Jackson Five Friday: El Chalan and Grace Upon Grace

A couple of Saturday nights ago, my husband Will and I went out on a date. We are not particularly good at having consistent date nights. Sometimes we get on streaks, but we are more likely to enjoy a glass of wine at home. But on Saturday, September 15th, we had plans. I got tickets online to a documentary about Detroit that Will suggested we see. The only place it was showing was at an artsy type of theatre in DC (oddly ended up meeting the director before the show). I figured we’d hit the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown which happens to have a lovely little outdoor courtyard with interesting drinks and fried pickles.

We found a parking space not far from the theatre, and then started walking.

“Why would we go to the Four Seasons?” Will asked. “It’s in the wrong direction.”

I found this statement intrinsically irritating. “When did we turn eighty?” I responded.

We considered alternatives including the Brickskeller, which the iPhone informed us is permanently closed and would’ve been a longer walk for this suddenly feeble couple anyway. We quickly descended into that horrid dating abyss of no man’s land: how could we still fall into the pit of indecision after more than twenty years of doing this?

We decided to just start walking and pick out a new place. We stumbled upon a place called Ris. We asked to sit outside for drinks and appetizers, and they said they could seat us “at the back of the patio.” When the seating hostess returned, she was told “take them to the back of the patio.” We stayed in “the back of the patio” for about twenty seconds. No to Ris. Onward.

We then decided to go to Kinkead’s which was probably another five or six blocks away. I have fond memories of eating there many years ago as a summer associate at a DC law firm, but when we got there, none of the appetizers sounded too tantalizing. I was looking at the map on my phone as the bartender set down our drinks.

“Oh look, I’d love to try this Peruvian place.” I said, handing Will the phone.

“El Chalan?” Will asked, stunned. “This is unbelievable. That’s where Ed [Peruvian co-worker] told me we need to go. I seriously talked to him about it this week!”

“Well, let’s go then!”

We downed those drinks like it was a drinking contest and scooted on over to El Chalan, two blocks away. We now had only forty-five minutes before we needed to head back for our movie. But it was the best forty-five minute date I’ve had in my life. It was magical. The food was amazing. The pisco sour better than a margarita. Everything was incredibly flavorful. And I loved the understated ambience. A man playing the guitar was making his rounds, taking requests. He sang Peruvian favorites and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” One lady celebrated her birthday and was serenaded. She had the most contagious, embarrassed laugh I’ve ever heard. Oh was she elated by the attention. Amazing how fun it can be to witness someone you don’t even know have a great time!

A week later, we took the boys and my mom to El Chalan. It was too early for the entertainment but everyone agreed the food was wonderful. On Monday I realized that I didn’t have my wallet when I met a friend for lunch and had to have her pay. Nice. If you know me, it’s probably not terribly shocking. Misplacing my wallet is a skill I have. I’m amazing at it.

I tried to retrace my steps. I knew I had it on Saturday afternoon, but couldn’t picture having it anywhere but in the car that day. When by Tuesday my wallet just wasn’t showing up, and my online checks of my credit cards showed no use, I decided to call El Chalan. I had zero expectation that they’d have it because Will was there, why would I take my wallet along?

“Hi, I think I may have left my wallet there on Saturday night.”

“Yes!!! What is your name?”

“Kristie Jackson.”

“Yes, I tried to call you. But I do not know if that was the right number. We have had it since Saturday night.”

On Tuesday night my sister, Laurie, had a layover in DC and her hotel was just a few blocks from El Chalan. Obviously I had to go pick up my wallet, so we met, along with her daughter, at El Chalan. It was the third time I had been there in ten days, and it was just as fantastic as that first night. I had the same waiter all three times, and his winsome smile is without parallel.

At Bible study this week we looked at John 1:16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Grace upon grace. From a redeemed date night to protecting my wallet to enjoying El Chalan three times in ten days with a significant contingency of all my favorite people. Grace upon grace. The story of my life.

This I Know Wednesday: Feelings are Overrated

Sometimes we can get hung up on emotion.  We can put things off, or decide against some worthy pursuit because we just don’t feel like it.  And that’s often a mistake, because feelings can be overrated.  If I only ran when I felt like it, I would never take a single stride.  Ever.

