This I Know: You Never Know

Some friends and I were talking recently about someone who was betrayed in a horrific way. This person was publicly humiliated, heartbroken and never saw it coming.

One of my friends said, “You just never know what someone is going through.” And that is a tremendous truism. You really don’t. You probably passed by all kinds of hurting people even today. People who are facing illnesses that are hidden from view. People who are heartbroken by the cruel and selfish actions of others. People who are grieving. People who are burdened by regret. People who live in fear. People who may put on a smile, but carry heavy hearts and tremendous worries. We aren’t seriously fooled by people who look put together and act like life is a bowl of cherries, are we? Because as the best-book-title-ever says, “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.”

A safer assumption is that even that person who struts and laughs and has all the right answers struggles with something. And some of the people you’d least expect struggle a lot.

It’s important that we live in community enough to share how we struggle. Sometimes when I’ve shared the heavy concerns of my heart, I’ve seen relief wash over people’s faces. I’ve watched shoulders literally relax. You can see it, before they say it: Me too. I know exactly what you mean because of this, and this and that. And boy does it feel good to tell someone!

I hope you have friends who are willing to listen, friends who can talk you through, pray you through and love you all the while. We all need love like this. And Jesus said that His followers would be known by their love for one another (John 13:35). Is that how I’m known? Is that how the community I live in is regarded?

Because Jesus sets a high bar: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Praying tonight that I’ll be sensitive to those hurting around me. May there be evidence that I am a disciple.

Jackson Five Friday: More Phone Failure

On President’s Day I took the boys skiing. We got up early and arrived at Whitetail when it opened. Of course, arriving marks the onset of one of the worst half-hours in all of motherhood. I’ve given birth with less effort and pain than getting three boys in boots and skis. Will, by God’s grace, is now able to put everything on himself, and even carries others’ equipment. This past week he was a little pack mule, carting gear and our cooler from the drop-off area to the lodge. He made multiple trips without a single complaint. When I thanked him again that night, he said, “I like to help.”

But Nate and Sam still require assistance. Lots of it. Nate can barely don boots without approaching tears. And of course, the best way to have children keep track of the gear (coat, gloves, balaclava, helmet) is to wear it (well, actually this applies to me too). When they are all dressed, and click those boots into the skis, I think that beautiful, locked-in noise produces some kind of high, not dissimilar to the postpartum hormone. Because I can barely keep from smiling. Yes! We did it!

Will and Nate headed off, with Will’s cell phone at the ready. Sam and I went over to the gentlest green. It wasn’t long before my phone rang.

Oh boy, I thought, when I saw it was little Will. But he wasn’t there.

A little while later he called again. And again. All by accident. One time I didn’t hear it, and he left me an accidental two minute long message, which of course I listened to in its entirety to see if he was yelling at Nate for slowing him up.

But the message only contained three words: “Are you okay?” I don’t even know who Will said this to, but it made me happy to hear it.

Clearly we are not be making much headway in the phone etiquette department, but I am so grateful for many opportunities to teach my boys all kinds of lessons. Time with them is such a gift. May I never take a single second for granted.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12.

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This I Know: Dying to Self is Vital

Sometimes when I tell really sweet stories about my boys, I feel compelled to say that they are also human and therefore fallen.  Little Will Jackson is indeed about the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful child in the whole world, except when he is being a selfish little ingrate or a brother-teasing monster.  I need to say that because I am about to share a story about him that is amazingly sweet and reveals how profoundly insightful he can be.

About two years ago, when we lived in a much bigger house with an amazing basement, Will and Nate spent hours upon hours playing downstairs.  They are the kind of brothers that regularly make up new games and get obsessed with said new game for weeks.  The problem is that one child is much more accommodating than the other.

One day Will came upstairs with tears streaming down his face, utterly heartbroken.

“He never ever dies to self,” he sobbed on my shoulder.  Truer words could not be said.  At seven, Nate never ever died to self, and progress at nine is still painfully slow.

As I tried to comfort Will and counsel Nate about why his selfishness was so hurtful, I was struck by how much Will truly understood the importance of dying to self.  He wasn’t just throwing the phrase out there.  He wasn’t just mimicking what he’d heard in church or read in a devotional.  He knew in his soul how hard he’d tried to make peace with Nate, how he’d given in, and accommodated over and over and over again.  Nate’s unwillingness to reciprocate communicated a total lack of love, and crushed his brother’s heart.

We live in a hopelessly misguided world that touts a “look out for number one” philosophy.  But the message of Jesus is (and always has been) completely countercultural.  He says that we are to die to self, to take up our cross, and follow Him. (Luke 9:23).  Whether you follow Jesus as Lord and Savior or not, the health of your relationships depends on your willingness to deny yourself, to put others first.

So how does this look in your marriage?  How does it look in your relationship with your children?  How about with friends?

This morning I am praying that I will be willing, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to put others first.  May I know the blessing that it is better to give than to receive.  And may we all know the truth of  the paradox: dying to self is vital to an abundant life.

