Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I don't understand, but I will follow.

This story came to me at church tonight. I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the shepherds. What did they expect? How did they respond to this news? What did it feel like to wait so long? It is my poor attempt to ponder these questions and align them with some of my own lessons from this past year.

He stood on the edge of the hill unsure if he should stay or go. They said the man was going to be here today, and he wanted to know if he was right. He wanted to see him up close. The wind was picking up and the skies were darkening, his bones hurt. A lifetime of watching sheep had left him with twisted and aching joints.  Slowly he began the final leg of the climb. The crowd was large and raucous, screaming insults and making jokes. Beyond their heads, he could make out the bottom of the trees and the feet of those who hung on them.

Pausing to catch his breath, he noticed a small group gathered under one of the trees. Unlike the rest of the crowd, they were not participating in the morbid celebration. They were grieving. Tears streamed down their faces as they held one another and cried. A woman leaned against a man who looked to be her son, and though three decades had passed, he recognized her. If she was here, then what he had heard must be true. The man on the tree above her must be her son.  He would stay and wait for tree to do it's gruesome job.

Shifting through the crowd, he was finally able to see the three men fully. Naked and bloody, they hung spread out on the tree. Nails had been driven into their hands and feet, but the one in the middle also wore a crown. A fellow bystander explained it was made of thorns and complemented the "King of the Jews" sign above his head. "Does he call himself that?" asked the man. The bystander shrugged unsure. "I saw him enter the city like a king," he said "and he certainly has been parading around as if he was." Nodding, the old man turned his gaze back to the dying man.

His face was swollen and bruised, clearly the guards had enjoyed beating him, and even if it wasn't there was no way he would recognize a man he had last seen as a baby. A gasping noise came from what must have been the dying man's mouth. He was speaking to the young man and woman below him. Then it must be. He must be the man, the baby who was born with such promise and was now dying on a tree like a common criminal.

Now that he knew, the old shepherd turned and began to make his way down the hill. He was foolish to have come, foolish to have held on to the old dream. Decades ago, he had been a shepherd. Twelve years old and sold to master to pay his families debt, he worked non stop living with the sheep and two other slaves. That night, they settled on a hill outside of Bethlehem.   While one of them kept watch, he and another slept. Then there was a bright light rousing him, a chorus of angels singing to him and fearsome angel telling them to go and find the baby. They did. Leaving their flock they ran through the streets searching until they found him. He was in an old run down manager, surrounded by animals and cradled in his exhausted mother's arms. They worshiped the baby. Declared him the Messiah and sang praise and blessing on him and his family.

Then it was back to the sheep, but everything felt better, brighter, blessed. He had seen the Messiah, God in flesh. He, a lowly slave, a shepherd had been permitted to worship at the feet of God. For days, he waited for the change. He expected armies of angels to come and defeat the Romans. Perhaps it would be like Jericho and walls would fall, or an angel with a flaming sword would come and smite the Romans and return Israel to the Jews.

Other shepherds did not understand what the three of them had seen. They mocked them and soon he stopped talking about it. No walls fell, no angels with flaming swords came, nothing important happened at all. Years passed and he married. His wife gave birth to a son, but he was killed by Herod's men. Herod had heard that a baby who would grow up to be the king of the Jews had been born, and he wasn't taking any chances. The shepherd's wife never recovered. She sat wept day and night. There were no more children. No other miracles. She wasted away and died. It was then that he realized what a fool he had been.

A few years ago, rumors had begun. There was a man from Nazareth who was preaching strange things. People flocked to see him perform miracles and listen to him explain the kingdom of God. The shepherd wondered if perhaps the miracle was just delayed. The age would be right. Perhaps the end of this Roman rule was at hand.

He heard that they arrested the Nazarene and sentenced him to death.  Though he was too old, he decided to go and see for himself. If he recognized the mother and the Romans killed her son, then he would know that the miracle wasn't coming. That the angel had lied and he had been foolish.

