Friday, December 21, 2018

The Sins of Our Fathers

Let's suppose this picture represents several generations of humanity. Let's also suppose the colors represent the bad habits present in those generations. When looked at from above, we see mostly brown, but when we zoom in, we can see some shades of color. That slash of magenta, which began at the top of the tree, represents generations of finger pointing. Then there's that blue stripe representing hoarding. In some generations, the blue goes away because of a family revival, someone came to their senses or made a vow of poverty or something like that. But the blue pops up again further down the line in plenty of kings, dictators, czars and presidents. 

There's also the lime-green of theft, chartreuse-slander, olive-gossip. There's red-murder, which follows many family lines for generations until some are wiped out by war or a father became a monk or determined to change. 

Of course let's not forget black-liars, purple-over-eaters, and orange-rape. I'm just assigning colors to anti-social behavior here. Alter them as you like, but the trends remain the same. Every line is colored, and all those colors are shades of the same brown first introduced by Adam and Eve at the beginning of time. True, some generations have more of one color than another. The English kings seems to have more murder and lying in their line than a line of artists. A generation of doctors may have more posing and posturing than a line of engineers. In some generations, the parents decide to put an end to their cheating or alcohol abuse or screaming at their children, so that particular color goes away and may even stay out of the family line for awhile. 

I could illustrate my own sins through this picture. Some of my colors were in the lines before me, and some have lain dormant for generations and my personality has now brought them out again. Some, I am not even aware of because I disguise them behind the belief that I'm just trying to help or do a good job or something seemingly innocent like that. However, none of my colors reveal something new about humanity. I haven't invented any unique shades of brown here. No one ever does. 

I don't mean that with each new invention, mankind doesn't find new ways to misbehave. Like when the automobile was invented, criminals could then escape the crime scene faster! Or when guns were invented, murder was made more accessible. Yes, with every technological advancement, mankind makes up new ways to do bad things. But the motivations for doing these things doesn't change: greed, envy, lust, gluttony, pride, vanity, hate, etc. Those motivations are what's behind all the anti-social behavior. But it is even more complex than that. 

Within the greed is a desire for power or security or contentment. Within the pride is a desire to be declared good enough. Within the hate is a desire for justice or truth. Within the vanity is the desire to be known and loved. All the colors, all the unsociable behaviors are the top crust of an unmet need, an insecurity, so to speak. It is those unmet needs that are the brown coursing through history.  

While I may be tempted to say that my family's colors are more vivid or atrocious than the average man's, this doesn't mean that if my family line weren't so colorful that I would then be less brown. It just means that I might not have had a particular shade of blue or green, but those needs would still manifested themselves in another shade, perhaps one not so noticeable, perhaps one so subtle that I wouldn't have noticed its presence and hence not been aware of my need for God. 

For example: let's say Anna grew up with parents who never told her they loved her. She grew up insecure and fearful and grasping for love. She performed and perhaps gave sex freely in search of love. At some point in Anna's life, she realized that her parents never gave her love and that was why she felt empty. Let's say she had the wisdom to stop seeking that attention from her parents and instead sought and discovered that God alone was able to love her unconditionally. Healing then began in Anna.

Let's also say that another gal, Betty, grew up in what we'd like to call a more healthy home. Her parents frequently told her that they loved her and that she was valuable and beautiful. And she believed it. Then she grew up and moved out. She noticed that the world was full of women more beautiful than herself and in fact that her beauty was fading. Her parents were no longer there to tell her her worth and she started to doubt it. To build herself up, she pursued fashion and righteous living. She frequently compared herself to her friends to make herself feel better. It took Betty much longer to realize that her feelings of unloveliness could only be met by God. But finally, at the ripe old age of 70, she sought and found God's deeply satisfying love. 

Both Anna and Betty were operating on the need to be loved, but the need manifested itself as promiscuity in Anna and vanity in Betty. Anna may blame her parents for her propensity towards promiscuity and she might be right in saying so, but even if her parents had been kind like Betty's, Anna's need to be loved would've appeared in another sinful, though perhaps less anti-social, behavior.

