Extra Measure of Grace

Wow! Almost a week since I last posted something on this fine blog! I feel a little starved…like an addict looking for a fix. I have been reading blogs, just not writing anything. So, now I’ll probably spew out more than one post to make up for it.

That’s because…it’s been stimulation overload around here. Way too busy around here planning and prepping for Christmas, all the while trying to maintain order and control in a house ruled by disorder. Problem is, one of our children demands a constant, predictable routine and if he doesn’t get that…well…hell….

It started last week with Christmas anticipation. Everyone’s excited. Colin has no idea why he’s excited except that Christmas is coming (which means presents and “secrets”) and all the lights in people’s yards are really fascinating. There is not much structure to the Kindergarten day lately. Coupled with the fact that his teacher was off for two days and he had a substitute, well, that mean that the tailspin began last week on Monday!  If ONE, LITtle thing is out of sync, there is a literal Tailspin. Butt in the air…spinning in circles. Yep.

Here’s the order of things during the week:
1. Wake up at 7:00 a.m.
2. Eat breakfast.
3. Brush teeth.
4. Get dressed (and if you do it all by yourself, you get to mark your chart).
5. NOW you can watch cartoons.
6. 7:55 walk to the bus (but at least five minutes before that, you’ll have to struggle with your coat, hat, gloves, backpack and turning OFF the TV.)

Here’s the order of things on the weekend.
1. Wake up (but don’t get out of bed until someone comes to tell you it’s okay. If you’re awake before ‘someone’ then just kick your legs against the wall long enough and loud enough that they’ll hear you and come get you up.)
2. Whatever. Really. Whatever. If it’s Saturday or Sunday, you can do “whatever” until ‘someone’ is awake enough to feed you breakfast and then the weekday rules start.

Here’s the thing. We got some snow. About 13″ of snow on Saturday. Hence, we were stuck in the house Saturday and most of Sunday doing ‘nothing’. Well, we made cookies, decorated the tree, listened to Christmas music, played in the snow…whatever the mood dictated. So Colin had a very, very unstructured weekend. RED FLAG number ONE.

This morning…”Two Hour Delay with Modified Kindergarten!” Meaning, he won’t go to school at all. If he did, he’d get there about 15 minutes before I’d have to pick him up for a doctor appointment and he’d miss the rest. Easier to keep him home…maybe.

One hour of kicking, screaming, sobbing, rolling around and generally tantruming (is that a word?) because “It’s Monday! It’s Cycle Day 3! It’s school!!!”  He does this thing with any transition that doesn’t go his way. Then he ‘shakes it off’ by literally shaking his whole head around and announcing “I’m done now.”

We went on to the doctor’s appointment and on with our day, but what a morning!

When Colin was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Andy and I had about an hour’s time to talk to the Neuropsychologist who worked with him. More than anything he said or recommended, I remember this part.

He said that Colin will always struggle. It’s our job to teach him how to cope. He will always behave differently, it’s our job to help him know what’s okay and what’s not.  It’s our job to discipline his misbehavior, but….BUT…he will always need “an extra measure of grace”.

That hit me hard. No professional psycho anyone had ever suggested that my child was human before now. But this man understood that Colin needed a little leeway…a little grace sometimes. Today was one of those times.

Yep. Yep. Yep.

RePost on Mary, Mother of Christ

The following post was originally written in April. I am reposting it here again as a result of our Sunday School class discussion regarding the birth of Christ and how people were told he was coming. This morning we talked about Simeon with Mary and Joseph at the temple during Mary’s purification sacrifice.

When I originally posted these thoughts I got a few comments. I’d like to hear more of what people have to say. I think Mary is an understudied and underappreciated woman in the scriptures in my own church experience. Traditionally, our children are taught very little about her. It’s fun to delve a little further into what must have been an amazing life.

 Mary, Mother of Christ Resurrected.

