he other day I was chatting with a friend who was telling me about one of her closest friend’s recent heartache. ..not in a gossipy way, but in a “I’m really concerned about my friend” kind of a way. The friend is in a really messy place…not an uncommon situation, but messy nonetheless. With a heavy, hurting heart, I simply commented, “That’s messy. And it’s also really scary.”
Life is messy, isn’t it? And often, our messes scare us; our situations may feel beyond our control or simply out of control. Often when the end is in not in sight, we worry about the effect the mess is going to have on our kids or loved ones, or even our very lives. We get scared. For the past few years our family has been walking through the messiness of grief, and at times the grief has been downright ugly. We’re coming through it now, and my goodness it feels good to be able to see clearly and breathe deeply again. For awhile anyway….there’s obviously another mess around a bend up ahead that we can’t see yet. It’ll come though. It’s guaranteed.
The messes of life come in an endless variety of sizes and force. Some we create ourselves and others happen upon us for reasons completely outside of our control. Grief is messy. Illness is messy. Conflict is messy. Relationships are messy. Parenting is messy. Marriage is messy. Financial strain is messy. And for many of us, the Christmas season, in addition to all its inherent joy and wonder, is also the time when our messes feel the messiest. Grief is more painful; financial strain more stressful; illness more bitter; loneliness deeper; strained relationships more apparent.
A few weeks ago I watched and read quietly while social media went hay-wire regarding a certain national chain store and its bathroom conundrum. As far as I can tell the frenzy has now passed, and everyone has moved on to the next thing and nearly forgotten about what it was we were all in an uproar about 2 weeks ago. Yet I’m guessing that many out there like me who are still pondering the right thing to do…now that the frenzy is over, what do we do in real life?
I’ll admit, I clicked on several of the articles that came through my news-feed that week. My concern was heightened and I very much wanted to know what others that are older and/or wiser were saying on the issue. Unfortunately, in true social media style, not much content proved helpful. I was either encouraged to boycott the store altogether, as if that store is the only store that’s ever going to adapt their bathroom policy, or I was informed that anyone struggling with this situation is a judgmental bigot and hater of people. That’s terribly unfair, unhelpful, and untrue. As a mom of four young children, two of them girls, I can’t say it’s a non-issue. It is an issue, and it’s one that is unprecedented by any other generation of parents. The store in question isn’t one that I particularly enjoy anyway, so it’s been a bit easy for me to sideline the question. But this particular struggle is going to continue, we are rightfully concerned, and we all need to consider how we will respond.
The most important week of the year is upon us. We welcomed it this morning with palm branches and praises, and the days ahead will hold every emotion known to mankind. I sat down with my Bible this afternoon to sketch out a family reading plan to help us focus on the main thing this week.
This week in Jerusalem, as recorded in Scripture, is packed solid with the unfolding of the greatest story ever told on planet earth. To have experienced it first-hand, like Mary Magdalene or Peter or John, would have been unfathomable. But we have this precious treasure of God's Word that has recorded the events of that week in stunning detail, through the span of four Gospel accounts. What a privilege to get to dive into that week of history through the pages of Scripture. Rather than rushing from the "Hosanna!" of today to the "He is Risen!" of next Sunday, let us pause and deeply consider the painful prayers of Thursday, the "Crucify Him!" of Friday, and the silence of Saturday.
I'd love to share this reading plan with you (although, we haven't actually tried it yet. Try it with us!). First though, I need to give some disclaimers. This plan is focused for families with young children, focusing on the major events of the week but in segments fit for short attention spans. Because the events of Thursday night (the night prior to Jesus' crucifixion) are so detailed and so rich, I started with Thursday events on Tuesday. Also, this plan takes you to all four gospels accounts. A person could pick one account (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), and read the entire story of Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. But since each Gospel includes slightly different details, I love the richness of seeing the different perspectives. So this plan includes all of the major events of the story, pulled from various Gospel accounts.
So here's what our family is reading this week:
Sunday: Luke 19:28-40 and 45-48 (The events of Palm Sunday; Jesus cleanses the temple)
Monday: Matthew 26:1-16 (The plot to kill Jesus; Jesus gets anointed)
Tuesday: Luke 22:1-23 and 31-34 (The last supper; Jesus tells Peter about his denial. These events actually happen Thursday evening)
Wednesday: John 13:1-17, John 14:1-6 (At the last supper when Jesus washes disciples feet; Jesus teaches about preparing a place for us. These events also actually happen Thursday evening, after they share the meal at the last supper)
Thursday: Luke 22:39-62 (Praying at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane; Jesus gets arrested; Peter denies Jesus three times)
Friday: Mark 15:1-41 (The crucifixion account as told by Mark. For those families who do devos at the kitchen table, I suggest moving to the living room for this one...it's longer and deserves the time it takes).
Saturday: Matthew 27:62-66 (The chief priests concerns on Saturday) and Isaiah 53:1-12 (one of the most detailed prophecies of our Savior being crucified)
Sunday: Mathew 28:1-15, John 20:1-18 (Two of the four resurrection accounts. I'd read them in all four Gospels if my kids would sit for it all!)
Easter Monday: John 20:19-31 (A few more appearances of Christ. Don't you just love John 20:31??)
If your family hasn't developed a habit of family devos, this would be the perfect week to start. I'd encourage you to take 5-7 minutes either at breakfast, supper, or bedtime to read together and maybe just ask your kids a couple of discussion questions afterward. Keep it simple! And don't wait for a time when it could go perfectly without interruption - that will never happen. Devotions at our house are never perfect. (Oh, we try to lay the smack down, but at least one child falls out of his chair during devotions every night and someone always has to use the bathroom desperately.)
