Sunday, October 19, 2014

God's Foolhardy Grace

Free Will.” I am learning so much these days as a temporary parent, with a son on loan from God and from his earthly mother. I don't even want to think about the Pre-destination vs. Free Will debate right now. I have no doubt that Psalms 46:10 and 11 are true and that God is sovereign: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” We can indeed cease and desist from striving, from effort, from works and quiet our hearts before the King of the Universe, knowing that He will be glorified, that He will be exalted – because He is God, and we are not.

However, at the same time I am blown away more and more each day by the incredible freedom that God allows to operate in, with His permission and within that all-encompassing sovereignty. He truly does want our love, and not our obligatory service. I can give my “son” advice, I can set down rules and consequences... but his grudging and dark-faced obedience is not what makes me happy. On the contrary, it breaks my heart. I don't want his reluctant service or his conformity – I want his heart. I want to see him able to make the best (and hardest) choices for himself. Choices to love, to toss fear out the window, choices to deny himself, to give to others, to be considerate and kind, to seek his Heavenly Father and His will with all his heart. And the only way those choices are valid is if he is the one making them – not me. So there are times that I don't insist... I make my desires known... then give him freedom to make a decision, knowing that I may worry and ache when I see him choosing what will eventually bind him instead of freeing him.


But the alternative is miserable and multiple times worse. Forcing his hand, forcing his obedience, constraining him through punishment, shame and manipulation to conform to my will – these only breed anger, rebellion and push him farther and farther away from the ultimate goal, which is his true freedom to choose love. And I see more clearly each day how God has given man the dangerous and heart-wrenching freedom to choose Him or to deny Him. And I am starting to feel how His holy and loving Father's heart must ache when He sees his children run helter-skelter away from Him toward their own (and even others') destruction. But the other option is impossible for a God who desires our very hearts and selves, free and able to choose what is for His glory not just our own comfort or pleasure, what is loving, what is bold, what is based on trust in His love for us – not our forced obedience, nor our dark-faced service. God gives us a ridiculously long leash and is absurdly patient with us, preferring a few that see and choose to return His prodigal love, even if it means leaving others to shipwreck their lives on the rocks of rage and selfishness. He prefers to permit the consequences of our terrible decisions in the world, instead of Divinely and irrevocably insisting that we all obey unquestioningly ... and involuntarily.

Thoughts? I'd love your wisdom too - I for sure feel super un-prepared for this!

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

Romans 2:4

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Beautiful Messes

I've now lasted two months as a personally-selected foster Mom to a 15 year-old boy. He asked, I prayed about it, and I think God said “yes.” Why am I bringing this up? I don't know. And that brings up another point: I have realized these days just how much I don't know. It's so super easy as a single person (and this is such common knowledge that I know it's trite, but I'll say it anyway) to see how others raise their children and say, “What a rotten job they're doing, I would Never have children like that.” Until you find yourself in that role of trying to predict the unpredictable. Of facing odd silences and wondering if you said or did something to offend. Of wracking your brains and your heart trying to figure out how to teach things like respect, gratitude and responsibility without making someone feel small or humiliated. Of trying to teach ANYTHING at all without making someone feel stupid. Do I teach anything, or do I just shut up and love? What about when he comes home waaay too late from school, doesn't listen when you call and has that look on his face when asked to wash the dishes once in two days... after you've started cooking 6 days a week, looking for likes and dislikes, and have yourself washed a pile more dishes than normal just because you now can't eat bread and eggs three times a day? After you've given up freedom and a self-oriented schedule, stayed up late to make sure he ate when he got home from school at 10pm, only to wake up again at 3:30am to get ready for the radio program at 5? Invested money, time, prayer and as much love as you can possibly pour into someone, only to be met with ingratitude, rebellion and indolence?

Sometimes. And other times he opens his heart and pours out confessions of past sins, future hopes and present dreams. Or when he prays daily for your parents and Gram because he knows she fell and broke her hip. When he grabs the broom and sweeps without you telling him. When he accidentally lets your backpack slip from the back of a motor car, and your laptop gets run over, and he tells you with tears in his eyes that he wishes it'd been him under those tires (believe me, I knew he'd had disciplined himself enough in that case, and it was a great chance to show him unconditional love and forgiveness... though I confess in the first 3 minutes after I found out, my heart went through the mourning-anger-blame process as quickly as it possibly could, begging God silently for grace and the right response). I wrote in my journal this morning that I feel over-worked and under-appreciated... and then I laughed out loud. I think that most Moms of teenagers may possibly feel just that way. Parenthood. Even temporary foster-parenthood... what a beautiful mess.

