When Your Baby Boy Breaks Your Heart

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“Do you want to tell mom what you said while she was out of the room, or shall I?”

My ten-year-old sat on the chair opposite of his big sister, his face taut and drawn long. Fear shot through his eyes.

I looked at Nikko and then across the room at his older sister, Bella. At twenty, she represents authority in his life; as the oldest of my brood, she often takes the roll of mom jr.

I could tell that something happened here. Something serious.

So, I stopped my after-Christmas-nearly-New-Years-the-kids-are-all-home-from-school endless cycle of cleaning house and took a seat. We were a triangle of waiting.

Bella repeated her question, but Nikko sat still, dumbstruck.

Getting impatient with his silence I broke into the tension, “Well? What’s happened?”

Nothing. No sound from Nikko.

“Bella?”

“Nikko didn’t know I was sitting here and he said some things. He called you names while you were in the garage.”

Nikko winced as if struck in the face.

“Oh,” I replied.

It took almost a half hour for Nikko to say aloud in my presence the words that repeatedly tumbled so easily from his mouth in my absence, when he thought he was alone with his mumbling. Apparently, his grumbly attitude had a vocabulary to match.

When he finally said the words, I was shocked. Now, we can’t say our kids have never heard swearing, but it isn’t a regular occurrence at our house and this brand of name calling that rushed so freely from my baby boy’s lips was more the school-yard-school-bus variety. More oh-my-junior-high kind of cussing.

What was shocking, actually like a bolt to my heart, was that he’d call me that.

And I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt my feelings. It stung in the softest of all spots only we mother’s have.  I have to admit I’ll aways remember that trio of words strung together with a certain shot of venom hurled in my direction from my angel boy.

It comes to this, mamas.

You don’t want to believe it when you swaddle that rosy-cheeked bundle or marvel at their pink, pea-shaped toes and their innocent, toothless grins. And we mamas that have been around the block don’t want to pin-pop your new-mommy bubbles. We know the season is tender and short, like a midwestern spring, when all is solved with a snuggle and a slurping of milk, a diaper change or a pat-pat-patting and the low tones of a lullaby. We know it’s like breath on the window, that innocent spring of life when there is no occasion to discipline,  when their gaze into yours is wonder and purest love. They’ll be other days when the afternoon is sullied and darkened because out of those rosebud lips slithers a snarling epithet usually reserved for deck-swabbing-sailors. There will be the late-night lies and the if-looks-could-kill expressions shot carelessly in your direction. But mama’s, daddies, it comes to this.

Nothing you do as a parent will shield you from this. Your adorable, sheltered, pink-cheeked cherubs will fling crap at you, they will blame you, hate you perhaps, be embarrassed by you, ignore you, lie to you, call you names. And when they’re grown you will one day wish for the easier battles when your kindergartner packs her Barbie suitcase and decides to run away. You will long for the day you found scribbled, torn and smudged notes hidden in the corner of the room under a pile of stuffed animals, notes that say, I hate mom, she is mean and I hate her.

But you will never give up on them. You will never stop loving them more. You just want another opportunity to give them grace.

So I heard Nikko cough and sputter the words out into the room, and they clunked onto the floor between us, and his mouth formed a cry and the shame of it all broke his stiff shoulders into shuddering sobs.

And in an instant, I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t angry. I knew this wasn’t the time for mouth-washing (or my personal choice, licking an onion). This was an opportunity for me to set aside my wounded heart and counter his filthy, grumbling, dirty-with-the-sin-of-the-world words with my words of truth and God’s words of grace. If he could see in my response something radically different than the wrath and punishment that he expected, his shame might dissolve into gratitude and his trepidation might be enveloped in grace and his heart might be won and guilt would only be the grit that polished that spot of his soul into a sparkling memory of love.

And I won’t lie and tell you I didn’t wipe away tears when he bowed his head and prayed and thanked God that he could be free and start over with a slate wiped clean.

I don’t want to “be God” to my kids. I don’t want to simply be the.final.authority. I don’t want them to fear retribution but rather accept consequences laced through with grace and life-lessons of compassion and forgiveness. Because that is the thing we parents do over and again: forgive. And that his what we need to do. In the midst of all the responsibilities and privileges of parenting, the most valuable thing we can offer is forgive, forgive, forgive just as our Father forgives, forgives, forgives us.