Half-way down the hill, the sky went black and the earth began to quake. Falling to the ground, the old man heard angels. They weren't singing, they were weeping. The baby, whose feet he had kissed, must have perished, the miracle he had hoped for was gone.

He lay there waiting for the light to return. Other people stumbled about and the crowd had gone silent. Another hand touched his and he turned his head. There stood the angel he had seen so long ago. "The miracle has come, do not lose hope." and with that the angel was gone. Tears came as the old shepherd struggled to understand. Rome was still in power, the baby was dead, how could the miracle have come? It was impossible to believe.

Rising from the ground he clutched his staff and stiffly continued his walk down the hill. Could he believe in this kind of miracle? He was not a wise man. He was an old shepherd. Everyone knew God would never speak to him. Wasn't that what they had said decades ago? "Why would angels come to lowly shepherd and not the high priest? You are less than then nothing, God would never choose you to worship at his feet." Over time, he had believed them, but now. Now the angel had come twice.  It was the same one, he was sure. Was it possible that God would speak to him? He was now an old shepherd, too twisted and bent to stay with the sheep. He slept in a shack on the edge of town. He had no family, no friends. He would certainly die alone, Why would God speak to him?

What if God had spoken to him? What if an old lonely shepherd had garnered the attention of the Almighty? What if he was aware of something others weren't? What if the miracle was something he didn't understand? "God", he cried out, "I am an old shepherd who is worth nothing, but twice you have sent and angel to speak to me. I waited for you to save me. I waited for a miracle and nothing came. My son was murdered and my wife died. I have nothing. I am nothing. No one will believe me.  I have fought to not believe this for a long time, but I have no energy left. I don't know why you sent the angel to me, and I don't understand this miracle, but I will choose to believe and, like the day I ran through the streets of Bethlehem, I will choose to follow. "

Arriving home, the old man went about his life. He foraged for food, cared for lambs to ill to move and continued to pray "I don't understand, but I will choose to follow."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I am a failure

I fail at most things I try, or at least I believe I will fail at most things I try so I try not to try things. Failure is not something I cope well with, and yet I frequently feel as if I am in the midst of it. Theater training is good for these situations. If you fail on stage,  you have to keep going. No matter what you must push on. I am good at keeping on. I am not good at reflecting or changing or facing stuff.

This feeling of failure has been closing in around me for the past two weeks. Its gnarly hands are pulling me down into a mire of despair and self loathing. It is common for me to feel anxiety around the holidays. Too many strange and lonely Christmases and too much lack of normal can make it difficult to discern what a "family" does on Christmas. I tend to push, and plan and overload. Christmas must be perfect. I must make up for all the years it was just my Mom and I, or, actually worse, when my Dad was there and we all felt uncomfortable and awkward.

2014 feels a bit worse. My failures are larger and more prominent. My body has failed me, my iron count is low and I magically didn't conceive a child as soon as I was cleared to start trying.  I failed to grow and deliver a healthy child, which is sort of my main biological purpose, so that sucks. I didn't give my husband a second son, or my son a little brother. I couldn't prevent my unborn son from developing a horrible disease that took his skull and his brain. I failed to protect him.

I have failed my Mom. She has had to care for me more than I have cared for her in the last six months. She is always there, and I have been a bit drifty. A bit lost and not the adult dependable daughter  I should be. I am a moody wife. I have good days and bad days. I don't always support my husband as I should. I fail to be kind and am instead spouting anger. Instead of be loving, I can be nitpicky and shrewish. Not at all the wife I picture myself being.

I fail my son. I am not always present. Sometimes I want to run and hide. His major tantrums freak me out.  I think I can be too hard sometimes, but other times I feel too soft. I don't read enough to him. I should do more projects with him. His diet is spotty and mainly consists of applesauce, yogurt and granola bars. I don't know how to get him to eat other food. I don't always give him the one on one time he deserves. I let him cry himself to sleep, and instead of finding a way to stay home with him I leave him at daycare for 40 hours a week.

