Hard and Holy Faith

Hanging-By-a-ThreadSome days, faith is easy. That’s because some days, faith is just there, untested, a kind of snuggly blanket that makes you feel good.

But some days– some days faith is the one thin string that is keeping you from plummeting down the sheer face of an unforgiving mountain. And some days, faith is the desperate prayer that when that thin string snaps, there will be a net at the bottom of that very long fall.

It is in this hard place that my mama heart hangs right now. This adjustment– from homeschooling to school buses, from leisurely mornings to early ones with lots of don’t forgets and hurry, pleases, from me being in control of how my kids spend their days and what they learn and where they sit and who they hang out with– this is a big adjustment, and it is hard.

It is hard to see my son struggling with all the big adjustments that come for every freshman in high school, made worse by the fact that every single part of going to school is a big adjustment.

And what it comes down to is, do I trust my Father?

Do I trust that His Word is true, not just for me, but for my children?

Do I trust that He is the God of beauty from ashes, the Giver of good and perfect gifts, the One who works all things together for good?

Do I trust that He goes with my children and watches over them, making a way for them, lifting them up when they stumble, just as He does for me?

Do I trust that it is the trying of my children’s faith that will produce patience, completeness, and maturity within them? That the easy road, that easy snuggly warm blanket of feel-good faith is not what is best for my babies?

Today it took faith to send my kids out the door to walk to the bus stop. I’m not going to lie. What felt right to my mama heart was to clutch them to myself, to retie the apron strings, to cling desperately and keep them home.

When I started homeschooling, it took faith that God was going to teach me and help me do the hard work of educating my children, of spending all my days with them. And now, in a new season, it takes much greater faith to do the hard work of sending them away, of not being in control of everything, of believing that whatever happens to them, they are in the hands of a good and loving Father.

I say I believe God is good, that He is sovereign in my kids’ lives and has a plan for them that will end in beauty and glory. But if I fail to follow the way He shows me, I do not have faith. This is where James’ hard words– that faith without works is dead— have their meaning. Faith is living the hard and holy truth of God’s promises.

Today, that meant hugging my kids one last time and sending them out the door and down the front steps and knowing that they are not alone, for even one second. The God who sees me right now also sees R in his third period science class and G out at her morning recess. He cares for them so much more than I ever could.

Today, faith meant turning to the work of my day– hunkering down at the dining room table and digging into math and grammar with my middle son, trusting that this work is what I am meant to do today, that this work is just as good and worthwhile is teaching all three of them was last year.

Today, faith is a thin strand that is holding tight to a big and powerful God, a God who loves me and loves my kids. A God who loves you.

I don’t know what hard thing you are facing today, but I bet you’re facing a hard thing. Because life is hard, and we do not grow if we are not forced to push up through the hard and find the God whose glory waits on the other side. Sometimes we can’t see Him. Sometimes we catch only tiny glimpses. We must still look. We must still trust.

We must live and speak and make choices in a way that shouts from the rooftops– I believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised.

This is faith, and just when it seems that thin string will break, we discover His hands have been holding us up all the time.

Favorite Mommy

She’s my best girl and I’m her favorite mommy, and yesterday, with her backpack on her back and her tummy a little fluttery, she told me she was too big to hold my hand. I took it with good grace, I guess. We were walking into her new school to meet her new teacher and leave her new folders and pencils and glue in her new desk, and it’s only natural that she would look around at all those other kids and notice that none of them– except a few tiny ones– were holding their mom’s hands.

Growing up is natural and good and not a tragedy. But man, there are times when it gut-punches a mom who has been privileged to keep her baby little just a little big longer.

new deskWe made our slightly confused way into the labyrinth of our daughter’s new school. It’s all new and different for us; she’s the only third grader whose mom feels like she’s at Kindergarten orientation. We find her classroom, and her desk is right there in a cluster of three, with her name, like a million other third graders’ names, written neatly on a tag at the top. We meet her teacher.