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25 Gifts-Why Jesus? (Advent 2014)

My soul Magnifies the Lord

Christmas plays and pageants, movies and books, present the nativity story in much the same way: Mary, very pregnant and sitting on a donkey; Joseph, leading her gently and trying to negotiate a room with an innkeeper; the stable, filled with animals and a soft glowing light; a fringe of haggard-looking shepherds at the stable door….

I think we’ve got a few things wrong.

Sure, the main characters of the story are the same and the main events are the same, but some details have been blurred by the westernization of our retelling the nativity story. As I’ve pondered again this amazing opening scene of Jesus’ life story as a man, I’ve wondered at the nuances of context and culture that maybe we’ve failed to recognize. So I’ve been reading about the culture and times surrounding Jesus’ birth, tried to recognized and re-think the events in the context of this information.

Here’s a little bit of an idea, a new way to think about Jesus’ birth.

 

//

Mary shifted her position and popped a pomegranate aril into her mouth, savoring its tart juice.

The weight of her full belly rested now on her hips and her back relaxed against the cushion—actually just a rolled up shawl—and she felt the constant discomfort ebb. She sighed and listened to the layers of conversations that arose from the courtyard below and watched the last tendrils of daylight sink into the horizon beyond the township. The cool of the air and the snap of the pomegranate juice and the peaceful corner she had found all served to calm her.

Mary thought again about the angel Gabriel’s face, the kind look in his eyes, the strength of his jaw, the strangeness of his presence that both terrified her and thrilled her. Often, when she was most afraid, she thought of this face. A face that has seen Yahweh, she thought, imagine that.

She closed her eyes and rested her head against the stone wall, still warm from the day’s sunshine, and waited for a breeze. How can I feel such calm? The world was a terrible place. Just today reports came in about a cluster of crosses erected near the roadway into Jerusalem. At dawn a crucifixion would commence. Three “radicals”, rebelling against Roman taxation, would be tied to the long poles and punished for their insurrection.

It was happening more and more. People were tired of Rome. Tired of taxation and barely existing beyond chattel slavery, tired of everything. Her people. Even now the debate below became heated and hushed. She could hear Joseph’s measured words and calm tone in the conversations. Yes, Herod was a beast, a weapon of evil, a sorry excuse for a Jew, but are these rebel-leaders the men we should follow? To what end will rioting lead us toward?

“Ah, so you’ve found a little nest wherein to rest?”

Mary opened her eyes and looked at Elizabeth, baby John in her arms.

“John’s ready for his after-dinner snack,” her eyes smiled in the twilight as she clucked and cooed and readied herself to feed him. “Mind if I join you up here in your perch?”

“No, not at all,” replied Mary, meaning it.

Elizabeth was the mother, the sister, the friend, the only person in the world—aside from Joseph, and maybe even more so—that understood her. Mary leaned her head on Elizabeth’s shoulder and listened to John slurp his milk. Oh, she wished she were an infant herself.

“I’m not up to the task,” she heard herself say aloud.

“Of course you’re not,” agreed Elizabeth in her characteristic candor, “None of us is. When I think of my inadequacies, I remember the words of the angel. What he said to Zechariah… that this stubborn baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit…in the power of Elijah…. That he would prepare the people for their Lord!”

Elizabeth recited the angel’s words and her voice lilted as if in song.

“I am willing. Just overwhelmed sometimes.”

“Sure you are, my dear, sure you are. It’s no small task to have a baby and here we are having the babies that will change the world. They will be the men that all people will hear but they began in the wombs of an old woman and maiden. And the secret is in our safekeeping.”

“It seems the world is pregnant with hate and violence. I can’t picture in my mind a Prince of Peace.”

“Mary, you are wise beyond your years,” Elizabeth said. She handed the bundle of baby John to Mary. His head nuzzled into her neck and his small, soft body seemed to embrace her hard, round belly.

“You yourself told me that whatever it takes you will glorify the Lord because you think always of his mercy towards us. You don’t need to know how it’s all going to work out, because you know it will. It will.”

“But first,” said Mary with a small laugh, “Where am I going to have this boy? The guest rooms are full of family, the courtyard’s full of family, the rooftop’s full of family—even the barn is hosting goats and more family! We can’t have a baby with all these relatives and uncles gawking and kids running underfoot!”

