We All Need Some Grace

This evening I feel very mixed up. On one hand we have a very stressful situation we are working through that always seems to be hovering in the background. Then I have a spot of pure joy bursting through me as my oldest child chose to get baptized yesterday. Then I have issues with my health I’m low-grade worrying about. My children cause a big mixture of love, amusement, annoyance, humour, anger, and really, any other emotion you can think of, sometimes all at the same time. I am feeling very thankful for the good things I have, and then I start complaining cause some things aren’t the way I like them. At a drop of the hat I could get angry about social issues. And at the same moment I could start crying because I just heard a story of about someone being amazingly kind. It’s no wonder that when people say, “How are you?”, you just automatically say, “I’m fine thank you!” What else can you say? It gets a bit complicated if you say, “I am currently feeling every emotion on the spectrum.” 

 

Being human is so complicated. I imagine a big churning pot of stew with a million ingredients and as you stir a big spoon in it, different ingredients float to the surface. How are you doing? Well, right now I’ve got some happiness, joy, and enthusiasm going on. But if you stir things up a bit, I’m sure that annoyance, anger and selfishness can make an appearance.

 

Usually, when I’m writing, I have one set of emotions that is taking preference. They stir up thoughts and memories and I end up having a cohesive idea to talk about. Then there are days like today were my thoughts are going in a million directions, my emotions are having a wrestling match, trying their hardest to be the one on top that gets noticed. My memories are popping up from all kinds of directions, and I just kind of feel like banging my head against a wall to make it all go away. 

 

I’ve been reading a book about God’s grace. I guess that my current mental state is a good indicator of how much grace I need. I’m a mess. And I’m pretty sure I am not alone in the need for grace. I can go on all day about how amazing God’s grace for me and you is. As Christians we spend a lot of time focusing on how God extends grace to us. And that is a very good thing to spend time on. I think though,  I don’t spend as much time thinking about how to extend grace to others. 

 

I am very good at thinking about how downtrodden I am, how deserving of favor I am, how in need of a break I am. I don’t think I spend as much time thinking those things about others. But, when I do, life is so much better. When my husband comes in at night, and I think, I have been here all day with the kids! It’s time for him to step up and help me! I find that this attitude does not make for a nice evening with my husband. But, if I step back and think, hmm.. My husband has been working all day in the hot sun. He must be really tired. I’m tired too, but maybe if I give him a chance to take a shower and eat and give him a big cold drink, he’ll be in a better mood for our evening of parenting we have ahead of us. 

 

I find that this is the same with people who get on my nerves. If I put my entire focus on how they irritate me, kind of keeping a score card of all the things they do wrong, then, yep, I’m going to stay in a constant state of irritation towards this person. But, if I make the effort to walk in their shoes, see what struggles they are facing, ty to get some insight into why they act the way they do…It’s a lot easier to extend grace towards them.

It’s interesting that the more we get to know someone, the easier it is to extend grace towards them. It’s like knowledge and insight naturally produce love and grace. Maybe that’s why God can love us completely and extend such amazing grace to us, because he knows us completely. 

 

In the end, we are all complex creatures who only show the world a tiny fraction of what we are thinking and feeling. May I remember daily to practice extending grace to those around me.

 

 

Grace in a Mother’s Hands

A virus has come to visit our house. It’s ferocious and mean and seems to be jumping from one person to the next like a grasshopper. I’m in day three of nursing sick children. It’s made me think about how vital physical contact is to the job of motherhood. Nobody ever really mentioned that, when I was pregnant with my first. I heard all about sleepless nights, temper tantrums, nursing problems, potty training, when to start solid foods…I even heard all about the emotionally draining years of the teens. But, nobody ever talked about how much I was going to use physical touch in order to be a good mom.

My two year old is very sick. Call the doctor kind of sick. The nurse on the phone said take him to the emergency room. I asked what I could do at home first before I took that step. She suggested Pedialyte. If it worked, I should be ok at home, if it didn’t work, go to the hospital for dehydration. Good news, the Pedialyte has been working so far. I’m keeping a close count on wet diapers, keeping track of how many ounces of fluid he takes, what time he last drank something. The problem is that everything just keeps coming out, both ends. Let’s be honest here. That’s gross. Throw-up is disgusting. It makes me want to sympathy-throw-up. Nasty diapers that smell like toxic waste are also disgusting. It also makes me want to run away. But what does a mother do? She picks up the sick child, bathes him, dresses him. Holds him in her arms, rocks him, murmurs comforting words. Lays down on her bed with him till he can go back to sleep. He snuggles up against his mama, taking comfort in her physical presence.

