Penance or Grace?

This past week I’ve been thinking about penance and grace. The dictionary gives the following definition for penance:

pen·ance

noun

  1. 1.
    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

I have been on a journey this year to lose weight. At the beginning of my journey I was losing two pounds a week. Yay! It felt like I was making good progress. Then the weight loss slowed down to one pound a week. And that just feels agonizingly slow. Every week I am working out six days a week, I am keeping a record of everything I eat, keeping my calories at the right amount, always choosing the healthier options, checking in with a personal trainer daily…it’s a lot of work just to see the scale move one pound. 

And I had this thought. This is my penance for being overweight. My punishment for gluttony and sloth. My just dues for allowing myself to get to this place of needing to lose so much weight.

And that thought felt very comfortable. Yes. I am facing the consequences of bad choices, and I’m just going to have to work really really hard to get myself back to a good weight. It’s all my fault and this is my punishment. 

So, I kept hold of this idea for a couple days and then, all of sudden, out of nowhere, this thought popped into my head. What if, instead of punishment, this is grace? 

Definition of grace (Entry 1 of 2)

1a: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

What if I have simply not been in a place, mentally or spirtually, to be able to fully learn how to take care of my body the way I need to? And finally I am in that place. And God is teaching me how to care for myself. And it’s a long process. A long process of breaking off bad habits and establishing good ones. A long process of learning how to gage how much food is “enough” and how much is just gluttony. A long process of learning how to enjoy movement, exercise. A long process of changing my lifestyle so that it embraces health. What if that one pound a week is a symbol of grace. Proof that God does not simply leave me wallowing in my sin, but has opened a way for me to change. 

Last night I attended a Celebration of Life service for a man who had recently died of Covid. I was not personally friends with him, but I am friends with his wife and one of his daughters. As people shared stories of his life and personality and character, a picture was painted of a wonderful father and husband and friend. But what really stood out to me was the observation, by more than one person, that this man was who he was because he was a follower of Jesus. It was Jesus’ grace in his life that enabled him to be this wonderful father, husband, friend. And I think about this as I think about penance and grace. 

God’s grace in my life enables me to become the best version of myself. It’s not about punishment any more. Jesus already took that punishment on the cross and then declared that It was Finished. Yes, we face the consequences of our sins, but it is not in a spirit of punishment and condemnation. It is a spirit of Grace. Here, my daughter. The way you are choosing is not bringing you life, try doing it my way instead. Let me restore you, strengthen you. Walk with me and I will turn your ashes into beauty. 

Penance or grace? I choose grace. Or rather, grace chose me. 

Thoughts on the Protests

This past week the DA in our city released the bodycam video of the police shooting of Anthony Thompson Jr at Austin East High School. I watched the presentation the DA gave as she walked through all the evidence, one step at a time, and ended with the conclusion that it was a justifiable action by the police officer and no charges would be brought against the police. Seeing the evidence, as she presented it, I had to agree. Yes. This looks like it was definitely justifiable. 

So, I was really surprised when I started reading FB posts from my black friends from this neighborhood. They had a completely different perspective. They felt that the DA maligned Anthony’s character by bringing up the domestic violence incidents that led to the police being called. They wanted to know why the police did not use a taser or try talking first. They wanted to know why the police did not speak to Anthony from the doorway of the bathroom and ask him to drop his weapons and come out with his hands up. They watched the video and felt that they were seeing the police’s hands on the gun, not Anthony’s, when it was fired. In fact, they were seeing something completely different from me. 

When two people watch the same video and see two different things, you’ve got to step back and realize that vision is not just a physical thing that our eyes do for us. Vision is affected by what is in our minds, our past, our experiences as well. Perspective. We can all see an image, but our perspective is going to tell us different things about that image. 

I think about where we are at in our country. When this incident happened, we were in the middle of the George Floyd trial. The news is frequently posting more and more incidents of police officer shootings that seem to have been avoidable. The experience of people of color in their involvement with the police has led to a feeling of distrust and danger where the police are concerned. 

Since the release of the bodycam videos, our city has seen a couple protests. I watched some video from one of the protests and the things that they were chanting hurt my heart. This is not my perspective. I don’t hold these views. But, I feel like I can understand, a little, where these views are coming from. 

