Got Change?

Although I think it would have been pretty miserable for my boys to attend the inauguration last week, I am a teeny bit disappointed that we only watched this historic event on television. From all accounts from friends that went, it was an amazing and uplifting experience to be there. Even watching ten miles away on the couch, I could sense the spirit of unity. And how often do you hear about that many people gathering together without incident? The worst thing that occurred was that a few children were temporarily separated from their parents–a testament to the planning and security of the event, but also indicative of a changed spirit in our beloved nation.

And change is fitting isn’t it? After all, President Obama’s platform is change. He’s even written a book about change, Change We Can Believe In. But for me the hope of January 20, 2009, was not about new government programs or a better international reputation, it was about the change in your pocket. And I’m talking about keeping more of it, or anything to do with economic policy, I’m talking about literal change. Coins and the words that mark each one.
We all seem to know that our coins and dollar bills are marked with the official motto of the United States of America, “In God We Trust.” A great motto to be sure.
But what came to mind last Tuesday were the latin words that also mark each coin, e pluribus unum, which means out of many one. Does that not summarize the image of the throngs on the mall last week? They were there from every state, with incredibly diverse backgrounds, opinions and convictions, and yet in that moment, all was set aside to celebrate the peaceful transition of power as Americans. Out of many, one. It was really something to behold.
While unity as a nation is wonderful, unity as believers is even more important. Psalm 133 tells us that God bestows his blessing on those who live together in unity and in Romans 15:5-6 Paul speaks a blessing of unity, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So even though each of us is a unique creation, we are called to use our different gifts in a spirit of unity for the glory of God. This week may we put on love which binds us in perfect unity (see Colossians 3:14) and apply the wisdom of the Puritan Richard Baxter who said, “In things essential unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity.”

Facebook and Image-Bearing Babies

After years of teasing my niece about it, I am a Facebook convert. My resistance started to crumble one day about seven months ago, when a friend sent an invitation to join and then view pictures of her baby. I sat there for a minute and thought I’ll just click on through here so that I can lay my eyes on that baby. And I started clicking away, “yes, yes, yes, okay, yes, yes, I agree…” You know how it goes. But what I did not realize was that I had clicked “yes” to sending everyone in my address book a friend request. Since I have never cleaned out my address book, many people heard from me for the first time in ten years in a message asking to be my friend. Talk about embarrassing. Talk about feeling like you are suddenly back in the third grade. Of course, despite the humiliation it was fun to see the “friends” trickle in.
But Facebook really is pretty cool. I like knowing what’s going on in the lives of old friends, and I like how you can easily share articles. I am friends with one of my law school professors, and he’s a major news source for me now. If he posts an article on Facebook I know it is worth reading. But my initial rationale for joining is still the best thing about Facebook–seeing those babies! Two friends posted newborn pictures in the last few days and I cannot get enough of looking at those precious ones.
I have always loved babies. I remember being totally fascinated by them as a little girl–marveling at their tiny hands, their expressive little mouths, and their heavenly scent. I was the youngest in my family and there weren’t any cousins younger than me (well, Cassie, but she is only 24 days younger than me), and my parents didn’t have any friends with babies. Other than longingly peering into the nursery at church, I was never around babies.
But finally when I was nine years old, my cousin Clay was born. I can vividly picture him snuggled up in his Moses basket. I remember feeling, with a nervous finger, the soft spot on his tiny head, and the thrill of holding him in my arms. Then five years later I became an aunt to Caitlin Suzanne Staples and anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I have always been NUTS about that girl. And by the way, any twentysomething eligible bachelor out there with the last name of Lewis and a love for Jesus is entitled to a blind date with C.S. all expenses paid by yours truly.
But what is it about babies that is so special? Is it just that they are small? Is it just that they smell so good? It’s more than that, isn’t it? I believe part of it has to do with image-bearing (please see this post for a fuller discussion of image-bearing). Even though we are all born with a sin nature, youth has an undeniable innocence, most manifested in that brand new life. Our adult reflection of God Almighty is marred and dimmed by our everpresent pride, but there’s no such pretense in a newborn. They are completely helpless.
Maybe we could all be better image-bearers by admitting to that same helplessness. Jesus told us that apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15). Striving to be a better image-bearer or a better person is useless. Therapy and self-help may achieve small outward improvements, but you cannot remove your heart of stone with human effort. It is only through faith in Jesus that our hearts are purified. (Acts 15:9). But praise God, when we admit our helplessness, God doesn’t leave us there. We aren’t left flailing away in our newborn faith, instead God pours his love into hearts. (Romans 5:5).
And you know what’s even better? He never stops pouring!

