Grace’s Baby

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It was the same sermon we heard this preacher deliver many times in the five or so years we sat in rows of hastily assembled chairs as he expounded from the pulpit. The illustrations varied from week to week, but the theme seldom did.

“Okay. Got it. Can we move on now?” my friend mumbled over her coffee later. “I think the man has issues.”

The man had issues. But here’s the thing: we all have issues. If you read or follow the same person for any length of time you will probably sense a theme. If the theme is one that prompts you to say, “Good grief. What’s your problem?” you either move on or, if a sense of duty keeps you entering the same doors week after week, volunteer in the nursery, or spend sermon time counting the offering, or  make coffee or something.

If the theme aligns with your own familiar issues, and if you hear God’s voice in another person’s words or actions, you listen, ponder, and engage. And ask more questions. I appreciate people who share what they have learned, but I know the really helpful concepts come out of their weakness, not their expertise, because the struggle is real.

If you read through the stories of people who have wrestled with God, you will notice he chooses people with issues. Answers floating around in the air only gain value when they attach themselves to questions.

The answer my questions have latched onto is grace. The twin enemies that have dogged my steps since childhood are fear and despair — fear of rejection and despair because I’ll never be good enough. They tell me I’m only as good as my last performance, which was, again, disappointing.

I have learned and I am learning. I have learned to apply the grace freely poured on me by the Giver of grace. I am still learning, because fear and despair still poke their ugly noses into my life when challenging circumstances show up. The Lord reminds me there is yet more empowering grace to experience.

For a long time, I mistook mercy for grace. I thought grace was a free get-out-of-jail card – unmerited favour. That’s mercy — and mercy is absolutely great. But grace goes beyond mercy to empower us to become the person God sees when he looks at us in Christ. He sees our true identity.

Sometimes I forget who he says I am. I see something else. I asked him to show me again.

I had a dream. A man who reminded me of Jesus was driving me around a neighbourhood similar to my childhood street. He stopped in front of a house and told me to knock on the door because someone in there was anxious to meet me. I did so reluctantly, because, well, I was afraid. The person who met me was excited. Apparently this was the home of my birth mother. Now I heard my own mother complain about my birth enough times to know I was not adopted in real life, but in the dream it seemed plausible.

A small older woman entered the room supported by several friends. Her name was Grace. Just like in the TV shows about reunions, she held me and wept with relief and affection. Then she and her friends brought me gifts. These were gifts she collected for me since birth. Since I have reached retirement age in real life, the number of wrapped presents was overwhelming.

I noticed a name tag on all of them. It said “Ashira.” I had never heard this name before. Grace said it was the name she gave me at birth. My “driver” stood in the doorway, smiling. I woke.

I searched the name Ashira. I found it on one of those baby name sites. It means “she who sings.” Then I realized the dream was telling me I was a child of grace and now a recipient of the gifts of grace. Nice.

A few minutes after I told my husband I felt curious about the dream, people arrived for the Bible study he leads, we read a passage in Galatians 4. This chapter is about freedom from performance-based religiosity. Paul includes an allegory (I love allegories.)

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. When no child was conceived they tried to make it happen their own way using Sarah’s slave. That didn’t turn out so well for any of them. Eventually, miraculously, supernaturally, a child was born to Sarah. He was the child of promise, not slavery, not self-effort that thinks the end justifies the means.

This is the passage in The Passion Translation that stood out to me:

These two women and their sons express an allegory and become symbols of two covenants. The first covenant was born on Mt. Sinai, birthing children into slavery—children born to Hagar. For “Hagar” represents the law given at Mt. Sinai in Arabia. The “Hagar” metaphor corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of today who are currently in bondage.
In contrast, there is a heavenly Jerusalem above us, which is our true “mother.” She is the freewoman, birthing children into freedom!” 

My dream! I met my “true mother.” She had gifts for me. Verse 28:

“Dear friends, just like Isaac, we’re now the true children who inherit the kingdom promises.”

I asked, “Lord, who am I?” He answered. I am a child of the free woman, the child of grace.

Verse 31: “It’s now so obvious! We’re not the children of the slave woman; we’re the supernatural sons of the freewoman—sons of grace!”

Oh, and Ashira? She who sings? I’ve learn that for me, the best way to defeat fear and despair is by singing about the goodness of God. He’s reminding me my weapon is a melody. My chosen pen name means Grace Song. I was a singer most of my life and now I use my “voice” here and other places to communicate this theme: God’s grace is sufficient. He loves people with issues, because His power is perfected in weakness.

Who do you think you are? Who does God know you are? Do the identities match? Ask him.

 

 

Why Have Children?

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I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

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For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

Choices: Hope in a Culture of Despair

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This time of year reminds me of a day 24 years ago when a close friend made the choice to terminate a life — her own. I still mourn. That choice ended all other choices.

She was in despair. A few weeks before graduation from her final year of university she was dropped from the program. Her supervisor said she did not have the temperament for her chosen field and would not receive certification.