 I am amazingly drawn to the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Popular culture paints her as a young woman to whom nothing extraordinary happened. She was young, naive and simple…until the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Until then, we imagine, she had lived a quiet life in Nazareth, doing the things all other girls did. No mention of her immediate family, parents or siblings. But, when this angel showed up, she doesn’t seem afraid of him. Luke describes her as “troubled” and although Gabriel asked her not to “be afraid”, Luke seems to imply that she simply wondered what was up with this?! Luke 1:29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

According to the Nativity Gospel of Mary, extraordinary circumstances surrounded this young woman’s life long before this angelic visit and long before she herself was conceived.  Her father, Joachim, was greatly troubled at his barrenness. The high priest at that time belittled him saying he was unworthy of presenting his gifts before God because God had not seen fit to bless him with offspring. Joachim wandered into the pastures of the shepherds to hide himself in his sorrow. While he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he would indeed have a child. God had seen fit to “open the womb” of his wife, not to just give them children, but to bring glory to Himself. Sound familiar? This angel then appeared to Anna, his wife, and told her that she would bear a child, name her Mary and that this child would find favor with God. She would be a special child in the temple of the Lord.

According to this writing, Joseph was also called divinely to be the “root of Jesse” through which our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.  It seems that both Mary and Joseph were somewhat accustomed to divine intervention.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he filled her “chamber” with “great light.”  [Chap 9, vs. 3] “And the virgin, who was already well acquainted with angelic faces, and was not unused to the light from heaven, was neither terrified by the vision of the angel, nor astonished at the greatness of the light, but only perplexed by his words; and she began to consider of what nature a salutation so unusual could be, or what it could portend, or what end it could have. “

It seems to me that God would be mighty picky about the vessel in which his son would be nurtured. If God was to take the form of man and be born of a woman, a virgin, He would likely have groomed her from the moment she was conceived. I imagine Mary must have become quite used to angels checking in on her now and then, and, dare I say…she may have conversed on a more intimate level with YHWH who would ultimately become her son? It seems so fantastic and supernatural…yet she accepts it with such grace as though she always knew it would happen this way.

Christ loved his mother like no other person on earth…as I hope my children love me. As he hung crucified, he beseeched John to love her and asked her to take John as her son. Watching out for both of them as he left them behind. Unbearable heartache enjoined with unending love as the skies opened and God himself took on the pain and sin of the world in complete and utter surrender to love…while this woman who loved Him in all imaginable ways looked on. Her heart must have been bursting and breaking and flying high to be entwined with the unimaginable healing power of grace.

The Nativity Gospel of Mary as a historical account of events was likely handed down orally from generation to generation…much like our own family histories today. It does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, rather delves into the history of his mother and I read it as a love note on her behalf.  Frederica Matthewes-Green has this wonderful essay on Mary that discusses writings pertaining to the Virgin Mary.  Many of us are afraid of her…we don’t want to fall too deeply into what some fear would be a worship of Mary on par with a worship of Christ…but I think it’s worth looking at this woman as a integral part of the life of Jesus Christ on a deeper level than just that of the birth mother.  Did she live her life waiting for her son to give of his? How much did she know or understand? I wonder, too, how much time Jesus spent with his mother after his resurrection…how could he stay away; how could she?

An amazing woman, to be sure…and one that I am desperately anxious to meet some day.

Mary, Mother of Christ Resurrected

I am amazingly drawn to the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Popular culture paints her as a young woman to whom nothing extraordinary happened. She was young, naive and simple…until the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Until then, we imagine, she had lived a quiet life in Nazareth, doing the things all other girls did. No mention of her immediate family, parents or siblings. But, when this angel showed up, she doesn’t seem afraid of him. Luke describes her as “troubled” and although Gabriel asked her not to “be afraid”, Luke seems to imply that she simply wondered what was up with this?! Luke 1:29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

According to the Nativity Gospel of Mary, extraordinary circumstances surrounded this young woman’s life long before this angelic visit and long before she herself was conceived.  Her father, Joachim, was greatly troubled at his barrenness. The high priest at that time belittled him saying he was unworthy of presenting his gifts before God because God had not seen fit to bless him with offspring. Joachim wandered into the pastures of the shepherds to hide himself in his sorrow. While he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he would indeed have a child. God had seen fit to “open the womb” of his wife, not to just give them children, but to bring glory to Himself. Sound familiar? This angel then appeared to Anna, his wife, and told her that she would bear a child, name her Mary and that this child would find favor with God. She would be a special child in the temple of the Lord.

