Mishpat

“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

It was not long ago that I was the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor. I was the one who needed help when it was difficult to find and even harder to accept.

It sounds trite, but I am still moved with gratitude for the outpouring of those who saw us in a time of great need. By the generosity of God’s people, we were restored. Homes were opened up to us, kindness was extended, gifts made from hearts of mercy were poured out lavishly on our family in the most dignified of ways. Mishpat surrounded us and held us up during a difficult time.

“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Ps. 103:6

Mishpat is the Hebrew word meaning justice, and it is intrinsically tied to righteousness. It is not simply a word regarding judgement or just verdicts. It encompasses the idea of seeing evil–the wrongs of the world–and setting them right.

But how does a person do justice in a world filled with such greed and corruption? In a world where the definitions of good and evil are always shifting, and it depends upon who you ask?

For some justice is vengeance. Repayment in full for deeds done against another. Like a sword, it separates right and wrong, inflicting punishment on the later. For others, justice is the doling out of due equality. If wrong led to A, then A must be recompensed. Flip things around and give everyone a fair chance. For others justice is an unfulfilled ache; a long train of abuse that has left their soul echoing in pain. It is the verdict no one ever pronounced. It is life mocking them every day.

But one thing we know for certain: justice is for the oppressed. It is never for the villain. Never for the by stander. Justice is for the vulnerable. And yet often the plight of vulnerable never receives justice; never receives the righteous mercy to which true justice is so instrincally tied.

As a follower of Jesus, He requires me to do justice, but I must learn to do it His way. The command is weighty; so many of the Proverbs makes it clear that doing justice without regard for divine instruction results only in wickedness.

And so mishpat is not a word to take lightly. Neither is it an easy ethic to execute. In its fullness, it is an idea that represents taking on the cause of the vulnerable–the oppressed–as my own responsibility. To do right by them. To treat their plight as though it were my own.

It is simple to donate old clothing or to feed the hungry or ring a bell. Those kinds of things are rewarding, they feel good, and lead to more good. But it is the spirit of mishpat that is complex. It is doing it from a heart of mercy and a position of humility.

In exploring the idea of justice and reflecting back on the mercy extended to me, I’ve come to realize that to do right by others is not something meant primarily for them. It is meant to teach our hearts to love mercy. And really, none of us naturally love mercy. Who finds it a joy to do right to those who have done us great harm? That is the beauty of mishpat.

Mishpat is there to train us to deal with the world in God’s way. To not simply extend mercy, but to actively seek out mercy. In doing so we inevitably recognize our deep need for mercy. And it is only in that we are able to walk humbly with our Maker.

So this Christmas season, do not look down on those in your life who have less or need help. Stop judging their suffering. They are often good people, mistreated by life or facing oppression beyond their control. Instead, extend your hand to downtrodden. With wisdom, bless them with kindness and mercy. Give not of your extra, but of your brokenness. Humble yourself and let your spirit be moved to compassion. Embrace mishpat.

Advertisements

Home. School.

There is an album on my phone where I keep favorite photos. Little snaps of my life, forever preserved under glass. These photographs have nothing on the images I used to create. Once upon a time I made beautiful pieces of art, losing myself in the creative process for hours. With fractional movements I pieced together delicate 2-dimensional interpretations of the beauty before me. Time was not an object when presented with something as complex as a flower. I could spend hours exploring a single petal.

The photographs then told a story less about themselves, and more about their creator. Each image another abstract representation of how I saw life before me. Moving, vibrant, and a precious silence in the soft moments surrounding me.

But now the still moments are scarce. I have subjects that do not tolerate my preferred pace. Unlike flowers, my little stones do not pause for the camera. They run, zoom, fidget, kick, bounce, and gallop their way into my heart. So my snapshots are quick. Rationed, even. I make due with what I’ve got, capturing what I can, with the camera in my pocket.

These images tell a different story.

Sometimes one of mess. Or of accomplishment. Togetherness, humor, pride. All inconspicuous mile-markers that will define our life in the years to come. The pictures now sometimes show a life well lived; always a life well lived in.

Every day, I find that I get a little more comfortable with the new medium in my hands. A little more natural. A few more years, and I think I just might be able to do this.

 

As I sort through the collage I see all the benefits of the path we have handpicked. Hidden in the expressions are sparks of learning, work done together, and a gentle handing down of the truths that define our life.                    

These pictures convey a very steady rhythm; a beat to our life that brings cohesiveness. There are smiles, projects, messy hands and messy hair, and often there is a tired mom behind the camera. But perhaps more importantly, these snapshots convey our choice to be together. Not one of default, but of careful selection. They show a conscious commitment to a lifestyle of learning, and ultimately, a legacy in the making.

