The Unintended Consequence of Hate

This was a horrible craphole of a week to be a grown up, I’m guessing you probably felt the same way. At first it was just horror about real world leaders behaving like they’re in the Butter Battle Book by Dr. Suess. But today it’s just turned to shame and pity. How can I look my kids in the face and assure them that love wins, when people were marching through the streets just 80 miles south on behalf of racism and hate?

I had scheduled a post for today, before any of this hit the news, to post pictures of flowers and butterflies. I felt like it was important over the summer to address issues surrounding addiction and alcoholism, but it’s so depressing. I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read and engage in conversation with me by tempering the despair with some beauty, but today it feels weird. After people have been mauled and wounded, it seems absurd to post pictures with a cheerful theme and palette. People are angry, and scared, and with good cause. It’s not okay to pretend like everything’s fine.

This summer I had the privilege of hearing one of my favorite artists, Makoto Fujimura, speak at a writers conference on the topic of an artist’s role in the church. The essence of the talk was that artists are as important to spiritual development as intellectuals, they’re the poetic Mary to the practical Martha, the ones who show us how to sit with the mystery of the gospel. He shared that it’s an artist’s job to stand under hope, and that to him, hope is the primary medium that we create out of. This is costly in most circumstances where we would normally react with fear, but it is worth it. The artist’s job is to cultivate people’s imaginations toward this hope, and then past it, toward love. The temptation he said we face, is that we are in constant danger of being not actors on this mission, but reactors. When react, we miss out on the entirety of the hope that’s possible; we only share our emotion which is as fleeting as hope is eternal.

He told the story of being in New York city on 9/11, and taking his son to school that morning a few blocks away from the twin towers. He shared about panic and fear that suddenly became tangible. But then he shared about the children who experienced it. His son remained friends with the kids in his class that day, even though they all grew up and went to different high schools. He said that all but one of his those friends was pursuing some form of the arts as an adult. The terrorists were sure that day that they were planting seeds of revenge and hate in the children who witnessed that tragedy, but what they created were artists, and it was the spirit of hope in the city that enabled the radical transformation of fear.

Another timely thing I heard this summer was a Ted Radio Hour episode on tolerance. The point they made was we put too much emphasis on being able to tolerate one another. At it’s core, it’s too easy because if you tolerate something, you can still hate it for as long as you can ignore it. For example, our neighbors dog barks day and night. We hate it, but it’s not worth the energy to create conflict with our neighbors, so we refrain from repeatedly calling animal control. There’s no reconciliation, empathy, or even open discussion, and it’s a half step above what we saw yesterday. I think that half step we’ve created around tolerance is not enough space, because we lapse in our self control, we’re by default intolerant and adding to the harm done in hatred’s name.

The episode explored so many touchy conflicts, conservative vs. liberal, black vs. white, pro-life vs. pro-choice, and Palestinian vs. Israeli, and found inspiring examples of people who were reaching beyond tolerance toward something greater. They embraced humility, listened, empathized, found common ground, cooperated, and humanized conversation. Today, it doesn’t seem possible, that we could be a society that chooses to embrace rather than threaten its minorities, but these are the values that will walk us away from that mindset. These were real stories of actual people who were able to overcome their prejudice, past the point of tolerance to something stronger. This is what artists have a higher calling to explore, and in turn what parents are called to share with their children.

Tonight and every night, as I put my kids to bed, I’ll read them good books about kind people and hopeful things. Even though it is a simple thing, in a culture full of fear and hate, it is an act of defiance. To read to them about love, as an act of my love for them, teaches them about holiness. It helps them see that’s who God really is, and gives them the discernment to see white supremacy as the opposite. Today we were already planning to go to to the Hirshhorn to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit about political prisoners. This too is an act of defiance, to share hope with my children.  The exhibit shows how standing up for love and freedom is costly, but still heroic and necessary. The act of raising up a generation, leading them toward hope through the arts and giving them the tools to create on their own, is more powerful than we realize. The arts are the language kids are most likely to understand, we see this in the way that fables and fairy tales have endured for centuries, but they only remember our lectures for about 15 seconds.  The arts are also our promise to them- that despite what they see on the news, there is a promise of something better. May their inspired imaginations, writing, music, visuals and drama be the unintended result of this weekends rally.