So, here’s the question. Can we lay down our self-righteousness, our desperate need to always be right, and just enter into the idea that other people have different perspectives than us? Can we withhold our judgement for a minute and remember that other people have vastly different stories than we do, and those stories have caused them to see the world in a very different light than us?   

I believe in absolute truth. And I believe the Bible spells out what that truth is. But, when it comes to things like watching bodycam videos of a seventeen year old being shot and then deciding who is guilty and not guilty, I don’t think that falls into right and wrong categories. There is a lot of gray that we have to wade through. Let’s have grace for each other and understanding as we all react to this event in a different way. 

The Record Player

I have a record player in my head. Any time I am feeling down, or insecure, the record player starts playing. It’s a voice that goes over all my accomplishments. In high school you did this…When you were in college you did this…Remember that time you did that one thing? And all these things are the “good” things that I feel like I have done. Places where I have excelled. Things I have mastered. Memories of me being great. Basically a list of all my righteous deeds. 

The other day I was having an interesting conversation with someone about different religions and the main point that we landed on was “good works”. I was explaining that in Christianity, we don’t believe that our good works save us. The only thing that saves us is the work that Jesus did on the cross. His forgiveness of our sins. All the good deeds in the world won’t get us into heaven. Just the grace of God that is offered us through belief in Jesus. 

Now, I know these things. I’ve been taught these things for a long time. But that record player still exists. My list of good deeds makes me feel better about myself. Boosts my confidence, soothes my low self-esteem. Justifies my behavior. (Maybe I messed up here, but look, usually I’m a good person!)

Last night I heard the record player turn on, but instead of listening to the voice, reliving all the good memories, I stepped back a pace, and questioned why this record player even existed? Why do I do this? 

I have been trying to take these thoughts captive today. Bring them to a halt. All those good things do nothing to give you worth. Your worth comes from being loved by Jesus. He is one that has done all the work, not you. 

This last Sunday I watched the first episode of the second season of THE CHOSEN. If you have not watched season 1, I highly, highly, highly, recommend it. You can get The Chosen App, free, in your app store and see all the episodes free. Season 2 is just starting to come out. 

Something that really stood out to me was the foreignness of Jesus. He said and did things that the disciples were not expecting, took them off guard, had them constantly guessing what was going to happen next. This stood out to me because I feel like now, so many years later, we think we have Jesus figured out. We have the scriptures to read, we know the stories, we have developed elaborate traditions around the life and work of Jesus. He fits very comfortably inside a beautiful box. We are very comfortable with the Jesus that exists in our heads. And that comfortableness makes us complacent, stuck in our ruts. 

Watching The Chosen brought home to me that I don’t have Jesus all figured out. He is his own person, God in fact, and I do not understand all of his ways, nor do I perfectly walk in all of his ways. And I feel empathy with the disciples. They didn’t get it right away. In fact, even after three years of walking with Jesus, (in person!) they still messed up sometimes. And my heart feels full of thankfulness at the grace Jesus gave the disciples and that he gives me, now. Yes, I’ve been walking with him, most of my life, but I still sometimes completely miss the point. My record player turns on and I cling to my own good works, completely forgetting that I am saved by Grace, Jesus’ work on the cross, His Forgiveness. My worth comes, not from being a “good” person, but from being a child of God. 

Always Failing at Something

Do you have that One Thing that is always ready to jump out of the corner and condemn you? Like, you’re walking along, thinking that you are actually an Ok human being. You are handling life pretty good. In fact, you might even be doing well. And then that One Thing jumps out with it’s jeering face and says, Oh yeah? What about this??? And you hang your head in shame. Oh yeah. I forgot about that. I guess I’m not really doing that great. 

For me it tends to be a messy house. I’ll be assessing how the day is going. Ok, lets see. We homeschooled today, that went well. I’ve cooked all the meals. Had some good quality time reading aloud to the kids. I made a lunch for my husband. I’ve eaten healthy today. Got in my workout. Had my devotions. Yep. I’m doing ok. Then here comes the voice. 