Anna became aware of her neediness much faster than Betty as is often the case among the "morally poor." Perhaps that is why Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). Those whose antisocial behavior alerts them to their needs sooner than those of us who are unaware of our unfulfilled needs are in fact blessed. The many colors in their hearts serve as a catalyst for finding God. 

The cure is not trying to scrub out the more vivid colors on top, but addressing the sickly-brown within. 

And here my analogy loses its potency because colors are good and beautiful, and I am using them to illustrate something corrupt and unwanted. A better illustration might be some sort of corrosive acid dumped into the soil around a tree. That acid poisons the soil and prevents the growth of healthy branches and fruit. 

Regardless of what analogy you use, the cure is the same.

The only way I can no longer feel threatened by others more competent than myself or desperately depend on people to tell me I'm good enough is by having the ultimate authority declare that I am good enough.

The only way I won't hold a grudge when others snub me or patronize me or exclude me is by trusting that the ultimate authority is justly handling all these cases against me.

The only way I can no longer fear of making a decision or messing up my future is by having the confidence that no matter what choice I make, I'll still be loved and God will always make good of it.

The only way I can stop worrying about my needs is by knowing that someone trustworthy is taking care of them.

The only way I can know what is best is by walking alongside the only one who knows what is best. 

All our needs and insecurities are met in a relationship with the giver of all good things. Find him. There is no completion without him.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Answering the Lies

Do you hear them? They cut through the air. Do you see them? They fly so fast. They land with a dull thud on your wooden form. The part that has yet to be turned human. The pain draws your attention again and again away from the warmth of the living fire inside you and onto that stiff, cold puppet, that manipulated toy that used to be you. And those darts find their mark day after day. The lies. They have struck and you shudder. 

But you are not without an answer.

 So to the one drawn again and again to nasty habits: to that oh-so-delicious occupation of minimizing other's difficulties and magnifying your own, to weighing your acquaintances on your scale of holiness, to believing your wisdom is beyond others . . . to those who do this, and then realize it and look around and see where you are, the mud again, the muck, the pig sty. "You pathetic failure!" the lies say. "You'll never break these old habits."

     Answer with truth.

Look up from this mud and past the pig farms and serfs' cottages. Look over the rooftops of the tradesmen and beyond the stately edifices of the lords' estates. See the palace beyond with its white spires and waving flags. Remember, you are a child of that king there. Get out of this pig sty and keep walking that way. He has not disowned you because you've fallen into the mud again. Say the truth to those lies, "I am a child of God!" Galations 3:26

 To the one who is trying so hard to be good, to say the right thing at the right moment so that you won't hurt others like they've hurt you. To the one who had parents who shamed them and is now determined not to repeat history; however, she is finding it oh-so-hard. To the one trying to forgive her husband his costly error, an error that she herself can't imagine ever doing. To the one wrapped up in worry about what she should choose or how she should spend her time. Hear the lie in your striving. "If you don't get it right, you won't be loved."

     Answer with truth.
Step out from under that yoke. Look at that load, that mountain of bricks that you are trying to pull. Do you really think you are strong enough? Have you forgotten your fellow yoke partner? You are pulling that load with the son of God. In fact, he pulls it all. You don't have to. See! Your work quota will be met. Speak the truth to those lies, "I have already been made right and am loved even when I make mistakes!" Jeremiah 31:3

 To the one who sees others in more prestigious jobs, with more intelligence and more beauty, who seem more clever, who have nicer things and more trendy clothes, who are younger with fewer pimples, who can dine in nicer restaurants and buy new furniture, who know so much about how the world works. To the one playing second fiddle, two steps behind, feeling inadequate at her job, who owns shabby things and has a simple mind, muddled and confused. Who believes, "I have nothing and am no good!"