Flip Flops: A Wedding Gift

I need to find a cute pair of flip-flops for a wedding gift.  Yes, a bit unusual but trust me, totally appropriate.

In the Fall of 2008 I was in a bind. Will was then doing his MBA at UVa, and was out of commission for Friday and Saturday. My sweet and faithful mom was going to come stay with the boys while I went on the retreat that kicks off the C.S. Lewis Institute’s fellowship program, but something came up. I don’t remember the details but I think my mom was feeling poorly. Anyway I needed help.

I was striking out every which way. It’s no small commitment to watch a seven year old, a five year old, and a one year old for a solid thirty-six hours.

I was brainstorming with Caitlin, who was going on her own retreat that weekend. She said that maybe her friend Liz could do it. I ended up flying Liz in from Grand Rapids. She flew in on a Thursday night. I met her for the first time at the curb at BWI. By the time we made our way back to Falls Church, VA I knew and loved a LOT about her.

I’d made arrangements to take the whole crew along with me to my retreat in Wintergreen, VA, which was complicated, but seemed better than the alternative.  That Friday morning I had a breakfast and lecture with my group from the Institute, then I raced over to pick up little Will from school. Back at our little condo I threw our things in my minivan because I was meeting with my group for lunch en route down to Wintergreen.

As we piled into the minivan I knew I was forgetting something. I asked the boys do you have this and do you have that. Do you have shoes? Does Sammy have shoes? Finally we pulled out and hopped on the beltway. After a few minutes I looked down and realized my feet were bare! Unbelievably, in the confusion, I didn’t bring shoes. Since we were running behind (no one else was grabbing kids from school or the weekend nanny from out-of-town), I decided not to go back home.

“What size are those flip-flops?” I asked Liz.

Eight. I think she answered.

“Well, can I borrow them for this lunch? Then I’ll stop and buy shoes on the way.”

What could she say, right? So my size ten feet pranced into the restaurant hanging off the back of Liz’s flip flops. Meanwhile she took the boys through the McDonald’s drive-thru barefoot. Since she’s a good sport, we cracked up about the whole scenario.

I can’t really explain why I never did buy another pair of shoes. We surely must have passed a place or two. I think Sammy was sleeping and I knew he’d wake up if we stopped. My optimism that we’d see another place proved erroneous and we ended up arriving at Wintergreen with a size 8 pair of flip flops and a size 10 pair of three inch heels I had packed to wear on Sunday.

Mostly we just shared the flip flops. At one point I did take the boys to the indoor pool in my heels, allowing Liz to visit the coffee shop in the flip flops. It was a GREAT look, I’ll tell you. Shorts and snazzy heels, chasing my toddler around.  Liz and I had some great laughs that weekend.

About a year later Liz moved to India to work for the International Justice Mission (IJM). When her time in India came to a close she came to Northern Virginia to work at IJM headquarters. One night we had Liz over for dinner.

“You don’t happen to know Sandy Gavin, do you?” I asked.

“Sandy!” Liz exclaimed. “Of course, I do.   I prayed with Sandy this morning.”

“Liz, Sandy was on that retreat with me at Wintergreen!  She was there for the flip flops!”

It’s a tiny, crazy world. And I love that. I love that my own embarrassing idiocy has formed connections that are so very memorable.

So Liz is marrying Matt this weekend just over the hill from Wintergreen in Staunton, Virginia. She may not be wearing flip flops down the aisle, but she is getting a pair as a wedding gift.

Giving thanks today for this beautiful bride and the amazing way that God allows us to experience and love one another.

How will you rejoice with those who rejoice today? (Romans 12:15)

Jackson Five Friday: Phone Failures

I’m not a person who spends a lot of time talking on the phone. I don’t get a lot of calls, and I don’t make a lot of calls. I talk to Will multiple times a day, but we are efficient and rarely chat for more than a few minutes. I’m learning though, that this limited phone use has its downside: my boys have no idea how to use the phone. I mean none.

The other day, little Will answered the home phone, which rings about once a week, at the most.

“Hello,” he said, “May I ask who’s calling?”

We counseled him about maybe letting the caller speak before requesting they identify themselves.

Then on Tuesday Nate called me from an unknown number. He had ridden to swim practice with my ever-faithful carpool buddy, but it wasn’t her number and he should’ve been there for about a half hour at that point.

When I answered, he yelled into my ear, “MOM!”

“Hey buddy,” I said, eager to hear the urgent news.

“MOM?!?” he yelled again. There was lots of background noise.

“What’s up, Nate?” I yelled back.

“MOM!!!”

“MOM?!?”

“NATE STOP SAYING MOM! And tell me what’s going on!”

“Oh, are you bringing the entry form for that meet?”

Holy cow I’ve failed. What kind of a mother so neglects phone etiquette that this is the angst ridden conversation I have about a swim meet entry form? So later we talked about how that exchange could’ve gone better.

