awareness and ear (albeit still being fine-tuned) go…to…sleep.  Are you awake??

I know what it is to be so exhausted that eyelids succumb to the laws of gravity, even in the midst of conversation. I get it. I know it. I am in that very state right now. But I am called to WAKE UP! I either need to make the necessary changes to not be so dang tired or I have to get over the sleepiness and force myself to be aware in the midst of fatigue. Perhaps the solution requires a little of both.

There are values in our culture that oppose rest, that break the 4th commandment.  It’s admirable to work overtime.  We boast of our busyness.  Think about that for a minute.  Our sins are all equal in the sight of God.  Every sin, whether “big” or “small” (as deemed by our society) leads to death.  So are we willing to take murder with the same degree of self-righteous excuse as we do working on the Sabbath?  What if we murdered for the sake of an extra days worth of salary?   What if we murdered for the sake of ministry? Yeah, I went there…  How unsettling if we boasted of our killing?  If we boasted for killing innocent people for the “sake of the Gospel?”

Our disregard for the Sabbath, using the excuse of “ministry” as justification, is no less a sin than the genocide of populations during the crusades.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath, yes.  But Jesus also withdrew from the crowds and rested.  We have to rest.  We have to take rest seriously.  We have to regard the commandment to honor the Sabbath with the same conviction as we do the other 9 on the list.  What good is a half-eyed “christian” zombie who is too tired to hear the Spirit?  It sure doesn’t make the truth of “Jesus in me” very convincing to others, when I am too tired to listen to Him and to bear His fruits of joy, peace, and patience.  Why would anyone want what I have?  It looks and feels miserable.

Jesus, forgive me for not taking rest seriously.  Forgive me for not taking care of the body you have given me.  Forgive me for letting my lack of rest inhibit me from following You.  Forgive me for selfishly pursuing works instead of pursuing You.  Forgive me for misrepresenting the new life and joy you offer in the presence of others who have yet to taste it.

Jesus, thank you for covering me in grace and giving me new life regardless of my performance.  I am made new, daily.

Adequate rest is only half of my issue.  When I am fatigued (and it’s bound to happen regardless of good Sabbath habits, because I’m only human), I am still called to wake up.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to stay alert and pray…and they couldn’t keep their eyelids peeled.  Twice He pleaded for their attention and twice they fell victim to slumber.   “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).  The Spirit is right there, willing to reveal to me all manner of amazing gifts and revelations, but my flesh has been entirely weak.

Jesus pleads for our attention.  He desires our alertness to His words, to His Spirit.  If we are walking through life on auto-pilot, we miss His very voice and all that He has to offer us.  He sings songs over us.  He speaks truth to us.  He reminds us of our beauty, our inheritance, our value, and our worth.  These are reminders I need daily.  I’m so ashamed that I don’t pay attention to these messages that I desperately need.  I can’t believe that I own lies of value and worth that are contrary to what He says about me, yet His sweet words are ever-present for me.  The Spirit’s fragrance and taste is all around me, just like Fall and it’s hard to escape.  Yet, I have found a way to bypass it all.

Jesus, forgive me for falling asleep to Your voice.  Forgive me for coasting through the day to day, unaware of the destinations to which I’ve been blind and the reminders of your truth.

I receive the clean slate you give me and honed-in ears to start afresh.

2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  For that, I am truly thankful.  My list may not be totally completed at today’s end, but at least I heard Him say, “I will be faithful to you.”

Today I am tired, but not alone.  My list of to-dos fills an entire 8 1/2 x 11 page of lined notebook paper.  About half-way down the list is: write blog post.  Listening to God doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible with my daily duties.  When I listen to Him, He walks alongside me and makes the stuff happen, infusing each task with His fragrance of joy and lightness of heart.  It’s the cinnamon and cardamon added to the everyday cup of joe.  The ordinary becomes enraptured with His presence.  With Him living in me, I can be tired, joyful, productive, and attentive all at the same time.

I have tried in the few hours of sitting in front of the screen to listen to God, even through my fatigue, even through trying to complete my writing task, and even with the other 15 things on my list looming in the back of my mind.  This morning, I went on a journey to write a blog post.  But I listened and stopped along the way, guided to pitstops and destinations that were not in my plan.  Here’s what happened:

– I watched the rain fall.