She is a little older than me– her youngest is in my oldest’s class– and she’s been teaching for years. She is kind but not gushy, and she seems willing to try to put us at ease without being willing to baby us– we are not, after all, first-time school parents, bringing their tiny five-year-old in for her first year of school.

Except we are. Somehow I manage not to fling myself on this poor woman’s neck in a weepy entreaty to please love my daughter and be patient with her and forgive me if I hate her just a tiny little bit for taking the place of teacher in my little girl’s life.

On the way out of the elementary side of the building and into the secondary side to get a locker and a laptop for my oldest, at least three different people tell my daughter that her new teacher is wonderful. “She’s the best,” one lady says. You don’t have to tell G twice. She’s already a little bit smitten.

She has been so nervous, but now she is just a bouncy little ball of thrill and excitement. She can’t wait for Wednesday, can’t wait to sit at her desk across from a girl whose first name is my daughter’s middle name. She can’t wait to find out what it’s like to ride the bus, eat in the cafeteria, hang her backpack up on the special hook just for her. She can’t wait to let Mrs. K teach her.

And I’m really glad, y’all. Really, really glad, because this whole transition is proving hard enough on this mama without my daughter being a huge mess of I-don’t-want-to-go-ness.

But she didn’t want to hold my hand. And she told me, in a whispery nervous way, that she thought maybe Mrs. K was the best teacher, and not me, even though she loved me very much.

I’ll always be her favorite mommy, I guess, but I think I’ve been supplanted as her favorite teacher.

Trusting God’s good hand as my kids grow is a hard and beautiful thing, and right now it’s hard more than beautiful. In each stage our relationship changes, and what it means to be my kids’ mom changes. And that change isn’t bad, but it hurts a little bit.

Today, I think about tomorrow, and I take my daughter for a haircut and I buy my son new socks and I make waffles for lunch, and I cry into my Bible in the morning and my laptop in the afternoon. Tomorrow, I will pose for the silly first-day-of-school shots and I will hug my leaving kids and try to educate my staying kid and I imagine that he will be tired of my tears as we review math facts and dig into American history.

Tomorrow will be a long day, as I wait to hear all about third grade and ninth grade– did she make it okay between bathroom breaks? Did he manage to get his locker open and to find his way to science class?

But they will come home to me. I will still be their mom, even if I’m not their Teacher.

And I will still be their teacher, because I am their mom.

Their favorite mommy, even.

On the way back to the car, G forgot she was too big to hold my hand.

Thunderstorms, Pavlov’s Dogs, and One Sleepless Night

(A Tale of Motherhood)

Last night, there was a thunderstorm in Tiny Town. Actually there was this random long series of storms and not-storms, with lightning and thunder rumbles, then quiet, then more lightning and thunder rumbles, then quiet. Then a huge crash that sent me flying out of bed to check on my daughter. She was fine. My heart was pounding.

It’s been probably 12 years since my oldest started being afraid of storms, and since then I’ve always had a kid afraid of them– till this year. G doesn’t love them, exactly, but she also doesn’t cry and freak out anymore. It doesn’t matter. I have been trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, and now I am wide awake with the first rumble, every nerve tense, waiting to be hauled out of bed by a crying child.

I guess maybe this is a picture of motherhood in general, really. They need us for every little thing and then suddenly they don’t and they can’t understand why we are checking in on them when they’re taller than we are and it’s storming at night, or wanting to know why we insist on knowing where they’re going when they leave the house. They will never understand that it’s because just yesterday– I’m quite sure of it– they couldn’t even burp without our help.

This morning at 2:20 or so the storm started, and our bedroom window was open. The curtains were blowing all over the place, and the rain was pouring, and the thunder and lightning rumbled and flashed in an almost continual rhythm– not loud, but constant.