Maybe there is space for art in the world on a morning after a disgrace like this. It’s our reaction to not feel like it, to feel unworthy of it, but if we are intent on defying things like the KKK, maybe even something as simple as butterflies will show how deeply we disagree with them. Maybe it shows that you don’t have to be flawless to be beautiful, or that no one can truly lay claim to land, or that innocent beauty is the true essence of God’s creation and not a bunch of tikki torch carrying assholes. I was originally going to offer hope, that the Shenandoah is not close to, nor could it ever be overrun by addiction. That despite whatever problems we have as people, the beauty in nature will not fade from these mountains because God is with us. Or maybe that the purity of creation has incredible power to refresh the souls of the weary.

We confess the sins that have brought us to this point. Yesterday was domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists, we know because we have behaved this way many times before. Despite what people say, this is us. Some days people march, and we know where to throw stones, but most days we’re satisfied with tolerating one another, and both attitudes need forgiveness. We condemn racism and supremacy, but we do so as an action of hope, not as a part of our surprise or disgust. We trade in our tolerance for compassion, openness, forgiveness, reconciliation and most of all love. We dare to hope for something greater than what binds us now, and we extend that hope in every art form that we know how-books, movies, plays, music, paintings, photos, sculpture, anything, to inspire one another and to free our children from inheriting these sins.

If you’re not able to look at flowers and butterflies today, it’s understandable, I’m not quite there yet either. They seem insignificant compared to the grief we feel over what one human is willing to do to another. But I’m posting them anyways because I know my kids and I need this beauty.  And to acknowledge that while my heart is filled with the same emotions as yours, this is the truth we must hold onto: the hatred and fear that evil incites can be radically transformed by hope into love and beauty if we let them.  Possibly the transformation will be so startling that the white supremacy movement will shriek and shrink up in horror like the wicked witch of the west, and evaporate into our history books forever.

 

Supporting Foster Care

Substance abuse is an important issue to me personally, because of my own experiences and those of friends and family, but in my opinion, it should be for everyone.  Because as we’ve seen with heroin and crack, a drug problem has the ability to devastate a community rapidly. Also because 1 in 10 Americans struggle with it, which means it’s probably a personal issue for you too.

May is National Foster Care Month and if you don’t care about the problem of substance abuse for any other reason, care about it because of this.  Because while not all children are placed in foster care cases are due to an addicted parent, it is often the precipitating factor.  The number of children in foster care has been rising over the past 5 years, mainly because of an increase in drug use. (Addiction Epidemic Creates Crisis in Foster Care).

According to a government survey, in 32% of foster cases, drug abuse was the listed reason for removal from the home. Neglect was the number one reason, and caretaker inability to cope and physical abuse were numbers 3 and 4 respectively, (AFCRS report, 2015) but that statistics is misleading because neglect, inability to cope, and physical abuse are often a result of a parent’s addiction. Some statistics estimate closer to 61% for infants (Parental Substance Abuse, p2).

Last winter the Wall Street Journal wrote a horrible but informative article, “The children of the Opioid Crisis.”  We can imagine that people who are high won’t be able to properly care for their children, but knowing there are kids living in houses with buckets of vomit everywhere and feces smeared on the wall is unacceptable. It’s also important to remember that substance abuse is a much bigger problem than the current epidemic.  This 2014 article, “Substance abuse a top reason children are removed from homes” focused on the influence of Meth on the Kansas foster care system.  Before that there were the same horrible stories about crack, and before that it was heroin again.  Through all the epidemics, alcohol has always been the substance most commonly abused, and though it is legal, it is equally capable of destroying a family as any hard drug. The fact is, if more people were sober, there wouldn’t be so many kids in foster care.  We wouldn’t be worried about a shortage of foster parents, or a generation being raised by their grandparents, or the psychological fallout that these children are suffering from due to abuse and neglect.

If you think you’re community is immune to these problems, you’re wrong. Statistically, Virginia is one of the states that has been least affected by the increase in drug abuse, but even in the beauty of the Shenandoah things have become worse.  According to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition the amount of children in Foster care due to parental substance abuse in the  Winchester area soared from 5 cases in 2012 to 42 in 2015.  (Northern Shenandoah Substance Abuse Statistics). One local foster care agency told me that parents who have been recently trained all have children placed with them already. That it only took a few weeks for her to be desperate for more parents to be trained.

