Paved with Good Intentions

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know if it’s the road to hell, but it sure is the road to disappointment and frustration.

StockSnap_B9SJQMZ7KK.jpgThe weird thing about quitting your job and staying home with your kids is that your life gets both easier–much easier–and much, much harder at the same time.

No longer do you have those panicked mornings trying to decide whether your kid is too sick for daycare or those rushed evenings trying to invent a dinner out of the ingredients currently in your fridge. (Never mind. I still have those evenings. But now I can’t blame it on my job, which I actually sort of miss.) Your whole pace of life slows down. I don’t have to be in a hurry nearly as often. If I want to, I can take life at the pace of a toddler–even a toddler who pretends to be a puppy every time he sees a set of stairs.

But on the other hand, you become your own boss. At least in my case, I had more time to fill so I began to expect more and more from myself. Perhaps I’m only speaking for myself, but I am a terrible boss. I have grand intentions for every day. I make elaborate lists of chores to get done and errands to run, essentially setting myself up to fail pretty much every day. And these are just the good intentions I have for myself each day.

Add to that all my good intentions for my kids. For example, here are my good intentions for today: Just as soon as she gets home from school, I am going to make my seven year old practice piano and teach her to love reading and convince her to choose fruit for a snack. And make her do her chores (cheerfully, of course.) My five year old has Thank You notes from her birthday to finish and she will do her chores, too. And my two year old is going to finish learning how to use the toilet if it kills me. And they all need a good dose of sound doctrine before they go to bed, too.  I’m a sucker for a new system, so I’m always figuring out some new system for getting chores done or teaching table manners or whatever is on my mind. And when the system fails me (or I fail to follow through, as I inevitably do), I find myself frustrated and angry. My good intentions can so easily become my enemy.

The internet, of course, doesn’t help. The internet is the land of good intentions. It’s the one place where we can be known solely for our intentions. I sort of wish sometimes that I just wasn’t even aware of how everyone else is doing everything. I’m too tempted to look up a parenting question and find a dozen helpful mom-blogs with colorful chore charts or cheerful explanations for how to motivate/inspire/instruct my kids. I’d like to know how much of the internet’s traffic is fueled by stay-at-home mothers with good intentions.

My good intentions really reflect my own self-reliance. I spent most of last year preparing for a talk on the pressure women feel to be “Picture Perfect.” The question that kept troubling me was “Where is this pressure coming from?” Is it really an external pressure? Are there really other people saying “You ought to be doing X with your kids?” And if there are, does their opinion of me actually carry any weight? Do you they truly KNOW what is best for MY kids? Can they guarantee that their system will work? At least in my case, I have to say that any pressure I feel is from my own desire to impress. The pressure pretty much comes from the toxic combination of my own insecurity and the easy answers of others’ good intentions.

The fact is, most of the self-published advice on the internet is unproven. I want to believe that a new system full of good intentions will yield good results. But kids aren’t robots. Even with a foolproof motivational system to encourage chore completion, I could still raise a lazy slob. Or a resentful over-achiever. Or any other manner of human being. My children are, after all, plagued with that pesky gift of free will. I will eventually have to set each of my kids loose to make decisions for themselves.

The results of my particular brand of motherhood remain to be seen. I’ve known plenty of kids raised with the best intentions who grew up to reject their parents’ values. I’ve also known plenty of kids raised with good intentions who lived up to their parents’ hopes. There is no guaranteed recipe. The best adults–and I’m not just talking about the most financially successful adults, but the ones who are most content and most confident about their choices–come from all kinds of childhoods.

Kids are not raised by good intentions alone. I’m trying to get better at not setting myself up for frustration, but I still go to bed at night scheming ways I’ll live up to my good intentions tomorrow. I’ll probably do it again tonight and I will likely be at least moderately disappointed again tomorrow night. I’m working on it.

So why am I so prone to making life hard for myself with my good intentions? I think I know at least part of the answer, but that is a post for another day…

 

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Get famous for Jesus!

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“Be an actress or model… FOR CHRIST!”

