Tag Archives: grace

Mal’s Challenge

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**Once upon a time, my husband started one of those blog things I’d never heard of and would sit in our little one-bedroom apartment taking much joy in conjuring up witty and insightful posts to share.  That was before the hurricane hit and kids started coming (seemingly by the half-dozen) and the 50-60 hour work weeks began.  He’s back today to share something from the heart.**

Guest Post by Jeffrey Hazleton

Captain Malcom Reynolds with his crew aboard Serenity

Captain Malcom Reynolds with his crew aboard Serenity

One of my favorite movies (and this is a rather vague label, as I have no certain list of favorite movies) is the 2005 film Serenity.  This film is itself a continuation (one blogger called it “a [wonderful] impossible fairytale ending”) of the cancelled television series Firefly.

The premise of both the TV show and the film is a “space cowboy” drama set 500 years in the future, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of a transport/cargo ship.  Space ship, that is.

Their lives of petty crime are interrupted as they are swept up in a massive conspiracy.  Their government (the Alliance) has dispatched an operative to eliminate the threat that one of their passengers represents – a secret that, if known, might bring about the collapse of the ruling powers.

This operative is relentless in his pursuit and beyond remorse in the atrocities he commits to achieve his objective.  After one such event (he wipes out an entire city just so our heroes have no refuge to run to)  Captain Reynolds and his crew learn the origin of the conspiracy, which they investigate and confirm, to their horror.

In one of the defining points of the series, the movie, and the man himself, the captain tells his crew of his intention to act on behalf of those who have been victimized by the Alliance:

“This report is maybe twelve years old? Parliament buried it, and it remained buried, until River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear. ‘Cause there’s a whole universe of folk who are going to know it too; they’re going to see it.

Somebody has to speak for these people.

You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you’ve all come to the same place, so now I’m asking more of you than I have before — maybe all. [Because] sure as I know anything, I know this: they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people … better. And I do not hold to that.

So no more running. I aim to misbehave.”
Video of Mal’s Speech

This is my favorite moment of the movie.  The scene gets me every time.  I feel Mal’s outrage at the injustice and understand his need to speak for and defend those who cannot help themselves.

In this speech, he reveals his philosophical difference with the ruling powers:  They believe they can make a better world by making better people.  He knows this is not the case.  You cannot make a person better.  All the evil the Alliance has done and hurt they have caused grows out of this humanistic philosophy.  And he is determined to put an end to it.

 I am determined to put an end to it.  This thinking that I can effect change in others by some strength of character or force of will or marvelous example of how to conduct oneself in life.

Here’s the point:  I am not commanded to do Jesus’ work, only to follow His example and keep His commands.  And that is why Malcolm Reynolds’ speech resonates so deeply with me.  I cannot make.people.better.  Whether it be my kids, my wife, my friends, my co-workers – whomever – I cannot change their heads or their hearts.  That is God’s job.

My job is to lay down my life, to embrace the death of self in the service of my King.  I am supposed to love God with everything I’ve got – heart, soul, mind, strength – and to love everyone else as much as I love myself.  But what does that look like?

In Matthew 9, Jesus

“went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”         Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus loved these people.  Loved them.  The word translated “had compassion” here means that he was moved in His gut for them.  He was touched to the core with concern for the people.  So what did He do?  He served them.  Did what He could to meet their needs.  Especially their eternal need – for a right relationship with God.  He proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom.

That is what I’m supposed to do.  See people as God sees them.  Broken and lost, in need of the Good Shepherd.  And then respond in compassion – serve them and give them hope – tell them about Jesus and the eternal difference He will make for them and in them.

It’s not my job to change people – to make them better.  No man can do that; only God can.  It is, however, my commission to love and serve everyone my life is connected to, to make disciples, teaching them to know and follow Jesus all the days of their lives.

 

 

 

 

The One Who Lost His Way

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I could never relate to that story Jesus told more than I did one night last weekend.

