Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Anna Grey

Hi Baby,

This letter is long overdue.  Today, when you woke from napping after only an hour, I was annoyed.  But when you let me sit and rock you for nearly a half hour, I was in love.  These moments between us are so far and few, what with having an older brother and sister to keep up with, toys to be dumped, games of chase to be played, furniture to be climbed, and a cat to be tormented.  You're such a little busy body, though momma must confess that her busy body rarely takes the time to slow down and breathe you in.  How sad to think my third and last baby will be grown before I take the time to enjoy her.

So as I rocked you today and you started to stir, I kept snuggling you tighter, trying to convince you how much better the world is when you're in my arms.  And for awhile, you believed me.  But then the temptation of stuffed animals was too great and you wiggled from my arms.  Time to get going.

Baby, have I told you that you're my secret gift I didn't know I needed?  You see, shortly before Lila turned a year old, we were out for a family walk, and Daddy and I were discussing whether we thought our family was complete.  Having one boy and one girl seemed so perfect, but we both had lots of brothers and sisters and wanted the same for our two perfect kids, so we decided, that yes, we wanted another baby.  Which is a really good thing, because later that week, I found out I was already pregnant with you!  So unplanned and unexpectedly you came to us, which is quite perfect now that I know you.

You, little dancer, bring LIFE everywhere you go.  The sparkle in your eye is literally contagious, and your playfulness transforms me to my 13-year-old self who's saying, "YES!  Let's go teepeeing!" at the mere start of your giggle.  Before you, I thought I had everything.  Your brother was born and shattered my heart simply by being born.  I didn't think it could possibly contain more love than it held in the moment I first laid eyes on him.  But then your sister came along, and she's turned into my little mini-me.  So what more could I need?  I didn't know I NEEDED you!  You and life and dancing and giggling and silliness and playing!  Every. single. thing about you.

But there's something else you need to know about yourself, baby.  You see, during each of my pregnancies, I felt very strongly and specifically how to pray for the baby I was carrying.  For Bear, I knew I needed to pray that he would bring love and joy to everyone he met (and he does).  For Lila, I prayed for kindness and compassion but also bravery and courage (and she is).  But for you, little warrior, God placed in my heart to pray for you who would fight for peace and justice, which quite literally scares the heck out of me!  I have no idea what that means for God's plan for you, other than the fact that you came out a fighter.  You are fierce.  Fierce in your love.  Fierce in your play.  Fierce
in life.

And I can't believe I get to touch and love that little bit of heaven's fierceness that's contained in your great big fierce heart.

Anna Grey, my heart is shattered again and just oozes all the love it couldn't hold.  Baby girl, you completed our family when we didn't even know it needed completing.

With all the fiercest love a mother can muster,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grace and Peace to You

You must first know that I am a competitive and driven person who also happens to be an empathetic, compassionate people-pleaser.  (Confused much?  Yeah, so is my husband).  Being 16 months younger than my older sister, our relationship is naturally competitive, so growing up we drove each other to excel, and excellence became the standard I set for myself. 

Until Bear.  My husband and I had our first born four years ago, and twelve days after his birth we learned he had Down syndrome (you can read the rest of my story here).  Both my husband and I had been athletes and were high achievers in many areas of life, so you can imagine how difficult it was to receive the news that we had been given a child whose involvement and inclusion would be limited in so many things in life.  But slowly, fear and worry gave way to fierce and incredible love as we got to know our Bear, and excellence and achievement were redefined.  

And though we have no trouble accepting Bear exactly as he is, we sometimes forget that outside the safety of home, there’s a harsh world that is often ignorant of his needs and abilities.  And in those moments when someone poses a ridiculous question or makes a rude remark, I’m reminded to extend grace.  Grace defined is “unmerited favor, mercy, clemency, pardon.”   I’ve been wrestling with that word a lot lately.  I make snap judgments, criticize without knowing all the facts, and am often harsh and unfair in my assessment of people or situations.  I’m quicker to handout condemnation than grace and find that I often shut myself off to people or situations rather than extend grace and allow myself to be vulnerable.  But the real reason I’ve been wrestling with this is that I feel that I’m finally beginning to grasp what God’s grace truly means.  Grace is one of the most commonly used words in the New Testament, so obviously it’s a big deal.  

While recently listening to a podcast on Ephesians, I was struck by what the pastor said about Ephesians 1:2.  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I don’t know about you, but I typically find myself skimming over verses like this one to get to the “meat” of the chapter.  But the pastor pointed out that the writer (Paul) was not wishing this as a prayer or a hope for the future.  Rather, he is declaring what IS ours because of what Christ has done.   

Did you catch that?  Grace and peace ARE ours if we are in Christ.  What does that mean?  What does it mean that grace is ours?  What it means is that I alone cannot do a single thing to earn God’s favor.   

