A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Month: December 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Guest post: What makes you remember?

As we flick the page over to 2016 tonight, I’m posting on EverThineHome.com again: What Makes You Remember?

With grateful permission, I’ll post the beginning here.

In my dad’s garage are stashed a few items that would be of little significance to anyone else, but that mean the world to him: a charred license plate. An old mechanic’s shirt—the kind he wore daily in his farming years—with the back torn away entirely.

These, he’s told me, represent the days God saved me and my family.

 

The charred license plate was removed from a 1977 Cadillac Seville.  The driver? A slightly more youthful version of my mother, pregnant with me, her firstborn. Only a half mile from our farm house, she’d yielded at the intersection. But it was summer, and the field of corn stretched green and high. Another car was charging through somewhere around the posted 55 miles per hour.

Read more here.

 

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The 2015 List

the 2015 listI started it on Christmas Day, feet propped up as I slouched on my front porch, my journal falling across my knees, a drained mug of tea at the foot of my chair: The 2015 List.

Why I do it, year after year? Partially because I’m an airhead. Well. I actually have a decent memory. But even with that—because I think it’s all too human to forget.

My 2015 List is my vigorous attempt to comb through my year, recalling how faithful God was to me this year. It’s cluttered with pencil scrawls of events and good gifts large (“faithfulness in robbery”, reads one line) and relatively small (the list of delicious or wise books I have read, or remembering that time I hauled my mattress outside because I really thought we had bedbugs, and it turns out we didn’t).

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Real-life Motherhood Moments, #5

Real-life Motherhood Moments!

…Because there’s just too much real life not to share.

 

Me: Okay, you two have an extra chore together. You’re fighting like cats and dogs.

Daughter: Okay, but I’m the dog!

Son: NO! I’M the dog!

 

Son, as we put away dinner: Mom, I’ll take your hands off.

Dad: Son, I’m pretty sure you mean, “I’ll take that off your hands”…?

 

Me to oldest son, after dinner with guests: Would you please help me by picking up all the kids’ plates?

Him: No, I don’t think their moms would want that. That would deprive them of character, Mom.

Me: Pick up the plates.

 

Check out the last few slices of real motherhood here, here, here, and here. Feel free to add your own real-life moments in the comments section! You might also enjoy 25 Ways it is Okay to Fail as a Mom.

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Reflections on a Christmas robbery

Christmas robberyMy husband and I, kids in tow, were maneuvering at a snail’s pace through a traffic jam in our trusty high-clearance minivan. Our speakers happily trumpeted the Christmas CD my mom had sent, and we chatted, our energy high for our Christmas shopping in the city and the Christmas party of our non-profit (which, with the barbecue and kids running around in shorts, tends to look a little more like the Fourth of July). It was sometime after “Let it Snow” that our heads all swiveled to the driver’s side, where a man was banging—hard—on the outside of our van. Never a good sign in Kampala.

And that’s when his partner whipped open my car door and swiftly grabbed my bag slouched at my feet. My casserole dish skidded across the pavement as I unbuckled without thinking, standing between the unmoving lanes and yelling something very helpful, like, “HEY!” as he and his cronies ran away with my reading device, my phone, the drivers’ licenses from both countries, and our house keys.

I make it sound lighthearted, typing to you over a week later. But really, I just started sobbing, my hands shaking–which probably frightened my children just as much as the stranger flinging open the car door.

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9 Practical ways to savor the Christ in your Christmas

savor the Christ in your Christmas
  1. Don’t do something. To an already-packed schedule, Christmas can feel a bit like “more bricks, less straw.” Cut out a few of the “have-to’s” that aren’t (could we do photo Christmas cards rather than hand-signed? Could I forego making frosted Christmas cookies for the reception?)—and allow a little more margin for a devotional, meditative state of mind rather than one sprinting to keep up. Think Martha versus Mary here.
  2. Listen. If you’re moved by music, spend a few dollars and a few extra minutes on iTunes for songs that will get worship rolling around in your head and your heart.
  3. Subtract. Pray that God will open your eyes to what entangles and distracts your heart from really soaking in the Christmas message this year—and that you’ll have the courage to cut it loose. For me, sometimes the disappointment and sadness of being away from home and the festivities replete in the Western world sometimes mean I keep Christmas at arm’s length, steeling myself. But I also know that when I’m in the developed world during Christmas, my schedule and all the trimmings of the season tend to clutter my mind and my heart from the one person who matters.
  4. Download an advent devotional, like this one from Desiring God.
  5. Hijack your traditions. Consider an advent calendar that—alongside the ubiquitous sugar—leads your family closer to Jesus. I like this printable one from Faith Gateway. We’ve also been gifted ornaments that clearly remind us of Jesus whenever we look at our tree, like these from Ever Thine Home. Younger kids may enjoy making Jesus a birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday” on Christmas.
  6. Hone in. Pick one name of Jesus (“Prince of Peace”) or verse (“I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said”) or character from the Christmas story that sticks out—or ask God to point out one. Meditate on that as you go through the season, and listen as God fleshes out its meaning.
  7. Add a slice of service. Choose one area for your family to give itself away this Christmas—one that pushes you beyond “sacrifices that cost nothing,” pressing you into worship that gives uncomfortably, extravagantly, and/or inconveniently in your expression of love for God.
  8. In what ways do you worship? Author Gary Thomas writes
    of the various ways we worship as individuals: through nature, restoring justice, through our intellect, etc. Carve out time for the ways you worship, like a walk through the snow, a prayer time in the quiet of the Christmas tree lights, or shoveling a neighbor’s snow.
  9. Ask Him. You’ve heard the old warning: If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. This may seem like a “duh”—but consider a question like this one: God, I know how everyone else thinks I should spend my day today. How do you want me to spend it, to be faithful to you and love well? And Help me to know how my holiday can be about increased worship of You—and keep the main thing the main thing.
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A festival of Light

