Never Once

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Last night was our Thanksgiving service at church, and we ushered in another holiday season. Pastor Randy read a Psalm and told us it is this one thing of all our many traditions, given to us by God Himself. THIS GIVING THANKS. If we miss this we miss the whole point of all our feasting and trimming and magical musing. And there at church we sang songs and we told stories, and as it turned out there was one song in particular giving expression to most of our hearts.

I thought about taking the stage with the others, until I noticed how every other person said the same thing I would have been saying. Never once did we ever walk alone. And I actually thought when I sang it last night that this was MY SONG. My family’s song. Not even thinking it might be theirs, too. But there they were, one person after another, saying how God was faithful, and never once did He leave us on our own.  

I sat in a row with Grant and Kiana and Kiana’s dad, Ken, on one side, and Kyle’s brother, Brian, on the other, and I thought about all of our family stories. The ones behind us and the ones ahead. Just this week stories we wouldn’t have expected a month ago crashing our party, crazy hard and crazy good, and I hardly know what to think or how to feel, except for this. Kneeling on this battle ground… Seeing just how much You’ve done… You are faithful, God, You are faithful.

Last weekend from the same stage Sean told us it’s God’s most repeated promise. “I will be with you.” He held up a picture of footprints in the sand, and he held up the book I loaned him from my library at home, a twenty-year-old version of Where’s Waldo. God is like this, and it doesn’t matter if you can see Him or not, He is WITH YOU. Sometimes carrying you and you don’t even know it.

And I’m thinking back to another sermon illustration a few weeks ago about this maniac guy, a tightrope walker from the 1800’s name of Charles Blondin. Pastor Randy told this story to illustrate faith, and I was sitting that weekend next to Luke’s girlfriend, Ali, who’s climbed mountains and jumped out of airplanes, and I leaned over and whispered – my hands are sweating at just the thought. So Randy talked about how this Blondin, who had walked his tightrope over the Niagara Falls time and again, would ask his audience, “Who’ll go over with me?” And for all their confidence in his feats of balance, there was never a taker, except, that is, for his own manager, who crossed the Falls on Blondin’s back. It’s the part of the story burned in my memory and lingering with me still. How the tightrope walker gave strict instructions to his boss riding piggy-back. Just move as I move. One move of your own and both of us die.  

EVERY STEP WE ARE BREATHING IN YOUR GRACE…

This morning I woke up a bit later, on holiday time, curled up with Maple and a cozy blanket in my winter chair, sun shining at long last. I prayed and I read about Israel’s journey, and there underlined in Deuteronomy 3:22 was our go-to command.  “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” This phrase, too, often repeated, and I leaned over low, and I whispered to God. You are faithful, God, you are faithful. My heart happy, and my heart heavy, and if it was up to me to decide how to lean, we’d be over those falls. So I ride instead to the sway of His grace, singing my song.

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone*
 

*Never Once, by Matt Redman

(Im)Perfect

New Kitchen

Our Christmas card photo will be perfect this year. I can’t show it to you now, that would ruin the surprise. But believe me, it’s good. Remarkably good. And it’s not only the genius of my photographer daughter-in-law, although this certainly doesn’t hurt. The thing is, last Saturday a miracle happened, and for the first time in the history of Anderson boys every single subject was cooperative and cordial, and that included the dog.

All day long (the day of my big birthday) I savored the experience, revisiting my phone for another peak at our miracle. It’s really us, and it really happened. And all day long, too, we felt like a perfect family. Sitting around the dining room table for a post-photo-shoot brunch, just the eight of us, laughing and lingering and enjoying each other. The whole squad planned little speeches in honor of Mom, and I savored those, too. Words of blessing, genuine and sweet, and me responding. I love you guys. This is perfect.

By Monday we were back to normal, which is to say – not quite perfection. I’d set my alarm for 5am, but by a quarter to four Kyle was up and pacing. Awake and worried about a boy. I gave up sleeping and joined my husband’s morning battle, and we prayed the prayer that’s never failed. You said you’d fight and we believe you still.  