But it is a truism that right feelings follow right actions.  I have lived this out in so many areas of my life, from not feeling like making a phone call to heading to the gym to attending a meeting to making dinner to volunteering at church.  If I do the right thing, I often find that I like it and that being “all in” is somehow emotionally recharging.

My pastor, Lon Solomon, spoke about this on Sunday, but with more eloquence and imagery.  He said our feelings are the caboose of the train, and that the engine leading the train is the truth of Scripture.  For example, we may not always feel like God loves us so much that He sent His Son to save us, but that’s the truth, and when we act on the truth eventually that caboose will come around.  I highly recommend checking out Lon’s last three messages — truly some of his very best (Genesis: Our Salvation in Christ, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

So the question is, where is a lack of feelings constructing a road block in your life?  Where are you not believing that the caboose will eventually arrive?  Are you caught up in appearances when the truth is that God looks at the heart?  Are you feeling down and dejected about all that you fail to get done (my house is almost never clean, the laundry is never done, and I am a terrible friend in terms of answering phone calls and emails)?  Because our value and identity should be found in Christ and His grace — never our accomplishments.

May we live according to the truth that right feelings follow right actions, obeying and clinging to God’s Word, confident that before too long the caboose will come chugging into view.

Marriage Monday: A Union of Forgivers

This morning I am writing in my prayer journal at Caribou Coffee in Shirlington, Virginia.  Not a usual spot for me, but I just dropped my sweet mom off at the airport and I love this little area, so full of pedestrians, and oddly, dogs.

This Marriage Monday I am praying that I will be committed in my marriage, that I will build Will up, that I will love and respect him unconditionally.  And I am praying this for my friends and family as well.

Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, who passed away in 2007, said that “a good marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”  I want to be a good forgiver, and pray that my husband will continue to be one too.  May we all be expert givers of grace!

Paul wrote that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”  A pretty amazing statement if you stop to think about it.  Not a short record, not a brief record.  No record.  Wow.  How different would our world look if lots of us tapped into the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to forgive our spouses and keep no record of wrongs?

Jackson Five Friday: Udder Unfairness

This week I took the boys for their annual pediatric check-ups.  This is an event I dread because the little rooms that they put us in usually induce bouncing-off-the-wallness like nothing else, and we are invariably trapped there for half a day.  But on Wednesday we smashed all records for in-and-out times and got healthy, albeit brief, reports all around.

The doctor asked mostly about Sam.

Doctor: How are his gross motor skills?

Me: Well, he swims on the swim team.

Doctor: How are his fine motor skills?

Me: Oh, he has beautiful handwriting.

Doctor: How about his speech, any concerns?

Me: Well, I guess there are some.  Like fox, say “fox” Sammy.

Sam: Foxthss.

Doctor: O.K.  Sam, say “other.”

Sam: Udder.

The doctor smiled and reassured me that this was normal.  As if I needed reassurance!  I treasure “udder” and “brudder,” and most especially “da brudders.”  But I probably wouldn’t have with Will or Nate.  I probably would’ve worked with them on letter sounds and not relished every single mispronounced word.  But Sam’s my baby, and time is slipping away from me.  The first ten days of school have already changed him.  He’s maturing at hyper-speed now.  It’s absolutely wonderful and I absolutely hate it, all at the same time.

But it’s not just that Sam is my baby, I treat him differently because I don’t subscribe to the family fairness doctrine.  I think it’s a crock.  The assumption of “fairness” is that people are the same, that one parental style fits all.  But these boys of mine are as different as different can be.  Why on earth would I try to treat them just the same?  That just strikes me as utterly, udderly moronic.  Sam is tactile, needs to cuddle and is extremely sensitive.  Nate is brilliant, but scatterbrained and benefits from reminders with regard to just about everything, including things that you’d be pretty surprised he’d need reminding about.  Will is driven and focused, but needs lots of guidance about how to not take everything so seriously.  If I know them and love them — and oh do I — then our relationships will look and be completely different.  This doesn’t mean I love one more than the other.  How would that even be possible when I love each of them with my whole heart?  I look at each of their little faces and am in awe — I’m cuh-ray-zee about each one.

If you have more than one child, I’m sure you know just what I mean.  And this is just a taste of what it’s like for Jesus.  He loves each of His creations with an infinite, unquenchable love.

