Learning to Rest

My family went on an ill fated hike recently. Our new house is near the Appalachian Trail, and the section that is the closest goes straight uphill.  We had hiked this part several times, but we could never reach the top and the mystery surrounding the summit was powerful. One warm December Saturday we set off early on a mission to discover what was up there.  In my foolishness to not spoil the mystery I hadn’t looked at the map… it turns out you should NEVER do that if you’re hiking with kids.  Another hiker had told me there was a hikers hut (a lean to for camping), but when we asked other people on the trail about it, they only knew that it was close- which turned out to be an extremely relative distance.

We pressed on steadily up the slope, increasingly drawn to the promise of the hut with each step. After a while the kids were even excited about it.

  “You can sleep in it!”

  “It has a well!”

  “And an outhouse!” We told them.

The hike up the mountain was much longer than it looked, but when we finally made it to the top the trail opened up into a breathtaking, isolated meadow.  This section of the trail is very close to civilization, it seemed impossible that such a beautiful place wouldnt be crammed with people. It felt like we had found the Secret Garden. The wind seemed to be whispering to us, “Stop! Enjoy yourself and rest!”

We did not rest though, in fact we didnt even stop walking.

Compelled by the hut, we hiked on. Have you seen a hut? Its kind of cool, like a secret hideout. Its also kind of a sad reminder of how civilized the trail is. And on this particular day, someone told us there was a troop of boyscouts camping there.  So not exciting.

Over an hour later, we still had not reached the hut. We realized, though, that we didnt have enough daylight left to hike back to the car.  There was no moon that night. We had run out of water.  The kids had already reached the point of exhaustion, and it was at least a 2-3 hour hike to get home.

When we got back to the meadow we finally did stop to rest (we had to or the kids would have collapsed) but the rest was tainted with stress. Every minute spent there was a minute we would dangerously be hiking down the rocky trail in the dark.  Where the air before was filled with invitation, now it was filled with regret.

In Luke 10:42 Jesus tells overacheiving Martha that, “…few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (italics mine)

My problem, like Martha’s problem, is surrender.  He is ever so gently telling me to stop, and rest with him- but I am constantly tempted to overburden myself with my ambition. Can you relate? Maybe you desperately want change, but its not the right time. It could be you’re wasting all your energy to be someone you’re not. Sometimes its as ordinary as trying to host a pinterst perfect dinner party when your guests would rather sit and talk.

I wish I fully understood why our desire to find this hut had become so strong, maybe then I would be better at fighting this temptation in other parts of my life.  It’s hard for me to surrender my plans, even when it becomes clear they’re crappy and stressful.  My mom wisely and gently suggests, “We dont have to do the crazy thing,” because she knows the consequences: stress, worry, and doubt.  l will probably snap at my kids and pass that stress on to them. I will use up all my energy and at the same time ignore my responsibilities…I will have a complete lack of peace.

Why is accepting Gods invitation to rest so hard? Many people I know are compulsively burdened by their busy lives. Almost everyone I know complains about it, but when I’ve pressed people to find out why they cant stop, they seem trapped.  There could be many reasons, ranging from pride to a lack of intentional scheduling. But for me, its usually based in fear- fear that if I accept God’s will things wont feel perfect, or my kids will suffer, or that something will be painful…I tend to think if I am not in control, everything I love on earth will fall apart.

Rest is risky. It means trusting God to take care of the things and people you hold most dear.  My heart knows I can trust Him, but my brain still wants to sort the pros and cons according to my own wisdom.

The more time we spend with God, surrendering our will to His, the less enticing our busy plans become.  I’m encouraged by Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The verse before this reminds the reader that Jesus came to earth and He understands our weakness and temptation.

I love that picture of a throne of grace that I can approach without shame, to receive everything I need to cover my lack of trust.

Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

Constant prayer brings peace, it guards me from the temptation to fear his rest.

I know constant prayer is hard. With 4 kids my days are naturally busy, even if I make no plans.  Finding time to pray may be one of the hardest things about being a mom, but without it I’m lost.

I learned several things on the hike that day, but the lesson that stays with me the most-  more than learning to rest- was to savor God’s great work.

 Just like in hiking, when the destination is my only focus,  I suffer.  The harder the trail gets, the more I watch my feet, and then I miss out on all the ordinary miracles. I can trudge through a whole week, without ever really noticing His glory or power. I want to be like David, who declared, “I will look up!” (Psalm 5:3b)

We took pictures that day, but I didnt realize until I got home that they were all of our kids being goofy.  I love their silly sense of humor, It’s one of my favorite parts of parenting.  It was interesting to me that I have a few pictures of my kids IN the meadow, but none of the meadow itself.

