resting and Spirit

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months trying to decide if I should be still or move forward, letting His strength be made perfect in my weakness. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense… I actually can’t tell when to sleep and when to stay awake. Sometimes it’s clear: it’s Saturday afternoon and Andrew is home. There’s work to be done, but I can no longer function. Nap is an easy choice. Or: it’s 9 am and the two littles both need a bath for diaper-related reasons. The big two are fighting. I can barely function, but the choice is made for me: I push.

But what about the more questionable times? I have an afternoon where the babies are down and the girls are watching shows. There are a million things to do. The house is making me crazy with how behind I feel, and it’s cutting into my peace. I feel tired, but not completely nonfunctional. A nap is an option, but it’s not going to be high-quality on the futon with How To Train Your Dragon playing. Or I could knock out some of the things that are driving me nuts, but also potentially sap my ability to manage bedtime in a few hours.

I’ve looked at scripture. There’s no clear template to tell me when I should rest and when I should push. So I look at Jesus. He did both, but again, there isn’t a really obvious way to determine under what circumstances he did which. I don’t know when to honor God’s design of my body with its cues and when to honor the life he’s given me by living it rather than sleeping through it.

Somebody, PLEASE JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

And then I remember that Somebody can.

My theology of the Holy Spirit is relatively solid, but my application has been extraordinarily weak. I come from a cessationist tradition (so “sign gifts” like prophecy and tongues were definitely not a thing) and any actual interaction with the Spirit felt suspect. While I no longer hold  that piece of  theology, I still carry a lot of “who do you think you are?” when I want to ask Jesus about day-to-day stuff.

But here’s the thing. I have to ask about it, because He didn’t spell out in scripture whether I should nap or work this afternoon. And I actually need to know, more or less constantly. Sure, I can make the call on my own (I often do), but it feels arbitrary to do so when I really could go either way. We’re talking about my use of time, and I only get so much per day. There’s never really a great surplus. My sister mentioned how nice it would be if God had included an appendix in the Bible for stuff like this: “Hey, guys! This part doesn’t have much to do with salvation, but here’s some helpful information on how to navigate areas not specifically covered in the rest of my book.”

But he didn’t give me rules. He gave me a relationship.

And isn’t that the gospel all over again? I want the law, because the law feels safe and followable. Never mind that safe can’t save… I want boxes to check. But the Law has been fulfilled (by Someone else, because it feels like I could follow it, but I would never be able to) and what I have is GOD HIMSELF. In me. And me in him.

So I’m slowly learning to make peace with this very awkward practice of asking Jesus pretty basic questions and actually expecting a response. I’m not at all good at it yet. A couple months ago, I had an intense and important conversation with a dear friend and we had precisely 90 minutes and could. not. waste. any. Throughout the conversation, I had this ongoing side dialogue with the Holy Spirit going on. “I have a thought. Should I share that? Was that You or me? You or me? You or me? You gotta tell me… You. But not yet. Okay. I’ll hold it.” It was clumsy and ridiculous, but God honored my bumbling and was glorified in that 90 minutes.

I don’t know how to do this “walking in the Spirit” thing. I don’t know how long it will be before I do. I suspect it’s one of those things that doesn’t get perfected this side of Heaven. But I do know this is the way I should be headed.

Relationship over rules, you guys. Even when rules seem easier.

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the worst easter ever

Someday, I will have my Easter stuff in order. The kids will have fun Easter-related activities. I will remember to read the book of Lenten kid devotionals I bought three years ago and have yet to touch. I will actually figure out what I need for dinner before Easter afternoon and we will have something other than pasta shells and sauce, prepared my kind husband who has been working his tail off for Easter service stuff all week.

This year, it didn’t happen.

(Those are definitely last year’s eggs.)

I was driving home from our church’s Easter service with the kids, feeling pretty happy about everything. We’d made it on time, Brian did well in the nursery, the girls didn’t make a scene in the service.  (Not a big one, at any rate. We’re always kind of a spectacle… it happens when you have preschoolers who aren’t into Sunday School.) The kids were happy (thanks to Randy’s ENORMOUS flower sugar cookies that they look forward to every year.)

Jenna started chattering from the back.

“I LOVE Easter. You know why? Because we get COOKIES and we get to DYE eggs and LOOK for them. The plastic ones that have jobeans in them.” [Jobeans are jelly beans in our house. Because Katherine.]

