Renovation or Resurrection?

I love ~before and after~ projects. Through the years, I have been given pieces of furniture from family members I absolutely love, except for the finish. I will never forget the appearance of my grandmother’s beverage cabinet when it first entered my home, dark-kelly green flecked with black spots. Bleh. A robin’s egg blue against the copper top decorated with new hardware turned it into something lovely. It is so much fun to see the beauty in something emerge from under the surface in materials, lines, and shapes with a coat or two of paint.

I also love remodeling programs on TV that take a much older house and make it entirely up to date. The foundation remains but the aesthetics change dramatically and the “they don’t make ’em like they use to”‘s are all over the place.

Once I bought a small table for five dollars. I was so excited! It was kind of terrible looking but solid wood nonetheless and a perfect candidate for a shabby chic makeover. I remember putting a paint brush to it, a deep shade of turquoise, and the pressure caused the legs to disassemble and most of the supporting wood to crumble. There was no amount of paint or hardware that could put that thing together again.

I think my life has been a series of projects in renovation. I know I feel all the time that I should be better. It is subtly (sometimes blatantly) suggested within every “encouraging” statement, on plaques on the walls, even in the Bible… yet, like my table, my results aren’t always successful. Sometimes the project crumbles. Sometimes the finish I try and give myself isn’t long-lasting. Of one thing I am growing increasingly sure, I cannot be the contractor of my own project. I would always keep it low-maintenance, appealing, and without real elbow grease. I would also operate under the presupposition that what is underneath is okay and I only just need an aesthetic change. It is easier that way and absolutely not as painful. It might require work, sure. But nothing too difficult.

The problem isn’t that I, as a human being, made in the image of God, born under the fall, then saved by the grace and mercy of God, need a renovation.

I need resurrection.

Death to life language is all over the Bible. What does that look like? What does it feel like? I would argue that while Jesus’ pronouncement of “It is finished” has begun the work in me, dying to live is the continuation of it. And if it is lasting, it hurts.

There are so many times in life when I realize my lot is different than the one I expected. I don’t even necessarily consider it until I find myself trying to give something a desperate renovation. Instead, what I am learning, is that my thoughts and even my desires may need to be entirely dismantled. Then it hits me, I am dying to *some* of the things I thought would be true. I know… I know… death… that seems terrible. Who likes to talk about death anyway? I don’t wake up each morning proclaiming, “Let’s see how I can die today!” (Side note:  If I do , I am pretty sure isn’t really happening). We all know when it happens, it hurts.

Bind up these broken bones ~ Mercy bend and bring me back to life ~                                                     But not before you show me how to die (Show Me, Audrey Assad)

There is a process to this, mysterious and omnipotently prescribed by the Author and Perfector of faith. No amount of paint or nails will patch me up. The problem isn’t with the finish— it is what is within, what is underneath. I might try and clean it up, but it needs to be made entirely new. It (whatever it may be at different times) needs to be laid in the grave.

After so many years of sensitivity toward what should be, what is underneath begins to show through. If I am brave for a second and move as close to the truth as my inward eye can bear, I might look at the reality of what it is or of who I really am. The process brings pain and, yes, I grieve. Sometimes, a situation is different that I would like. The same happens when coming face to face with hard realities. Relinquishing control is hard.

This sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Yet it is the prescription for this life, moving from what is already and what is not yet as Ephesians describes. I have died with Christ, been raised with Him, and am seated with Him at the right hand of God. But clearly, my flesh still resides here. I look forward in hope to the completion of “It is finished” in both my body and soul in entirely new circumstances. Paul writes that until then, he does what he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do what he wants to do (Romans 7).

John Newton puts it this way in regard to this tension, “The knowledge of our acceptance with God, and of our everlasting security in Christ, has in itself the same tendency upon earth as it will have in heaven, and would, in proportion to the degree of evidence and clearness, produce the same effects of continual love, joy, peace, gratitude, and praise, if there was nothing to counteract it. But (I am) not all spirit.” Until my spirit matches that of my flesh fully, there is struggle. There is suffering. There is death at work in my body in all that is attached to it. In a letter to a friend, Newton writes about the mixture of pain and joy in this life and our experience in the hands of the Sanctifier:

…though we change, the Saviour changes not. All our concerns are in his hands, and therefore safe. His path is in the deep waters, his thoughts and methods of conduct are as high above ours, as the heavens are high above the earth; and he often takes a course for accomplishing his purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe. He wounds in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts. These things he does to prove us; but he himself knows, and has determined beforehand, what he will do. The proof indeed usually turns out to our shame. Impatience and unbelief show their heads, and prompt us to suppose this and the other thing, yea, perhaps, all things are against us; to question whether he be with us and for us, or not. But it issues likewise the praise of his goodness, when we find that, maugre all our unkind complaints and suspicions, he is still working wonderfully for us, causing light to shine out of darkness, and doing us good in defiance of ourselves. ~The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, Banner of Truth

This is my experience. Can you relate? As curious the sufferings of those being swept toward God our Father in the current of salvation, we are all in the process of being remade. And most of the time, if real dying is happening, it feels terrible. Maybe if I remember how hard it is and how terrible it feels , I will have more love for those feeling it too.


