One of those days

Why? Out of all days to come home early from work…why did my husband decide to come home early today!?

It’s been one of those days. The kind where I started a dozen different projects and didn’t have time to finish any of them – and the evidence of my incompetence is strewn all over the house…homeschool books, toys, groceries that haven’t been put away (at least I made it to the store, right?).

The House. Is. A. Disaster. And just when I think I might have enough time to clean up the mess before my sweet hubby gets home, I hear the garage door open. My hair is in a ponytail and I’m sporting my favorite 20-year-old sweatshirt. Oh well. It’s just been one of those days.

In the midst of this chaos I keep myself from freaking out by remembering my purpose.

My purpose comes from this passage of Scripture:

And they came to Capernaum. And when [Jesus] was in the house he asked [the disciples], “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).

My purpose is based on the rules of God’s Kingdom rather than the principles of this world. Jesus teaches in this passage that the Kingdom is paradoxical – what seems meaningless in this world has great value in His eyes. And then he holds a child…an insignificant child, and makes the most extraordinary claim that if you care for those with little status in this world – you will receive fellowship with God Himself! Whoa.

The house may be a mess. My to-do list may be half-done, but I cared for my children today. I can go to bed satisfied with my work…and I will tackle the rest tomorrow :)

 

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The wisdom of Gandalf

Eric and I were watching The Hobbit tonight. My favorite parts of both the movies and Tolkien’s books are the scenes with the elves. The land, the respite, the wisdom, the peace. Every time the characters leave the elven city of Rivendell, I am sad. I long to stay.

Rivendell is the setting for our favorite scene from The Hobbit. Gandalf’s words resonated with both of us. I think because they echo the way of God’s Kingdom…

Sauron believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I’ve found that it’s the small things, the every day deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid. And he gives me courage.

In many ways, Anne gives us courage. Her simple smile. Her sweet laugh and quirky wit. They keep us going. And just as Galadriel assures Gandalf… we know we are not alone. God is our helper. He is our Rescuer. He upholds our very life!

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life (Psalm 54:4).

All things new

Eric was reading to Anne from the “The Jesus Storybook Bible” again. Tonight’s story was from Revelation and it described heaven…

Anne got real excited and said, “When I go to heaven I want to be a doctor because if anybody that’s sick goes to heaven, when they get there, I’ll make them well again. I will take their temperature and tell them that they’re okay and that will make them soooooo happy.”

And then she changed her mind… “No, I want to be a teacher in heaven.”

But then she said something profound… “But Daddy, what I really want to be when I get to heaven is… ‘me.’ I want to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven. Daddy, will I get to be the ‘old Anne’ when I get to heaven?”

Wow. What would you say? This is an interesting question. One that I’ve thought about often. Yes, Anne will have a new body in heaven, but her spirit – or soul – will have the effects of having to live with a disability on this earth. Her character will be refined and strengthened from the hardship of having a brain injury. She will be beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

But I wasn’t with Anne when she asked this question… Eric was. And I think his answer was perfect. Eric said,

No, you won’t be the “old Anne” in heaven. God makes all things new. You will be made new!

I like that. Don’t you?

She’s a keeper.

It happened. Again. Somebody paid for our meal at a restaurant. It always moves me to tears.

I wonder what compels people to do this. Is it the little girl in a wheelchair? Is it how we interact with her? Or is it how she interacts with others? Whatever it is, sometimes, people are moved. And today, one lady was moved so much to pay for our lunch.

I know one thing. I think people instinctively know that there is something wrong with the world when they see a child in a wheelchair. Disability can represent the fact that we live in an imperfect world. But if you look beyond the physical, you’ll see a little girl who brings joy into others’ lives. Her very spirit exudes light and joy. You can’t help but smile when you are around Anne. God redeems the broken.

I’ve reached a place in this journey where my love and gratitude for our “new Anne” is stronger than my grief over the “old Anne.” I wouldn’t trade her. Yes, I think I’ll keep her ;-)

Kate is six.

