Dead Identities

reunionI went to my high school reunion this weekend. As radical as it sounds, I’m going to tell you that is was encouraging to my soul.  15 years ago we were mostly a bunch of awkward Christian kids just budding from a small town in the middle of Michigan. Now we are mostly a bunch of Christian adults spreading branches through the world.  Praise God.

And more personally, I was encouraged in my own sanctification.  One of the first people I got to hug was a girl I lived with in college. Still her joyful, overflowing self, she bubbled, “I’m just so happy to see that you love Jesus.”   It caught me up short. Of course that is my identity now, but I quickly remembered, it hasn’t always been.   She knew the sin of my youth and she rejoiced with me to see it dead.

Then yesterday morning at church, we sang “How Sweet and Awesome is This Place” by Isaac Watts. Verse 3 reminded me why I shouldn’t bother with mascara on Sunday mornings.

Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?

I am living a life I don’t deserve and didn’t want, but for his grace.  By grace, my husband and I have grown up together in the same direction.  By grace, I’m not defined as the “career woman” people thought I’d be.  By grace, he gave us 7 kids (instead of the 0 we said we wanted)  to raise to know the Lord.  By grace, I hate my pride.  By grace, I love authority.   By grace, I love the saints. By grace, my tongue will not cease to give testimony to all his wondrous works. I am filled and satisfied with eternal Good.  And all this, I would have missed had he not by the same grace plucked me out of my dead-end desires and claimed me for his own.

Abundance Messes

I had the pleasure of laughing until my face hurt yesterday at the tale of some little boys, a new kitchen faucet that spins 360 degrees, and a pregnant mom hustling around getting ready for a doctor appt.  It’s not my story to tell, but after I could breathe again, she asked me what it really looks like when my crazy people do crazy things.  She thought, “Danielle would probably laugh and snap a picture.”

On my best days, yes, that is what I do; and I have plenty of pictures. But for every captioned picture, I’ve probably had another mess that I handled with frustration, tears, and self-pity.  So, I gave her a few thoughts about eyes of faith that look to wield weakness into strength, told her that we try to discipline for the disobedience, not for the mess, but I really just wanted to read her a blog post that I read a few weeks ago, that has been a great help to me:  The Oxen Are In by the Rachel Jankovic.  If you’re struggling with the mess in your home and your people who are making it, read it.  I couldn’t say it better myself.

 

Sane Faithfulness

 

Grown Weary

Feeling a bit discouraged the other day, I looked back through the archives of this blog expecting to find a pick-me-up.  After all, at one time in our history, 3/5 of our kids couldn’t walk. Life has to have gotten a little easier. While I did have a good laugh at some of the outrageous adventures we’ve had, I did not find what I was looking for. I found myself still struggling in the same old nets and sloughs, sinking further still.  So I lugged  myself and my big fat burden into the 2nd best place I could think of, Chris’s lap. Of course he has no power to take my burdens off, but he knows the one who does, and so he pointed me there.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [bold mine] Philippians 3:13-14

My first reaction was something intelligent like, “No-duh!”‘   Behind that phrase I meant,  “Obviously, I’m not perfect.  Obviously, I want to be.  But how do I try again to strain forward toward the perfection that will always be beyond my reach until we see face to face?  I’m tired and that spot on my forehead now has a bruise and I don’t want to bang it against the wall anymore. It feels like insanity!”

Indeed, Einstein defined insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  But then, without banging my head, it hit me. Like finding out I’d been eating knock-off mac n’cheese my whole life, I realized that Insanity was only the imitation, an impostor of Faithfulness.  Insanity is a hopeless repetition of failure and the only way out is to quit.  Faithfulness is acting on a sure prize and the only way forward is to strain.  Yes, faithfulness is repetitious, but here’s where we get bold, we are allowed to forget our failure.

In as much as our sin reminds us of the magnitude of grace, let’s call it to mind.  But forgiven sin is not meant to weigh us down and entangle us.  If remembering that we’ve handled the dinner hour with angry impatience 5 times already this week causes us to say, “why bother trying again?”  Then forget it! Leave it behind, throw it off.  We are free to succeed on the 6th time.  More than that we are assured that the author of our faith is the perfecter of it, so do not be afraid of another rep because discipline, “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Can I Get a Witness?

Chris is at his last consistory meeting for a while. His term as deacon is up which feels needful and good for our family. But we’ll miss it. The time has been sweet and sanctifying (which we all remember how exciting that can be …)

In 1 Timothy 3:13 it says, “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” When he first started, he was really eager to find out just what the last part of that verse would look like. How would serving in this role gain him great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus?