“I’ve got an idea!” said Elizabeth. “We’ll kick everyone out of the barn. We’ll clean up a corner of the stable, put down fresh bedding and linen and we’ll do it there! It’s not a palace, that’s for sure! But, there’s got to be about a dozen midwives staying in this house alone! God knew what he was doing, sending Jesus here when we’re having a family reunion—thanks to Rome—in Bethlehem. All these midwives! Don’t you worry, Mary dear, you and the boy will be fine. Just fine.”

“In the City of David… ‘But you Bethlehem, though you are small…’”

“Yes,” agreed Elizabeth, knowing Mary’s thoughts.

A stab of pain shot through Mary. She squeezed John too tightly and he let out a squall.

“Oh! Elizabeth!”

Mary sat upright, her eyes round as moons.

“You’d better go get that stable ready. Now! I can’t be sure, but I do know I don’t want to have this baby in front of Uncle Hezekiah.”

//

Sweet Friend,

There’s so much we think we know about Jesus. About his life and family. I read a blog post the other day where a man wrote and ranted all the ways he didn’t want others to take “his jesus” and align him with their politics and religious views. We have no right, really, to take the person of Jesus and manipulate him into our value systems and cultural paradigms. When I ask God to help me have new ideas about his son and this life we can live because of him, sometimes I write fiction. I love writing and the research and the writing process help me become willing to see things through a different lens, hopefully a clearer lens.

All of Jesus’ earthly family was gathered in Bethlehem for this census. Mary and Joseph didn’t go knocking on motel doors because in their culture, there were no inns or motels. An “inn” referred to an extra room for guests. Guests dropped in anytime, as communication during that time was very limited. Chances are, any relatives of Joseph living in Bethlehem were opening their doors to so many family members as the town of Bethlehem (population 2500) quadrupled in size for the census. What a logistical nightmare! And of course, Rome didn’t bother with infrastructure to handle the crowds, the confusion or the violence that may have surrounded this event. Elizabeth and Zechariah were also descendants of David and perhaps crowded into the same cluster of family homes. With all this in mind, and understanding a bit of their relationship from Luke chapter 1, I imagined being very young and very pregnant in an extremely volatile time in history.

I love that you come by and read and share my thoughts and I hope and pray that this blesses you this Christmas.

Alyssa

 

 

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25 Gifts-Why Jesus? {Advent 2014, Day 15}

A thrill of hope the weary world-2

Our roofline is outlined in lights. Our trees glow with merry warmth. It is, as the cheery song says, beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It was a full day and the final Sunday of Advent.

As I puttered around the house, putting things in a bit of order before I climbed into bed, I glanced out of my kitchen window and spotted the north star. Shining white and clear in the cloudless night sky, it reminded me of my favorite Christmas song. It’s the song that never fails to gather tears in my eyes every.single.time I sing it, O Holy Night.

Sung in churches and recorded over and over again on Christmas albums, this song began in a small French village in 1847. A village priest asked his friend and ad hock poet (who sold wine as a trade) to write a poem to be read for Christmas mass. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure asked a composer to set music to his words and the carol we know and sing with gusto was born, sung on Christmas Eve in a small village parish.

The writer became a socialist and left the church. The composer was Jewish. But the song itself became a beloved tune by the French people. Although it fell out of fashion in formal church use, carolers and families, farmers and shopowners crooned the lyrics and hummed its melody.

And one Christmas Eve a soldier climbed out of his cold, wet trench on the front lines of the Franco-Prussian war and began to sing in his native tongue the opening lines of O Holy Night. All the men lay down their weapons and took up the songs of Christmas that night. No one was shot or captured, killed or wounded where the pinprick of light from this song shone into the battle.

Several years passed and on the eve of Christmas, 1906, an apprentice of Thomas Edison, a man little known named Reginald Fessenden, was working on broadcasting voice over radio waves. The first words spoken over radio were Fessenden reading Luke 2, the Christmas story. And the first song ever heard over radio? O Holy Night. Because Fessenden was also a violinist. He played the melody that we know and love. O Holy Night.