According to this writing, Joseph was also called divinely to be the “root of Jesse” through which our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.  It seems that both Mary and Joseph were somewhat accustomed to divine intervention.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he filled her “chamber” with “great light.”  [Chap 9, vs. 3] “And the virgin, who was already well acquainted with angelic faces, and was not unused to the light from heaven, was neither terrified by the vision of the angel, nor astonished at the greatness of the light, but only perplexed by his words; and she began to consider of what nature a salutation so unusual could be, or what it could portend, or what end it could have. ”

It seems to me that God would be mighty picky about the vessel in which his son would be nurtured. If God was to take the form of man and be born of a woman, a virgin, He would likely have groomed her from the moment she was conceived. I imagine Mary must have become quite used to angels checking in on her now and then, and, dare I say…she may have conversed on a more intimate level with YHWH who would ultimately become her son? It seems so fantastic and supernatural…yet she accepts it with such grace as though she always knew it would happen this way.

Christ loved his mother like no other person on earth…as I hope my children love me. As he hung crucified, he beseeched John to love her and asked her to take John as her son. Watching out for both of them as he left them behind. Unbearable heartache enjoined with unending love as the skies opened and God himself took on the pain and sin of the world in complete and utter surrender to love…while this woman who loved Him in all imaginable ways looked on. Her heart must have been bursting and breaking and flying high to be entwined with the unimaginable healing power of grace.

The Nativity Gospel of Mary as a historical account of events was likely handed down orally from generation to generation…much like our own family histories today. It does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, rather delves into the history of his mother and I read it as a love note on her behalf.  Frederica Matthewes-Green has this wonderful essay on Mary that discusses writings pertaining to the Virgin Mary.  Many of us are afraid of her…we don’t want to fall too deeply into what some fear would be a worship of Mary on par with a worship of Christ…but I think it’s worth looking at this woman as a integral part of the life of Jesus Christ on a deeper level than just that of the birth mother.  Did she live her life waiting for her son to give of his? How much did she know or understand? I wonder, too, how much time Jesus spent with his mother after his resurrection…how could he stay away; how could she?

An amazing woman, to be sure…and one that I am desperately anxious to meet some day.

The Love of the Father

In early October, 2006, a man walked into an Amish school armed with rifles, pistols and deep pain. No one will ever understand why he chose to execute a group of young Amish girls; we don’t need to. It is the aftermath of that day that will live forever in the lives of so many people all over the world and the consequences of his deeds are far reaching in ways that no one expected.

Three nights ago, Andy and I witnessed God’s healing and grace in action. We were invited to visit with a little 8 year old girl who bears the scars of that day in October. I will call her Miss S. Andy was one of the people who treated her that day. I remember the evening after the shooting, he was telling me how feisty she was. With the extent of her injuries, he tried to intubate her to help her to breathe and she kept pushing him away. He desperately hoped that meant she would make it through. She did. And when we walked into her kitchen she ran up to him and laughingly said, “I look better than I did the last time you saw me!”

As we sat in their living room, we heard her father’s stories of how brave she was, how miraculous her healing and what an impact she had on the staff at the hospital who worked with her. He told of daily visits to the hospital, relying on others to drive them. Only on Sundays were they unable to be with her. Aunts, grandfather and parents; someone was always with her. As he spoke, tears threatened to fall, but he had a never ending smile on his face as he watched his daughter. Their family also lost a daughter to a bullet, but they do not dwell on her pain or death. They focus on the miracle walking around their house.

While we were there, two other families stopped by to visit. They didn’t know we would be there, it was just their normal visiting night. God planned it though, I am sure. One couple lost their daughter that day. Another man was a first responder and a member of their church and knew the girls. He had been the first to aid the little one Andy took care of.