Being a deacon means knowing some intimate details about the church body’s pain, poverty, hardship, and also about their care and generosity. Though it is a weight, he taught me to call it a privilege. A privilege because every Sunday morning, we get to sing with people of whom the world is not worthy (Heb 11), but who testify to the surpassing worthiness of Christ. We look around to see some of the saints praising him while dying of cancer, some trusting while out of work, some still blessing his name even when they’re exhausted of their own neediness. And some are giving him glory, with a quiet, but cheer-filled, givers heart.

I heard recently, “If we are finite, then we must rely on testimony.” And so fellow finitians, we will testify to you that we have seen the Lord’s care of the sheep at University Reformed Church. We have grown in confidence in the faith of our Lord Jesus that he is worthy of our worship in plenty and in want.

Sanctification Surprise

photo (7)I remember during my driver’s training class, the instructor asking us what age we thought were the most dangerous drivers. Obviously, it was us, the teens. Nope. Then the seniors? Nope. The most accidents are caused by the distracted, over-confident, middle-aged. Apparently, after you’ve been driving 10 or 15 years, you try to push the auto-pilot button that only works on really fancy cars, not your mini-van. You’re late for co-op, you’re parenting the back seat, you’re counseling your friend on the phone, you’re eating breakfast, Kabamb! You’ve just rear-ended the sweet little old couple on their way to their 8th funeral that month.

Driving isn’t the only time an auto-pilot button would come in handy. The more the responsibilities mount, the more it seems that something’s gotta give. Some area must not need so much of my attention. Sadly, it seems that marriages tend to be the old hat. It’s a real temptation.

We’ve just had our 12 year anniversary. By some accounts a blip, but it’s the span of my adulthood (and probably a little of my childhood too). Since then, I’ve been thinking about why my marriage does not feel like an old hat. Why does my heart still flutter when Chris Spencer walks into the room, even a room piled with laundry and knee-high people? I still swoon because he keeps surprising me. Over, and over, and over, he keeps me on my toes, not with flowers, chocolates, or promises he doesn’t intend to keep, but with growth in holiness. His sanctification is sexy (I can’t think of another way to say it)!

Since sanctification involves dying to yourself, you don’t need to wait on the other person to start. Give it a try. You know those recurring squabbles that are so routine you could script them? Next time one of those starts up, cut it off. Say sorry first, keep that remark to yourself, or reshape that face. Husbands, make decisions and be responsible for them. Wives, tighten up your flapping lips. Girls, study Proverbs and ask your husband good questions about his work. Guys, read old authors and give your wife timeless courage. Be warned: you may want to have a plan to get the kids in bed early 😉

The thing is, our own death is not surprising. It’s happening. We think an auto pilot button would at least let us enjoy the ride . But sacrifice, willing death on behalf of another, that’s shocking. And Christ’s death for us is downright scandalous. As we grow into his likeness, we’ll grow in dying. And in dying he’ll bring life, even to a marriage.

Contained Imaginations

Synonymous phrase for a long road trip with 9 people in one car, 5 of whom are 5 and under: Try , death by whining, agoraphobia, I feel like i’m taking crazy pills…
No matter. In as much as it is up to me and the dollar store we’re going to succeed this year. I’ve come up with these little self-contained imaginary lands to pull out, along with pipe cleaners, new dolls, bingo, and wall decals to play with on the car windows. Any other ideas?

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Setting Up House Like a Christian

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From one of my favorite lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, “made by the Lord …for the refreshing of weary travellers”

When Pastor Kevin exhorts us to be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have, he also exhorts us to beg for the questions.  With a little intentionality, we all have the opportunity to ask people to ask why on earth we live by our strange standards and attitudes,  from clean speech in the workplace, to obedient children in public (or at least obedience in training), to a courageous demeanor under fire, to a peace that surpasses understanding in suffering, to a home arranged like a christian.  Wait, did that one fit?  How can decorating and organizing your home have anything to do with the gospel?

Well, let’s cover first things.  The gospel proclamation that Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins bought us both body and soul from the deserved wrath of God, means that, not being our own, everything we do is under the authority and structure of the gospel.  But, to the immediate question, “how does what we do with our home aid the spread of the gospel?” we could start with refreshment.

