My Right To Die

Standing in line to pay, I was boiling angry.  A woman had shouldered herself right in front of me; physically moving me so that she could be first.  All sorts of scathing monologues were writing themselves in my mind, my favorite being, “Ohhhhh,” touching her on the shoulder and crooning sarcastically, “I’m so glad that you let me know how much more important you are than me.  How could I possibly expect you to wait in line like the rest of us commoners?”  It gave me some dark pleasure to then imagine a kung-fu scene in which I karate-chopped her purchases to the floor, all the people cheering.  Justice!

1920534_10152247494038352_1265178566_n We want the rules respected, don’t we?  We want to see cheaters and line-cutters put in their place.  Sports have referees for a reason.  Even checkers can’t be played if suddenly one person decides he wants to use the white spaces too.

There are rules, and relatedly, there are rights, and we tend to take them very seriously.  They are the fuel behind major movements and even wars.  They can draw lines in the sand between us and others, some shouting about a mother’s right to choose, and the others about a baby’s right to live.  One camp argues that marriage should be definable by two people’s love and commitment, another that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman, having been God-designed that way, as is His right as Creator.

Day-to-day though, our sense of our rights forms a smaller orbit.  It’s that inner irritation when there are only two check-out lanes open, lines four people deep, with workers seen chatting away, unwilling to open more registers.  It’s the waiting room angst.  The tense mood on an airplane stuck on the runway for hours.  People start mumbling, rolling their eyes; their “right” to be attended to promptly is not being honored.  A car whips into the parking spot that another driver was clearly signaling to enter; indeed, almost all road rage sparks from someone trodding on someone else’s rights.  Closing the orbit more and it’s the wife’s ire that her husband isn’t washing the dishes after she cooked the meal; it’s her inner rant going something like this: “I should be the one stretching out and relaxing, not him.”  My rights.  Mine.

It was a while back, when praying or contemplating, I don’t remember which, but a word came born upon my thoughts:  die.  There was a relationship at the time that was peppered with grievances of my rights.  I had many reasons to take deep offense, to demand my due; I was quite provoked.  Every secular counsel would have been to stand up for myself, to get the negativity out of my life by avoiding the person, to think about me, my rights.  But…die?  Die to self?  Die to demanding my rights?  There was a resounding yes, an inner warmth, even a joy as I gave that thought space to grow within me.

Our world knows little of the joy of self-denial.  We are encouraged to buy, to accumulate, to improve our physical selves, our marketability, to make a name for ourselves, to strive, to climb, to self-actualize, to get what we supposedly deserve (wealth, recognition, respect, or even simply our own way).

So, what if I died a bit daily?  Died to all these nagging rights of mine and all their hooks and barbs?  What if I sent my Record of Wrongs through a paper shredder; what if I dared to forget my injuries a bit, and focused my energy and strength on loving well?  When a resentful thought came into my mind, what a delight to be able to let it find nowhere to rest.  It could slide right off of me, it really could.

Ever since the Resurrection of Christ, death has been a gateway to life; true, brilliant life.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”  -Luke 9:23-24 ESV
Think of what a discordant note this makes with contemporary thought about our rights.  Our sense of justice conveniently ignores our own failings and focuses outwards, to the offenses committed by others.  We really are called to live in a manner exactly the opposite of this; we are to “keep our eyes on our own plate” as the Orthodox say, and to consider others as better and holier than ourselves.  Instead of focusing on our rights, we should be keenly aware of our sins and the determined routing of them when they become obvious to us.  Others’ offenses, when they become plain to us, become another opportunity to exercise dying, holy forgetfulness, and true forgiveness.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  -Matthew 6:14-15 ESV

What I did not expect in all of this, especially in the difficult relationship, was that God would bring about justice in a beautiful, healing way.  When I agreed to die, He enabled me to live.  When I did not demand, He delighted to give.  The testimony of my, though very imperfect, sacrifice caused a change in the relationship, and the person who had grieved me sought my forgiveness without me ever having to name the offense.  I was quite floored, honestly.  And since God had enabled me to let their offenses take no bitter root within me, my heart was already full of love and not resentment; there was ready grace and no debt to satisfy.

shortstory9I have so very far to go yet, in this dying to self, to my rights, to my own way.  But the joy that follows is a very good bait to advance further on in love and holiness.