Today is Kate’s sixth birthday. To be frank, I’ve been very sad in the weeks leading up to this day. The old Anne never reached this milestone. On her sixth birthday, she was struggling to write the letter “A.” Kate has perfect, beautiful handwriting and can read 2nd-grade-level-chapter-books.

Oh, I know that comparing is futile. But I wonder if Anne will ever get to where Kate is right now – at the ripe old age of 6. After many tears, I’ve come to the conclusion that Anne is on her own track… Her “progress” can’t be measured by the typical standardized tests. She is measured using a different standard – a “Kingdom of God” standard. She might not be able to read and write as well as Kate, but she’s good at encouraging others. She can’t walk on her own, but she is tender-hearted and kind (well, most of the time ;-)

And because of Anne’s disability, Kate has the opportunity to advance in “Kingdom” lessons too…. like sacrifice and patience.

We celebrated the stuffins’ out of Kate’s birthday today. We did and ate all of her favorite things – surrounded by all of her favorite people. Ironically, we celebrated Anne’s sixth birthday with the same people. This is what Eric wrote about that day:

This morning Anne was surrounded by the Bratcher and McKinney girls – they all loved on her and cuddled with her and talked to her. God had a good plan before the foundations of the earth and in that plan included a morning such as this – all for little Anne – just to bless her and show me that HE cares about even the little things, and especially Anne.

I could write the same thing about Kate today! Though Kate and Anne share different skills and strengths, they have one vital thing in common – they both have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, and He has a good plan for each of them. They are both good… just different :-)

An unfair exchange

We’re all called to something. Something odious. At least it’s odious for me. Sacrifice. Let me make one thing clear at the beginning. At my core, I despise sacrifice. I try to avoid it at all costs. Who really wants to sacrifice their wants, desires and pleasures? Even for a good cause… Seriously, even if we do “sacrifice” our time for a good cause, at the heart of it… Isn’t it just something we do to make us feel better about ourselves? True Sacrifice – gut wrenching, painful sacrifice is impossible – at least it is for me.

Yet, Jesus demands it. If you study the gospel of Mark, you might notice an event in the 8th chapter that sort of splits Mark’s gospel into two sections. The first section is Jesus showing his disciples and followers that He, indeed, is the long-awaited for Messiah. He heals and teaches and heals, and performs miracles and heals and teaches some more. The crowds are amazed.

At the end of Mark 8, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them who the crowds say that He is. And after they answer, Jesus says, “Yes, but who do YOU say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” And this is a turning point in Mark’s gospel.

It’s a subtle split, but Jesus turns his focus more on training the twelve in that dreaded topic: sacrifice. Check it out…

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Mark 8:35-36 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 9:35 If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.

Mark 10:43-44 But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Mark even illustrates this principle of sacrifice in story form… Remember the rich, young ruler? He wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus asks him to sacrifice the one thing he loves most – his possessions. The man can’t and leaves broken-hearted. His disciples are incredulous. “Who can be saved?” they ask. Jesus gives the good news. “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

I cannot muster the ability to sacrifice from within myself.

I have dreams you know… And they aren’t selfish desires – they are good desires, but for now, I can’t pursue them because of the time it requires to care for Anne. I have it easy actually. God has given me an easy choice.

  1. Pursue your own desires and let someone else care for Anne. OR
  2. Sacrifice and care for Anne.

Like I’m going to choose not to care for my own daughter.

But here’s where the mystery is revealed. Here is the paradox that I could have never uncovered on my own. You know what you find when you sacrifice your own desires and wants and dreams? And I don’t mean the “sacrifices” that make us feel better about ourselves. No, I mean the gut wrenching, I HATE THIS kind of sacrifice. Because that’s how I feel most of the time. I HATE THIS.

You know what I’ve found. Do you know what’s at the bottom of the deep well of sacrifice? What’s waiting when you really let Jesus be the King and surrender to that horrible thing he’s asked you to do – the thing you could never do by yourself? Do you know what’s waiting for you? Satisfaction.