     Answer with truth.
Look here at the steps you are taking. See this pace at which you run. This is the speed I have set for you and not faster. Pay no attention to those passing you on the left and right. You aren't running their race but yours. God has given you this work here. He has prepared it beforehand for you. It is his work, and no work or worker of his is shabby or pathetic or worthless. Say it now, "I am his workmanship and the work I am doing is good!" Ephesians 2:10

➤ To the one who wishes to be heard, craves to be known. Who never felt like her parents understood her and so is now seeking someone, anyone to say, "I get it." Who opens her heart again and again to those who cannot understand and cannot answer her how she would like. Who hears it whispered in her ear after ever failed relationship, "No one understands you. You're not worth knowing."

     Answer with truth.
Will you fault the other humans for not seeing into your heart? Will you cast them out of your life because they are not omniscient? They, like you, are a bumbling blind man tripping and walking into walls in this dark cave. Do not push them away because they do not know the color of your eyes in this darkness nor the secret yearnings of your heart. Only one knows you like that. Say his name aloud. "God sees and cares more than any human ever could." Psalm 139

➤ To the one who has been wronged, accused of doing the very thing she sees the accuser doing. To the Christian who wants to yell at the other church-going ladies, "How can you say such critical, condemning things!?" To the one observing others accusing each other of ill motives. To the one tread on, stolen from, lied about, or misunderstood. Who wants to interject and tell them how they are all wrong, or to shout to the heavens, "No one is fixing this problem here! I have to do it!"

     Answer with truth.
Who is the doctor and who is the patient? Do you know how to perform heart surgery? Do you even know the doctor's diagnosis for the other patients? Do not go running down the hospital halls wielding a plastic scalpel or pushing your fellow brothers or sisters up against the walls. There is but one doctor who can cure, and his work is slow and invisible. He knows every pain their weak hearts have caused, and he has ordered nature to ripple in effect with their ill choices. Fear not. He shall balance the scales of justice. But as for you, he has burned your record of errors in the eternal fire. So then, go humbly under his healing knife as you remember, "God is the doctor and he is working on me too."1 Peter 2:23

 To the one who feels unable to handle her children's squabbles or her friends' mood swings or her parents' idiosyncrasies. Who feels like she's drowning in tasks without enough hours in the day to complete everything. Who is afraid because her son must have four teeth pulled because of cavities or whose grandpa has been showing signs of dementia. Who doesn't know what to do or how to do it. Who is believing, "I have to figure this out or else things will go terribly wrong!"

     Answer with truth.
Have you forgotten who is directing this play? Do you think that the author will not resolve the story? Are you the painter or the architect or the sculptor? Who holds the world in the palm of his hands and tells the waves and wind when to rage? Who orchestrates the deeds of millions all across the planet? Who knows your troubles and how they will end? Who gives tasks and takes them away? If the answer is in your mind, let it be in your heart also. "The Lord is my strength! He will take care of me." Psalm 28:7 

What use is it to say we believe in Jesus if we don't believe what he says about us and himself. Answer the lies with truth, and those flaming darts will fall uselessly to the ground.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Psalm 69: A Complaint of a Sick Mom

For the director of music. To the tune of “Somebody Get Me A Doctor.” Of Abigail.

Save me, O God,
    for the sickness has come up to my head.
2 I sink into fuzzy headaches,
    where there is no breathing out of my nose.
    I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf my nasal passages.
3 I am worn out calling for help;
    my throat is parched.
    My eyes throb, looking for my God.
Viruses assault me without reason
    outnumber the hairs of my head;
   many symptoms are my enemies without relief,
    them that seek to debilitate me.
   I am forced to rest
    when I have mouths to feed.

You, God, know my trials;
    my and my baby’s illnesses are not hidden from you.

Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    may those who hope in the flu shot
    not be disgraced because of me;
    God of Israel,
    may those who seek good health
    not fall within my sneezes’ range.
For I endure sleepless nights for my baby’s sake,
    and big dark circles cover my eyes.
I am short with my own family,
    I am like a grumpy gorilla to my own children;
for zeal for keeping house has abandoned me,
    and the weight of this work falls on no one.

