Christmas in the Tabernacle

We all sat together in the rare quiet of the morning, weaving little strips of $0.39 felt together. I cut the purple and red pieces, and showed them how to arrange them in a simple basketweave pattern before we hot glued them together. Such an easy project but so fascinating to their young minds; taking something singular and making it come into a whole.

They moulded the clay diligently, as if each piece of bread and the stone tablets were meant for something greater than their simple little purpose. I watched as my daughter meticulously painted every spec of the little dish destined to be the bronze laver. To my mother’s eyes it was a beautiful sight to watch her work so carefully, as though she took great pride in her task. The little sheep and goat figurines stood nearby, as if they were watching her, knowing the laver she was making was there to cleanse their pretend blood.

Our felt curtains done, the alter and other furniture made, the stone tablets and rod safely inside the ark, our tabernacle was finished. It was just a simple art project. But my children knew its significance. They knew how important it was to treat the whole thing with respect because the place they were making represented God’s presence among His people. His dwelling place. His home.

Cardboard and glitter glue were just the vehicle. Eventually they’ll end up sitting out on the curb in the recycle bin. But the process of making the tabernacle will continue. I wonder how many times they will stand before the alters in their own lives, dying to themselves and offering themselves up. How often will they stand before the golden table and pray for manna, enough just to get them through a day? Will they remember the beautiful menorahs and how they lit up the dark? Will they smell the frankincense and say a prayer of thanksgiving? And how often will they go behind that veil torn in two and visit with their Maker? How much time will they spend on their knees, humbling themselves in His glorious presence? And when they leave, will their faces radiate like Moses?

For us in our home, Christmas is a season for celebrating light and God’s generous presence among us. Two trees of light bathe our home in a glow; one Christmas tree lighting up our tradition and one menorah shining light on our adoption. Like the two trees of light in the tabernacle, these symbols remind us to praise Yahweh for tabernacling in our midst, revealing that He is the life and the wisdom we seek.

For many in my faith community, this year has not been one of certainty or praise. It has been a long haul through a barren and chaotic wilderness. It has been a time of brothers bickering, grumbling, and slandering each other. A time of mistrust and doubt, and I’m certain some have questioned if leaving Egypt was really worth it. Broken people leading broken people in a very broken world, the enemy in hot pursuit waiting to devour us outside the door. And we wonder who is there to step in and stop it all? What happens when we have lost sight of the fire before us? Where is the mighty leader–the promised prophet–to stand in the gap in intercede on our behalf when we have failed?

As we gather around our nativity sets and our Christmas trees, as we light candles in our windows and homes and sanctuaries, may we come to see the reality of the good news proclaimed to the shepherds. When we fail, we when break the promises we made, when our friends, family, or leaders who we trusted let us down and deceive us, when we fail to be a blessing, when we fail to live out the good news and deceive ourselves, when we fall so incredibly short, Yahweh comes and stands in the gap Himself.

He comes to our wilderness, and shows us a little blueprint for making Eden in our hearts, and fills us with His glory.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…full of grace and truth. John 1:14

We are so unworthy of the gift that we celebrate at Christmas, and recognizing that is what brings the great joy.

The tabernacle was just a symbol of God’s presence with us. But the lesson it teaches is far reaching. Because the tabernacle is not out in the wilderness anymore; it’s right here. Right in the heart of all who call upon the Name of the God of Israel. His Spirit dwells in us, ready to make us new. And so as I teach my children about this mysterious ancient temple, I pray over them. I pray that the symbols of the tabernacle find their way into the makeup of my children. I pray they seek their Father, that they look to the old paths and find rest for their souls.

By the light of the two trees in our home right now we play with our humble little cereal box. We rehearse the rituals, arrange the furniture, and take turns descending the sparkly felt that represents the glory cloud. And I show my children how our nativity set means the exact same thing. Eden here. Yahweh bringing salvation. “Come!” I say. “Come and see what God has done.”

Immanuel, God with us. Here in this tent in our wilderness, providing for us, standing in the gap of our failures. Both blessing us and waiting to bless us with His presence and ready to remake us in His image.