Suddenly– “MOM!” I rolled over just in time to see my daughter’s form silhouetted in our doorway, lit from behind by a particularly bright flash. Art and I both jumped and I may have yelped.


When next I saw my child, after I had recovered my composure and could breathe again, she was curled up in her bed, back to the door– to me– with her quilt over her head, ignoring my middle-of-the-night super patient mommy voice asking her what she needed. After a couple of attempts, I pulled the blanket back from her face and asked if she needed something. She opened one eye and squinted at me accusingly. “Why did you yell at me?” Her feelings were hurt.

I lovingly (of course– it was 2:30 in the morning after all!) explained that it’s not fair to be mad at people for their startled responses when you sneak up on them in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm and scare them half to death. I asked if she needed something and she said not really, she just was kind of scared of the storm and thought I should know.

Of course.

I had just dozed back off– about an hour later– when the aforementioned huge clap of thunder shot me out of bed like a clown out of a cannon.

Another hour– 4:24– and I had just entered a lovely dream sequence when I heard my angel’s voice again. “Mom!” I stumbled down the hallway.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“I can’t sleep.”

Me neither.

So Much Bitter, So Much Sweet

Once upon a time, I broke a longish blog silence with a post about homeschooling, public schooling, and depression. And I sat back and wondered . . . what will people say?

Honestly, most of the time people don’t say much about my blog posts. Maybe I’ll get a couple of likes, a couple of comments on Facebook. Sometimes it really bugs me. Sometimes I don’t worry about it. But if you talk about school choices, life changes, and meds, you never know. In the circle I live in, there are a lot of people who would consider public schooling and even mentioning medication in relation to depression to be controversial, if not downright sinful.

Thankfully, I have the most amazing friends. Friends who have reached out in so many ways to cheer me on and encourage me. Friends who have shared their experiences– with depression, with chronic illness, with public school, with making hard choices. Friends who have just offered such sweet words of love and advice and friendship.

This is what it’s supposed to be like, y’all. We can rip each other to shreds easily enough. Or we can see a person who is mourning– even a person whose grief is one we cannot fully understand— and we can cry with them. We can lift them up, be one more little stitch in the threads that are holding them together.

Last night, when I sat here typing all those words, I was grieving. Today I’m rejoicing. You know how these life transitions are– so much bitter, so much sweet. Today I am seeing the sweet, and a lot of that is because of the kindness of my people– unexpected people who have taken the time to reach out to me.

I am excited for my kids to go to school, to have opportunities I cannot give them in homeschooling. I’m excited for R to be able to take high school math and science from good, qualified teachers who actually understand chemistry and electricity and quadratic equations. I’m excited for G to be able to play sports and have a whole group of kids to play with every day at recess. I’m excited to teach S without distractions and time crunches.

I’m excited to have a little extra time to go calling with my husband and participate more in his ministry. I’m excited to volunteer at the school and show up with balloons on birthdays and make a super big obnoxious embarrassing fuss. I’m excited to cheer for the Vikings and to go to winter concerts and school plays. I’m excited to have a parent-teacher conference that doesn’t involve just talking to myself.

I’m excited to see what God is going to do in all of our lives as we learn new ways to trust Him, new ways to grow together, new ways to serve and laugh and reach out. I’m excited because I know that God has led us down this road and He is not going to fail. I’m excited to see where the road leads, to know it may lead through hard times and valleys but in the end it leads to what is good.

This morning I sat on the floor and labeled a pink binder, four spiral notebooks (one sparkly one with unicorns on it!), a box of crayons, a box of colored pencils, a pencil box. I labeled scissors and a puppy folder and a stripey lunchbox and a backpack covered in shooting stars. It’s sitting where I can see it– propped against the wall– ready for an eager and nervous third grader to carry it off to her classroom next week.

Today I ordered math curriculum and worked on a daily school schedule, and I discussed the fine art of lunch packing with a brand new high school freshman. And I read message after message of love and support. Life is changing– new flavors swirling into the already beautiful and rich life God has given us here in Tiny Town.