Whenever I tune in to Pandora, this is the ad I hear shouted between songs. Somewhere in America there is a talent agency selling a double-dream: you can enjoy all the benefits of celebrity (the highest achievement an American can aspire to!) AND also the benefits of Christianity (America’s most popular religious brand!) Who could ask for anything more?

I won’t deny there was a time in my life when this ad would have appealed to me. Perhaps it is that younger version of myself I am really scoffing at when I mock this ad. I know better now, I like to think, than to believe that I can gain the whole world and keep my soul to boot. But I won’t deny that these past few months I’ve been considering if God might want me to be more famous. Couldn’t he use my writing even more for his glory… if I had a platform?

As a Christian, I know the dangers of self-promotion. I know the way that a focus on self feeds your ego until it becomes an untamed monster that destroys relationships. I can see how the goal of making a name for yourself can tempt you to use the end-goal of fame to justify whatever ugly means you use to get there. I don’t want any part in that.

But here I am, in possession of an itch that I can’t find a way to scratch. I want to write. I don’t just want to write, I want to write what others will read and to find out what they agreed and disagreed with. I want to be involved in that great exchange of ideas I see happening every day on the internet and in the books I read. But how to participate when you don’t have much of a voice?

It’s a struggle all dreamers have to face eventually, I would bet. If you want to do any kind of art for a living, you have to find a way to get your art to the people who will value it enough to pay for it. How to do that isn’t very clear. It’s not exactly a job you can apply for.

Like me, perhaps, you conclude that this must not be your calling. How can I be called if the phone isn’t ringing?

But, at least for me, the desire won’t go away. There are combinations of words that haven’t been tried! Ideas that haven’t been expressed in the ways I want to express them! Perhaps, just maybe, there are even metaphors that haven’t been turned into cliches yet and I can be the one to help people see the astonishing parallels between the world around us and the world inside of us.

J.A. Medders, a writer I’d never heard of before, dared to confess his own temptation for self-promotion in a recent blog post. He said “I believed the lie I could make a name for myself for the sake of Christ. Baloney. That’s not how the Kingdom works.”

I agree. The kingdom I joined grows through obscurity, through humility, through meekness. It isn’t meant to be a celebrity-making machine or a power-grabbing demographic group. The kingdom of God works against the grain. It’s counter-intuitive and tremendously effective.

All that to say, I’ve been avoiding writing. One day I’m afraid my small thoughts will get lost in the blustering storm of the internet. The next I’m afraid I’ll use my ideas to make a name for myself and lose perspective. What’s the point of writing if I don’t promote it tirelessly?

I’m not sure I know what the point of my writing is. I just know that this blog is the plot of ground I’ve got, and that words are the tools I know how to use. So, I’m back. I’m writing. I’m going to remove a few of the filters of self-consciousness. I’ve decided I love writing enough to do it poorly for awhile as I try to figure out what, if anything, I have to say that might be worth hearing.

Stay tuned.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

Our Christmas Letter

I like to think I’m good with words, but I am very bad with numbers. Hence, I way over-ordered Christmas cards last year… and then overcorrected this year and ordered too few. So, for those of you who didn’t get your fill of reading about our lives on facebook or who won’t be getting this in the mail, our annual letter…

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How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven

No ear may hear His coming

But in this world of sin

Where meek souls will receive him still

The dear Christ enters in

 

Though we celebrate Jesus’ birth every year in December, this time-worn story of a baby born in a stable shows how unexpectedly and how silently forgiveness can find its way into our souls at any time of the year. In fact, many of us know this story long before we learn to appreciate it. It is a story we need to hold on to for that  moment when we finally come face to face with our greatest hurts, our greatest failures, or our greatest desperation for a miracle. As I send out my letters this year,  I will pray that the story of Jesus’ birth is etched in your memory deeper every Christmas so that it is there whenever you most need to know the one who is God With Us (Emmanuel!)