Butterflies in October

Yellow and orange pieces of felt littered my kitchen counter. A black outline, symmetrically decorated with pops of bright, cheery colors, began to take shape as I measured and glued. Sewing, cutting, glueing–three of my very least favorite things to do, but it’s October and I’m a mom. Sitting in your kitchen on a Sunday afternoon stressing over a costume for your 2 year old is part of the job.

He could have chosen a fireman or a construction builder; a train conductor, Batman, or a football player. Something boyish and fun or exciting and fast. What little boy doesn’t dream of driving a big, noisy machine or saving the day with a stick and a cape? But true to his character, my little sweetheart jumped up and down and cheerfully declared, “My be a butterfly, mama!”

After a few attempts to coerce him into a more gender-appropriate get-up, I finally gave up and decided that I’d have to make him a costume. And as I pondered a design, I began to doubt. A butterfly is not the most manly thing in the world.

A butterfly is a creature of gentleness and joy, fluttering about in the sun, stopping at each flower to take in its goodness. As a young caterpillar, it will grow and morph into a new form, ready for flight and exploration. Aside from camouflage, the butterfly has no real way to protect itself. No biting weapon or deadly sting. It seems simply at peace with everything around it.

No, the butterfly is not a manly choice. But for Asher strength and beauty, fun and function, rest and activity–there is no difference in his mind. Life is only full of all good things, including the happy little butterflies that filled his backyard this summer.

But adults are quick to pick up the armor. We grab the sword, protect ourselves or our clan. For us it’s important to look tough, think fast, be witty, aluring, and sharp. We know our odds of survival are better with a weapon in our back pocket. And so we may enjoy the occasional butterfly, but given a choice, we wouldn’t select it as our identity. Wouldn’t want to disguise ourselves as a creature so innocent and helpless.

My son has chosen what I could not, and has left me ashamed and exposed in the process. In the face of power or strength or flashy, applaudable options, somehow he has chosen the divine. A creature with a nature that transcends our human reality, aligning itself with life and blessing rather than rebellion and corruption that marks our condition.

Watching this little boy is such a fascinating lesson to me. He is the eternal optimist; the chronically happy child. Each day I am in awe of how perfect his name fits him, meaning “happy, fortunate, blessed,” and amazed that of all the colors his favorite is, of course, yellow. Asher seems to embrace joy and peace more than any other person I know. It should come as no surprise to me that he would asked me to help him to embody one of the most positive, mild, and beautiful things on God’s good earth. He seeks to be the very thing that he already is, fluttering into our lives and floating on streams of sunshine.

And so I glue the felt and sew the straps and fashion antenna out of pipe cleaners. I praise my little one for seeking first the Kingdom, for seeing God’s handiwork where I could not. And as he flutters about in his homemade wings, I pray over the little heart that asked for them. May he always find shelter in the wings of his Creator and always know the happiness that comes from dwelling in peace in the garden of delight.

Lessons from the Little Bear

Dusky blue shadows hang in the space between us. The last rays of the sun have gone to sleep, and twilight looms, a lazy, late-summer night. We sit in the quiet, just looking at each other. I hum a lullaby over you and study all your sweet features. Soft, dark hair combed over to the side of your white forehead, roll poly arms, a blocky face with a perfect little, round nose and pointed chin. Your eyes stare back at mine, as if you’re begging me to tell you the story.

Because there’s a story in you, Little Bear. Did you know that? We all have one. It’s yours–beautiful and rich with all the light that makes you human. I may not know just quite how it goes yet, but it’s there inside you, waiting to be read.

Rocking back and forth in the familiar chair I hold you in my arms. What a sweet lump you are. Soft, warm, with that baby smell I would exchange oxygen for if I could. I try to decide what I love most about you, but hopelessly give up because there is just too much goodness in you to choose.

Goodness. Your story starts with that, Little Bear. So much goodness. Very goodness, in fact. And that is the best part.