The living room was crowded with chairs for the 8 adults and we counted nearly 12 children from age 12 to 4 weeks running in and out of the room. Listening to the Amish men speak of their experiences that day and reliving their roles was so healing for us. They asked questions of each other. “Where were you?”  “What happened next?” and “When did you find out who passed away?”.  They discussed helicopters, the speed of the police cars responding and the dynamics of the whole event in very factual terms. I felt as though I was sitting in a group therapy session. Nearly six months later, and these parents still pour out their memories and questions to eachother in order to unload their grief.

The most incredible moment for me was a conversation between the first responder and a mother whose daughter had died. He said he had been struggling with the fact that he could have identified each of the girls and let their parents know which hospital their child was sent to or what their physical condition was. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t until much later that night that parents knew the fate of their children.  The mother of the slain girl looked at him and said, “If I had known what had happend to (her), that she had passed away, I would have left the school and gone home. Instead, I stayed with my friends and waited. I am glad you didn’t tell me or I would have been alone all day.”

In our Sunday School class we are studying what Mennonites believe. Woven into all that discussion is the idea of community as a place to study scripture, learn and work together. These Amish families that night embodied that perfectly. They relied on each other to hold them up each day and listening to them talk together for hours about thier experiences was healing for them and for Andy and I.

Miss S never stopped smiling or kissing me after she opened the gift we brought her. Her father noted that the hospital wasn’t able to take the “silly” out of her when they removed part of her brain! His obvious love for her was palpable.

Both of her parents repeatedly stated that without God carrying them through they would have cracked up. They have received hundreds of letters and cards from around the world from people who want to live their lives differently and with less anger now that they have witnessed forgiveness and grace from the Amish parents. To them, that makes it all worthwhile. They even received word of a country closed to the Bible that was allowed to view footage of the event and send their condolences through their government controlled mail system. The idea that the murder of little Amish girls in rural Lancaster county touched the lives of people behind a communist curtain was amazing to their parents and made God so much more evident in the aftermath.

Miss S’s father asked me if I thought the effect of this would continue or if it was just a short lived “one day” ripple of grace. I told him that I think that his children and the children in his community will be testament to Christ for the rest of their lives. I believe that.

The love of a father for his children so close to the love of The Father for us. Amazing grace and peace where there could be so much anger and fear.

The new school building is nearly ready and the kids are excited to use it. That building itself is a testament to faith and trust.

We healed that night a little, I know Andy did. So did the parents we met with and the children playing around us. Miss S has a brand new baby sister to love and 6 brothers to take care of her. She is a little bit of a celebrity and a very happy little girl. Her scars are hidden with a new head of hair and her vision is returning to normal. She bears little outward scars of the fearful events of that day in October and inwardly, I think she’s just fine.

Amazing Grace

The idea of grace is so hard for humans to imagine. We go through our lives protecting ourselves from hurt and deception. When someone, especially someone we love, deeply wounds us, we find forgiveness to be a daily struggle. But grace, unfettered and unattached is even harder to fathom.  Throughout the past months I have found myself in a position of receiving grace daily from my God. As I cling to my anger I find him chipping away at it; reminding me that I don’t deserve any better. Grace is forgiveness in action. Sometimes that requires reopening old wounds to find out how to heal them again more fully this time.  It is never easy, never painless and never fun.  But it is intensely freeing.

I remember my first and only Grateful Dead concert.  There were people on the grass in front of the band called “spinners.”  They would extend their arms, get up on their tiptoes and just spin around and around with the music with their faces pointed towards the sky.  Granted, they were likely higher than kites, but even so, I found them so beautiful to watch.  Like nothing else in the world mattered except the music soaring over their heads. Todd Agnew has a song which has become the theme for my life right now. Whenever the chorus hits, I feel like standing in my bare feet on a beach and spinning and spinning while grace like rain falls down on my head. I’ve added it here with some great visual so you can share in the spin.