– I closed my eyes and opened my ears to the sounds of my children’s laughter.

– I laughed over the top of the laptop as I witnessed four kids battle one dog to a bath–in the rain.

– I embraced muddy feet.

– I happily scratched off the list…

give the dog a bath

– I stopped typing to take pictures of siblings hugging in the open grass midst a thunderstorm. photo – I savored my creamer-enhanced coffee as I sat waiting for the electricity to come back on.

-I stopped typing again to tickle a half-naked, wet, and muddy toddler boy.

-I pondered my rest and lack thereof…then prayed for forgiveness.

-I meditated on grace.

-I paused to fill a bathtub with soapy warm foam for cold little bodies.

-I tossed soggy clothes into the washing machine, counting the blessings of modern technology.

– I marked off…

do a load of laundry

– I wrapped little boys in fluffy dry towels and kissed their tender noses.

– I happily elongated the chase of a naked bathroom escapee, and marveled at his laughter, picking up random toys on the floor along the way.

– I grabbed the pencil…

bathe kids

pick up clutter

-I returned to the keyboard and gave thanks for fresh ears and propped-open eyes.

– I heated hotdogs for lunch and threw some ingredients into the crockpot.

– I drew a line through:

start dinner

– I snuggled my baby close, singing a lullaby, then laid him sleepy-eyed into his crib for an afternoon respite.

– I sat for a final session at the computer and listened.  I recounted all that Jesus had for my tired soul in one short morning…

write blog-post

photo

The faint chirping of birds…

If I concentrate, I can dimly dice the conversation.

The tweets cascading down from the oaks in front of me are met with distant song to my left.  What are they saying?

There is a pattern to their song.  Verse, chorus, verse again…a back and forth chant and response.  The pitch of the two are different, one distinctly higher than the other, but the quick staccato rhythm the same.  Are they talking about food, the weather, the nest?

I have been listening to birdsongs of a different flair all week.  It’s been deep meaningful discussion on matters of faith, “outreach”, and Jesus.  I sit here in the woods, on retreat, processing all the hymns and anthems I have just taken in, hoping to digest even half of the wisdom I encountered.

At the very core of my melodic meal, Jesus has been singing a song over me.  He has been feeding His goodness and mercy straight to my hungry belly.  He has been wooing me with His love.  His Spirit has been reminding me of all that He said and all that He has done.  His sweet tunes have been everything from savory, slow, and melodic to salty, fast, and turbulent.  In every lyric is a nutrient for my heart.

The rain comes.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Fading are the birds, all but one.  In the sound of the softly falling wet, I hear but one little chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

She is constant, her beat like the ticking of a grandfather clock.  The rain falls gently.

The air fills with the fragrance of peaceful showers.

Chirp.

Chirp.   Piddle.  Piddle.

In this solitude, Jesus has a message for me.  He has been pouring music of His truth and His gifts over me for months now, but here, in this peaceful place, with rain tenderly tapping 16ths on the leaves on the snare drum of His orchestration, and the bird steady on the count…

Piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle.

Chirp.

Chirp.

It is here that I start to piece together the message of His month long score.

The Spirit is at work around me and in me.  I feel Him moving as I sense the bugs squirming under the leaves.  A small section of dry scrap on the ground jumps as a wooded lizard runs for cover.  I see the Spirit wiggling under the surface of our lives.  Some jump at His dance.  Some respond.  Some run for cover.  He is mixing and stirring our pots.  He’s up to something.

Chirp.

Chirp.

An acorn falls in front of me from the heights above.

clack…

and bounces on the wooden deck…

click, click.

More percussion in this song.  I am learning to listen.  To learn I must practice.

Chirp.

Chirp.

That unrelenting chirp that never misses a beat, it is constant and exact.  Such is the message for my heart–a constant and exact word for only my soul, speaking personally to the depths of my spiritual being.  Yet, I see in the songs I have shared with others this week, the songs I have listened others sing, that the message is being broadcast worldwide.  The movement is wild and far-traveling.  While He speaks straight to my soul, He is speaking directly to the souls of others.  He is amazing.  He is big.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Clack.  Click, click.

