Jesus Encounters the Woman at the Well – or should I say, Target …

As our community group studies the book of John together, using the fabulous “good book series” by Tim Chester, we come to this week’s encounter about Jesus meeting “A Desperate Woman” (the Samaritan woman at the well, story found in John 4). Raise your hand if you qualify. Yes, I see those hands. One of the questions prompted me to reflect on how Jesus would address me. If Jesus encountered me, probably in the aisles of Target, and talked of living water, what would he point to as patterns where I seek satisfaction elsewhere? What’s my “if only” that I’m living out of? I share this hoping you will relate to this desperate woman and the Jesus who offers her true Life.

“Heather, look at what’s in your cart. You think that once you and your daughters are dressed well and once your home looks like the pages of Pottery Barn, you will be satisfied. You also think once your life is so-called ‘balanced’ (meaning you feel in control most of the time and have enough time to yourself), you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll be able to exhale when your relationships are conflict-free. Not so, my daughter. I watch you run yourself ragged and overspend trying to be satisfied and feel secure. Stop running. Rest in me, in the midst of the chaos of your days. Let me direct you. Live out of the inner satisfaction you’ve tasted before through my Spirit who dwells within you. Live out of the identity you have in me – you are mine; you’re beautiful; you’re more than ‘good enough.’ You’re righteous. Perfect. Complete. The Spirit is there to help you experience these realities, to believe I am true and deeply satisfying, to free you from places you run for temporary, fleeting satisfaction. Drink deeply of my living water. That’s right. You can start putting back most of what you’ve filled your cart with today. And I promise you’re not trading in joy – you will know it more deeply in me, as you always have.”

Life After Paci & Good Friday

Look at this big girl! You would never know that merely 15 days ago, we were bidding farewell to her beloved pacifier(s). It went so differently than I expected. The actual “paci-release party” turned out not quite as I envisioned it, as so many things in life. Instead of the poetic balloon release, the paci actually weighed down the balloon too much. And so the balloon floated down the stairs of our deck onto the sidewalk, where a few neighborhood dogs were circling for the kill – before I rescued the paci and told the neighborhood kids that no, now was not a good time to come over to play. We only lost one of the helium balloons, and the girls did not escape down the stairs of our back deck in all the chaos (though there were several near misses). We brought everyone and their balloons and paci inside, and Seth very unceremoniously threw away both pacifiers in the kitchen garbage can, telling Lucia that they were going “bye-bye” and she was a big girl now. I think she understood. At least until it was time to go to bed and she kept searching for one. That was the hardest part for me as her mom. I added a lengthy period of rocking instead, and she actually fell asleep without a fuss. Same with naps the next day. I was astounded.

But we have noticed the absence of our beloved pacifier in other, unexpected ways. Like the severity and frequency of tantrums in the week after its absence. Pretty unbelievable, and more than once, I wished along with Lucia that we had her favorite comfort object to help soothe her. She’s having to learn a new way to soothe herself, and so are we. I actually began to count the number of tantrums the girls have been having lately, because it seemed like a lot. And I wanted data to prove to myself that it really wasn’t a lot, or that maybe it was. Yesterday, the total was a very unimpressive 7. But today, we had a two-dozen tantrum day (and that doesn’t count the 2 hours I was at lunch with a friend). Yes, TWENTY-FOUR tantrums between the two girls. No wonder the days feel long sometimes. I was quite thankful for Seth’s presence at home with us today. We all needed him.