Yet for those resurrected with Christ, it is not death to die.

Resurrection happens after we die. Not before, not instead of, but after. Sometimes it is abrupt. Beauty arrises from ashes— not from nice-looking parts and pieces but instead burned up, unrecognizable, inharmonious heaps of soot. The result is not better looking and hopefully functional— but true beauty. Sometimes— most often, it happens slowly. Regardless, it is the prerequisite to life in His name. It is the way of the cross.

I keep trying to convince myself that I’m not really that bad. I keep trying to manipulate and gain control. But in the depths of me, I know. My brain needs rewiring. My thoughts need a complete overhaul. My motivations need more than en example to follow. And I cannot do it for myself. I do not need a renovation. I need resurrection.

Maybe if I have some idea that this is what it is going to be like and I can hold on long enough, something beautiful can be born. Even a small glimpse of resurrection whispers exponential possibilities. If you know the story of my family, it is a good example. The remembering and the reality now bring hope. Here, the glimpses aren’t perfect or without hardship, but they give encouragements that what He designs is far better than I could dream. The promise is that even if I don’t see it here, it is coming.

The only person in human history with the innate power to go from death to life is Jesus. No other religious leader can claim it. Our suffering Savior looked quite different after He conquered death on the cross. He was unrecognizable to Mary Magdelene then later his disciples on the road to Emmaus after His body broke. This is the hope of resurrection. Our lives, hidden with Christ in God, will be made new.

As much as I hate it and as painful as it is, dying is the prescription for receiving life. I need it in my life. I need it in my relationships. I need it in my body. May God give mercy as I feel it and as it follows me. In the midst, He promises to never leave or forsake, remember my frame, and not allow me to be consumed. When a glimpse of resurrection shines above the fray, may it give lasting hope and focus my eyes again on the One in whom it is secured.

Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

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Throwback to 2012: Jumping on the Furniture

Friedrich Nietzsche and C.S. Lewis are sitting at my kitchen peninsula having a most important conversation (I won’t disclose to which of the boys each description refers).

“What if parents make up God as a way to get kids to obey?” Nietzsche asks. This is not his first intuitive question about the existence of God. C.S. Lewis comes to the defense with creational logic and catechism recitation. “What do you think, Mom?” I am asked in reference to one of the most pivotal questions in the universe —as I step in squashed watermelon on the floor and clean spit-up off the exersaucer. Just moments before, my escalating voice could be heard over all five children requiring adherence to the simple house rule, No Jumping on the Furniture. I was definitely not engaged in meaningful, patient conversation with my boys. Micah of course is working this particular evening so I have been stretched in every way to get to this point in the day and I am mentally and physically exhausted. Here we are, big and small products of the fall. And here is where things matter most.

These are the conversations I so desire~ when my children have been considering the eternal, asking intelligent questions, and want my input! I pray for opportunities that ears are open and ready to listen. Then, it suddenly occurs to me that I have already answered the question, over and over throughout the day… and throughout their young lives. It does matter what I say, but then again it really doesn’t. I could sing “Blue Skies” but if I live in gray, they know. They are smart like that… especially Nietzsche. This realization puts me into a bit of a panic. For me, words are easy… actions speak louder.

Enter pain. God made what is most inherently near to my heart and most true to my biological fabric ~conception, birth, and the raising of children~ the thing that always brings me to the brink of knowing something is terribly awry. My relationship with Micah does too, but it is not built and nurtured in the same way. Who are those in the animal kingdom we want to avoid for fear of serious retaliation? Mamas with babies nearby. On top of nature and nurture, the ways I am called to love my children make the stakes much higher. I love my little ones with a fierce love; a love that is unmatched by any other.  It was indeed painful to bring them into the world and it is painful to love them so deeply as I watch them learn lessons for themselves. I have 18 years to prepare my completely dependent babies and fewer for the boys starting to make independent logical connections to go out into the world alone. It is painful to discipline and constantly morph into the mom they need as they grow and develop. All the time, they are a mirror to the very worst in me. I know from which side of the family tree they inherit and perpetuate behaviors both helpful and harmful. I want to do right by them. I want to do all those things stated in Proverbs that show I am a wise mom. Their souls are at stake. I want them to rise and call me blessed. How do I do that with watermelon on my foot, feeling overwhelmed with my own lack of patience, while drowning in a sea of laundry?

Not too far from the curse it the cure.

Interestingly enough, the cursed Eve mothered by extension the One who would crush the serpent’s head. Clothed in animal skin, she lives out her life connected to the Cure~ the Victor and One who abolished the curse for all those who believe. There is life changing power in His name and work. There happens to be so much power that the fact I am simply carried through the day by my Loving Shepherd is enough to challenge my questioning children. They need more than a right answer. They need to see me needing Jesus. And in God’s wisdom, mothering provides an unending number of opportunities to do so.