What is this message?  What is this great orchestral composition leading me to?  I don’t know…yet.  But I am simply enjoying the concert.

Clack.  Click, click.

Chirp.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

The message is to listen…to learn His voice.  To practice the art of listening to Him.

The rain from the roof has gathered in the gutters and soon a faint trickle of drops turns into a spout of bubbling brook.

Drip.

Drop.

Pour.

He is here, even now, and I know this because I listen.

I fear no evil, for He is with me.  His soft showers of grace turn into rivers of gratitude in my heart.  Somehow this listening transforms me.  My spirit lifts, and I believe it is because I am hearing His Spirit with all my senses.  This is the message He has for me.  This is one of the many gifts He has given me, to have at my disposal His Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter, the One who reminds me of the Father’s love and of Jesus’ words. If I don’t hear, how will I know?

I am learning to be a sheep that listens, that is known, and does not wonder.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  He is speaking to me in daily current parables.

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13-17).

In His mercy, my dull heart is being illuminated.  My ears are being tuned.  My eyes are being opened.  His mercies are new every morning.

Chirp.

Chirp.

I hear His mercies falling anew:

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Drip, drop…

pour.

He has healing and I turn to hear it and receive it.

His Spirit is here, with me, with you.  Listen.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Don’t over think it.  Simply sit and listen and start with what you hear.  My friend, I want you to know the joy that comes from knowing.

chirp.

 

I’ve been particularly absent from the blog lately.  I could say I’ve been busy with the book and general life stuff, which I have, but actually it’s been a matter of pride.  My blogging is usually a time of solitude with Jesus, and there is no good excuse for short-changing time with Him and time to process life through His Word.  See, things have been rough.  Some of my children have not been adapting very well to our new school routine and my embarrassment at the fact has kept me from publicly writing about it.  My shame has inhibited me from processing it through Jesus, which doesn’t alleviate the humiliation, but only perpetuates it.  So, here I am, a little apprehensive about fingering the keyboard and revealing a deep heart issue.  I genuinely don’t know what truth or big idea Jesus will conclude this post with but I know I will need to hear it.  Thanks for joining me in this humbling process.

The worst day was a Monday a few weeks ago.  We had already been in school for half a week (which went wonderfully, by the way) but it was the starting day for public school.  One of my children (I’m not going to mention names…because it gets ugly) was throwing a massive fit about having to go to school.  Everything was wrong.  Clothes were wrong, socks were wrong, shoes were wrong, breakfast was wrong.  I tried to help, but the anthem was, “You won’t even help me…You won’t even listen to me.”  I broke.  My temper flared and I was undone.  After the socks and shoes I had graciously put on, and I had patiently tied, had been kicked off for the second time, my self-restraint was gone.  Once everyone else was ready and it was time to go, the shoeless child was forced into the car, disheveled hair and all.  After kicking and screaming the entire drive, when we arrived at school, the walk into the building was dramatic, laboring, and exhausting.  When we made it to the office, I struggled to pry one child off while keeping another from escaping and running back into the parking lot.  I was mortified.  The walk down the hallway to the classrooms was coupled with mini-body slams against the wall in an effort to stop any progress towards the room.  I smiled the whole time, as if to say, “No one else look, all is fine here! heh…heh…”  Finally a school staff member removed the child suction-cupped to my leg and I made a run for it.

On the way home, I called Paul, tears rolling down my face.  I was sad for my child, hurt by the words of my child, ashamed of my behavior, and embarrassed that my child was reflecting poorly of my parenting.  I was questioning every decision I’ve ever made on behalf of my children.  I was a mess.  But even then, I did not appear nearly as melodramatic as after the next event.  A cop stepped out in front of my car and waved me over.  Ugh…a school zone.  “Seriously, what’s the big idea?  What is up with this day?” With 12 minutes left in the designated time slot for the reduced speed, I was caught going the full speed…and on the phone.  I chunked my cell to the opposite side of the car and veered over.  I got a ticket from a very unfriendly sheriff.  This day was not getting any better.