During the month of May, please commit to praying for these children. Focus on the Family has compiled a prayer guide to help people understand the needs and problems of foster care and how to you can pray for them here: Foster Care Prayer Vigil  

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Pray for the children to feel love and to find homes that will accept them unconditionally.  Also for the caregivers who are under stress, and for the birth parents sobriety. But also we can pray for the many people behind the scenes working with and helping these families: those providing respite care, the caseworkers, people recruiting and training foster parents, police officers responding to calls, churches who support these families, counselors, teachers, and the communities leaders and government officials overseeing it all.

But don’t just pray for the people already involved, pray for your part too.  It could be as big as opening your home up to a child, or as thoughtful as helping with the cost of clothing, school supplies, or Christmas presents. Many Grandparents that have kinship care are overwhelmed, now trying to raise their grand kids when they were ready for retirement. Offer them help, bring them dinner or babysit for free. Foster children often struggle in school because of the trauma and instability, so if you can tutor, offer your services. Or if you have weekends free, volunteer with the state to provide respite care. 

Speak up for this issue in your church and with your friends, because together we can do more to support the families that take kids in.  Pray for it as a community, and for how you can support their parents recovery, so that the family can have hope of being reunited. Fight for these children, because these kids need it, and our communities need them.

Good Friday for Parents

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” John 19:26 NKJV

 

The biggest struggle for me as a mom has been learning to handle my anger, which is hard to admit, but I know that many, many other moms have this struggle too.  Most of the anger is unrighteous, my own impatience with their immaturity and behvaior, and for that I beg forgiveness.

But occasionally, when a child is rebelling knowingly and without remorse, the anger is closer to righteous, making it harder to deal with and understand.  The root of it is heartbreak, angry that they’re rejecting the rules that I set for them in love.  I’m angry that they don’t understand they’re not rebelling against me, but against God.  That they’re hurting themselves; compromising their honesty, friendships, or  other essential parts of their character.  

The weird thing for me to realize this Lent is how natural these feelings are, and to notice its reflection in the Old Testament and in the events leading up to Good Friday.  If God is the Father, then the Israelites are the child that learned every lesson the hard way.

Their story starts blissfully in the garden, His creation abounding with the joy of newborn innocence.  In Adam and Eve’s ignorance they were incapable of sin.  Their bond with God as close as a baby resting on a mother’s chest. Peaceful, harmonious, perfect.  I bet they even had that delicious newborn smell radiating from their foreheads.

The bond suffered as they bit into the apple.  With knowledge comes pride; He may be God, omnipotent and loving, but still they thought they knew better.  Suddenly there were consequences and an independence they weren’t ready for. God could have been angrier. He had warned them that sin meant death, but He could have chosen to smite them on the spot, to start over, but He loved them, and what loving parent doesn’t choose mercy the first time their child knowingly rebels?  He set the consequences, but He also promised them they would get through it. That someday He would reconcile it all and all that was lost would be restored.

But the bliss of newborn innocence was forever lost.  As with all toddlers, lawlessness began to reign supreme in their collective conscience. I am thankful that in actual parenting, the flooding of the world and fire-bombing of cities is hardly metaphoric, that less drastic actions are enough to discipline rebellion.  In their sin His anger may have raged, but far above it all his love remained.  A Rainbow was given in assurance; a sign of that he would never give up on them completely. And promises were made. Promises that were bigger than the number of stars in the sky.

Finally the day came, in the elementary age of their existence, when His chosen people were ready for law.  Many knew it already in the depths of their heart, that obeying Him was right, and ignoring Him was wrong. But they were ready to have it written in stone. Ready for the independence of knowing the rules all at one time, without the constant explanation of why they needed to be followed.  Some days they listened perfectly, and sang beautiful songs of praise. Walls fell down and battles were won.  A beautiful king, a man after God’s own heart,  led the people to a golden age of trust and obedience.  A temple was built, unparalleled in grandeur and beauty.  Wisdom was not only given, but also received.  People came from foreign lands to bare witness to this beautiful relationship- the bounty of blessing between a creator and His chosen people.

