Perfect Art

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Would I love to have a perfectly clean house all the time? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But is that reality? No. No it’s not. And whatever we might believe or think, the truth is that we have to live in reality. 

My reality is that I have four daughters…I have four daughters who love to create…stuff. They love to create stuff out of recycled trash. So, my reality is that there are little creations made out of trash strewn throughout my house. Argh…

It grates on my nerves to see the mess just sitting there begging to be thrown away. Sometimes, I let them happily carry on and I try to think about other things. And then sometimes I lose my patience, throw it all away, squash their creativity and end up making them cry.

Art is generally messy, however, and we who struggle to allow the mess of creativity to have its space can miss out on a beautiful gospel truth. Yes, a clean and uncluttered room is also a lovely work of art, but not when it is bought at the price of community and connection. Here is where we meet the ugly truth about our human understanding of perfection.

Human perfectionism leaves no space for messes and mistakes, which means all who fail to meet the standard are not welcome. Human perfectionism makes us blind to reality. No one can be completely perfect-not even the perfectionists. Our definition of perfection is ironically skewed by our imperfect understanding. Striving for perfection will leave us isolated because it’s just too hard for others to meet the standard we have set for them. We who are striving for perfection can be unforgiving toward the imperfections of others. 

However, for some of us, while we are quick to show understanding towards the imperfections of others, it is ourselves that we cannot forgive. This can often lead us to a life of competing and comparison with others. We believe the only way to let ourselves off the hook is to find someone who seems worse than us. The damage this does to our hearts and relationships is tragic. I’m not referring to our living rooms any more, Friends. Our attempts to achieve aesthetic perfection is only symptomatic of our deeper struggle to try to achieve spiritual perfection all on our own.

Our understanding of perfection is challenged by the Gospel of Jesus. While we inevitably push others away in our pursuit of perfection, God longs to draw us closer. Instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves, he sent Jesus into our imperfect world to live a perfect, sinless life and bridge the gap caused by our imperfection by dying in our place. The gospel is the story of perfection being crushed for the sake of the imperfect. Jesus was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The gospel is all the more astounding when we consider the inequality of this exchange. 

I suspect that human perfection is one of Satan’s favorite lies. As long as we believe that we can achieve perfection on our own, we won’t see our need for Jesus. The greatest danger with this belief is not only that we believe we are sufficient to save ourselves, but that we dole out kindness and forgiveness to others who fail to meet our standards as though we were on the righteous throne of God. Yikes! If ever a bolt of lightening needed to be pointed my way…

Once our eyes are open to our own need for Jesus, we are able to see the most beautiful and glorious work of art. The redemptive plan of Jesus is awesome to behold, yet the messiness of it would set every perfectionist into a panic. How could anything good come from a homeless man who had no place to rest his head (Matthew 8:20)? How could a lowly carpenter’s son from Nazareth offer hope to a broken world (Matthew 13:55)? How could anything lovely come from such a humble and seemingly marred existence? This so-called Messiah broke the rules of the religious order and chased people out of the temple with whips. That doesn’t sound very perfect. Sounds like he was a bit of a mess. Then he had the audacity to tell respectable men that in order to inherit God’s kingdom they would need to be like children (Luke 18:17). Messy, snot-nosed, sticky-handed, clumsy and very imperfect children. How could perfection come from this kind of Messiah?

The perfectionists of Jesus’ day were troubled. They grumbled about the messes Jesus was in as he drank wine with imperfect tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30). They seethed when Jesus had mercy on an imperfect woman caught in adultery (John 8:7-11). They shuddered when Jesus healed an imperfect man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). All of these things rankled the Pharisees' religious perfectionism and created anxiety in their guts that led to anger in their hearts, which in turn led to the murder of the perfect Son of God with their hands. Indeed, their perfection could not save them. Their own righteousness had failed to meet God’s standards. Their perfection was twisted and ugly.

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So is mine. My kid’s messy trash art is where I’ve encountered the gospel most recently. It reminded me that God, the ultimate Artist and Creator of all things, is remaking our broken and trashed world. He who has no creator, no origin, is up to his elbows in our mess, working with the fervor of one who knows what should be and will not relent until he has cultivated it into a new reality. Out of a huge mess comes the most perfect and finished work of art. The salvation of mankind. What a masterpiece!

So, when I see my children taking thrown away things that seem useless, and transforming them into something new, I have to decide. Will I see their art through the eyes of one whose perfectionism is offended by this beautiful mess? Will I scold them in anger because they are not following my rules of order. Will I grumble at the scraps of paper scattered everywhere? Sometimes, yes, (because it is really trash that does need to eventually be thrown out) but sometimes, I hope not. 