All of these things– backpacks and totes of homeschool materials and new gym shoes and friends who love me– are good gifts from my good God who loves me and my children and never fails me.

Bitter and sweet. Like a good cup of coffee with my favorite chocolate caramel creamer in it.

New school year? Bring it on.

Of Changes and Sorrow and Eyes Wide Open

My blog is a dusty, neglected corner of the internet these days, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Writing and I have had an increasingly complicated relationship recently. I know I need to be writing. I just don’t know what, or where. I’m lacking direction and it’s making me procrastinate and make excuses.

That’s neither here nor there. I decided to blow some of the cobwebs out of my blog tonight because things are changing in my family. Good changes? I think so. But honestly? Really hard changes. The kind of changes that keep you awake at night, that make you cry into your morning coffee.

Last school year was really hard for me. I struggled with depression basically from September through April, and I could barely function some days. I felt completely incapable of handling my life and the challenges of being a pastor’s wife, a homeschooling mom– honestly, just the challenges of getting dressed and making breakfast were almost more than I could handle some days. And Art and I started talking about ways we could ease up the pressure on me.

Through the wise counsel of friends and family, and through a lot of prayer and conversation, Art and I reached the decision to enroll two of our children in our local school this fall. After seven years of homeschooling two and then three kids, this year I will only be teaching our seventh grader. Next Wednesday, for the first time in their lives, two of my kids will get on a big yellow bus and head off to school.

I believe God led us to make this decision, and I believe it is the best decision for our kids and for our family and yes, for my own mental health. R, who is going to be a freshman this year, will almost definitely graduate from our local school. G, who is starting third grade, will have her situation reevaluated at the end of this year. If she thrives, as I fully expect she will, she’ll stay at public school. S, who is behind and needs some extra attention this year, may end up heading off for high school in a couple years, or not. Each child is different. We want to do what’s best for them.

And meanwhile– after a change in my meds, my depression has all but disappeared. We’ve had a lovely long summer because we finished early and didn’t start in July like we have in past years. I am excited for this new adventure for my kids, and for the opportunity to really pour into S and help him get caught up.

But I am mourning. I’m mourning the freedom of school-when-we-want-to, of choosing to take a day off and head to the park and call it a field trip. I’m mourning loss of the sweet joy it has been to be with these amazing kids, who I love so much, all day every day. I’m mourning the routines I’ve built up over all these years. I’m mourning the fact that I will no longer be the main voice my kids hear. I’m mourning month-long Christmas breaks and vacations in October. I’m mourning the simple words “homeschooling family.”

And, as much as I pray, I am afraid. Afraid we made the wrong choice. Afraid of peer pressure and immodest girls and bad friends, of third-grade-girl drama and driver’s ed and  my kids losing the sweetness that I love about them. Afraid that they’ll be too much like the other kids– and not enough like the other kids.

We are leaving one season of life– me and the kids with binders and flashcards at the kitchen table– and entering a new one, with bus schedules and lunchboxes and, oh yeah, me and one kid with binders and flashcards at the table. These transitions are hard, sometimes devastating to a mama heart.

But here is what I know. My God who loves me and has always faithfully cared for me also loves and faithfully cares for my kids. He will be with R in the locker room and with G on the playground. He will be with S and me and our pile of flashcards. He has a good plan along this new road we are taking. He does beautiful things, and He gives good gifts.

We’re going to plunge into this new path with eyes wide open, looking for Him at every turn.

Truth That Matters; Truth That Doesn’t

If the exact same words, spoken by God Himself, turn up in front of your eyes twice in the same day, you should probably sit up and take notice. Last week, it was these words–

But I will be with you.

I read it in Exodus, when God calls Moses and Moses cannot comprehend how he can ever do this work. And I read it again in Judges, when God calls Gideon and Gideon lists all the reasons he is the wrong guy for this job.