No coincidence that it’s Good Friday. I was hourly (no, more frequently) reminded that I need Jesus. I am not the good mom I want to be. I lose my patience when they lose their tempers. My emotions are not sanctified but reveal the many places of false refuge I go to rather than God. I lose it because I “need” peace and quiet, routine, space to think, predictability. I “deserve” all of this … and more. I choose not to follow the Spirit’s leading towards self-control, peace, love, but to indulge the flesh – the part of me that still wants to rebel against God. I pull it together in public. Just like my daughters, who were perfect angels at nursery tonight. The Savior they need is the Savior I need. The one whose death we remember today and whose death we feel in each little “death” to the flesh, each time we choose to die to what I want & think I deserve in order to live to God, to live to the Spirit in me. As I was reminded at our women’s retreat last weekend, we are united to Christ in his death, so it should be no surprise that there are times when resisting sin will feel like dying, too. If only I could attach my sin to a helium balloon and send it away forever. Oh, wait. It got nailed to a cross, taken on by the only innocent One, God’s beloved Son, and it is gone forever. Sin/death/the devil will NOT have the last word. We will celebrate that on Sunday. Praise God that Friday is Good and that Friday is not the end of The Story. Resurrection life is coming.

my in-town 2-hour mission trip

I have desired for a while now to have a chance to get out of my comfort zone (and, yes, my house!) in order to participate in some sort of justice and mercy ministry. When Lisa Mazzio (fellow counselor and psychologist at my church) asked me to join her in offering pro-bono counseling to the homeless served by Trinity during our week of hosting NEST [Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team], I jumped at the chance. I told Seth as I left last night that I felt both nervous and excited, and I half-seriously said that I was going on my mission trip. (A contrast to Seth who’s preparing for a 10-day mission trip to India in the spring.)

When I arrived and walked past crowds of men and women waiting to get in (certainly much more than the 50 who would be selected by lottery), I felt guilty for breezing past in my new boots and the 4-year-old winter coat I’d secretly complained about for being “old” and “unfashionable.” Seeing true poverty has a way of putting petty fashion complaints into perspective.

As I served these people dinner,  looking in their faces and putting a plate of food in front of them, I felt a part of me come alive that’s been dormant for a while. This is Christ in me, who loves the “least of these” (by the world’s standards), who delights in offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty, a plate of food to the hungry, a warm shelter on a cold night to those without. And yet it seemed like so little! For just a week, our church hosts them, and for barely 12 hours a night. How much of a difference could that really make? And that is a reason why we must have faith. Faith that God will multiply even the tiniest of offerings done in his name – that he will multiply the scarcity into an abundance, and that he will use even this small act of service to multiply his grace in my heart.

Lisa and I had the privilege of sitting with one man and hearing his story. All throughout, he kept calling us “angels.” What did we do? We listened; we affirmed his pain; we asked a few clarifying questions; we sought to give him hope that he could in fact change. Simple really. Will it make a difference for his life? I don’t know. I may not ever know. But I know that Christ was there with us, in us, speaking and listening through us. And that will make a difference in my life.

I saw tonight a reflection of myself, spiritually speaking. Lest I become too  prideful and think that my service in Christ’s name makes me somehow better than those I served or that I obtained better status with God through it, God reminded me that when I was thirsty, he gave me something to drink. When I was hungry, he fed me. When I needed shelter, he invited me in. And he continues to do so every day to one as spiritually thirsty as the man we met with; to one hungry for the one who really satisfies, to one who thinks her self-righteousness can clothe her yet it is only fig leaves and filthy rags, to one in need of the shelter of his grace lest I fall under the judgment and wrath I deserve.

Christmas Begins with Confession

What a strange juxtaposition – Christmas and confession? Really, Heather? Are you sure that’s not just mommy brain talking? Well, no, I’m not sure, says the one who is very thankful for a hidden key, who was locked into my office by my twins one afternoon, who knocked over our Christmas tree (pictured here “before”), who currently has red wine splattered all over my kitchen ceiling due to a sauteing attempt gone wrong … ok, you get the point. At some point, I’ll publish a book of funny incidences that have happened since having children.

But for this afternoon, I want to share what I’ve been thinking about this Advent season – that, in fact, Christmas begins with confession. As I have been meditating on Psalm 51 after studying it for a talk I gave at our weekly women’s Bible study, confession seems to be something that I have a hard time grasping. It’s because I want to be right all the time. It’s because I want to be self-sufficient, not dependent on a God who became as weak as a little baby so that He could become my moment-to-moment strength. It’s because I find myself so wrapped up in the culture’s definition of what makes me valuable and worthy that I forget both (a) how unworthy I am of this God’s love and salvation grace and (b) how valuable I am because this God-come-near left heaven for earth to rescue me from the cultural standards I’ll never reach and the sin that makes me grasp at them.

