Friday, October 4, 2013

The Value of a Life

I walked into the hospital room with two giggly girls hanging on my legs and saw her lying there.

“Hi Grandma, how are you feeling?”

She stared at me blankly, her finger tapping her chin. Always, always tapping her chin.

“The girls and I wanted to come see you. Do you remember my girls?”


“Are you feeling okay today?”

A pause, and then…“Yeah anaummumushiminishumish…”

“I know. I know.”

What is the value of a life?

I’ll tell you what it is not.

The value of a life is not the level of contribution it can make to society. It is not the amount of productivity it can achieve. It is not the sum of money or power or talents it possesses. The value of a life is not in its achievements or even its potential.

Because the value of a life is not centered on the life itself. It is centered on the Life-Giver.


The Creator.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

A newborn baby, red and screaming and full of the breath of life. A curly headed toddler with her hand stuck in the toilet and full of grace and wonder. A child running through a field, full of reckless amazement and pleasure and youth. A teenager discovering how to navigate this life and full of questions and potential.  Moms and dads and businessmen and women, teachers, public servants, leaders, artists, all reflecting aspects of the image of the One who formed them from the dust and breathed life into them.

A baby yet unformed and maybe even unwanted but covered with the fingerprints of a loving Creator. A mentally challenged adult who will never be able to live on his own. The triathlete who wrecked his bike and is now a quadriplegic. My grandmother, 20 years down a road we call Alzheimer’s, unable to talk coherently or stand up and walk or even swallow her own spit, lying in a hospital bed with her finger tapping her chin and her eyes hazing over. All reflecting the great glory and grace and infinite love – the image of the One who formed them from the dust and breathed life into them.

My grandma used to cook the best macaroni and cheese in the entire universe, and I am not even stretching that truth. She was a nurse who took care of others and raised the man who taught me what it means to walk with God. She was full of potential and service and productivity and she made a difference.

And she breathed because the Life-Giver breathed into her.

And she still breathes that holy breath of life.

And I left that hospital room with the firmest conviction that my grandmother is just as valuable today as she has ever been.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mean Mommy

I was mean mommy today.

My allergies decided they have been on vacation too long so, hello, they’re back. My babe decided to bust her lip on the dining room floor. And spill an unidentified black substance on my closet floor. And eat playdough. My big girl asked 1400 questions instead of her usual 800 today. And argued with every single thing I said.

I was tired. And frustrated. And sneezy.

And…Fail. Short words, irrational expectations of a three and one year old, “I’ve had it” attitude. The mommy threw the tantrums today.
I just wanted to get to bedtime. No, to get past bedtime.

And so I walked into her room, after a failed attempt to get her to sleep by driving 20 extra minutes on the way home from church, my feet dragging, hopeless, wishing for once in her life she would actually be ready to just lay her head down and go to sleep.

“Mama, guess what I am gonna say.”

Another demand, I am sure. “Oh, probably that you’re ready for me to sing a song.” As if it were a punishment, not an incredible blessing, to sing truth over my daughter at night.

“Okay but what else?”

Impatient sigh. “I don’t know. You tell me.”

She leaned her head into mine and whispered, “I love you, Mama.”

Stop. I didn’t deserve that. I was mean mommy today. I melted into her and whispered, broken, “I love you too.”

Oh but it didn’t stop there.

She rubbed her sweet hands on my back. “Is that pretty, Mama?”

Yes, baby. It’s beautiful.

She said, “I love you every day, Mama.”

Every day? Really?

“I love you very much and very much and very much and very much and very much…”

Showers. Showers of love.

“Why? Why do you love me so much?”

She cocked her head in a what-a-silly-question kind of way. “Because you’re my mama.”

I heard my Savior through the lips of my three year old tonight. At the end of my rope, self-condemned, and knowing that those who are in the flesh cannot please the Lord, I had forgotten the next line…

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

And the first line…

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And my Creator, through the lips of His created, whispered to my soul…

I love you.

I am undone.

I love you every day.

Oh God. Even on my mean days? Even when I am ashamed to stand before You?

I love you more than you can comprehend.

