Prodigal Love

When I was about eight years old, I decided to run away from home. I remember it was late summer. We hadn’t gone back to school yet. I couldn’t tell you what led me to my decision, but I knew I was done living with my mom, dad, sister and brother. I packed an outfit to change into, some snacks, and a book. I figured I’d probably stop under a tree to rest at some point. I told my mom I was leaving. 

“Okay,” she had said. “Good luck!” She probably thought I was just saying it; I’d threatened it before, but this time, I meant it. I walked out the front door. My steps were quick at first. Yes, sir! I thought to myself. I’m out of here. Maybe they’ll miss me when I’m gone.

I began my journey walking up the big hill towards the dirt road that I knew would take me into downtown. My steps became slower the further I got from the house. I risked a peek back over my shoulder to look at it.  

Nope, I’m sure, I thought.

I stopped on the side of the road to look for sparkly rocks in the gravel. Maybe I’d find one that I could trade for something I’d need. I glanced back again at the house. It stood there indifferently. I pocketed several exceptional rocks and stood to keep moving. I was sure I’d been gone for hours by then.

Suddenly I heard something. Tires of a bike and the chain clinking as the gears were being changed to go up the hill. I turned to find my mom with her pregnant belly, huffing and puffing up the hill to stop me. I felt tears in my eyes. I dropped my bag and she stumbled off the bike and ran to me. 

“Christine! Never do that again! Someone could hit you with their car or they could take you!” She pulled me into her arms and I sobbed uncontrollably, into hair. She took me by the hand and we walked home together. 

Later in life, I came to learn my mom was actually on bed rest at that time, pregnant with my youngest brother Nick. She felt terrible during that pregnancy. She was given strict orders to take it easy and not over do it. Now for those of us with children, you know how impossible it is to “take it easy” when you have other children. And my mom had three others at that time; me, my sister Cathy and my brother Kevin. And we were busy kids.

My mom has never been a complainer. She had very little help in those days and did everything to make sure we had an ideal childhood, one in which we felt protected and loved. She suffered from Bell’s Palsy when we were young, she had breast cancer at forty-seven and underwent a double mastectomy. She still helped me plan my wedding that year, and then shortly after, helped my sister plan hers. Through everything, she’s had an attitude of acceptance and understanding. Her prayer through her suffering has been to endure everything with grace. 

About a month ago, she decided to go get an x-ray to find out what was causing some severe hip pain she’d been having. Chalking it up to “probably just arthritis and older age,” she was shocked to find out she had a mass in her pelvic area. The doctor said it looked like it might be cancer. A PET scan and biopsy this past week confirmed that she has metastatic breast cancer in her hip causing the bone to deteriorate. Ligaments are pretty much the only thing holding the bone in place. They cannot operate because there isn’t enough bone left to support the leg. They will need to do some sort of chemo and/or radiation to kill the tumor and then will give her medication to regenerate the bone. While the prognosis is hopeful, it means another round of challenges for my sweet mom. 

I’ve been spending time with her over the last few weeks seeing her vacillate between fear and acceptance. I can say with every bit of certainty, my mom is the most beautiful and courageous woman I know. My mom is a believer. She is obedient. She doesn’t question God. Even though she is afraid of what’s to come and her faith is being shaken, she is so strong in love and grace. She isn’t angry or asking “Why?” like I am. “Why her and not me, God? Hasn’t she been through enough? Hasn’t she proven over and over that she suffers with undaunted conviction to the truth? Test a sinner, God. Test someone deserving of suffering. Please, not her.” 

See, I take life’s hard knocks more personally. I’ve run far from my faith so many times. I’ve become hardened by life more times than I can count. Even at eight years old, I ran away from home. When challenges happen to me, I pull away from God and try to make sense of it on my own without looking through eyes of faith. It’s just my nature; go through a tough time, lose faith, and run away. 

We weren’t going to go to church today. I am a little under the weather and staying home to relax sounded better. But Scott and I decided at the last minute to go anyway to a later service. I am so glad we did. The message had us crying beginning to end because it seemed made for us. I wanted to share it with you because maybe you’re going through something similar and looking for faith. Maybe not. But maybe you’ll think of this someday and it will help you.

You probably know the story the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  There was a man with two sons. The younger one told his father he wanted his inheritance so he could leave home and live his own life. The son leaves, squanders his money and after some time, finds himself impoverished and starving, living with pigs. He decides to return home and beg his father for a place among the servants. He has his speech prepared “Father, I have sinned against you and heaven. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But instead of punishing him, his father throws a huge party to celebrate his son returning home. The older brother is furious and asks how the father can forgive this “SON OF YOURS” (disowning him as his brother). He, himself, has been a faithful servant and his father has never even given him so much as a goat to celebrate with his friends. 

Now see, this is the part of the story where as a listener, I am often thinking, “Seriously. That younger brother screwed up horribly. The older brother has every right to be pissed off.”

The father’s response is: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this BROTHER OF YOURS was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The father reminds his son that, “he’s still your brother, like it or not,”  and they ALL should be rejoicing. 