Maybe this is why the sunsets seem more vibrant these days, the stars a bit brighter, the birdsong a little sweeter and my other worries or disappointments a little duller. Having something or someone to give to, beyond yourself is a very good thing. Especially if that someone is close enough to live in real relationship and not a convenient “when I feel like it, we can hang out,” sort of deal. It keeps you real – or points out your hypocrisy very quickly. Busy neighbors, fair-weather friends, and possible cardboard cut-out suitors on e-harmony aren't as helpful when it comes to that. So I admit, I'm bursting right now with gratitude to God for this sometimes-laughing, sometimes-jokey, sometimes helpful – and sometimes sullen boy who has been lent to me for a season, however long or short that season may be. And if you're reading this, I admit to being extra-eager for your prayers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

First Night

I spent the night for the first time last week in the house on the land. A rickety ladder and no walls, but what a glorious time! I feel God closer there, for some reason. There are no distractions (yet) to be had. It is quiet there, and the breeze is always sweet over the valley, unless it's windy, then it's downright wild. Walking across the wooden bridge to Paraíso, the songs of the different frogs were captivating. One high and sweet, and the other low and explosive, as if the frogs were little boys playing a game of war. The house is the last house on the road into the forest, our plot the last plot that the city has agreed could be settled and developed and not many have come to live on their land yet. The nearest neighbors  are carbon makers, and their flashlights were dancing as fireflies as they were preparing to rest for the night. I expect my flashlight marked a first point of light in the house in the black of the night as I carried my dog Máscara (the Mask in English) up the ladder to sleep. He went resignedly, for he hates to be lugged about, but I didn't want to make him sleep downstairs and was happy enough for the company upstairs.

This last week has seen its fair share of ups and downs. A family that I know only indirectly through a nephew of theirs, lost a wife and mother to a sudden illness, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of all around her. Not yet 40 years old, Anita died leaving six young girls who now will grow up without a mother's advice when they have their first boyfriend, when they walk the aisle toward the young man of their choice, and will achingly feel her absence when their first child is born. A mother leaving a son is heartbreaking enough, but a mother leaving a daughter behind is to me an unparalleled loss.

After the ceremony at the cemetery, I left hastily, having forgotten a commitment the previous day to pray for the elderly mother of another man I know. He had asked me to come pray for his mother the day before, but in the news and shock of Anita's death, the commitment had slipped my mind, and repentantly I hurried to fulfill the missed appointment. I arrived to find her son out fishing and so went alone, only to hear that her body is now rejecting the IV she's been on for months. Her time is short and her son was worrying to me the day before that he's not sure she's made her peace with God. Unable to speak, her communication is limited to nods and head shakes, but after praying with her, I dearly hope that in her nearest thoughts, God and her have made peace and she is able to go trustingly.

After the dismay of these two gut-wrenchers, I returned to the son's house to find his wife also feeling unwell and disheartened with a long bout of on-and-off-again sickness that has left the doctors confounded and herself despairing. We prayed together also, and it was such a welcome relief to see how God lifted her spirits and took away her bodily affliction. She was in a much better state when I left her, and again when I saw her the next day she was completely well, for which I am still so very grateful to God and thankful for the way He allows us to minister with Him. I wish I understood why in some cases He choses to heal, and in others He doesn't, but I am inexpressibly grateful for the times He does.

 I confess this week also that I have been feeling reclusive, glad that the children on the street are in school in the mornings and desiring to shut myself in my house until the heat becomes too oppressive, then glad enough to escape to the internet or to my hammock downstairs. Partly due to a nasty cold, and partly because there seem to be patches of time where I don't feel like I have either the oomph or the inclination to continue pouring out into the lives of my neighbors and those who cross my path. So I try to close off the path, keeping myself out of others' way as much as possible, God forgive me. The continual need around me, the repeated asking for money on almost a daily basis wears on me and my reserves of patience and love run out much faster than I would like. How did Jesus do this, I wonder? I know the answer comes from a continuous connection to the heart of the Father: that well of love and compassion that never runs dry, as well as the source of all wisdom that knows when to feed the thousands, and when to tell them that it's an “evil and adulterous generation (that) seeks a sign” (Matt 16:4), sending them discontentedly on their way. Sigh. I have so far yet to go, may God have patience with me and not abandon His work in me! May I learn the full meaning and experience the live truth of Psalms 87:7 “...all my springs are in you.