Snuggling you, breathing you in, kissing your forehead and hold your hand…it’s intoxicating because it’s full of so much goodness. Your little life unmarred by the world, full of potential and creative power. And even though you don’t know it yet, all you have ever known is love. Perhaps that is the best part; the wholesome and unattached love with which you see me. Love and joy simply because I am your momma. Simply because you love my face. My voice. My fingers intertwined with yours.

Sitting here in the shadows of the night, you stare at the tired woman who carried you in aches and bore you in quite a labor, and somehow you just know to delight in me because you came from me. With you, I don’t have to pretend away my feelings. Don’t have to deny my own desires or hopes or wishes. I can feel my needs because you can’t reject me. You can’t unlove me.

Yes, your story starts with goodness. The shadows, aches, pains, and weariness are all apart of the process. Nothing in life is perfect. But you, Little Bear, you are a glimpse of the perfect human. The one who lives to love and be loved. The one I hope to someday become.

Four Precious Stones

Four precious stones. Four. Each one different and full of the things that make them unique. Most who look at them would see the rough edges and deep pits still so clearly drawn in their varying hues. But not me. To me they are pure specimens of beauty and potential.

Each day I carry them to the River’s edge and emmerse them in the lapping waves and He takes over from there. Shaves away at the callouses. Rolls them over and over again in the truth that polishes all the goodness He placed within them long ago. I stand on the shore, watching the glittering and horrifying process of children becoming adults. And at the day’s end, I pick them up and carry them home. Once again, they feel a little smoother in my hand.

When I began this journal four years ago, I named it for the two precious stones that defined my days. And now I find myself writing again, marveling at the change and clawing for the meaning, with four precious stones in my hands.

No doubt the load is heavier. Each day my arms get stronger and my life more weathered by the vocation of mothering small hearts. I have one who rushes into the River each day, eager to meet it and dive beneath the waves to see what treasures the depths hold.

 

 

 

He is my Emerald, full of life and all things new, deeply interested in ideals and causes. It’s through his curiosity that he organizes his world, and he has a strong connection to his Maker already. But sometimes he swims too far. The currents pull him to places I’m not yet ready to rescue him from, and I worry maybe I will lose him in the places where it gets too deep. But those are the places that refine him most, and I cannot hold him back from where the River takes him. I can only be there when he comes up for air.

Over in the shallows my warrior princess wades, splashes, and cartwheels through her own journey. A July Ruby, she is the one where the vibrant summer sun shines with the most passion and brilliance: creative, determined, spirited, imaginative. Her own instincts took her deep into the murky waters of toddlerhood but now she is emerging into clearer pools of youthfulness. The hard work of her little years has paid off, and I am more able to rest as I watch her knowing she will come around to things in her own time as long as I stay vigilant and attentive to the subtle needs of her complex nature. Love her through the rapids.

And then there is the Amethyst, a royal blessing in the midst of winter. He pokes at me with a smile and his warm, sugary disposition lights up my world no matter how awful the chaos he is causing may be. While he is not yet ready to jump full in, the River calls to him already and each day I find it harder to keep him content playing with the waves that lap at his feet on the shore. He is searching for more. Some days he finds it; the perfect tidepool with just enough newness to keep him happy and safe. But some days he goes looking for it on his own and wanders into dangerous waters, places he cannot yet navigate by himself. And so it’s up to me to pull him back and teach him while I stand stranded on the shore, arms full of our newest little stone, a frosted, springtime Diamond. He is too little for the mighty River and all it’s lessons. All he needs right now is the safety of his family and to hear the promises of the Mighty One redeeming his heart one day. He needs the truth sung over him and tenderness to his changing newborn ways.

Four precious stones. Lately the task is daunting, and my life is like a game of Twister, each of my hands and feet bent on top of a different color. Except my children aren’t a game and falling down isn’t an option. I worry about losing track of one while I linger too long with another. I worry about the pounding they endure on the hard days when a storm rolls in and everything rages in the torrents. I worry that I might be too tired to carry us all home at the end of the day.

