Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Pay Attention: The Trees Are Singing

Every day you wake up in a world that you didn’t make. Rejoice and be glad.
– Jonathan Roger
s

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
– Mary Oliver

~~~

The trees invited us to pay attention today.

The kids set out with empty bags; I held my phone for photos and a plant-identifying app. We must have been a sight to behold, how they yelled excitedly and crouched in the middle of the sidewalk, shoving leaves into their Dr. Seuss totes. One man stood in front of his house and just looked at us. At one point I walked straight into my boy who’d suddenly dove between me and the stroller I was pushing. When I turned to help him up, I saw him sitting next to the red-yellow-green leaf he had spotted and gone for. The fiery red ones especially took my breath away, but we got them all, yellows, reds, greens, browns, and every combination of autumn’s colors.

We’d done a walk like this a few weeks ago, but this time, we learned names. So the five of us didn’t just collect “maple” leaves. We collected silver, red, amur, and sugar maple leaves. We didn’t just bring back “oak leaves”— but pin, swamp white, northern red, and scarlet oak leaves. I was so proud when at the end of one walk (we went out twice), my boy, with a full bag, picked up and showed me a leaf he noticed he didn’t have yet.

In the middle of a pandemic and election season in our divided country, leaf hunting might seem like just a nice kid-friendly, socially-distanced activity, a distraction of sorts. In a way it was a good break for me from heeding the beck and call of things that felt urgent, but it was more than that. I was glad when my son showed me his leaf-find, because it meant he was learning to pay attention not just to trees in general, but to each tree we’d stopped under, and to this one in particular. Our naming trees was a kind of noticing, and when we notice in God’s world, we gather kindling for praise.

We returned home, bursting with leaves and worship. I pointed out to them that God could have just filled the world with one generic tree. On that third day of Creation, he could have said “let there be trees” and filled the earth with forests of trees as I draw them– cartoon broccolis that vary only in size, with an occasional circle in the trunk as an owl’s perch. But, praise God, we don’t live in that kind of world. Instead, we emptied the kids’ bags into a box and pulled out green ash, black gum, sweet gum, and honey locust leaves. There were 15 or so species of trees they had gathered from, and these were only the ones with leaves already shed on the sidewalk we walked on. We even had a mystery leaf we’re not sure the app is right about, so the plan is to hunt down the tree again.

What kind of brilliance and creativity must it have taken to fashion all the trees we found within that two-block radius of our house, I wonder. What kind of power must God have to uphold the outermost galaxies and oversee every single tree we encountered today?

Sometimes it’s easy for me to imagine God using his power as brute force, accomplishing great and good purposes, but in an impersonal, blunt way. Knowing God flung planets into space by a simple word fills me a sense of awe at his strength. But studying the differences between types of oak leaves furthers my understanding of his power while offering insight about how he wields it.

Recently, I watched a painting tutorial where the instructor warned beginners not to focus too much time and effort on the first detail they worked on. The reason is that they’d probably get tired and end up with one section they loved that wouldn’t match the rest of the piece. That God doesn’t lose steam— that he is powerful and wise enough to pay attention to the smallest minutiae of creation— honestly stretches my faith. That he uses his strength and mind with precision and creativity in the world offers me comfort and hope. He is big enough to hear my small voice in a broken world (Matt. 6:6-7). He is precise enough to be trusted to handle the details of my life with care (Matt. 6:25-34). And he does not just write my days in a way that is utilitarian, but beautiful (Psalm 136:16).

One of my girls loved pointing out the different reds of the leaves today. I imagine the earth, resting on its axis as on an easel, and God joyfully painting our little corner with the touches of the crimson, pink, and peach that filled her with such delight. Our Creator’s heart must have been so filled with love of beauty as he generously paid attention to every detail of the place he was preparing for us to inhabit. Eden’s trees were not only good for food, but pleasing to the eye. East of the garden, the trees still are his handiwork.