As I have been seeking to count “1000 gifts” Ann Voskamp-style, my eyes have been more open to how ungrateful I can be. In fact, I often view life with hidden bitterness and smoldering resentment. Why is this? Instead of accepting God’s graces as a gift, I am prideful and think that I deserve them – in fact, that I’m so good that I’m entitled to them.

And so in order to celebrate Christmas truly, I must start with confession. Confessing that I am unworthy of the best gift that could possibly be given to me, and even worse, that I am often blind to my need for this gift. Confessing that I need the gift disguised in a baby born to a poor family in a cave in an obscure part of a no-name Israelite town (Bethlehem didn’t have any songs praising it for being little before Christ’s birth there). Confessing that I need others to open their hearts to me in confession so that I will remember how much I need it and how I, too, struggle with sin’s insidious influence. Confessing that you and I are much more similar than we are different because of the rescuing grace of God sent forth in a little baby. It’s a beautiful message that resonates with the deepest part of every person – so much so that we are immersed in a season that celebrates it in every holiday song, each house lit with twinkling lights, every tree adorned with ornaments and laden with gifts. And, no, not every person realizes this or in their Christmas celebration gives glory to the God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)- but one day, they will. So I invite you to start now by confessing with me all the ways you, too, need this humble Savior.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

A month’s worth of miscellaneous musings

I checked my blog today and saw that my last post was a month ago. Where has the month gone? After the really fun Wheaton Homecoming weekend, there haven’t been any such exciting events on the horizon. So it’s been a normal month of loads of laundry, endless dishes, priceless grins from 14-month-old twins, terrible tantrums from the same precious darlings, enjoying our fall rhythm (soon to be waylaid by the holidays) of Monday music class, Wednesday Women’s Bible Study, and trying to catch up on errands and perhaps throw in a few play dates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are usually Seth’s day off, which we always look forward to, and then it’s Saturday, and then our full Sundays … and another week is beginning again. Our regular routine was broken up by a wonderful visit from Grandma & Grandpa Nelson last weekend, during which they brought much delight and spoiling to the girls (and us as well).

My newest project/spiritual challenge: A friend who was reading “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp said that she was starting a gratitude journal (the idea being to count at least 1000 things you’re thankful for), and I decided to start one with her. So I have been purposely starting my quest to find the graces of everyday life. As you would imagine, some days are much easier than others. The fall walk we took last week with the crisp blue sky as the backdrop for brilliant leaves. Or the evenings out with friends savoring the tastes of fine cuisine and drinks and being refreshed by shared laughter. The challenge (as Voskamp talks about herself throughout her book) is to find these graces in the midst of the really frustrating days and moments. Like having to stay home from church on a Sunday because one of the twins has a bad cough and runny nose (and my husband as a pastor obviously can’t “take turns” with me). Or the day the girls woke up from their last nap of the day at 1:45 pm (having slept a total of an hour), and they were as cranky as I was. [sidebar: calling the friend in my community group who had volunteered to come help on days like this AND feeding the girls some Nerds candy were total life-savers that afternoon!] This is where I’m struggling and wrestling.

And it seems like the more I try to be thankful, the more I am aware of the resentment that lurks in my heart. Which should of course lead me back to finding grace in Christ, asking him for the joy I can’t muster up and asking him to remove the pride whose domain in my heart produces bitterness. So many days it doesn’t.

