a mother’s prayer on Ash Wednesday

ash wednesdayFather God,

It is not even noon yet, and I am aware of how much I need the grace of repentance that Lent invites me into on today’s Ash Wednesday. I have lost my patience with the children you have entrusted me with – the souls I am to be nurturing into faith and repentance. What a high calling! And an impossible one.

Could it be that my greatest Lenten fast will start with admitting I have no strength to parent?

Could it be that the deepest Lenten repentance will happen as I lead my children into it by example (and necessity)?

Could it be that engaging in mercy and justice for me, in this season of parenting littles, will mean that I show mercy first to these two who are entirely dependent upon me for all of their needs?

Could it be that promoting justice begins with repentance of the entitlement I feel about the sacrifices I make on their behalf?

I turn away from such a prayer, but you invariably call me back. You show me a love that has loved me in my low estate, and a love that fights on my behalf for justice, and a love that grows to match (and overcome) the strength of my rebellious will. Lord Jesus, teach me to love this Lenten season. Lord Jesus, teach me how you have first loved me (and how you always FIRST love me … this love is what shapes and propels my love for my children).

In the name of the Father of all compassion and the God of all mercy, I beg you for Lenten grace this Ash Wednesday.

Amen.

why it’s hard to find lost things

Yesterday was a Monday in every deserved aspect of that oft-dreaded day. It began with lots of whining and tears and complaints (mine and theirs, at least the complaints). In my attempts to herd us out the door to get to the grocery store, we kept losing things. Shoes and socks that seemed to be mysteriously repelled by my daughters’ feet. The favorite shirt we/they wanted to wear. The water ink pen which is a “necessary” in-car entertainment. When calling my husband to vent, I absent-mindedly touched my earring – and realized the pearl was gone. He had given me this set of pearls to celebrate a birthday and the pending birth of our twins. A pearl could be anywhere! So then, naturally, the next thing I lost was my temper. If only I could never lose that in response to all the lost things.

When I calmed down, and could think and breathe at last, I began thinking about why lost things get me so much. It’s more than the fact that we seem to always be looking for something lost these days – the beloved lovey that we looked for in every aisle of the grocery store yesterday, for instance, only to find that it was safely at home after all – but it’s how much TIME it takes to find what is lost. It takes time. A lot of time. Patience. Detailed searching, often. And I don’t have much patience naturally. I feel like I have less time. And I am not a girl who loves details.

But in this calling as a mom to three-year-old girls who have beloved objects, short memories, and a propensity to misplace those objects, I am also called to search for lost things often. Probably daily is not too much of an exaggeration. Love for my girls means that I’ll search for what they love even if I don’t share their valuation of it. This kind of looking for lost things doesn’t come naturally for me, as I’ve shared above. And yet I think it’s one of the small sacrifices of motherhood – to take the time necessary to look for what’s lost.

In so doing, I am imitating no less than God the Father’s love for me and for all of us who are lost. He takes time to search me out; to find me. He used the parable of finding lost things to describe what his heart is all about – what the Kingdom of God is essentially. A lost sheep, a lost coin, two lost sons in Luke 15 tell the story to answer the complaints of the self-righteous grumbling about why Jesus spent so much time with those who were so obviously “lost.” In all three stories, there is much rejoicing and celebration when what is lost is found. Jesus is inviting the self-righteous to not only join in the celebration of those lost being found but also to join in the search of the lost. And the place this begins is realizing they, too, are lost. The last story of the prodigal son illustrates this so vividly. It ends abruptly with the father of the story inviting the older brother to celebration (he’s angry over the party for the younger prodigal brother who’s returned home). And it leaves us hanging. What happens next? We don’t know. It’s a question the self-righteous need to ask and then to answer. Will I come in, counting myself as a lost one found by my Father and thus able to rejoice when another lost one is found? 

Why don’t I think I have time to search for lost things? Sad to say, I haven’t even looked for the lost pearl earring for yesterday. What kept me from it?