It’s so lavish, this love. It’s all around me. I don’t deserve it…

I love you…

Why, God? Why do You love me so much?

Because I made you.

Because my Son took your shame. 

Because you have embraced my Son. 

Because you are mine.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lift Up Your Eyes

August 2005. New Orleans.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19

I sat in a pew in the chapel and let those words roll over me. I heard power and confidence and promise in the voice of the big black preacher, as he emphasized every word. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all!” 

Amen. Yes. I agree with that.

I want to go to that man’s church, I thought. And I planned to, when my then-boyfriend came to visit from Georgia in just a couple of weeks, on Labor Day weekend. We would go together.

But Labor Day found me not there but in Georgia. Because my dorm room wasn’t dry anymore, it was under water. Because a hurricane swept through New Orleans and a hurricane swept through my life.

And the whole rest of that year becomes another story for a different day. But 8 years later I look back and I am still in awe of God’s providence in teaching us truth and then teaching us truth. In letting us hear something and say Amen, yes, I agree with that, and then in letting us live it and wrestle with it and get neck deep in it, until the very deepest part of us cries, Amen, yes, I agree with that.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous.

This is no prosperity gospel. This life that we live, it is dirty and messy. And sometimes the affliction is a hurricane. But sometimes it is a drought. Sometimes it is a tear-your-robe-and-put-ashes-on-your-head tragedy, and sometimes it is a bury-your-face-in-a-pillow-and-cry-because-you-just-stuck-your-bare-hand-in-a-poopy-toilet-to-retrieve-the-medicine-bottles-your-3-year-old-dropped-in-and-this-is-what-your-life-has-come-down-to moment. That might have actually happened. Yesterday.

These afflictions, they might be heavy or they might be mundane. But they are many.


But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

When my Daddy left me in New Orleans by myself, all 22 years old and just a little girl, when he couldn’t say any more words for the lump in his throat and the tears in his eyes, he pressed a small wooden cross into my hand. I watched him walk away and then I turned the cross over, and through my own tears I saw in his handwriting, the reference Psalm 121.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.

Words that my daddy taught me in the car as he drove me to school when I was a little girl. Words that my Father taught me when He lovingly stripped me bare. Words that remind me that His presence is my portion. These afflictions, they are not forever. And they are not meaningless. 

Lift up your eyes.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To My Girls

Claire, sometime last night between going-to-bed-time and waking-up-time you crept into my room. You so sweetly and gently patted my shoulder until I stirred, never uttering a word, just waiting for the invitation to crawl into bed beside me.  I moved over, half asleep still, and held out my hand to help you onto the bed and into your place of safety and security. And you drifted back to sleep, holding my hand. I’ll be honest here. I am terribly glad when I wake up in the morning and you have not come to our bed because it means that I was able to claim my rightful half of the bed all night and we probably all got a better night’s sleep. But you know, I wouldn’t trade those other nights for anything. The nights when you wake up from a bad dream and you know where to come for comfort. The ones when I can reach out and stroke your hair and you snuggle up and give me sweet little pats on the back whenever you wake up throughout the night. No, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Averi Kate, when I walked in to rescue you from your crib this morning, you were still bleary eyed and pointed straight toward the rocking chair. And I was more than happy to oblige, since Sissy was still deeply asleep in my own bed. So I carried you over to the rocker and sat down and your thumb went straight into your mouth and your other hand to your ear, and there we sat, time standing still for once in my life. I prayed out loud over you and for you and for all of us, and you just sank into me, content to feel my presence and hear my voice. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Daddy and I hear other grown-ups talking about how their kids who used to be little and full of little moments are now big and making big mistakes. And we see concern or frustration or grief or impatience on their faces, and we hear it in their voices. And we look at each other and for a moment we are afraid. “What if our girls make these big mistakes? What if they rebel? What if they reject the truth?” In those moments we want to keep you little forever, where you come crawl in our bed and sit in our lap and are safe.