None of it matters. None of Moses’s fear or insecurity or inability. None of Gideon’s cowardice or lack of credentials or humble station in life. None of these things are important, because of this one thing–

I will be with you.

All of Moses’s fears were based in truth, and so were Gideon’s. But they were not based in the truth that really matters– the all-surpassing reality of the presence of God.

To both Moses and Gideon, God shows great love and compassion, proving as David knew that He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He gives them all the signs and tools they need to accomplish their tasks– miraculous assurances, clear instructions, promise of victory. He even maintains patience with Moses when he insists he can’t speak in front of people, providing Aaron as a spokesman. And He shows great mercy to Gideon, giving the sign of the fleece not once, but twice.

But He had already given them what they really needed.

I will be with you.

Everything else they thought they needed– all the assurances and signs and wonders and help– those things were given, but they were less than what they already had. They were bread and water when they had a banquet already spread before them. God equipped them, and met them where they were, and dealt with all their weaknesses and insecurities, but the truth is that He had already given them the most important thing. And I am forced to wonder, how many times have I cried out to God for a sign, for help, saying I can’t possibly do this without _______________, when I have already received all I need?

In the back of my mind I hear these words– But, Erin! I am already with you!

Here’s the thing. I believe God loves us to ask for help. He answers when we cry out to Him. He gives us everything we need, and often He gives us things we don’t really need because we are afraid and He delights to sooth our childish hearts. His love is tender and compassionate and He knows all our weaknesses. But as we grow, as we walk with Him daily through years of our lives, experiencing His daily presence and His daily mercies and His care and provision and protection, God expects us to learn to need less of the outer signs of His provision.

I think God desires us to learn the sweet sufficiency of Him alone.

He will always give us help in need, but I think He wants us to grow so that we remember and trust and live in the truth that He is all we truly need, and He is always with us..

When my sister was a baby just learning to walk, she would cruise around the room, like most babies do, holding tight to the couch or the chair or whatever furniture was there to help her. Eventually she stopped needing the support and balance that she got from the furniture, but she didn’t trust her own ability to walk unaided. She would race around the living room, one finger trailing lightly on the couch or the coffee table. And when she came to the place where there was nothing to hold onto, she would fall down on hands and knees and crawl. Her problem wasn’t her lack of ability, but her lack of faith.

And so it is with me. God gives me all this wonderful support– friends, family, daily blessings, spiritual mentors, and a sense of His presence. But now and then there are lonely places, empty places where I am that toddler standing on one edge of a furnitureless gap, trying to decide what to do. And so often, I fall on my hands and knees and crawl, crying the whole way, pleading for something to lean on, failing to recognize that I already have what I need. I have my God, and the testimony of His Word is sure– that regardless of my feelings or my situation, God is with me.

He will never leave me or forsake me.

Nothing can separate me from His love.

He is with me always, even to the end of the age.

Even in the scary places. Even when I can’t figure out how to get from here to there. Even when I feel inadequate, unworthy, hopeless, and unprepared. Those things may very well be true, but they do not matter.

The truths of my weaknesses and failings are completely swept away by this greater truth.

Yes, you are small. Yes, you are weak. Yes, you feel alone and things look hopeless. Yes, it is hard to see Me right now. But, My child, I am with you. And that’s all that matters.

