Friday, December 30, 2005
I love the Christmas season. For me, it is filled with joy and wonder. I am in awe that the God of the universe did what He did for us, and I love the celebratory feel that encompasses the days of preparation. I enjoy making our home beautiful, doing projects with Peregrine, getting together with our families, and exchanging gifts in honor of the Greatest Gift ever. I love the carols that proclaim Jesus, even on the public radio stations. When else can you be grocery shopping and hear about the Son of Righteousness, born to give us new birth, even if the checker at the same grocery store isn't allowed to say "Merry Christmas" to you?
But it seems that every year, as this joy rises in my heart, I become more acutely aware of the pain and suffering in this world. I feel this great struggle within me as I contemplate the wonders of the Messiah, the freedom He bought for us, and see so many people around me who are living in absolute bondage and misery because of sin. Why is there such a disconnect between the way things should be and the way things are? I have often looked around at church and been in distress about this - here we are proclaiming the Truth that sets us free and yet there is that person in so much pain, another couple on the brink of divorce, a single Mom struggling to raise her kids. I have sat in many services with tears rolling down my face, feeling the joy and feeling the pain. And beyond the people around me I see a world ravished by wars, disease and suffering. We are broken, seemingly beyond repair.
And this year, I think I see the disconnect in my own life more deeply than ever before. I so easily get irritated with my wonderful husband, too quickly get angry with Peregrine, and so often feel frustrated when the day doesn't go as I planned. I so want to be the woman who smiles at the future and has a school of kindness on my tongue, but more often I feel like I can't see beyond the moment and speak words of hurt. How often I am that foolish woman who tears down my house instead of builds it.
The long-awaited Savior has come, and by His life and death has saved us from our sins. If I feel this simultaneous joy and sorrow, then I wonder how He must feel as He watches His beloved people continue to struggle while He offers them freedom. I think it's a fragment of His heart He allows me to share, the surge of hope and the tug of pain. The hope that one day we will be free from this body of death, and the struggle of being rooted in this earth but a citizen of heaven. We are broken, but He continues to offer to make us whole. We are faithless, but He remains faithful. This is the mystery. It is the sick who need a doctor, the sinner who needs a Savior. It is the hopeless who need Hope, those who dwell in darkness who need the Light to dawn.
And so out of the despair rises hope. As I see the pain, the wars, the suffering, and my own sin, I realize more than ever that truly the only hope we have is because of that Baby born so long ago. His words are still true, and He lives and works to change us into His image. What response is there other than to worship Him, to lay all of my sin and my doubt at His feet? To cry "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" O Come all ye faithless, Come let us adore Him!
Friday, December 23, 2005
I am so blessed by the simple faith that Peregrine has. We usually begin our morning with asking Jesus to help us through the day. I ask for myself wisdom and patience and joy, and for him a wise and happy heart and help with whatever specific things we're dealing with. He always follows with his own little prayer, which usually goes something like "Jesus, can you help me obey and give me a wise heart?" He then exclaims "He's doing it right now!" This morning I looked out in the yard and saw a squirrel that looked like he'd been the loser in a fight- his fur was patchy and his tail seemed to be lacking fur completely. Peregrine's reaction was "Let's pray for him." And so he bowed his head and said "Jesus, can you help that squirrel to feel better and fix him? And Jesus, Amen."
I so admire that kind of faith, the kind that asks and expects to receive, that believes Jesus has heard and is taking action! He doesn't keep obsessing over his request- he's left it where it should be left- at the feet of Jesus. He is the same one who said "Let the children come unto me... for the Kingdom of heaven is made up of ones like these" and "Unless you become as a little child you cannot see the Kingdom of God". I am humbled and convicted as I watch my little boy with his simple, yet great faith. I think I'm beginning to understand a bit more what Jesus desires of me. To come as a little child, asking, believing, and receiving.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
As Peregrine and I were wrapping a present the other day, my thoughts turned to memories of the Christmases of my childhood. I had let Peregrine pick out a small gift for Erik at the store and then he was helping me wrap it. He so enjoyed putting those sticky bows on the package that I let him use up the whole bag. (I had bought them on after-Christmas clearance for twenty-five cents.) The present is very, ummm, well-decorated now. And I know it will be well-appreciated by his Daddy.
