A letter to myself of ten years ago

Dear Me,

Oh, sweet sixteen.  I see you there, all aglitter at finally feeling grown-up and secretly delighted that you’re actually to the age where you can sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and supposedly mean it.  Except in your mind, there needs to be a dashing young man there to sing it with…and there’s definitely no one like that in sight.  You think he’ll probably show up sometime soon, because you really want to get married, and think it should happen by the time you’re eighteen.  Oh me, you’ve got much to learn…

These next years will be hard.  Despite loving ballet so much and enjoying the bits of musical theatre you have a chance to do, you and I both know that more than anything, you just want to be married.  No more “ambitions” than to be a wife and mother, and you’re not really sure what you’ll do after you graduate high school in a few short years…thus the married-by-eighteen plan seems to be perfect.  Well, dear one, you won’t be married by eighteen.  Or nineteen.  Or even twenty.  You won’t say “I do” until a month before your 23rd birthday (you’ll actually only be a day older than the age your mom was when she got married!), and though most of your peers won’t understand why, those years between sixteen and then will sometimes seem to drag on and on.

They won’t drag on for lack of things to do though.  After you graduate, you’ll travel the world (literally!) and it will change you so much.  I’m excited for you!  So many of those fears that you’ve struggled with in the last years, the Father will gently bring to light and will continually be working in your heart.   You’ll discover the details as you walk along this journey, but the main lessons seem to be trust and grace. They’ll show up again and again and again, and you’ll still be learning them all the more ten years from now.

You especially need to learn to trust the Father with this desire to be married.  Believe me, I know just how hard it is for you…but if you learn now to rest in His timing and trust that He’ll bring you two together in His perfect time, it will save you a lot of tears and grief over the next years.  I know you’re starting to despair (and will do so even more in the coming years) that there are no “real men” you know that you would even consider marrying.  No young men who are serious about wanting to be married and no young men who are strong enough to pursue you.  Oh, but dear one…just you wait.  When it’s time, he’ll want to be married just as much as you do and he’ll pursue you around the world and across oceans.  And you’ll be utterly blown away by our Father’s goodness.

And while we’re on the subject of young men…you know all those courtship books you love to read?  Just stop.  As you’ll see in about six years, real life is nothing like the courtship books.   You and I both know well the tendencies of having a rather extreme personality and over the next years, what you read in all those books will cause you to subconsciously build a little box of what a proper, Godly relationship should look like.  And let me tell you right now…God is going to totally explode that little box.  From beginning a “courtship” after communicating online for two weeks with a man you had never heard of before, to starting to fall in love with this man before you’ve even met him in person.  From across-the-Pacific plane rides, and hundreds of chats and emails, to finally marrying each other seven months and two days after first even hearing of each other’s existence.  It’s going to be a wild and crazy ride, and it’s not going to be like anything you’ve ever imagined.  But dear one, don’t let that keep you from one of the most amazing gifts your Father has ever given you.  His hand will be so apparent through it all, so just stay under His mercy and He will lead you both.

And as a little aside to the whole courtship thing — just stop writing your “list” of things you want in a husband.  You can keep the first one (“a strong believer”), but anything after that, especially #2 (“taller than me”), just toss out the window.  I’m serious.  Because I’m going to let you in on a little secret…your incredibly good-looking future husband is shorter than you.  By at least two whole inches.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Because there’s so many other amazing things about him that a couple inches is hardly worth even thinking about.

Well, sixteen-year-old me, I know how much you love reading, but this letter is getting quite long and I need still get some stuff done while the littles nap (yes, your children are more beautiful than you ever dreamed), but I wanted to quickly touch on the grace I mentioned earlier that our Father will keep teaching you.

You don’t really see it now, but that legalism that Dad and Mom warn you about having tendencies toward?  Well, they’re right (and over the next ten years, you’ll see they’re right about a lot of other things too).  Our extreme personality so loves rules and doing things all the way, but dear one, that will become a bondage for you.  But the amazing thing about our God — He sets the captives free.  And over the next years, you’ll be set free from that and slowly, slowly, learn to walk in grace.  It’s going to be hard, and believe me, you’ll stumble and fall…but again, there’s grace.  So keep clinging to that, dear one, and know that in ten years, you’ll still be learning and you’ll feel like you aren’t any closer to being like Jesus than before.  But that’s when we need to keep remembering that Scripture from the beginning of Philippians that you have memorized and underlined.  That “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day the day of Jesus Christ”.