So when we sing along this Christmas, we are singing the miraculous, the preserved and inspired words that hold the promise of hope that all people need. We need light. We need perspective. We need this king and friend and this thrill of hope.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth….”

And this is the measure of our worth, that we can know true value in the appearance and presence of Jesus. It’s not in our performance or our accomplishments, our popularity or our politics. Our worth is felt, tangible and whole and untarnished, in seeing our need and in seeing our savior.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the Soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born;

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

 

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,

Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.

The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friends.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

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25 Gifts–Why Jesus (Advent 2014, Day 14)

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Several years ago, when Angelo and I were young and just starting out in life together, we attended a toxic church.

We didn’t know it was toxic, and we were young, and green and willing to jump in and help. We served by helping in the youth ministry with junior high kids. A ragtag bunch of kids met with us in the church basement where we tried to lead worship, share the gospel, and be their friends. Most of the kids lived in the apartments around the church, some were from church-going families. Sometimes the kids would be so ornery during youth group we wondered why they came at all.

Our pastor at the time warned us one day about investing too much in these rowdy neighborhood kids. He said the goal of the ministries of the church was to bring people into the church as regulars. Regular attenders who would become regular members, who would regularly serve in ministries themselves and become regular givers. He said if a ministry didn’t provide material growth, in membership and financial giving, that that ministry wasn’t worth a line in the budget.

We didn’t realize at the time that he was feeding us a regular pile of baloney.

A few years later we left that church. We had been spiritually manipulated to the point of exhaustion. We felt soul-slapped after we’d written a letter to rescind our membership and the rest of the church was told to “treat us as tax collectors” and have nothing to do with us.

I know the ugly side of church.

I wrote yesterday about the gift of community, and I do believe that the essence of true community that Jesus inspired is truly one of the most beautiful things. But I also understand how mucked up we make ministry, how we convolute the great commission, how we contort compassion. Here God offers this amazing gift of community and then has the audacity to bring sinful, selfish humans to the party!

I know the weird confusion of wanting to invite friends to church, but not my church. I remember us asking ourselves, “Do we really want to expose them to our church?” We wanted them to know the hope of Jesus Christ but wanted to spare them of the inevitable painful drama. When things grew worse and before we had left that church, we heard ourselves saying to one another, “I’m so glad this is happening to us instead of _____ who is so young in his faith that this would devastate him.” Oh, we were in a battle alright, but it was a war of internal affairs and one we hadn’t the energy to fight.

Within time that church fell apart.

The neighborhood kids, you may wonder?

Well, we had this foursome who came from the apartments and disrupted youth group like crazy. Two sets of siblings, two girls and two boys. We happened to see them about six years after we had to leave that church and they all survived high school. Indeed they flourished.

Each one of them followed Jesus faithfully. There was a path laid out before them that started in that old church basement. There was a truth shared some Wednesday night long ago that continued to shine in their minds and lead them. And these kids–“at-risk” in so many ways–became adults who wanted to be a part of community in healthy ways. One was studying to be a nurse, another a fire-fighter. Every one of them had a relationship with their savior Jesus.

One of my favorite psalms ends with this quartet:

The Lord will indeed give what is good,

and our land will yield its harvest.

Righteousness goes before him

and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:12-13)

God never ignores the harvest. He sees the heart-soil tilled and the seeds planted, he sees ahead and brings to completion all our investments made in faith. He indeed gives what is good. And none can stop him.

I wish I could say that that church was our only experience with spiritual abuse. But it wasn’t. We have been lied to, misled and dismissed since then, by others in leadership. But, we learned early on that that leadership wasn’t the “head” of the body of believers, Jesus is. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus about the great dynamic of unity in diversity, he said this: “We will in all things grow up into him, who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”(Ephesians 4:15-16)

The gift of Jesus in this is that he is my Peerless Leader.

He makes no mistakes, he misses no thing. He sees us all as equally important to the community and loves watching us grow up into love. Just as we rejoiced when we bumped into our former middle school kids, Jesus rejoices when he sees us moving and being and responding in love.

After we left toxic church, we gathered our courage one Sunday morning and  drove to a new church a friend had told us about. We were rung out and dry and a little scared, I won’t lie. Tears escaped my eyes as we sat in the back of this congregation and heard the pastor say,

“God doesn’t talk stink about you. He can’t! He loves you so much and knows what’s in store for you, knows the plans he has for you! He never says an untruth, never criticizes what you bring to the table or considers your gifts to him to small. He thinks you’re great. He made you and loves you with an everlasting love and even more, he’ll never give up on you!”