After we labeled our finds, the kids burst out into a spontaneous song about the cherry plum leaf. Today they sang about a tree, but one day the trees themselves will lift their voices. From the cedars of Lebanon to the redwoods of California, the forests will sing for joy when Christ returns. If you listen closely now, you can catch the neighborhood trees rehearsing their doxology.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.
– Psalm 24:1 (ESV)

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
– Psalm 96:11-12 (ESV)

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

The Beanbush, My Tutor

The kids held out their green beans today and we laughed in celebration over them. It was the second collection of beans they’d made since I’d said, “I think the bean plant is done for the season.” The harvest we cooked for lunch was yet another lesson for me under the tutorage of our bean bush. For months I’ve been picking beans I didn’t believe would ever grow.

It was actually friends who sowed the seeds in our garden that became our bush of a thing. We didn’t know what to do with the tall, leafy, stems, so they just grew together until they became one giant plant. It overtook the pepper plant, tipped over trellises, and then just kept growing.

The bean bush’s unruly tangle of stalks meant that when it was harvest time, the green beans had to be hunted for, which also meant more fun. Green beans, where are youuu? the baby would say-sing, and every bean we found was a wonderful surprise for everyone, but to me most of all.

See, I’d checked our Great Fruit and Vegetable Guide, and had seen the season for harvesting started before our bush showed any signs of beans. “They should’ve grown by now,” I told everyone, like the expert gardener I am not. One of my girls though, she’d walk outside with a watering can and come back insisting she saw baby beans growing. I told her she probably just thought that’s what they were. Not too long after, I was down in the garden, picking beans. God has had words for me by that bush since.

He’s taught me about pruning, how from the outside it looks like it’s killing the plant. I’ve followed the instructions for doing it, half-expecting to come back to a dying bush, only to find more beans. How could things in our lives that are so painful make us more fruitful, I don’t fully understand, but they can and do under his hand. (John 15)

I’ve learned that sometimes, you need to hunt for signs of growth and grace. In the day to day I often miss God is working in my kids, in me. Perfectionism and ungodly expectations means I look at the book and scoff at the plant. But while signs of his grace in and around you may not be immediately obvious, they are still evidence of his work. When you find them, rejoice. Laugh and shout like a kid who just found a GINORMOUS green bean.

I’ve learned good fruit is often borne in unexpected places, ways, and people. We may assume certain sets of circumstances, methods, personality-types, and backgrounds are the ones we want for serving in God’s Kingdom. He may think otherwise.

Most of all, I’m learning about the patience of God who does not give up on us. He won’t uproot a plant just because the tiny growing shoots aren’t obvious yet. He waters, and slowly but surely he makes us grow. His declarations are more certain than the accuser’s and he’s promised that those who belong to him will surely bear eternal fruit.

Part of God’s good work is his invitation for the impatient to come observe his ways. To see how he is so unlike us, possibly how unlike who we imagine him to be. And in the grace of harvesting where we did not sow, he teaches us to wait.

From one of the impatient ones, for the soily lessons about our most trustworthy and patient Gardener, and for providing vegetables my kids love to eat, thank you bean bush. Sorry I doubted.

P.S. Cucumber plant, this post could have been about you because I really did try to put your roots back in after daughter-gardener pointed out the small, spiky green ovals growing off your dry stems, but it was too late. You’ve taught me too though, and I’m learning to wait.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Reorienting Myself

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

God, what’s your will for my life? I hounded God with the question as a highschooler, envisioning some sort of supernatural insight regarding majors and careers.

The reply he gave was frustrating at first.  To love me and know me, he repeatedly said.

It was as if, standing at a fork in the road, I asked God what turn to take and he said instead, let me show you how you can always find the North Star.

Without a doubt, his answer has changed the course of my life.

A man speaking to Jesus asked a question of similar nature to mine. What is it that God wants most?, he wanted to know. Your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, Jesus replied. For you to love him. And after that, for you to love others. (Mk. 12:32-33)

Love God.
Love people.

Here is Polaris.