Luke also makes a point in his gospel to explain who was listening to Jesus’s parable. In the crowd were tax collectors and sinners. There were also Pharisees. The sinners were the rebellious ones, they are the “lost sheep.” The Pharisees were the rule-followers, the self-righteous and the judgmental. They were angry with Jesus for being friends with the sinners, wondering why he’d keep company with such bad people. Do you see the parallel? The Pharisees sound a lot like the older brother and the sinners sound a lot like the younger brother. And of course, God is the father in the story. 

The pastor tied this whole message up with a beautiful bow: “Jesus’ message to the rebellious sinners is ‘Come home! What you left home for is unfulfilling. Your home is with God and He is here waiting for you.’ His message to the self-righteous is: ‘You are lost too! Don’t focus on the fact that you have stayed true. Do not seek to punish the lost. Go help them find their way home.’ There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:10)

The word “prodigal” doesn’t mean “lost,” as I had originally thought. It means “recklessly extravagant.” Timothy Keller wrote a book called “Prodigal God.” It is about God’s love for us being recklessly extravagant. He loves us enough to leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that goes missing. He chases us to bring us home. He wants our love. He loves us like a pregnant, bed-ridden mother peddling up a hill after her rebellious, runaway daughter to help her come home. He loves us more than any earthly love we could ever comprehend. 

So why do we go astray in the first place? Some people think it’s the devil tempting us. But the devil is more cunning than to be so obvious about his methods. The devil is merely doubt. The devil plants seeds of doubt everywhere he goes, making us question our love of each other and God’s love of us. The seeds grow when we feed into the belief that there is any validity to that doubt. 

But God is coming for us, heroically chasing after us to save us. And He does this using our love for each other while we’re here. He wants us to love each other with reckless extravagance, just as He does. He wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to find our faith in Him again. We need to find our angels to get us through. We need to be angels for others.

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This is a person of unwavering faith. She shows me with every moment of her life what it means to love God and her family with prodigal love.

 

We can take our tragedies in life and allow them to harden us. We can be angry and bitter with those who have hurt us. My mom could do this with all the hardships she has endured, but no…She persists in unrelenting faith. She persists in love for God, never questioning His journey for her. She is so, so good and beautiful, this mom of mine.

Mom, I love you and am so proud to call you my mother. Thank you for your prodigal love. Thank you for chasing me up that hill and for bringing me home more times than I can count. You are going to get through this and we are going to be here with you.

I love this song so much by Cory Asbury. It’s brought me to my knees many times lately.   Reckless Love

Thank you for introducing it to me, Linda. ❤

 

By a Thread

Have you ever stopped to think about the expression, “hanging by a thread”? It implies that there is very little keeping a person or a thing from holding on. For example, Grace’s front tooth is dangling from her gums “by a thread” right now. She can twist it nearly 360 degrees, and it bends in and out like an old garage door. She refuses to let me get a firm grip on it and pull it, preferring instead to gross out her brothers and total strangers walking by her.

Sometimes people use that expression to mean that there is very little keeping them from snapping or from losing control somehow: “Her sanity was hanging by a thread.” I’m sure many parents in Michigan were feeling that last week as our kids rejoiced the many snow days that were called and we got very little accomplished.

I was thinking about the power of that last thread though, the one that is holding everything from falling apart and how that thread is undoubtedly the strongest one. But is it really? It’s made out of the same stuff as all the other threads. Grace’s gum tissue is made of the same matter. Or if we look at the thread in a figurative sense, our minds are uniformly made out of the same neurons and synapses. What is that thread really being strengthened by? Maybe it’s the thread at the core of the bunch that was supported by all the other ones. It didn’t have to do the heavy lifting until now. But theoretically speaking, it could have just let go when the others called it quits too. 

Last week, here in Michigan, temperatures plummeted to negative 40s with the windchill. When I stepped outside to get the mail, my nose hairs froze together. I saw deer tracks in our yard leading up to the trees that they had nibbled on in their search for food. The air was deadly silent. Not a single bird made a peep. I was sure we had survived something apocalyptic like that Day After Tomorrow movie. 

Then yesterday came. Birds were singing. The sun was warm on our skin. The kids peeled off their heavy winter coats and even their sweaters and snow melted in rushing streams to the sewers in the road. It was 47 degrees outside! Somehow life existed in spite of this impossibly frigid weather. And a gift of a fake spring day made things seem hopeful.

I took a walk and let the sunshine hit my face (without sunscreen!). As I sloshed along the wet road in my rain boots, I thought about that thread that keeps us from the brink. I have a theory that the last thread is really made stronger by faith. Faith is like a steroid injection that keeps that little thread from breaking. Maybe somehow Grace’s gums know that when she loses that baby tooth I am going to cry a river of tears because her chubby little cheeks will no longer seem so babyish. Maybe my faith is helping to keep that thing tethered in there. I mean, I realize it’s a stretch and that tooth is only one apple bite away from being set free. But I really have no other way of understanding how sometimes, we get so close to the breaking point and then miraculously the odds can turn. Is it our faith? Or is it someone’s faith in us? Is it all those threads of prayers and good vibes reinforcing that last thread of hope for us? I have no way of knowing such things. But I believe in it anyway. Because after all, that’s what faith really is. It holds us by a thread.