At this time of year, I love to receive cards that remind me of all the people we hold dear and I truly enjoy reading all the updates, as I hope you will enjoy ours:

Claire (7)  and Rachel (4) can fill reams of blank white pages. Claire likes to draw funny cartoons and brings home a new comic book from 1st grade at least once a week; Rachel is very good at drawing girls in dresses surrounded by butterflies, flowers, and rainbows. Claire is the life of any party (on our photo card, see how many times you can spot Claire’s hands getting in on others’ photos) and makes new friends as easily as she laughs. She is taking piano lessons and learning how to read, but still prefers to have stories read to her. Rachel is very happy to have made one good friend in her 4K class. She tells stories about everybody in her class, but with her particular blend of bashfulness and stubbornness, it took her about 2 months to start saying “Good Morning” out loud to her teacher every morning.

Luke (2) “plays with purpose” according to one of the nursery workers at church.  Most days he’s got his shopping cart or wagon full of cars, musical instruments, his favorite books, some horses, and two babies stuffed in for good measure. He loves to imitate his sisters, dote on his brother, and does some pretty hilarious dancing when asked. Caleb (6 months) is sweet and friendly, and will smile at anyone who makes eye contact with him. He’s hungry and growing quickly!

Paul celebrated 5 years at Gateway Community Church this summer and we continue to be blessed by the good friends we worship with each week at Gateway. Paul stays busy with counseling, discipleship, and leading Bible studies and middle school youth group each week. This year we installed a new playground at the church and were grateful to hire a new worship director this fall. She has been a great fit for our church and a blessing to our family by taking a lot off of Paul’s plate.

I (Laura) continue to stay home with the kids, read and write as much as I can while the kids sleep, and take advantage of every opportunity to get out of the house and meet friends. Paul took me on an unforgettable trip to Vancouver for our 10th anniversary where I got to take a class from one of my favorite writers in the mornings, and we could enjoy the beautiful scenery of mountains, ocean, and forests in the afternoons (with Caleb in tow the whole time!) Though there are some crazy moments at our house at least once a day, by the end of each day I’m grateful to be doing what I am doing for this season of our lives!

 

With love,

Paul, Laura, Claire, Rachel, Luke, and Caleb Lundgren

Joy in Repetition

 

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I’ve been hearing the Christmas story over and over since I was a little girl and I don’t remember ever being shocked by it. As a child I took it for granted that Sure! God could make a virgin give birth and what the heck? Why not in a barn in Bethlehem. And if he wanted angels to announce the birth, shepherds to bear the good news, and kings to travel afar, why not? He’s God!

So for many years, I have gone on quests to find new imaginative takes on the Christmas story in an effort to truly understand how shocking this story is. Has there ever been a more epic birth? With angelic birth announcements, cosmic lights beckoning guests from another country, and a death threat hanging over the baby’s head from birth? If I hadn’t heard it a billion times by now, I think I would find it fascinating. And then to realize that this is not a story being told like some myth made up by a wise old storyteller, but that the people in the story were real people and the events historical events that actually happened? That ought to be shocking.

But I have heard it a billion times already. And I find it *sorry* a little boring to hear the same story over and over again when there are so many new books to read.

I find this happens to me often with the Bible. I grew up on Moses and Noah and Jonah, so their stories no longer shock me the way, I think, they must have shocked the people who lived through them. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to read the whole thing for the first time as an adult, an experience perhaps some of you have had. How shocking! How puzzling! How mysterious and wonderful!

I’ve read a few books written by lifelong atheists who became believers as adults who say they were amazed when they first read God’s word because the Bible speaks with such unequivocal authority. This is the same reaction many had to Jesus’ teaching, as recorded by 3 of the 4 gospel writers (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32). “Who is this man who speaks with such authority?” His words are shocking and refreshing to the hearer who has never heard them before. Sometimes I fear my own familiarity with the words of God has robbed me of some joy in discovering it for the first time.

It’s not that the message is any less important or astounding, it’s just that it doesn’t FEEL astounding. I find myself tempted to ignore the text and read someone else’s words about God rather than his own words, turning to devotionals or blog posts or outstanding speakers to try to FEEL the story in the way that I want to.