Paul “derived much joy and comfort” from Philemon because the hearts of the saints had been refreshed through him for the sake of Christ. – (Philemon vs 6-7).   Paul, the courageous encourager, considered the refreshment of the hearts of the saints a valuable gospel spreading tool.  I’ve been titled homemaker, housewife, stay-at-home mom, domestic coordinator (seriously), but when asked what I do, I think I’d like to start replying, “I’m a refresher of the saints.”  Now that would beg some questions or at least some funny looks!

Mindful first of the household of God and second providential proximity, I’m nearly maxed out at my family.  But as a family we  try to practice hospitality to anyone God brings along our busy road.  Our home should be a place of work, play, learning, and resting for any neighbor, including the ones that live here.  Attitude is a good start, but sours quickly if not put into the tangible. (And by way of qualification, tangible does not equal expensive or extravagant.)  I’m always helped by imitation, so here are a few ideas from our home, feel free to share yours:

  • A wall chalkboard makes a great place for memory verses.  I put a “fighter” verse up for a few weeks and we all usually know it backwards without ever having to drill.  Other people have the opportunity to ask what it means or why you’re meditating on that particular verse.  Good conversationalists use revealed information to ask questions.  So, reveal information that leads to good questions.  (Only an intorvert analyzes these things.  I know which of you are laughing at me right now).
  • The T.V. is not the central focal point of the living room.  I try to arrange furniture for quality talking time and reading.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to make any judgement calls for your family about T.V., but people ask me how I have time to write, and read books, and do what I do.  Honestly, a big part of the answer is I rarely watch T.V.   When we were first married we couldn’t afford cable (I seriously thought that was a problem), but once we could, I found that it was not only more appalling than I had remembered, but kind of boring and life sucking.  Anyway, back to the point, you may also find you have more refreshing topics to converse about than the latest shows if you are spending your time practicing conversing.
  • Books are accessible.  I purposefully leave books around the house in natural stopping places that I want the kids to read or look at.  They’ve learned about entire cultures, science topics, and economics without ever having covered it during “school” time.  Next to, “why do you have so many kids?” and all it’s variant forms, we are asked nearly as often why we home school.  Excepting denim jumpers, nothing screams, “home-schoolers” louder than stacks of “You  Wouldn’t Want to Be a (fill in your favorite historical oppressed group) during (fill in your favorite time in history)” books lying around.
  • Bibles are accessible.  And not just the iPad version. Especially for the smaller children, electronics are associated with games, mom and dad’s “work”, weather updates, you name it.   The physical Bible helps distinguish the time.  It also gets rid of one more roadblock to family worship when, after herding the cats kids, you don’t have to hunt down a Bible as well.  P.S. Don’t skip family worship when you have guests!  That’s like going out of your way NOT to refresh the saints or proclaim the gospel.
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In case, I’ve come across like our home is a garden of refreshment all the time, while writing this very post, the said, put away sharpies, were being used to draw hearts on the couch.

  • As the Wilson’s might say, “Make your house a garden of “yes.””   We try remove stumbling blocks  to obeying and pleasing us by keeping keepsakes, sharpies, and toilet bowl cleaner out of reach.  And clocks.  If you tell everyone they have 15 minutes, they need to be able to keep track of what that means.   (For another post sometime:  “Wisdom lesson 101:  Time Management – Feelings Based Time Keeping Is a Root of All Kinds of Evil”).
  • Family pictures, albums of vacations, and Christmas past can be helpful reminders of who you are when things are stressed or dull.  I’m not talking about nostalgic backtracking, but there are times when winter gets long, and smiling gets hard, and fellowship is fickle that the family pictures of hugging, giggling, kids and parents can remind us that we are a family who loves and enjoys each other.  They can also speak the same things to your guests.  Our marriages and families illustrate the gospel.  We can tell the truth about it or lie about it, but we can’t stop speaking.  Ebeneezer stones (1 Sam 7)  refresh our memories to tell stories of His faithfulness to ourselves and others.

This post could get (or has gotten) laboriously long.   But one last reminder.   A few years ago, we had a family over with girls a little younger than ours, thinking we would  refresh them by showing  that toddlers don’t stay that way forever, they turn into delightfully helpful young ladies.  But instead, it went down in our minds in the top 5 Spencer Sin-fests.  A few years later, my friend actually brought it back up (it was memorable), as an example in her mind of encouragement to persevere and it was a refreshment to her!  The best art does not waste a word or a brush stroke.  The Lord won’t waste any of you,  He’ll do the refreshing in his way in his time.  

Flash Forward

Socialization smoschilization. This girl was cool. She was homeschooled. And Chris and I just saw Maggie as a 20-year-old.