The bigger questions I have to ask myself are more along the lines of - what will I do when I see a fellow human struggling in habitual sin, unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? What about when I witness the perversion in the world around me? Will I compare, grumble, seethe and declare that nothing good can come from such a mess? Or, will I be like Jesus and embrace others for the sake of God's glory? Will I remember that I, too, am counted as an imperfection whose sin has contributed to this mess in which we all live? Gracious savior! May his grace compel us to repent!

I pray that I will always choose to be like Jesus. 

My prayer for you and me, as mothers of those snot-nosed, messy, clumsy and imperfect people, is that we will always choose to be like Jesus. I pray that our homes will be places where both the physical and spiritual messes are beautiful displays of God’s grace. I pray that our desire for perfection will never distract us from the gospel work of our children’s hearts being drawn to Jesus. I pray that when our children get into creative mode, we will seize the opportunity to tell them about their creative God who didn’t sit back and watch, but jumped right into the middle of our messy and sinful world in order to create all things new. I pray that when our children are confronted with their own sin, we will give them the grace we have been given and gently teach them how to repent. I pray that when we encounter the worst sin, whether it’s in our community, our church, our family or own heart, we will remember, though we may feel justified in our own perfection, that it was our imperfections that required the slaughter of God’s perfect Son. May we humbly repent, remembering that justification comes through his work alone and if it weren’t for Jesus, we would be stained by sin forever. Finally, I pray that we would rejoice in the beautiful work of art that God has created in the form of salvation! I pray for all who will have eyes to see God’s perfect design. May we all stop striving for self-made perfection, and trust the only perfect Son of God to wash us clean! 

How good and faithful is our merciful Creator!

Though you wash yourself with lye and much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the LORD God. How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,…’.   Jeremiah 2:22

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.    Deuteronomy 32:3-4

…and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus might display his perfect patience an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.   1 Timothy 1:14-17

For further encouragement study: Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 3; Matthew 20; Luke 19:1-10




Feeding Babies

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Ask any momma what stresses her out the most about motherhood and many would probably say - feeding babies. There are numerous articles and recipes online about kids and food. Occasionally there is some fun to be had with kids and food-like when they want to start feeding themselves. Get your camera ready, Momma! Baby is about to give you some great shots for Instagram! 

The first time my 8-month-old demanded that I let her feed herself (read demanded as “she grabbed the spoon out of my hand every time I tried to put it in her mouth”…Every. Time.) I fought her on it, thinking, “Oh no way! You will have this stuff everywhere.” But she wore me down, which had been her way since birth when she refused to nurse. I gave in and let her have at it. Yep. It was everywhere. The wall, the curtains, the floor, the back of the chair, her hair, my hair…everywhere. It was a wretched mess that I had to clean up after every meal. 

By the fourth child though, I had learned to hand the spoon to my kids ASAP because I needed those babies to be independent. I didn’t even care where the food went as long as some of it got in her belly. I’m not sure I took any pictures because by kid four, who has time for pictures during dinner? At that point, I was just trying to get everyone to sit at the table together for at least 30 seconds like normal people. “Just be normal!” I would yell and then realize they were all now quietly staring at the crazy lady with dried applesauce from lunch still in her hair. 

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Dinnertime is a beast, isn’t it? And it comes around everyday with desperate cries of starving children acting like I haven’t fed them in days. I mean, really y’all! My life revolves around shopping for, buying, storing, prepping, cooking and cleaning up food. And we won’t even go into the insane rabbit hole of healthy eating that I fell into because…well, nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. My new motto is “Be happy. Eat ice cream.”

On days when I have lots of energy and feel inspired, I cook a feast. The other 364 days of the year, I try to pull it together in a rush at the last minute. Either way, a few bites are taken, a few bites are forced to be taken, and then everyone is excused. It really doesn’t seem to matter how good the food is, or how much time I put into planning and preparing. Kids just eat how much they want and move on. Like locusts, really. Ew.

But there are lessons about the dinner table that are changing my understanding of feeding my kids. There is a spirituality to food that really requires more attention than I usually give it. For most of my mothering years, eating has been about nutrition, which has led to lots of arguing about eating greens and trying to get “just one more bite” into my babies bellies. And guilt! Oh, so much guilt!

Lately, however, dinnertime has shifted in our house. Maybe it’s because the babies are not really babies anymore. Maybe it’s because I have just a bit more energy to give toward meals than I have in the past. I can’t tell you for sure what has shifted other than my understanding that food isn’t just about eating. 

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I know this shift began when I read this quote from Sally Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Table:

When we sit at our tables, we’re not just an aggregate of individual family members eating and drinking to stay alive; we’re a congregation of communing souls hungering and thirsting to experience the goodness and beauty of the life God has designed just for us.

