Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.  In a world and culture that loves rhythms and systems, order and reason, sometimes life runs against the current.  Chaos abounds, and it’s enough to drive us all mad.

So what do we do when the chaos hits the fan?  What do we do when the world’s run amuck and we don’t know up from down?Here’s my laptop confession:  I eat chocolate and TV binge-watch.

We are not promised order, as we define it.  We are not guaranteed to always understand.  However, we are ensured that we don’t have to know the ins and outs of all that lay before us.  That truth is a really hard pill to swallow…chocolate is much easier.

As a parent, much of my “order” is defined by good behavior, and the procedures to get there involve discipline and consequences.  I am learning, however, that grace is chaos compared to behavior charts and house rules.  Grace, as it rubs against the grain of our daily structure, order, and expectations, usually asks us to forgive uncomfortably.  Grace requires understanding, not strict obedience nor lax leniency.  It demands time and action that unquestionably directs others toward Jesus.  This doesn’t always follow the steps and procedures that I have deemed responsible.  Grace-filled parenting erroneously appears irresponsible and “soft.”

How do I reconcile that in my heart?  If we are to live under grace, and extend grace to others, and to live in Gospel-centered community, we must train ourselves to think outside common sense, order, and definitions.

Forcing ourselves outside of common sense is quality practice.  Jesus and His “upside-down” kingdom runs counter to all cultural common sense.  The first shall be last.  Debt is freely cancelled.  Those are not lessons from Kindergarten.  From early on, we are groomed to follow the line leader and to take responsibility for our actions.  We are taught how to fill our sticker-chart of good deeds.

Having a plan, asking questions about the plan, and having a back-up plan feels responsible, and there are times when this is required of us.  So when we are occasionally asked (or forced) to not have a plan, we can feel lazy, dull, and even immoral.  To practice frivolity, at least to some degree, stretches us outside our common sense limits and our desire to control the chaos.  Grace often resides beyond these personal boundaries and the limits we’ve drawn.  Perhaps we should push ourselves outside these cultural guidelines so often, that functioning against the cultural current begins to feel normal–less uncomfortable.

Today the kids have their Valentine’s parties, and so we’ve been getting our “creative” on.  We decided to order cards from the store, so the other night we had a photo shoot.  In an effort to practice frivolity, we threw out common sense.  It seemed more like Halloween than Valentine’s, and I believe we successfully thought outside of the box.  (Pinterest makes it really hard to be truly unique.)   We stepped beyond order and reason, and with a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of laughter, we came up with a plan–a plan of non-sense.

Ava’s favorite candy is Three Musketeers.  I’m sure there is someone smarter than me who could have drawn a connection between the sword-toting trio and Valentine’s Day love, but I had nothing. We bought the candy, a fake mustache, and inverted Gideon’s pirate costume.  Ava, who has an amazing ability to defy inhibitions, slapped on the facial hair and hat, and began hamming it up for the camera.

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I love this girl.

This musketeer embraced the utter non-sense of it all…and we laughed.

The lack of meaning and connection became the thrust of our message.

You see, when we cling to reason and order, to practicality and systems, we miss musing in the senseless things of life, or at least the things that seem senseless to us.  I mentally draft connections from one event to another, or apply meaning to a situation that just simply doesn’t exist.  It’s my meager attempt to make sense of life, to organize the chaos.  Meanwhile, I miss the freedom in the chaos, notably that I don’t have to figure it out.  When I don’t know what to do with my kids and their behavior, I find myself holding fast to proper procedures and guidelines.  In turn, I miss the beauty of extending true grace…that which is undeserved.  My rules are all about what is earned and deserved.  Grace doesn’t fit in that box.

The clear message of Scripture is that God has His plan and we are in it…somewhere.  From the first meal in the Garden, mankind has been tempted by “knowing.”

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3: 6-7

….and since the first instruction in the Garden, it hasn’t been humanity’s place to know.  

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2: 16-17

I desire what isn’t for me (namely, knowing the plan and controlling the situation).  Not much has changed since the Garden.  Eve and I have much in common.  One would think I could learn from her story.  For when her eyes were opened, it didn’t go well.

I desperately want to see the big picture, the plan that lies ahead…at least how the next few weeks will pan out.  I want to make sure my children respect authority and obey the rules, often at the expense of grace. But it isn’t for me to know and it isn’t for me to withhold that which is so freely given to me.  And if all that I seek to see was indeed revealed to me, I can only assume that the irresistible knowledge I crave now wouldn’t satisfy in the end.  I can only assume that without grace, my children would grow up to be wonderful, respectful citizens, but who sit in constant judgment and have ongoing relationship inadequacies, including relationship with their heavenly Father.