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Giving Life a Voice

~A guest post by Andrea Bailey, a dear friend in whom Christ shines~

I used to think it was okay to be quiet. In a time where words are excessive and peoples’ lives are laid bare in blogs and social media without caution, only to be consumed—chewed up and spit out– by anyone who has five minutes to read them…and then forgotten. Opinions, reflections, stories—words are in abundance and so prolific that the average person takes very little time to let messages conveyed in media actually stay and sink in.

So I have often thought it pointless to share my thoughts, to give my silence, ‘my experience’ a voice. After all, these things that seem so hard to share publicly, that have taken years to compose, will be consumed and forgotten in a matter of minutes. But even so, in light of all that has happened with the Planned Parenthood videos and conversations surrounding abortion, it is time to speak up—if only for those who cannot speak. It is time to be a voice among many faithful voices and to bear witness of God’s love for those who cannot speak for themselves.

So please, take a minute to hear my voice and reflect on my story. Let these words that I am sharing not be forgotten and may they be one of many choruses that sing the profound love of our Creator for His Creation—for humanity made in the image and likeness of Himself!

A Story of Life

There is no need to go into all the details of my life. Let it be enough to say that my mother was left with a choice—to give life or to take it away—and she chose life. And she was a courageous woman for doing so. Knowing the shame she would have to carry, the comments she would receive, the weight of raising a child alone…it was not as if she chose life and because she made the right choice, life was easy. It wasn’t easy and there was much cost involved. And she carried that choice for life, day in and day out, as she worked and cared for me.

As she raised me, she wasn’t alone. God provided for her needs, surrounded her with loving family who helped her carry some of the weight of raising a child alone. Grandparents, aunts, uncles… all loving me and coming alongside. An aunt and uncle who took me in when she needed support and continued to show love and cherish the life she had given. But her choice to give life still changed her and left a scar…a wound that had healed but that could be seen. And yet she carried it–she made the choice to love me and she lived out that choice each day.

Perhaps it is because of her choice to regard the sacred value of human life, the life of her child, that her legacy of sacrifice and love lives on.

Fast forward to life today. I am consumed with loving and giving care to the six beautiful lives that God has entrusted to me—six beautiful souls whom I love more than I thought was possible.

Three years ago, my husband and I considered being done having more children. A family of six, a perfect balance of boys and girls. Life was full but still within the range of manageable.

And then everything was turned upside down. We heard the words, “She wants you to adopt them….” This question was asked of us regarding the placement of our twins, not children of my own flesh and blood, but children that would become mine in every way.

And we said yes…though be it reluctantly. I knew what we would have to give up. Being an average middle class family, I knew that there likely would not be money enough to give our children the life I had envisioned for them—sports, dance, music, private education. I knew it would demand all of my time to raise twins and that would mean that the other children would struggle, would hurt, would feel alone, because there wouldn’t be enough of me. I worried because I knew there would be brokenness that would permeate the core of our family, and would change us. I knew our choice would limit what we would be able to do…it would be a cost that we would all bear. There would be stress that would threaten to unravel the cords of our marriage, of our family.

And yet, all I could think of when I heard the question, was my own mother…a woman who chose life in the midst of what it would cost. The woman who chose burden and limitations and a giving up of her own freedom.

And I considered the beautiful young woman before me who had courageously chosen life in the face of unrelenting hardship. A woman who had every reason to end life but chose to give life. And in sacrificial love, asked us to give welcome and a home to the beautiful lives she had carried into this world.

I am reminded every time I look at the six beautiful children that God has given to us, that this life is not about fulfilling our dreams or realizing every hope we have for those we love; rather, it is about giving welcome and care and love for those who need a place to rest and find shelter. It is about giving out of what we have been given.