10 When I rest and recuperate,
    I must endure getting nothing done;
11 when I wear yoga pants all day
    I envision people making sport of me.
12 Those who are in good health mock me,
    with their cheerful greetings in the morning.

13 But I pray to you, Lord,
    in the time of your favor;
    in your great love, O God,
    answer me with your sure healing.
14 Rescue me from the sneezes and watery eyes,
    do not let me sink into despair;
    deliver me from this exhaustion,
    from the deep waters of sleeplessness.
15 Do not let the baby’s cries engulf me
    or the dirty diapers overflow from the trashcan
    or the dishes overflow the sink.

16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
    in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
    answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
    deliver me from my symptoms.
19 You know how I am tired, sore and listless;
    all my weaknesses are before you.
20 This cold has broken my heart
    and has left me helpless;
    I looked for sympathy from the children, but there was none,
    for comforters, but Phil too fell ill.
21 Yet, the kids still complained about their dinners
    and gave me whining for my efforts.
22 May the dishes set before them become as Sriracha;
    may it become a retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see the T.V.,
    and their voices not be piercing to my ears ever.

24 Pour out your wrath on germs, O Lord;
    let your fierce anger obliterate them.
25 May their moist environment be dried up;
    let the sun shine its ultraviolet rays into their homes.
26 For they persecute those you burden with too many tasks
    and capitalize upon the strains of motherhood.
27 Charge them with crabbiness upon crabbiness;
    do not let them share in your kingdom.
28 May they be blotted out of existence forever
    and not be listed with the righteous.

29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me.
30 I will praise God’s name in song
    and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an organized home,
    more than a balanced meal plan with fruits and veggies.
32 The harried mothers will see and be glad—
    you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The Lord hears the infirmed
    and does not despise the desperate mother.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and all that move in them,
35 for God will save our homes
    and get us caught up in all things that matter.
    Then visitors will be welcome there and feel at home;
36 the children of his servants will find comfort,
    and those who love his name will rest there.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Collecting Coins in my Bank

Naming blessings out loud to people who ask me how I am, or writing them down in my journal, or thinking them in my head as is often the case because my hands are busy and the children can't seem to listen for more than a moment to the sweet things I want to share and by the time Philip comes home, I haven't the stamina or words to express them, is a form of depositing coins into my bank account of contentment. Or perhaps it is a bank account of discerning reality or accurately totaling the day's balance.

Each moment or beauty or funny thing the children say acts as a clinking coin, and as I collect, my bank grows heavy. I am saving up for those days when I must break the bank open because the children have rolled on the couch with dusty clothes or because our rabbit dies or because the church service was a bore or because I contracted pink eye from the kids or because Benny's oversized head concerns the doctors or because our grandparents will one day pass away or because our monetary bank accounts aren't enough for the credit card bill or because Phil's Mazda's engine dies.

Those inconvenient or tragic or worrisome creditors come knocking on my door and I must pay out. If I have no money, I will go into debt and quite possibly shake my fist at heaven, saying, "How do you expect me to pay for all this? Why didn't you give me the money?" And all the while it is raining money outside my home. I need only go out with my bucket.

One day's collecting isn't enough to pay out a year's worth of creditors. I must collect daily because daily I encounter disappointments. And besides, when collecting becomes a habit, I find that I shall never go into debt. My piggy bank and cupboards and drawers and bureaus are filled to the top with coins.

Here are a few from this morning's walk:
The men I follow on a breathtaking trail

Trunks of oaks with green nylons

Benny in a red beanie Grandma Taylor knit
Windows of blue that we spy on our walk 
Little hats left behind on the hat rack
A pop of pink and purple in the forest

Manzanita bark the colors of fire
Moss turned bright green in the rain
Rose's nonchalant attitude at getting water in her boots
This spot of wilderness where the children can be wild and adventurous
The view of the forested hillside hiding in the mist outside our cabin window

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Psalm 66: Thanksgiving for the Past Season

For the internet readers. A blog. A celebration.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the Stevens!
2 Sing the proofs of his faithfulness for the last few months;
    make his praise as loud as our neighbor's garage band.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your plans!
    So great is your arranging of a nanny for us,
    and now the marriage of Katie and Alec.