I am needing to reorient myself these days because I’m hitting the same slump I did after my other kids. Inching (or barreling, how is it that it feels like both?) towards the 12-month mark of sleep-depriving infant care, the one year slump is different than the initial exhaustion of newborn days. I recognize it by my restlessness. It’s just a season, Jeff said recently about my being at home with our young kids. It’s a LONG season, I said back. The force of my reply both betrayed and surprised me, but the sentiment isn’t unfamiliar.

During my first year as a stay-at-home mom, God reworked my paradigm of productivity, fruitfulness, and service in God’s kingdom. I wrestled with living this strange disconnect between what I felt was true (namely that my work as a mom was valuable) and what I had up until then heard about what it meant to live a life unto God’s glory. But once I understood the vocation of motherhood was a calling to love little neighbors, I parented with purpose. I woke tired with long days ahead of me to the refrain, Love God, love neighbor.

Days caring for young children are full and repetitive, yet can feel frustratingly futile and impossible to schedule. Now that my youngest is becoming more independent, I feel the desire to do more. At the same time, my body feels the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation and the reality that baby girl still needs me a lot. Not only so, but there are school schedules, commutes, and other non-family related circumstances that seem to run my days. Thus, my restlessness and frustration. I want to have more energy, time, capacity for other endeavors. I want to feel fruitful and be passionate in service. Instead, I feel like I am stuck and fizzling out.

I know it’s not just in motherhood where it feels circumstances and seasons keep us from living fully unto God. We can be constrained, it seems, by singleness, by marriage, by children. We are limited in our ability to do God’s will, it feels, because of our job, location, church, and health. Different circumstances would give us a better shot at glorifying God, but we are just our limited selves, living within the boundaries set for us. And life keeps us from doing all we wish to do for him.

But what if the greatest commandment really is his greatest call for our lives?

If in all things, what God desires from us is love for him and others, our current seasons and circumstances are not constraints. Rather, they are the terrain we have been called to walk through as we trek northward.

Of all the possible points and places in history we could be in, God has determined our here and now. Scripture says he has assigned each person’s exact place and time so that we may reach out and find him (Acts 17:26-27). And having responded to this most important calling of our lives (to be reconciled to God), wherever we are, we can remain with him (1 Cor. 7:24) while walking into the good works he’s prepared for us in advance to do (Eph. 2:10). If where we find ourselves is right where he wants us, and what he wants for us most is to love him and neighbor, we are actually wondrously free to accomplish all he wants for us to do.

I remember when Jeff first taught me how to find the North Star. It was surprisingly simple: Find the Big Dipper. Follow the line from the outermost stars in the bowl to the tip of the Little Dipper. It may not be the brightest light in the sky, but there lies true north.

So, this is real time, two of my children asking me to read a book to them as I attempt to write? The baby shifting from arm to arm and on my hip having just woken up from a nap? These texts and calls that keep cutting off my train of thought? If I take a moment to reorient myself, I’ll confirm these as trail markers on the road of God and neighbor-love.

Love God.
Love others.

Here is both the orienting call on my whole life and the simple task ahead of me. And though it feels like I’m barely trudging along right now, looking up, I know I am northbound.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Of Mice And Men And God Whose Purpose Stands

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The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. -C.S. Lewis

Him: Can I go run in the leaves?

Me: No…Why?

Him: So I can jump in them and be happy!

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men / often go awry,” goes the poem, and the incidence of things going “awry” seems unusually high lately. Sickness, unexpected calls, frustrating inefficiencies (making a wrong turn and watching the time to destination jump up exponentially, anyone?), kids being kids.

So I’ve been walking around, muttering to myself, of mice and men, of mice and men.

I say I’ve been muttering, but a better word for it would be grumbling. I have been grumbling about interruptions from people, my circumstances, and the general state of being human which guarantees my making mistakes. But I am fighting, and failing but by grace still in the fight, to pivot my perspective around Proverbs 19:21.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 

Few things show my sinful desire to be God, and my inability to be him, like my plans do. More specifically, the interruption of them. Again and again in the Scriptures God challenges those who pridefully make our plans apart from him, confident in our own ability to carry them out. God frustrates the plans of persons and nations and in doing so shatters our illusions. We thought we were more than we are, surely we were deluded. Truly, truly, he alone is God.