Lazy Saturday.  Family togetherness.  Why not let it spill over into the things that must be done?  The buying of the groceries… because what mother-of-six in her right mind would go during the weekday, with all her ducklings in a row, without the help of another pair of adult hands (and eyes) – and expect it to be anything less than unproductive?

And sure, taking your entire family to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries on a Saturday evening at the newly-remodeled, expanded grocery in town – yes this might not be ideal.  But fun, right?

Or maybe it was just a plain bad idea.

So there we were.  I had the list and a few kids… he had some items to find and a few kids… and we’d split up and come back together and split and come back together….

We did this for a few hours.  I pushed the baby in the stroller, with Maggie pushing a cart behind me (the small kind that I imagine works well for college students or bachelors or couples with no kids – but certainly will only hold a fraction of our fare…)  And the hard-working husband – he pushed a full size buggy in front of his crew.

When we finally had all but one item, we were standing there at the checkout.  Jeff darted down a nearby aisle – and took Christopher with him – to retrieve the final thing on our list.  By this time Olivia was crying in her stroller, so I unbuckled her and lifted her out to hold and soothe her.  I turn around to tell Carson – my active litte almost-three-year-old – that he could take a rest in the stroller (and this would also make it easier for me to keep him in one spot.)

Only, when I turned around, he wasn’t there.  I quickly scanned my crew.  The three big girls were there.  No Carson.  I had only turned around for a few seconds.  How could he have disappeared?

I quickly glanced down aisle where Jeff and Christopher were looking for the right brand of the item we needed.  There were so many people, I couldn’t tell if he had Carson with him, so I called out to them.

No, he didn’t have Carson.

I looked around again, and couldn’t see him anywhere.

I left the girls standing there in front of the checkout, with the empty stroller, and with Olivia on my hip I went the opposite direction, quickly scanning down aisles and and in between check-out lanes.  I paced up and down a few times.  Saw Jeff coming back my direction shaking his head with his hands up in the air.  I re-traced my steps back the opposite direction again.

He’s so small.  So easy to miss…

I kept thinking that he just couldn’t have gone that far.  I had only turned around for two seconds.  If he hadn’t gone that far, why haven’t we found him yet?

Then I caught my breath as a thought occurred to me – unless someone took him.

This is about the time that panic was about to set in.  And I cried out a desperate prayer inside my head.

And then, the instant I breathed that prayer, I heard him.

I heard that familiar screaming cry I’ve heard a hundred times when he’s upset.  I instantly felt relief.  I couldn’t see him yet, but I could hear him, and I followed those cries.

There – a few hundred feet from the exit doors, there he was.  So painfully small in a big, busy supermarket.  A man with his little girl were nearby trying to call him to come away from the exit, and back to find his mama.

But he was lost and scared.  

And I can’t even describe to you the relief I felt when I saw him there.  And I ran to him, and with Olivia on my hip I knelt down and put my arm around him.

Safe.

When I turned my back, he’d gone looking for his Daddy.  But he didn’t know the way.

So He told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents thant over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’
Luke 15:3-7

There was never a time before that night when I could really relate to the parable Jesus told to the pharisees and the scribes that day.  I left my three big girls standing there by the checkout, and trusted they would be safe – and went searching for my little lost one.

I must have read this passage a hundred times in my lifetime.  And not one time before now did I have an inkling of the urgency that Jesus meant.

Sheep, yeah, I get it.  Shepherds, sheep, yeah.

Only no, I never did ‘get it’ before now.

The urgency and determination of a mother searching out her lost man-child.  Is this how the Father sees the ones He is calling to repentance?

And just last night, that amazing hard-working husband and I talked about this.  How often do we casually overlook those around us, void of real sympathy and concern?

When the Father – He seeks them out.  The ones who have lost their way….