Suffering Spectators

My dear friends are suffering.  Their daughter has dangled over death and even now is straining one foothold at a time toward life.  You should follow their story here: In and Out of the Woods.  You’ll trust and love God more.  I want to do something for them and I have where I can, but now there is so much waiting and watching, praying and perseverating in my mind that goes something like:

I hate sin. I HATE IT! As this sick little baby curled her toes around my finger, I felt the inevitable question bubbling up in my mind, “Why Lord?”  I was quickly chastened to remember that where I see suffering I should always draw the line back to sin: Adam’s and my own.  Why death?  Why suffering? Because we are a cursed people, because we are a God-hating, sin-loving people.  When people asked Jesus why? He said, repent and believe.  (Luke 13) I never want to sin again. 

But I do. Suffering and sin grow up together.  When Christ is in the garden (Luke 22), sweating blood, he tells his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  But they don’t pray, their spirits are willing but their flesh is weak and so they sleep.  In their stupor, they self-protect, scatter, and deny the Christ in his darkest hour.  Or consider Job’s friends. When they can hold silent no longer and it seems that they’ve put in their grieving quota, latent jealousy and pride spews out of their hearts.  Suffering is refining, which means that there is much dross to consume, and sin will rise to the surface.  It seems one of the greatest temptations we encounter while suffering and watching someone suffer is to assume that the waves of sin will take a break from crashing into us.  But this false notion is deadly.  

We suffer for each other’s good as well as our own.   2 Cor 4:11-12 “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.”  Currently our friends are feeling the weight of the curse more than many. Yet, instead of caving  they are pressing hard into Christ’s death for their own good, and yours, and mine, in order that Christ’s life will be at work in us all.  It’s necessary that they not suffer alone because we are one body with one head that wears the crown of glory.

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Baby Jovi

So weep and rejoice.  My sweet niece was born Sunday.  Covenant nieces and nephews are being born all around me.   We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12).  At times like this, it is more obvious that only in our union with Christ is this possible because he is everywhere. When we go to the depths, he is there.  When we soar on the heights, he is there. (Psalm 139)  It’s only in him that we can give true and full expression to our emotions across great distances in short times.  He’s that big.

But, “God is not big, he’s infinite.” (Doug Wilson)  It’s good to think that God is big.  But perhaps better not to use spatial constraints at all.  He extends his care to all his people, at all times, in all places in the exact measure that is needed.  While my finite friends poor their energies and prayers into their baby, God is still caring back at their home for their kids, their parents, and their friends.  God cares about your loneliness, about your headaches, your panic attacks, and your job.  He cares about your new baby and your husband who is away.  There is no zero-sum at work. He is infinite, omnipresent, omniscient.  He knows your name, how many tears you’ve cried, and he knows how many heart beats we will all have.  In fact, he plans and sustains each one.  Praise him at all times, for he is worthy.

Children Are People Too

pretendplayDid you know that a paper snowflake and a tree skirt turns you instantly into the queen of China?    That all princesses and queens only call food crumpets and that tree ornaments are the perfect crumpet replacement for a tea party? How about that salad tongs are actually robot hands? That laundry baskets turn you into a turtle? Or that you can become a mermaid simply by squeezing yourself into one side of your pants?  

I’m keenly aware that my kids like to play with all sorts of odds and ends, stuff them into containers and purses and mix all my neatly sorted bins into a jumbled random mess.   But when I play right down with them, I see their world with new eyes.  Surprisingly, it’s not nearly as chaotic as it looks.  All those odds and ends have been transformed by their active imaginations into exactly anything they need them to be.  Today, as I sat with the royal prairie baby on my lap, a crown on my head, surrounded by a servant girl and a body guard armed with a nerf gun undercover in a prairie dress, I realized that what I would have called a mess was actually an orderly game of imaginary play.  Every “misplaced” object made perfect sense from my new humbled perspective.

I’m of the mind that children are people too.   Profound, I know.  But seriously, how often do we reduce them to dolls to be dressed, dogs to be trained, trophies to be showcased, or problems to be swept under the rug?  If we will see them as more, as our neighbor, we will find that we are called to a much higher standard in our relationships with them.  Not only are we uniquely charged with the responsibility to instruct them in the ways of God and to protect them, but they are our fellow man, whose interests we should consider more significant than our own (Phil 2).  So while it’s true that I serve them with boundaries and order, it’s also important that I serve them with freedom and understanding. I’m interested in living in a Restoration Hardware catalog, they’re interested in living in a fairy tale.  It’s time to die again, but kids can remind us what a joyful resurrection it is.

“And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing…” (Zech 8:5)