Exploring the inside of the tree

A ‘moose’ in the meadow

Even though we all agreed it was a poorly planned outing, I (and I hope eventually my kids and husband) will always hold it as a fond memory. Even the horrible parts held joy; like the way the boys encouraged each other, how they laughed for 20mn at their dad’s potty humor, and how they all learned they could do so much more than they thought.  These are the things I brought to God in thanksgiving. They remind me that when life brings pain, it often brings joy and promise too.

The next week we hiked to the hut from a closer trailhead and everything was much more peaceful.  I actually looked at the map, brought enough food and water, and left with enough time to get home before dark.  The hut was quite luxurious for a lean to, complete with a porch and adirondack chairs, and I actually cant wait to go camping there.

  The boys were dissapointed that the boy scouts had left, but they did love the outhouse and the well. They were also ready to forgive me for not reaching it the week before. Best of all, they loved eachother, and they found so many awesome things to be joyful about in the forest.  It was certainly not as amazing as finding the meadow, but I tried to hold onto my lessons from the week before.  I tried to savor the memories that were made along the way. I tried to remember that hikes are supposed to be peaceful, and to not push the kids too far.

I am trying. I pray that as I grow I could trust God with the things I hold dear, and enjoy the rest  that trust brings. And that as I grow I will become unshakeable, guarded from temptation by His constant grace.

                                           













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Love of the Father

For Father’s day this year, among other presents, the boys made a list of things they love about Dad. It included things like trips to Dunkin Donuts, Dad’s really great jokes about poop, ridiculous bedtime stories, and special trips in his truck. Basically, Dad is tons of fun.

I have one child, though, who was more excited about Father’s Day than the rest, and I think that’s because he’s experienced a different side of my husband.

Like Wreck it Ralph, this child’s passion boils very closely to the surface. Growing with him has expanded my patience and challenged my parental creativity. But when his temper erupts, it is not reason or time out that calm him. What he needs is his dad. He needs his dad’s passionate love to balance out his surging anger.

It borders on the miraculous to me that the minute Dad is on the phone, a completely new child appears. There eyebrows unfurl, his voice lowers, the red drains from his face. Almost instantly he shows remorse and begins the process of repentance. Nothing special is said, other than, “I love you very much,” and, “I know you can do this.”

I think it helps him is just knowing that he’s loved. He needs to remember that even though Dad is far away, at work, his love is still present.

The bible says that God is love. And what I’ve had the privilege of witnessing through my husband and this child is a glimpse of that love, and the power it holds.  It is no ordinary love, definitely not in any casual, romantic or even brotherly definiton. It’s an overpowering sacrificial love. It means that even though Dad hasn’t sacrificed hi life for you, he would. That he’s already sacrificed many other things like money, time, and dreams. The child knows the sacrifice, and it redefines his heart as he recieves it.

I don’t envy the responsibility of fatherhood. Most people’s impression of God mirrors their impression of their fathers, and separating those images is often a spiritual battle.  Is he full of Grace or judgement? Aloof or available0? It’s not fair to put this pressure on dads, and as people grow its important to separate the fathers from one another, but what a gift! To be able to model this type of love to a child.

It takes five seconds of looking at headlines to understand the world has a desperate shortage of this love. The statistic of fatherless homes is rising, and the consequences of growing up without a father’s love puts a child at risk for all sorts of devastating behaviors.  People need to know that as angry and self destructive as we are, there is an equally passionate Father with unfailing love waiting to restore us. It redefines everything about who we are and what we are fighting for. It changes how we treat others, and what we are willing to do for someone else who is hurting. The best thing about this type of love is that its contagious. The more you experience it the more capable you are of sharing it.

I’m sad that because of people’s pain, of their lack of experiencing this type of love, Father’s day has become a tainted holiday. Lately it seems Father’s day reminds people more of their hurt than their joy. But sacrificial love is something we can all celebrate today. I hope you have had the chance to experience it in some way, and I pray that, especially if you were hurt by your earthly father, you will come to know God’s love in this way. 

Happy Father’s Day to everyone! And thanks Dad’s for doing all you do.

Misunderstanding Mother’s Day

It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized I had completely misunderstood mother’s day.  I had always seen it throught the eyes of hallmark and floral shops, as a day to make mom feel special, spoiled and adored.  The frustrating part was, though, that no amount of Hallmark or roses would suffice.  I bickered with my mom regularly growing up, but I was wise enough to realize my life existed because of her willingess to sacrifice for me.  No trinket or homemade card would ever be able to compare to that.

