Monday, May 16, 2016

First Fruits: Meeting God Early

I am not a morning person.  

I am, in fact, a true night owl. If I can get past 9 p.m. I'm good to go until around 4 a.m. Then it only makes sense to sleep until 11 a.m. followed by a nap from 2-5 p.m. Such sleep habits are perfect for the jobless high school/college student, or even the unmarried high school English teacher on summer break I used to be, but they don't work so well, say, for a stay-at-home mom with a husband and a two year old. 

An Invitation from the Holy Spirit

After adjusting to the shock of being a first time mom and having an infant in the house, I began to feel like something wasn't right. Thinking it was simply lack of sleep (not understanding I was never going to sleep again), I dismissed the feeling. But the months rolled by, and the emptiness persisted. During worship one Sunday morning, as the pastor talked about the importance of daily interaction with the scriptures, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had opened my Bible outside of church.

I sat on my realization for several weeks more while the God-hole in my spirit continued to grow, until it was so big I confessed to a close friend my sin of neglecting God.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
John 8:32

Speaking the truth of my sin threw open the door to my soul, allowing the Holy Spirit to extend an invitation:
"Meet me early in the morning, before the sun comes up, while the world and your house is still asleep," whispered the Lord.
I responded, "Wait. . .what??? Meet you when???"
"Give me your firstfruits, Pam! Offer up your day to me before it starts and I will fill you," said God.  
Early in the Morning

Was God really asking me to do this? But I'm a night owl! He's instructing me to go against the grain of my own personality. Deep in my heart I knew I had to, but I didn't want to. At the same time, I was painfully aware that late night Bible study didn't work. Even though I was wide awake, I couldn't focus; the weight of the day rested heavily on me and my mind constantly wandered away from a heavenly gaze, back to my worldly cares. The more I begged him to show me another avenue, the more convicted I became that, for me, there were no other options. 

Early it is! Now let me make sure a hammer is on my night stand so I can smash that clock when the alarm goes off!

Looking for Proof

When my husband and I held our marriage retreat back in December, my top personal goal for 2016 was to be an early riser and spend time with God before my day got started. Still questioning whether or not this was the best way, I hopped on my favorite Bible website and did a key word search for 'early morning.' It would appear that the scriptures are veritably stuffed with examples of those who rose before the sun to conduct important business with and for God. 

Early in the morning:
  • Abraham took Isaac to the mountain intending to sacrifice himas God had commanded
  • Moses approached Pharaoh to plead for the release of God's people and to warn him of the coming plagues
  • Joshua lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land
  • Job offered sacrifices to God on behalf of his children to cover their sins
  • Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joanna went to the tomb with oils to care for Jesus' body
And the most compelling:

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark,
 Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, 
where he prayed."
Mark 1:35

Twilight Time

It hasn't always been easy or fun, but it has been worth it to meet Jesus in the quiet of the darkness just before dawn. No noise in the street outside, my husband and son still deep in slumbera hot cup of coffee and my Bible.  It is a precious time when I delve into the scriptures and bask in the glow of the God who invited me into this sweet fellowship. I confess that there are mornings when I doze off, and mornings when I hit snooze a few times before I can drag myself out from under the covers. There have also been a few days when I just couldn't do it; but by the end of those days I'm so thoroughly drained by life that I know I won't sleep through the next day's divine appointment. I'm still a night owl; I always will be. But there's something special about the morning.

"Satisfy us in the morning 
with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy 
and be glad all our days."
Psalm 90:14 

To Ponder

I'm reminded of the words of a favorite hymn, In The Garden:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses 

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

  • Do you rise early to meet with God?
  • How are the morning hours with Him different from later in the day?
  • If you have never given God the firstfruits of your day, I challenge you to do so.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mommy, I Want You To Be Happy

"Love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark...
to have been loved so deeply...
will give us some protection forever."
J.K. Rowling

As a little girl, Mother's Day for me meant another excuse to wear the pretty new dress that had been previously showcased on Easter Sunday, but this time accessorized with a pink carnation neatly pinned on the left side, just over my heart. Going to the florist to pick up two pink flowers for me and my mom, and a white one for my grandmother was a highlight of the weekend. That, and hearing my mom say how much she loved whatever macaroni and fresh glue-glob craft I presented her with after Sunday School. It made me smile. It was a happy day.

Then I grew up.

That's not to say that Mother's Day is not still a happy day, because it is. Let's just say it's an emotionally complex day:
  • The loss of my maternal grandmother gave me my first taste of the bitter-sweetness of the day. Suddenly it occurred to me what she must have felt all the years that she wore what I thought of as a pretty white flower, never really stopping to think about what it signified in her life.
  • I've had a ring-side seat over the years as both my own parents and my husband's parents lost their mothers, observing grief and the myriad of ways they have individually sought a new normal without the women who brought them into the world.
  • When I became a mother through adoption, I quickly learned that it is possible to feel elation and devastation simultaneously. The gift of a beautiful baby boy for me meant profound loss for his birth mom. I carry this amazing young woman in my heart every day along with the juxtaposition of emotion that will never go away.
  • A little more than a week ago, the woman who has been my best friend more of my life than not gave her mother permission to step into eternity and be fully healed. Her loss is my loss because we are connected that way, and because when you grow up in a small town as we did, everyone else's parents are yours too.
  • Then there is the amazing beach week I just spent with my mother. Watching her picking up shells and wading knee deep into frigid water whose pounding waves made it look like she'd been in waist deep, all for the little boy who calls her Mimi. Wishing I possessed a fraction of her patience for Play-Doh and stickers. Memorizing her face, her voice, her hands, her laugh.
The fact is, if we live long enough, Mother's Day, and every other holiday, birthday or special occasion, eventually becomes melancholy. The sin and brokenness of this world touches us via the outstretched fingers of death and relational wounds, marring days that should be filled with life and laughter. 