If only all the days of this stage were that beautiful, for anyone who raises elementary children knows they will only be ruled for so long before they want to see what their own will brings.  It doesn’t matter that your knowledge exponentially exceeds their years, or that their disobedience causes destruction mostly to themselves.  You love them so much, you can’t help but feel angry.  As they grow, the crimes become bigger, the consequences more serious.  The lectures last longer and the punishments grow more severe.   No matter what’s said, their hearts are increasingly their own, and they are no longer so easily swayed.  You dole out the consequences and they cry.  They listen to and reconcile to your love, but it’s almost the very next day when they make the same mistakes again.  

So it was with the Israelites, they broke the law as soon as it was written. With their increasing knowledge of the world, they clung more and more to other people’s ways, to Baal and other idols.  It worked for everyone else, why would it not work for them? They didn’t want to be set apart, to be special anymore. Even if it was the truth, even if it meant blessing and joy.  They wanted to be normal; to eat, drink and be merry like their other, ordinary neighbors.  

After so many prophets and repeated warnings with zero repentance, it was time to follow through with the consequences.  No more would God protect them from their insolence, and the nation was exiled.  Like grounding a teenager, He let their city be emptied of its treasure and privilege.  He was furious, as any parent would be.  How could they be so ungrateful? After everything He had done for them, how could they be so careless with the grandeur of His blessing? How could they still not know who He was, and how much He loved them?? Because surely if they knew, they would not continue to behave this way.

It took 70 years, but after the time apart God was willing to rebuild the trust again, surely they learned their lesson this time.  He wasn’t expecting them to be perfect, but maybe more faithful.  The nation, now in its young adulthood, was also ready. It was time to rebuild and say it was sorry.  At first, things were glorious.  They started rebuilding the temple, sweet psalms of praise on their lips again. But after a while it was clear this nation was not a penitential child anymore.  Something was different now, self-righteousness, unaware that it was no longer God, but their ability to follow rules that they worshipped. They assumed they knew it all, so God stopped telling them otherwise.  He was done showing them his anger, letting them feel the wrath of his displeasure about their choices.  They had always been stiff-necked and no matter how many times he punished them for it, He knew part of them always would be.  His hope to reach them now was by unleashing the fullness of His love- by making good on His promise of redemption. He would crush their enslavement to sin and those willing would truly be reunited.

But the time was not yet right.  He would love them from a distance while they aged, vigilant for the moment to offer them mercy and forgiveness. But, oh! How He loved them, more than any parent could.  Though they continued to misrepresent and ignore Him, He loved them so.  

He had loved them silently for 400 years when the time had finally come.  He knew His truth would largely be rejected; that most people’s hearts would still be too hardened to understand.  But he also knew every bit of the Israelite’s character.  He knew all the hairs on its head, and he knew that among them were enough pure hearts to carry out his plan.  He would need one crazy guy to announce it. Someone who wandered the wilderness eating bugs. It would take one humble virgin, betrothed to an heir of the great King David and 12 faithful disciples.  Sadly, one of those disciples would be corrupted, but that was how the prophecy was written.  He would need others to support the servants in their moment of desperation, maybe a woman, a harlot. Someone who would be redeemed from so much evil, and therefore be able to accept the moment of truth when the others had lost all hope. These would be the most lowly of people, sinners, uneducated, and from nasty parts of town.  But God knew, through these people- this tiny, faithful remnant of his chosen nation- he could fulfill his promise to Abraham, to bless all the people of the earth.

Our good, good father foresaw every detail, and it went exactly to His plan, but the plan was brutal.   In order to save one child he would have to sacrifice another, the one that was the Word, that was there in the beginning.  ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’ (John 1:2-5)

* * *

It is hard to fathom as a parent.  The story is so relatable up to this point.  The anger that stems from rejection, the pain and frustration, the difficulty remaining patient with people who are incapable of accepting the truth.  Parenting is a vulnerable endeavor, and that’s terrifying.  To think that the fruit of your womb, that you would sacrifice your own life for without a second thought, could possibly grow up and reject you. Or that they could embrace the normality of the world over the eternal joy you are trying to so hard to introduce them to.  We try not to live in this fear, but it always looms in the future, waiting for us.  The time will come when they’re young adults too, and your feelings and consequences will no longer sway their heart. They will make a decision to follow God or the world, or maybe they’ll try to do both.  There is wisdom, that if you train them in the way they should go they will not depart, but there are no guarantees. It seems like it would be nice to retain control, and have sone assurance against this possible pain. But if God refused to control the hearts of the Israelites, then would really want that control over our own offspring?