Christian brothers and sisters, it is not my place to give prescriptive plans for your lives, but PLEASE consider and do not forget those who are discarded, dismembered and cast aside. Please ask, “What can I do to help women who feel they have no choice, to choose life?” DO NOT be tempted to consider what you will give up or how you will survive because God’s mercies are abundant and will be with you in all that you face.

And be ready, because as you love and care for those who are forgotten, you will face hardship and it will change you and it will leave a scar that can be seen. And you will bend under the weight as you are changed, refined, exposed. But God’s mercies are lavishly given.

I have been asked when grieving all that we have had to let go of, “But didn’t you know going into this that this would happen?” I guess I knew that it would require a great letting go of my dreams for our family as I knew it…but not to this degree.

And even so I can say, that in those darkest moments of grief and loss, I don’t ever have to question if we did the right thing. I know our choice to come alongside a woman who chose to give life is close to the heart of God and He tenderly loves her and the children she gave life to.

I have never doubted God’s presence with us in this journey though hardship has left us grasping and questioning with expectant hope. I have always seen God’s mercies poured out to us, when I thought this would break us. And finally, I have seen God’s deep care and love for our children—a love that exceeds my own. A love that is fitting them for eternity and teaching them to order their lives accordingly and love life. And I pray that their lives would continue in this legacy of giving life a voice.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, “Here I am.” If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail…                               -Isaiah 58: 6-11

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Leave Margins

_MG_4804 It’s the afternoon margin, that slice of time after the lunch dishes have been cleared away, the next load is humming in the wash, the babies are laid down to nap, and supper has yet to begin gathering momentum.  Coffee, online reading, a bit of whole grain crisp bread spread with a heavy layer of butter.  The indecisive light outside, not full-blast noon nor soft late afternoon, just a bit static.

My daughter stands behind me, plaiting my hair into braids and twists and buns of all imaginings.  To look at her makes me yelp inside and sort of tremble; I can see a woman staring back at me from her luminous blue eyes, a woman where the child still is.  She reads my words and says, “Oh my word, Mommy”.

I watched a documentary about tiny houses; the whole movement of people shedding their excess and moving into homes that fit on a pull-behind trailer, downsizing their lives to the bare minimum.  It was both refreshing in regards to our culture’s rampant materialism and acquisitiveness, and at the same time rather narcissistic and selfish; when your home only fits you, well, there’s no room for others.  It has no give, no margin.  I’ve read of minimalists who only have enough plates, cups, chairs in their home as there are people who dwell within it.  Hard to have anyone over for dinner.

This reductionism isn’t just applied to space and possessions, but to time as well.  Day-timers with fifteen minute increments exist for a reason, for a particular type of busy person who really does run that tight of a life.  These people are not the ones to call if your sitter doesn’t show or you need someone to talk to; your need wasn’t scheduled and would create havoc in their slim-fitted schedule.

Why is it that when I ask how someone is doing, most of the time their answer is some variant of “crazy busy”?  Why is the first thing a new acquaintance says to me, when they’ve learned I have five children, “Wow, you must be busy!”?

People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it.  -William Howells, 1907

And I think they are going mad of it.  And the madness, I think, is only covered up by the filling and subjugating of the ordinary snatches of times of silence and introspection that used to be plentiful for us (standing in line at the grocery store, driving in the car, walking, sitting in waiting rooms, getting our hair cut).  These are now triggers to reach for a smartphone, to fill that void ever-yawning and scary with mini bits of information, with noise and distraction.

I, mother of five, small business owner, blog writer, and housewife, am not busy.  Now, I work throughout the hours of the day; I am far from lazy, but I am not flying about here and there, running this way and that, driving all over the place taking my kids to scads of activities.  My life is full, not frenzied.  

IMG_0624 IMG_0669 IMG_1923

I submit some possible helps, if you find living life breathless and harried and margin-less isn’t your cup of tea:

1.  Avoid time-stuffing.  When you have unexpected waiting times (doctor’s running behind, the grocery store lines are long, the boss is late for a meeting, etc), instead of reaching for your phone, breathe.  Really.  Take big whopping inhalations and exhalations and think.  Daydream.