But even as I embrace reading poetry, devotionals, and good books written by Christians I admire, I have come to realize that if I find the word of God boring, it’s not because it is boring. It is because I’m bored with it. The phrase in French for I’m bored (Je m’ennui) actually translates to “I bore myself.” This is such a perfect little phrase. If I’m bored, it is not God’s fault. My boredom does not reveal some flaw or shortcoming in the word. Rather, it reveals my weakness in that I am addicted to entertainment and novelty. I crave newness because it feels exciting. Usually my craving for newness reveals that I am more focused on my experience then on the truth. Yes, I believe the word of God is true, but I want it to make me feel a certain way. But the more I focus on “How does the scripture make me feel?” the more my focus is on me, and the harder it is to produce these feelings.

I’ve been reflecting this season on the thrill of newness in light of a book I just read that has been part of a larger transformation in my thinking about the scripture. This book is called None Like Him, and in it Jen Wilkin walks through 10 attributes of God that belong ONLY to God. As she walks through these attributes, she continually reminds her readers that because these attributes belong ONLY to God, by learning about God we can learn something about our own limitations. In one chapter, Jen describes how God is all-knowing so for him, there is nothing new. God is unchanging and all knowing, so he never learns anything new. He never experiences that short-lived thrill of finding out something he didn’t know before or seeing something from a new angle. Anything “new” we produce is made up of the elements on the planet that he invented in the first place, and anything beautiful we produce derives its beauty and order from ideas he put in the minds of those who produce these new things. The unceasing onslaught of “news” events seem important to us, but none of them is news to God or changes his plans for our planet. He inspired the writer of Ecclesiastes who coined the jaded phrase “Nothing new under the sun.”

For someone like me who loves NEW ideas, that makes it sound like God’s existence must be pretty boring. But I love G.K. Chesterton’s words on the joy God must get from repetition. Chesterton compares God’s enthusiasm for repetition to the way children rejoice in more of a good thing. Chesterton says:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorite writers. For me, he has been a thinker whose ideas have consistently helped me to experience the truth of Christianity in fresh new ways when I get tired of the repetition. And this quote continually reminds me that God never tires of telling the same old story or in offering the same old grace and forgiveness. Thank God.

My kids love repetition. They love to do the same thing over and over and over, which wears me out. Some of Claire’s first words were “Do it again” and her brother Luke is now at the age where he is learning to say (in his own way) “Again!” So we do the same jokes, songs, games over and over with him.

And I have to admit that when it comes to Christmas traditions, I love the repetition, too. I like to haul out the same ornaments and decorations. I like to bake the same cookies I made as a little girl. Perhaps because at Christmas I regain that childlike appetite for repetition. Ask Paul: I have a hard time resisting the temptation to recreate my entire childhood Christmas experience for my kids. I just loved Christmas so much as a little girl. I make him endure endless replays of the John Denver and the Muppets album for just that reason.

And just like I’ve loved passing on my love for this silly Christmas album to my kids, I’m learning the way to make Christmas new even in repetition. Because if there is one area in my life in which I like repetition, it is music. I don’t really want to find new music anymore. I know what I like already, thank you very much.

So I suppose I’m offering myself, and perhaps you, this comfort for Christmas: don’t worry if the story doesn’t feel new to you this year. Listen to it like a favorite song. Don’t tune out the retelling of the old story. If you already know all the words, then sing along. It was God’s idea to have us repeat these stories year after year.

And also, this: I have learned that the best way to make the story feel new is to share it with someone for whom it is news. I love the words of Philemon 1:6 which say “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” Our full knowledge of every good thing that we possess comes to us as we share our faith. Sharing this story with my children and with new believers renews my thrill of appreciation.

I’m reminded that before God helped his people escape from Egypt, he instituted a yearly tradition of remembrance both to help those who were about to experience it to remember, but also to help them pass this foundational story of His goodness to the next generation. He described a meal they were to have and a way they were to behave in preparing for that meal. He wanted these traditions woven into their yearly calendar because he wanted kids to grow up taking this story for granted, wanted kids to ask questions from their earliest days, to say “Why do we put lamb’s blood on the door, papa?” and “Why do we make our bread without yeast, mama?” He wanted every one to repeat this story and take it for granted as part of their back story.