And this is a good thing. The firmness of his plans and sureness of his purposes.

Because it means that even when our best-laid plans are toppled, we are not left alone to be tossed to and fro by circumstances. And instead of a resigned shoulder shrug, “well, of mice and men,” we have resounding truth: God’s purpose stands.

Our lives are not dependent on our own limited vision and meticulous planning. Nor are we ultimately at the whims of other people, sickness, traffic, and our own mistakes. Rather, our steps are determined by God who created and redeemed us.

Our God is mighty and there is none like him, dwelling in the high and lofty places. Yet in his mercy he bends his power to help us and sets his wisdom toward planning our lives. Now our loving Shepherd who willingly gave his life for us, tenderly leads his sheep along the paths laid out for us. And the good news is that though we may grumble at the frustration of our plans and the One who ordains interruptions, circumstances, limitations, he still is determined to do us good. He continually works all things for our knowledge and love of him, our Christlikeness and fruitfulness, our joy and his glory.

Thus, I am hoping to grow in receiving the interruptions that seem to mark my days as God-ordained invitations.

A mistake, something I overlooked that I feel like I shouldn’t have—

He is helping me to put to death the perfectionism which suffocates grace.

Tasks taking longer than expected—

He is challenging my lifeless idol of productivity. “Can you do what I do? Do you really have power? Can you give life?”

A fussy baby on my hip, a hungry 3-year old by my side, as I stand in a how-did-it-get-so-messy-again-already home—

He is making me more like Christ, and giving me a chance to choose to believe these words even as I type them.

Cries of “MOOOOMMM” from the other room—

He is nudging me on, giving a chance to join him as he works in the lives of others. (How often the interruptions come in the form of the precious little people living in my house who I profess to serve!)

A boy wanting to jump in leaves and be happy—

He is beckoning me to stop and rest, to not miss his gifts, and to trust the One who gives good gifts I did not even know to want.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand—

He is building my life. Bringing it to me day by day, moment by moment, interruption by interruption.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8

Motherhood & Family

A Surprise

 

IMG_4342.jpg(From Instagram)

I heard the door open downstairs and their excited shouts followed. Mom! We have a surprise for you! Mom! Come, look!

She handed them to me, my firstborn, with anticipation. Tiny wildflowers, purple and white, thoughtfully arranged. She and her sister had gathered them bike riding with their dad. Their mini-bouquet fit in the palm of my hand. I thanked them, hugged them, and put the gift aside.

Hours later, when everyone else was asleep, their flowers found me. As I cleared items thrown half-hazardly onto the cubby by the front door, I saw the small bunch of stems and petals so eagerly gifted to me a few hours before. They were slightly dried out, pressed under the weight of papers, clothes, and miscellaneous items. They were beautiful.

I can’t explain what happened except that I had looked at them before, but now I saw them. To be thought of during a trip out. To be unexpectedly considered by my daughters. To have them pause enough in their play to think of what would delight me. The flowers were beautiful and I felt it, the undeserved goodness of such a gift, of the childlike abandon with which my girls loved me, of the lavish kindness of my God.

“God is so, so kind. He didn’t have to say yes, but he did,” said a friend a few months ago about an answer to a long prayed request. His words, and the way he said them, with awe and humility and joy, are still fresh on my mind.

Consider the lilies of the field, Jesus said once. Consider— stop and truly see. He clothes them in his generous creativity. Not because he has to, but because he wants to. How much more does he care for us, even we of little faith?

Beauty speaks an intrusion, I heard a Christian counselor say a few days ago about anxiety.

Come.

Look.

Consider the lilies.

See what I have for you.

God, by your Spirit keep my eyes open.

You didn’t have to give me any of this, but you did. You didn’t have to give me these flowers. My girls. My life. Your Son. But you did.

You don’t have to care about me, but you do. And you are so, so kind.