  • I doubt that it can be found.
  • I don’t know quite where or how to look.
  • I’d rather spend time doing something else.
  • As valuable as the earring is, I know that it is replaceable.

My daughters with their lost loveys have a lesson to teach me, yet again. For the Kingdom belongs to such as these [children]. In the face of my unbelief, they remind me:

  • To have confidence that what’s lost will be found
  • To start looking wherever you are now
  • When something’s lost, that IS your #1 priority until it’s found.
  • What’s lost is irreplaceable.
  • There is no rejoicing like the joy over finding what’s lost.

Oh, that I’d share their passion and confidence for finding lost things when it comes to searching and finding for my lost peace of mind, for a lost friendship, for a world that’s lost its way. And maybe I could find a lost pearl earring as I do so?

ordinary happiness, Saint Therese, and faith

In continuing to read through The Happiness Project, I’ve come to the chapter about happiness and faith. I was particularly curious to read Gretchen Rubin’s thoughts on this since she writes from a perspective that’s not necessarily Christian. Imagine my surprise when she begins talking about “imitating a spiritual master,” and then chooses Saint Therese. A lesser known saint who lived a relatively quiet life, dying at age 24 from tuberculosis. How did such a woman become a saint? And then capture Gretchen Rubin’s attention?

It was her ordinary happiness. Meaning that Rubin was impressed that her achievement of sainthood happened “through the perfection of small, ordinary acts.” She quotes Therese’s famous spiritual memoir Story of a Soul as follows:

Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by … every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

Rubin says, “Therese’s example shows that ordinary life, too, is full of opportunities for worthy, if inconspicuous virtue.” And the theme of Therese’s life is a happiness motto Rubin’s sought to adopt for herself: 

I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.

If Rubin, who by all accounts is a wonderful woman and writer and person but seems to be without a saving faith in Jesus Christ, can make her life happier by imitating this quiet saint, how much more can we who have THE source of happiness that Therese herself knew? One particularly striking story Rubin shares is of a nun whom Therese disliked and was annoyed by, yet made an especially strong effort to appear happy around. It worked to the point that this nun thought that she was closest to Therese of all the nuns! Little did she know …

I’m not advocating being fake. A “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and paste a happy face on” kind of happiness. But perhaps there is something for us to consider – that we should ask God for the grace to choose happiness, and kindness, and love, even when we don’t feel any of those things. That we could choose to be happy, dwell on what’s positive about our situation, instead of always focusing on the negative. I am so guilty of this as a “natural pessimist” and one who as a counselor by profession has witnessed some very hard realities of life in a fallen world.

Another point Rubin makes is that when “the call” comes – meaning the one that will change our lives forever, because it’s the cancer diagnosis or the bad news or the fill-in-the-blank – we then appreciate what we had. She quotes William Edward Hartpole Lecky:

There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed.

And so we are to live as though we’re dying. Because, well, we are. And this doesn’t bring pessimism but a greater appreciation for each day and what’s precious about now. We will not always have today, nor what we take for granted today. 

A moment happened today to bring this all into focus. One of my daughters unexpectedly tumbled out of the back of our SUV onto hard pavement. A friend “happened” to break her fall a bit, but she still got a pretty large bump on her head. It could have been so much worse. And in that instant I forgot about my petty complaints about how whiny she can be or how hard it is to get her to stay in bed. I was simply thankful to wrap my arms around her and give her the comfort she longed for as she repeated over and over again, “Mommy, I love you so much!” in between sobs. That’s a moment that makes me happy, though mixed in with a minor catastrophe. Have you had a moment like this recently? How did it change your perspective – and even your happiness?

a prayer for potty training

There is advice aplenty about potty training, but very little written about the spiritual challenges of potty training. Yes, you heard me right. The spiritual challenges of potty training. Anything that opens our hearts wide up to see the frustrations hidden beneath; the expectations for life to act according to our plans; the desire demand to be in control – well, this becomes ripe fodder for growth. Or repentance. Or sanctification. Or all of the above.