I assumed that despite my inadequate gift giving, it was an awesome day to be a mom- and that someday I would revel in the excitement of adding a new holiday to my calendar.

The first year I was celebrated I loved it, because my son was just a baby, and so far parenting had been all sacrifice and very little reward. The second year I felt totally akward, since I had absolutley no clue how to navigate the terrible two tantrums. I thought maybe the gifts should be returned since I was clearly not cut out for parenting. For the last five years though, I have really just wanted to go for a walk and cook dinner…which is sort of what we do every other day.

This year, my mom wanted to visit and of course I was excited. I was also immediately stressed out because I had a busy week, and a small budget, and I knew whatever gift I came up with wouldn’t compare to her greatness.  But than I realized something about her that I already knew was true for myself…

I realized that once you become a mom, Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the fact that you have children. It’s to rejoice that you have been trusted with the responsibility of raising the next generation. It’s for remembering, that despite your complete lack of ablility and qualifications, God thought you fit to care for these specific beautiful people in your house.

There is often drudgery in the sacrifice-  sleepless nights, poop, laundry, stress, barf in your hair, etc.- and its nice that Hallmark has made a booming industry out of thanking moms for that. The part that the cards leave out though is the defeat. I mess up parenting everyday. I set a poor example by losing my temper, forgetting things that are important, or not listnening when I should.  Nothing will reveal your personality flaws or push your patience more than parenting. And absolutely  nothing is worse than watching your kids absorb one of your bad habits. There is no “Dear mom! Im so glad you taught me the s-word” in the card aisle.

What I really want to celebrate is that despite my worst shortcomings, my kids love me anyways.  I want a holiday to adore them for sharing forgiveness with me like halloween candy. The true gift given is that I’m not entitled to their trust, but they will still barrel down the scariest of slides if I hold them in my lap. The real honor is to look at each one of them, wonder at how unique they are, and realize how much they’ve grown- inside and out.

The best Mother’s Day gift is a day to marvel at the magnificence of being a mother, which is something you could never give your mom through chocolates or flowers (Although she will cherish them, because they’re from you). The best gifts you already give her naturally, by loving her, forgiving her, and trusting her, every single day.

The Royal Oak pt.2: Living in Strength

Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face.
Job 13:15 NIV

It was 1940 when my grandmother decided to follow Jesus at a tent revival.  She was 11 years old and had no real idea what would change in her life, and at first nothing did.  Sundays she went, as usual, with her family to church; Monday through Saturday she was always kind. She held the feeling of salvation in her heart for seven years, until she suddenly found herself surrounded by a group of passionate believers.  They pushed her to spread God’s message beyond the church walls and into the war weary navy town around them. In that fertile ground a seed was planted; her faith and purpose began to grow anew.

Over 70 years the seed grew from an acorn into a royal oak- a faith steadfast enough to hold a King the world wants dead.  She’s dug her roots deep into the ground, absorbing the love and wisdom needed to extended her branches over those in her care. Her labor reaped more blessing than she ever imagined she would harvest, and now looking out at the four oaks that grow beside her brings her such joy.

The two closest, tall and strong, are her sons. They are as different now as they were when they were young, though they have both inherited her desire to shepherd the weary and bring home the lost. Each has weathered their own trials and yet still they’ve spread their branches to places she hadn’t even thought of dreaming. Though they tend to her now, as she once tended to them, she will never stop praying over and ministering to them. A mother’s work, in that regard, is never done.
Behind them stands the tree that changed the landscape of an island. A church, born not of a seed, but grafted so painfully from one of her own limbs.  Its branches have now grown wide and strong, offering sanctuary to both the lost and hopeless- but when she knew it best it was just a mere sapling. Does God, too, think it ironic that the endeavor which robbed her of so much, now brings back her fondest memories? How could she have had the audacity to follow the call of ministry across the country with next to nothing? When she closes her eyes she can still see people’s faces changing as they began to understand the gospel. It was as if the book of Acts was happening in real time.


The last tree is the smallest, a bible study only 16 years old, scrappy and unpredictable in its ways. She’s amazed she has been able to tend it for that long. It has been hard to find a way to bind so many ages and backgrounds together, but she knows the need for wisdom is universal.  While the other oaks grow so independently now, this one still requires constant nurturing.  She looks at it gratefully, for the way it has filled her retirement with mission.