I cried myself the rest of the way home.  Poor Judah sat in his carseat, wondering what in the world was going on.  After gaining composure, I thought, I can redeem this day.  I will bake cookies.  I will let my children know that I am sorry for the morning by having warm chocolate chip goodness for them when they arrive in the afternoon.  So I set to finding a recipe and checking the pantry for all the supplies as Judah took his nap.  I had everything except the baking powder.  So I googled substitutions online and found something that might work.  I was now racing against the clock to be done by the time Judah woke and we had to head back into the car for pick up.  I mixed and pre-heated and dropped rounded spoonfuls.  When I came back to check my act of goodwill, the oven-light revealed yet another failing of the day.

photo

There was no part of this day that I had any control over…ahhh…and I think I just stumbled on the clear message of the day.

Control.  I’ve got none of it.

So what do I do with my lack of control?  The lack of control over my temper that morning?  The lack of control over my children’s behavior? My lack of control over what other’s are thinking about me?  My lack of control to pay attention to the flashing school zone lights?  My lack of control when expressing my frustration and emotions over the phone?  My lack of control over the chemical properties of baking soda and the reaction it has (or doesn’t have) when combined with lemon juice?  Apparently, my instinct is to turn to shame and embarrassment, which all stems from pride.  I assume I have the ability to be in control.  Or maybe even, I assume that I have the right to be in control of these things.  If I didn’t assume that control was mine to be had, than why would I feel a sense of failure that I was unable to achieve it?

Nothing is mine to control.  Control is not mine to achieve.  So when the wheels are spinning off and heads seems to be devilishly rotating while spewing green words of hurt at me, I don’t have to turn to shame.  It’s life.  I can’t control any of this, especially the redeeming part.  I can’t muster up the best plan to redeem my day and somehow make it all better.    Jesus is doing something in these moments.  He’s still good and He is working all things out for my good and for the good of those around me.  So, when I am having to let another adult rip my child off my body, its a necessary step in the process to overcome their separation anxiety.  It’s good for them to not cling to me, and this season, while hard, is developing them into the young adults I long for them to be.  That police officer probably got kudos for the number of tickets he wrote that day, I don’t know.  But, somehow I have to believe that it was good for him, and probably good for me to become more aware of my oversight of school zones.  The cookies…well, Jesus did redeem the cookies.  My attempt to redeem the day resulted in imperfection, but He turned that into something worthwhile.  They were flat, but chewy and good.  My taste-tester, Judah, approved.  And when I handed each of my kids a baggie of sweetness as they entered the car at pick-up, they were all smiles.

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Jesus redeems more than just my failures.  He redeems the little things in the little moments of my little day.  The only purpose in Him having my cookies turn out okay was to love me.  How often do we believe that He cares that much?  How often do we experience His goodness on a day that seems like a waste?

Life After Rehab was not guaranteed to be easy.  It was not promised to me that after rehabbing, we would receive an awarded ability to control.  No, if anything we were promised to face challenges and learning experiences that would leave our lack of self-control laid bare and our depravity raw.  I need Jesus.  Even when I make cookies.  I need Him and His presence to satisfy me and to assure me.  This is rehab 101: God is bigger than me and I am powerless on my own.  I thought I had learned that lesson last year, but it’s daily implications still impact me.

We have continued to struggle in the mornings.  I have continued to try and control.  Jesus is softening me, breaking me down so that my inability to control is fully revealed to me, and if needed for my sanctification, revealed to everyone around me.  (I really hope I don’t require that.)  Growth is labor-intensive.  Figuring out how to walk a rehabilitated life while thrown into the mix requires the same intensity and intentionality as figuring out how to do it in a season of removal and distance.  It requires a dependency on the Holy Spirit to listen and look at life in a different way.  We are learning.  If only I had spent the time processing this lesson earlier, I’d probably saved some shame, disappointment, and feelings of failure.  But there is grace in this too.

I am thankful of His reminders.  “You’re not in control.”  “It doesn’t matter what they say, I know your heart.”  “Stop trying to assume what others are thinking about you, and think on what I am teaching you.”  “Slow down.”  “Take deep breaths and rest in me.”  “Enjoy me and my presence, and have a cookie to tangibly taste how good my plan of redemption is.”  “Don’t forget to talk to me.”