But that’s not the way to live this journey. And the echoes of Scripture temper my pounding heart…

Perfect love casts out fear…Be anxious for nothing…Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…

 I know that a woman of faith smiles at the future (Pr 31:25). She is not afraid of it. She embraces it. Because she knows the God of a thousand tomorrows and she understands that we are just a part of a story that isn’t really about us at all. And so she can love freely with no strings attached, and she can look well after the ways of her household without an iron fist, and she can be clothed with strength and dignity and open her mouth with wisdom and kindness and not be anxious over the results.

God, I pray that you don’t have to live folly to prove its consequences. I hope that you love your Creator with every fiber of your being from the earliest time possible. But I also hope that when you grow big and make big mistakes, you will come to a deeper understanding of grace, and know that this is why Jesus came – because He knew that we always grow up into big kids that make big mistakes and we cannot redeem ourselves. He is not shocked. He became those mistakes that you will make, and He drank the wrath for them. And His arms are as open as mine have ever been, and He will never reject the one who comes to Him in faith. 

No, His love never fails. And my love will not diminish for you either. 

 And my bed and my lap will always be as open as they are now.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gentle and Quiet Spirit

I remember sitting in a hallway with twenty-something other middle school girls on a youth retreat many years ago. 

If I stop with that sentence right there, I might have a mild panic attack just thinking about the awkwardness.

Anyway, everyone was supposed to go around and tell the group her favorite Bible verse. You could see alarm on some faces and hear a mad rush of turning pages to find some verse other than John 3:16, while others reflected a smug serene confidence because they could pull out any number of quotables from the Bible drill glory days.

There was this one girl. I don’t remember her name but I sure remember her presence. She was loud, in every sense of the word.  Her voice, her laugh, her personality. Just LOUD. Well, it came to be her turn in the group. And I’ll never forget what she said.

“My favorite verse is 1 Peter 3:3-4. ‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.’”

As soon as the words left her mouth, I could hear uncomfortable shifting and not-so-quiet snickering, and I could see looks of disbelief, rolling eyes, and just a couple of smiles or quiet nods around the circle.

And it really got me thinking.

I have two daughters. The one who talks…well, never really stops. She talks, she sings, she asks questions INCESSANTLY. She talks even when she is the only one in the room. She is not often…well…quiet. And the other one? Well, she may not talk yet, but she will certainly not be ignored. She will make her presence known in a heartbeat if she has the inclination.

I pray for my two girls to have a gentle and quiet spirit. But honestly, it’s not the ceaseless noise that prompts me to pray more diligently.

It is the 3 year old tantrum when things don’t go her way. It’s the yells of frustration when she can’t get the stinking shoe on her own foot. It’s the 1 year old biting attack on her sister who pushed her off the rocking horse, and the impatient kicks and screams during a diaper change. Those are the moments that drive me to my knees, praying for the Creator to develop a gentle and quiet spirit in my daughters.

Because those are the moments that are like a mirror to my own soul

And I realize now that having a gentle and quiet spirit has very little to do with our volume.

A synonym for the Greek word used for “gentle” in 1 Peter is “meek.”  John Piper describes those who are meek as people who “trust in God, commit their way to God, are quiet before God and wait for Him, and don’t fret over the wicked.” And how about the word “quiet”? Well, it means tranquil. Which means that the opposite of quiet in this case is not loud. It is agitated, restless, troubled, distressed.

So when my girls are throwing tantrums in the grocery store (and can I please kindly rebuke the person that invented the grocery cart that looks like a car but drives like a minivan on a single track bike trail? Can anyone actually make left-hand turns in those things without at least almost knocking down a display of Cheerios? Or a store employee?) and when they are looking me square in the eye and yelling “NO!” with all of their sad little hearts…

God, help them to trust in You. Bend their will to Your own. Grant them a peace that passes understanding. Give them a gentle and quiet spirit.

And when I find myself fretting about the future, or sighing out of weariness of the mundane, or giving in to every fear that crosses my mind…

God, help me to trust in You. Bend my will to Your own. Grant me a peace that passes understanding. Give me a gentle and quiet spirit.

And that sweet, loud girl at youth camp back in the last century? Well, it all makes sense now, honey. Thanks for that.