But maybe WE are the ones who have lost HIS way…  forgot His heart for the lost…

Well I aim to remember the way again… because now I know how it feels to look for the lost.

 

Surrender

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It’s early morning and I put on my white scarf – my favorite one. It’s delicate and beautifully practical. The one Ericka brought back to me from India. I’m told it’s actually a covering. It’s white like a bride would wear. But strangely this morning I think of the white paper banners with Chinese symbols – glued across door tops and alongside doorposts of the house where some Chinese family has lost a loved one…

I wear it with my lavender top and my brown skirt – the one I changed into from blue jeans because all my girls decided to wear skirts today and is mama going to wear a skirt too? How could I not oblige?

We have friends coming and – as always- I’m only slightly prepared. Okay, maybe not really prepared much at all. I meant to get out of the house days ago to get the needed groceries.

But there was the cold weather. And the day I was so tired from nightly interruptions I barely felt like lifting a finger. And there were – as always – the six children. When did doing chores alone begin to feel like such light work?

But it’s Saturday and the 60 hours are done, so their Daddy is home and I run off with light feet.

The rain is coming, but it isn’t here yet and I marvel that it feels more like spring than December rightly should.

On short drive to market I marvel again at sunbeams streaming down – breaking out of dark pillow clouds. I don’t notice these gifts enough. There are the six children and all.

Market‘ sounds too whimsical, really. It’s Walmart, for crying out loud. And it’s Christmas season. One day maybe I’ll learn to stockpile enough in November that I won’t have to darken the doors of that mega-center again until February.

Funny how this “hap-happiest season of all” brings out the demon in people. I’m just saying.

And funny how a Christian should think these thoughts – of hiding away from the darkness of the world during the very season when Light came into darkness… this thought I push aside for later.

But there’s a different air this morning. Maybe I’ve missed the crowds. But really, I suspect it’s something else. I know it is. This thought I push aside as well.

I grab my buggy and swipe down the handle with the provided germ-killing wet wipes and wonder for a second if this does any good. In fact, what if this is really a conspiracy… the wipes are actually laden with virus so that we’ll all become ill and pharmaceutical companies will make a profit.

There are many thoughts to push aside. I focus on my task.

Fruit. I’m glad the bananas aren’t too brown. Should I pick up some berries as well?

I pass by the packages of hot cocoa and don’t give them a second glance. No one will want it today. We’ll likely be running the air conditioner.

Several times I hear an announcement over the loud speaker and instead of the usual noisey, crackly, invading drum of shrill, it’s actually pleasant. So pleasant. Attention Walmart associates, would Jane Smith please come to the jewelry department? Thank you.

No, thank you. What a relief to my eardrums. In fact, I notice the sheer lack of noisy, crackly, invading drum of advertisements. I’m in Walmart and it’s altogether peaceful.

Is this even possible? Maybe I’ve entered a Narnia-like second-world without realizing it.

Every person I pass is pleasant as well. Not hurried, darting, vacant. Eyes actually meet eyes.

And now I can no longer push aside the thought.

After the tragedy that rocked our world yesterday, we’re all feeling it.

More blessed. Thankful. Somber. Slowed-down.

We’re just shy of two weeks until Christmas. And twenty families are likely looking at stockings and wrapped goodness under spruce needles and nothing can make the upside-down right again. And the rest of us – we hug our little ones tighter. Thank God for His goodness…

Yes, there are the twenty-or-so families here, and then there are the ones across the big sea, still reeling from the attack on their school children, all with the sleek black hair. I think of my white scarf again. In China it’s the color for mourning, not for the dancing of brides

I look at the spices and try to remember which ones I needed… onion powder… garlic… I move on the cans of hot dog chili…

And then there was that thing my friend Dave brought to our attention. The statement he made. Dave, who’s always spoken the truth.

It was a tragedy, yes. And the country cries out. But what about those babies being massacred every day in every city in America? Why is no one outraged about them?