But when I stare down at their faces I see my own journey looking me square in the eye. While I am quick to notice the changes in my children’s lives, I often overlook the glory that has come in my own: a mind that is sharper, hands that have memorized the mundane tasks of motherhood, a heart more in tune towards the needs of others, a posture more inclined on the things of the Kingdom, and endurance that carries us all farther.

I remind myself of this when the long and demanding day begins. And when the sunset comes, I stoop down to study their four little faces. These tiny hearts in my hands just a little smoother, glowing a little brighter. The mosaic of their lives resembling more of the image He’s making them to be. We lay down to rest from our day and I listen to the story their hearts tell me.

Because through my four precious stones the River is shaping me too.

Shoulders

A camera swings from over his shoulder, clanging against his hip as he climbs the grueling 400 foot ski jump to get the shot. He runs up, perhaps just a bit slower than the athletes, who trail him by mere minutes. Feet brace against the boards to keep from sliding down with gravity’s pull. Awkward always is his position; arms, legs, and torso wrenched in some contortion while his breath catches up to his pounding heart. Pulling the camera from his side, he brings it up to his eye, squints through the viewfinder, and takes the shot.

His whole day will look like some version of this; chasing the next frame, waiting to jump on the next opportunity. Truth be told, each job follows a similar pattern. Bust tail in this industry, with fierce competition all around, to create an opportunity. Sometimes it pays off; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes he gets caught in bad weather with crummy light and equipment that doesn’t want to work. Other times he’s hauling cases of gear miles thru a busy airport at an ungodly hour, only to find out the flight is delayed. It’s hours on his feet followed by hours of staring at a screen until his eyes are bleary. It’s the disappointment of an estimate falling through or the stress of a paycheck that never got cut. It’s marketing and branding and editing and production and jetlag all the while wondering how many pairs of shoes we’ll have to buy for growing feet next season. It rarely comes easy. And the burden falls on him.

Years ago when I first met him, the only thing on his shoulder was a camera. There it hung, shiny and proud, like a medal of all he had achieved and a promise of where he was going. His work was his life and his life was his work. But now he is wiser. And busier. And more twisted up with knots.

He shoulders bigger burdens now, ones that are not as glamorous as a sleek, black camera. He’s a resting place for my weary head and a rock of fatherly protection for our kids. Our babies have spent many a fussy night draped over Daddy’s shoulder, only to leave him sore and sleepless by morning when he returns to the work again, ready to brace himself for the next opportunity despite the exhaustion we leave him with each day. Every frame he takes is provision for our family; it’s food on the table and a roof overhead.

And so camera still hangs over his shoulders, and it’s more important now than its ever been. But it’s status has changed. And while his photographs may reflect a reasonably successful career, they don’t show what he really does. Because what he does is walk miles and climb mountains and lose sleep for us. So that when he gets home he can chase the toddler and navigate the landscape of parenting big kids and stay up late listening to a wife who is as tired and starved for connection as he is.

It’s easy to see the allure of his job. The cool places he gets to travel to, the fancy gear he sports around, the influence his job carries, and the interesting people he meets. But only a few of us see the sacrifice behind the shot; the things he laid down to be who he is. It’s the sacred vocation of manhood that he humbly, and with honor, embraces. A lesson to his children and a gift to his wife.

Yes, the camera still hangs from his shoulders. But now those same shoulders that carry his camera, they also carry his life. Because really, it’s on his shoulder that we all ride.

Stretch Marks

Purple marks surround my navel. Hidden under layers of clothes they are there, evidence of the burdens I’ve carried. Today my belly is tight again, filled with life that pokes, jabs, and rolls inside me. My midsection has reached the point where it cannot get any bigger without breaking. And so lately I can feel it–new layers of my own skin ripping apart to make room for the little being who lives inside me–the scars of tearing and healing.

It’s funny the place they’ve shown up. This small space around my belly button; the root which once connected me with my own mother. I wonder if there was a time she gazed down at her rounded abdomen and looked at me pushing her belly all out of shape, but loved me anyway, even though I was breaking her apart? Does she ever reflect on the scar that stretches across her body from where the doctors cut her open in order to save my life?