As gut wrenching as the sacrifice is, the satisfaction on the other side is… well, it’s other-worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sacrifice because He wants to make our lives miserable. He does it because He knows that it is the only way to find true, soul-filling satisfaction in this world. He asks us to sacrifice because He loves us.

And Jesus, looking at [the rich young ruler], loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And the rich, young ruler couldn’t. And neither can I. Yet, somehow in the letting go and asking for help, Jesus does the impossible and sacrifices through me – and I get to experience that joy that surpasses all understanding. It’s not fair actually. I definitely don’t deserve it. But I’ll take it :-)

Year in Review

It’s May. May is always busy. In fact, there’s a post from a year ago that I could have just copied and pasted. Nothing has changed! Well that’s not really true. A lot can change in a year.

At the beginning of this school year, I set two goals for myself… 1)Write more, and 2)Exercise more. I’ve done okay on those goals.

Both goals were primarily about me finding time to do the things that I love, but I learned some valuable lessons in the pursuit.

Because of my writing, I was asked to speak at a national women’s conference in February. I’m one of those rare persons who loves speaking. I did a little speaking before Anne’s accident, so I was very ready to try out my teaching skills again. The conference went well, and I received encouraging feedback, but when I came home and looked into Anne’s eyes, I thought, “My place is here.”

I had a similar experience when I went away for a girls’ weekend with my running buddies. We went to Nashville to run a half marathon. Now that’s a major accomplishment, something that I’ve always wanted to do… But when I came home, and hugged my Anne, I had the same thought. “My place is here.”

I think there’s a part of me that still strives to find significance outside the home. It’s a struggle for most stay-at-home moms. The culture places little value on our work at home, so we try to reach outside to find significance. Writing and speaking are worthwhile pursuits (and I hope I get more opportunities), but my most significant work is the work I do behind my front door – the sacrificial work of taking care of my family.

This is so counter-cultural. And it’s especially hard to believe when I’m sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for Anne to have a bowel movement or when I’m washing soiled sheets or brushing Anne’s teeth. But the most significant thing I do – the thing that has the most eternal impact – is working together with Eric to care for our children. Somehow, these humble pursuits are deemed valuable by God. So, I’ll keep fighting against the part of me that longs for significance. And if I need clarification… all I have to do is look in Anne’s eyes and know that (at least for now)…  “My place is here.”

What I saw in the window today

God’s Kingdom. I love to think about it. Anne’s accident has stirred this new interest in me. Most of the time… I feel like a child – lost in a snowy forest… crunch, crunch, crunching through the snow – searching and hoping. But when I read my bible – and I mean really sit and read and think about what I’m reading – it’s like I see a warm, welcoming cabin but with all the curtains drawn – and I get excited and curious – and then a small corner of the curtain opens – and there’s a figure… motioning for me to peek. And I do.

Have you ever thought of what the Jews expected of their “Messiah?” One of the first words Mary hears from the angel about her son, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (emphasis mine). Her son would grow up and become a King. The word, king, represented something to Mary – and to all the Jews. Ruler, power, freedom from tyranny. They all hoped for it. Many still do.

Nathanael, one of the twelve, when he first meets Jesus, says to Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” He expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and make Israel the most powerful nation on earth. All of the disciples expected this.

John 2-4 are fascinating chapters because these events happened before Jesus officially asked any of his disciples to be “disciples.” He hadn’t asked them to leave their nets, or homes or other jobs. A few men – we know of 5 for sure- just traveled with Jesus and watched. And John, being one of those 5 – gave us details that none of the other gospel writers did… like Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-12). It was AMAZINGLY… ordinary. He made wine from water to save the host from embarrassment, and nobody saw the miracle except Jesus’ ragged companions and the servants. …Doesn’t sound very king-like to me.

