A Little Secret: How I Switched Shrillness for Stillness on Easter

At this Sunday's Easter service, our church was packed to the gills.  I am always amazed at the finery that shows up that particular Sunday, and it's simply good people watching to see folks in their expensive clothes with the store tags freshly snipped off intensely walk/running to a pew so that they won't be left without a seat in those final moments before the service.  We were no exception, scurrying in at 9:20 and masterfully claiming the last line of folding chairs on the back row.  With Josh tucked in the nursery, that made six slightly damp and out-of-sorts Roberts in coats and ties and starched dresses all perched mercifully on a chair to call their own, awaiting the "Super Bowl" of Sundays to begin: the message of resurrection.

9:25am.  This is Collin and one tired-looking mama taking a victory selfie that we made it on time to score a seat on the back row.  The hubris was short lived.

I had gotten up late that morning.  Big mistake.  I had 12:30 luncheon at our home to finish preparations for, with a good 80 minutes required for the ham that I threw in the oven while my hair was still dripping.  The baby sat watching me, feeding the dog off his high chair tray and throwing the rest against a nearby wall.   Despite explicit instructions the prior evening, certain socks, shoes, and hair accessories could not be quickly located by the remainder of my brood, with one rain-soaked loafer eventually found in the middle of the driveway (!).  I forgot to press about four garments that needed wearing, so I whipped that job out before shoving on my high heels (the closed-toe ones that wouldn't show my chipped polish) and tossing a linen Talbots number from the resale shop over my still-wet hair.

My life, no matter the level of planning, is an unplanned mess.

As we waited for the hymns to start, we realized that so many people were in the foyer that it seemed some were giving up and leaving.  David jumped up and disappeared for a few minutes, then came back and waved us over to him.  What?  Give up our seats?  No way, man.  These are golden.  The waving intensified.  Okay, okay--I reluctantly gathered up my chicks and was directed by the hubs to a never-noticed, vacant old sound booth near one of the central pilasters.

With only three chairs.

We climbed the short stairs, jammed in, and tried to get situated as the choir began to sing a sort of rock 'n roll contemporary blend.  In the back corner of the choir loft, there was a middle-aged man with freshly combed hair in his coat and tie.  Not only was he not singing, he looked downright miserable.  David glanced at me and we both looked at the poor guy, realizing that the ushers had filled the empty choir seats with unsuspecting latecomers.  This fella looked like he was dying inside.  Like maybe he had not been to church in a long, long time and not only did he not know the words, he had come with no intention of singing or participating at all.  Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined ending up in that loft with the entire church filled to the rafters and looking right back at him.

In the meantime, as we inched towards the sermon, I jostled to situate all the kids happily--something that was never going to happen in such a cramped, seat-less space.  I went from one kid on my lap to two kids on my lap to not feeling my toes or much of anything below mid-thigh.   I wanted to cry a little.  This was Easter Sunday!  We're supposed to worship and feel gratitude and be struck by the magnitude of His sacrifice!  Instead, I was made pretty miserable by our close quarters and the thought of my unfinished ham and the iron I had possibly left on and a particularly cantankerous child whispering loudly and continuously in my ear.  Ugh!  What to do?

I glanced all around, from the beleaguered guy in the choir loft to the music minister with his hands held high to the on-time regulars who were glued to their regular pews, unwilling to budge a single inch even for this Sunday.  Noticing a dark niche under the empty sound booth counter that appeared to have some free oxygen, I decided retreat was the best option.  Much to the amazement of my kids, I gathered up the hem of my nice dress, flipped off my shoes, and hunkered down comfortably under that counter for the remainder of the service.  High heels, nice pearls, pretty dress were all irrelevant to finding a spot where my heart could be still.

I wondered who inherited our comfy seats on the back row.

I wondered what all the proper Methodists would've thought if they could see me hiding in my secret spot right there in their midst.

I wondered if the gentleman in the choir loft would like to switch places with me.

And switching places is what I couldn't stop thinking about the rest of the service. Because, the more I thought about it, the more I was overcome with the revelation that Easter is all about switching places.  It's about me deserving to be up on the cross because of my broken and sinful nature, but Jesus switching places with me and taking the brunt of undeserved punishment, even to death.