GRACE LIKE RAIN

This is my new theme song.

This week was a week of introspection for me. So o…

This week was a week of introspection for me. So often I feel like I am walking on the fringes of life lately. Andy is so fantastic about getting everyone up and moving in the morning while I sleep in. I find that my body is exhausted all the time. This thing of healing takes so much energy and you don’t even realize it until you can’t stand up any more! He is an amazing man and some day I’d like to take him on a cruise; but he gets seasick, so the thought will have to count!

Theology is such a heady issue. I’m reading about and discussing the Non Violent Atonement theories; reconciling my peace issues with my fight-back instinct; Orthodox vs. Pentecostal vs. Mennonite….phew! It could get to be a full time job debating these things. And this week, I’ve discussed all!

I am yearning for a church that doesn’t rely on heritage for it’s theology. At the risk of offending people I love dearly; sometimes being Mennonite does not attract me much. It’s like being born Jewish. It’s what you ARE… and the faith, peace, smiles, dress, theology, acceptable behaviors and all those trappings are assumptions that you make for your life and assumptions that others make for you. Why have any questions? Why digress from “the path” when those before you have it all planned out? The problem I see is this: It is far too easy to fall into the label of Mennonite and have no idea what that means to others! If I tell someone I am a Mennonite, they often automatically and immediately trust me. And then ask me where my covering is! If I simply tell them that I am a Christian, they often automatically and immediately distrust me and wonder if I will judge their words and deeds out loud. There are many people in my community and circle of peers and friends who don’t know that Mennonites are Christians (the way THEY understand Christianity). They see Mennonites in the sterotypical role of simple, peaceful and quiet. Not someone with real thoughts, ideas or any connection to modern culture! Most of the Mennonites I know don’t have a large circle of close friends outside of that church…and I find that sad. I would say that my best friend is not a Mennonite; not an anything…maybe closely Quakerish….but ultimately not entirely happy with that either. And, she enjoys a great Merlot on occasion!

But, I think there are some Mennonites who would say that those that are not “Mennonites” would be so far into “the world” that their salvation would be in question. I remember as a younger person thinking that if someone wasn’t Mennonite that they weren’t
“saved.” I don’t know why; that was something I sucked in from my upbringing in a strict legalistic family and being surrounded by evangelical missionaries full of Child Evangelism fever! If I behaved a certain way; wore a certain type of clothing; listened to (SHOCK!) rock music and maybe on occasion had a glass of wine I was headed straight to hell! The rules and legalities became central to my salvation and Christ crucifed was a great story to make me feel totally depraved and when JUST AS I AM played…..boy I was on my knees!

I am grappling with the idea that Christ is an unresolved issue in my life. The formulas laid for me; the Sinner’s Prayer; the promise of Heaven as a place in the clouds…is so far fetched and unreal. So childish and simple. But…Christ, the Son of God, bore for me the sins of the world that I might be reconciled to God and be One with God; Atonement through the crucifixion and resurrection/defeat of death that Christ endured…that is something to think about! And, it doesn’t matter if I am a Mennonite, Baptist, AOG, CMA or whatever denomination I think I want to be….He ultimately came for Me as a human being. How cool is that!

I just want to love my God and learn of Him more each day. To revel in the awesome power and glory he reigns in! To humbly bow, on my face, beseeching Him with my little needs and know He cares.

My Bible has become a frightening thing for me to pick up some days. It almost breathes. It jumps on the shelf and skitters around asking me to open it! I hold it and love each page. It is the living and breathing Word of God!! I need a new one (mine is disintegrating) and I cannot bring myself to buy one. Not only because I am broke and can’t afford it, but because I’d have to break this new one in and it wouldn’t be “alive” yet! I cherish each word; each day something new from oft read phrases jumps into my heart.

And that happens no matter how Mennonite, Anabaptist or whatever you are! God doesn’t really care; he just asks for faithfulness, passion and mercy for others from us.

He simply asks for Love.

Let that break your heart for a minute.