people walking in darkness #isaiah9:2 #haveseenagreatlight #Christmas #agenerousgrace

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Guest post: Letter to a Discouraged Mom

Hi! Contributing on weareTHATfamily.com again today, on a post I flat-out needed myself this week: Letter to a Discouraged Mom.

If you’re having one of those days/weeks/seasons, I hope it encourages you.

Praying for you today, readers.

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Wonders of His love

christmas 1

It’s December. My head knows this.

And yet, as I type, I can feel sweat beading behind my ears, dampening the tendrils on my neck. Tropical birds are sharing some kind of stories with each other out my window. The strings of lights and clusters of Christmas knickknacks are nowhere except the tree when I walk from one set of flung-open doors to the other. Christmas in the developing world is markedly…simpler.

I like this. I do. And yet, part of me wistfully pines, in this land that probably hasn’t seen snow since the Ice Age, for the sparkling events and frost and Christmas TV specials and calories that my senses associate with Christmas.

I suppose it’s this contrast—of my sensory expectations against the eternal springtime of the equator, garnished with the few strands of tinsel strung up at some local stores—that matches up with other sad realities at the holidays, away from home. My family won’t be throwing our arms around the necks of extended family as we stamp off our boots. Most of our Christmas gifts are brought over in advance (we stuffed ours in suitcases back in May). As thrilled as I am to be in Africa year-round, I always find myself muscling through a bit of melancholy in December, brushing away a rogue tear or two while I blast Christmas music and roll out sugar cookie dough.

But Christmas brims with odd contrasts, right? It’s the beckoning, warm technicolor of light displays in frigid darkness; the cheery fires while we peer out at naked, frozen trees; the heartache of the empty spot at the table in the midst of bubbling conversation; God arriving on earth in a barn. Historically, too, there’s the replacement of a pagan festival of death, lust, and frightening destiny with a holiday celebrating life, sacrificial love, and freedom from slavery.

Here in Uganda, to say that the holidays lack a richness would be somewhat of a misnomer. I find it in gathering unattached friends to our celebrations like a ball of playdough. I find it in the very simplicity: that my housekeeper’s grandmother is delighted, for example, with the gifts of a chicken and a kilo of sugar. That rather than multicolored, cinnamon-scented, artfully-wrapped cues, I remember that Christmas is about Jesus. The contrast elevates my sense of true Christmas.

It’s strange, you know, this melee of contrasts. Sometimes I find myself not wanting to focus too much on God’s love at Christmas (I know, I know)—because I’m afraid I’ll lose the awe, the reverence of this God of whom the Hebrews would not even speak or write His name. I mean, what if I allow myself to get caught up in this engulfing, crazy form of love, and somehow that swallows up the sheer holiness of the God of the universe?

But Christmas, when I get down to it, is not a contrast of these at all. The immense, blinding brilliance—the above-ness of God–and the love are one and the same. This baby was God with us. The high and holy with the dirty and lowly. The King of the Universe in diapers, carried around by a young girl, and visited by hired hands. I am so holy, He seems to say, that I can’t help but love like this.

I glimpse a slice of this, I think, as a mother. My hugs and yummy food and cuddle time with my children are not of a separate part of me than my discipline, my careful guiding of them. They are both from the love that seeps out from my pores for them. My love punctuates the truths I tell them—and the truth punctuates the love.

My answer to myself is not to focus less on God’s love this Christmas; it is to understand the sweeping, tour-de-force nature of that love, which is never satisfied with leaving me stinking and bleeding. It required a baby whose sweet, tender skin would decades later ooze scarlet for me, a lamb who’d double as my Shepherd.