Enter the other project I’ve been working on the past few weeks: writing the lesson I’m giving this Wednesday at Trinity’s women’s Bible study on Psalm 51. A psalm of confession, interestingly enough. And I, in my pride, initially thought I really couldn’t relate much to David the adulterer and murderer who penned this psalm. How wrong I am! I, who daily leave the Love of God my Savior to pursue other loves in the saviors I set up – like the conveniences of technology, a good sleeping schedule for the twins, a well-managed home, a “put-together” appearance. I invest my heart in these, saying to them, “you are my Savior!” And so I become an adulterer in my heart towards God as I run to other idols. And murder? I’m convicted to remember Jesus’ words that hating someone in my heart is like murdering them. Do I hate? No, of course not … but then, what is gossip other than seeking to bring down another’s reputation? And what is jealousy other than wishing I had what that other person did? And isn’t my anger saying that I alone deserve to be right, an attempt to at the very least emotionally cut off those around me? I need Psalm 51. I, the one surrounded by more graces of God than I could count in a lifetime, who finds it hard to scratch down even one on a “difficult day.” God invites me to worship … through confession. After Wednesday’s talk, I’ll share highlights of my study on the blog as before. Do pray for me if you’re a praying person, that my heart would be open to what God wants to share with me and through me.

awed by the moment and calmed by Jesus’ love

These are the two themes that I feel like God’s been teaching me about – much of it through observing our quickly growing almost-11-month-olds. They are crawling everywhere and into everything. Very curious about life! We love that although it makes our days much busier as well. The hardest part of the evening for them (and all of us) is that 4-7pm timeframe when it’s not yet bedtime and both naps are over for the day. And they begin fussing, which can quickly turn into crying and screaming inconsolably. Almost inconsolably. Some days they can be quieted by something quite simple, childish really (and they are babies, after all). We stumbled upon it accidentally when we started singing to them the first song that came to mind, “Jesus Loves Me.” Most of the time, this will calm Lucia and Alethia. Or at least give a few minutes’ reprieve from the screaming. The words and the melody familiar to them because it has been sung over them by parents, grandparents, friends, has a quieting effect on them. As I noticed this “magic song,” it made me pray for them that they would always be quieted by Jesus’ love. Long after they would outgrow this song, would that the truth conveyed by this little childhood tune sink deep into their hearts! And as I prayed for them, I started by praying for my heart, too, that can be so easily tossed  to and fro by the ups and downs of a day or a month or a year or a season. In case it’s been awhile since you’ve sung that tune, here’s the main verse of that little ditty:

Jesus loves me

This I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong [and aren’t we all “little ones” compared to God’s greatness?]

They are weak [oh, so aware of this for me!]

But He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me [repeat 3 x’s]

For the Bible tells me so.

My best friend’s daughter “sings” this tune by saying “Bible” when you say, “Jesus loves me.” Isn’t that adorable? And how much I have to learn! Truly we are to become like little children in order to know the great truths about our God and King.

As Seth and I move into this new phase of parenting children, training and discipline and instruction are topics we are earnestly seeking to learn about because we are aware of how much they are soaking up each day and how much they begin to be in need of parental guidance. We have begun watching an excellent parenting series by Paul Tripp (one of our counseling professors when we were in seminary), and he begins his series by discussing our need to provide our children with a God-saturated environment. By this he means that we are not only to teach our kids truths about God, but to give our children a sense of awe about God. Which, he points out, cannot happen if we ourselves are not in awe of God.

A book I’m currently reading is helping me to open my eyes to the awe of the moment, the richness of our great God who is present in each moment. And so many moments I skip by or pass over or endure with gritted teeth because I’m missing God. For all of you who can relate, I cannot recommend highly enough Ann Voskamp‘s book, “One Thousand Gifts.” The book itself is a gift to me who has trouble seeing what really matters. She echoes Tripp’s teaching as she writes:

“Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before everything else. … How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts. I want to see God …”

Voskamp writes about how hurry is the enemy of awe, that “Hurry always empties a soul. … I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. … The fast have spiritually slow hearts.” How this convicts me, who prides myself on efficiency and races against the naptime clock to see how much I can possibly fit into those brief “free” hours of a day! Who, in trying to recruit my babies into my hurried lifestyle, causes exhaustion and stress for us both.