Oh yeah? Have you looked at your house?? It’s a mess! You’re behind with the laundry! Those pots have been “soaking” for a really long time. The kids can’t find anything on their school shelf, it’s such a cluttered mess. We won’t even bring up subjects like mopping and dusting! 

And my little ego deflates. Oh yeah. I actually kinda suck. 

Of course, this is a glimpse into just how performance-oriented my self-esteem is. If I am doing good things then I must be good and have worth. If I am failing in any area then I must be bad. Not really worthy at all. 

And unfortunately, there is always something or some area where I am failing. And this means that my default attitude towards myself tends to be rather negative. 

It makes me think about my spiritual walk. Jesus is all about grace. But my default position, when I think about God, is that he is all about law. If you fail these commandments, this is the list of punishments you will get. If you aren’t careful, you will be burned up in God’s wrath. 

I have heard the sermons, I’ve read the scriptures. I know, in my head, that I am forgiven. That Jesus’ goodness covers over all my badness and cancels it out. I know that the Holy Spirit is living inside of me, slowly changing my heart to be more like Jesus. I know that he sees me through eyes of love and grace. But I still wrestle. My default is still law and punishment. Condemnation. 

I’m a work in progress. I have to constantly remind myself that I am loved, forgiven, a daughter of the King. 

So, today, as my brain started beating me up about what a horrible housekeeper I am, I tried to exercise some grace. Yes. The house is rather messy right now. So what? There’s a lot of good reasons why it’s in that state. Is the world going to end if it doesn’t get cleaned today? Nope. Does a messy house mean I am a horrible person? Not really. Are you ever going to get your house clean? Sure, I’m planning on getting it done this weekend! Ok. Then you are fine. You have permission to ignore the mean voice whispering in your ear. 

Romans 3: 20-24

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

It’s Been Rough on the Kids

One of my little kids just came inside and told us that she heard gunshots. THREE SHOTS! REALLY FAST! I looked at my husband, he said, tell the kids to come inside. I called everyone in. They didn’t want to come in. The gunshots were far away! They weren’t close! Yeah, well, what if the person shooting the gun is in a car and he drives this way? Lets, just come inside for a while. They were disappointed, but came in, and within minutes were distracted by some new game they were playing. 

Such is life in our neighborhood.

Tomorrow the kids won’t go to school because our entire district has gone “RED” due to covid numbers, and so we will have a week of virtual school before Christmas break starts. My kids were not happy about this news. My daughter’s best friend in her class does not have internet in her home. They are an immigrant family, the little girl in my daughter’s class has been diligently learning English this year, and it’s possible that she speaks the best English in her family. Our district is offering help for families to get internet, but some extenuating reason is keeping this family from getting connected to help. My daughter cried and cried because virtual school means she doesn’t see her friend any more. 

Such is life in one of the poorest schools in town. 

We walked down to the park this past Friday afternoon since the weather was nice. There is a Children’s Museum at the park that we used to have a membership to. Covid shut the Muse down and then when they finally opened it was with so many restrictions and weird hoops to jump through, that I decided to not renew our membership until it gets easier. One of my kids saw the Muse, Can we go there???!! No sweetie. Not right now. WHY??? Covid. It’s just made things too difficult. But, we’ll go again as soon as things get easier. 

Such is life with a pandemic.

My three year old informed another sibling that he had friends. What’s their names? I don’t know. But I have friends! He is remembering last year when we were at a homeschooling co-op once a week and he would play with kids his age. I decided to not do the co-op this year, mostly because I didn’t know how Covid was going to affect my public school kids and how often we would be home or in quarantine. Fortunately, my elementary kids have had a good run, no quarantines, been in school all semester till now. But, we didn’t know that in the beginning of the semester, and we have been pretty isolated this year. My three year old is blessed to have lots of siblings who play with him, but he doesn’t see many other children. 

Such is life with social distancing.

It’s been a rough year for our kids. I’ve had a couple kids who have been struggling with depression, anger, frustration that life is not going like it’s supposed to. And it’s really hard to see my kids struggle. It weighs me down. I feel like I’m working overtime to keep my head above water, keep my outlook positive, focus on the good, not the bad, and I finally get into a kinda-good place and then my kids start falling apart, and I start the mentally strenous journey of trying to help them see the good in life, help them focus on the positive, help them get to a kinda-good place…You know, we are supposed to preach the Gospel to our children, well, I would say this has been my most prolific preaching year yet. God’s in control. We need to count our blessings. Let’s talk about the good things that have happened. Let’s pray about it. God has promised to help us. One day at a time. 