I am not the teacher I once was. I don't lead like I did. My desire to go out there and do it isn't the same. Papers take longer to grade. For time, I assign paragraphs instead of essays. I am not pushing to be in front and leading. My desire to be on top of it all has faded. Now I just want to figure it out.

I could go on. Finances, figure, hair, possible early skin cancer on my nose. I am not a model of anything. I am barely holding it together. Often, I am not holding it together at all. I am simply staying afloat. I fail all the time, and I hate myself for it. It sucks.

This is the mantra that has been running through my head the past few weeks. There was a point when I thought about how I must have deserved to lose my baby. It must have been God punishing for choices in my past. He must want to punish me. He must see what a failure I am. How could he not? He knows the parts of me I hide. My ugliest truths.

During the past two weeks, I have been doing a devotional series that focuses on the genealogy of Jesus. Those who worked together to make God into flesh. Normally I ignore these charts, but as I learned the stories of the names listed I began to understand that we are all failures.

Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. Judah was the brother who came up with the idea to sell his brother Joseph to the Ismaelites. He willingly sold his brother into slavery. After this, he married a pagan woman and two of three sons died.  He sent his sons widow back home and didn't honor his duties towards her. He willingly slept with a prostitute who turned out to be his forgotten daughter in law. It is from this interaction that line of Jesus begins. Not a very auspicious beginning. There is a whole lot failure in there.

Rahab is included in the line as well. Another prostitute, she saved the Israelite spies in the city of Jericho. As a reward for her faith,  her family is saved and she eventually married an Israelite. Their son was Boaz who marries Ruth. They had Obed, who had Jesse, who had David the second King of Israel. David was a "man of God", but he was also an adulterer and a murderer. I can see some tinge of failure in his story.

God uses failure. Failure highlights His glory. There were other choices, men and women who weren't failing at such an epic level, but by using people who failed God's love is able to shine brighter. Jesus didn't come from a line of perfection. He came from a line of failure that was made perfect by His sacrifice. His lack of failure redeemed all of our failures.

This is a deep concept, and I have a hard time with it. It is much easier to believe that God keeps count and is ready to dish out retribution. Believing that there is certain amount of failure allowed before God is done with you is a very human impulse. We want to equate God to our small perspectives. That is how we feel about failure, so why wouldn't He?

My son fails. He has bad days and makes poor choices. He tries to kick the ball and misses, or can't remember what number comes after 18. He gets time outs and has to apologize to those he hurt. Everyday he fails, and everyday I forget the failures from the day before and never stop loving him. When he fails, I don't remind of him of all the other failures, but instead tell him to keep trying. We sing the Daniel Tiger song, "keep trying you'll get be-et-ter". I am rooting for him to overcome his failures, and I want him to know that my love surpasses all of it.

If I am capable of offering my son this kind of love, then why am I limiting God's ability to love me to a greater extent? God is love. All He wants to do is love me. No matter how many times I fail and fall. No matter how often I have to turn to Him and pray for a fresh start. No matter the number of times I just can't get it together. No matter what, His love for me stays constant. When He looks at me, he doesn't see my failure. He sees my perfect self made whole through the blood of Christ.

I need to stop counting my failures. This is really a lack of faith. Who am I to say that my failure and sin is too big for Christ to take away? Who am I to limit the love of God who sent His son to serve as a sacrifice for me? Who am I assume that I know God's plan? If I was God, I would let me rot. I wouldn't pick me for anything useful. Luckily, that isn't my job. My job is to "keep trying you'll get be-et-er". Right now that is a daily goal. Please pray for me and let me know how I can pray for you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Moments of Loss

Tonight, I cried in front of our tree. My Father in Law makes special ornaments with your name in gold letters. Receiving one is a sign that you are family. Last summer he presented us with Theodore's ornament. It was first on the tree tonight, and I cried in Justin's arms after placing it.