My four year old was also sick, though not with the same intensity as the younger one. I put him on my bed in the afternoon and he slept. Occasionally I would go in and touch his head to see how hot he felt. Kiss his hair, rub his little back. He was still sleeping at bedtime so I made a pallet on the floor next to my bed and laid him there so I could help him in the night if he needed it. He woke up once, restless, achy. I rolled over, put my hand on him and he settled down and went back to sleep.

The eight year old got sick too. I put her to bed in her own bed, but told her that if she needed me in the night she could come lay on the pallet that was still next to my bed. She showed up around midnight. I reached my arm out and patted her on the back to let her know I was there if she needed me. She went back to sleep, comforted at being close to her mom.

Usually, sickness is an indicator that we need to stay away from someone. Oh, you’re sick? Here, let me move about five feet away…how contagious are you?? I tell this to my other children. Your brother is sick, please don’t go near him. The baby is sick, don’t kiss or hug him. But Moms have different rules. Your son is sick. Pick him up and hold him. The baby is sick. Cuddle him close, murmur love words against his head while he sleeps in your arms.

How do mother’s learn to do this? I’m going to guess it’s partly instinct and, if you were fortunate, partly remembering what your mom did for you. I remember my mom’s cool hand on my hot head, placing wet washcloths on my forehead while I struggled through some harsh tropical sickness. I remember her making potato soup for me, her hands stroking my hair while I tried to eat a couple bites. I remember, as a child in Haiti, when I was very, very sick, we were far away from any hospitals and the medicine wasn’t working. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, my mom’s hand on my head while she quietly, fervently prayed that God would heal me. Healing from a mother’s touch.

And I carry it on to the next generation. You’re crying? Come sit on my lap. You hurt yourself? Let me kiss it. You’re sad? Let me hug you. You’re sick? Come, climb in my bed, I will take care of you.

May this urge to use our hands, arms, bodies to administer love and care, may this never cease. May it pass on to the next generation of mothers, and the next, and the next. Full-body mothering. Grace in a tangible form.  

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Fantasies of a Middle-Aged Housewife (G-rated)

Ever since I can remember, I have put myself to sleep at night making up stories where I’m the main hero. When I was a kid I would think about some great book I had just finished reading and I would re-imagine the story with me as one of the characters. I remember Little Men by Louisa May Alcott in particular. I was a tomboy and I loved imagining being part of the gang. I would spin stories in my mind till I fell asleep.

Today, as I waited in the car line to pick up my kids from school, I found my mind wandering, starting to make up a new story. What if, for some reason or other, I was taken away from my life to some resort-like place where I would be forced to undertake some drastic, but super-healthy, weight loss program, and also take yoga classes, and lift weights, and maybe start running again. And get plastic surgery for stretch marks, and, here’s the real amazing thing, get put under the charge of a dentist who would fix all my teeth and make them all white and straight and beautiful (because what middle-aged person doesn’t fantasize about having a fortune to pour into their teeth??) And of course there would be a beach nearby that I would walk on regularly until I had achieved complete inner peace. And then, after all that process was finished, and I now looked like one of those people out of magazines that you always secretly ooh and ahhh over, then I would go home to my loving family who somehow managed to be completely happy while I was away. And I would say Surprise! And they would be awed and amazed at this New Esther.

And then somewhere around there my fantasy fades out, because, in reality, my family doesn’t care a hoot what I look like, or how straight my teeth are, or whether I have stretch marks or not. And really, they wouldn’t be happy if I went away for any length of time. My family can hardly make it if I leave for the day.

But it’s fun to dream.

I think it’s funny what I fantasize about these days. Let’s see. I fantasize about having a housekeeper who lives with us and takes care of all the cleaning chores in the house (especially laundry and dishes!). In fact, I would take care of the grocery shopping and cooking, so I wouldn’t be considered completely lazy, just so I don’t have to clean.

How about this one? Enough money to take summer-long vacations with the family to exotic places all over the world.

Or, my toddler potty-training himself, in one day.

Here’s a good one. My husband handing me a large chunk of money and telling me he wants me to go to the beach by myself for a week, since I seem a little stressed lately. 🙂

How about hair that doesn’t turn grey and remains as thick and full as when I was 20?

My favorite one, children who never fight, always do their chores cheerfully, and love to help around the house.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way. Usually, I can accept that with a philosophical shrug. Then I have days like today when I’m just unusually tired and really all I want to do is climb into bed and nap and read and eat take-out. But instead, I clean the house, bathe toddlers who rolled around in the mud, cook a healthy supper, and plan to be up till late at night as I divvy up my attention between all my kids.