Before I had children, surrender was easy.  Take my money, for I really didn’t have that much. Take my house, because there are other places to live.  Take my stuff, it doesn’t make me that happy.  I’m eternally grateful that I’m not Abraham, because ‘sacrifice your child’ is not a commandment I would be willing to follow.  And in this story, certainly the pain of sacrificing one child to save another would crush me forever. But God asks all of us to trust him with our children and with their stories, that he will at some point reveal himself to them on their path. Even if that path leads them to some very dark and dangerous places.

Most days it feels like too much. How could God ask that of parents? 

As Jesus hung on the cross, almost all of his followers had fallen away, but of course His mother was still there.  A mother wouldn’t be scared by the sacrifice of her home, the loss of her dreams, the denial of the crowd, or the hatred of the entire world.  I’m sure she sat there sobbing, how could God do this to her? How could He reward her obedience with so much pain? How could He call Himself merciful? When you kneel next to her at the cross, you seethe with these questions too.  This wasn’t how things were supposed to be, her family or yours. They were supposed to have happy endings.

As Jesus hung from the cross, looking down at Mary, He knew the pain behind those tears.

“Woman. Behold your son.”

He knew. It’s a weird thing for a weeping father, in the form of a son, to be looking down on the son’s grieving mother. What can He say to her other than behold?

Behold.
If that was the end of the story, that would still be more heartbreak than any human parent could endure, but the pain of His story continues throughout the history of humanity.  Of people who feel His love, who see His works, acknowledge His presence and still continue to walk away.  It continues with you and me, knowing His salvation, but choosing something less.  It is no wonder that there is more joy in heaven when one sinner returns, than for the 99 who have never gone astray.  Because after that much painful heartbreak, who wouldn’t ditch all self respect to display their jubilation over a prodigal son?

Parents, God knows your anger, and He knows your heartbreak, too. But today He says it is Good. It’s a Good Friday because He loves us that much. Because He loves being your father still, even after all the times you yelled at your precious children.  Because He loves your children, no matter how they’ve disrespected you or Him, or even themselves.  As He looks down at the cross, He says to behold. Because every ounce of frustration and pain was worth it for you, and it was worth it for me. 

Holy week part 3: Fighting Denial

There’s a story in this picture that only I can see. It’s evident in the calmness of the sea and the clarity of the sky.  It’s in the peace shown in the child’s steady gaze.  This was a story that almost wasn’t, and one of which the child is almost wholly unaware.  Many deny the power the power of how this story came to be, but I’ll never deny its truth. 

The ocean in this picture could have been choppy.  The home the boy lives in began in turbulence.  Crashing waves of alcohol and drugs relentlessly churned up mud and silt, so that most often the atmosphere felt murky and brown.

The sky could have been full of storm clouds, for the boy’s parent’s sins were generational. Growing up in a home with such turbulence would have put him at high risk for the same behaviors: anger, depression, and a wealth of poor judgement.  Even if he could somehow make it out of the house free from addiction, he would still always be followed by the cloud of emotional pain.

The look on his face could have been one of uncertainty and anger.  He could have woke every day wondering, what kind of mom would meet in the morning? The one who makes pancakes, with exaggerated cheer, like everything was better than normal? Or the one who’s still a bit drunk, but mostly hungover? The one with a pillow over her head, letting him know he needs to pour his own cereal and peel his own banana. On those days he would fume and wonder, why was this his lot? What did he do to be born to such broken parents?

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This was how the boys story was almost written.  In the years before his existence, his mom was in the worst kind of denial.  The kind that had given up on dreams, joy, and the possibility of God.  His dad was covered in a cloud of depression, and would do anything he could to escape its existence, only it followed too closely to ever be free for long.  Somehow, in their pain they found each other, and made their own home, a shelter from those who had hurt and disappointed them.  Their own safe place, just the two of them, together.  But a shelter is not secure when there’s a door open to drugs.  One day meth walked in and quickly chipped away at the little hope they had left.