Shortly after my third baby was born someone asked me “did your third just break you? For me it was my second. My second kid just broke me. I just couldn’t do any more after that!” I smiled and laughed, but as I thought about it, I realized that, no, my newest baby hadn’t broken me. Three kids was certainly a lot of work and the transition was hard for our whole family, but my firstborn was really what broke me.

He was the one who interrupted me from myself and caused the break down and decay that comes with being a brand new mom. The sleepless night were the first hurdle. Then it was the fussy, highly-agile baby who walked at 7 months and turned every nap time into World War III. After that came the picky eating and defiant 2’s and 3’s that left me silently screaming at the top of my lungs and pulling my hair out as I doled out yet another bottomless portion of patience and endurance to simply make it through the next hour of coexisting with a toddler. I didn’t realize it then, but breaking–that’s what it was.

With each child I’ve been broken in new ways, each pregnancy leaving a purple scar to show for it’s labor. My belly is a soft, stretched out map of where I’ve been, and in some ways, it foretells where I have yet to go. Some marks have faded to a pale white, as though the years of mothering the child who left it behind has brought a purity to that once stained area of my soul.

The truth is that this shell of a body has shared its sacred space with five beautiful souls. Three in my home, one in my belly, and one resting with Jesus. I have had the privilege of cradling life five different times. I’ve experienced the honor that comes with being their mother, the challenge of watching them struggle to live in this world, and the heartache that comes from their pain which I cannot heal or fix or undo.

The marks I bare are not pretty. But they are truth. For me they symbolize something greater and are a constant reminder that new life requires stretching, sometimes beyond what’s comfortable or even possible. Life requires a sacrificial breaking down and dying to one’s own self. The stretching is an act of love. And new life will die without love.

And so today as I waddle about getting kicked in the ribs and endure the discomfort of my skin ripping apart underneath itself, I look at my navel with love. I know that beneath its surface lies a new creation; a world crowned with goodness and beauty. A safe haven, a tiny person wrapped inside the loving embrace of another. And right next to its beating heart is a tree of life; it’s job to provide nourishment to this new little human, who is so close to arriving. My belly is a picture of Eden, and part of me wishes this baby would never have to leave it. It’s a place full of potential, oneness, and bursting at every rounded corner with life and love. Painful and ugly as they might be, my stretch marks are a reminder of the sacrifice which makes it possible. They remind me not just of my own journey, but of the One who’s belly also bears a scar which made returning to Eden possible for me.

Sometimes love is best seen in the shape of a scar.

The Snare of the Snake in the Pro-Life Movement

This image hangs in my kitchen, a gift given to me by my dear sister. It is a picture of the childless Eve, wrapped in the snare of the serpent, and her counterpart, Mary, full of promise and hope for the gaping wound in humanity. Most prominent to me is the connection they share; an ancient sisterhood binding them together. Both capable of bringing forth life while wrestling with the consequence of their opposing choices. A fitting portrayal of the times in which we live.

The buzz about the recent legislation in New York is hard to ignore. Accolades of support. Enraged outbursts of disgust. On and on the endless debate goes, rehashing the same points I’ve heard for 25 years.

While the issue is of critical importance, the actual mechanics of the heated debate have become tiring. Name calling, fruitless fighting, the same old arguments and loopholes. The same disappointing human behavior from both sides.

While I believe human life is human life, my own opinion on the matter is of little importance to this post. Because as much as my pro-life friends hate to admit it, they are losing. Badly.

On the surface, it makes little sense. Pro-life voices rage loudly. They rally, they lobby, and they start impactful organizations to provide alternatives. They propagate social media with the most gut-wrenching videos and testimonies. More and more people speak up. And yet, here we are. The past 50+ years has been nothing but a slippery slope, leading only to more corruption and landing us today smack in the middle of heinous and insidious practices.