He never gives up. He knows us and loves us and gives what is good – even when we’re slogging through the muck of damaged relationships, dark pasts, difficult seasons and unknown futures – God is good. All the time.

This might be one of my very favorite gifts.

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25 Gifts-Why Jesus? (Advent 2014, Day 13)

com·mu·ni·ty

 

Jesus himself was, of course, one man.

He came as any prophet had: out of obscurity, preaching a message of warning and of hope to the Israelite people. His human life ended like most the other prophets: he was killed because of his message.

In his brief time of ministry (a mere 3 years), Jesus began what can only be called a revolution. How? He invested in individuals and modeled a new idea: community.

Community by definition is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Or, a group of people connected by similar geography, background or interests. You can be in a community of bicyclists or quilters. Your hometown might be your community, or your internet friends who meet regularly to discuss the joys of raising backyard chickens. 

When Jesus walked the earth, many Jewish people rallied in community behind men who promised revolution. They wanted to throw off the Roman shackles and live free of Roman tyranny and taxes. They longed to be free Jews. It’s no surprise that God planned for Jesus to arrive at the time that he did for this reason alone. The oppressed people groups, Jew and Gentile alike, were desperate for some relief from the heavy hand of Rome and her taxation. And further, the Jewish folk were oppressed by their own money and power-greedy temple leaders. They were fettered to their religious practices just as they were bound by Roman control.

So, consider all that and then go read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5—it changes the flavor of his message, doesn’t it? Consider all that and think about the first thing Jesus did in his ministry: he formed a community. In the gospels (Matthew 4, Mark 3) we read about Jesus calling Peter, James and John, Nathanael, Matthew and the rest of the twelve.

What people have said about him is true. Jesus either was the Son of God, or he was a narcissistic cult leader suffering delusions of grandeur, but he couldn’t be both. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity,

“Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.” 

 Here’s why I contend that he’s the Son of God: because the community that he formed in the dusty desert near the banks of the Sea of Galilee is the single largest community anyone can find on earth today.

There were mere hundreds of thousands populating the entire globe in Jesus’ day, now there are billions. There are billions more Christians alive at this moment than there were people two-thousand years ago. And, Christians make up one-third of the world’s population. Although Jesus hasn’t been around in bodily form since 33 AD, we all gather in churches and in homes and schools and parks and find community around his name. This is something Jesus actually prayed for. Yep.

Just before his capture and trial, Jesus spent some time teaching his disciples and closed with prayer. At the end of his prayer, he prayed for you and me:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:20-26)

If you want, you could print this section of John or find it in your bible and underline every word or phrase that speaks to the idea of community.

Also, all, one, in, given/gave, one, one, unity, with are the words I found. And his phrases are all about connectedness, togetherness, sharing, unity, mutuality.

What was on Jesus’ mind and heart before his arrest? You and me and the community of billions.

This community was why Jesus died. So that we could connect to one another, to him, to the Father, through the promised Holy Spirit and move in community, and in unity, forever.

And I’m so glad he prayed for us! We’ve needed it. We’re messy and proud and demanding and we argue, a lot. But look at what Jesus asked for us:

May they be brought to complete unity

to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 

What a community! What a goal! What a purpose! And what’s the sparkling stone at the center of that community? Love. The perfect love of God brought to completion in the imperfect community of believers. Now that is a gift worth waiting for.

 

Friend,

I love knowing you. I love knowing that you’re there and sometimes you read my words and we can through this weird thing called the internet, connect in community. I have been a church-girl for a long time and honestly, the community has hurt and confused me. Sometimes I’ve hurt others. We are each one imperfect and in-process. So, our community won’t always be ideal. But, the goal of Christ and the promise is that we will be complete one day. Until then, let’s look for opportunities to uplift one another, forgive one another and face heavenward together. The word tells us that the world will know we belong to Jesus by our love for one another — as we begin to daily look for and act upon ways to love each other well, our community will naturally, organically grow. There is one thing all human beings long for: love. Let’s be a community of loving, open-handed folks!

Alyssa

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