I hope you live each day embracing the truth that the All-Loving Creator of the universe loves YOU as a uniquely created being, made in His image.  I hope you know that you are called to uniquely reflect some part of God Himself.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

May any light shining that I do be about glorifying God and not myself.  May I not compare or even consider “fairness,” but do all things as unto the Lord, with the assurance that I am loved.

This I Know Wednesday: Expectations Matter

As I’ve mentioned I am fortunate to vacation on Lake Michigan each August.  The beach pictured above is one of my favorite places on earth, and every year while I am there I get to see the same gal pals.  One of my pals is Pearl.  Pearl and I are kind of related, in a very remote way.  Pearl’s husband’s grandfather was my grandfather’s brother.  Regardless, I adore Pearl, as does every single person who has ever had occasion to meet her.  What a gift that I get to hang out with her and borrow her comfy beach chairs day after perfect day.

One gorgeous afternoon last month, Pearl and I were hanging out on the beach when she shared with me the key to a happy life: no expectations.  Although Pearl has a way of making every conversation hilarious, and we were definitely laughing a lot about this “no expectation” philosophy, this wise mother of five boys was also being serious.  And she’s right.  Expectations matter.  A lot.

Later that same night we were at a “talent” show.  We were not participants, but sort of just passing through.  The two acts that we saw were not of the highest caliber, to say the least.

“I’ve never been to this talent show before,” I said.  “But there appears to be a pretty low bar.”

“Low bar?” Pearl asked, smiling and yet perplexed.  “There’s no bar!”  And it was one of those moments where you are so on the same page that you can just laugh and make the connection at the same time, without a single word.

Low bars and low expectations are fine — dandy, in some circumstances, like family talent shows.  But living with no bar, free from expectations is something different, something truly profound and freeing.  And this is not a defeatist attitude; it’s not because you’ve been disappointed before (although who hasn’t been?).  It’s not giving in and saying “oh well, I don’t care.”  It has nothing to do with apathy.  It has everything to do with trust — trusting that God has a plan.  That you don’t have to figure it out.  That He is Good.  That He will take care of you.

Whenever we experience disappointment, we should examine our expectations.  I had occasion to do this just yesterday.  I had such a great morning, but then was discouraged and disappointed about a couple of things in the afternoon — oh the highs and lows of life.  Grumbling about it to my sympathetic husband didn’t help much, but an honest assessment of my expectations did.  Reminding myself that only Jesus never fails helped a lot.

In Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts she says that her mother often warned, “expectations kill relationships.”  So often this proves true.  Where is the life being choked out of you because of someone’s expectations?  And where are you doing the choking?  We can’t truly live without any expectations of anyone.  But we can resolve to be aware of them, to recognize that they matter, and that unrealistic expectations are a sure path to disappointment.

Paul says that he learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).  He couldn’t do that without the help of the Holy Spirit, and an omnipresent awareness that expectations matter.

May I follow Paul, as He follows Christ, and be content no matter my circumstances!

Marriage Monday: Pray!

I have been married for nearly seventeen years, which is a long, long time.  Of course, that by no means makes me any kind of an expert, but I am grateful to love Will and be loved by him still, after falling hard for him more than two decades ago.  But I also believe that marriage requires commitment and intention not just when you are starting out, but every single day.  I was twenty-three when I took a vow to love Will forever — I had no appreciation for what that meant.  I naively thought that being enraptured with him — his personality, his brains, his wit, his smile, his eyes and his tall, strong stature — would be enough.  Silly me!

And I don’t know about you, but I am devastated when I hear about marriages busting up.  Have you gotten an email with that heart-wrenching news from friends of yours?  I’m sure you have.  It’s terrible, isn’t it?

I’ve been convicted that I don’t pray enough over my own marriage or the marriages of my friends.  Hence, Marriage Mondays!  I am committing to pray for marriages each Monday and I’d love it if you’d join me.  I spent some time today, just going through my family and friends and praying for their marriages.  I’ll be doing this each Monday, and I will also try to share  a thought or two from some of the great books I’ve read about marriage.  As always, I would welcome your contributions as well!

May we each live Paul’s beautiful wisdom about love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.


Jackson Five Friday: Princesses, Smelling Evil and Understanding

My son, Sam, has now completed six days of kindergarten.  A feat, in my book.  This little five-year-old of mine may be as tall as many eight-year-olds but looks are deceiving: trust me, he’s a baby.  He has baby soft skin, an eggshell little psyche and the simplistic outlook of a toddler.

