Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Standing in the Gap

“I completed my hiking adventure in the Cumberland Gap along the Ridge Trail. We hiked 35 miles over 3 days.”

My daughter told me to post that statement on social media without any disclaimers.

"You did it," she said, "You can tell your friends all the other stuff later. Right now it's time to celebrate the accomplishment!"

I took her advice. This blog is the disclaimer. It is the rest of the story.

Day One of the trail was the most challenging and difficult for me as I struggled to carry a hiking pack that was too heavy for me. The pack itself was one of the lighter ones, with just my own gear. But I am a small person and I could feel the pressure on my neck and shoulders before we took the first step.

Emotionally, my anxiety kicked in. I did not want to ask for help. I did not want to be a drag on the group. I did not want to be seen as needy. But I was. I was unmasked. I was not the small, spry, and fierce trailblazer I wanted to project. But the small, anemic, and wobbly woman of 50 years who could not keep pace with the team. It was all there in plain sight.

I kept trying to breathe deeply. I tried yoga breathing, "pinwheel" breathing, "Darth Vader" breathing. But I still couldn't seem to bring my heart rate and lungs under control. They were much more rapid than they should have been. I was being led by dread.

So I asked God to give me the strength that I needed to make it. "Hello, God. I need You here. I can't do this!" I said more than once. I heard nothing. Finally, God seemed to break through to me, "I've provided the strength you need. It's right here on the trail with you."

He was pointing me to my co-hikers.

"Lord, that's not the kind of help I'm asking for here. I want to be able to do this on my own."

Yep. There it was. That old self-sufficiency rearing it's ugly head. I insisted on help, but only of a certain kind: the kind that didn’t involve admitting frailties, doesn’t succumb to the humility of exhaustion, and can’t risk vulnerability. The kind of help I wanted would have made me look good.

That's me in the lime green shirt and floppy hat.
God continues to be disinterested in that agenda of mine. He keeps wanting me to lean hard into Him by opening my life and struggles to others. It seems He is very serious about this whole Body of Christ thing.

So, God gave me help. First, He gave me Leigh. Leigh, who had her own physical limitations to overcome, switched backpacks with me for the next leg of the hike, so that I could carry her light day pack and she could carry my heavier burden. She never complained about the extra strain and pain she endured for my sake--someone she had known for an hour. What a beautiful picture of Christ’s lowliness and compassion she was to me. I would not have made it without Leigh.

Later, I was again carrying my own backpack when I reached the breaking point. I didn't think I could take another step with my rapid pulse and the pain in my chest. I was emotionally and physically wrecked.

"I can't do it. I can't go any further with this pack," I said. I hoped all the sweat was hiding the silent tears I was wiping away. Chris B. stepped up and said, "Hey, I can carry your pack and mine. It's no trouble. Are you okay? And we can slow down. We are in no hurry and have plenty of time to get to camp. It's no problem. Really."

This guy who had known me only a few hours at that point was more concerned with my well being than with my performance on the trail. Isn't that like Jesus? Chris strapped my pack onto His and walked on like it was no extra weight at all. His strength also was a picture of how Christ lifts that which we cannot. I could not have made it without Chris B.

When we were all taking a break, my daughter Taylor came over as I sat alone trying to regain my composure in the midst of my failure. She hugged me and said, "It's okay, Mom. I know you are doing your best. It will be okay. You will make it. We will make it. Chris can carry that pack easily. Don't worry about it. I love you."

Such sweet words of assurance from my daughter. If there was anyone I feared failing here in this moment, it was her. She invited me along. I did not want to be a problem. She saw my weakness and gave me grace in time of my need just like my Jesus does. I could not have made it without Taylor.

For the next two days Taylor and Chris B. would carry some of my supplies so that I could manage my own pack. I needed the gift of being able to carry only what I could.

And then there was Rachel. She had prepared all of our food in advance. Through her hard work and preparation I was able to enjoy three meals a day and have the energy necessary for the hike. Daily He loads us with benefits.