In a last attempt at peace, they went to her aunt’s house for Christmas.  The mom missed her relatives, but more than that she missed the hope and joy their house was always full of.  She wanted to be near those things, but she was worried they would see through her charade. There might be lectures about behavior and the choices she had made. They would maybe break out gospel tracts and embarrass her with the offer of salvation, but they did no such thing.  In fact, nothing happened at all and if she hadn’t been seeking peace, it may have even seemed boring.

When they came home, the dad said it was the happiest he had ever been. She was shocked. Which part made him happy? The sitting around for hours playing board games? Or the women chatting endlessly about their kids and other people he didn’t know? It was so typical to her, the fact that it amazed him was probably the most depressing thing she ever heard.

That was the happiest you’ve ever been?” she asked aloud, filled with doubt.  After all the epic parties and surreal, all-night adventures, that was it?

“Yes.” He said. “That. And also that time I was young and went to church.”

Suddenly she was felt dismay.  She knew what he was aksing, and was also desperate for joy, but didn’t he know that church was what she had been running from all along? Despite the rage, and the fighting and the drama, she loved him still. If that was what it would take to make them happy again, she would do it.  It was the only one of the 12 sober steps she actually knew, and she knew that’s what they needed. She knew church well and for their sake, she could fake it. At the very least, she thought it might be better than the awfulness that they’d been stuck in lately.  She even kind of missed having friends weren’t all slowly dying. She agreed, and they googled ‘church,’ and went to the first one on the list.

As they rode their bikes up the hill that first Sunday, she expected stability, a new community, some new hope, maybe.  But she didn’t expect Jesus.  She didn’t expect that she’d be sitting there, crying in the pew, letting go of pain.  She didn’t to expect to meet any misfits like her, or people who loved Jesus more than anything, or anyone who would pray for her in the hallways or be willing to talk about God even after the sermon was over.  Sitting there in a pew, paging through the bible, she was disappointed to realize that she had read it for years without ever really listening to what was said.  Truth came blasting through.  Every page she flipped to spoke directly to her soul.  She could feel something entirely new being formed in her. She expected stability, but she didn’t expect Jesus.

The people sang about new mornings, life and mercy, but she had no idea that it would be literal. Suddenly everything was new.  New friends, jobs, passions and tastes. There were baptisms, a wedding, a baby, a new home and then more 3 more babies.  Before she could stop and fully marvel, they were a family of 6 living miles away on a literal rock atop a quiet mountain. 

DSC_0742In His last week on earth,  surrounded by people, Jesus yelled up at the sky. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then the voice came from heaven saying, “I have both glorified it and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Her trouble is that someday she’ll have to explain this story to the boy.  It would be nicer to tell him that she was always as responsible as she is trying to train him to be. He adores and respects her now, but like all children, someday he will have to understand and forgive her weakness and imperfections.  What will she say? That it would have been better to been spared seeing the bottom in all of its ugliness? But then she would not be able to talk about all the things she’d seen.  The evil things working together for good.  The tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword being powerless against the bond His love.

What scares me is that even after people heard the voice, and testified that it sounded like thunder, or that maybe an angel has spoken to him…Even after that they still denied.  “… although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him.” (John 12:37)

It’s the most disturbing part of Holy Week.  That even after everything that’s happened- after all the the signs, all the miracles, and even a voice from heaven, they still can walk away.  How could He be the Son of Man? He doesn’t fit the expectation, so they make excuses. He’s just a prophet. He’s a man possessed. Even after hearing her testimony, and knowing God’s hand in their story, will her children do the same? Will they think it was by her own might strength? That rock bottom will push people up regardless of the power pulling from above?

Some people may, but I will not deny.  I witnessed a man lifted from the abyss of crystal meth to become a loving husband and dad.  I witnessed a woman bound by alcohol walk away from her endless party without a second thought.  For one purpose we survived, to testify. I will not look at this picture and deny the voice that came from heaven, and the authority with which it spoke.   