 

I call the album “homeschooling”. But the best part? When I look through it, I cannot tell the difference between home and school.  For us, one no longer exists without the other.

 

 

In the Aftermath

A gunman opens fire on hundreds. A driver crushes dozens with a truck. Fires rage threatening life and ways of life. Rains beat down leaving thousands homeless, stranded in knee-deep filthy water. The air fills with smoke. The water oozes from every crevice. The blood pools at our fingertips.

And in the aftermath of a tragedy we pledge our solidarity to the survivors. We send money. We send clean water. We stand in line to give our own blood. We pray for the families and the victims. We mourn with those who mourn. Our profiles are flooded with hashtags of hope. We attend the prayer vigil and hold hands with our neighbor. We hate all the hate; rage against the rage. We say something about love being louder.

Then a few days go by, and we open up our bottles of wine to enjoy a little more than we should. We turn on the TV and laugh at the depravity. Casual humor; harmless fun. We roll our eyes at our kids in their moments of anger. Sibling rivalry, we call it. We smugly snark at the people who don’t get us, shame the neighbor who voted differently. We march to reform the guns, then sit down to watch it on our screens. We whine about objectification while entertaining ourselves with slander. As long as we don’t touch the gun. As long as we don’t say the words. As long as we keep the spotlight on all the good, we can hide the hypocrisy in the shadows.

But the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The world is not a place of hope. It is not filled with beautiful people doing wonderful things. It is filled with sinners doing sinful things. While there will always be those heroes in the midst of tragedy, there real tragedy is the one committed every day. The one inside the tidy four walls of the human heart. For I am no better than the murderer.

The real change does not come from loving louder. It does not come from our humanistic attempts to throw out hate. It comes from loving Him who first loved us. A love that is strong enough to change hearts–ones not conformed to this world, but renewed by His restoration in our everyday lives.

In the middle of floods and fires and fighting, I pray that we hold close those who are hurting. May we weep with the broken hearted and welcome in those who are displaced. May we do good things with the hands God gave us. May we call evil what it is and speak truth. May we walk in The Way, narrow though it may be.

May we have the humility and wisdom look at our own lives and face the hypocrisy, not being deceived by the norms of culture. May we look different, choosing to welcome the truth and freeing up more space to love for real.

In the aftermath, let us be better than hate. Let us be better than politics and agendas. Let us be better than saying all the right things and taking all the right pictures. Let us be better than our pathetic attempts at some version of empty love.

I will give them a heart to know that I am God, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jer. 24:7

Let us be transformed. Let us be different. Let us give Him our hearts and let us be His people.

The Faith of our Fathers

Outside it was only late afternoon, but already dark in the mid-December sky.  Tremendous amounts of snow silenced our our neighborhood, downy banks lining the streets. And as the sky cleared, bitter cold set in. This snow would stay a while.

My dad bundled us up, zipping us into snowsuits and tieing our boots to ensure our feet would stay toasty through the long walk he had planned. Out we ventured into the dark. Stars lit our way, aided by the occasional streetlamp. Through the snow we trudged, crunching along the street. Dad led the way, two girls and a dog shuffling along behind him.

Eventually the road ended, and we came to the top of a hill. The windswept slope hid pockets of snow that came up almost to my waist. In my attempt to descend the hill, I only sunk deeper, struggling in the white sea. As a child, this was thrilling but inefficient. We were getting nowhere in a hurry. Scooping up my little sister, Dad stepped forward, in front of me, with his big boots. And as I followed in his footprints, the journey home became easier for me.

Without him ahead of me, the drifts would have swallowed me whole.

Years later, now grown with children of my own, I found myself sitting in a lovely little church, listening to that same man give a sermon. It wasn’t fancy.  It wasn’t a packed congregation or a showy display of doctrine. It was just my Dad. Simple, understated, trustworthy. The same person who led the way through the snow. The one who you depend on to be there when he says he will. The one who keeps things in a stable perspective.

As I sat there listening to his heart-felt words, the lesson of that snowstorm came back. And I wondered, where would I be without my father? Where would I be without his faith? When I was born, he did not follow Christ. He did not know a savior. Miraculously and through the use of a few wonderful believers, both of my parents came to know the Lord in my childhood. They committed their lives to honoring the Lord and raised me in the Word. A few years later as an older child, I gave my own heart to Christ.

But what if I hadn’t? What if they hadn’t? What if my father had no faith?  Who would I be? Who would I love, and what would I hate? And what of my own children, sitting there beside me in the pew listening to their grandfather? Would they have the opportunity to find peace with their Maker?