Chris F. had gone to the trouble of packing little extras for everyone: we had coffee by the campfire each morning. I'm talking real hot coffee! We had hot foot soaks and foot massages too. These blessings reminded me of Christ willingness to spend His all for us. He doesn't hold back His goodness. He is rich in love and faithfulness.

Matt brought a game called "Werewolves". There was renewal at the end of a hard day as we laughed together. Playing that game helped me bond with this band of twenty-somethings. I needed that after my shortcomings on the trail. I needed to know that I wouldn't be rejected because of my weakness.
I had asked God for help and He gave it,.. just not in the form that I desired. Instead of increasing my physical ability, the Father sent real flesh and blood people to minister to me, to strengthen me, to enable me to do what I could have never done on my own.

There was humiliation in admitting my neediness, but the gifts I received in return tied my heart to these young and strong adventurers in a way that my strength could not.

Strength draws admiration. Vulnerability draws the soul.

Maybe the mountains in our lives can only be conquered when we come to the end of our strength, cry out to God, and allow our brothers and sisters to share in our burdens. Maybe God is waiting for us to receive the help that He has sent our way. Trust me, we won't make it without them.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Parenting by Grace

I went to a home-school conference once and listened to a husband and wife share about parenting with grace. It was a lovely talk and I wanted to try to implement what they were suggesting, but there seemed to be nothing to hang your hat on. Nothing solid. I left unchanged, not really understanding how my parenting might become more grace filled.

During this time period I also read a book called, "Shepherding Your Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp. This book strongly influenced how I desired to parent. I wanted to be more concerned about the motives/heart of my child than just focusing on behaviors. I wanted to speak truth to the inner man, not merely look good to outsiders.

However, when I finished the book, I still felt a lot like I had at the grace parenting seminar: "Yes, this is what I want. This is how I will parent. Now, how do I do that?"

Quite honestly, it left me questioning almost every parenting move I made.

"Am I focusing just on the behavior here?"

"What's really going on in the heart?"

"How on earth do I address that? Change that? Fix that?"

"Am I being too harsh? Is this a moment to offer grace?"

I was confused and frustrated much of the time. Whether my kids knew this or not, I don't know. But I knew it. I felt it. I lived it. And it was exhausting.

I thought the problem was with the teaching and with the book. I thought they really didn't do a good job of outlining how to follow this model. Where was the checklist? Where was the poster for the refrigerator? This whole grace thing proved very elusive.


Turned out the problem was with me. I didn't know how not to be worried about what others thought of my parenting. I didn't know how to listen to the Holy Spirit leading me. I had crazy high expectations for behavior that often didn't fit what my kids were truly capable of. I had an almost zero tolerance for any misbehavior because if I let something slip by, I was a slacker parent. It didn't occur to me that never letting anything slip by meant I was an overzealous control freak parent.

So, how on earth does the control freak parent learn to practice parenting by grace?

The answer is so simple, it will amaze you: You fail. And fail. And then you fail again. Then, when you finally think you've worked out the system or solved the problem, you fail yet again.

 This is called God's grace gift to you.

Because if you succeed in the mentality that "I will make these children turn out right," you might become an arrogant know-it-all. (And God wants you to have some friends.)

God is so concerned about your motives/heart that He allows you to see your own downfall, your own shortcomings, your own helplessness. He wants you to seek grace for yourself, especially in the world of something you thought you could master and probably do better than anyone had ever done. That self righteousness has to receive the deathblow. God has promised that He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Nobody wants to fail and be brought low, but everyone wants the grace.

 But you can't have the grace without the failure.

So, get the book by Tedd Tripp. Read it. It is really good stuff. Go to parenting seminars on parenting with grace. They are awesome.

Jesus said, "It is not the well who need a physician, but the sick." Do you need a doctor? The perfect parent doesn't. It is the weak, the broken, and the failing who get grace. Sign me up for that.