And please pause and rest on this next thought: I cannot "be" a good enough person to earn God's grace. 

It does not matter how kind I've been to others, how generous I've been, whether I've spent hours pouring over the Bible and in prayer, and whether I've confessed every sinful thought and action.  Surely God cares about those things but they do not EARN his favor.  That kind of thinking leaves me enslaved to my behavior and performance and abolishes the amazing work that was accomplished by Christ on the Cross.  That kind of thinking focuses on ME and what I can do to draw closer to God, when grace teaches that he’s already done it all.  That kind of thinking is not grace-based; it’s works-based.  If I think I have to add anything, it is no longer grace.    

What is also beautiful about grace being ours is that we are free to extend it to others, too.  I’m free to extend grace to my husband if I feel he’s wronged me, to my children when they’re little heathens, to the hurtful people who don’t love Bear the way I do.

And what does it mean that peace is ours?  Simply put, without the cross, we are at war with God.  But when we come through the Gospel and the grace of Jesus, we are at PEACE.  We no longer have to war within ourselves or with God to try to measure up.  God’s wrath toward us is gone.  See, we are free from this insidious fear that keeps us in its grasp, telling us that our God is a just God, a wrathful God, an angry God and that we have to constantly work to earn his favor.  Just as my children often mess up, NOTHING can stand in the way of my love for them.  YES, our Father is just.  Yes, he is storing up wrath.  And yes, he has a righteous anger toward sin.  But it is a beautiful thing to be in Christ, an heir to the kingdom, received in love by the Father. 

That’s grace.  That’s peace.    
And all we have to do is claim what’s ours.  

Do you struggle accepting God’s grace?  Why?  What specifically keeps you from claiming the grace and peace that are yours?

Disclaimer:  I am in no way a theologian.  I have no formal training in doctrine, theology, Greek, seminary, or anything of the sort.  I'm just a normal girl who's responding to what God's word is doing in my heart as it renews and refines me.  If you would like to learn more, the podcast I referred to is Greg Pinkner at Crossroad Fellowship Church in Knoxville, TN.  You can access his podcasts here or via iTunes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Basking in Easter

I have to confess that being a mom of young children, I rarely get to pause and bask in the meaning of holidays.  I'm often busy packing to head to family gatherings and don't allow for margin or white space where I can reflect, especially during holy holidays like Christmas and Easter.  This year was different.  For the first time since having children, we were able to attend our local church service before rushing off to a family gathering.  And I was able to sit.  And listen.  And bask in the presence of God.

I'll confess that my heart was already tender this Easter season.  Maybe it's because I have a daughter who has the most beautiful, sensitive heart, and that we had been talking about the cross and resurrection all week.  Maybe it's because as I read my children the story of the resurrection from their children's Bible and relayed the Good News that Jesus is alive, Lila's eyes filled with wonder and excitement.   Or maybe the Spirit had been working on my heart through those things to prepare me for Sunday.  Our pastor shared a beautiful message on salvation, much more than just a sinner's prayer and altar call.  Reading from 1 Peter 1:3-5, he spoke in depth about God's reason for salvation. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
At one point during the message, he alluded to a scene from The Passion of the Christ.  Jesus is bearing the cross, and Mary wants nothing more than to be near her son, but the main street is jam packed with people, so she asks James to help her as they rush along the side streets, catching up to a place that she'll be able to be near him.  But when the moment comes, she's paralyzed by her fear and grief and can't bear to come closer, until finally she sees her beautiful son's body, broken, bruised, bleeding as he bears the cross for us and stumbles in so doing.  Immediately, she flashes back to a scene from his childhood where he had fallen and she had run to him to soothe him as she does in this scene and simply says, "I'm here, I'm here," to which our Christ replies, "See, mother, I make all things new."

Listening to the description of this scene, my mother's heart was suddenly shattered.  Why had this never sunk in before?  The amazing sacrifice that was asked of Mary--to not only carry, birth, love, and raise the son of God, but to give him up in the ultimate sacrifice?  But think then of our Father's heart and the sacrifice he made.  He was willing to give up his PERFECT son in exchange for fallen sinners and believe that he was somehow trading up by gaining us!  This absolutely blows my mind.  I can't fathom giving up my imperfect son for the bratty kid at the grocery store let alone giving up a sinless one for an entire fallen world.  So I sat in church and cried and worshiped in gratitude that our Father's love is so deep for us.  For once, Easter didn't mean rushing through the house to make sure I had enough diapers, everyone's change of clothes, and checking to make sure everyone's outfits were perfect upon arrival at a grandparents'.  Finally, I basked in the meaning of Easter.

How great is the Father's love.  All I can do is worship.