Out the Nursery Window {A Less Digital Life…Day 14}


It was a sad sight–where there used to be a Barnes & Noble sign, there was now a grotesque orange font with a smiley-faced jack-o-lantern inviting us into the pop-up Halloween City. The sign advertising kids costumes lured us in. We fell for it. Maybe they’d have the Peter Pan costume we’d been looking for all over town. We’re not real keen on skeletons and ghosts, but we do let the kids dress in tasteful costumes and even enjoy an old legend or two.

No luck in that store either, but while our little Tiger Lily checked the infant section for a Tinkerbell costume for baby sister, big brother wandered off. When he came back he seemed out of breath. He covered his mouth and squinted his eyes as if caught in mid-flinch. He gulped back tears and pulled his daddy over to the sight of Continue reading

Getting Somewhere Even When I’m Standing Still


On her tippy toes, belly bent over the edge of the sink, she reaches with all her little girl might and cranes her neck just to get a sip of water. She doesn’t sigh or complain.

This is the last hurdle before nap time and sometimes I find myself wanting to flush the toilet for her, to dispense the soap and roll her hands over one another to suds up, to put a neat little blob of toothpaste on her brush and circle it over the surface of her teeth, to lift her to the faucet and hold back her hair while she rinses her mouth…all to get to the goal, and fast.

But when I notice those tippy toes and all that effort done so lightheartedly, I slow myself to her pace and think of her in process. She’s stretching far, but not beyond her confidence, mastering this task even before her little frame has grown into it. The meeting of basic needs brings its own sense of accomplishment to the three-year-old mind, Maslow’s hierarchy re-arranged. The training isn’t a bother to her; it’s a joy, a little bit of self-actualization.

She has me rethinking my definition of the goal. I’ve long felt myself responsible for pushing us toward nap time or meal time or bedtime. But when I take a closer look at all these things between our stopping places, these things that often feel like nothing more than tedious routine, I start seeing them as little goals in themselves…goals that we are meeting.

Small-scale or not, these are hard-won successes: a child who can pretty well brush her own teeth, wash her own hands, and get herself dressed. (She even cleaned up all of the play dough on her own before lunch today!) Focusing on the progress makes me feel more happy. It makes me feel less hurried. It makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere even while I’m standing still.

I see the results of patience, the discipline of empowering a little person to do something and then standing back and watching her do it happily in her own time and her own way, even if it means a little soap splattered on the drywall, toothpaste oozing from the closed lid and waiting a few minutes longer until we reach nap time, the thing I once thought was the goal.

When we get down and look at things from the angle of our children, we see that these incremental steps of learning are the stuff of life. When we wish the tediousness away, we are little by little wishing life away, just like writer Gretchen Rubin used to do when she had to take her daughter to school via the city bus.

My daughter will get faster at these simple tasks. She will soon flip the light switch off from instinct instead of from command. But for now in the learning, this is the stuff of our life and this is my work.

When I see how hard she strains to be a little more independent and how very little she grumbles in doing so, I grow in empathy toward her. I start looking for more ways to walk alongside her in her development rather than prodding her fast toward her pillow.

I see her as a cheerful learner and that makes me want to be a cheerful teacher.

{Take a moment to observe your children or the other individuals you are serving today. In what ways are they putting their heart into their own tasks? How does that affect your heart for the task of tending to them?}

This post is part of my year-long theme for 2013, “A Cheerful Giver.” See my introduction about naming the year here.

When you purchase items through affiliate links in this post, you help support Message in a Mason Jar with no extra cost to you.

Fragile Fingers Sent to Heal Us {plus giveaway winners}

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, our Kindergartener wailed until we woke and rushed to his room, our eyes squinting at the sight of vomit-covered carpet. For more than an hour, we bent ourselves over the mess and comforted him in his sickness, a repeat of what he’d had over Thanksgiving. While I sleepwalked back and forth between bedroom and sink and washing machine, I thought of the parents in Newton, sleepless, grieving. I thought of the public servants who found themselves in the middle of the night bending over the most difficult of tasks at the crime scene.

Tears are falling
Hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God

So many Christmases, I’ve sung those words by heart, a homily for myself. Last year, I sang them in the church where I grew up, the congregation squeezed tight in pews. Grace notes ventured out into the space of empty aisles, the space above our heads where wood beams lined the vaulted ceiling, the space between the way things were meant to be and the way they are. This was no ordinary Christmas Eve. It was one tainted by grief.

In the third row, surrounded by extended family, a mother younger than me (one I had babysat when I was a teen) sat next to her remaining child, the other buried just ten days earlier, the little girl’s life snuffed out by a gunman looking to steal a video game. The wider church family and community had cried for her, for them. I hadn’t prepared to sing this song in the presence of the bereaved. I eked out the next words through voice weakened by tears.