It’s no secret who the one with darted tongue, the one who is called Father of Lies – it’s no secret who he hates. The very ones that Jesus said “let them come to me.” The very ones Jesus said, “you must be like them to enter my Kingdom.”

I walk so briskly through the store, and finish my list quickly. Lining up behind another lone shopper at the checkout I hear her talking with the clerk. Such a tragedy. Doesn’t make sense. So sad. Why?

I pay for my items and push the full cart out to the truck. And I fill the front seat with filled bags – things that will fill the bellies of those I love.

Those with whom I am blessed.

I should count my blessings, right? And I do, but something else lies there under the surface, and I push the thought aside again for later…

I go through the day counting my blessings, my gifts. Write them down, even. Friends come and fellowship takes place. Messy hotdogs spill out chili and over quiet conversation, messy thoughts pour out honest to hearts that can be trusted. The day flies on and soon children are in bed and the hard working husband sets out to practice for tomorrow’s worship.

And I sit down to read and wrestle with thoughts that now should be pulled near instead of pushed away. The hard ones will never stay away, will they?

And there, in the reading, in the quiet, it comes all at once.

My children breathe tonight, and I count it as God’s goodness. So, for the mother of a child whose lips are ever now silent- God is … not good?

I am only blessed and God is only good when I can count those gifts that make my heart sing? But in loss and tragedy and when I’m the one whose loved one didn’t make it, who’s facing death’s door, whose healing did not come – then I don’t say God is good?

And from the garage – so as not to wake the deep-breathing children – I hear the guitar in practice of the Psalm of the month and I know the words, hear them in my head and heart,
Come, let us worship the Lord,
for we are His people
the flock that He shepherds…

And I know. We are His sheep. He is our shepherd. The Good Shepherd. He is always and will always be good. The sheep know it. They know Him.

And when the hard comes and I want to look at something ugly and call it ugly and wrong and a curse- I can only think, God you’re good. Still.

And I think of Peter’s words to Jesus as he stood there firm in his sandaled feet, face-to-face with the Savior- when many who’d been following Jesus walked away from His hard teaching.

“Do you want to go away as well?”

“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of life.” (John 6:68)

He’s the Word, the Light, the Living Water, the Bread of Life. And that isn’t all.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

That’s right. I remember now. There was a dark night. A betrayal, a tragedy. Dreams shattered. The Innocent – the only truly Innocent One – slain. The Shepherd became lamb.

And some wanted to call it ugly and wrong and a curse. But God was in it. God was in it! And God was good, still. What looked like tragic end and loss and – no, please, no, not this!  It was victory and love and grace. It was Gospel.

And I can no longer nibble the creamy mint-filled dark chocolate, and I put it down with my book. All around me there is mess and chaos and every day I feel the burden of my own failures. And we’re behind in our laundry, behind even more in the schoolwork, and my sink doesn’t shine. And loved ones are suffering and friends have illnesses that seem to have no solution and brothers and sisters deal with depression and fear and worry and apathy… and marriages are holding fragile and children are strayingand I feel the weight of all of it.

How many days – months – go by when I feel so much weight of it I can only manage the prayers of the feeble. Oh Lord. Please. Oh, please help. Jesus come quickly.

There is so much I want to call ugly and wrong and curse and tragedy.

But I know I cannot just accept what I feel is good, and call it a gift, a blessing. Call it good, Him good. Because in one hand, there is beautiful, and in the other there is ugly, and He is the hand that holds it all.

Orchestrates it all.

And no, I don’t want it this way. But who am I? A vapor, a mist.

A sheep.

And He is my Shepherd. And I know Him, know He is good.

And I surrender.

On a Cold Night in November

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I wonder if somewhere right now, there is a young woman who is thinking of a cold night in November… seven years ago… when she went into labor earlier than expected…

And birth came so quickly there wasn’t even time to leave the apartment…

When she bundled up the tiny girl baby… so tiny and thin… but eyes wide as a startled cat

When she probably had to call a driver to come get them, she and the small, wide-eyed baby…

Did she try to nurse the little babe at first?  In those new moments… Did she even know what to do?