But to the astute observer, this is no mystery. As much as we’d like to blame this on spiritual evil attacking our nation, this is not merely the fault evil. No sinister devil with a pitchfork is standing on the front steps of our nation’s capitol, laughing and fighting back. No. This is our own fault. This is us drunk and dozing in the garden while our King sweats blood for us.

Scroll a few swipes past the latest post in any social feed and you’ll find a picture of a flat-bellied woman, thin and tan and “rocking life,” 20lbs down from her pre-pregnancy weight. No wrinkles. No scars. You’ll find an ad for the best vacation spots, the best weekend getaways, the latest fad for making your dresser drawers look more like a high-end luxury store than a place for your worn out socks. There will be some friend who has started a business selling the greatest, most life-changing thing known to man; another who traded in over the weekend for the new model. Someone will be complaining about the “snow day,” as if being at home for a single day with a child is akin to life in prison. It’s all just life as usual. This is the world we live in everyday. Nothing new to see here.

Worse yet, step into a typical American church. Families are separated, sometimes at the door; the children happily dismissed to go off and learn in a place that is less of a nuisance. Listen to the conversations. Couples casually commiserate about how awful it is to never get a date night anymore. And one Dad gently pokes fun at another who finally caved and bought a minivan. Even pastors make jokes from the pulpit about the real drag kids can be. Granted, most of this is in jest. We see it as harmless humor and ignore the undercurrent it is feeding.

For me, perhaps most noticeable of late, is the onslaught of articles entitled something like “Our last baby,” a post which grapples with the sadness and excitement of baby-less life. These writings are the heartbeat of two-faced emotions modern mothers bear–an emptiness at the end of a season. Every post is like the last. A decision is made final as a scalpel cuts away the promise of new life. These women mourn and move on. No big deal. It has to end sometime, right? And oh how the message is so crafty; a cunning beast, isn’t it? Luring a woman into the promise of freedom, only to leave her haunted by the looming shadow of a life that will never be.

Isn’t it so blatantly obvious? In the nobility of our pro-life message, we conveniently overlook our chronic anti-life behavior. While we rage on about the right to life and atrocities committed by women and their doctors, we are happy to sit back and complain about “just getting through the day” with our own kids. Happy to ask the pregnant mom of 3 if this baby was planned; joke with the expecting dad if he knows how to “fix that?” As though pregnancy is a problem. As though a baby is an accident. As though a family is a curse.

It’s true that for some, new life is dangerous or even impossible. But really, most of these conversations are rooted in a value system that views more than a child or two as inconvenient. Expensive, exhausting, limiting. We shamelessly shy away from the truth that growing families require parents to welcome things like maturity, responsibility, determination, and sacrifice.

And so the pro-lifers sit with the rest of the world, fawning over the Super Bowl commercials of disabled children who demonstrate these very traits. We offer a hearty nod of approval to those in the Armed Forces who embody them daily. And then we celebrate the status of the luxury SUV, the dream job, the perfectly decorated house, and the flat abs that comes from an empty womb. From a life free of the growing up, knowing up, and showing up that small humans require. I am guilty of it myself. And thus the losing battle.

Friends, as much as we like to think of ourselves as champions of the pro-life movement, we are culturally programed to distain it. The change will not come in fighting for the rights of the unborn; it will come in elevating the status of new life, period. It will come when a baby–no matter it’s origin or birth order–is no longer seen as a burden, but promise. When women are respected for the scars they bare, not the ones they avoided, sweated off, or removed. Change will come when men embrace their identity as caretakers of new creation and rise to the challenge of cultivating it.

After all, renewal for the sub-human depravity epitomized by situations like New York was always promised to come through a baby. And the outward-spreading, ripple effect of that renewal was promised to come through a family.

As a member of that family I have a choice. I can believe the crafty serpent and choose his definition of freedom. Or I can side with the promised seed of the woman and step into a value system which elevates new life to an extent the world never will. This is a deeply counter-cultural move. Embracing the later worldview will result in deformity; the world won’t recognize me. They’ll only see an image of the One who came before me. The One who exchanged His own life for the very one I’m living today.

“…And the world did not know Him…But to those who did believe, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:10, 12