In Case You Were Curious–

  1. Summer vacation is as amazing as I remember it being. Last year wasn’t as much a vacation as two months of insanity. This year has been much more chill so far. And that has been a beautiful thing.
  2. Change is hard. It’s hard to think about, hard to decide on, hard to embrace. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. But– deep breath. It’s time to dive in.
  3. I am reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray right now. It’s pretty amusing, if you like Victorian novels and satire.
  4. Speaking of reading and summer vacation– on Wednesday we got our summer reading challenge forms from the library. You can do stuff to get points, and the form goes up to fifty points. Then you turn the form in to get put into a drawing. My first one is already full– all the little boxes marked B for reading/listening to a book for ten minutes. Audio books for the win, y’all.
  5. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of my grandmother. I miss her. I think every time someone I love dies, another little bit of me is scooped out and left empty. Like that part of my heart– the part that is my grandma– is gone, already waiting for me in heaven. And it means that every time someone I love dies, I long a little bit more for my real home. Yet it is that same grief and emptying out that works beauty and strength into a life that is surrendered to the God of all comfort. And that means that each sorrow is an opportunity for more grace and more light to shine from my life. I love how God redeems every single thing that we give Him.
  6. My whole family has been working on the yard and garden these last few days. I weeded for half an hour and cleared like two square feet. I dare not touch anything we want to keep alive. I did not inherit the gardening gene. I did, however, inherit the make-something-yummy-from-what-the-family-grows gene. Can’t wait for some fresh tomatoes!
  7. Vacation Bible School is less than two weeks away. I alternate between panic and denial at this fact.
  8. I have amazing friends. I’ve been struggling with some hard things lately. God has put the most incredible ladies into my life– wise, godly, understanding, and fun. I could never live the life to which I am called without their counsel and encouragement and laughter.
  9. Also, I have an amazing family. As my kids get older, I love how we laugh together more and have so much more to talk about. This is a good thing.
  10. Today I took a walk around Tiny Town. I saw kids playing, people hard at work, tractors and trucks and cars. I saw a cemetery and I saw a turkey vulture standing in the middle of the road. I saw new houses and old, houses that need paint, houses that need to be torn down and rebuilt, houses that are full of people and houses that stand empty. I love this place we live in. It’s just Iowa, you know? Nothing fancy, nothing extraordinarily beautiful, nothing you wouldn’t see in a hundred other tiny towns. But it’s our place, our home, the work God has given us, the ground where He has planted our hearts and whispered grow. And even though it’s hard and unexciting, maybe, and even though people can be hard to love and our church struggles and we reach the very end of ourselves, and even though our hearts sometimes break with it, it is all worth it to be in the middle of God’s best for us. He is good.

Morning Symphony

The sky was dark, not even a glimmer of dawn forcing its way through the storm clouds that smothered the eastern horizon. The bedroom windows were open, and the sound of driving rain filled my ears as a flash of lightning broke through my sleep. I awoke just in time for the bone-rattling crash of thunder.

I knew she would be awake.

Storms are one of springtime’s nightmares for my daughter, along with bees and not being allowed to play outside from morning till night. I knew there was no way she had slept through that roar. I sat up, stretch, padded to the door. The clock said 5:26.

She was standing in the hallway, Snoopy pajama pants under a princess nightgown. She clutched Bear in the crook of her elbow, her hair was a tangled around her face, and her eyes were sleepy but wide. I don’t like that thunder, Mommy.

I know, I whispered back. You need to go back to your bed, though.

I take her warm hand, and she lets me lead her back to her nest of blankets, stuffed animals, and half-folded clothing. She climbs in, snuggling her head down on her two pillows as another roll of thunder rumbles through the air– quieter this time.

See? My voice is a gentle murmur designed to sooth and send back to dreamland. It’s already passing. No worries.

I take Bear from her, dance him merrily across her face, pull a few likely-looking blankets over her too-long form.

The rain is still falling, and we hear another low growl of thunder. She stiffens a moment, then relaxes, her body stilled in a posture of listening. I listen, too.

Is that– birds singing? Her eyes are wide with the surprise of it. Their soprano melody is counterpointed by the rhythm of the rain, harmonized by the low alto moaning of wind and the deep timpani of thunder.

Yes it is, I whisper, leaning close to her sweet face. They know it’s almost time for Mr. Sun to come up, even though the clouds are hiding him. They don’t stop singing just because of a silly little storm!