We’ve got Christmas coming up, typically a stressful time of year as we try to add celebration preparations to all the other things we have to get done every day. We, as parents, are already running on empty. And with kids being off of school for the holidays, needing time and attention, I am trying to remind myself just how much grace my kids need. 

I have decided that I am not going to take this next week of virtual school too seriously. Sure, we’ll give it our best shot, but if we miss something, or accidentally skip something, or get really confused about something, I’m not going to give it a lot of weight. Oh well. Let’s move on. I’m also not going to try and be super strict about anything this Christmas. You want to watch tv? Sure. Go ahead. We’ll still do our regular chores, and I hope I can keep the kids interested in playing outside, reading books, playing games etc, but if everyone is in meltdown mode? Well, I might pull out some candy canes, or just turn the tv on for several hours. This is not the time for rigid rules or really high standards. We are all mentally exhausted, including our kids. Let’s be as kind as possible to each other. 

Is Prayer Enough?

Have you all ever read Isaiah 58? The other day, I was moving things around in my dining room, and a Bible that had been on a side table was set on the dining room table. I went to eat breakfast and there was the Bible, lying open right where I usually sit and eat. How nice. I sat down and looked to see where it was open. Isaiah 58. I started reading. And it kind of felt like I was suddenly sitting in the Principal’s office being read the riot act. 

I will summarize. Basically, God says, I’m not interested in your fasting and praying if it’s not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice towards the people around you. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot concerning our country. Before the upcoming election, and even throughout this momentous year, I have heard a lot of Christians, from all denominations and political stances, calling for prayer for our nation. I have often heard people quote, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land..” and then we are all called to pray for our country. Except that the verse they are quoting actually says, 

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

We seem to forget about that “turn from their wicked ways” part. Isaiah 58 gets pretty detailed about what God thinks of as “wicked ways”. 

Isaiah 58:6 -7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

I don’t believe it’s an either/or kind of thing. We’re not supposed to choose between fasting and prayer or social justice. One without the other is empty. I am not trying to put a yoke of condemnation on our shoulders. In this world where we are overwhelmed by all our responsibilities, being told that you should be out feeding the poor and lobbying for social justice, well that just feels heavy and impossible. But, saying, it’s too much, I can’t do it, is also a cop-out. 

Each of us has talents, gifts, and resources. We can use those to help those around us. We can send that extra spending money to a homeless shelter. If we have time to volunteer, there are endless possibilities. We can write letters. We can call our local government offices. We can serve people in our community through one-on-one relationships or through supporting others who have time for that one-on-one. For those moms with young children who are in the trenches and barely hanging on, you can befriend someone at your church who is new. Maybe reach out to another young mom who desperately needs fellowship and encouragement. For those who are housebound, you could write letters to people in prison, start researching the issues in your community, email people with influence. There is SO MUCH we can do! 

We all desire the grace of God on our country. But I am going to say that prayer is not enough. If we want to see changes in our country then we need to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. God’s heart is for the homeless to be fed and sheltered, for the worker to earn a living wage, for people to be treated with love and respect. 

We are saved by grace through faith. Not by works, but when we have faith and grace, it should compel us to do works. 

James 2:14-17

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I would like to suggest that while we are praying for our country, we also add to that prayer: God show me what I can do to help the homeless, the oppressed, those who are under a yoke. Show me specifically something I can do to help. 

In Jesus Name Amen. 

Here is Isaiah 58 if you are interested in reading the whole thing:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

    Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

    they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

    and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

    and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness[a] will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

    and your night will become like the noonday.

11 

The Lord will guide you always;

    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

    and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

    and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

My Sin was Great, Your Love was Greater

I want to start by letting you know that my mammogram went fine, no problems. All is well. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. 

This past week has been pretty crazy. My days were a lot more busy than I like. This month seems to be the month of Doctor Appointments. I just looked at my calendar, we have sixteen appointments scheduled for this month. Which is horrible. They are all check ups, dentist appointments, eye appointments etc. Which means that after this month, I shouldn’t have to take anyone anywhere for a long time. Getting it all done in one fell swoop. 