He gave up his seat in this world for those who had no space at God's table.  He knows all about my highly imperfect life, just as it played out in the rush of that morning, and yet personally and lovingly is preparing a place for me in heaven. 

Easter worship is knowing that because of His resurrection, my distracted attempts to praise Him will one day be switched out for a kingdom of singing angels where I may glorify Him completely and know peace without end.  

And I prayed during that hunched-up time for the man in the choir loft, that this seemingly punitive hour would not keep him from the limitless hours of eternity.  I prayed that Jesus himself would switch something in that man's heart and every person in that room who hadn't darkened the door of a church all year to know that He didn't come only for us Methodists in all our finery--He came for those who struggle, who doubt, who deny, who refuse to come at all for the show.

He came for the mess and in spite of it felt it was worth redeeming.

Thanks be to God.

Hey!  Put your hands by your sides and smile like normal people!
Now that's better.


Why Oh Why Don't I Love My Neighbor?

Today my docile black lab sat calmly outside while I shucked the last of the Christmas tinsel off of my white Easter tree, when suddenly she growled low and took off in a dead-on gallop with her ears pressed back and her hind legs kicking up in a beeline down the long driveway, across the street, and right into the sacred personal space of my mail-checking neighbor.

But not just any neighbor.

This guy has a track record with us.  I don't know his name, to be honest, but he knows ours because I've found handwritten notes in our mailbox detailing his complaints. At first they were anonymous but finally he had the bravery to sign his name. On moving-in day, he also complained about our POD in the driveway within hours of it being delivered.  Excuse me, but between my husband and myself, we moved every blessed piece of furniture out of that POD and into our home. Not a other single hand lifted a single item/armoire/dresser/sofa that we owned.  And yet he was reporting us to the HOA for having a storage unit in our driveway for 48 hours? What the what?  

The acrimony is palatable.  It must be if gentle Kate Middleton could sniff out the wafting pheromones of hairy bearded humans who are antagonistic towards her master and rush the suspects accordingly.

Okay, so here was the perfect time to make friendly with this guy.  To introduce myself and my dog, shake his hand, ask how his wife was doing (who just gave a kidney for a transplant, which I know through a mention in the last note of complaint about our recycling bin--most certainly, my guilt deepens), or to be generally friendly, for the love of Pete.  I call myself a Christian and Jesus said plain as day that the second most important commandment (Mark 12:31)  is to love thy neighbor and I've read it dozens if not over a hundred times and WHAT DO I DO?

Snap an apology, grab that rascally pup by her collar, turn on my heel, and march back across the street and down the long driveway to home.

Ahhhh, what in the world is wrong with me?

Of course, I know the answer to that question. Boy, do I know it.  I am such a fallen human being--this is only additional evidence on the heap of daily examples I could cite.  I am angry at myself for falling short of the ideal of Christian behavior yet again. Is there any hope for a recidivist like me?

I grieved through this while making non-organic (yet homemade!) chicken nuggets for the gang tonight.  Why do I constantly sin when I know the right thing to do?  Why do I give in to the momentary feeling of exhausted snippiness instead of overcoming it with noble and God-honoring behavior?  How do I have the right to call myself a Christian when I act more miserly and pitifully than the non-believing friend?

The silver lining, I think, is that my sin is ever-present in my mind.  Perhaps hope can be found in the fact that I see the wrong and that I am acutely aware of my need for redemption.

Oh, me. I need Jesus. It's that simple. Incidents like this only remind me all the more.

As the chicken nuggets were consumed, a family conversation about why the palms were waved fanned the flames of my previous thoughts. (Palm Sunday being tomorrow after all, which I was reminded of by a very proper member of our church yesterday who asked "of course your children are waving the palms tomorrow? to which I answered....um, no ma'am, not if it requires us being in any way shape or form early to church, which is not in the realm of possible right now.  thankyouverymuch.")  The discussion turned to the notion of Pentecost, the Jewish view of the lamb's sacrifice, and ultimately to why in the world the most learned, scholarly Jews would beg Pontius Pilate to kill the one person who fulfilled all the scriptures they had spent their lives pouring over in the Torah.