She smiles and snuggles a little deeper into her warm nest. Bear cuddles under her chin, and she closes her eyes, listening to the wonder and hope of a stormy morning symphony.

Following Jesus Lower

Philippians 2 contains some of the most beautiful, miraculous, life-changing words of Scripture. This well-known passage describes the self-emptying of the Son of God, His servanthood, His sacrifice, and His exaltation. We tend to feel very familiar with this passage, so that if we’re not careful we might miss the important lessons we are meant to discover here. The servanthood of Jesus is deeply crucial to us as believers, because it is meant as an example. I wonder if Jesus could have emptied Himself, come as a human, but not been a servant. Maybe He could have died for mankind without walking the road of deep, painful humility that He chose—not just humility in his death, but in his birth and his life as well. But He didn’t just come to die for us, but also to lead us in the way that we should go. He walked before us, humbly serving, humbly suffering, so that we would be able to see what it looks like to live a life that is pleasing to God.

We never would have been able to figure this out on our own. Let’s be honest—even with the beautiful example of Jesus’ life, even with His words and Paul’s words and Peter’s words, we still struggle to figure this out. We are saved so that we can serve others. We are called to humility and servanthood. We can be so clueless, fighting our way to the top, while all the time Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and follow Him lower. There is always room at the bottom. And in God’s kingdom, true greatness is found at the bottom. The least shall be greatest, the last shall be first, the poor in spirit shall be rich, the hungry shall be satisfied, the servant shall be the leader.

This makes no sense to our flesh at all. It is completely opposite to the world’s philosophy that calls us to seek greatness, wealth, power, and personal achievement at all costs. Here we see the distinct dichotomy between our thoughts and God’s thoughts, the world’s ways and God’s ways. Unfortunately, in many churches and Christian organizations, we see the world’s philosophy hard at work as people struggle for power and prestige and for “looking good.” Jesus cared about none of that. His life is a clear, convicting example of what is truly important to God—and it is almost never what is important to us. We are lovers of self, lovers of comfort. Even when we serve others, we are so often thinking of ourselves and becoming proud of our ministry. This is harsh truth, but if we truly want to follow the example of Christ, we need to look this hard truth in the face. John the Baptist said it so clearly: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

We tend to look to the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as the clearest example of His humility, and indeed, it is a beautiful story and where our lesson will land. But we are mistaken if we think that it was only there, at the Last Supper, for fifteen minutes, that Jesus showed Himself to be a servant. In truth, Jesus’ entire life was one of service to people. He sought out the lowliest, marginalized people, and He served them. He submitted to His earthly parents—people He had created in their mothers’ wombs. He spent His entire ministry sacrificing sleep, comfort, a schedule, and a home to meet the needs of humanity. Very seldom do we see Him actually accepting the service of others. He told His disciples that to be served was not His purpose in coming, but to serve—and to give His life. And He is our example.

As we consider the servanthood of Jesus, may we be challenged to live our own lives in service to others. This is Paul’s purpose in Philippians 2—to describe to the church how they are to live, with the mindset of Christ shared among them. He exhorts them to care for others with love and encouragement and humility, to consider one another higher and better. How do we do this? Paul answers—by having the mind of Christ. And as we pursue lives of sold-out, sacrificial, lower-still humility and love for others, Peter promises us that we will be lifted up in due time. When we try to lift ourselves up, it is only harmful. We end up with our faces in the mud (or worse) every single time. We end up with ruined testimonies, ruined relationships, even ruined lives. The lifting up that God promises us in 1 Peter 5:6 is never harmful to us, for God always is working for our good.

Imagine the impact we could make for eternity if we lived lives of service as Jesus did. I am reminded of John’s words at the end of his Gospel—“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus lived a relatively short life, but He lived it fully in obedience, humility, and servanthood. What would our lives look like if we lived to the end of our days with this mind among ourselves?

Oh God, teach us to go lower– and to expect always to find You there, among the least of these.