A couple of days later I sat feet propped on Luke’s bed and we talked about perfectionism. It’s the nemesis we share, and I tell him I’m sorry. Fifty years God’s been breaking this habit, and He’s not finished yet. A season of freedom, but as soon as the heat’s turned up I’m right back at it, my desperate default.

Luke looks around his bedroom and he laughs out loud. I guess my OCD is only internal. Unlike his mom, whose perfection is practiced on every surface. Constant cleaning of kitchen and bathroom. (Just two spaces in this mostly-mancave I’d like to keep tidy. Is this asking too much?) My birthday gift was a kitchen make-over. After 22 years, replacing green countertops and tile with an updated look. I run my rag over new black leathered granite, not a dish on the counter, appliances shining. A bit of perfection.

I admit it to Luke and he knows it’s true. How all our mad grasping at perfect is really a sign of how broken we are. The enemy’s ploy or our own stubborn pride, either way it’s what robs us of wholeness and rest.

We’ve been talking of freedom, several weeks now at church. Galatians. My favorite. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.* There’s Paul writing his letter two-millennium ago, like he’s talking to me. Who has bewitched you? Are you so foolish? Why this mad grasping for human perfection? Are you doing this still?

Still?

The Lord will fight, you only need to be still. Our battle prayer, and there it is. Again. Our sane solution. His fighting, our stillness. Jesus doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves.

We’re broken. I confess it. Every one of us prone to darkness, prone to snapping. Needy. We’re desperate for Him.

I look again at our family photo, and I know it tells our story well. We’re a mess and a Christmas Pupmiracle all at once. Imperfect but smiling. Even the dog (;

Embracing Seasons

There is a maple tree in our front yard with green leaves covered in snow. It’s clinging still to summer. Felipe showed me a picture of this very same tree he’d taken last year, or the year before, bright yellow, as a good maple should look in autumn. This has been the habit (or lack thereof) of this particular tree. We never know from one fall to the next what mood it will choose.

I feel sometimes like this tree. Living in one season but clinging to another. Not quite certain how to describe my current landscape. Partially longing for a season ago, yet tentatively embracing the one I’m in now.

By week’s end I’ll be fifty. Fifty. A shocking number for anyone under the age of forty. Yet somewhat youngish for my friends who’ve crossed before me. Personally I’m feeling a bit numb to this number. What does it mean, and how if at all does it change what I am?

I am parenting kids who are teens turning adult. Two will be nineteen before Christmas is here. My youngest eighteen before the snow thaws. I assumed incorrectly my life would slow down, but so far not so much. The past few months have been nonstop busy, my mom duties still in full swing.

And so I feel a bit like that tree. Entering a new season while not quite giving up on the last.

There’s a spiritual correlation, too – even more weighty for me. If you’ve been following these stories you might know what I mean. A season not all that distant, and I’ve been pining for it since. I was in God’s seminary and He was my teacher. A decade of receiving all He could give me, hungry, feasting, delighting in Him. For a while now forced to acknowledge its passing, yet clinging, imploring, wanting it back.

But I’m in a new season, and I think finally I’m seeing the beauty of this one is not unlike the other. The former was preparation for where He has me now. Before was learning – my seminary classroom. Now is vocation – living it out. It’s really quite obvious, and I’m wondering why I’ve been fighting so hard to accept this transition.

Fall has been all kinds of confirmation. A book, mostly written back in the classroom – perhaps now nearing its culmination. Years of parenting, and right now with these boys might be the most crucial. A lifetime of faith stories, ready for sharing. The things He’s been teaching, now living them out.

This morning I snuggle with a blanket in my bedroom chair, the sun coming up an hour earlier than last week. I crack open my window for a breath of autumn, the sound of geese and winter coming. And here He meets me with His confirmation. Through His Word, and a word from a favorite author. Classroom meets vocation – a new season is here.