It was the same temperament she exhibited the entire time and the decision so late in the process was a blow. She felt ashamed and like she had wasted nearly four years of her life. The rejection not only dashed her dreams, it became part of her identity.

Reject. Shameful failure.

When she talked about ending her life I interfered. I meddled. I made it my business, and I do not apologize for that. I arranged for professional help. I got her to the hospital.

I understand despair. I know what depression is like. I know the feeling that hope has been chased away by the ugly trio of anxiety, shame, and dismal forebodings. I know what it is like to make my failures my identity. I know what it is like to believe that the world would be better off without me.

I also know what it is like to be healed, to see the sun come out from behind the clouds and warm my heart again. I know the joy of hope restored. I know what it is to be loved for myself and not for my accomplishments. I have met the God of hope. He healed me and lifted me out of the pit of despair.

I know she told people what they wanted to hear to get out of the hospital. She still saw herself as an unwanted reject. I urged her to accept help, but she refused.

We talked on the phone a lot, frequently in the middle of the night. Telling her about how learning the truth of the simple child’s song, “Jesus Loves Me” rescued me from hopelessness brought an angry response.

“Quit cramming religion down my throat. I’m tired of religious people condemning me. You can’t tell me what to do!”

I wasn’t condemning her, but she had grown up with a lot of legalistic religion with impossibly high standards, so that’s how she interpreted what I said. She was right about me telling her what to do.

I could not tell her what to do with her body. She had free will. It was her choice. One night she hung up on me and chose to overdose. She told the paramedic who transported her to hospital that she changed her mind. But it was too late. She had an allergic reaction to the antidote and died. The consequence of her choice put an end to all other choices.

Years passed before I accepted there was nothing more I could have done to change her mind. It was her body, her life, her choice. I still miss her. I still love her. I still put flowers on her grave.

 

I read something another young friend wrote today. (For Danika’s excellent blog “My Life, My Choice” click here.) Danika’s life was also interrupted by a change of plans. She was on her way back to college to complete a program in a chosen field in which she excelled when she learned she was pregnant.

Her doctor urged her to get an abortion. She didn’t want her “to throw away everything she had worked so hard for.”

As I thought about it, I realized the doctor accepted the same belief as Lisa. Success in this culture is achieved through hard work leading to money, status, and power. Circumstances that set us back in this competitive atmosphere, in which everyone is too busy chasing goals to quit the race and stop to help another human being, are cause for despair.

Resiliency carries less value as a character trait when hope is lost. Compassion in a world of despair can offer only a cruel kindness. Abortion may look like a kind rewind but it ends the life of a living being whether or not you believe it is human or of any value. It permanently ends the possibility of any other choices.

I began to think about the many women I know who felt coerced by partners, social workers, doctors and family members into a choice that increased their sense of being a failure, whether it was failure to produce a male child, or a perfectly healthy child, or simply remain unpregnant. Some, feeling there was no place in the world for themselves if they could not keep up in the success race, assumed there would be no place for their child either. For some, despair and hopelessness led to a kind of suicide by proxy. Someone told them the world would be better off without their child and they believed it.

Danika chose a third way. She defied the edict that declared her only choices were to “throw her life away” by remaining pregnant or terminate and become a success by finishing her degree and getting a job. Her career plans have shifted and now she has started her own successful business and is studying online. Her little girl is a bright ray of sunshine in the lives of everyone who knows her. This child will grow up with free will and the right to make her own choices.

It has not been easy. I’ve watched Danika struggle, but I’ve also watched her accept help from community resources and family and friends who genuinely care, people who by their actions told her she is loved and valued for who she is and not just her accomplishments.

There was a time when suicide was against the law. What’s the point? I don’t think abortion can be legislated away anymore than suicide (although I certainly don’t want to be a part in it anymore than I would want to supply anyone with a lethal dose of pills). You can’t tell people what to do with their own bodies. They will follow through on intentions whether or not the process is “safe.” You can only be there to help, to support, to point out other options, to let the goodness of God show through your actions, and to point to the source of hope. The abortion issue is about more than a change in laws. It’s about change in hearts. It’s about hope.

Unless those of us who value life in the womb address the problem of the lack of love, honour, forgiveness, and hope in this world and until we live in a way that exemplifies resiliency and joy in trusting God to not only get us through tough circumstances, but flourish through them, we will have no influence. Until we are willing to care for others in non-condemning, self-sacrificing practical ways, we will only spend more years laying flowers on graves on our way to protest marches.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

 

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“Christ in you” is not only your best hope of glory, it is the world’s only hope.

Instead

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Seek silence in the midst of the tumult,

seek solitude in the masses,

light in the midst of darkness;

find forgetfulness in injury,

victory in the midst of despondence,

courage in the midst of alarm,

resistance in the midst of temptation,

and peace in the midst of war.

-Miguel de Molinos (The Spiritual Guide, 1675)

 

Faith is not blind. Faith is not oblivious. Faith is not in denial.

Faith simply refuses to stop too soon.

Faith keeps looking until it sees what God wants to do instead.