4 All the earth bows down to God;
    they sing praise to you for the friendships made,
    they sing praises for the new marriage beginning.”

5 Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for our family!
6 He turned my postpartum weeks into rest,
    I passed through the turmoil with help—
    come, let us rejoice for the months that Katie dwelt here!

7 She loved our children through your great love,
    her eyes watched over the household affairs—
    let not this desperate mother forget your faithfulness.

8 Praise our God, all peoples,
    let the words of his praise be read in other countries;
9 he has expanded our family to five
    and he will continue to provide each day.
10  For you, God, tested us at the birth of each child;
    you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into parenthood
    and laid another soul in our arms.
12 You let sleeplessness cloud our heads;
    through labor and postpartum,
    but you brought us through each season of exhaustion.

13 I will go to church with a stroller
    and let the older generations see the blessings of God —
14 blessings for which my friends prayer and my eyes wept
    for fear of miscarrying.
15 I will dine richly at Phlights in celebration
    and Mission Square and Niko Niko Sushi;
    I will raise my Martinelli's and decaf coffee.

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him at midnight, two and four a.m.;
    his praise was in my clouded thoughts.
18 If I had dozed off mid-prayer,
    the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely jerked me awake with baby cries
    and has answered our pleas for peace and wisdom and grace.
20 Praise be to God,
    who has given us much more than we could ever ask
    and heaped his love upon us!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Psalm 4: A Mother's Lament of Her Home

For the internet world. To the Kitty Piano accompaniment. A Psalm of Abigail

1   Answer me when I call to you,
       my righteous God.
     Give me relief from my distress;
        have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2    How long will my children turn my home into a pigsty?
        How long will they abuse the furniture and leave honey drips on the floor?
3    Know that the Lord has set me apart as his faithful servant not theirs
        the Lord knows about every fingerprint on the walls.

4    Tidy up and do not sin;
         if you have a moment in bed,
         search your hearts and be content.
5    Offer thanks for the unbroken dishes
         and trust in the Lord.

6    Many, Lord, are asking, "Who will bring us a new sofa?"
         Let me acknowledge the places to sit with you among us.
7    Fill my heart with joy
         when their laughter and new games cause wear and tear.

8    In peace I will lie down and sleep a few hours,

         for you alone, Lord,
         make me dwell in abundance.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Why People Drain Me

I've heard that introverts are people who prefer solitude, that they're energized by being alone and that they tend to focus on internal feelings as opposed to external stimulation. I've always thought myself an introvert, but I'm not so sure any more. Here's why.

I've noticed that certain people rapidly drain me of energy, such as small children, strangers, complainers, sulky teens, big groups, long-winded talkers, and reserved types. After an extended period of time with these people, I'm ready to be alone for a few hours.

However, other kinds of people energize me. Some of my energizing people are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are shy. Others are more talkative. After having coffee with these people, I'm full of new ideas about life and parenting and the world.

Do you see my dilemma? I don't necessarily prefer solitude over being with people. I prefer solitude to being with draining people. And I prefer being with energizing people over being alone. My energizing people inspire me to look outside myself for stimulation. My draining people compel me to contemplate why they are so exhausting.

Why are they so exhausting?

Well, besides being demanding and asking a myriad of questions that I don't know the answers to, my children exhaust me because I'm trying so hard to do them justice. I'm trying to be patient and gentle or I'm trying to validate their feelings or not spoil them. I'm worried about saying "no" too much or emotionally cutting them off from me. All that effort and fretting is exhausting.