And when Jesus himself came to Earth, the event we celebrate on Christmas, he ended his life just after another meal where he broke the bread and shared the cup, telling his disciples to repeat that meal in remembrance of him whenever they did it. Over and over, week after week after week. God wants us to remember and repeat. Some weeks we will feel the shock of it. Some weeks we won’t. But every time it will be true. And though I may have been drawn to Christ because of the way it made me feel, I have stayed with Christ because he is true.

I’ve been reading the whole Bible front to back again this year. There are “boring” parts, sure, but even the boring parts are true. And the more I read it, the more layers it adds to my understanding, like the rings of a tree. I want to live a life of long obedience in the same direction. I keep going back to the old story again and again to let it age me, let it grow me, so that the words become the words of my own thoughts, that the themes and connections of the story become more obvious, and the repetitions allow me to take for granted what is true. Yes, these repetitions help us take for granted who God is and what he has done. Out of all that repetition, I pray that God continually teaches me to see more clearly and treasure more dearly the oldest, most familiar truth there is.

So let’s read that old familiar story again together, to remind ourselves how good the good news is and to brush up the details as we prepare ourselves to share the old story with someone new.

Luke 2:1-21The Birth of Jesus Christ

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

   and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

 

(Written for Gateway Ladies Christmas gathering 2016.)

To Rachel

It took a lot of observation, a lot of waiting, a lot of writing and rewriting, but I think I’ve finally finished a poem that captures my sweet but mysterious Rachel. It’s called “Puzzling” in honor of her love for puzzles and the way she likes to discuss the patterns in our family and the attributes that make her an important piece of the whole.

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I’ve never been able to master the

Intrigue of silence.

The way it leaves space

Compels others to speak their piece

Show their hand, waste their breath.

The way it hesitates.

 

But you know how to bide

How to look as if you’re giving up

Then go find another gate.

 

And how to hide—

How to transform ordinary objects

By holding them behind your back

Until you find an audience who can appreciate.

 

You do not resist the cut that carves a curve from you

So that others can snap into place.

You know how to accommodate.

 

I take for granted, forget or neglect

The very things that captivate you.

 

I don’t know how to pray for you

Because I don’t know what forces compel you,

How or why or what motivates.

 

I get the idea that every object you bring me in a hidden hand

Is a clue.

 

So I just pray, again and again,

I won’t fail to appreciate

The detail that captivates

You.

Dear Younger Me

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Though it is not an age you’ve ever really looked forward to, you will eventually turn 33. You probably think there is nothing to look forward to about being 30-something. If you could look ahead, you might even roll your eyes at the cliche suburban mom you’ve become. (“Oh, a minivan? How original.”)

But it’s not that bad. I promise.

What they don’t tell you when you’re young is that you get to decide how to measure your life. Sure, it may not measure up to someone else’s standard, but it doesn’t have to. You can’t win at everything, dear. (And yes, I know you hate the condescension of being called dear. Get over yourself.)

I have a facebook friend with a wall full of little glass jars of sand collected from beaches all over the world. Every few months, it seems, she and her husband are off to another exotic beach. That’s her way to measure her life. It isn’t yours.

I have friends who have careers, who make more money than their husbands and are always well-dressed. I have friends who have 5 or 6 children and still manage to get adorable photos of all of them in matching outfits. I have friends who have no children and no husband who seem always to be reading something new and interesting. I have friends who have children and husbands and careers and still manage to run crazy mileage per week… and I have hardly run since 3 pregnancies ago. You simply can’t compete with all of them.

That’s okay because the good news is? Life isn’t a competition against other women.

Whew. That’s hard to say even at the ripe old age of 33. It’s hard to acknowledge how much that competitiveness has driven me, still drives me even after I recognize it has no hold on me.