SO…I practice.  While cute on a Valentine’s card, I currently struggle to experience non-sensical joy in the midst of chaos and unknowing.  I’d like to say I could, because after all, that’s what a Proverbs 31 woman would do: “laugh at the days to come.”  But let’s get real…when the chaos hits the fan, trusting God’s plan worry-free is a set of skills most of us lack.

So I practice the skill, even in silly photo shoots, which honestly, takes no risk.  But even that little taste of embracing the self-adhesive mustache makes the crazy around me slightly more palatable. Can you imagine if I practiced this skill with grace? That takes guts!  I can only imagine that the effects on myself and those around me would be astounding.

As I fumble and muddle through all this, here is my hope…it’s for you, too:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45: 4-6

When we are not trusting, when we do not know or acknowledge Him, He is still faithful.  He still equips us–with peace and with grace.  When we are in the wilderness, He continues to guide, though we whine and complain with every step.  He continues to know us and our cravings to understand and make sense of the desert.  He calls us by name…even when we resist to call on His.  He promises to make at least one thing known to us…Him.

He will supply us with frivolous grace, and even more opportunities to shower others with the same.  He will sustain us in the chaos, when we don’t see a way.

Romans 9:15-17 says,

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”

It is because of His faithfulness that I am compelled to respond with trust.  I trust not because I can make sense of the situation, or predict the future.  I can trust that when grace is given, Jesus takes care of the consequences and conviction that my guidelines and sense of justice want to establish.  I will not walk forward in hope because I have a glimpse of what He is doing.  I know it depends on nothing of me, no will or exertion, not even an optimistic outlook, and therefore, I am free to not have one.

(gasp…)

I press on with wishy-washy hope and just try to trust.  I will start with baby steps and simply try to trust Him with the plan, and with the aftermath of His grace.  (Accompanied of course by chocolate and tv drama).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Here’s the final Valentine: (completely non-sensical)

IMG_0501 “Roses are red, violets are blue.  All for one…and 5 for 2?”

“I’m learning a lot about God from my kids.”  I think every Jesus-following parent says it at least once.  It is true.  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18: 3-4).

This morning when darkness still loomed over the house, I rose to my oldest daughter already awake.  She had set her alarm for 5 AM so as to not miss the much anticipated lunar eclipse.  It was supposed to be first visible at 5:25 AM, but in an effort to not miss any of it, she was awake nearly a half hour early.  The rest of the family wasn’t that interested in the phenomenon, so she planned her rising all on her own.  She could hardly sleep last night, so it was not a surprise to me that she was already awake when my alarm went off at 6.  The time she chose to wake up did not startle me. What did shock me was the place she chose to watch.

I assumed that she would venture out on the front driveway or walkway and peer into the moon-lit sky.  I figured she’d take it in for a minute, get tired, and head back to bed.  But, no, my child knew better than me…

She pulled a chair and pillow from the living room over to the front door.  She made herself comfortable and sat, marveling at the moon through the glass insets.  Any reasonable adult would say that chair was an annoyance and was placed in a dangerous spot, in the line of doorway traffic.  But it was the perfect venue to focus on something almost magical, something that my mature brain can’t wrap my mind around.  The sun, which we can’t see at night-time is yet right behind us–behind her in that chair.  Its strong rays of sunlight reflecting over our heads on the surface of the moon millions of miles away.  The earth, on which we stand, on which she sat in that chair, mysteriously floating in the space in between.  The orbits of the moon and the earth in such synchronization and alinement that before her very eyes, the shadow of earth, orb on which she sat in that chair, appeared before her over the face of the moon–it’s light slowly burning red.  What an amazing event that is so much grander and substantial than a walkway ridden with chair.

As we went on with our day and I returned home from morning errands, I saw the chair unmoved from the wee hours of dawn.  The sunlight, now cascading through the windows bore such sweet light on that seat, on that place of tiny miracle.

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My daughter has taught me something today.  I have learned, and have been told over and over again, that I need to sit and marvel at God.  Others may be annoyed with me.  Others may think I am in the way.  My resolve to sit and take in Jesus as I see Him throughout the day may irritate those who think it odd and silly.  Some might deep down feel the sting of resentment that I have gone to such measures to encounter God.  But I long to be like the carefree and uninhibited children.  I no longer want to be an adult with to-do lists, logical answers, and cynicism.  Jesus, teach me, like you taught the disciples, to humble myself, turn, and become like the child.

I have for far too long walked with the shadow of reason and logic hiding my heart from the everyday glory of Jesus.  How can I follow His Spirit, if I shield my eyes from seeing Him?  How can I soak in His words and ponder His parables if I block my ears from hearing Him?  How can I sense His presence and act on His urgings if I cover-up my feelings with puffed up arrogance and pride?  I, and most “Christians”, have been walking around in a “total eclipse of the heart” religion.  We have covered ourselves with our performance and success, rather than being “hidden in Christ”  (Col. 3:3), reflecting His glory, not our own.