Strangers are exhausting because I feel I ought to take an interest in them so as not to appear self-absorbed. But truth be told, I don't usually care about them. Or worse, I'm altruistically interested in the hopes that they'll be genuinely interested in me. Again, all that pretending and expecting something to happen that usually doesn't is exhausting.

Complainers and sulky teens are exhausting because I tend to take on their emotions. I feel responsible for fixing them or cheering them up or sympathizing with them. And it's awfully hard to do that when I either don't care about their troubles or would rather they just buck-up and stop hemming and hawing because I don't think their situation is really that bad. They're like little wet rain clouds, and I'm a sponge. All that soaking up of their complaints is exhausting.

Big groups are exhausting because if I stay silent, I'm afraid I'm being a wallflower, and if I try to join in the conversation I worry that I'm saying something that is relevant to everyone. I'm nervous about people feeling bored or excluded or unwanted. I'm worried about how someone's bombastic comment might offend so-and-so. I feel responsible for making everyone happy and again, all that juggling and straining is exhausting.

Long-winded talkers are exhausting because, unless I'm genuinely interested in the subject, I find feigning interest and thinking up intelligent follow-up questions taxing.

Reserved people are exhausting because again I feel responsible for drawing them out, thinking up good questions, and helping them to feel comfortable. Fretting and straining.

Are you seeing a pattern here because I am.

Is that what it means to be an introvert? To pretend and worry and strain? And if I didn't pretend or worry or strain, might I be an extrovert? I sure would be less exhausted in social settings.

This last weekend I attended a wedding where I sat next to a gal with three kids. I started up a conversation and felt a wave of exhaustion overcome me as I began to worry about what to say and how I was presenting myself.

I can't do this, I thought to myself. If I keep this up, I'm going to have nothing left for the dancing and long drive home and unloading the car and putting the children to bed. So I stopped trying. I lowered my voice from that high-pitched-bubbly voice to my calm laid back voice. I sat back in my chair and contented myself with some silence. Why don't I do this all the time? I wondered.

It's the same with tasks. When I have too much to do, more often than not I'll forget it all to sit down and do something I enjoy: read a book, write a blog, journal a list of things I'm thankful for, organize a book shelf. (Yes, that's why this blog is getting written: because I have too many other things I ought to be doing.) I don't want to work myself up into a frenzy of activity, so I say, "Forget it! I give up." Perhaps I ought to try this in social situations too.

I'm not going to be a nice mommy. I can't fix complainers. I can't control people's thoughts about me or manufacture love for people. Why don't I give up already? I think that's where God wants me to be anyway: giving up and saying, "I can't manage. I can't produce the outcomes I want or the right feelings in people, But you can."

I think that's what living in the spirit must mean. It means that when I encounter people that drain me, I stop hoping that I'll be able to maneuver the situation properly and instead invite the Lord to steer me. Frequently, this means keeping silent. I've noticed that sometimes when I've kept quiet through a child's tirade or bickering that they come to a satisfactory conclusion on their own! I've noticed that sometimes when I merely display a contented smile, shy people share their lives with me! When I'm quiet I can listen to a group of people toss around conversation like a volleyball game! (I could write books about that.) Yes, sometimes I'm compelled to speak up too, but it can be done so effortlessly. It's not draining. In fact, it's invigorating because it's like watching a well-scripted play where I know the ending is going to be good. I'm on the edge of my seat. I wonder what will happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Farewell to the Rabbit

In the mornings when I throw open our bedroom curtains, I see our rabbit hunched down on the cement pad beneath our avocado tree. She stares at me out of one glassy eye and sometimes rises up on her hind legs at movement from inside. We’ve given up trying to chase her into her hutch at night; she's become too evasive. In fact, if she hears the screen door clatter open while she's nibbling grass pellets in her hutch, she’ll spring out so we can't trap her inside. Phil, pitying her joints, has put a ramp up to her door so that she doesn't have to leap the three feet to the ground.