Except that it makes this month a lot more stressful. 

I had the whole having-to-get-a-mammogram thing which was also stressful, though it ended well. We’ve had some changes in our home life with our foster daughter slowly transitioning back to her birth parent. Which is great, but our schedule has gotten a lot more complicated. Even when she goes home completely, I will still be her full-time babysitter, which is a part-time job all by itself. Also a bit stressful.

So, here’s the crazy thing. All this stuff has been going on, and I have been stressed, but it’s not really these things that has been stressing me out. 

I have been mostly stressed about my inability to conquer and be victorious over my weight problems. Sins. Gluttony. Emotional Eating. Using food as the source of my peace and comfort. 

I have been feeling weighed down with condemnation. Surely God is sick and tired of me still struggling in this area. I am a disappointment. A failure. Weak. Not worthy. I’m pretty sure God really doesn’t want to have anything to do with me until I stop being this way. 

Yesterday I kind of hit rock bottom. I wrote a letter to God. 

It was helpful. Helpful for me to be very, very honest. Helpful for me to lay it all down. And then stand back and get some perspective. 

The perspective I got (I believe with the help of the Holy Spirit) was this. Perhaps my bigger sin is thinking that my own works is what saves me. Perhaps my bigger problem is not overcoming in this area, but truly trusting God at his word, that he has truly saved me and given me His Righteousness, and His Righteousness is enough. Maybe Pride is more the issue. Having to realize that Esther, in her own strength, has no power to overcome. She is completely dependent on God and his power to free her from her strongholds. And trying to remember that I am loved. As I am. I don’t have to get perfect first before God decides that he can love me. 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

I think I have reached the place where I fully see my helplessness to free myself from sin. And I then also fully see my dependence on God to do the work necessary in my life. And so I cling to his goodness. His mercy. And once again I put my trust in Him. 

I have set aside today to be a day of rest. A day of staying home, not having to run a bunch of errands. A day of minimal housework. 

And I pray that it also is a day of spiritual rest. Sinking into the truth that I am forgiven. That he who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

And this line runs through my head:

My Sin Was Great, Your Love was Greater. (from the song, “What a Beautiful Name”)

Weak Spots

20200822_214612

Today was my son’s thirteenth birthday and we celebrated by going to the Smoky Mountains to play in the river. I had been watching the weather reports and it said it would rain, but by lunchtime, our city was sunny, so I was hopeful. But, as we approached the mountains, we could see heavy rain clouds covering everything. Ah well. The whole point was to go and get wet. What difference did it make if it was rain water or river water? 

 

The rain actually helped us. We went to Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area, which is usually full and very busy, and we found a picnic table right away, right next to the path we needed to go down, and right next to the restrooms. This never happens. But the rain was pushing people out. We put out some of our picnic stuff then headed down to the river, rain sprinkling down. 

 

The kids had a lot of fun. There is a big rock with a deep pool beneath it that people like to jump off. The kids had fun jumping off the rock, riding the current down the river, climbing on rocks, swimming. I hung out with the three year old. He adopted a favorite rock in the middle of the river and spent most of the time playing there. 

 

Later on the rain let up and we headed back to the picnic site to do birthday cake and snacks. Then, after cleaning up, back to the river. By the time we got back, you could see some blue sky and the sun was shining. A couple other families had ventured out now and were also jumping off the rock. 

 

I observed as one father tried to get his young son (maybe two?) to jump off the rock. The child was terrified and was refusing. Screaming. The father finally picked up the child and jumped off the rock with him, the child screaming all the way down. After they resurfaced, the father turned in triumph to his son, See! It was fun! The child kept crying and the father insisted that he try to jump again.  Later on the same dad made a comment to his older son (maybe nine or ten?) that he should STOP BEING A GIRL and do a flip off the rock. The son looked angry and sullen, but he didn’t do a flip off the rock. 