You know, those cookies…those paper-thin cookies were my moment of communion with Him.  Through that sugary manna-like treat, He reminded me of His presence, His goodness, His redemption.  He gave me something physical to put in my mouth so I could remember the sweetness of His faithfulness.  I think I’m on to my next big idea…chocolate chip communion wafers. 🙂

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So again, I’ve been feeling sad, a little blue, you might say.  I think it’s pretty simple—no need to over analyze.  I just miss my people and places.  I miss the Broken Spoke, my Buda HEB cashiers, the simplicity of THE one stoplight on Main Street, South Congress, Gordough’s Big Fat Doughnuts, House Pizza on Airport, Town Lake, and the list could go on.  Even sitting in this Katy Starbucks deceives me into believing I am sitting near IH-35 in the Buda Starbucks and life hasn’t changed.  When we lived in Austin, I used to get frustrated at the “Austin is the best place on earth” mentality.  It seemed so self-righteous.  But now I get it.  It really is the best city on earth. 🙂

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to go to Colorado as a family.  It was the first time to be on a plane for the kids (that they can remember) and it was the first time for us to travel that far with four kids.  In short, we all grew a little. 🙂

We had a moment in the car when one child did not want to go into the mountains.  Despite the prospect of snow, adventure and fun, the fear of the mountain was too much.  I don’t know if it was the foreknowledge of steep cliffs, avalanches or rock slides that was causing the trepidation, but whatever the source,  it was all too much.  In an effort to encourage, I tried to describe how fun the snow would be, how beautiful the trees would be, how amazing and worth it the drive up to the top would be.  None of it was convincing.  So, with tears rolling down the cheeks, we just forced all parties in the car up into the Rockies.

It ended up being worth it. (Go figure.) While this annual trip was not as restful as it has been in the past, we did have good fun family time together.  Here are a few pics of our adventures:

Manitou Cave Dwellings
Manitou Cave Dwellings
The boys and SNOW!
The boys and SNOW!
The Wolf Sanctuary
The Wolf Sanctuary
Feeding time for all.  Notice the wolf eyeing Judah for dessert.
Feeding time for all. Notice the wolf eyeing Judah for dessert.
Gold Mine Tour
Gold Mine Tour

 

We hunted for cave-dwelling Indians, gold, snow, and even wolves.  Well, they were easy to find because they were behind the fence and it was feeding time.  And everyone had no regrets about being in the heights of the mountain range.  Once the wonders of the mountain had been experienced, all fear and concern was gone.

In all the traveling and excitement, I rarely had to time to process anything.  This trip has become a mile-marker of sorts.  Every Cinco-de-Dyer (our friend, David Dyer’s, May 5th birthday) we trek to Colorado.  In the past the week of solitude and reflection has made every trip memorable and unique in that there has been a lot of introspective and identifying of the season we are in or the big lesson for that year.  It’s been a time to pause while on the outside of our normal life and take note of what God is doing.  We’ve been afforded the opportunity to take a “Colorado skies” panoramic of life and how the Spirit is guiding us.  (And if we’ve been following or not.)

This year, that didn’t happen.  At least not with the same intentionality.  But I remember that it was last year on this trip that as we drove down the mountain paths with huge vistas of blue sky and snow-capped mountains on either side, Family Rehab was born.  It was while in the beauty and splendor, without our kids, that a yearning to share it with them was born.  “It” was the beauty of the Lord—all that He has created and all that He has done.  His majesty spreads farther than the baby blue Colorado skies.  His splendor and power is also evident in our lives.  And by “our”, I mean everybody.  Whether a believer or not, God is working in your life.  Whether you confess God as your creator and Jesus as your Redeemer, or not…He’s at work in your life.  Whether we believe or not, I dare say we don’t notice or acknowledge the majority of His workings in every facet of our lives.  Whether we believe or not, He is pursuing all of us.  He pursues not to destroy and condemn, but to love and lavish forgiveness and mercy upon us.  Contemplating this, and knowing that He is pursuing me and loving me, no matter how small I am in comparison to Pike’s Peak, makes me feel amazing–so amazing that I want to make sure my children feel the depth and breadth of His love for them.  It was the desire to share with them the truth of how much they are loved and treasured that fueled Family Rehab.  And I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just telling them from a philosophical or religious mentality.  I wanted them to hear it from my heart, as someone who has experienced His love.  But let’s get real.  I don’t always feel it.  I don’t always believe that it’s there.  Like right now…I mean, if He loved me, He wouldn’t have called me out of Austin!