2.  Leave margin in each day and each week and each month.  Have a line you draw in the proverbial sand, such as:  (day)  No more work after eight o’clock.  (week)  No more than three evenings a week for kids’ extracurricular activities.  (month)  At least one hike, ice cream date, or other family outing.  For a day, that avoids chronic overworking, and sets aside time for hobbies that would otherwise fall prey to The List.  For a week, that leaves four nights of unhurried dinners and plenty of margin for inviting a family over to eat or just enjoying one another.  For a month, that ensures that those good intentions to do things together won’t be lost in the shuffle and hustle.

3.  Give up the idols, whatever they may be, that demand the sacrifice of your family’s time and energy in gross disproportion.  It is not normal, nor healthy, to lack regular dinners together, sitting down.

4.  Say “no” when a optional activity demands the sacrifice of something that is more important.

5.  Let your kids be kids.  Don’t make their summer “productive” or be tempted to stuff it full.  Don’t even, gasp, entertain them.  That’s not your job, that’s the job of their imaginations, and today’s kids are suffering from major atrophy of that God-gifted resource.

Not a comprehensive list, to be sure, but a beginning place.  Leave margin, oh dear one, slow down.  Enjoy.

On Daily Kicking

It’s like finding a stiff wad of forgotten used tissue in a jacket pocket.  Or a moldy container of leftovers in the back of the refrigerator.  It’s the hair in the drain and the frightening herd of dust bunnies under the bed.  Gross and unwanted bits in our lives that we weren’t aware were lurking about.

Sometimes it’s as though God shoves a mirror in front of our soul and we can see them then, those awful blots, things we thought we’d long since gotten rid of.  Out of sight, out of mind, so God helps us see.

It hurts.

In the last few weeks we’ve been vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and spending time out in Montana.  We’ve caught waves, dug our toes into sand, enjoyed family, hiked, rafted, kayaked, and fly-fished.  We are all brown and heart-happy.  But God came along too, as He is wont to do, and He showed me some things I’d rather not see.

Sticky pride, for one.  Superiority. A judgmental spirit.  Just as I’ve been seeking to grow in humility and wisdom….oh Lord, have mercy.  Will I ever learn?  Will I ever have a pure, humble heart?

My soul recoiled at the sight of my sin; it would willingly explain away or slap some blinders on, anything but fully see.  “I’m sorry, God, I’m so sorry.  Please restore a right spirit within me, please forgive my proud words and thoughts.  Help me to walk in humility.”

Light bends around the corner and I remember that victory in the Christian life isn’t about giving sin a kick in the face and walking triumphantly away, never to deal with it again.  It’s seeing our sin, confessing it, seeking forgiveness, and then being attentive day by day to just how it gained a foothold in the first place and drawing a line there.  Defending that point of entry and daily kicking, knowing that the Enemy is wily and will try other doors when one is shut. Just like when we’ve emerged from the sin of selfishness and have begun giving to others, we might find that we stumble into yet another mire, of pride in what we’ve done, which is stickier yet and harder to detect.  It flies below the radar of our self-evaluation at days’ end; it takes God’s Spirit to reveal it, it takes God’s mercy and love to sustain us as we see all that black within us when we thought we were finally making progress.

So I thought about my gardens and how I prune back my plants because I care for them and want them to be healthy and not unruly.  An unkempt garden isn’t the work of a loving gardener, but a lazy, disinterested one.  So I must endure the Lord’s pruning, chastising, and training.  I must remember that the Enemy would wish me to grow wild and thick and choked on my own fullness, a breeding place for disease and rot.  But my Father lovingly prunes me for my good and for the good of others.  I have to bear seeing the black, knowing full well that He’s bringing about the white.

So we kick, yes, we bite our tongue when that critical word wants to sail out, we resist the pull of selfishness and go wash the dishes rather than curl up with our book.  We listen to our spouse’s grievances against us without giving vent to an angry retort.  We kick.  And we fail too, when we kick with just our own willpower, our own strength, when we forget that God is ready and willing to strengthen us, to go before us, to fight for us.  That there’s a difference between holy kicking and petulant flailing or proud stomping.

