Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To My Little Man on His Fourth Birthday

Micah turned four years old yesterday. More than any other birthday thus far, this one left me reeling a bit. He's four. His baby years are over. I no longer have a toddler son. I have a child on my hands. In so many ways, he is more man than infant. The baby fat has been replaced by lean muscle. He speaks with startling sage wisdom tempered only by the speech struggles of a young one. He throws fewer tantrums and instead finds quiet mischief to occupy the wildness of his spirit. His future self now holds a shape in my mind. I see who he is becoming. I like him.

I know this is crazy talk for you mammas out there who are eking out the final senior days of high school with your baby boys. It's just that somehow this fourth birthday made me realize how soon I will be in your shoes. My realization doesn't make me sad or overly sentimental. Rather, it makes me missional. I have an important job to do here--to raise a godly man, not a good kid.

 I was feeling so many feelings, and there simply wasn't enough chocolate in the house. So, I wrote a letter which I have a wild hair to share. Enjoy.

My Dearest Micah,

You turned four years old today. Those four years went by as quickly as a breath. Impossibly fast. As the days pass away, I understand increasingly that I am doing more than raising a child. I am preparing a man to walk with the Lord. And it is an impossible job. 

The job is impossible because I am broken and flawed. I am physically weak, more so than other mommies we know. It's also impossible because I can model and share with you the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but I can’t make you believe it. I can’t open your spiritual eyes or bequeath to you my faith. I cannot do God’s work. So I find myself completely, utterly dependent upon Jesus for the most important job I will ever do, but I am at peace with the impossibility of it all because I have learned that dependence is good.

More than anything I teach, I hope you really learn dependence. May you never be self-sufficient in your own eyes.  As you grow, the world will tell you that you are strong and powerful and need no one but yourself. Do not believe these lies.  May you always see yourself as the broken, needy creature that you are, for only then can you be made whole and well. 

Many parents pray their children will be beautiful, intelligent, talented, successful, comfortable, and popular. I pray that you will shine like a light in a dark world, be wise in the ways of God, be graced by the gifts of the Spirit, be humble though mighty in Kingdom work, learn to be content in all circumstances and be rejected by the world as your Savior is, for no servant is greater than his Master. Granted, these are crazy prayers. Big prayers. But they matter.

I am appalled that you are already so far on your journey to manhood, but I am thrilled to catch glimpses of the man you are becoming. Your mind is a sponge, taking in astounding amounts of information all the time. You are brilliant, gifted and very funny. Although I never asked for it, you are beautiful, inside and out. You are grateful. You say “thank you” for things adults often take for granted. You are tender in heart toward the Lord and the people around you. Never lose that. Never.

I believe you are destined for great things, Bubs, but not by the world’s limited standards. I believe you are destined for deeds and feats that will last forever. God has magnificent plans for you—plans for your prosperity, never for your harm. In the Lord, you have hope and an everlasting future. My deepest wish is that you will embrace it all. 

I love you, Little Man. I am so proud of you. I feel unspeakably privileged to be your mother, and I will be forever grateful that our Lord entrusted your soul to my care.

Grace and Peace to you,

Thanks to Jolly Tucker Photography for the stunning photos!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turning a Profit

A few evenings ago, I was foraging through the refrigerator and pantry trying to figure out what I was going to cook for dinner. My monthly food order stock was running low, and we were due a grocery run. Nevertheless, I emerged with a package of ground meat and a few carrots and set to work making them into a meal. As I sliced carrots, I was struck with how my physical and spiritual journeys are so apparently parallel at the moment.

Some days, my pantry is full. The circumstances are good. No one is sick. We have nowhere to be. The laundry is under control. And I'm having a "good day" health-wise. It's easy to turn out a fabulous meal when the fridge is filled to bursting with fresh fruits, veggies and meats butchered three different ways, but what about the days when the storehouses are depleted? How do I serve God when I've suffered a terrible allergic reaction that puts me in bed for half of the day? How can I love on my family the day after being up all night with a sick baby? What does God expect of me when all I have to offer is a couple of carrots and a package of ground meat?

As the Lord has increased my health, He has required more of me at home. He has moved me into a blessed season of "doing" for my immediate people. The Lord has restored my ability to work with my hands and "rejoice in my toil" (Eccl. 5:19), and I have truly relished His gift. It's funny that I never thought I much liked work until I was unable to do it. Lately, I have been baking with Micah, chasing the kids (which they love in this long trailer), reading to Sara, doing a bit of cleaning and looking for ways to serve my husband in addition to the basics of running a household and caring for two young children. This is all only just manageable on my good days. These tasks stretch me even when everything is perfect, but I know it is what I should be doing. The Lord confirms their necessity by giving me the grace to fulfill them. This "spending and being spent" for the souls of my family is satisfying, purposeful work (2 Cor. 12:15), but some days, for various reasons, I find myself with little to spend. On those days, my body and my will fight an inevitable battle that always ends in frustration. I want my body to cooperate with my will to "do," but my body is different than a healthy body. My body does not "push through." It simply quits and shuts down, leaving my will with nothing but good intentions and malfunctioning equipment.