So yes—Christmas seems replete with contrasts, its dark and light shades tightly braided, its bitter cold and tantalizing warmth kneaded into the season and the story. And though the weather outside is, well, delightful here (and I wish it were a little more frightful), I have a lot to celebrate anyway.

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12 “Angry” Steps

12 angry steps

I’ve written before about my anger problem. You know. The one I didn’t think I had until I had children.

But as conflict reveals my heart for what it really is, I’m compiling a working list of practical steps and thoughts as God patiently carves away the death in my heart and slowly makes me a conqueror.

  1. Discipline with the consequence, not tone of voice. This is my most prominent goal right now! Rather than the equivalent of “slash and burn” with my anger, I aim to calmly issue a precise, rational consequence. (I’ve had three good days in a row! Yeah!) I love an illustration I heard from Dr. Dobson: When a police officer pulls you over, even before he’s done anything, you’re sweating. You’re not afraid of him because he throws a fit outside your car door. He simply flips open his tablet! A consequence, firmly and surgically delivered, can speak for itself.
  2. Anger incinerates. It’s explosive. Often I used the anger equivalent of a rifle when a BB would do. As Tim Keller outlines in this fantastic sermon on anger, my goal is not no anger, or “blow [up] anger”, but slow anger. Being slow to anger is part of God’s glory (Exodus 34:5-6), and overlooking and offense is a person’s glory (Proverbs 19:11).
  3. When I’m tempted to yell—I should whisper. It forces kids to listen! But even more, if I can control my voice, rather than disciplining with it, I control my blood pressure, too.
  4. God set aside His anger for me. His reaction toward me was grace: not a lack of justice, but an acknowledgment at the fullness of what I did—and then setting aside His wrath to deal directly with my junk.
  5. Analyze it. I’m praying God will probe my heart for the deep, true cause of my anger: what’s precious that’s being trampled on. Sometimes for me, it’s the loss of control I feel over my children, or the inconvenience they’ve caused, something in my “kingdom” (rather than God’s) that I demanded, or my lost expectations. A lot of times, an idol is revealed—that’s become more important than God, or than loving my neighbor (i.e. my child) as myself.
  6. Incinerate the sin, not the child. In disciplinary moments, opt for the scalpel rather than the grenade that cuts out the sin intentionally and precisely. I wonder what would happen if I pictured my anger as a caustic acid—useful only for deleting sin, injustice, and wrong—that will burn when it splashes outside of its boundaries?
  7. Whatever it takes, take time to step away. I hope to give myself a five-minute rule: If I’m super angry, I need to step away until I can have a reasonable degree of confidence that I’m overcome by the Holy Spirit (demonstrated by gentleness, self-control, peace, and faith) rather than drunk on rage. I’ve been known to actually tell my kids, “I need to step away right now because I am going to sin against you [or sin even more against you]”.
  8. Get honest. One reader once recommended keeping track on her calendar; she’d mark “AO” (angry outburst) every time she lost it with her family. I like the idea of motivating myself toward discipline of my emotions, and creating some accountability, whether through friends, my spouse, or even a reward or consequences.
  9. Keep the strict discipline of reconciling and restoring. Playing out the Gospel means repairing, and sometimes even restoring our relationships after I mess up (like spending some cuddle time, or taking particular care to show love). For every trespass against my kids from me, I want them to also receive my apology. I love this author’s point that one of the most important steps in discipline is restoring our relationship with our children–and that goes both ways.
  10. Make it a repetitive source of prayer. If I’m supposed to pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin—am I really hating my destructive, ungodly anger like He does? I want to pray about this habit on a daily basis, and perhaps even fast about it. I’ve got four little Xerox machines running around my house, demonstrating the power of my sin to reproduce itself.
  11. Practice and discuss “Young Peacemaker” principles. Going with my kids through principles and materials like those from peacemakers.org has equipped all of us with vocabulary and principles to deal in godly, practical ways with the conflicts that seem as thick and suffocating as smoke in our house.
  12. Set myself up for success. My soul’s currently tethered to my very physical body with all its needs and, well, hormones. Getting sleep, not skipping meals or medications, taking time to download with friends, allowing myself plenty of extra margin in my schedule (both for holistic rest, and to avoid flying out the door in a “for the love of Pete, HURRY!” rage)—all of these subtract physical symptoms that leave thinner layers of self-control around my heart. I can allow more wiggle room in my demands and expectations in hormone-charged weeks. These strategies also allow me to deal with the issues that are really there, and do so with a level, non-reactive head.

Recommended resources:

“How to be Good and Angry” by Paul David Tripp

“The Healing of Anger” by Tim Keller

Liked this post? You might enjoy Two of the Most Important Words You’ll Ever Say and 26 Super-practical Parenting Hacks.

 

Tell us: What are some of your best anger-management strategies?

 

 

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White as snow

white as snow#isaiah1:18 #whiteassnow #agenerousgrace

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