After a decade of constant growth and change, the people who meet me no longer sense that booze once flowed freely through my veins, or that my husband would stay awake for weeks at a time.  Now we look like ordinary people, with stable, ordinary stories. Raiding a child looking out at a calm ocean, ignorant of the fact that it used to be choppy. Standing under a blue sky, unaware of the storm that has been calmed. With peace, and a hope, and a future radiating from his face.  The power of our testimony demands that His name be glorified.  We cry out for Him to do so, and He shouts back to us that it has been, and that it will be again.

 

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Promising Winter

My children’s only complaint about our old house was the lack of snow. All winter we would read books like The Snowy Day and The Snowman, or sing about a white Christmas, and the children would pine for those experiences. They counted down the days until the winter solstice, and then were angry with me when they woke up to green grass.  I felt sorry for them, being born in Virginia where winter is so unreliable. When I was their age we lived in Colorado and Wisconsin, and the amount of shoveling you would have to do was the deciding factor when choosing a house.  I never dreamed there were places where you would have to refinance the house in order to take the whole family snow tubing, or sign your kids up for the hockey team. Being unable to provide the beloved weather related memories that I had as a child is the suckiest type of mom guilt.

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Last year, the boys weren’t keen on the idea of moving to the mountains. It was far from their friends and our church.  They loved the farmland we lived in the middle of, with all the tractors and cows and flat, empty dirt roads for bike riding. Compounding their grief, I also decided that moving was the perfect excuse to finally take all of their tacky, moldy plastic yard toys to the dump.  So, to make up for their hurt feelings, I promised them  snow.  I reasoned with them that they wouldn’t miss their icky wagon or cracked slide because they would be so busy sledding and having snowball fights. It was irresponsible of me, since our winters are prone to menopausal style hot flashes. In this instance, however, I was lucky and either their prayers were answered or I was punished for my foolish promise. Last winter we had more snow than I have ever had in all my life. We went sledding so much the kids were almost sick of it…and then we had a blizzard that dumped three more feet.

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Snow is the best AND the worst when you live with little kids on a mountain. I despise the 30 minutes it takes to help everyone find and put all their snow clothes on, and the other 30 minutes it takes to get them all off again. Their slushy boots leave tracks all over the house, despite my constant barking to take them off on the door mat. Their playtime always ends in shrill, panicked screams that echo throughout the neighborhood- all because one tiny snow crystal touched somebody’s wrist or ankle.

Despite all of that, the time we all get to play together in the snow is all the best parts of motherhood. Games, adventures, cooperation, and smiles, all occurring with all four children,  simultaneously.   It almost feels like an injustice, that my husband is off hard at work while I’m home sledding down the biggest hill ever, taking turns with my little ones so they don’t crash into a tree.  Even the older boys, who don’t want my help as much anymore, will still invite me to help finish their igloo or create an Olympic bobsled track. I’m allowed to relive the innocence of catching snowflakes on the tongue, and the sweet, thawing relief of a cup of hot cocoa.

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In the backdrop, the beauty of the mountain soothes the stress that has built up from playing the never ending game of “where is my boot/mitten/sock/hat/glove?” Without snow, the Shenandoah forests are menacing in the winter. The leaves disappear and all that’s left is a tangled mess of gray brambles and vines. Somewhere hiding (hopefully) deep within that mess are sleeping bears and snakes. The whole thing is regularly shrouded in a thick fog, (https://myapplemountainlife.wordpress.com/portfolio/misty-mountains/) dampening the air and our moods. But the snow masks the foreboding appearance by covering it in the color of purity and innocence. It reflects sunlight into the shadowy gloom, clearing the air and scaring away thoughts of danger.

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Even though our elevation is only about 2000 feet higher than our friends, our house is usually about five degrees colder. This year we’ve had a freakishly warm winter, but my promise to the kids still keeps. Most of the snow we’ve had this year is ‘special snow’- when our house had snow but the lowlands did not. If you ever wondered why school was cancelled when all it did was rain, it’s probably because of neighborhoods like mine. It hasn’t been much, but enough to justify the purchases of boots and snow pants for everyone. We’ve been savoring it, mostly because it’s so warm and the experience is fleeting.  I’m glad that even with the weather fluctuations, I ended up not being a total liar.  The kids still complain that we haven’t had a white Christmas, but I don’t dare make promises on that one.  Maybe we’ll just road trip to Grandpa’s house, instead.

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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.