The Thing About Hearts

I surveyed the empty glass of peanut butter shake that was now turning to rot in my stomach. I started to sense what was going on. It’s been one of those seasons. Where you go from hard to hard. And you don’t see the end in sight though you dare to hope. This night I was flying solo and now that all four, beautiful, brown heads had been laid to rest I could stop. Stop and let down my walls.

But I didn’t want to let down my walls. My walls were keeping the pain from finding it’s way in and my bleeding heart from spilling out in front of my eyes. I just wanted to watch my favorite Lord of the Rings (because I’m a nerd) and keep it that way. And it worked. The present pain was a muted reality… But so was His presence. And in that moment life went stale. My eyes wandered from dramatic battle on the screen to the plain white ceiling.

(Sigh) Jesus, my self medicating isn’t working so good.

I can’t prove it but I think He laughed.

It’s not you I’m mad at. It’s just life is hard right now and I feel like I need to be hard back.

Pregnant pause.

You know Aroea… you only have one heart. You can’t keep it hard against life and think it’s still soft towards me. 

 

And there it is. The thing about hearts is we only have one.

If that heart is hard against life, hard against people, than it is also hard against God. To think that it can be otherwise is to be deceived. God may be better at finding a way over the stony barriers but our heart is still hard. And if we want our heart to stay soft towards God we must also be willing to let it be soft towards people. Even if it means pain.

But God, what if the wound is too deep… what if I bleed out?

And this is our faith. We dare to believe that there is no wound that He can’t heal. That He is wholly sufficient to keep our heart in a way that we are powerless too. And this is our joy. That even if we suffer we do not suffer alone. His fellowship- that in the smallest of ways we now share with Him this bread (broken) and this wine (poured out)- to love though rejected and serve the ones that wound.

Now, our heart, His heart… they start to merge, start to blur, start to blend. And each day, to a world of terrified, angry, walled-up hearts we start to look like the One whose tender heart was torn first… for the love of us all.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

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His Voice

“… for they know his voice.”

I was making my way down the stairs and the thoughts were coming in torrents. Godly desires were turning into good ideas and good ideas led to self-examination. The list of valid things to address were snowballing down the stairs with me.  That is a good idea… I don’t have time for that right now… I’m a busy mom… I’m an impatient mom… I never finish anything I start… Wait, that’s not a kind thought… Still, do I quit when things get hard?… Because that’s a bad habit to have… I shouldn’t ignore that… Sometimes God says things that aren’t nice… Each that was so “true” I felt the need to hear it out. To entertain it. And just when I was about to drown in my own mind- one more thought (perhaps not my own.)

This is not how my father talks to me; this is not His voice.

Isn’t it interesting that it doesn’t say “they will know the kind of things I will say”. Still I often try to determine what is God “speaking” to me by determining if it’s true. Eventually, all these little truths start to intersect and collide with one another. Enter confusion and despair.  But truths and truth are not the same thing. Truth is a person and when He speaks his sheep know his voice. Often that voice is tender when we think we’ve earned a rebuke and firm when we’d like to be coddled. Sometimes the things He says are mysterious or unexpected but His voice always calms the storm.

And in that moment, the sea of my raging thoughts went still. There at the bottom of the stairs I decided that there was only one voice worth inclining my ear to and I was free.

 

“…Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

 

Admiral Blue

“Come see,”…

He led me down the stairs and to his room where we stopped in front of a large blue puddle. This explained the lowered eyes and sunken shoulders. It was the brand new can of admiral blue wall paint we had just purchased for his room- the majority of its contents now covering a board game sized section of the floor. With calm severity I looked at him, “Take your sister to her room. Close the door and play with her until I am finished cleaning this up.” There was no hesitation.

Normally, a blunder of this nature would have detonated my rage bomb; A condescending glare, followed by a lecture and stern consequences with aftershocks of sighing  and a generally annoyed demeanor. All the while my internal monologue would be plagued with questions as to  “why he would do such a thing to me” and “how I could have so clearly missed the mark in raising him.” But not this time. Too much Truth had saturated my own soul for the fuse to light. Instead, as I gathered the needed supplies to repair the damage, two things were reaffirmed to me.

One: Our greatest weaknesses are usually just our greatest strengths in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

In truth, this was the second time that morning the boy had said “come see” and led me by the hand. His younger brother had crawled into bed with me as our household began to stir for the day. Instead of joining us he said “wait here!” and was off busy doing something. A few minutes later he returned. “Okay, this is going to take me about ten more minutes.” Again, he was gone, returning with a snack for me and two of the other children. “Um, maybe it will be a little longer than ten minutes.” 