But I guess it didn’t sink in because less than twenty-four hours later I got another call, from another number I didn’t know. And I got the call slope side with Sam, while Will and Nate were skiing harder runs with friends.

The caller was screaming and crying so hysterically that I couldn’t make out any communication at all. Yet I was certain that the caller was Nate. After quite a few seconds had passed, and I asked with increasing desperation, “Nate, where are you?” I did finally understand three words: double. black. diamond.

It ended up that the whole crew they were skiing with went down a double black diamond (which may sound worse than it was — a Ski Liberty in PA double black and an Alta in UT double black are in no way congruent). But regardless, Nate fell, got freaked out and slid down the mountain. His brother was so far ahead of him at that point that after waiting at the bottom he decided to ride the lift up and ski down to check on him. In that window of Nate’s panic, Marco from ski patrol came by and offered to let Nate use his cell phone, which of course, was very kind, at least in theory. In reality it took about ten years off my life.

On the way home we covered all kinds of potential phone calls. We even role played what a conversation post-car accident should sound like. Begin with assurances that you are in fact fine!

I’m hoping we are making progress, but parenting is hard work. It’s an all day, every day job. I love it with my whole heart, but sometimes the gravity of it is freshly daunting. I do not have a newborn at home. My little mouths feed themselves. They don’t require minute by minute attention for their very survival, but the responsibility is still weighty. Even in the midst of a magical afternoon spent skiing, there are vital lessons to convey.

I’m reminded once again of one of my all-time favorite verses: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” Hebrews 12:11.

Peace on the phone? With Nate? Later on. Yes. I’m counting on it!

This I Know: There is Freedom in Surrender

The Bible is full of paradoxes. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords was born the child of a teenage virgin. Jesus said the first will be last and the last first. Throughout Scripture and every single day, God uses the simple to shame the wise. But perhaps the paradox that we encounter most in this life is that there is freedom in surrender.

My husband is having an MRI as I write this to investigate a possible muscle tear near his hip that’s been bothering him for two months now. The first few weeks were tough for him. He was obsessed with the nagging pain and discouraged each morning when he woke up to find the ache had not subsided. But more recently he’s been in a better place mentally and spiritually. Not because the pain is gone, it’s not. He’s better because he’s surrendering to the Lord that if His plan includes chronic pain, Will knows God’s grace has been and always will be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). That doesn’t mean he’s not going to try to get better. He may end up having surgery for it, but the freedom that I see in him, because he’s surrendered, is inspiring.

But oftentimes people won’t surrender. Even some pretty devout followers of Christ. They tell God “NO! I will not have that. I will not give up this. I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.”

But the message of the Bible is that “Oh yes you can, but only by My Grace.”

Today on the Today Show I witnessed an incredible, truly extraordinary picture of this truth. Watch this and see that there is freedom in surrender (Jill Conley and I know each other because our closest childhood friends are sisters). I don’t think you can watch this beautiful woman and not acknowledge that life is full of paradoxes, that there is indeed freedom in surrender. But you can try. Either way, please watch and please pray for Jill.

Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God –this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Marriage Monday: Praying for Unity

I realize it’s actually Tuesday, but the sun isn’t up yet and I’ve sort of fallen off the blogging wagon. I’m trying to climb back on, even if I’m not right on schedule.

About ten days ago, Will and I saw a house that was perfect for our family. It had all the elements we’ve been longing for: a great yard, an open floor plan, knee hockey/ping pong space in the basement, an entry way right into the laundry room with lots of space for the school, swim, and baseball bags that plague my pitiful and fruitless efforts of order at the front door. There was a study with a fireplace and a two car garage. It was a timeless style even though it was built in the 1960’s. The neighborhood was gorgeous and little Will’s best friend (whose whole family we love like crazy) would’ve been two blocks away.

I also have other girlfriends that live within a few streets. Before we saw the house, I emailed three of my closest possible-neighbor girlfriends and asked them to pray specifically that Will and I would be unified about this house.

And we walked out of that house of one mind: we weren’t going to find anything better. We wrote up an offer with our realtor that night. We didn’t have a single divergence of opinion about what we should offer, or how it should be formulated.

When we didn’t hear right away, we figured that was not a very encouraging sign. We thought and prayed about whether we should try to alter our bid, but both felt strongly that we should not enter any kind of bidding war.

When we didn’t get the house, we were disappointed, obviously. But we both felt a sense of peace. This was God’s will. We were unified again in knowing that even though we really can’t fathom a better house, this house is not to be.

So you may not be buying a house in a crazily expensive and competitive market where bidding wars rage, you lucky dog, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pray for unity in your marriage.

I am so glad I asked my friends to pray for unity, because God so answered these prayers. You may be facing truly weighty decisions or you may be choosing a paint color. You may be grappling with how to discipline your children or you may be wrestling with nothing more than where to vacation, but in whatever circumstance you face, unity is a blessing.

Why not pray right now for unity in your marriage?

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5 NIV84).