It is so humbling, how deep and frequent the pruning needs to occur.  I hesitated to write this post, because my humiliation is so deep that I wonder that any of my words could be trusted to be of good use.  I feel not quite ripe enough to speak.  Not faithful enough.  Not holy enough.  I am a plant clipped back and bare, all my pretty foliage and flowers carefully stripped away.  But, I thought, as my leafy mask fell to the ground about me, maybe it’s helpful to speak from the place of brokenness and shame to the others who are being pruned too, disciplined too, loved fiercely too.

It’s okay to be the vessel being formed, the wet clay being molded, to not have arrived yet, to be in-process.  It’s okay as long as the hands are trusted that shape us, that we lean-in to the Father’s loving correction and not away from it.  That we live transparently and honestly and humbly, and that we speak from an awareness of all the work yet needed to be done within us, which kicks our pride most injuriously.  IMGP4162

Just. Walk.

IMGP4158 Sometimes my kids make squirrel herding sound easy.

What is it in kids that makes them zigzag back and forth while walking, makes them climb every set of steps, and tip toe across low retaining walls, and swing around the sign posts?  What makes them take a dead stop right under your feet or walk backwards or make mad dashes that knock a sibling over?

We walked home from a church gathering tonight and as usual the children were scampering everywhere, catching lightning bugs, wrestling, and carrying on.  Sometimes this makes  me smile the benevolent smile of a content mama.  Other times it makes me cranky and weary.  “JUST.  WALK.  FOR.  THE.  LOVE,” I’ll bite out between clenched teeth, like enunciating would soften my words too much.  Some days I just can’t handle one more moment of exuberant wildness.

This pregnancy has been a rough one; lots of exhaustion and nausea, probably exacerbated by taking care of four other high-energy little ones.    Not trying to complain, but it helps to frame why my reserves of patience and good humor are running on fumes.  But just here is a place where deep change can be wrought.  Just here where the world would say, “Yeah, see?  THAT’S why I’ll never have that many kids.”  Just here where suffering is taken to be an altogether horrid and avoidable thing.

I get cranky when I fast.  My temper grows short and I feel like a walking ball of irritation.  How does a grumbly tummy cause such a sour attitude?  Because we are mind, body, spirit, not divided in neat boxes but smeared all through and through.  A sad thought produces our eyes to drip.  Embarrassment flushes our face red.  An empty belly makes us hangry (hunger-angry).  But I don’t avoid fasting because it’s unpleasant; I know too well the humbling that chastens my heart as I see my sins so very un-masked, so very laid-bare.  Because we feel we are awfully good and nice when we’re well-fed and feeling super.

Suffering, if not run from, if borne well, can serve our souls.  Through it God trains and breaks our whining flesh, making us stronger from the inside out.  He causes us to know our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our weaknesses thoroughly.  Knowing them, we can watch out for the rearing of their ugly heads.  We are awake.  Pain awakens.

The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. –Watchman Nee

 

If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis

 

We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person …… the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus. –Oswald Chambers

 

But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C.S. Lewis

My husband has little caches of Aleve all over our vehicles, our home.  When he gets a twinge of headache, he pops a few.  He doesn’t want the pain, so he avoids it.  He has no patience with his wife, who flatly refuses to do likewise.  “The pain is information,” I say, “My body is telling me something.”  So I’ll go lay down, drink water, be quiet.  Both choices are valid, but not when we do the same spiritually.  When we categorically avoid doing things which might involve suffering.  When we don’t listen to the pain, nor to the God who permitted it to cross our paths.

I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.

Robert Browning Hamilton

So when the squirrely children have worked on my last nerve, when I can feel anger pouring up my throat, and feel my tongue poised, ready to strike, just there, I can breathe a prayer past all that black, a prayer that God would help me, enable me, fill me, that He’d give me the grace to suffer well, to love well, to persevere.

And God smiles, ready to help.