Clean Legs

A couple of weeks ago I wore pajama shorts to bed. When I got up in the morning, my son Will was amazed. He was just staring at my legs in utter disbelief.

“I have never seen your legs so…clean,” he declared.
And all this time I thought my legs were tan! What a sad reality to learn that for seven years I’ve been sporting dirty legs. God has certainly blessed me with some funny boys, and I love it that even though in my mind I knew exactly what Will was going to say, he didn’t say at all what I expected. It’s fun when people surprise you. It’s very gratifying to learn something new about someone you know well.
After thirteen years of marriage, moments of enlightenment about your spouse are somewhat rare. Although this is offset by the sweetness of mutual understanding, it is still fun to get at something you didn’t know was there, some hope, some dream, some inner dialogue that is ongoing. And the way to get there is, of course, just time. Gobs and gobs of time, and not in front of the television. C.S. Lewis observed that you can’t get what you want if you want it too desperately. He quipped “‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence.” And this is true. You can hardly sit down and decide to learn something new about someone. It’s an investment of time without a clear schedule for dividends.
Yesterday I went to a baby shower. It was a wonderful time for many reasons, not the least of which was oohing and ahhing over the glowing mother who indeed looks absolutely beautiful. It was also a rare treat for me to shop for a baby girl. But the thing that made the afternoon most special for me was to see so many friends from different parts of my life – friends I didn’t even realize the beautiful mama knew. One friend I know because ten years ago her husband’s office was down the hall from mine. One I know because our boys swim together in the summer. One I know from the C.S. Lewis Institute, one from my church, and one from a yoga class I went to. Others who were there I know through my boys’ school and a Bible study I used to be in. It’s very comforting to me, living in a big city where you can be totally anonymous, to see the paths of my life converge. It gives you a wonderful sense of belonging.
But just like searching for the unknown in the people closest to you, it takes an investment of time. When I first moved to D.C. almost twelve years ago, I didn’t know a single person. Many, many times I had to force myself to go to events where I knew I would feel like an outsider. But even though the schedule for dividends is a mystery, I have to say that all the investing pays off. Relationships of depth and true community are worth every second we put into them.
And the same is true for our most important relationship–our relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. Time spent with Him builds depth, builds community and yet He, by definition will always surprise us, there is always, always something new and different to learn. Don’t you love that?
Jeremiah 29:12 says: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
May we seek Him this week with all our hearts.

Happy New Year!

I love the fresh start, the clean slate, the limitless possibilities that a new year brings. I’ve made my list of resolutions and set some goals for 2009. But I have a bit of a problem. Do you remember that classic SNL skit where Martin Short and Harry Shearer are synchronized swimmers? (click here if you haven’t seen it) They are discussing the uphill battle that lies ahead of them, and then a deranged-looking Short says, “I’m not that strong a swimmer.” That’s how I feel about setting goals and making resolutions, you see, I’m not that strong a time-manager.

Yet the Psalmist says “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Yes, I want that. I want to number my days aright. I want to look back at the end of each day and see I’ve made the most of it. In C.S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape tells Wormwood that “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using a mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the present.” Isn’t that sad? But it’s a reality. We can miss the gifts we have in the present because we are dreaming about the future. For those of us who have young children, I think it is especially important to cherish every moment. And of course there is the temptation when I am rebuilding my one-year-old’s train tracks for the fortieth time in an hour, to think “won’t it be nice when he can build his own tracks,” but that’s that insidious altar. I hate that altar. I want to wholeheartedly embrace every “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” I hear all day. I have a seven-year-old so I know how quickly this needy and cuddly time goes.
So there’s a bit of tension between living in the present and goal-setting. On the one hand, you’ve got to look into the future to determine what it is you are going to accomplish, and I firmly believe that there is a specific will for each of us. Yet you won’t accomplish much of anything if you loiter there too long. Maybe that’s where the heart of wisdom comes in. When the Almighty teaches us to number our days according to His good, pleasing and perfect will then we’ll have the wisdom to make the right choices and to wisely allocate our time.
In closing, I thought I’d share a quote from a book I recently reviewed, What in the World is Going On? by David Jeremiah. Jeremiah said, “I am convinced that God puts each one of us exactly where He wants us and gives each of us a task that advances His eternal plan in a particular way…Today is the time God has ordained for you and me to be alive, and we are placed in our time and place with no less purpose than Esther.” Yes, Esther.
That means that you’ve been created for such a time as this and so have I. We better be ordering our days aright!