The other day I asked him if he liked his teacher.

Sam said, “Oh, yes.  She’s a princess, just like you, Mama.”

His teacher is a princess — she’s gorgeous and gentle and kind.  But do you know what Sam’s definition of a princess is?  A person who wears skirts.  For years now, if I don a skirt, any kind of skirt, he says, “Mama, you are a princess!” What an easy audience.  Love him.

Of course, he’s not always an easy audience.  He can be harsh.  Don’t think I’ve confessed here on the blog that Sam ends up in our bed every single night.  He arrives and firmly slaps the mattress three times, sort of like a rude and presumptuous knock.  And then — depending on which side he’s gone to — one of us heaves his sixty-something pounds up and over into the middle.  I would guess most nights this happens between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., but every morning I wake up next to Sam, oftentimes cheek to cheek.  And I’m assuming you know what it’s like to wake up next to someone, but if by chance you don’t, I’ll go ahead and tell you that you may not be greeted with baby sweet breath.  Well, a couple weeks ago, I was lying in bed, mostly awake, trying to convince myself to climb out and head down to the coffee.  Sam was there, of course, and Will was standing at the foot of the bed, dressed for work.

It was at this point that Sam made his declaration: “I smell evil,” he said.

It was one of those lines that you repeat in your mind.  Did he just say, ‘I smell evil?’ Yes, he did.  He just said, ‘I smell evil.’  Hilarious.  Sort of takes dragon breath to a new level.

I’m quite sure I’ll never forget that one.  I mean how many five-year-olds can insult and entertain in such an artful and biting way?  Plus it sounds a little freaky too, like it’s a sixth sense or something.

But I also think it’s interesting on a spiritual level: Sam believes in evil.  I don’t know what his toddler version definition is, the way I do with “princess,” but he knows there is a force at work in this world that is not good.

And I’m proud of Sam for that because there are people out there who deny it.  I think it’s intellectually dishonest — how can you live in this world and not believe in evil?  But they’re out there.  These people aren’t willing to concede evil because it leads them down a path where it’s really hard to deny the existence of God.  But honest people, even people that are still babies in many respects, know that evil exists.

Job 28:28 says,”The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”

Do you have a healthy reverent fear of an all-powerful, omniscient, holy God?  Because that’s the beginning of wisdom.  Do you acknowledge evil as a force at work in the world?  Because shunning it is understanding.

May we cling to the all-loving, all powerful person of Jesus.  May we not avert our eyes from following and trusting Him, but may we also not be foolish and pretend that evil isn’t a force in this world.  It’s there.  Sam can smell it.


This I Know Wednesday: Jesus Loves Me

With school and sports and Bible study all kicking off over the last week, I’ve been contemplating the direction of this blog.  Doing series of posts has a certain appeal for me because it keeps me focused and accountable, but I also like having the flexibility of writing about whatever strikes me.  Hence I am pleased to report that I’ve struck a compromise with my inner factions: I plan to post consistently on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.  Mondays will have a marriage focus, and I’ll explain more about that on this upcoming Marriage Monday, Wednesdays will be a more general This I Know, and Fridays will continue to be what they have long been, a fun way to capture moments from my very own Jackson Five.  So I hope you’ll click on over each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The focus of my Bible study this year is the Gospel of John.  You may know that John had a very close relationship with Jesus.  He was the only one who stayed at the cross through the crucifixion, and he promised Jesus he would be the one to take care of his mother.  Of course,  I am most excited to study the person of Jesus –His undeniable claim to be God’s Son and His sinless life which we are called to emulate by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But I am also looking forward to having a greater appreciation for how John was able to become so close to Jesus.

And already I am being enriched by this study, both socially (such amazing women are a part of this group) and spiritually.  On Monday, while I was reading the first eleven chapters as part of an overview I was struck by the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind (John 9).  The Pharisees were a little befuddled trying to explain away the miracle.  They interrogated the man, and then his parents, and then the newly-sighted man again.

And you can sense the man’s mounting frustration.  It’s almost as if he says, “guys, you are making this way too complicated, trying to get to the root of it all.  I can’t explain the mechanics, the physics or the why.  But this I know, I was blind and now I see.”