So, experience and wisdom have brought me to this junction, a crossroads where idealism and humanity collide. It is my purpose from here forward, on Mother's Day and every other day, to embrace both the heights of joy and the depths of grief - not just my own, but that of those around me. To feel it all. To enter into it willingly. Because One before me did the same. Not because He had no choice, but so that He could fully identify in every way with those He loved. 

"In your relationships with one another, 
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who...made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant...
And...humbled himself by becoming obedient to death --
even death on a cross!"
Philippians 2:5-8

A few weeks ago the phone rang, a Face Time call from Peru. But instead of a typical conversation with my South American family, this chat delivered a blow - one of my "fur babies" at El Jardin had passed away. Being the dog lover that I am, my heart was broken and I cried. In the moment it did not occur to me that Toby had never seen me cry like that before or that his two-year-old brain was scrambling to make sense of what was happening. I regained most of my composure and we went about our normal bedtime routine.

After several sloppy goodnight kisses he headed off to his room so his daddy could tuck him in. Seconds later, when he should have been in bed, I heard the sound of Little Man's feet on the floor. He rounded the corner in a dead run, headed straight for me, huge crocodile tears flying from his eyes. Bounding up into my lap, he threw his arms around my neck and said, "I not want you to be sad, Mommy; I want you to be happy!"

Isn't that really all any of us wants for our mommies?

(In Loving Memory of Glendel Marie Ashley.  See you soon, Tootsie! We will pick up where we left off when I get there...)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jesus Lives At The Beach

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters."
Psalm 24:1-2

In the weeks leading up to Easter, Collins and I explained to Toby that Jesus was no longer the baby who was born at Christmas, but instead he was a grown man who chose to willingly sacrifice himself for our sins.  We discussed Jesus' death on the cross as well as his resurrection. And we talked a lot about how shortly after his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven to take his place beside God the Father, and those who receive him as their personal Lord and Savior will see him in heaven someday. 

Ok, Little Man, the lesson has been taught, now time for a quiz:

Mommy: After Baby Jesus was born at Christmas?
Toby: He grow up and be a man.

Mommy: What happened on Good Friday?
Toby: Jesus died.

Mommy: What happened on Easter morning?
Toby: Him came back alive!

Mommy: Where does Jesus live now?
Toby: Jesus live at the beach!

Well. . . not exactly the answer I was going for. . . 

One of the marvels of adoption for us is the way God has truly prepared this child to be ours. There's the whole nature vs. nurture thing - we have observed characteristics that are clearly genetic, while also seeing evidence of our influence on him. But there are also aspects of his personality that are so much like Collins or me that the presence of divine fingerprints is the only explanation. This little one's absolute and undeniable love for the beach and the ocean is so much a part of who he is that it goes beyond nature or nurture; it seems to be one of the ways God speaks to his heart - just like his mommy.

"He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea."
Job 9:8

For as long as I can remember I have been a beach lover. As a young child on family vacations I wanted to be covered in sand or rolling in the waves for as many hours as the sun (or my parents) permitted. As a teenager I would hop across the hot sand and land on my lounge chair, reading book after book to while away the hours, taking dips in the salty surf as needed to cool off. As an adult I have nestled into the fullness and abundance of my relationship with Jesus while digging my toes into the sand, listening to the sound of the swells pounding the shore and watching the sunlight dancing on the water like liquid diamonds. 

From the moment we first dipped his toes into the ocean on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama at seven weeks old, Toby has been in love with the coast too. We celebrated his first birthday at Edisto Beach, SC where he ate Gold Fish cheese crackers covered in sand and laughed when the waves knocked him down. We hit the beach at Ocean Isle, NC as often as we can where he wakes up ready for the two block ride to the shore in his wagon. He wallows in the sand like a pig in mud, then runs for the water like a prodigal returning home. 

There's something about the water. And the sand. And the salt. And the thick, sticky air.

I know it. Toby knows it.

We take deeper breaths here. We relax here. We enjoy family and friends more here. We appreciate more and take less for granted here. We know what it means to be still here. We feel closer to God here.   

And just like my Little Man, it makes me want to lie down where the sea meets the shore and throw my hands up in the air in pure praise and adoration while the peace that transcends understanding washes over me again and again and again. 

So, yes, Toby - Jesus does live at the beach!

"How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number --
living things both large and small."
Psalm 104:24-25

(Post written while vacationing with my parents at Ocean Isle Beach, NC. Thank you, Lord, for this time with my family and for this bond you've orchestrated between my son and me.)