As he merrily stuck bow after bow on the package, which looked more garish by the moment, I remembered how happy our Christmas celebrations always were. We lived on the Prairies of Alberta, where winter came early and stayed late. There were swirling blizzards and power outages and snowdrifts taller than me that we would build tunnels in. There was always ice-skating on the pond and bon-fires and hot cocoa. And bundling up to go play outside only to come back in 15 minutes later, frozen and shedding powdery snow all over the floor along with boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, and coats. Only now am I beginning to appreciate my Mom's relentless reminders to hang up our things, take off our boots at the door, etc. Then there were the frozen toes and fingers, and that horrible feeling if they get warm too quickly, the itchiness and discomfort that made me think that my I would never feel quite right again. But just about the same time Mom had sopped up all the melted snow and our things were dry our fingers did feel normal and we were asking again if we could go out and play.
And so on a biting cold day we would all get bundled up, Mom, Dad and five kids, and go out to cut our tree. It takes some serious deliberation and compromise for seven people to come to an agreement about which tree is the best, but somehow we always settled on one. Most of the time it was akin to Charlie Brown's famous tree, a spruce with sparse branches, perfect to showcase the ornaments we got in our stocking each year. So Dad would cut the tree and we would drag it through the snow and strap it on top of our station wagon. And then the real torture began. After letting all the snow melt off it in the entry way, finally our parents would bring it into the house and we would have to wait while Dad got it set up and Mom carefully hung lights on it. This took forever, especially since our tree stand was a plastic ice cream bucket with rocks wedged in around the trunk. I remember one year even the trusty rocks couldn't make our tree stand straight, so Dad got some wire, wrapped it around the tree about two-thirds up and then nailed the wire to the wall! It seemed that our strands of lights always needed several hours of repairing before they could be put on the tree, and then finally we got to put our ornaments on. What joy there was in carefully hanging the little wooden toys on the lower branches, while my Mom hung her glass ones on the top of the tree, safe from little hands. Once all the ornaments were on, it was time for the tinsel, which my Mom recycled year after year. (She wasn't an environmentalist; we were poor.) While most of us were busy hanging crumpled strands of tinsel, someone would inevitably "sneak" off to the bathroom and stick several pieces onto the mirror, then run out yelling in horror about how the mirror was cracked!
My Mom would always say that there wouldn't be very many presents this year, but there were always plenty. We didn't have much money growing up, but I never felt the lack of it. I know that my parents did, but they gave us as rich a childhood as I could imagine. They made us their priority, they played with us, taught us to love and to work and to laugh, and they created memories with us. We did Bible charades, reenacting various Bible stories, and we still joke about Jacob, who was always the donkey, whether carrying a pregnant Mary, Balaam, or the "certain man who went up from Jerusalem to Jericho". When we lived in a two story house we used to have "Christmas morning drills", pretending to sleep in our beds until one of us called out and we all ran to the stairs, slid down the bannister, and raced to see who could get to the tree first. We spent hours debating our parents about what time we were allowed to get up on The Day. Mom always made her famous English Toffee, Russian Tea Cakes, and Pecan Tartlets; we helped, mostly with licking the bowls. We had a crocheted Nativity Set, unbreakable, and we would take turns setting it up each day, taking great delight in placing the sheep in the manger instead of the Baby Jesus. "Hey look, it's the lamb of God!"
On Christmas Eve we were allowed to open one present, and then Daddy would read us the Story from Luke 2. We would each take a figure from the nativity set and act it out as he read. And then we were tucked in to our beds and made to promise that we wouldn't peek as Mom and Dad filled our stockings. And you better believe there were a lot of unnecessary trips to the bathroom and kitchen that took place after we were supposed to be in bed! Christmas morning would come and we would forget to slide down the bannister in our excitement. Our stockings were transformed into strange lumpy things that beckoned us. Inside we would find our ornament, and usually small practical items like lip balm, hair ribbons, pencils, and always a Christmas orange. We would have to wait to open our presents while Mom made tea. I could never believe it- why on earth would anyone want a cup of tea when there were presents to be opened! (Now I understand.) Starting with the youngest we would take turns opening our gifts, and at the end it seemed that Mom always had several left. I couldn't fathom how she was excited about things like oven mitts and dishrags, but she graciously exclaimed about each practical gift. After she carefully folded all the wrapping paper to be put away for the next year, we would proceed to the kitchen for our customary breakfast of nachos. So the day would go on, with us happily playing with new toys and reading new books and enjoying being together. And no Robertson Christmas would have been complete without the inclusion of some other folks with nowhere else to go on that most joyous of days.