And He will.  Because if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last ten years, it’s that the goodness of our Father surpasses anything we could ever imagine and that we can trust Him with it all.

So just keep your eyes on Jesus, me-at-sixteen.  And that will be enough.

~Jessica

(The blogosphere is full of letters to our teenage selves this week, in celebration of Emily Freeman’s new book Graceful. Care to join us? What would you like to be able to tell your teenage self?)

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Receiving Jesus

It had been a rather hard evening.  After two busy days with only too-short car naps, we had some very tired kids.  A very fussy baby and a toddler who would start throwing a tantrum at the slightest provocation.  And Mommy’s attitude wasn’t the best either.  I was very ready for bedtime, but at the same time dreading it since our youngest is not known for her stellar sleeping ability.

After supper, we got ready for our nightly “Bible time”.  And frankly, I wanted to skip that night…let’s get these kids in bed!  But we continued our reading in Matthew, tonight chapter eighteen, one that I had read many times.  Obviously I needed to hear it again.

[Jesus said] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea…See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” ~Matthew 18:5-6, 10 (emphasis mine)

I was brought up short, and quite convicted.  Was I “receiving” my children with the same attitude that I would receive Jesus?  In short, not at all.  Instead I was frustrated with their constant neediness and their apparent inability to just pull themselves together and get a better attitude (perhaps they were just taking their cues from their mommy?  *ahem*).  I wasn’t exactly “despising” them, but I certainly wasn’t being very loving.  At that moment, I certainly wasn’t treasuring them in the way that God treasures little ones if their angels are the ones that always see His face. It was a reminder that I so needed.  I repented and asked my kids’ forgiveness and we all went and bounced on the trampoline for a few minutes.  Peace and joy were restored.

Later that night, I was continuing to meditate on and mull over those verses and what they should look like in my life.  Aaron and I were discussing it and he brought up another view that I hadn’t considered…  When you “receive” a child through becoming a parent, it’s hard.  You have to sacrifice a lot and your weaknesses brought to the surface.  But in weakness, that’s where you find Jesus and His grace. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

There’s so much grace needed in parenting.  May I continue to show it to my children and cling to it for myself.

Good gifts

(I started writing this a couple weeks ago and then added some final thoughts today.  So the Sunday mentioned was actually several Sundays ago…)

Sunday was one of those beautiful life days.

Nothing spectacular happened, but it was a day filled with many small, simple moments that make me love my life so.  We went to church in the morning, where Aaron led worship (he’s not the main worship leader, but filled in at the last minute).  Came home and had a quick lunch before putting the kids down for naps.  Aaron slept some while I read.  The early evening was spent with the kids.  And then my sweet husband topped off the day with my Valentine’s present.

Like I mentioned, nothing huge happened.  But several times throughout the day, my heart would be filled to bursting at the joy in the little things.  Cedar dancing to Josh Garrels.  Listening to Aaron and Cedar reading “Where’s Goldbug?” (i.e. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go) while I nursed Genoa down for her nap.  How much Cedar and Genoa enjoyed their smoothies at supper.

Sometimes I wonder why I have it so good.  Why do I have such an incredible husband when so many of my friends want to be married and aren’t?  Why have I been blessed two sweet little ones when so many women lose children or aren’t even able to have them?  Why was I born into a country where I have enough food to feed my family, when so many women have to watch their loved ones starve?

I hear about women losing their children or their husbands.  Of others enduring great sorrow.  And I wonder when it will happen to me.  And I find that I can start to live in fear that something will happen.  That God will bring me sorrow to make up for the “perfect” life thus far.  But then I realize that isn’t God.  That isn’t His character.  He wants to give good gifts to His children.

 “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” ~Matthew 7:9-11

We live in a fallen, sinful world.  And I don’t know why horrible things happen to so many people.  With hard questions like those I just have to trust my Father and know that He is good.  And when hard and horrible things come to me, to rest in Him, trusting in that goodness and His grace to uphold me.  And when beautiful and good things come to me, to accept them with a heart full of thanksgiving knowing that this too is grace.  All is grace.  My sweet husband, my precious children, every moment of this life I love.  They’re all gifts.  And for them I give thanks to my Father.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” ~James 1:17

Vivid

Five Minute Friday: Vivid

GO

Rain. It makes colours more vivid in a way that sunlight never can. The green of the grass is almost glowing, scattered with jewels of raindrops. The black of the asphalt in front the garage is shiny black, juxtaposed by the brilliant blue of Aaron’s work truck. The gray-whiteness of the sky makes the yellow tulips from my love on my kitchen windowsill all the brighter.