Now we stand over the Amazon box with the labels still affixed to the sides. I’ve set the box in a hole I dug in our garden, and the children and I squat around it. 

“Now you’ll have to tell us the last Bigwig story,” Rose says as she and Lee stroke the rabbit's soft fur. 

I respond with some sort of agreement. I’ve made our rabbit more clever than an ordinary scrub-and-sage-brush-rabbit and more adventurous than an ordinary hutch rabbit. In my stories she has escaped from our backyard and disguised herself as a chihuahua and out-smarted coyotes and stolen vegetables from the neighbor’s gardens. I have immortalized her. Certainly, she can’t die.

Next to her stiff body, I’ve wedged a paper bag filled with a nest of celery strings. 

“Some vitals for the afterlife,” Phil comments later as if we’d just buried an Egyptian rabbit.

“Why did you put that in there?” Rose asks.

“Because Bigwig loved celery,” I say half-choking. 

The children see our neighbors setting up their front yard for Halloween. They’ve spread their front lawn with tables and chairs, a giant black-and-white snake and wine-colored curtains surrounding their front porch. Two houses up the street, our introvert neighbors have turned extrovert with their Disney-themed front yard. Later we see them dressed as Ariel, Eric, the fairy-god mother, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hercules, and Belle. 

“Bonnie!” Lee yells across the street. “Our rabbit died!” 

Our neighbors give their condolences as do all the people that our children tell. It seems that Bigwig's death is more news-worthy than their school's Halloween festivities that happened earlier in the day. Lee, dressed as a very serious Batman, marched in a school-wide Halloween parade with his fellow kindergarteners. And I accidentally sent Rose to class dressed as a ballerina only to discover that pre-school kids aren’t supposed to wear costumes to school. Rose reprimands me at pick-up time.

In the evening we have our Halloween bonfire, but neither Phil nor I are in the mood to do the traditional throw-a-stick-on-the-fire-to-earn-your-candy ordeal. Phil takes the children up and down our street before we let them hunker down with their candy bags around the fire. Lee shares his sweets with our fireside guests. Roses eats way more than her allotment as I later learn by counting the wrappers in her bag.

I sit in a sling chair with Benny and pass out candy to kids who either know the drill or stumble up to me, confused as their parents behind them urge them with, “Say 'trick-or-treat.' Say 'thank you.'”

Before the burial I open my journal and ask the children what they liked about Bigwig so I can write it down. 

“She ate from our hands.”

“She wiped her little face with her little paws.”

“She was a good digger.”

“Mommy, can I touch her eyeball?” Lee asks stretching out a finger towards her still-open glassy eye.

I decide it is time to bury the box. But later Phil and I complete the list.

She sprinted around the backyard in the early morning, kicking up her legs wildly. She trimmed my roses and the skirts of the trees. She dug several holes under the gate but didn’t run away. She sniffed the piles of fresh dirt that Lee made as he dug with his excavators and dump trucks. She never bit anyone; although, she did use her kickers when we picked her up. She liked to lay sprawled out in the cool dirt behind the strawberry tree. She repeatedly began digging new burrows even after we filled in her holes. She stomped her feet when she felt threatened or when we forgot to fill her food bowl. She presented herself when we called her name.

Now she, along with Hazel in Watership Down, has gone with El-Ahrairah, that folk rabbit hero who invites the strongest and most clever rabbits to be part of his company.

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way—something about rain and elder bloom—when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him—no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mine, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?" 

"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?" 

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you." 

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now." 

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him and into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. 

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right—and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean." 

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
-Richard Adams, Watership Down

Friday, October 26, 2018

More Grace, Please!

Watching the atrocious manners of my children at dinner prompted me to make a mental list of all the things I thought I ought to teach them in the next twelve years. But that list became so lengthy that I gave it up to ask myself what was the most important thing. What, above all else, did I wish to teach them?

The answer had nothing to do with refraining from potty-talk at the dinner table, though I do hope that on their first dates they don’t lean across the table and say, “Did you smell my farty?” and giggle uncontrollably.