I have much to learn. I am thankful for this moment, this time when babies are sleeping to soak in these truths and ask for grace to keep doing so. If God is present everywhere and in every moment, I only must have eyes to see Him. Which I feel like I am only beginning to do.

my life in piles

So I will be the first to say that this won’t be a profound blog entry, but it’s very indicative of life for me in the now. And perhaps a bit humorous as well. I finally found the perfect metaphor (that actually isn’t merely metaphorical) to indicate how life has changed since having twins. Read on …

My season of life as a mother with 9 month old twins who works (very!) part-time as a counselor and distance education instructor could be summarized by one metaphor, that’s actually also quite true literally: PILES. In order to open my laptop to write these musings, I had to clear off piles of old Christmas cards, unread mail, coupons, photo albums, Father’s Day gifts in the waiting. [note: this was originally written last week – pre-Father’s Day – those gifts have now been appropriately distributed] And to actually get to my desk, I had to move the piles of unwashed laundry from the doorway, carefully making sure I did not mix them up with the piles of washed laundry yet to be folded. There are piles of books beside my bed that I hope to get to one day when “I have time.” And piles of magazines I would like to peruse “when I have a minute.” A growing pile of “to-do” lists on sticky notes littering my desk. Piles of bills and receipts yet to be accounted for in our budget. Outside my office door are piles of baby shoes, shirts, socks that have migrated up from downstairs but have yet to be put away into their closet. And downstairs holds piles of toys and stacks of dishes – which would still be there except for my amazing husband.

And now let’s move into the electronic realm: layer upon layer of unanswered and in many cases unread emails. There is a “pile” of three voicemails from this afternoon that I haven’t listened to yet. The unending “to do” list on my iCalendar, with items that have been and may remain for weeks, months, years?  A heap of quizzes yet to be graded, counseling notes yet to be written, invoices yet to be sent out.

If life wasn’t cluttered enough already, these physical loads are metaphorical for the emotional and mental items that pile up in my head. Of people I want to be in touch with but have lost touch with (since “the fog” of the past year descended), of decisions and plans to make about the girls’ one year birthday party and our 5th anniversary and my 10th college homecoming (which all occur within a two month time period this fall), and of all the things I wish I had time to do but don’t.

Sigh … words from David Powlison’s devotional thoughts on Psalm 131 meet me right now. Here’s part of the intro to this article (well worth reading in its entirety, by the way):

Amazingly, this man isn’t noisy inside.
He isn’t busy-busy-busy. Not obsessed. Not
on edge. The to-do list and pressures to
achieve don’t consume him. Ambition doesn’t churn inside. Failure and despair don’t
haunt him. Anxiety isn’t spinning him into
free fall. He isn’t preoccupied with thinking
up the next thing he wants to say. Regrets
don’t corrode his inner experience. Irritation
and dissatisfaction don’t devour him. He’s
not stumbling through the mine field of
blind longings and fears. 
He’s quiet.
Are you quiet inside?

Its essence is about not concerning myself with more than what I can do. With being content with my limits. And so I ask for the daily sufficient grace yet again, trusting it will be there as I need it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

birthday reflections – a year of extremes

 

Today was my birthday (or still is, as a matter of fact, for two more hours). Due to my husband’s work commitments, I ended up having much of this afternoon and evening by myself with the girls – and now that they’re in bed, alone to reflect on this past year. Certainly a much quieter birthday than years past (like the year I had three surprise birthday parties!). It was definitely the messiest birthday dinner I’ve had, since my dinner guests smeared food all over their faces and threw it on the floor before deciding that their patience was up about halfway through my meal. But such is life with 9-month-old twins! And for all of the “inconveniences” or frustrations, there is an unspeakable joy that comes with having them in my life. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

More reflections on this past year, which has been the year of extremes, follow:

Time is a strange thing, how it seems to speed up and slow down, yet keeps constantly ticking along. And birthdays are a reminder of that. As I think about life as it has been radically re-defined for me in the last year, I cannot imagine it any other way. I could not picture a life absent of the gifts of our twin daughters. And they are the gifts that have come with an equally heavy load of responsibility. God has given with them the gift of seeing a new depth of my need for Jesus Christ, exposing the places of false comfort I have sought for refuge instead of my Rock. I have found out how solid my God is when life has felt shaky. Literally – when we wondered whether these girls would make it far enough along before their birth.