Burdens and Crosses

Some days I am convinced I am a complete and utter fool, seeking to journey forward under a burden I was never meant to bear. And meanwhile, I leave behind that which I am meant to carry with me.

The words are simple enough– lay down your burdens. Take up your cross.

I am continually frustrated and disgusted by my own failure to follow even these simplest of words. I look at my burden– tasks I was never given, responsibilities I am not supposed to carry, worthless treasures, guilt and shame that have already been carried for me, sins I have already been given freedom from– and somehow I think it will make a beautiful addition to my back. You know how we are– we decorate our burdens with puffy paint and glitter and pretend they’re supposed to be there. We look at other people’s burdens of stuff and power and control and we actually envy them. But inside, they’re all the same. Garbage. Heavy, rotting garbage. Garbage that we’re supposed to be free from.

We take up these burdens and in the process we dislodge the cross we are meant to carry. The cross, we think with distaste. It’s not pretty. It’s rough and splintery and carries with it a stigma that we don’t like. There is absolutely no way to disguise a real cross. Those beams of wood set me apart– they identify me with Someone.

I say I wanted to be identified with Jesus, but I lie. Because I refuse the cross. I add a puffy-painted “I Heart Jesus” to my burden and maybe a gold cross keychain to the zipper. I might deceive myself this way. I might deceive other believers. But I never deceive the One who carried a cross Himself.

Here’s the thing. That burden, no matter how much I cover it with Christian symbols, no matter how much I fill it with my own ideas of personal holiness and Christian service, no matter how trendy it looks, how well-decorated it is, how much it deceives others into thinking I really must have all the answers and have it all together and I really just am surely the very epitome of godliness, — that burden is heavy and harmful. It daily destroys my ability to walk with God. It distracts me from pursuing my Savior. It never is full enough, no matter how many idols I stuff into it. It crushes me and leaves me hopeless, fearful, ashamed, and desperately alone.

I am not called to carry a burden. I am called to carry a cross. That cross lacks the sparkle and the glitter and the social acceptability of the burden; it is an instrument of torture and cruelty. But the cross is where Jesus is.

If I want to know Jesus, if I want to have more of Him in my life, if I want to walk with Him, then I’m going to have to go where He is. And He is there, bearing my cross with me. His yoke is far easier to carry than anything else, because He is there in every moment carrying it with me.

This is where I meet Jesus– I meet Him in the suffering of the cross, in the living sacrifice, in the splinters and the nails and the stigma and separation that come from truly identifying with every part of His life and humiliation and dying. Without this fellowship of His suffering, how can I ever expect to know the power of His resurrection? The joy of new life? The glory of daily seeing His face?

I am meant to lay down my burden and exchange it for a cross, but there are days when that cross seems far too heavy for me to bear. There are days when the burden calls me with all its shiny pretty deceitful promises of ease and pleasure and success. There are so many days when I run from my cross– and from the Savior– and snatch my burden back up.

This is the ugly truth. Most days I would rather have pretty much anything besides the cross. Most days I would rather attempt to forge my own way to contentment, peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Most days I attempt to fill the deep yearnings of my soul for Jesus with everything but Him. Most days I live in denial, thinking I can find God without following the way He provided.

But the cross– and the Savior who suffered there– calls me back. Because when I stand for a moment and truly look, when I stop my mad frenzy to fill my burden with more stuff, I discover that here, at the cross, is where I know I’m loved, precious, chosen. This is where I see the high cost that has been paid for me. I cannot stand here long– I fall prostrate here before this wondrous, indescribable love. This Savior who calls me to a cross instead of a burden, He has gone before me and He goes with me. He meets me at the cross, every single day. He saves me from my own ridiculous attempts to find satisfaction and peace, every single day.

Look at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. Lay down the burden again. Take up the cross again. Find the beauty of knowing your Savior in the fellowship of suffering. His love has provided this most excellent way.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.