I think that's what made my childhood so special, and my memories so dear. The days were marked with love; that of my parents for each other (how often we would groan when we caught them kissing in the kitchen), for us, and for the stranger, the neglected teen, the hitch hiker, and the lonely old man with no family but ours. The love that flowed through and around my Mom and Dad was none other than the Love that was given by God when He sent Jesus into this lonely world so long ago.
And so, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, as we once again make room in our hearts for the Christ child, I pray that the same Love will flow through Erik and me, and that the memories we are making will be dear, not only to our children, but to all that we encounter. I pray that some day our children will smile at their memories of sticking an entire bag of bows on a gift for Daddy, and of always knowing that they are surrounded by Love.
Monday, December 19, 2005
I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Not about things that are really important, but there are certain things I'm really particular about. Like my jam has to be spread neatly out to every edge of my toast. And if you were ever to eat burritos with me and my family, they would probably warn you not to get behind me in the build-your-own burrito line. Because my burrito has to be perfect. I want a little of everything in every bite. So the olives have to make a nice little line on top of the cheese and the dobs of sour cream and salsa all need to be even. I used to work at Pizza Hut and you could say I wasn't very fast at making pizza. I couldn't stand to just throw everything on like we were supposed to. (But don't you hate it when you get a pizza and there are three pieces of pepperoni on one bite and none on another? That wouldn't happen if I had made your pizza.)
I've been thinking about this because now that I have little kids, I've realized that I have to give up a lot of this sort of control in my life. When I unpacked Peregrine's books I carefully sorted them all- board books on the top shelf, books of similar size together, all the Golden Books in a row, and so on. I happily thought how nice it looked and how he would just get out one at a time and then carefully put it back where he found it. Ummmm, it hasn't exactly worked out that way. And I'm realizing that if I want him to love books like I do then he needs to be allowed to get them out and read them. So, I've been letting go of my expectations about how his book shelf should look. If I don't then I'm going to be annoyed all the time, and so is he.
Today my sisters, nieces, and nephew came over to decorate gingerbread houses. In past years I have spent hours meticulously gluing bits of candy on my house, and everyone always teases me about mine having to be perfect. What can I say? I enjoyed tiling the entire roof with Chex cereal, building pretzel fences, drizzling dozens of icicles off the eaves and paving the pathway one candy at a time. That was fun for me and it was a bonus that my gingerbread house was always beautiful. Well, I decided that if this was going to be fun for Peregrine then I needed to let him do what he wanted with it. Of course, mostly he just wanted to eat the candy, but he also stuck some onto his house. He even got creative and realized that if you lick the candy enough it just might stick by itself. Nice. And you know what? I think his house is beautiful, even if there are gumdrops on one side of the roof and something else on the other. It's beautiful because it was something we enjoyed doing together.
So I'm trying to let go of some of my tendencies toward perfectionism, and I find that as I do I enjoy life more, and so does my boy. I feel a new freedom to see life through his eyes and it's so fresh and simple and full of wonder. After all, it doesn't matter to him if his peanut butter covers every square millimeter of his bread. But it does matter if his Mama is having a good time and being joyful as I go about my day. And hey, maybe I'd have more time to read to him if I'd quit organizing the bookshelf.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
We had a really hard evening with Peregrine tonight. He was crying and fussing about everything and doing what I call "falling apart". At one point he asked if I would hold him, and when I tried to take him in my arms he began to fight me. I sat in the rocker with him and held him. He screamed and tried to pull away and so I held him tighter. He complained that I was hurting him and I explained that if he would stop fighting my arms would be gentle but as long as he fought my arms would be strong around him.