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She’ll hate me for this someday, but it’s worth it.

Good Enough

   Was there really a time when I woke up in the morning, marveling at the wonder of my children? I can vaguely recall it…They would call to me from their rooms, “Mommy! I’m hungry!” and I would skip up the stairs to carry them down. Then I’d dance around the kitchen to pour pancakes on a griddle. Everything they said was adorable and hilarious at the same time. We would read books for hours and color pictures together–I loved being around them.
   When did the wonderment of parenthood lose its sparkle? It’s a bit of the chicken or the egg scenario. I don’t know if I became less enthusiastic or if they became whiny and annoying first. Was there perhaps a string of rough mornings that made me so angry about my alarm going off each day, only to pour cereal into bowls, thinking the entire time, “I’m an enabler and my children should be doing this crap themselves.”
   A sweet mom friend of mine sent me a text message last night asking where I buy the boys their jeans and jackets. She said, “Your boys always look so put-together,” which made me laugh aloud. I told her where I bought their jackets (Lands End--40% off on one full priced item right now and the jeans are the Levi Denizen brand from Target. You’re welcome for free advertising!) Anyway, I also thanked her for the very kind compliment. I said, “I’m glad we’re doing a good job faking it,” because most days, I feel like we are. I suppose it’s not being “fake” as much as trying to seem like we’re doing all right; to make people think we’re not failing at life in a big way.
   It’s like when last minute visitors are stopping by and you scramble to do a quick surface clean so they won’t be able to tell just how much you’ve let the house go. I usually throw all the dirty laundry in someone’s closet, wipe down the bathroom sinks and toilets and nearly break all the dishes in the kitchen that had just been piled to the ceiling on the counter top putting them away. In reality, my house is on fire and I’m serving you fresh lemonade hoping you don’t notice. We want people to believe we’re not so messy in our homes and hearts, but why? I don’t walk into other people’s homes and take note of their messes, nor do I judge their hearts because I can’t know what’s weighing on them today.
   The fact is my heart is far messier than my dusty shelves, crumby floors, and nasty fridge combined. I am constantly screwing up. I am not as engaging with my kids as I once was. They want me to play Beyblades or Pokemon cards with them and I would rather watch paint dry. I am so far off the mark in most things in my life that I actually feel embarrassed when people tell me that anything about my life is “put together.”
   As parents, we want to do the right thing, the noble thing, every time. But reality leaves us falling short so often. A bad night’s sleep makes us short-tempered. The kids acting out makes us feel like we’re failing at discipline. Lately I find I’m struggling to motivate myself at many things parenting related. Now that the kids are in school and I’m here at home still doing things mostly for them all day long, I’m feeling burnt out, maybe even a little resentful by the time they get home and need me to do even more for them. I am not excellent at being a mom or a wife. I am ego-driven and ungrateful a lot of the time.
   But I would say, the fact that I wake up willing to try it all over again makes my effort good enough. And it’s the same for all of us. We’re not giving up or running away. The fact that we can see our flaws, push them aside and keep forging on is something in and of itself, isn’t it?
   Life is hard and messy. You wouldn’t expect to walk through a giant mud puddle without getting dirty. And life is the biggest mud puddle of all. We all have to go through it. Maybe the difference is going through it finding either joy or disgust. It really comes down to perspective. I do believe if we remember how to think like a kid, it’s a little easier. Kids love the mess. They aren’t bothered by the germs or the grossness of it all.
   I’ve been at the school a lot lately doing recess and lunch duty for Grace’s class or yesterday, I taught her gym class. I do find it highly entertaining when one of the kids pulls on my arm and says, “Watch what I can do!” and then proceeds to do the most awkward looking cartwheel, nearly falling on their face, but when they stand up, they’re beaming with pride. And of course I must clap for them and tell them they are amazing! Because they are.
   I am a bit of an expert on the proverbial awkward cartwheel. I think I’m getting it right for a minute, but I know in my heart it’s not perfect and it never will be. I wonder if that is kind of how God feels watching us fumble through life. We know we don’t look like those spandex-clad gymnasts tumbling around at the Olympics, but we’re doing our best. Maybe just trying at all, never giving up, is good enough.
   So if we see each other at the sidewalk for pick up, and one mom looks like she just stepped off a runway and the other looks like she just rolled out of bed, we need to remember it’s not a reflection of what’s happening on the inside. We can’t possibly know what each person is struggling with. It’s been written about so many times before, but it always bears repeating. We can’t compare our stories to someone else’s. We all are crossing our own mud puddles, but we will find it more enjoyable if we remind ourselves, there is no glamorous way to do it and not giving up is good enough.
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My kids in their very put-together Lands End jackets having the time of their lives playing on a giant dirt pile with a bunch of dead weeds. #perspective