It hurt, but it also made him real. When  you never hold your child and lose them, it can be hard to see them as real. I am thankful to my Father in Law for this precious gift of bring my son close. Even though Teddy is gone, he still choose to be his Grandpa. This blessed Justin and I with the ability to include both our sons in the holiday. We don't often get to act like we have two sons.

Tonight, I sat by the Christmas tree and mourned my baby. I am crying now.  This is what loss is like now, it comes in small moments. God is doing big things in these moments. He is showing me how much He loves me, and reminding me that I am called to love.  The best way to honor my son is by choosing love.

I believe that we will be called to lovingly parent more children. I know that God has moved mountains to allow love and healing fill our extended family. I continue to have faith that God's love is all I need. Tonight I cried, but in that moment I was comforted. I am not alone, and no matter how large my greif is, God's love is bigger.

Whatever your moments are about, His love is bigger. He can do great things in when we are not able to do them ourselves. I don't know what the plan is, but I can't wait to see it

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pondering Mary's Pain

I have been thinking about Mary a lot the past few days. First I am obsessed with this song

Secondly, I am participating in a Road to Christmas bible study and have spent my mornings pondering her calling. Today's commentary pointed out that Mary was most likely 14 or 15 when she became pregnant with Jesus. She was the age of my students.

My idiotic, naive, think they are mature, controlled by hormones, just figuring stuff out students. Now I recognize that culturally she was raised to be married at 14. That life expectancy was lower, and there was no concept of a "teen". However, to be a virgin who is carrying the Messiah at 14 or 15 is a tall order.

She was a child and she would have had to face questions from everyone. The bible never tells us how her parents react. Did they scream and yell? Tell her she was crazy? Accuse her of being something she wasn't? Was she threatened?

Her community would have whispered about her. According to Jewish law, she could have been stoned. Imagine how it felt to go and get water from the well, or attempt to say hello to people you had grown up. Did she lose friends?

Finally, she had to go to Joseph, her betrothed, and tell him what happened. We know that he doubted her, but felt sorry for her. He was older than her, though there is debate about how much older, and he discovered her pregnancy after she had been away visiting her cousin Elisabeth. He wanted to find a way to end the betrothal, but not get her stoned. Mary must have sensed this, or maybe he told her. How terrifying.

If he broke of the engagement, no other man would marry her. She would be alone. Did she lay in bed and cry? Wondering why God had asked this of her? Did she feel weak and lost? Did she question her own sanity?

God intercedes and sends an angel to assure Joseph of the validity of Mary's story. They marry and soon head off to Bethlehem. We hear little to nothing of their marriage after the birth of Christ. We know there were other children, and that Mary kept her knowledge of Christ's status as the Messiah to herself. When Jesus is crucified, Joseph is already gone, and Jesus must ask his disciple John to care for his mother.

She must have been alone a lot. How do you make close friends when you are raising the savior? How do you discuss your fears with others? When she cuddled toddler Jesus, did she fear what would happen? Or, in the rush of parenting so many  young children, did she mildly forget only to be astoundingly reminded when he disappeared on trip to the temple?

Finally, as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son in agony, did she see the newborn she fed? Or the toddler who laughed and ran to her? Did she imagine her young son bringing her flowers? Or recall how big his feet were at that awkward stage? How did she stand there? I have been overwhelmed by the loss of a son not yet in my arms, how did she survive the agony of watching her firstborn slowly be tortured to death?

For the rest of us, her story is a story of joy. We see the beginning and the end, and celebrate it. However, I can't help but think that living it was  hard. She didn't know he would rise again. She didn't know he was dying to save the whole world. She didn't know that by dying he was paying a debt that she owed.

She must have cried out to God the Father multiple times. She must have raged, begged, and sobbed. She must have asked why God picked her. She must have felt betrayed. She must have wondered what the point of her suffering the scorn of the virgin birth was. She must have felt like she had died too.