To a warm-weathered Texan, it doesn’t make much sense why anyone would live in sub-freezing temperatures and shovel snow.  In the same way, believing that 1) God exists; and 2) He knows me; and 3) that He pursues me with love doesn’t make sense to everyone either.  I don’t always see snow.  I am so far removed from it at times that I don’t remember exactly how it feels in my hands.  I can’t adequately describe in words the crunchy sound it makes under my feet.  But if I took you to the mountain, made you kneel beside me and make a snowman, you would know and understand the thrill and joy it brings because you experienced it.  I think this is the tricky thing for a believer.  I can tell you with all manner of words how knowing and trusting Jesus is better than life, but until you experience it for yourself, it just won’t compute.  And if I asked you to travel with 4 kids through an airport then drive in a tear-filled SUV up a mountain trail to experience it, you may not take the challenge, because without knowing the value of the view at top, the view of the journey holds no worth.

It takes risk to climb a mountain.  It takes faith to live on one.  It takes commitment to shovel through ice and snow winter after winter.  But if we go to the mountain together, we can remind each other of the scary cliffs and the exhilaration of making the journey past them.  If we go together, we can communicate with fewer words of convincing and more across-the-room glances of solidarity and connection.  Taking my kids to the mountain daily is a key part of Family Rehab.  It’s not about me simply sharing bible stories or rehearsing scripture memory verses.  I am inviting my children into my personal experience with Jesus.  When I struggle, they need to see it–because Jesus will show up.  When I am sad, they need to hear about it–because Jesus will say something.  When I am happy, they need to know the source of it–because Jesus will be pursuing them with storehouses full of it.  If I don’t help them experience Jesus, they might miss Him like so many others.  They might believe in Him, but they might miss experiencing Him and all His goodness.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  (Psalm 34:8)

I want my kids to not only taste and see that snow is good.  I want them to taste and see with all their senses that Jesus is good.  I don’t just want them to push past their fears and see that snow and mountain-fresh air is worth it in the end.  I want them to push past insecurities and doubts and the fear of being fully known and see that freedom in Jesus is worth it.  In a world that sometimes portrays a Jesus who is disappointed in us and pities us, I want them to know from experience that “Jesus is always good news” as my husband puts it.  He loves us and wants good for us.  He pursues us with grace and mercy and open arms.  He wants us to be happy and full of joy, not guilt and shame.  Experiencing that freedom first hand is key.  To be loved for who you are right now, in all your failures and insecurities, knowing that right now, without changing a thing, you are worth dying for–that’s worth the pain of being honest about your imperfection.  That kind of love doesn’t exist in any other religion, with any other god, or in any human relationship.  We’d like to think that we can love unconditionally, but if we are honest, we really do expect quite a lot of good behavior from those that we love.  Jesus does what no one else can.  He loves me completely and freely…no strings attached.

Oh, kids…taste and see that the Lord is good!  Oh, friends…taste and see that the Lord is good!  Oh, believers…taste and see that the Lord is good!  Oh, Angie…taste and see that the Lord is good!  (even when I’m homesick)  I need to listen to my own rant here.  In my sadness over seeing and tasting familiar Austin things no more, I need to remember that Jesus looks better and tastes better.  What He has for me here makes everything else pale in comparison.  It may take awhile to see it, to experience it here, but He is at work and He is lavishing grace and mercy on me every moment.  I need to heed my own advice.  I need to push past the tendency to withdrawal in the safety of my house.  I need to gather around me the people He has given me in this place for a journey up the mountain so we can experience His wonders together and remind each other that, yes–He is here, He is good.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. 🙂