Competing with other women turns everyone into your enemy, especially those who are doing better or doing more than you.

It will take planting a garden for you to realize the real enemy. The real enemy is weeds. Yes, this same world that is so full of beauty and promise and so good at perpetuating and sustaining human life, is also the world that produces weeds and decay and disaster. Don’t worry: you still buy most of your food at the grocery store. You haven’t turned into a canning pioneer woman… yet. (Is there a competition for that? Because you totally could win it. Just kidding.) But even in the process of growing a few vegetables and flowers and maintaining a raspberry patch, you will learn your true enemy is the blessed, blasted soil. Everything you need to sustain life is in that soil that soaks up the sun and the rain that are freely given year after year, yet everything that frustrates and hampers growth is also in that soil.

The world is cursed. You know this already, or at least you think you do. You know all about Adam and Eve and the curses they receive, the back-breaking labor that accompanies all planting and all childbearing. You’ve experienced the pain of childbirth and pregnancy four times now. (Really! Four kids! Did you ever think THAT would happen?)

Every endeavor you undertake will be a lot like planting seeds because the success of your endeavor will be dependent on precisely three things: the quality of the soil, the work you put in, and the mercy of God to provide the sun and the rain. By learning about gardening, you’ll find an analogy that helps you understand what it means to say that world is really and truly blessed and cursed in ways you haven’t imagined yet.


The Soil

Everyone has their own patch of Earth to work with. These are the givens in your life–the talents and energy you’ve been given, the amount of money and time you have to work with, the raw materials you have access to. I would even include in this category the people you can depend on: in your case, your family, friends, and your generous church family. Some people have natural advantages in this category but it is really no use comparing. And while you can change some of it (like a farmer could bring in a big load of fertilizer), much of your success comes in learning to make the most of the life you’ve been given. And not unlike gardening, you’ll find it is sometimes the really smelly stuff, the seeming garbage, that enriches your life and prepares you for productivity.


The Work

Here’s the thing you will be tempted to think determines all your success. If you just put in the work, you’ll succeed, right? Well, sometimes. You can get a long way on hard work. And success in any endeavor requires a lot of quiet, determined behind-the-scenes work. You’re not afraid of that. The mystery is that even those who’ve put in the hard work, sometimes don’t see the results they want, so you also have to learn to rest. There is a certain pride in working hard, a certain sense that everything depends on your effort. But this kind of hard work fails to take into account the importance of…


The Mercy

Listen, farmers know this better than anyone. You can have the best soil and be the hardest worker, but your success or failure rests on having the right kind of weather. You need enough but not too much rain, and enough but not too much sun. Even more mysteriously, your success really depends on the invisible seeming impossibility of a seed bursting out with roots and stem, and learning to bear new life ALL BY ITSELF. When God multiplies your efforts with his gifts, your seeds can yield a harvest 30, 60, even a 100 times what you’ve planted! This is true in life, as well. Every endeavor is mysteriously dependent on factors you can’t control and on invisible processes you can’t force. This is what you need most to learn, I’m afraid.

You must learn to work the earth and watch the sky. And wait. And do it again tomorrow.

Even harder, you must learn to put in a good days’ work then rest. You’ll never feel you’ve done enough to earn your rest, but remember that rest is given not earned.

Harder still, you must learn that sometimes good things simply fall from the sky without your work, and you must have the humility to accept them. This is the humiliating and wonderful reality of being a pastor’s wife. Sometimes you simply can’t afford, can’t create, don’t have time or energy or resources to produce some thing that you need. You will learn to accept gifts from the hands of generous, loving people. This sounds easy, right? But it isn’t. It’s humbling to feel so dependent on others. To not be in a position to pay people back.

This is where your true power lies–in prayer. You have access to the merciful God of heaven who makes the earth yield it’s harvest. You learn that even when you feel invisible to the world, stuck in the four walls of your house and buried in laundry, you still can pray in a way that reaches to the ends of the universe. You can pay people back through prayer. You can ask for what you need when you can’t seem to produce it yourself through prayer. The answers will surprise you.