This weekend my Dad celebrates his birthday. For some of us, birthdays are just another day. An arbitrary number that passes after another trip around the sun. But for those of faith, the years are a legacy. It is the time we have to do something with what has been done for us. To change. To teach. To pass onward the truth. To give and love and extend grace. To humbly step forward into the snow.

It was with this in mind that we named our children, each bearing the name of a father before them. A man who impacted our family, making us into the people we are today. The lineage of grace. As my Dad blows out his candles this year, I will give thanks not just for his life, but for his obedience. Not only for walking with the Lord, but for teaching me to do the same.

Looking back now, I see his footsteps in my life. My own feet swim in the imprints he has made. And with little ones following me, I feel the enormity of task at hand; the large shoes I have to fill. But I celebrate his life with gratitude. I have a father of faith. The snow may pile up, but he went before me, making a path for generations to follow.

The Mindset of Solo-Parenting

My husband often travels for his job, and his work is such that when he travels, he is mostly unavailable to me. He tries–God bless him he tries! He knows how tough it can be and how much I just need to hear his voice sometimes. But the demands of his job are high, his schedules are brutal, and the pressure is intense. Mess up, slack off, crumble under pressure and you are done in his line of work. So, when he goes off on a trip, it’s crunch time. Often he comes home to tight deadlines and high expectations, which means the pressures of a job generally follow him home, into his office, and it can be several days before he comes up for air.

And so lately I find myself at home, more or less solo-parenting my children for various stretches of time. Funny how I never really ever thought about this part.

When you have a baby, you only think about the day baby comes. Nine months of pregnancy drag on until your belly is so full and your back is sore so, you think you might literally break in half. Then the baby arrives, and you realize how easy you had it. How nursing a newborn is literally a full time job. How sleep deprivation is very, very real. How these innocent, angelic babies actually do grow into toddlers who scream and bite and kick–all day long and on purpose! When they arrive in your life, you realize how much work, effort, time, and mental capacity they take, and you look back on your pregnancy with dreamy eyes.

Because when you have a baby, you only think about the baby coming. Not actually staying.

Few of us ever consider in that moment what life will be like when baby is five, and there are two or three others behind it. But then, out of the blue, it hits you. At 5pm when you are at home in a half packed house getting ready to move 1500 miles, with a kindergartener negotiating dinner plans, and a two year old screaming over the wrong color cup you just handed her, and a baby kicking in your belly all while your husband is in another hemisphere and won’t be home for another week. The reality of parenthood comes crashing down on you like an avalanche of emotion.

Are you angry because they are never, ever quiet and you just need 20 minutes to close your eyes? Frustrated from the fifteen things that are all half done, or the other fifteen that still need doing? Sad because you know you should be able to keep it together and yet you are so inadequate, cowering in a corner hoping its all a bad dream? Uncertain if any of this was the right choice? Overwhelmed at the sheer amount of character training and basic child raising that still needs to occur, and you are the only one home to do it? Depressed because this was life yesterday, and last week, and last month, and will be your reality again tomorrow?

Our baby shower registries, our first steps videos, they are all well and good. They make lovely pictures that we cry over years later. But they are the poetry. The alliteration may be pretty, but parenting is not poetic.
Parenting is a process of perseverance. It is sacrifice. It is love beyond what we ever dreamed bringing out the absolute worst in us, facing that, and changing that. It is digging in when the going is tough. It is asking for and accepting the help we so desperately need. It is choosing not to allow exhaustion to steal your joy. Not allowing the boredom of routine to blind you to the blessings. It is stepping in to correct and teach, over and over again.

This season of life I face is pushing me to limits I am still not certain I can withstand. I have many days of doubt. Am I making the right choices? Is this sustainable? Is this day a reflection of the life I want or a life I’m just surviving?

The questions clutter my mind. They fill every corner and speak out, blurring my beliefs and challenging my parenting creeds. Times may be demanding. My days may leave me utterly wrung out as my head hits the pillow and my night shift begins.

But I have too much at stake to dwell in the hardships. These children won’t raise themselves. These three precious souls, they are my work. And while I may need a rest from time to time, they are the moments that make up my days. They are my laying down my life and taking up His love. Living this way doesn’t make the job any easier. It just makes it matter.

And so I go to bed tonight. I lay down hopeful for a few hours, lucky if I only see the clock a few times. I prepare myself to face the coming weeks of travel, enjoying the few days I have him home for and choose to persevere. I choose to keep going. I choose to face the fatigue and trust the process. Because they matter. I matter. The work waiting for me tomorrow–it matters.