Reality. It’s actually more fantastic that my fantasies. Who wouldn’t enjoy a long trip to a spa? Who wouldn’t flourish under that kind of care? The real amazing thing is being able to flourish and enjoy a day of hard work under less-than-ideal working conditions. To end the day satisfied and content despite the fact that I wasn’t pampered or given special consideration. That kind of reality can only come from the daily grace Jesus gives me. I’m so thankful for that grace and I’m clinging hard to it today. May I end the day thankful. That’s a fantasy worth pursuing.

Thoughts That Keep Me up at Night

I was awake at 4am this morning, not able to sleep, my mind racing through thoughts and arguments. I finally got up at 4:30am and started writing down my thoughts. Then I spent all day, revisiting, writing more, erasing, starting all over again. This has been a difficult blog to write, probably because I have too much to say, and it’s a subject matter that I don’t feel like I have completely thought through yet. I would say that I am at the half-baked stage right now. But, I’ll catch you up to where I’m at in the process.

This week I have been reading different books and articles that come from a much more liberal view of Christianity than what I profess. It has been enlightening. I want to tell you what is so appealing and Right about these books and viewpoints. They all seem to have a really good grasp on the overwhelming Love and Grace of God. They talk about rich and poor people serving alongside each other. They talk about the healthy serving bread to the sick. They talk about the people in community seeking out the lost and the lonely and drawing them into a nurturing environment. They talk about grace to forgive the most heinous wrongs. They talk about including those who are the social outcasts, extending mercy to the misunderstood, being Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.

It is so Good. So Right. It draws me in and I find myself wishing to be more like that, wishing to be part of this group of Christians who have somehow been able to set aside selfishness and have learned how to serve the lost.

I feel like the mainstream evangelical church, of which I am a part, has been portrayed as a people who don’t venture far outside their four walls. People who have a strict standard and woe to those who don’t fit into the mold. People who are comfortable hanging around their own race, hanging around people who all make about the same amount of money as they do. This is the reputation that I see on the news, on the internet, in books, and articles.

Is this reputation deserved? I guess that depends on who you ask. I want to come back to this, but before I do, I need to talk about the problems I saw with these books and articles I was reading. They portray a gospel that is incomplete. It’s grace without judgement, heaven without hell, forgiveness without repentance. It is a soft gospel that seems to go through a lot of awkward contortions to ignore the written Word. It also seems to ignore the awesome, fearful Holiness of God.

So, here is my question that has been nagging me for over a week now, keeping me up at night. How do we maintain the balance? How do we extend a hand to the hurting, be the hands and feet of Jesus, be so overwhelmingly loving that people are just drawn to the Jesus inside of us..How do we do that, but also call people to repentance? How do we not only say, I love you, though I hate your sin, but I also want to offer freedom from those sin addictions? Freedom from bondage! How do we hold true to the scriptures that say, Come! Come to the table, everyone is welcome!

‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22 8b-10

And while we are telling everyone to come, everyone is welcome, we also acknowledge the scripture that says,

small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

As I read arguments from both sides, I feel like they are saying you have to choose. You have to choose love and grace or you have to choose law and Holiness. Why?? Why do we have to choose? It’s the same Jesus who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves who reached out and touched the leper to heal him, who also said, Go and sin no more.

So, back to the evangelical church. Is our reputation for exclusiveness and legalism deserved? I look at my own church and I realize, there is no easy answer. A church is simply a body of people. People who sin. People who are weak. People who have said, Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but they are still daily having to learn how to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. We’re all learning as we go, and we make a ton of mistakes along the way. My church is a holy mixture of God’s divine love being played out right alongside people’s sinful natures. There are definite things I want to see change. I want to see a lot more color and variety of people at my church meetings. I want to us to work harder at making our church a place where drug addicts, homeless people, ex-cons, prostitutes, and even awkward teenagers, can walk in the door and immediately feel welcome and at home. I want to figure out how I can be one of those people that make people feel welcome and at home. I want to stay fully immersed in God’s word while carrying that Gospel message that I’m so diligently studying, carrying it to my neighbor, to the lady at the library, to the neighborhood children who come to my door. I want to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus and I want those hands and feet to be cemented, fully rooted in God’s word.

 

These are some of the thoughts that are keeping me up at night.

Fat Fridays: Week 10 If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Here we are in week 10. I’ve had my first real setback this week. I haven’t exercised in two days, I came off of 9 days without sugar and blew it with pancakes and syrup yesterday and then donuts this morning. I’m finding that my setbacks are really tied to my bouts of depression. I hit a real low this week and I find that trying to keep myself moving and keep doing the right thing is really difficult when I’m feeling so low I don’t want to move.