No. The most important thing isn’t table manners or responsibly handling money or even having healthy relationships with the opposite sex. The most important thing must be grace. Naturally. But to teach them this, I must model it. And I’m not so sure I know what that looks like.

I know what grace isn’t.

Grace isn’t letting my children off the hook for being disrespectful or destructive. After all, God didn’t let us off the hook for our sins. Someone had to pay for those. Neither is grace rubbing my children’s faces in their own mistakes. “Oh, you’re going to talk disrespectfully to me, are you. I’ll teach you a thing or two . . . “ 

Grace also isn’t believing the best about my children. I’ll become a Petunia Dursley in no time if I think my son merely had a case of sunstroke when he lied in order to one-up his sister. Neither is grace repeatedly keeping my mouth shut when my kids drive me bonkers. That will just eventually lead me to an outburst. “You have no idea how good I’ve made life for you! You don’t appreciate me!” 

Rather, I think grace is wishing my children the best regardless of their imperfections.

Wishing the best for them doesn’t mean wishing them my best or my idea of their best. It means wishing them God’s best. And because I’m not omniscient, I don’t know what that will look like. I know that God wishes for them to find their identities in him, but I don’t know if or how that will happen.

Somedays I think I do. Somedays I think I know how everyone ought to find their identities in Christ. But when I do this, I'm like the older son saying to his prodigal brother, “I know what you should do. You shouldn’t run away from father at all but stay here and do what I do.” 

Sure, if the prodigal hadn’t run away, he wouldn’t have squandered his father’s money and lived wildly and possibly contracted an STD or fathered a son or given himself some brain damage with drugs. But then he also wouldn’t have come to his senses and returned to his father with all his heart. 

Some must come to Jesus by coming to the end of their own goodness. Others seek Jesus by coming to the end of their own badness. The result is the same: grace abounds there. God welcomes those on death row and God welcomes those who’ve just gone through the motions for years.

I can pass on that grace to my children by allowing them the freedom to choose what they want without fearing my wrath. I want them to know that I’ll treat them with respect and love regardless of what they do, that I will not spite them for their mistakes or require them to jump through hoops in order to get back into my good graces. I won’t keep track of how many times I’ve forgiven them or try to get them to understand how badly they’ve wronged me.

But that’s awfully hard to do because their behavior is sometimes shocking. When they’re angry they’ve  thrown a pomegranate across the kitchen or screamed in order to wake up the baby. It’s hard because when I ask them to set the table for the meal I'm making, they claim that I’m treating them like a servant. They complain about not being able to do anything fun as I meal plan or separate their laundry or plan our next vacation. Can they not see that I’m serving them hand and foot? certainly I don’t do these sort of things. And certainly no one has to make such allowances for me. 

Too frequently this is my method for deciding if someone is worthy of my grace. If I don’t throw fruit when I'm angry, then I think it's fair to expect the same from others. But while I may be right about my assessment of our different weaknesses, I am missing one big thing. There is one person who I have inconvenienced terribly. One person who has made one huge allowance for me.

It’s easy to believe that others are constantly tripping over their need to be loved, appreciated, known, respected, significant, and taken care of. But it’s rather hard for me to remember that I too am constantly tripping over my need to be loved, appreciated, known, respected, significant, and taken care of. Daily. Hourly. 

Just because I don’t throw pomegranates when I'm angry doesn't mean that I’m handling my anger by relying on Christ's justice. Both the violent and the simmering acts of anger are in rebellion against God, and both acts God forgives. 

I am just as in need of God's pardon as my children. It is what I must remember in order to have real grace—not fake grace, which measures and compares and credits. No. The only way to stop feeling like others owe me for the allowances I give them, is by giving away someone else’s allowance. God’s. Only when I’m filled up on him can I pass on what he’s given to me. Only when I say, “I’ve got nothing. Your turn,” can the grace flow freely to my children.

That is my prayer for me and for you.