Our First Homeschool Year

I pictured a cute little table, with small chairs, and a colorful rug underfoot. The walls were lined with shelves filled with wonderful books, vibrant pieces of art, and bins of sensory toys made from organic wood. In the corner we would have pillows on the floor for reading and a few lamps to provide a soft glow. Large windows would welcome the outdoors in, and we would probably have a fairy garden with live plants sitting next to our stack of read-alouds from the library. (Never overdue, of course.) The air would smell like crayons and glue, and spring to life with the sounds of classical music intermixed with childish laughter. And we would be happy. We would dive into wonderful learning adventures together, all from the harmony and comfort of our special homeschool room.

A quaint space, a perfect family, a love of learning. Such a pretty picture. Such a calculated plan.

I didn’t plan on moving eight weeks into our first homeschool year, boxes becoming our worktable. I didn’t plan on unloading shelves of books into storage and turning our family room into a school setting in the basement of a home that wasn’t ours. I didn’t plan on trying to keep two active children as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my husband, who worked in the bedroom above us.

But we were given a space.

And I didn’t see the baby. I didn’t plan on near-debilitating morning sickness or depression that left me lifeless. I didn’t plan on a husband traveling for weeks at a time. But it all happened.

We moved from a big city to a small town. And we fell in love with it. The dark country skies led us to a whole semester studying the wonders of our solar system. And our local library had telescopes we could check out for free. We learned to make maple syrup and build a fire. We stumbled into a welcoming community of homeschoolers at the YMCA and looked forward to our gym class each week.  We ended up just a few miles from my parents, who opened their lives to us from the day we got here.

I didn’t plan on tackling some pretty significant issues in our life at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and having to shelve some school to cope. I resorted to just doing the minimum. But the lack of pressure gave me time to heal, making me a better mother and a better wife.

And now, we are a stronger family.

I didn’t plan on driving 30 minutes in the dark, in the bitter cold of a Wisconsin winter to the hospital to give birth to a sweet baby boy who would join our school days and make them even more meaningful.

Our lives so very often do not follow our plans. They do not bend to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. More often I find that my plans, dreams, and desires change shape. Change importance. Morph into a better, more fluid, more becoming picture of the life I am proud to call my own.

A life in which I am always learning.

Mending

A wide, gummy smile bursts across your little round face. No teeth. Sparse hair. Big dark eyes. And all I see is delight. Happiness. Pure joy that I am your Mom.

In the early days I worried for you. Isn’t that what moms do best? I worried my sorrow would hurt you. I didn’t know what months of weeping and hiding and feeling lifeless would do to you. Would you feel loved? Would you feel wanted? Would you feel like the fortunate blessing that you are?

There were times before your birth I felt like I couldn’t do it. Like I was a terrible choice of a mother because really who would want me like this? So sad, confused, and lost I barely mustered the strength to rise and greet the day. So lifeless that even your brother and sister suffered, wondering what was wrong and why Mom was so overwhelmed. And so I was scared for you. I was scared that I wouldnt be enough for you. That maybe I wouldn’t get better and that you would suffer. Or worst of all, that I would go on, distant and despondant.

But you came anyway. You came in all your glorious newness. Bringing life and bringing hope. Bit by bit I overcame the depression that hung on me like a weight. The medication gave me the push I needed to get going. The therapy helped me regain clarity and composure. And the love of our family held me up while I found my feet again. But in my heart I still feel twinges of guilt.

Deep down I really just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so sad. I’m sorry I didn’t care for us like I should have.  Maybe it’s all in my head, but somehow I think you already know. And you’ve already forgiven me. And so all that’s left now is thank you.

Because although all the other things helped, really at the core it was you, sweet baby. It was you who lit up my world again and banished the darkness. It was your wide eyes staring into mine with such wonder. Such amazement. Such love. Like you knew I needed to know.

You are a gift, my sweet boy. A beautiful baby God put into my life during a season that seemed so wrong, but could not have been more right. Now when you look my way, my heart floods with joy. So much that I don’t even know where to put it all. I finally feel stitched up. The freshness of the scaring is real. Healing takes time, and some days I still find a dim corner. A place that needs some clearing out and cracking open.

 

But you have made me come alive again little one. It is your innocence and dependency that has motivated me to be what this family needs me to be. To bravely carry the three precious stones that glitter in my hands. I have eyes that glow with wonder and pride at your brother as he grows up so proudly. And I have the grace to embrace your sister for who she is right now, knowing her little heart craves a mother’s love. I have the courage to let your father in, and a voice to let my heart out. And I have the gratitude to look at you and praise Jesus for the amazing gift you are and will always be.

I’m mending. Healing. You have been the best medicine for me. When you are older, I’ll tell you the story. The story about how God used your life to restore mine. About how loving you has made me so incredibly happy.