I look nervously in the rear view mirror. “Um… Well, you got cookies! …I didn’t actually get as far as doing anything at all with eggs. Not the kind you dye or the kind with jobeans in them. But you got cookies! And we did resurrection rolls yesterday!”

And then everything falls apart. There are tears. Genuine five-year-old heartbreak over dashed hopes and dreams. Offers to pay her own money for eggs if Mama would please just make an extra stop. (Nope.)

“This is the WORST. EASTER. EVER.”

And now I’m frustrated. A touch defensive. The reasons I didn’t get as far as doing eggs are many. They include making meals for other people and, you know, growing a baby sister in my body while keeping the other three alive and holding things together at home while Andrew has a Very Hectic Week. Also? Eggs are not biblical requirements. They just aren’t.

“Jenna, can you please find a thankful heart? Can you be glad that there were ginormous cookies? Can the fact that, I don’t know, JESUS ISN’T DEAD and he saved us from our sins make this a good day?”

(More tears.) “No. Because that’s exciting to grownups, but for kids, it just means we have to sit for a really long time.” (…said every five-year-old, ever.)

And now I’m a failure on both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, I hate that I didn’t get myself together enough to do eggs. They’re five and almost four. Of course they want/anticipate/expect eggs. It just isn’t that hard. What is my problem? On the other, how did my normally very spiritually attuned daughter come to the conclusion that dying eggs she’ll refuse to eat is more exciting than the fact that Jesus is alive?!?


 

My own words convict me.

“…can the fact that… I don’t know… JESUS ISN’T DEAD… make today a good day?”

My car is in the shop and my garage door opener with it, so I’m driving a loaner. I get home from this frustrating eight-minute drive and go into the garage to let myself in. The kids are still buckled. Instead of immediately opening the garage, I throw a tantrum and phone a friend. Who laughs at me. (Deservedly so.) “This isn’t an epic mom fail. It’s an epic mom story. You know that, right?”

Here I am, having my own “worst Easter ever,” upset because Jenna’s being… five.

Meanwhile… Hello, JESUS ISN’T DEAD.

And that should mean something.

It should mean everything.

The sermon was about this being of “first importance.”

And so I choose to let the day reset itself. Jesus is alive. The eggs don’t matter. There’s grace for Jenna being a five-year-old. The fact that I don’t have what I need to make the ham in my fridge for dinner isn’t a problem. Ham on Resurrection Sunday is not any more biblically mandated than eggs. Shells and sauce will be fine. There’s grace for episodes of Curious George while I nap. I don’t need to frantically work to boil eggs to placate the preschoolers or fuss and fret about procuring plastic eggs and jelly beans at 3 on an Easter afternoon.

Jesus is alive.

Everything is fine.

There is no such thing as the worst Easter ever.

 

missing the mark

The moon was low over the ocean and nearly full, shining like a spotlight on the water.

No, really. Like a literal spotlight on the water, with a huge bright patch out toward the horizon. I’d never seen anything like it before, to be honest. Possibly because I live in the state with the most coastline (by far) but smack in the middle, so I’m 6 hours from any ocean. I’ve since noticed the sun does a similar thing toward sunset (and probably just past sunrise, if I were East-facing) but it seems cooler when everything else is dark.

Two mornings ago, I was driving to coffee around 6 and couldn’t miss this sight down the hill. It made me want to cry, honestly. And I’m not typically much of a crier. (Please don’t try to verify that with my husband- his definition of “crier” isn’t especially generous.) I’m not sure if I was feeling a little weepy from the beauty or from the panic that comes with the inability to keep it… I had no camera besides my phone with me, and I knew I’d never do it justice, even with the best gear.

But, again, wonder. Curiosity and awe. The awe was there, but I was curious what I’d catch if I gave it a go. So yesterday, I went down with my camera around 6. The moon was a little higher and smaller, so the effect was less dramatic, but it was actually full and still beautiful.

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Looking at it now, it’s not a terrible shot, I suppose. Not especially stunning, but certainly could be worse.

But if you’d seen it, you’d know how completely disappointing this is. The scene was glorious. This is… ok.