Last night, my eleven-year-old delighted in asking questions of astronomy and selenology, of the heavens and their movement, just in anticipation for what she hoped to see.  She didn’t presume to have all the answers.  Her eyes doubled in fascination with the size and wonder of it all, even before witnessing.  Are we adults even asking questions anymore?  Do we think we have it all figured out?  The mysteries of Jesus are beyond any human mind.  His wisdom and knowledge deep.  We will never exhaust all that He has for us.  How boring and mundane to be the one who has forgotten this simple truth!  What a dull and joyless, responsibility-driven, task-filled adult life!  We need not live this way.  He wants us to have life to the fullest, to marvel at His love and His Spirit, to wait in eager anticipation for just a glimpse of Him.

The chair will remain in it’s new home today.  I want to be reminded to seek out all of the wonder and joy Jesus has for me.  Even amidst my daily work, I will pass by and catch a glimpse of the Spirit’s reminder to me.  He loves me so well to know that I need reminders and nudges.  He understands my failing heart and fleeting zeal because undoubtedly, I will trip over it at some point.    Thank you, Jesus, for telling me again.

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I find myself almost every mid-January feeling lousy about how its only taken 2 weeks for me to let my New Year’s resolutions fade into the background. This January has been no different. I think I’ve excersized only twice in the past 15 days and let’s just say I have done my part to finish off all the stale Christmas cookies. Really…I have no self-control. I also have lost patience with the kids and not been faithful with my time in the Word.
So I started thinking, “What if my goals are all wrong?” I know that I set some really good ones. And as I mentioned in my previous post, I fully intend to approach these goals with an air of grace. And so, I still know that I’ve got time and freedom to reach my goals. Heck, 2 days of excersize is a whole lot more than what took place in 2011!
I read Phillippians 2:13-21 today, and this is the famous straining towards the goal passage. I thought it was rather fitting for how I was feeling. And for all the times I have read this passage on the back of a field day or Christian basketball t-shirt, I saw a few new things today.
Paul’s goal is knowing Jesus and the power of His ressurrection, sharing in his sufferings, and becoming like Him in his death. And, apart from learning the guitar and losing a few pounds, my New Year’s resolutions aren’t that far off from his. As he talks about reaching for this goal he gives some good advice: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead.” How often do I let my past failures and hurts immobilize me. I can get stuck in this endless cycle of focusing on how bad things have been or how wrong I’ve been, and forget about all the ways in which God has saved me and redeemed me in those situations. Or, even on how awesome I used to be, or am, and how if I just muster up enough goodwill and motivation, I can do it all by myself. And in either situation, I forget how God will actually be the One doing the work in me. I think the enemy loves to have me dwell on the past and keep me from moving forward and drawing closer to God and those who are in community around me. Romans 12:9 comes to mind: “Abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Phillippians 2:16 echoes this, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (That being freedom in Christ.)
And Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
God will take me, just like Jeremiah, through some hard times-some painful times, in fact. But his plan for me is for wholeness, and for a hopeful future. I love meditating on “wholeness”. Almost immediately my shoulders relax and I feel at peace with almost anything or situation. “Wholeness” includes healing and restoration and joy. Thank Jesus that is in His plan for me.
A second bit of good advice from Paul: processing life in any other way, without focusing on that future hope, is immature. And that God will reveal that immaturity to us. Hmm…need I say more. Thank you, Jesus, for revealing my immaturity, for revealing to me when I am focusing on the past and not focusing on my future hope and on Your plan for me. I love that my God doesn’t just leave me stuck. Even in those moments of resigning to failure and even more those moments when I am focusing on all my worldly value in my good works, He still saves me. He pulls me out of the pit.
And the third thing that sticks out to me today in Phillippians: Paul encourages us not to do it alone. Our goal setting and reaching, even if we are doing it right and focusing on our future hope in knowing Jesus more and more, cannot be attained without the Body. We are encouraged to “imitate” and keep our “eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” In community, we hopefully find ourselves surrounded with fellow believers who are straining toward that future hope, who are wanting to share in His sufferings. Hopefully, in Christian community we are also speaking truth in love to each other and therefore, sharpening each other and moving together towards that goal. Paul gives a warning, explaining that there are those who have set their minds on earthly things, not that future hope and glory, and have rather put their glory in their shame and sinfulness. These people he says, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Through a loving and truth-filled community, firmly rooted in the truths of Scripture, we can help each other along the way, so that too is not our end.
And so, as I think about my own goals and ideas for the future, really all I want is to know Him more and to share in His sufferings. So I put the past behind. I will try to not fixate on what is behind me, but to move forward, focusing on the promises He has for me in His word. And I will be vulnerable with the safe community around me, so that I can grow and walk in the examples of love and patience and discipline around me.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Phillippians 4:1