Did she know, as they drove to the hospital, that she would choose to leave her baby… did she even know herself the illness they both carried…?

When they arrived at the hospital, did she worry that her baby was so small and frail?  And hours later, did it twist her heart to the brink of ruin when she left without her child?  Never to see her again.  Did she feel there was no other way?

Does she think of that night every year at this time?  Does she wonder?  

Does she know that it was six years before her baby girl had her first birthday party?

Or a single birthday gift?

Does she know that it was six years before anyone sang happy birthday or baked a cake for that baby girl?

Lena with her buddy Alik

Tonight does she even imagine that the tiny baby lives so far away… speaks fluent English… is just now learning to read?

How can she know that her daughter still rocks herself to sleep at night… because no one ever did?

Look at my necklace!

How can she know that her baby loves purple… and hot dogs and pizza and ice cream…. how can she know the tiny baby is now a tall, lanky girl who loves puzzles and would swing until the sun went down? 

Staying up late on her birthday

Does she wonder?  Does she carry a guilt so heavy it could bury her?  Do her arms ache for what she gave away?  Does she fear for the future?

How can she know there is One Who Sees All…. Who sees her?  How can she know there is One Who would hold her heart in His hands… One Who has already covered it all?

I wish I could talk to her tonight.  To help her lay her burdens down.  To let her see the beautiful life she gave… to help her know the abundant life that could be hers…

… this cold night in November.

 

Lessons From a Foot Tub

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No, these beautiful feet are not mine.

The kids caught a few minutes of an old 19 Kids & Counting episode yesterday.  It was the one where some of the children and cousin Amy decide to surprise Grandma Duggar to an at-home Spa treatment, complete with a foot bath, massage, pedicure and facial.

Ever inspired, Maggie rallied the troops shortly thereafter, and the kids found a plastic tub for washing my feet.  It was decided they would treat poor, tired Mama to a relaxing foot bath and massage after dinner.

Who was I to argue?

That evening, I was on the couch nursing Olivia, when the fun began.  Jeff helped them pour warm water into the tub.  Lilly snagged the foaming hand soap from the bathroom and gave it a few squirts.  Lena ran to get the lotion for afterward.  Christopher got a towel for the drying.

They gathered around. The washing began.

And that wasn’t all that began.

Imagine, if you can, five children, packed around one little foot tub.  Each vying for space and a portion of Mama’s foot to rub.

I have small feet.

And only two of them.

Yes, it played out pretty much like you probably just imagined.

A few settled for sitting by me on the couch, rubbing my hands or shoulders.  Christopher sat on my left, and is an excellent hand massager.  I rested my head back on the couch and anticipated some relaxation.

But his constant chatter and questions never ceased.  And little by little, they forgot about blessing Mama as they each fought to have their own way, to get what they wanted, to have more of my praise.

“Does this feel good, Mama?”

“Am I doing a great job?”

I’m on this side.”

I’m rubbing this foot; you get on that side.”

It was almost impossible not to think about how we must look to God.  We start out wanting to bless Him.  Serve Him.  Make Him proud.  We end up pushing and shoving.  Vying for attention.  Wanting to know who’s the best.  Wanting Him to listen to our constant chatter.

But you know what?  I wasn’t frustrated at how things dissolved.  Despite the fussing and the childishness, I really was blessed.  I really did feel pampered and relaxed.

Maybe it wouldn’t take much pampering to make me feel pampered these days.

But I think it also has something to do with how I love my kids.

Even though they kind of botched it up.  Even though they were selfish and childish through much of the task.  Somewhere in there was still a desire to love on their Mama.

And my love covered a multitude of imperfections.

I think I must have learned that somewhere.