I went to coffee pretty irritated with myself, actually. I wish I’d brought a tripod. (I used the corner post of a gate to steady the camera for the long exposure.) I wish I had a remote shutter release so I didn’t bump the camera when I pushed the button. (A friend asked last night why I didn’t just use the timer. …Because I didn’t think of it, that’s why.) My training and experience is limited. I could probably have done slightly better with a full-sized sensor and a lens that costs more than my first car, too. But even if we solved all those problems, there’s really no way I could’ve done justice to the glory God was painting for just anyone who was up early and near the ocean to see.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23. That’s what came to mind. (I realize this sounds pretentiously pious. I’m sorry.) 

The word “sin” has archery origins… it’s missing the mark. Not a perfect bull’s eye. To be clear, to take this verse and apply it directly to photography is a terrible mishandling of Scripture. But I was so acutely aware of my complete inability to capture the glory I saw, and it was a vivid picture to me of just how much I cannot, under any circumstances, in any way, ever be good enough to “deserve” anything good from God.

It isn’t about the good outweighing the bad.

I just can’t get there from here.

But I can’t, in good conscience, quote Romans 3:23 that way. That isn’t what the verse says. Punctuation matters.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

That’s what the verse says. The first letter isn’t the beginning, and there is no period at the end. Romans 3:23 is a fragment in the middle of one of Paul’s characteristically long sentences. Let’s look at the whole paragraph. (Better yet, the whole chapter or book, but for the sake of space, we’ll “think paragraphs” as the book I just read suggests.)

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. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 

(Romans 3:21-26, NIV. Emphasis mine.)

We’re all the same. We have all sinned. we do all fall short of God’s glory… And. 

“And” is kind of a big deal here. (And by “kind of a big deal,” I definitely mean “ACTUALLY the biggest deal there is, as far as humankind is concerned.” ) 

We can’t get there from here. But God sent a rescuer to make it possible. We’re “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I’m still disappointed in the pictures I took yesterday. But I wonder if the inability of mere mortals to fully capture or reproduce God’s handiwork isn’t, at least in part, to point us to our need for grace. God makes sunrises, sunsets, gorgeous moons on oceans, little flowers that nobody ever sees… every day. And I can’t perfectly capture any of it. And, as good as some photographers and artists are, they can’t either. The very best efforts from the most talented people can’t quite match the kind of artistry God produces every day, all over the world. He’s totally other.

But also, He makes a way for us to be with Him.

It’s grace. (And somehow, even “grace” feels like too small a word. How can this be the same word that we use for saying “Thank you, Jesus, for this food, Amen.” before a meal?)


 

Is this new to you? Do you not know what I’m talking about?

This is a big freaking deal. I don’t know how else to say it. I know if “sin” and “redemption” and “Jesus” (in the proper sense, talking about a person) are not part of your regular vocabulary, a lot of this sounds like religious nuttery. But if I have your attention for just another second, I have to tell you about it. Not because I’m right and you’re wrong, but because eternity is a long time and I’d like to hang with you in Heaven for it. (Also, Heaven isn’t boring like the pictures of angels and harps.)

So… in a nutshell…

God is real.

So are sin and hell.

Being “good enough” isn’t a thing. We seriously can’t get there from here.

But God loves you. And He wants YOU. (I know. That sounds ludicrous. But it’s true.) So He made a way for you to be with Him.

(It gets crazier.)

God is good. Perfect, in fact. And He has to punish sin, and that punishment is death. In a spiritual, forever, super sad and scary sense.

But Jesus (who is-and, again, I realize this makes not a lot of sense- God’s Son, and fully God) came to Earth, was punished for our wrongs, our inability to be perfect, and rose again, proving he wins over sin and death.

You don’t have to pay for all the things you’ve ever done wrong! Yay!

So… Here’s all there is to it: talk to God. Tell him you know you’ve missed the mark and can’t be good enough. Ask him to take away your sins and save you. He gives you the Holy Spirit. (Some more crazy: also God. The third person of the Trinity. One God, three distinct persons. No, I don’t really get it, either.) The Holy Spirit makes it possible for you to follow Jesus and do what he says (though still imperfectly, for now.) Since God created us, living the way he recommends is actually the recipe for the fullest, most abundant life, so, while this might look like a loss, it isn’t.

More questions? I don’t blame you. I don’t explain it especially well. (More evidence of my ineptitude at capturing.) Talk to a friend who loves Jesus and believes the Bible is true. Or talk to me. I’d love to discuss it more with you, if this is something you’re interested in learning more about.