I was singing in the shower later that day.  Since I was home alone, I was belting out Jesus Loves Me like a rock star.  The song begins “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  This I know, just like the blind man.  It’s simple.  I can point you to God’s Word, I can tell you how God’s faithfulness has been proven in my life time and time again, I can tell you how Jesus is the answer to all my deepest questions, but if you want to know the mechanics, the physics or the why, then you are asking to understand Jesus without faith, and that, my friend, isn’t gonna happen.  Not today, not tomorrow, not in this lifetime.

If you want to know Jesus you have to have a tiny kernel of faith, but the Bible says that even a mustard seed is more than sufficient.  Jesus is pursuing you.  Do you have a speck of faith to listen, to answer the door where he is ever-faithful to knock?

I hope so.  I hope you too can sing your heart out in the shower, “Jesus Loves Me, THIS I KNOW!

Jackson Five Friday: “C’mon, People!”

A few summers ago I overheard my son, Sam, playing cars.  I think he was two at the time, and he was acting out a traffic jam — something a DC area child knows well.  At one point, one car yelled out, “C’mon, People!”  It was a funny nuance for a little guy to capture in play, but it also made me seriously consider the impatience that I obviously model in the car.  It was even worse that at the time we had been vacationing for almost two weeks in a place that has zero traffic and in which we spend very little time in the car.  It wasn’t like he was quoting me from that day, or even that week.  But these things sink in.  Sadly.

In fact, Sam had occasion to use “C’mon People!” again just a few days ago.  All summer I’ve been trying to get him to go off the diving boards at the pool.  He is a strong swimmer — he has no fear of being in the deep water, but somehow has been convinced that even the 1 meter board is “too high.”  We’ve offered bribes from ice cream to a trip to the Lego store.  He was just not doing it!

Until he was ready.  And it turns out he was ready last week.  He walked to the end of the board centimeter by centimeter, legs stiff with fear.  He stood at the end staring down, his tan little face, pale.  But then he jumped!  And when he came up he had the biggest  grin you’ve ever seen.  His beaming smile stayed there for the next thirty jumps, until finally we had to leave.

For the next few days he was obsessed with jumping off.  He tried a “flip” that was an utterly priceless and very audible flop.  He tried spinoramas and cannonballs.  Then Will and I were lying in chairs beside the pool, books open (well, he was reading, I’m not quite there yet.  I can read about six words before I feel the need to count, “one, two, three blond boys,” or at the very least eyeball Sam), and it was at that moment that we spotted Sam on the high dive!  He went off with timid legs the first time, but was running off fifteen minutes later.

Perhaps Sam realized he could’ve been doing this all summer and was trying to make up for it.  He was on a mission: jumping in, swimming over, climbing out, and back in line.  No stopping to chat, to eat, to drink.  The only thing that could stop him was the whistle for adult swim time.

But then Sam was behind my friend, “Mrs. Church.”  Yes, that’s her real name.  Mrs. Church is a great diver, her skinny limbs go straight in the water with no splash whatsoever.  Her diving wasn’t the issue.  It was her hair scrunchie.  She took the time to adjust it, when she was first in line, and Sam right behind her.

With her slight hesitation, Sam indignantly yelled out, “C’mon, People!”

Even though I got a very good laugh out of it — I am thinking this morning about how easy it is to discredit our ministry.  Obviously, we are all fallen, but it’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, when you witness someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus bring shame to His name.  I want my life to reflect Jesus.  I want to exude His love, His gentleness, His kindness, His mercy, His righteousness, His peace, His joy, and His patience.  Somehow “C’mon, People!” just doesn’t, does it?

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.   Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;  in truthful speech and in the power of God” (2 Corinthians 6:3-7).

Praying this morning that when I stumble I’ll make it right, for His glory.  Yes, that added a few items to my to-do list this morning.  How about you, People?

Sunset Glory 2012

Each August I vacation on Lake Michigan and marvel at God’s creation.  I try to catch the sunset every single night, but sometimes I have to be sensitive that my family doesn’t quite share my affinity for sunsets.  Out of the thirteen nights we were there, four times I caved and didn’t mandate that our schedule conform to my obsession.

So many verses could apply to these pictures.  I’d love to hear what verse comes to mind for you in the comments section.  As for me, Romans 1:10 stands out: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

And also Psalm 148:13: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”