Maybe you approached potty training much differently from me (and I am sure some of you are out there!), but for me it’s been an exercise in surrender. Surrendering my expectations and realizing the limits of my control over my daughters. I cannot control when (or if) they will use the toilet. I can nudge them in the right direction; provide incentives to make it more attractive for the desired behavior; set up an environment that is conducive in pottying. Yet if she decides she isn’t ready – or if her physical development isn’t there yet – it just won’t happen.

There are spiritual analogies here as well. As I seek to nurture my daughters’ faith, it’s much the same way. I can nudge them in the right direction (towards faith and wisdom and away from unbelief and foolishness); provide incentives to make it more attractive for them to walk in the path of life; set up an environment that is conducive for faith. But at the end of the day, it is up to God and her whether she will take hold of this Life or not. And when. I can’t force her into a prayer of belief or into steps of faith that may be beyond her spiritual development.

How do I fill this gap between where I want my child to be (re: pottying and spiritual development) and where she is? Deal with my own heart, and P.R.A.Y.

So with this round of potty training, I was clued in a bit more to potential frustrations and disappointments and challenges, and I penned the following as we set out to “launch” potty training a few days ago. I humbly offer it to you if you, like me, need it.

Father, I ask that you’d give us discernment to know/evaluate whether L. and A. are ready, and to lovingly encourage them to do what we think they’re ready to do. If one of them isn’t, give us wisdom and restraint to back off if needed. Give us perseverance and endurance because even if it goes really well, it’s a process. Help me to expect the best but not force them into my will. Help me to know how to gently nudge them and when to step away to foster their independence.

Restrain my anger and frustration. Give me the long view, both for potty training and even more so for how You’re using this process to expose my own heart and make me more aware of my own need for grace. Give me wisdom to walk away and regroup when it’s overwhelming.

Above all else, let everything I do be done in love — in Christ’s love that dwells in me. Love that is patient, kind, not boastful or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way, isn’t irritable or resentful, bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13) I don’t have love on my own nor can I muster it up. I come to You needy of it, and confident that You delight to make your people loving.

When sin is revealed in my own heart, let me quickly repent and ask for forgiveness — not cover it up/try to hide it/make excuses. When the waywardness of my daughters’ hearts is revealed, let me be quick to show them the grace You shower upon me as well as any correction appropriate for the situation.

I do ask for minimal messes, but even more than that, I ask for longsuffering and the attitude of Christ when they happen. He who made himself nothing … taking the very nature of a servant … (Philippians 2). Do guard and protect us from causing any hurt in what could be trying days. And give us joy, laughter, and fun! Bond us closer to you and one another through this process.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen

Thankful Thursdays

Psalm 149 calls God’s people to thankfulness with these words:

Praise the Lord! … For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.

Isn’t that astounding? Read it again – it almost sounds too good to be true.  That the God who made everything and upon whom we are dependent for every breath takes pleasure [enjoys, delights] in you and me. We are to praise God because he takes pleasure in us. And so we praise him because he is pleased when we praise but even more so his pleasure in us causes us to praise him.

And so I move into thankful reflections today, thankfulness that’s not object-less but thankfulness to a present God who receives it as praise.

{I’m thankful for} my husband who enjoys house projects and home repairs and keeps all of us females steady with his presence.

{I’m thankful for} my friend Ellen and the ministry of Harvest USA during such a poignant time in our country where there is much confusion and need for loving, compassionate, wise ministry in the arena of sexual brokenness.

{I’m thankful for} friends and family near and far who cheer me on in this journey of faith and motherhood. (Many of you reading this now!)

{I’m thankful for} the baby BOY that my youngest brother and his wife will be welcoming into their family in early December (their first!).

{I’m thankful for} sunshine, summer breezes, living in a place surrounded by water and close to the ocean.

{I’m thankful for} my in-laws’ visit this weekend as they will love and delight in all of us, showing us in 1000 ways the delight of God our Father in us, his children. We can’t wait to see you, Grandma and “P-pa”! Now on to making up your bed …

Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, copy this icon:  leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.

I just read Lisa’s “Thankfulness on Thursdays” post here – she was also an inspiration to this practice.