Then John takes us to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:12-22). Jesus seems to act like a mad-man, making a whip out of chords, driving all the animals from the temple and overturning tables. Money was literally scattered everywhere. Why? Even the Jews asked Him why; “Give us a miracle to show us you have the authority to do this,” they cried. And he speaks spiritually; “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it in three days.” The Jews take him literally, and they scoff, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in 3 days?”

Why did he make such a public spectacle in the temple? I’ll tell you why – He. is. the. King. He’s not aiming to be King of just the land of Israel. That’s way too small for Him. His is a spiritual Kingdom – one that has no end, no limits. He comes into His place, and we watch as He overturns the spiritual leadership of the day.

John writes that later his disciples remembered what He had said and they believed. Later refers to… after the crucifixion, after the three agonizing days of despair, after the ressurection and after the ascension to when the Spirit came – and gave understanding. When we believe, His Spirit comes down and gives us understanding and makes our heart a temple – and Jesus comes in… and becomes King, overturning and scattering. Why? The answer lies in John’s next paragraph…

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man (John 2:23-25).

He knows what is in me. It’s not always pretty. But He came anyway, while we were still sinners, and destroyed the old temple – and built a new one in three days. Jesus is building His Kingdom…

one lowly sinner,

one weak vessel, and

one sacrifice at a time.

Dragon’s skin

I’ve been struggling with the amount of time and energy it takes me to care for Anne. It’s just so demanding and exhausting. But I think what I’ve really been struggling with is that caring for Anne reveals the sinfulness in my heart. It’s hard to care for Anne because I’m selfish and don’t want to sacrifice my time and energy to do for Anne what she can no longer do for herself. I struggle with self-pity, self-absorption and a lust for freedom to do what I WANT TO DO. But. If I can surrender – if I can dive deep into the life God has called me – a life of sacrifice and service – then my life will be full. I know this in my head…

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Matthew 10:39.

Do you know how many times these words of Jesus are quoted in the gospels?? Six times. Twice in Matthew and Luke – and once in Mark and John. That’s a lot. Jesus expended much energy in teaching the disciples the lesson of self sacrifice. He knew it was the key to eternal fulfillment. He knows the end of the story… when this world will be turned up-side down and the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He knows. He knows.

I’m reminded of a scene from a novel written by Randy Alcorn. Randy has spent years studying eternal perspective, and back in the ’90’s he published, Deadline, a novel that weaved together much of his research and study. It is the story of three good friends who share different beliefs… an atheist, an agnostic and a believer -and they are in a serious automobile accident at the beginning of the story. The agnostic is the only survivor – but the novel continues to track all three men. As we follow the believer into heaven, the images are breathtaking. One scene in particular deeply impacted me…  The believer who died left behind a son with Down Syndrome. And as we see the dad in heaven, he notices the most amazing music – coming from the largest and most beautiful orchestra and choir he had ever seen. It was HUGE – with countless numbers of people making music for Jesus – and he looked to the podium and saw the choir director – and he was surprised to see – a man – with Down Syndrome.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last. I consider it my greatest calling and honor on this earth to serve Jesus by serving my disabled daughter …But I struggle with self-sacrifice. I feel like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – as Aslan tears deep into his flesh to pull away the dragon’s skin. Just as Eustace was unable to peel the skin off himself, so Jesus has to help scrape away all of my selfishness… He does it because he loves me… and He knows the end of the story… and it’s good.

The cost is high…

I’m so thankful that I spent the first 5 1/2 years of Anne’s life in blissful ignorance. She was a precious child. She still is… just different.

I’ve learned so much in the months following the accident. We must lose our life to gain it… in other words, self-sacrifice is the key to living life to its full. Because of God’s great love for us, he removes the idols of our hearts and gives us great suffering to force our gaze to Him alone. And in return, we find Him all that is good and satisfying… but at Great. Cost.

I look forward to heaven when all the loss and sacrifice will be turned upside down and there will only be fullness and joy. Yes, I look forward to that day!