Time has been harsh to her, as it so often is, and the scars that maim the trunk bring me to tears.  The deep gash, where a marriage failed. The nubbed branches where the shame of her mistakes was pruned away. The damage termites left as they slowly invaded with crippling pain.  Worst of all the lightning burn, that stole away her husband and her second chance at love- a grief so deep it deafened her to everything except the book of Psalms.


In a funk where my own life feels more like a rock, eroded by water day after day, I desire her Paul-like determination to keep laboring as she presses on toward the prize. The middle of life brings the great temptation of weariness and in the midst so many frivolous battles laying down hope can almost seem like a reasonable choice. How does one continue to grow and thrive against the force of dreams lost and expectations unmet? As I listen to her stories, I scour the evidence of her life for some sort of spiritual secret, something that mocks this ravaging power of time…
 

But what I realize as I listen is that I already know the answers I seek. Live in community (exodus 17:12, matthew 26:38)

Know God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Cast off the things that hold you back (Philippians 3:14)

 

What kind of a remedy is that, though, when all the things that make you stronger also require a spiritual strength of their own? What ministers to me through the slow recounting of her stories, though, is truth.  Truth of the life she’s lived and the truth of what continues to lead her forward.

 That if we labor at the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing (Galatians 6:9)

That God is good, and what he does is good (Psalm 119:68a)

That the one who promised us hope is always faithful (Hebrews 10:23)

And that it’s all worth it because of His love. A deep, unwavering, holy love. (1 John 4:16)


As I close my eyes and let these scriptures mingle in my mind I dwell on this collection of oaks. I feel my own hope growing from the possibility of strength, that the knowledge of His truth will keep pushing my roots ever deeper into His love, words and presence. Stronger yet will I be. Strong enough to weather the abuse that time would hurtle my way.  Strong enough to seek and trust Him continually.  Strong enough, still, to share His love wherever my reach extends.

Special thanks to Grandma Norma Jean McDermet…for letting me tell her story, and for continuing to inspire after 87 years.

The Royal Oak pt. 1: Finding Courage

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1‭-‬2‭, ‬5 NIV

The story of the Royal Oak:

In 1651, England was a grim place for Prince Charles II. His father had been executed by parliament just a few years earlier and now the masses were coming for him.  Oliver Cromwell had just decimated the royal army in the Battle of Worcester, and the only hope the royalists had was that the future King had survived.  He escaped to the house of William Carlisse, one of his last remaining loyal officers, praying that there would be somewhere on the estate to hide.  It wasn’t a brilliant plan, since it was obvious to his enemies that it was the only safe place for him to go, but at least this way he could lose his head among friends.  

Soon after, the night came when the house was no longer safe. Carlisse suggested they climb the large oak to the side of the house, and hide among the branches. It was preposterous, for surely the soldiers would look there first.  And what about his dignity?  After some debate, safety won out over pride, they packed cheese and wine and hurried up the tree.

 The men held their breath as they watched enemy soldiers walk directly under their feet. The Prince laughed silently at the absurdity of it all.  But below the laughter hope was forming, and from that hope he remembered his birth right, and from his promised destiny he found the strength to make a better plan.  And then he fell asleep.

We also hold something in our branches that the world wants to destroy.  And like the prince, we remain safe, nestled with our saving grace in the pews.  We come weary, and in search of rest. We know that at this altar we are safe from the judgement, evil, shame and stress that will try to trap us as soon as we walk away.  Here we are safe from the people who seem increasingly vindictive and a culture that’s beginning to resent our presence.

I wish I was present to see the moment the all clear was given, and it was tine for the Prince to shimmy back down the tree.  Although there is no written account of what he was thinking, I can’t imagine the courage it took. Was it a trap? Would he escape the country with his life or suffer the fate of his father? Even if he did escape, would anyone still follow a king who had so little dignity, that he would hide in a tree? There were no guarantees of safety, or happy endings to give him hope.  Only the purpose into which he was born, ruling and caring for England.

In the end, the future king Charles II found a way out and escaped to France. He was finally able to return to England 10 years later during the restoration, victorious, with a crown and a throne.

Just like the king, we can’t rest in the branches forever, ignoring the world beyond.  Too often people fall asleep in the safety of the sanctuary, forgetting their comission. While we are here we rest in security, but with the purpose of building our courage for the tasks ahead. We prepare our hearts to go out and do his will: to love others as he loves us, to help the needy and guide the lost. There are not promises of comfort or safety, but we are strong because we know that victory is our birth right, that it was won by the power of His sacrificial love.

Boast in hope, and let it strengthen you for the trials ahead.

Daughter of the original Royal Oak, Boscobel England