I don't know what Mary's discussions with God were, or how He assured her of His love.  Her pain blessed all of us. Her suffering helped our redemption. The loss of her son, her baby, saved the world.  A regular girl, in a small town, young and of no importance, was chosen for an impossible task. Because she was willing, because she had faith, because she believed, the world was saved.

I hope to have a teeny bit of that kind of faith.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Here we are

Nothing says anxiety like being awake at 1 in the morning. Here I am. I don't even know why. Well, I have some ideas. On my mantle there is a heart shaped reminder of my little man, and tonight I am a  sad that he isn't here for the holidays.

It is strange how grief comes and goes. I am healing. The pounding pain of heartache has faded. I am at a point where the possibility of other children is something I can consider. I can feel happy for those who are expecting. I am part of the world again.

Unless, well, unless I am doing my job and the travesties of selfish parents who throw away their children are before me. Unless, I am worrying about children who will forever be effected by a parent who is not safe for them to be with. Unless, I am confronted with the sad truth that some people are not sane enough to have children. Then I struggle.

One, I am a child of someone who made all of these choices. I know what abandonment feels like.  Little me cried out wondering why her Daddy wasn't there. I am aware of what it means to have a selfish parent whose reality is warped and concept of the truth is every changing. Even now, at 36, there are moments when I wish my Dad was a healthy normal man who could be here.  Part of you never figures it out.

Two, I firmly believe that every child deserves love, safety and support. Yes, my Dad wasn't there, but my Mom was. My Grandparents were. I was unaware of so much, because they chose to shelter me. My basic needs were met. I was allowed to be a child. Every kid deserves that.

I am wrestling with God about this. Why He allows this to happen? Why does He allow a society that values the lives a vapid celebrities over the lives  of its children? How can he claim to be about love and let these things happen?

I am not a perfect mother.  I lose my temper. My frustrations show. I turn on the TV more than I should, and am not always "present". Oh, but I love my little boy. His very presence brings me joy. Even when I am my wits end and he is crying it out in his room, I am thankful for  him. I pray for him, I cook for him, I clean for him, I work to provide for him, most of our decisions are hinged on what is best for him.

Even with Teddy, our one directive to doctors was to do what was best for him. What would keep him from pain, and give him a death of dignity and peace was always the correct path to choose. So, why? Why do others get to be parents and I lost my child? Why are others allowed to hurt their children? How can this be a good plan?

Here we are. I have a choice. Be bitter and keep questioning, or give praise and keep praying. As I say to my 8th graders, fair is not equal and what you need is not the same as what they need. Parenting is hard. You can't give your child everything they want. Harry would eat popcorn all day and night. Yet, I know that will end badly for him. I know he needs a balanced diet to grow and be ready for the future. I don't like seeing him cry, but if I give him all he wants he will be unprepared for life.

God is doing the same thing to me. Shaping and preparing me for what is ahead. He isn't giving me what I want when I want it, and I am crying. I am the two year old. Faith is trusting that He knows that I will move past this stage.  I don't want to remain a spiritual toddler. I want to grow in His love and His peace.

This means I have to acknowledge my pain and frustration and express the desires of my heart, but it also means that if those desires are never fulfilled, I will be content and grateful. That I will let go of my desires and begin to seek God's desire for me. Clearly, He has put children on my heart. How can I show love to the unloved? How can help those who feel abandoned? How can I ensure that my home and classroom are centers of generosity, compassion, and peace?

You see, I am still wrestling. However, I recognize that God's decisions are about what is best for me. Everything He does in my life is about that. It isn't about what I think is best, or how I don't understand His plan. It is about obedience. It is about listening. It is about stillness. It is about growing up.

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." I am still working on seeking Him first. Putting Him before everything else. Being willing to move forward and listen, follow and obey. This is hard. Pray for me. I will pray for you.