And so we sat, my heart hurting over my boy's foolishness. I knew that if he would simply surrender, that we could share sweet fellowship together. This went on for some time. He would momentarily stop struggling and rest his head on me, and then the fight would start again and I had to use my "strong arms" to hold him close. In desperation I began to pray aloud over him, asking Jesus to help him to obey and to calm down. Immediately he grew still and his body relaxed as he gave up fighting and allowed me to hold him gently in my arms.
I was reminded of the verse that says "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places". Lately I feel like I'm in a battle with my precious son and I needed to be reminded that he's not my adversary, that I'm not called to fight him, but to fight for him. And that the battle is not merely for his behavior but for his soul. The enemy of our souls is at work to turn the hearts of the children away from their parents and ours away from theirs. Jesus calls us to shepherd our children and to gently lead them and train them up in righteousness. But we are in the midst of a battle. It's easy to forget that it's spiritual, that it's not me against Peregrine but that it's being fought in the spiritual realm. The very moment I cried out to Jesus for help He calmed my child. How I need to remember that He is right here and He is fighting for Peregrine! And if He is for us , who can be against us!
In his book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" Tedd Tripp writes "Ephesians 6:4 commands you to bring up your children in the.... training and instruction of the Lord; to function on God's behalf. Understanding this simple principle enables you to think clearly about your task. If you are God's agent in this task of providing essential training and instruction in the Lord, then you, too, are a person under authority. You and your child are in the same boat. You are both under God's authority. You have differing roles, but the same Master." This has really helped me to remember that it is not me against Peregrine, but that his God-given task is to obey Erik and me, and ours is to bring him up in the way he should go, training him in the way of righteousness. We have different jobs, but they are both given by our Creator.
He is sleeping now, sweetly, his long camel eyelashes closed. When I see him that way, it's easy forget about the battle that is raging for the soul of this little one, for his life. I pray for him, pray that he will learn to surrender to his Mama and Daddy, so that we may gently lead him in the paths of righteousness. And so that as he grows He will not resist the loving arms of the One who is calling him by name.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
The Golden days of Autumn have too soon given way to the dreary days of Winter. Growing up on the prairies of Alberta Winter was Blinding White and Brilliant Blue. I remember the crunching sound the snow made under our felt-pac boots and the brightness of the low sun in the sky. But here in Oregon Winter is Grey. And Wet. The rains that keep the Northwest green and beautiful make the winter skies sullen and angry. Autumn is my favorite season and somehow I always find myself reminiscing as the days turn cooler. I love the crispness in the air and the smell of the trees, the special blueness of the sky and colored leaves that dance in the wind. I love the way the sun shines golden at the end of the day and makes everything look so alive. And I love celebrating my favorite holidays- a day of Giving Thanks and the celebration of Jesus' birth.
Along with the changing seasons and the merriment there seems to come an inevitable busyness. It's more important than ever to take moments to reflect on the blessings that I've been given. I often ask Peregrine to "choose to have a thankful heart and not a fussy one" and just as often I need to hear that exhortation as well. Thankfulness is a choice, and it makes all the difference in my outlook on life. When I focus on the things that are hard I quickly lose patience with Peregrine and get irritated with Erik. But when I thank God for my kids and for my amazing husband instead of feeling frustrated I'm filled with joy. Unfortunately, too often I fail to do this. Way too often. Just this afternoon I had a meltdown over something as stupid as not being able to figure out how to use a new program on our computer. I know that it was such an insignificant thing, but at the moment it felt like the end of the world. This was just hours after hearing a sermon on Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, and being reminded of just how Wonderful He is, and then having lunch with a woman who is suicidal. That should put my computer frustrations in major perspective, and I could benefit from some of the things I was sharing with her. Like the promise that when we approach His throne we will find grace to help in time of need. If I can believe that He can give hope to someone who has lost the will to go on in this life, then surely He can give me grace to deal with the great unknowns of my computer.
I need to stop to think about all the blessings that God has poured out on me- I have a nice warm home, good food, a great husband who has a great job, two wonderful children, loving family, good friends and good health, just to name a few. Not to mention that the God of the universe gave up glory to become a little baby who would one day die to give us salvation. So, when I allow my heart to become grey and sullen like the winter skies, I need His grace to remember that I am abundantly blessed and have a million things to be thankful for. And that ought to be quite enough to keep me going for a good long while.