After another forty minutes he appeared with the words “come see!” on his lips and his hand outstretched for mine. He led me down the hall and reaching the end, my suspicions were confirmed (after all he had deposited several armfuls of stuff into my bedroom as I waited). He had cleaned the entire upstairs. It was mommy clean!- The kitchen counters were completely clear, as well as the table which had been washed. The floor was free of all toys and books which he had placed neatly in their homes. Now a days worth of cleaning was done and I hadn’t even left my bed!

And it was that same servant-leader spirit that had led him to the can of paint. If he could clean a house well then, he could certainly paint a wall right?! I scanned to make sure there was no spots that I had missed, placed the lid on the remainder of the paint and stood to my feet with a smile. Such a good heart.

Two: There is Mercy in the mess.

I walked into the next bedroom.

He braced himself.

“Son… I see your heart. I know you were trying to help.”

His frame loosened.

“What is the difference between obedience and disobedience sometimes?”

“Ask first.”

“Next time you want to help with something that is not yours could you please ask me first.”

“Yes mom.”

And that is where that mess ended. Both physically and emotionally for both of us. No shame. No residue.

Life seldom goes how we would like, or even how it should, but God is merciful. Had that can spilled four feet to the south I would have had admiral blue carpet and a much harder job cleaning the mess (not to mention keeping my cool). Not that God’s mercy is mere earthly conveniences but rather that God’s mercy is so vast it includes them. That not only does He bear all it costs to adopt me in my unruly, ungrateful state but in fathering me also regards the frailty of my frame. I believe His sovereignty saw fit to let that paint spill but His mercy determined where. And in receiving the mercy He lavishes on me- in both big and small ways- I find I have it to give to others.

Especially, little children, who sometimes make the most inconvenient of messes for the most noble of reasons.   

But For The Weather

I watched him in his completely ridiculous over-sized red coat, pushing the heavy machine the length of drive. The snow was being propelled a good fifteen feet up and out. Maybe more. I was wielding a far more primitive tool and I now paused and leaned against the shovel. The snow was probably a good eight inches deep in most places and a lot deeper where drifts or plows had passed by. It’s been a hard winter. Well, at least that’s what we’ve all been saying for the last month but I think what we really mean to say is “It’s been winter”. 

 

Truly, the temperatures have been abominable, even for Iowa. And we’ve also had consistent snow fall, which, because of the blistering cold, hasn’t melted. Between the threat of immediate frostbite and the constant presence of fresh snow our routines have suffered a severe assault. I pondered this standing there watching him move the snow- the ramifications of creating lifestyles that are so insulated against the natural world that we scarcely consider it’s rhythms anymore. I started to see how our quest for control has pushed us to eliminate the unknowns in our daily equation. Industry and technology have given us so much dominion over life.

 

But for the weather.

 

For all of our ability, or supposed ability, to predict and insulate ourselves, we still can’t control the weather. This “hard winter” has forced us to stop. To take heed. To adjust. Standing there this morning, it was the humbling realization that my will is not the only will at work and there are forces that hold far more sway in my day than my meager expectations. In that moment I was quite proud of myself for noticing. But the pride couldn’t stay long. Because a much less poetic version of this revelation unfolded after I came inside.

 

I have minions. Four little free-will agents with keen minds and energy to match. Nothing I tried to do today worked well. The oldest was in an exhaustion funk, the girl is two (enough said) and a fresh wave of hormones was assailing my self-control. Then when I gave up all noble efforts I found the internet had crashed taking much of my snow-day back-up plan with it. Now it’s just a tired mom, four cranky kids and no Netflix or Facebook to medicate the pain. Oh poor me… No! Not poor me. Rich me. Happy me,

 

But only if my happiness is not in mastering my circumstances.

 

Because you can’t always control the snow, the children or even your body. At best you can put some habits in place to help manage the onslaught but life is still an onslaught. And this is my daily battle. Do I want to limit my life to one where I control all the factors or… do I want to learn how to be content and at peace in a life so big it includes wills that regularly contradict my own? Truly, there is only One who’s will is ultimately done anyway. Only One who has any lasting control. The God of the weather, and of children… and of me. And when my circumstances afford me neither peace nor pleasantry His sovereignty still can. If I will let it.

 

Besides, all this snow really is beautiful.