 

This family eventually packed up and moved on and another family soon appeared. The contrast was amazing. The second family also had younger and older children. The father jumped off the rock then swam below. He held out his arms and called to his daughter, Jump! You can do it! The girl who looked around six or seven, hesitated a moment and then took a flying leap off the rock towards her father. Lots of cheers and compliments. 

 

As I sat and watched all this, I thought about how we handle these things. Our general policy in the outdoors is, if you can do it by yourself, without help, then you are probably old enough to do it. We told our kids they could jump off the rock if they wanted to, the weak swimmers needed to be wearing their life vests. All the older kids launched themselves into the air.  We told the five year old he could jump if he wanted, but he didn’t have to. He sat and thought about it for a while, then grinned and took a flying leap. The three year old also climbed onto the rock. He was getting close to the edge (he had his life vest on) and we asked if he wanted to jump. He looked down at the water…shook his head. Nope. (Smart kid, he takes after me.) My husband encouraged me to jump as well. I took a look at the drop off and the cold water below and I agreed with the three year old. Nope. That does not look like fun. I made an off-color joke about why I couldn’t jump and then climbed down the side of the rock with the three year old into the water.  End of story. 

 

And I wonder as I think about the Pushy Dad. Does he constantly live with a feeling of having to prove himself all the time?  Prove you’re a man. Prove you’re strong and brave. Does he feel pushed into doing things he doesn’t want to do, cause he has to prove something? And does he push his own boys, because he has to prove they are brave as well?  And I just wish I could say, Stop Striving! You’re enough!  God accepts you as you are. God made you the way you are. No one’s keeping track of how many feats of bravery you did. No one cares if your sons don’t like jumping off high places. No one cares if they happen to like music and theater instead of football and car mechanics. They are individuals. You are an individual. Don’t feel like you have to conform to some cookie cutter stereotype. Be yourself, and above all,  let your boys be themselves. Celebrate their uniqueness. Stop striving. 

 

Then I have to stop and think for a minute. What weaknesses am I blind to in myself? How am I inadvertently passing these things on to my own children? Cause, I can be proud and say, I’m nothing like that dad I saw today, but in reality, I’m sure I’ve got my own stuff that comes out in its own toxic-parenting way. And I find myself praying for more grace as I observe the human race around me. Lord, open my eyes to see what I am blind to in myself, and give me grace when I notice the weakness in others. 

 

Reckless Love

It’s been a rough week. Not so much that my circumstances suddenly became horrible, rather that my ability to handle my everyday circumstances seemed to be at a low ebb. A big part of that has been because I’ve been making some changes, and change is hard. I talked about that in the previous blog. But, I wanted to take a little time, on this Saturday evening, to share a bit of how God has been grace-filled to me. 

 

On Wednesday, an old acquaintance (friend? Casual Friend? Really nice person that I have always liked, but never had a lot of conversations with?) messaged me on FB and told me she wanted to drop off some crafts at my house. Well…Ok…Wow. That would be awesome! Thank you very much! She dropped by a little later and carried in 3 very large bags and a large box, full of VBS-worthy crafts. All organized and ready to go.  Wow! Thank you so much! 

 

On that same day I had a really rough spot with one of the fosters and not one, but TWO different adults who are part of this child’s life were able to come to the house and speak to him and help him and all of us get over a rather rough patch. 

 

And then, on another day, another acquaintance (friend? Casual friend? Really nice person who works in our church’s Children’s Ministry with my kids, but who I only speak occasionally with…) messaged me and said that she had randomly thought of me, and wanted to offer to babysit my kids for free so I could get a break. Well…Ok…Wow! Yes! Please come! Thank you very much! And then she came Friday and babysat, and also brought her Mom with her (who is certifiably one of my good friends), so I was able to chat with her a bit before I took off. 

 

I was mentioning all these things to my husband, and he commented, that’s an awful lot of random people just “happening to think about you”. And I paused. You’re right. And I gulped, cause I realized that God had been talking about me. To other people. Calling in favors. Pulling some strings. Making elaborate arrangements to bless me. 

 

And that makes me tear up, cause really, I don’t feel worthy of that kind of Supernatural help. In fact, this week, I’ve felt a lot like a failure. I haven’t been as nice as I could have been. I haven’t been as patient as I know how to be. I have not been the picture of grace and wisdom, carefully and cheerfully guiding my home. No, more like a grumpy pit bull, snarling a bit, forgetting important things, not finishing tasks, buying a lot of takeout, letting the kids watch too much tv. Crashing along, trying to be productive, but not really succeeding. 