Full disclosure - I often endure dinnertime, anxious for it to be over because I am exhausted from the day and ready to get those monkeys of mine in bed so I can sit quietly with my husband and a glass of wine. But, as I have contemplated the spiritual connection between our food and our souls, there has been a very slight shift in my attitude (very slight).

Dinnertime is gradually becoming more about conversation and communion with each other. It has become a time of reconnecting with each other after time apart at work, school and other activities. I have found that as we have intentionally started conversations at the dinner table, the kids have been a little slower to run off when they are done eating. It’s almost like they enjoy sitting at the table and talking to us. And, to my surprise, I sometimes really enjoy hanging out and talking to my kids during and after dinner! 

This, I have discovered, is where the real feasting happens. As we discuss different topics and events from the day, my daughters are sharing their hearts a little bit more each time. They share their thoughts, ideas and opinions more freely than they have in the past. This excites me, because I’ve come to realize that when I take time to listen to their hearts, they are more open to listening to what I have to say, as well. When we give our attention to listening to our children’s hearts, we are better prepared to offer them the truth of the Gospel in a way that means something to them because we’ve really heard what’s going on in their minds and hearts. 

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I have been guilty in the past of trying to force bites of the Gospel into my children’s hearts like the Brussels sprouts they really don’t want to eat (actually, I hate Brussels sprouts too, so they never show up on our table). Yet, that’s not how God has fed our souls. Rather than forcing the Gospel down our throats, he invites us to “work…for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). He has set the table for our souls through the work of Jesus and invites us to join. He does not force anyone to take a seat, but instead invites us as a generous host would invite guests to a fancy dinner. Those who make excuses as to why they cannot come will sorrowfully miss out (Luke 14:15-24). 

I don’t want my babies to miss out! But I cannot force them to take a seat. I must trust the work of the Father in their hearts. He is the one who draws them to Christ (John 6:44; 65-66). I know his desire for them to come to him is greater than mine. He is the one who works in our hearts and grows our relationships for the purpose of his Gospel, so I must trust him.

So, what’s an anxious Momma to do as she watches and waits for her children’s hearts to be drawn to God? 

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She prays and sets the table. She prays daily for the souls of her children to be drawn to the feasting that leads to eternal life. She faithfully sets the table with stories of truth that both little and big ones will not be able to resist listening to. She daily invites them to willingly take a seat at the table, and partake of his goodness and mercy. And when they refuse the invitaion, she faithfully tries again the next day. 

That is our prayer for our children, but it is also a prayer for ourselves. My youngest loves avocados, because I love avocados. She watched me enjoy eating them and just had to give them a try. Sweet Momma, we cannot feed our children bread that we don’t have. We must first “taste and see” so that our children can know that God is true and good (Psalm 34:8). We must commit to daily sitting at the table with Christ, and feasting on the Gospel for ourselves. When our children see that we are filled and satisfied with God, they will want to know him, too. That is why I continue to write here. I long for mommas to encounter the Gospel for themselves and then share it with their children. I believe this is the most important work we as mothers have to do. We cannot be lazy and distracted disciples. We must focus our hearts and minds on the bread of life, or we and our children will spiritually starve to death. Stay faithful to your calling, Momma! Share what you know about Jesus with your children, search to understand what you don’t know, and be filled with the sustaining bread of life that He is!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is the dinner-witching hour and the natives are getting restless for their food...

They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst...All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."    John 6:34-37

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”        Isaiah 25:6-9

There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!" You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.            Psalm 4:6-8

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  Revelation 19:9

For further encouragement, study John 6:22-71; John 3:26-36; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 

What's the Point?

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I have this terrible habit of buying books. I know it doesn’t sound like a bad habit, but trust me…it is. I’m currently reading five for myself and am in the middle of three that I’m reading aloud to my kids. That’s not to mention the long list of books that are on my “want to read” list that I promised my husband I wouldn’t buy until I had finished my current reads. I can’t help it.  I have a problem. My most recent, impulsive book purchase was a book entitled, How Children Succeed. I’m embarrassed to admit that I grabbed it off the shelf, perused the covers, skimmed part of a chapter towards the end of the book and made my decision all in less than a minute. It’s been an interesting read on how a person’s character rather than their intelligence is what determines success. It is well researched and written, and I find myself agreeing with much of what the author is saying.