This past year, more than any other so far, I have lived the extremes. God has shown me both extremes of resting in simply being (through over two months of bed rest) when I could not be active and of resting when there was no time to rest or sleep or do anything but survive and help these babies thrive.  There have been days that felt endless because of lack of activity and days that felt endless because of an absence of anything but activity. I have gone from lonely days to days when I wished for one moment alone. I have had months of anticipating the twins’ arrival and preparing for life to change dramatically and all the months since of reflecting and processing and adjusting to how their arrival has transformed our lives. I can remember what it was like to believe the illusion that I alone was in control of my schedule, my to-do list, my sleep, and could choose how to spend free time. The illusion has been exposed and those days are like a dream.

And yet the other extreme to the life-turned-upside-down adventure that parenting has been is the joy I have felt. I didn’t know how I would see these little faces and fall instantly in love. And how, six days later when we had to take our babies to the ER of the Children’s Hospital, a deep-seated fear would grip me as I realized how fragile were the lives of these little ones who had my heart.Then the relief I would feel a week later when we all arrived home (again) and Seth and I placed them in their crib to nestle next to each other, free of monitors and IV lines.  During that week in between, I experienced the wrestling of faith to entrust these ones to the God who cared about them more than I do and who had compassion on me that went even deeper than mine for them. Yes, it has been quite a year. The end result? More awareness of my weakness. More clinging to Christ for strength. More joy independent of circumstances. I can only hope and pray for more of that in the year to come. Only this coming year, I’m not planning on doubling our family size as in the year past!

thankful

I wanted to give a bit of an update after the last post. Yes, motherhood has felt particularly difficult over the past several weeks, but also YES, I have a God who is alive and who meets me in the midst of all of life’s struggles and provides even more than what I need. And my heart is refreshed and thankful today as I think about …

  • grace and mercies new every morning – and every moment – as I need them
  • the refreshment of a week with family – who reminded me what a delight Lucia & Alethia are to us
  • moments to relax on the beach without having to track down the girls (thank you, Gigi & Pops!!)
  • the infinite horizon of the ocean meeting the sky that is just a tiny picture of the infinite love of God for His people “O, the deep, deep love of Jesus … vast, unmeasured, boundless, free … rolling as a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me …” (lines from my favorite hymn)
  • a date with Seth in Charleston
  • the refreshment of God’s Word – recently decided to read through the book of James. Its practical wisdom has been just what I need in this season of life, from the book called the “Proverbs of the New Testament.”
  • a day to be with God’s people and worship and receive the bread & the wine … and rest (thanks to a longer nap from the twins)
  • friends who encourage, pray for me, remind me that I am not alone in the hard days (you know who you are – thank you!)
  • my husband who faithfully loves and cares for me and our daughters
  • our God who is always faithful and loving and merciful, unchanging though all else can seem like it has changed

A prayer for Easter life

“I am the resurrection and the life.”  I need some of this life. My friends who are grieving the loss of their friend to cancer need the resurrection. Death is so foreign to life – its opposite, isn’t it? We need resurrection hope this Easter.

And I need the hope of life as I grieve the separation from family and feel like there are too many places that are dead within me. I need Your life to awaken me. To remind me of the joy of this calling of being a mother. I feel an absence of life when there is truly an abundance of it. The abundance of lives has made my life feel weary. Mundane. Monotonous. Even (especially?) on Easter.

Lord, who is alive, give me life. Joy. Hope. Lift my eyes from my self-imposed misery to the miraculous empty tomb. Empty of my sin because it died with Jesus at the cross. Empty of my misery because the living Redeemer is pushing back the darkness. Empty of death because my Savior vanquished it on the third day …