It is obvious to my husband and especially my children that I am not able to do the right things always, often, ever… Sometimes I do and there He shines through me quite clearly. Whether drawn to the cross for forgiveness or continuing to realize who I already am in Christ, He living in me is the attribution and I pray it is obvious especially to those who watch me the most; my children. I can have compete confidence in His work in me and there is absolutely nothing more assuring. He who promises is faithful. All I can say on this particular evening is that God saved me. I sit and confess to my boys that I once was lost and hell bent. I own all they already know about my current state~ sometimes struggling, many times failing. But God saved me. He knows me. He loves me. He has clothed me, like Eve, in garments fashioned just for me that make me beautiful in his sight. Jesus Christ is my righteousness. I can trust Him with all my desires for my children as He weaves my prayers into the fabric of their lives (Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief). And that makes me want to jump on the furniture, too.

Grace Upon Grace

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 5:20-21

 

As children grow, the number of opportunities to parent in a gospel direction grows. (Duh, you say). It is a little more complicated than that. I guess what I mean is that as my children grow older, I move from giving straightforward, simple commands (like “Don’t touch.” or “Come here.”) to giving directives where a whole counsel of rules take effect. I think of sending my older children outside to play with the admonishments to be respectful of our neighbors’ property and show love to them in the process (just to name two). All past simple commands combine and problem solving takes place. The more the rules increase as well as imparted wisdom, the more the opportunity to mess something up, somewhere.

When major messing up occurs, that presents a big opportunity for me as a mom. I realized this the other day as I considered disobedience that carried with it other failures— like lying and blaming others. The list of wrongs had piled against the child. I could tell that on this day, this particular child was feeling the crushing weight of the list of wrongs against him. The situation had moved from bad to much worse very quickly. Defenses mounted. Fear and shame were visible in his eyes and heard in his words.

Then there was my response. I must admit, many times, when failures and complications land at my feet in a heap, my frustrations pile with it. Instead of speaking life, I get bogged down by the consequences of actions. Even worse, I think of how this situation has affected me and breaks into my day. I get flustered and add my struggles to theirs. To up the ante even more, all the laws that have been written on my soul for 35 years accuse me all the more.

The worse the situation, the more opportunity for grace to be just what it is— it is and should always be good news. It washes away all the eternal weight of our failures and even makes temporary consequences bearable. In contrast, its beauty is unmatched when held against our worst. God help us not pile sins to see grace— yet grace is seen most clearly because of our piles of sins.

So if the ultimate goal of parenting from a Romans worldview is to train children who never fail, then I fail. Failure is inevitable. As the law increases, the trespasses increase. But what happens when they fail? Or when I fail? That is a distinctive Christian question.

Our worst is precisely where the gospel operates. There is something bigger than training children to keep rules.  Sure, I want them to stay safe and love their neighbors. I want them to be good citizens and maintain a reputation of a trustworthy person. I want them to not bear hard consequences in the horizontal plain of this earthly domain for bad choices. But the function of the rules that speaks the loudest is the demonstration of how they (and I) need a rule keeper. What a better time when they are experiencing mounting failures to move into, “God has loved you so much that He sent Jesus to do everything all right for you… in your place. You can repent, believe and move on.” Even when the situation warrants a good grounding or time out, they will grow to know (by grace) they are safe to bear the consequences. My relationship and posture toward them has not changed nor has their relationship with God. I love them because they are mine. When I am able to speak good news into the situation the load lightens— every time. When I don’t, the gospel brings the good news to me.

Regardless of the failure or the success, our focus is out — not in — to the beauty of Jesus. Our sins are great, combined, and complicated, but the One who bore them is greater.

This is one way the gospel is relentless in taking hold of me these days.

Mothering in the Hope that He is Enough

We pour ourselves out— mind, body, and soul. We give nutrients. We give hugs. We let them in. We point them outward. We hurt with and for them. We reason calmly. (We speak sharply.) We encourage. (We discourage.) We play. (We tire.) We smile. (We weep.) We understand one another. (We belabor points until the other feels belittled.) We are patient. (We are clearly impatient.) We spend time making sure they know we love them. (With one stern glance, they question.) We train. (We neglect to train.)

At the end of every day, there is one haunting thought:  In the gamut of all that happens in a day, is what I did to mother, to nurture, to love enough?

My answer is always, “No”. Something is always done or left undone.

The reason is simple yet one I forget as I beat myself up and run myself ragged. I cannot love my children as only God can love them.

In his book Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas says, “God had called me to focus my efforts on introducing my kids to God, even using my own failures and inadequacies as compelling causes for my children to find their refuge in him.”

For mothers, the bigger question becomes, Is what God has done for me enough? If you and I could believe that it is— He is enough for us— we could believe it for others, particularly for our precious ones, our children.

The hope of all mothers who hope in Jesus is that His life, death, and resurrection and pronouncement of “It is finished” is enough for us.

And it is enough for each one of our children. He is enough for our children.

His perfect love frees us to mother as best we can. The balance will always shift in favor of us pointing them, not to us and our efforts, but to Him and to His.

Christian mothering is not to saying all the right things or doing all the right things, even as much as we would like, but to sing over our children the Good News that Jesus is enough for us all. The Son of Mary is the hope for all sons and daughters.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.