I am irresistibly drawn to these sorts of books that sound as though they have discovered the key to raising successful, educated and well-behaved kids. I find that many of them do offer fantastic suggestions about how to teach kids to be less selfish, more focused, better behaved, less likely to end up on drugs or in prison, and I fall for these promises often. My shelf of how-to-be successful parenting books keeps growing (in fact it’s bowing a little at the moment under the weight).Living in a culture that glorifies education, most would not see my book-buying obsession as a problem, and might even pat me on the back for being an avid reader. Yet, I always find myself a little disappointed as I delve into most of these books, because they just can't deliver what they promise- the answer to what makes us satisfied with life.   

Something struck me immediately while I was reading this book on children becoming successful adults. It was their definition of success. In a nutshell, the goal is for kids to be taught and nurtured in such a way that they have cognitive character that affects their choices and behavior and results in graduation from high-school, college and satisfaction in their careers and overall life as adults. It makes sense and is what every good parent wants for their kids. But, I know that while these goals are not wrong, they are also not the point of parenting. Not for the Christian parent.

This is why we, who are following Christ, must always come back to Scripture and place it as the overall authority for how we live, how we parent, and to define our overarching goals for our children. I know from scripture that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7), that folly is bound up in a child’s heart (Proverbs 22:25), that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45), that evil action, intention and speech come from the heart (Mark 7:21) and that life itself springs from the heart. All of these verses remind us of our ultimate goal as parents. It is to guide and disciple our children’s hearts toward God, because only he can give the satisfaction they desire (Psalm 42). 

Good behavior and the ability to make right decisions that lead to success are not the goal, they are simply by-products of the goal. They are the icing on the cake. The point being, that as our children’s hearts are turned towards worshipping God and pleasing him, their behavior, character, desires and life ought to reflect that orientation. 

~Well-behaved children is not the goal of parenting.~

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It is essential for parents to know what the definition of success for their children is, because that definition will determine how they parent. Knowing what the goal is helps us to know which beliefs, truths and philosophies to follow and apply. When we disregard scripture, and define our goals according to the philosophy of culture, we become parents who are taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8. Looking to scripture will enable us to better determine the difference between cultural parenting advice, and God’s requirement for parents. God will always require us to look at our children’s hearts, rather than at their potential for success and happiness. 

Tedd Tripp writes well in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart (by the way if you are sucker for  books like me, this one is well worth the time and money spent as he has scripture and a gospel-view of parenting at the center of his teaching. Also, perhaps we should start a therapy group for our book-buying problem? Just a thought...):

Superficial parenting that never addresses the heart biblically produces superficial children who do not understand what makes them tick. They must be trained to understand and interpret their behavior in terms of heart motivation. If they never have that training, they will drift through life, never understanding the internal struggles that lie beneath their most consistent behavior. 

I don’t know about you, but I often ask my children, “Why did you do that?”. They are rarely able to understand why they are motivated to misbehave because they do not understand their own sinful nature. It is our responsibility as their parents and as followers of Christ to teach them about the Gospel and their own personal need for it. Only the Gospel can explain why we do the things we do-it points to our sin nature as the root of our behavior. Whether a child is two-years-old hitting other kids on the playground or fourteen-years-old participating in cyber-bullying, we must teach them that their heart is sinful and they need repentance and forgiveness in order to be changed. Otherwise, the behavior will continue to escalate. There is no other scientific, psychological, sociological explanation that any expert has given or will give that helps us understand that the root of our problematic behavior is sin. Not only does the Gospel explain our sin nature, it tells us the good news of who we need to fix the sin problem! The person called Jesus!

It doesn't matter how successful a person is in life, if they do not accept and know Jesus Christ, they will never be satisfied, find joy or peace. Their relationships will not be fulfilling, their job status will never be enough, and their hope will be clouded with doubt. If we want the absolute best for our children, we must give them Jesus. 

If we choose to deal with the heart, it will require time, attention, energy and a willingness to make conversation with our children more important than our own pursuits. This is hard because it means we must lay down our lives- and that is not popular- but it is so worth it! It is also what Jesus has done for us. I never regret making time to have real conversations with my kids, but every time I push them away to do what I want instead, I regret the missed opportunities to listen to their hearts and share truth with them. 

~We must not give up on discipling our children’s hearts. Knowing God is what matters most.~

My prayer for you and me today, is that we will not be led astray by the current psychological, educational, and sociological philosophy of our day. I pray that we will not put our hope in the false idols of education, behavior-modification, and secular parenting tips, but rather that we will stand fast in the gospel of Jesus and lean on the truth of God’s Word to light the path for us and our children. I pray that our anxiety over our children’s success would find peace in the success of Jesus’ work on the cross. May we trust in him enough to offer him as the answer our children are looking for now, and for eternity. 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.     Titus 2:11-14

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey…Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.    Psalm 19:8-14

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.   Psalm 119:105