 

And in the midst of all that mess, God starts sending me gifts. The gift of his people’s generosity. 

 

And my old thought patterns rear their head. What? I’m being bad. That means you should be disciplining me, punishing me, at the very least, ignoring me. But instead, he lavishes love and grace on me. 

 

These are the lyrics to the chorus of the song Reckless Love, by Songwriters: Caleb Culver / Cory Asbury / Ran Jackson

 

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

 

And that is what is running through my head, as I continue to stumble my way through life, covered by His Grace. 

Grace and Our Mental Health Crisis

This morning the sun is shining. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen sunshine, even though I know that’s not true. It was raining yesterday, and yesterday seemed to last about three months. It was a long hard day. Last night our schools announced that they would be staying closed at least through April 24th. Even though I knew that was going to happen, hearing the announcement on the phone felt like a door that I had held cracked open in hope, had been slammed shut in my face. Well shoot. I really AM stuck with figuring out how to school my kids for the next month. 

 

Right now, I am mostly worried about the mental health crisis that has hit our family. I have several children receiving mental health services. I have been receiving mental health services. As life has gotten more overwhelming, my personal doctor offered for me to see their in-house psychologist and we started meeting. It has been helpful to have someone I can talk to in confidence about the challenges I’m facing and who can ask pertinent questions to help me figure out how to proceed. 

 

This week she called me on the phone and said that we would need to do our sessions on the phone for a while. I agreed. Yes. That makes sense. But, it’s sad. I don’t do well talking on the phone. I’m not an auditory person and I find it a bit of a challenge to have phone conversations with anyone except the closest friends and family. I also know that having a private conversation in my home will be next to impossible. And, I know that being able to see someone face-to-face speaks to my soul in a way that phone conversations don’t. 

 

I’m not the only one in the family that is being moved to TeleHealth.  And I know that expecting a child to be able to get anything out of a video conference is ridiculous. It’s not going to be effective. And that is overwhelming to me.

 

At this time, when life has turned upside down, we need these services more, not less. 

 

It’s not anyone’s fault. I understand. Seeing patients face-to-face is putting both patient and provider at risk for exposure to the virus. I understand. 

 

I know that our family isn’t the only one in this boat. This pandemic we are in the middle of is stressful for all members of society. But I think the foster kids and foster parents are being especially hard hit. Strict routine is one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox for helping kids who are processing trauma and hard transitions. It’s also a giant tool for kids who have special needs. There are a lot of families out there whose kids simply can’t handle wearing PJs all day and just doing whatever seems like fun. It just doesn’t work. 

 

As a parent in this situation, I am feeling the urgency to establish a good routine for the house to help give ALL the kids a sense of security. But at the same time, I am so stressed out that I am having a hard time establishing that routine. Are these stay-at-home orders going to affect my husband’s job? (Not yet, thank you Lord.) Are my parents ok? What about my husband’s grandpa in the nursing home? Did my oldest daughter sort out her health insurance? What if she gets sick? Our court case involving our foster kids got delayed because the courts shut down. What is this going to mean for our situation? I heard that covid-19 has reached Haiti. What is this going to mean for our friends and family still there? What will it mean for that country? My friend who lives in Bush Alaska and works in the hospital there told me they only have 7 respirators. What is this going to mean for the town where I graduated high school? What if they get hard-hit? I’m in the process of bringing my son home early from his out-of-state school. How do we get our plane tickets refunded? 

 

All of this is going through my head, and then it’s raining outside, and the kids are fighting with each other, and I feel like I am the last person in the world to be able to handle this situation well. 

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

I guess this is going to have to be my go-to verse. I’m not feeling it. I’m not feeling God’s power. I’m not feeling super-spiritual. All I can see is my weakness and my need right now. My family’s need. So, it becomes an act of faith. I will keep taking one step at a time, exert my tiny bit of strength, and trust that God is going to magnify that effort and turn it into Enough. 

 

My prayers for all of you today as we push through this crazy time, one day at a time.