And when it comes to raising your kids, well, prayer is the work. You serve them with your prayers–your prayers are the way that you feed and clothe and teach–but you also pray for the years to come when they won’t need you to serve them. (Note to older me: When your kids no longer need your service, your prayer is your work. Don’t forget.)


The Weeds

There has to be a more elegant way to express these ideas (a poem, perhaps?) but here’s the metaphor: the earth that produces life-sustaining goodness also produces frustrations galore. Even at 33, I’m still thinking that I can just find some magic solution to just prevent the stupid weeds from growing. Every year I have renewed hope that I’ve found a weed solution. Every year I grow more weeds than seeds.

I always envy beautiful gardens and wonder how the gardeners manage to create such beauty and order in their plot of ground. I get competitive. I get defensive about my garden (I have a million excuses why my garden seems to grow more weeds.) My enemy is not my neighbor with the beautiful garden. My enemy is the same as theirs–the weeds. Get out there and tear out weeds instead of wasting time comparing gardens. Ask for help or advice if you want, but instead of resenting them their beauty, try complimenting it instead. It will be good for your soul to learn how hard it is to grow good things and thus what an accomplishment it is when your neighbor succeeds. Celebrate that.

The weeds are the sins already in your heart. They aren’t something that comes from others. Your weeds are pride–always pride–and competitiveness. These choke out the good things that God is trying to grow. Your weeds are bitterness and envy which grow like thistles do: when you’re not looking. Before you know it, you realize you’ve let it grow up all over the place. And once it takes root, it is almost impossible to remove. Your weeds are easy frustration and a hare-trigger anger reflex that can overreact to anything. You aren’t going to eliminate the potential for weeds, but you can get better at recognizing and removing them earlier and earlier.

I suppose this is all I’ve really been trying to say: Your work counts. Your effort matters. But it isn’t the only thing that matters. When you look around at the world and see people succeeding at all sorts of different things, recognize and applaud their work and its beautiful results. (Choke down your pride and give compliments to other people. It doesn’t hurt as much as you think it will!) But in your heart, recognize and understand that it isn’t just the amount of work that sets your lives apart. It’s also the plot of ground you’ve each been given, the mercy from heaven you’ve each been given. And you all have your own sets of frustrations to work against. Don’t bother trying to compete.


 

Your oldest daughter Claire asked you to play the game of Life last night and you did. (Yay you! You set aside dishes, laundry, and your own hobbies to spend time with her!) This game is stupid because you “win” by getting more money than other people. It is also stupid because everyone has to make the same choices at the same time in Life (time to buy a house!) and because there are some choices you don’t get to make (I hate when I land on a spot that tells me to install a $30,000 home gym??!)

So you get to the end of the game and Claire asks “Did I win?” and you say… “No. I have way more money than you.” (Finally a competition you can win! Board games against 6 year olds!)

And you immediately regret it because there are so many better ways to measure a life than retirement savings.

So don’t live your life like it is some stupid board game. Go out there and plant the seeds you want to grow and wait to see what you and the ground and God can produce. Trust me, you’ve got a lot to look forward to…

 

To Claire (As Daring as Dandelions)

You insist on being noticed wherever you appear

Optimistic yellow in a sea of green

 

I had a teacher who told me

They were only weeds if you didn’t want them.

That even dandelions could belong in a bouquet

If you invited them.

 

You seek them out, stopping to collect them from hillsides and curbs,

Wherever they thrive away from the attentions of more fastidious gardeners.

I receive them by the handful

With a practiced false enthusiasm you can already see right through.

 

Is it to my shame that I’ve tried to mow you down?

Be quiet. Sit still. Don’t argue.

 

So here is an invitation

for the girl who doesn’t need one:

 

Go ahead and bloom.

Let them mutter. Even me.

And when you decide it is time to move on, don’t

Bend over in defeat the way the peonies do

Or shrivel on the stem

Or drop your petals one by one.

No, at night, when no one is looking,

Transform yourself into something lighter than air,

And then wait for it…