Shouldn't they--above all else--have seen the Christ for who he was?

When my child looked me in the eye and asked this tough question, in that moment I was reminded that it's not enough to have the head-knowledge.  It must be accompanied by gritty acknowledgements of a groveling heart and all that goes with them--admittance of poor behavior, missed opportunities, painful regret, difficult consequences, self-reflection, and--most importantly--coming to the space in my thoughts to search for and accept free grace, that undeserved forgiveness by the very One who asked that I love my neighbor.

My prayer is not only for forgiveness, but for another chance to get it right. And perhaps a leash when that opportunity comes around.

Thank you, Tim Keller, for the balm of these words:  
The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

and to Paul, because nothing is new under the sun:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  
Romans 7:21-25


The Great Car Debate: Big Bertha vs. the Minivan

Every ten years or so, we reluctantly embark on a search for a new car. We are not car people. I probably didn't have to tell you that if you've seen our vehicles, such as they are.  This is a strange change from my childhood, when my dad collected every luxury car known to man, built by hand a Porsche speedster like the one in Top Gun, taught me to drive a stick on a Ferrari Testarossa, and generously bought a beautiful peach '59 T-Bird hardtop convertible that he quickly realized would NOT be a good airbag-less first car for the hesitant, stop-and-start new driver in the family.

I digress.

In this season of life, as adults with lots of messy people in our lives, we have come to value functionality and reliability over any single other factor, with cleanliness admittedly ranking outside of the top ten on our priority list. (Don't think poorly of me. Whiny kids with low blood sugar are enough for me to sling snacks from the driver's seat like I'm Little Debbie herself.)  And as both our cars approach 200,000 miles, the Great Car Debate is heating up like never before.

The in-car vac is the best thing the Odyssey has going for it. I'm still dubious if it could handle the substantial Whataburger cream gravy spill of last week.  However, if my hair could look like this while the messes are suctioned, I might reconsider you, Honda.

Hey, I'll have kids out of the house by the time I get rid of this vehicle. This is a decade-long commitment....longer than some people stay married. Time to shift the persuasive conversation in to overdrive.

Madeleine is on my side in this debate.  In fact, all the kids are. We unanimously favor a car where NO ONE CAN TOUCH EACH OTHER.  Does such a thing exist?  Well, yessir, it most certainly does--in the form of the GMC Yukon XL.  Any larger and you're driving a school bus, folks.  We rented one on a recent trip to Texas, and when the unsuspecting Enterprise rep brought it around front, I ran over, patted her on the hood, gave her an enthusiastic half-hug and lovingly dubbed her Big Bertha.  The rep thought I was a titch crazy, but that car was a little bit of heaven, I tell you.  A rolling living room with La-Z-Boys for everyone.  How can the debate not end here?

Answer: because David is on the opposite side of this argument, and he is formidable in his stubborn stance.  With a rallying cry for the Honda Odyssey, he sees gas efficiency above all else.  To complicate matters, after years of stock-picking, he's also anti-American when it comes to the Big Three automakers.  He might not call himself a car person, but he knows a bunch of indisputable statistics about manufacturers, operations, union labor, and parts suppliers that, when brought up, make my eyes glaze over and my mind wander to what's for dinner.

Come to mama.

For me, the debate's simple: it's all about my sanity.

Madeleine has taken the discussion to a new level with the injection of democracy into our mini-dictatorship.  I recently passed the family bulletin board and discovered this strategically-placed document:

So, my current hope is that if I lose the battle, there's a slim chance that, when she litigates her first case, Madeleine could buy me the 2025 Yukon XL to replace my dilapidated 2015 Odyssey minivan with the broken in-car vac?  Hey, even Little Debbie's gotta dream.


A Little Monkey Business {Friday Photo}

The bruise is a by-product of my monkey-boy's busy baby business, which involves all manner of climbing, throwing, swinging, and slinging. Time to take a deep breath, fetch some more coffee, and pull out the mop!