Frankly, I’m getting pretty tired of this depression. A while back I went through about two years of deep depression. Now it’s every month I just have a couple days when it’s hard to cope. The problem is that while I’m in the midst of it, I feel like it’s all my fault. I am a horrible person. I’m a failure. I’m lazy. And then slowly the fog lifts and I get back to normal and I realize that I had been fighting off depression like it was a giant cloud that had settled around my body. This seems to be a cyclic thing. Some new, bizarre form of PMS? I don’t know. I think I’m going to start keeping a simple diary and see if I can track a pattern of which days I feel depressed, see if if there is any rhyme or reason to it.

I am at the point where I’m ready to start researching diets that lift depression. Right now if someone told me that eating a Keto diet (my personal version of hell) would take away my depression, I would be like, OK, sign me up.

So, here I am. I’ve been doing really well these past 10 weeks. Exercising, being more thoughtful about what I eat, trying to significantly reduce sugar. And then I fall off the wagon. This is where the real challenge lies. What am I going to do about it? Am I going to shrug my shoulders and think, Well, I’ve never been able to do anything long-term, might as well just give up and have a nice binge. Or am I going to accept the fact that this is how life works. It’s impossible to be “good” all the time. You mess up. Acknowledge it and then get back to work. Start exercising again. Cut back on the sugar again. Try to be mindful of what and why you are eating again.

I need to give myself this pep talk. You are not perfect Esther. No one expects you to be perfect all the time. One mistake does not make you a failure. You can do this. Have grace for yourself.  Don’t give up. Try again.

So, this is the plan for this week. Research diet and depression. Stop beating myself up for falling off the wagon. Climb back up onto the wagon. Keep going. And remember to be kind to myself.

Here’s to Trying Again.

Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

Quite a while ago I had a vivid dream. The kind you wake up and think, that was important, I need to remember that, I need to think about that…

In the dream I was in a big castle whose King was in residence. There were all kinds of people in the castle, lord and ladies, courtiers, servants of all kinds. It was actually pretty crowded. I was a servant. I had never actually met the King face to face, but would see him in the distance occasionally. I also heard what everybody had to say about the King and I was in awe and a bit afraid of the King. One day, for some reason I ended up serving in the dining hall and somehow I managed to trip and spill what I was carrying all over the King who had been standing in a group of people. I was terrified. Face down on the floor begging forgiveness. The King was not angry at all and reached down to me gently to help me up and with a puzzled look on his face said, “What have they told you about me child?”

That was it.

So, it’s not too hard a dream to interpret. I would say I was the servant and the King was Jesus. My knowledge of him was as a harsh taskmaster when in reality he was kind and gentle and forgiving.

I am not sure why my initial impressions of Jesus were of a harsh, unapproachable person. I think a lot of it was the Christian culture I grew up in. Christianity seemed to be about learning the rules and following them. Christians don’t listen to that kind of music. Christians don’t watch those movies. Christians don’t go to those places. Christians don’t wear those kinds of clothes. I remember hearing the phrase “Jesus doesn’t like it when you: have a bad attitude, aren’t thankful, say mean things, talk that way…” Yes Jesus loves you, as one song says, but you also better watch out, better not cry, better not pout, Jesus Christ is coming…Oh wait, was that Santa?

My adult life has been all about learning about Jesus as a God of compassion and grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. It’s been a long difficult journey and I think I have come so far and then some behavior or thought pattern shows me that I still have a long way to go to understand God’s love for me and walk in it.

Today someone at church asked if they could pray for me after the service as I had been on their mind all week. After the service I went up to get prayed for and they prayed for me, spoke words of encouragement and wisdom, direction. It was an amazing blessing. The one phrase they spoke over me that hasn’t left me all afternoon has been, “You are much beloved.”

What does that mean? Perhaps that God is for me not against me. That I’m not trying to earn his favor. That I am not alone. That God is someone I want to be with.

Here’s the hard part. God’s loving me has nothing to do with how awesome I am and everything to do with how Awesome he is. That is the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around, that He is that Good, that Kind, that Compassionate, that He can extend his love to me, an everyday human who is tangled up in sin and selfishness. I feel unworthy and so thankful. And joyful and wondering and hopeful and excited. And just a little bit scared. Do I dare believe that it’s true? I have heard this message before, but somehow, every time it’s brand new, once again. God Loves Me.

For those of you reading this…It’s true for you too. He loves you. Oh that you could know this for yourself. That is my heart’s desire for you.

This is one of my favorite hymns. May it’s words bless you.

O THE DEEP, DEEP LOVE OF JESUS

TEXT:
Samuel Trevor Francis
MUSIC:
Folk Tune

1. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Thy glorious rest above!

2. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne!

3. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!

Public Domain