And it clears my mind too. After several hard weeks, my attitude this morning was less than stellar. So very tired, and my mind just felt foggy. But a simple walk to the mailbox, alone in the misty rain, made me feel like a new person. I need rain. I just do. The cool wetness, breathing in and on my face. I was made for this.

And I understand more the phrase “grace like rain”.

STOP

The distinction

A…luncheon was held a half century ago in England.  The people around the table were [held together] by the bonds of spiritual war.  The general topic was comparative religions, which sparked a debate on the question of Christianity’s most valuable distinction.  What separated Christianity from every other religion in the world?

One suggested the Incarnation, another the resurrection of Christ.  It was pointed out, however, that these two vital features of Christianity were also part of the deities of other religions.  C. S. Lewis, who joined the debate late, uttered the answer as soon as he heard the topic of the day.  “Oh, that’s easy,” said perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century. “It’s grace.”

~ Tim Kimmel, Grace-Based Parenting, pg. 28

Always grace

Yesterday morning I was able to have a much-needed time of refreshment.  Aaron was able to hang out with Cedar at home so Genoa and I headed to Trader Joe’s for our biweekly grocery shopping trip.  It’s about an hour away, and without her older brother to distract her, Genoa quickly fell asleep and slept the entire way to the store.  I took advantage of not having to answer a bunch of toddler questions and listened to some music (it’s not often that I actually get to listen to music…other mamas of young children with exploding vocabularies will understand why!).  I put the iPod on shuffle and waited with anticipation to see how God would use it.  It may sound silly, but many times the Lord has used “randomly” shuffled songs to show me things and teach me lessons.  This time was no different.

After a couple songs had played, Derek Webb’s “The Church” came on.  This is an incredible song about how the Church is “a harlot and a whore”, yet she is still our Father’s bride and, as the chorus states, “if you love Me, you will love the Church”.  I’ve always been very convicted by this song because I often get frustrated with the state of the Church today, but I need to be reminded that she is still God’s bride.  But this time, as I was softly singing along, I had the realization that I am a part of that Church as well…and as such, I too am a harlot and a whore in relationship to God.  And it’s true.  How many times have I been unfaithful to my heavenly Lover and sought fulfillment in things other than Him? But…there is always grace.  That’s what prompted those tears that made my voice break while singing along in the car.  No matter how many times I take my eyes off of Jesus, no matter how many times I fail, He will welcome me back with open arms.  Hallelujah.

As the different shuffled songs played during the rest of my morning, and as I was really able to listen to the words, this emphasis on grace continued.  On the drive down there was Caedmon’s Call playing their rendition of “Thy Mercy My God“, and on the drive back, Sandra McCracken sang the same song. There was Andrew Peterson’s line about “into the wild of this grace” (from his song “The Magic Hour”) and Josh Garrel’s reminding me that “we’re all castaways in need of rope” and that “even when I fall I’ll get back up for the joy that overflows my cup” (from “Farther Along“).  And Sons of Korah asking, from Psalm 116b, “How can I repay the Lord for all of His goodness to me?”.

Along with this song-prompted realization, grace is something that the Lord seems to constantly be teaching me about.  It touches every aspect of my life.  The book I’m currently reading is called Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel and even though I’m only through the first two chapters, it has already been one of the best parenting books I’ve ever read.  Our Father has shown us so much grace, and we need to show the same to our children (though that grace is always combined with truth as Jesus came full of “grace and truth” [John 1:17]).

Another book on my to-read stack is Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman.  Recommended to me by a friend, it sounded right up my alley since my entire life I’ve struggled with accepting grace from God and others and trying instead of do it all on my own.

Last year too, with reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and receiving her message of eucharisteo and that “all is grace”, it seems that grace is something that God wants me to focus on.  Seeing grace in the everyday and realizing that all the gifts He gives are just extensions of His grace.  And after recognizing my Father’s amazing grace to me, viewing all others through that grace-filled lense.

And so, I’ve taken “grace” as my word for 2012.  Several different bloggers that I read and respect and am often encouraged by, after much prayer and thought, pick a word that becomes their theme for the year.  Being a word person, I always thought that was great idea, but never really thought to do it for myself.  For me, it wasn’t after a lot of prayer and thought — it happened in a couple song-filled minutes driving a car with a sleeping baby.  But I really feel that grace needs to be my theme for 2012.  And so it will be…and who knows where God will take it?!  I’m excited to see.

Grace to you.