Remember that Jesus loves little children, wants us to bring our children to Him, and can handle the chaos of family life. Also, these texts are heavy...fight the temptation to water it down for your kids. This is the most important stuff in the world, and our kids need to hear it time and again. Remember that God's word is living and active, and He will speak to your kids through it.
And cling to John 20:31: "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
He is risen indeed. Amen and Amen.
When Your Holly Jolly Most Wonderful Time of the Year Becomes Your Crazy, Irrational, Most Stressed-Out Time of the Year....
Confession: I feel like I'm losing my mind.
I honestly thought I wasn't going to go crazy this Christmas. Earlier in the fall I read this great blog about being done gift shopping by December 1...I loved it and decided to do that. And was mostly successful. But then, and then, and then...you know how it goes. Then earlier this week I realized I should maybe do some meal planning for these fabulous celebrations and the wonderful people we get to see. Yesterday in the grocery stores my boys ran in circles because, let's be honest, Mama has dragged them to a few too many stores in the last couples weeks and they are going bonkers, and the lines are getting longer, and Mama's head is getting closer and closer to imploding.
This morning I laid in bed in the quiet darkness and asked Jesus to help me keep Him my center today. To help me not go crazy like yesterday. But then I got out of bed.
This morning I was at a women’s Christmas event at my church where us young moms seated around our table struck up a conversation about Santa: do we do the Santa thing, when and how do we break the truth to our kids, etc. A handful of us at the table readily agreed that telling our kids the truth about Santa was a delightfully liberating decision…both for the parents and the kids.
Some of you might be wondering if this is the Christmas to break the news to your kiddos. If that’s you, I’d like to share some encouragement. If that’s not you, then friend, that’s okay. There is no judgment here; but there may be some helpful thoughts here for you to ponder for Christmases to come. However, for those of you that feel like the Santa thing has become more burdensome than enjoyable, perhaps it’s time to take to take Jesus at his word when He said “The truth shall set you free.” Yes and Amen. Obviously he was talking about much bigger things when he said that, but its application can reach even to this. Even in such little and trite things like magical sleighs and reindeer that fly and a jolly old Santa that keeps track of our daily behaviors and rewards or punishes us accordingly…yes, even in this, the truth does set you free.
As a little girl I used to belt out with my Sunday School class, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” To my little girl self, joy simply meant happiness. I was happy. Life was pretty much blue skies and sunshine, as it should be for a child.
In more recent years, singing at the top of my lungs about overflowing joy has been more difficult. It takes more effort, even discipline, and sometimes joy feels too elusive. Even though I really am living my dream, some days it feels like struggles abound and joy is simply too difficult to muster up. In the wake of losing my Mom I battled depression as I moved through the grief process. There’ve been times, like most families, that we haven’t known if we can make ends meet financially. I’m an extrovert that is called to fulltime motherhood, and sometimes I simply ache with an overwhelming desire to converse and dialog with adults. Some days family life, sweet as it is, just feels hard. Conflict is no stranger to us. It seems like marriages are falling apart all around us, the evening news is scary and discouraging, and Christians are being persecuted in horrific torture around the globe. In my own circle of friends, there is divorce, infertility, loneliness, illness, and death.
Here’s the truth: I failed at loving well today. I was selfish with my time and energy. All day long, in anticipation of writing about love, I tried to get my feet under me enough to actually love well, but I fumbled right up until the last bedroom light was turned off.
If you've been with me for awhile you'll know that I'm just embarking on a journey through the fruit of the Spirit...the nine characteristics that the Holy Spirit produces in the Christian heart, when we live in cooperation with the Spirit. Today is fruit #1, and we start off with love. Based on today and every day thus far in my life, I am not a love expert. (Good thing we have a real love expert. His name is Jesus.)
What even is love around here, anyway? We have watered-down love so terribly. I wonder how many things I said I loved today. I say trite silly things like, “I love chocolate ice cream” and “I LOOOVVEEE coffee.” “I love this song.” “I love these jeans.” And then I have the audacity to use the same word for my husband: “I love you more than anything!” And when my girls head into the school building each morning: “Have a great day! I love you!” and even for Jesus when I end my prayers: “I love you Jesus, Amen.” (My three-year-old just now came into the kitchen, grabbed my diet Coke, took a sip, smiled hugely, and said, “Ahh. I love this stuff.” No joke. Right now.)
How is that all the same word? And how ridiculous is it that I use the same verb for coffee and Jesus? I’m ashamed. Now, part of the problem is simply English…we only have one word for Love. In Greek, it isn’t all the same word. But most of the problem is me and my small, tiny, pathetic understanding of what love really is.
So we just got home from church. It was pretty much pure chaos.
Paul's at the fire station, so it was a solo-parenting show from me during church today. You'd think I'd be good at it by now, but, I'm not. It's a circus, every time. Or maybe more like a jungle where the animals are un-contained.
Now...to be clear. I love church. I love hearing the Word of God preached in clarity and power. I love worshiping along with fellow believers. I love fellowship. I simply love church. And I love my kids more than life. (That's why I take them to church.) But I also struggle at discipline. (Actually, my discipline failures are my next "Confessions of a Mom" Blog...look for it in a few days!) Discipline and training my kids in obedience (specifically my boys) is one of my messes. And as hard as I try to get my act together, I bring this mess with me everywhere I go. Where I go, my struggle comes with me. Even to church. Or perhaps especially to church.