I experienced this very thing only a few days ago. I was lying in bed the morning after a chemical reaction to fragrances. I remember praying a prayer that my mentor, Mrs. Dixie, first encouraged me to pray habitually a couple of years ago--"Lord, what would you have me do today?" Sometimes when I pray this prayer, I get an image in my head or a strong compulsion in my soul. Sometimes, I don't get anything at all at first, but simply know what to do next, one task at a time, including details like what to cook. It's weird and awesome and always an adventure. But that day, I got words--

"Let Me carry you."

I eventually peeled myself off of my bed, and spent the day writing long overdue thank you notes at the kitchen table and tending to the basic needs of the kids. I believe I managed to cook a simple dinner that night, too. My productivity wasn't very impressive. Micah and Sara were disappointed with my lethargy. I didn't have much to offer that day, but God gave me what I needed to complete the tasks He had in mind for me. He also allowed my bad day to take place on Brandon's day off which prevented me from having to call for emergency help.

What I've had to remember many times recently is that God doesn't expect the same thing from me every day. Oftentimes, I expect more of myself than He expects of me, which means that the battle isn't really between my body and my will but between my will and God's will. And when I'm working outside of His will--even if what I'm doing is a good thing--I exhaust myself prematurely and that work is going to burn up in the end. (Thank you for the reminder last week, Mrs. Dixie!) It's only when I'm submitting each step of my day to Him, offering Him each task before I begin it with my heart ready to let it go and allow Him to change my plans, that my energy lasts and my mundane, repetitious little life bears eternal significance.

That being said, no matter what I'm given, God expects me to turn a profit on it. Matthew 25 contains Jesus' parable of the talents. A master was preparing for a long journey. Before he left, he gave money to his servants. He entrusted different amounts to each servant "according to his own ability" (Matt. 25:15). One servant was given one talent, another was given two and another was given five. When the master returned home some time later, the servant given five talents had made a profit of five more. The servant given two talents made a profit of two more. But the servant given one talent was faithless. He buried his talent in a field and left it there. Basically, he hoarded the gift he was given, and had nothing to show for himself.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be the servant who buried his talent in a field. It's true that I could save my energy on a good day, sit on my laurels and just enjoy feeling good, but I don't want to hear the Lord call me a "wicked and lazy servant" on judgement day (v. 26). I want to earn the commendation of "Well done, good and faithful servant," whether my profit for the day is two talents or five, even if it means risking my energy and health in the process.

God is not a hard task-master. He entrusts and requires only "according to my ability" (v. 15). If I'm given two talents, He doesn't expect a return of five. On the other hand, on days that I receive only one, I am expected to give Him an equivalent return. When Sara is up all night running fever, I am not expected to clean house the next day, but I am expected to hold my sick girl and help her get better. I am not expected to create a five course meal when I'm only given carrots and ground meat, but He does expect something. On days I am given more, I should joyfully give more in return. This is my spiritual act of worship, my reasonable service to a God who has given me everything (Rom. 12:1-2). While God loves the hymn on my lips, He treasures my cheerful service far more.

Allow me to clarify something--I don't work because I'm trying to ensure my spot in Heaven. My seat is already reserved by no merit of my own. My only security is the blood of Jesus, and I'm banking everything I have on His sacrifice. Rather, I work because I am saved. A heart overflowing with gratitude can't help but spill itself out. When our work comes out of being thankful for our salvation and not fear that we may not have it, the work is restful. It nourishes the soul. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because I never have to worry about whether or not the profit I was able to turn was enough. I never have to wonder--

"Did I say enough?"
"Did I do enough?"
"Did I do it perfectly?"

As long as I am walking in step with the Spirit of God, aligning my will and to-do list with His, I said enough, did enough and although I didn't do anything perfectly, I did it well enough. God redeems even my feeblest offerings made in His name.

Mrs. Dixie shared Jeremiah 31:16 with me last week--

"Refrain your voice from weeping
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded,
says the Lord."

God honors any service we render "as unto the Lord." When I have life in my bones, He honors the walk I take with my children as we point to the things God has made. When the stars align, allowing me to clean, He honors that clean bathtub even if that is all I accomplished. When I am unable to stand on my feet, He honors the thank you notes I write to His people. When I am bedridden, He honors my half-alert prayers and muddled whispers of love and adoration. When I only have ground meat and carrots in the fridge, He honors the meal of hamburger patties and carrot "fries" that I provide for my family. Don't forget--He is the same God who fed 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. He does much with our little.

So let us lay aside our frustrations that we are given two talents today instead of ten. Let us embrace our two. Let us prepare ourselves to turn a profit on what we are given with happy hearts. Let us rejoice in our toil! Let us live today for the smile of God! Let us each do according to our ability that we may one day hear the sweet, precious words which will warm us eternally to the core, "Well done, My good and faithful servant!"