I have a friend who is a law enforcer and on her way to Bible Study got a speeding ticket. I know people who work with children outside of the home, who have experienced hard – even desperate – times working with their own children inside of their home. I have known counselors who came into work sobbing, needing their own counseling. I have known the homeschool mom to send their child to public school, and the public school mom decide to homeschool. I have known the family who has sung, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” who also, at the loss of dear loved one, get up every day wondering if they’ll even get out of their driveway without bursting into uncontrollable crying.
I know a Momma-friend who has the sweetest of hearts I know; her and her husband have been fighting on their knees for the strength of their little girls’ heart since the day she was born. I know a couple who came together in college, but since being married and having two children, now live states apart just to make ends meet. I have another amazingly, sweet friend…her and her husband are foster parents to two young girls who are destructive and probably dangerous. She just delivered and brought home their own baby boy. I have seen the world behave more Christian and the Christian to live more worldly. I have known worshippers who sing songs of extreme devotion and a life that shouts no other name but Jesus, and then their week flies by no different from the one before. (Myself included in this some weeks.)
I have been the one on Sunday, lifting her head up with tears of joy, lifting her hands up in honor and praise of her Savior, and then on Monday, lifting her voice in harshness and slapping her hands down hard on a wooden table. I have been one to write of “Amazing Love” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and then shake my fists at God wondering where’s the Amazing and the Faithfulness! I have spoken words of a desire for missions, but I know only a few of my neighbors, and most, only by name. I have written words to encourage one to live in victory and triumph, but this week, I have stumbled along, if I have “moved” at all. I have declared my desire to seek to have the heart of Christ (more of Him, less of me), but this week, my actions and words were from the darkest of places – my own, self-absorbed heart. I have been known to smile at the present, all the while I am wondering at the future; I have also been known to smile at the future, all the while I am cursing the present.
I teach my children the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5)…daily! At some point or another I am having to remind a child to show self-control, hand out patience, give kindness. (God, He does the same thing…daily!) I write the Golden Rule up on the chalk board. I snap my fingers at different times in a day, and the fussing little bunch stop what they’re arguing about and recite it to me.
Tuesday night found me numb yet strung-out in all of my thoughts and emotions and spiritual struggles. I went from patience to slamming hands faster than your dream sports car goes from zero to sixty. I spewed bitter words, and the whole house went from singing Hillsong to crying and screaming and slamming doors. This is real life, Baby; sometimes – most of the time – the hearts that are supposed to be sharing the most light, fight the greatest darkness. And when, even for just one moment, we let darkness have its way, life seems to just…explode. All the bad slams against all the good; all the disappointments are dispersed among the gifts. You look around and wonder how you will get up this time. How will anything get right again?
I’m supposed to teach Math, English, Latin, Science, and History every day. Some weeks that may happen, but most weeks, I get it out about a good three days. Every day, though, every day, I do teach one thing – FORGIVENESS. Not in Bible lessons (though those are definitely supplemental) or by pointing out other people and their situations; no, my family gets first hand, hands-on experience with this woman right here! Yes, all of us sin and yes, all of us have to learn to ask and give forgiveness. But, we tend to remember our own failures a bit more than others’, and let me just say, if my children are going to go out into a dark world some day to spread the Light of Christ, this Momma is a good person for their training. This isn’t a pity-party, this is real life, Baby! I am Romans 7 hoping, on a good day, to get to Romans 8! I give in to feelings of despair and hopelessness while I’m memorizing “And in this hope we were saved!” I writhe in want while I teach contentment. I try to teach my children self-control, while I yell, yes yell, “Show self-control!” I try to be alone in a house of 7 while crying that we all don’t spend enough time together. It’s a mess around here…it’s real! So, don’t come over to my house if you want perfect, but…and this is what gets me up after the fall…if you want to know what grace looks like day after ruined day, day after glorious day, then come, sit on my boys’ floor at bedtime, right after we pray for the night.
Tuesday night, somewhere around 7:30:
(Tears filling up the eyelids.) “Timothy, I am so sorry! You did nothing wrong; it was me. I love you so much! Will you please forgive me?” (His eyes and face crying out to me.) “I forgive you Mom. I love you, too.” (Hugs.)
“Hannah, Mommy’s very sorry. I should not have acted that way. Will you please forgive me?” (A hug.) “I forgive you, Mommy.”
“Christopher, (sigh…cause he’s been through this so much with me) I am sorry. I acted very wrong. Will you forgive me?” (Puts his arms around my shoulder because he’s getting that tall.) “I forgive you Mom. I came upstairs and prayed (for you). I love you.”
(Me sitting down, shoulder to shoulder, leg to leg with Aaron.) “Aaron, Mommy is very sorry for my actions. Will you please forgive me?” Grabbing onto my arm, “Mom, I always forgive you. I don’t like it when you act that way; it scares me.” “It scares me, too, Aaron. You know how Mom told you how when Jesus comes into your heart that He gives you all of the Fruit of the Spirit? Well, Jesus lives in Mom’s heart, but I chose not to use the gift He gave me. It doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t give me “self-control” Aaron; I just didn’t use the gift He gave.”
Bedroom lights were turned out. I sat in the dim light of the hallway and began reading from chapter 13 of the Hudson Taylor biography. On page 165 Hudson answers peoples’ questions on how he would be able to take care of a group of young missionaries who were to travel with him to inland China, when he could barely take care of himself, his wife, and their four children. (And I sat there asking God, how can I be entrusted with more when I can’t even care well for myself or those in my own household?)
His answer was always the same: ‘I am taking my children with me, and I notice it’s not difficult for me to remember that they need breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, and dinner before they go to bed. I find it impossible to believe our Heavenly Father is less tender or mindful than I am.’
And that’s it; I just didn’t use the gift God gave. I acted as if I didn’t even care that He gave it. Yet, just as a gift never stops being a gift (as Ann would say), The Giver never stops being the Giver. And our Father never stops being our Father (He who is so much more tender and mindful than I am)!
I woke up this morning knowing hope again. You know, Hope – believing in what we do not see…yet…but know with all our hearts that it is true – that He is True! I have been holding off on praying a prayer at the end of the chapter of my current book. It uses a word I have been trying to keep away from…dream. I am tired, spiritually and emotionally, from all of the lost dreams and the squashed dreams that, quite frankly, I just don’t want to mess with them anymore! And I told God this…over and over! And the next day, I was supposed to read and pray and believe these words about dreaming again. It’s been a few days, and maybe today I’ll be able to do more than just look at and underline those words.
This is real life, Baby! Not easy. Usually not that simple on the inside. Some days, not so amazing.
This is Real Life, Baby! Life’s burden is easy. Life’s salvation, so simple (for us). Life’s grace, so amazing!
This is Real Life…
I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t doit. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
8 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored. But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s! So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
“They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.”
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 7:14-Romans 8 The Message
Jesus was matter-of-fact: “Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you. Matt. 11:22
fellowship, missing the mark, grace that restores, delayed gratification, sun, He is unchanging, a firm rebuke, their forgiveness, His forgiveness, hugging the Hubby, enduring, hoping, waiting on His dreams, a friend to share my hard week with, kids in costumes