Bring your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world

Evil intrudes and challenges the tawdry cheer of Christmas. How can those in sorrow celebrate now with all those presents never to be unwrapped, with those empty beds where there should have been children with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads? In the grief of the Sandy Hook tragedy, some victims have turned off the Christmas lights, a picture of the darkness visited on them.

And to think that this is how Christ’s childhood began…with the dark of a stable, the shadow of an inhospitable world, the nightmare of evil acting out its schemes. Herod, another cold-blooded killer ordered the slaughter of every male child under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem.

But even there, a star, a spotlight on hope…enough to draw wise men to worship.

I close my eyes to go on, sing through the image of the young mother’s pale face, her eyes glossed over in the aftermath.

So wrap our injured flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God

In those front rows, white-knuckled hands held out white candles waiting for someone to spark the first light. I looked at the grieving family and the community surrounding. Then I looked up. Over our heads and under the rafters, two wood beams filled the space between, beams of the cross…and light beaming out from behind.

Fragile fingers sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born

Welcome to our world.

{How has the event in Newtown affected you this week? How has it (or other tragedies in this season) changed your view of Christmas?}

Welcome to those of you visiting from my friend Sheila’s blog, The Deliberate Reader, where I’m sharing today about my favorite books of hope and redemption, stories that help me rise from grief and fear. Maybe these will help you through your own difficult season, give you glimpses of glory, foreshadowing in the shadows.

Giveaway Winner(s): In view of the precious lives lost last week, our giveaway is even more poignant, encouraging us to tell the life-giving story of Jesus, Prince of Peace, that the generation to come might know and follow Him and be a blessing in a broken world. Chosen at random from 17 eligible comments, our winner of Carrie Ward’s “Together: Growing Appetites for God” is Ali with comment #8! I will be contacting you to get your address so that Moody Publishers can send the book your way. And because there were so many of you interested in this topic, I’ve decided to give away my marked up copy as well. Our second winner is Athena Miles with comment #3. Thank you all for participating and sharing your insights.

Title and lyrics quoted from Chris Rice’s “Welcome to Our World.”

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Gift at Low Tide

Palms waved on Palm Sunday, fronds rattling, applause in the wind. I walked hand-in-hand with my firstborn toward our abandoned umbrella, its fringe fluttering near the shoreline.

Bare feet shuffled over sandy cobblestone, felt the grit, the heat. I clicked my tongue like the clop-clop of hooves on that old Jerusalem road before crowds laid down coats and branches to dampen the sound. The rightful King could have come in on a high horse but He picked a beast of burden instead, the animal with a cross on its back, a humble donkey…and a baby one at that.

We stepped out onto soft sand. And there, Elliot saw it first– a treasure peeking out. I bent low to see it from his angle. From remnants of a windblown sandcastle, he pulled out a shell, a conch glazed in whitewashed bronze.

He was showing me again– the way to see things first is to get down low where the good stuff is. For the small and the humble it’s right in reach.

I thought of the children in Jerusalem. They saw it first– the promise come true. They shared their hosannas loud, shouted out “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and made the chief priests reel.

I traced the edge of the shell and followed as it spiraled in a mini Via Dolorosa around to the apex, the top of the hill. It was the best we’d seen all day, barely chipped. And it matched the illustration on the front of the books I’d gathered to give to my sisters-in-law on our week at the shore. I needed three more shells, but I’d take what I could get– I smiled at this one little surprise.

Later, I would read a chapter to match that afternoon’s reflections in the sand, and I would smile again at the thought that Someone knew what was on my mind: “But what humbles like an extravagant gift?” Ann Voskamp asked, “And hadn’t I felt that joy of small, child-wonder when I paused to give thanks?” She went on, “And in that place of humble thanks, God exalts and gives more gifts and more of Himself, which humbles and lays the soul down lower.”

I pressed my knees into the powdery white. “Look, another!” I pointed. Elliot dug wild like the little Andaman Sea beach dogs I’d told him stories about. Shell dust rained to the ground and a whole collection of almost-perfect conches emerged, more than enough to adorn the gifts for the girls.

We stashed the treasures in any pocket we could find and walked toward the shore to do what we came for. We lowered the umbrella and pulled it from the sand. I tucked it under my arm to carry it the distance, my other arm around Elliot.

I thought of what Jesus said in sight of the walk to Skull Hill, how He, the Man of Sorrows, cried back to Jerusalem. He had wanted to gather his people in like children under His arm, but they were unwilling.

They couldn’t know the Messiah any other way. He urged them, “You will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”, same words sung out by those children on His entry into Jerusalem. In His lament, He echoed what He  said to the disciples earlier, that unless we change and become like children we can’t be with him. It’s simple– we can only find Him where He is, with the humble and lowly, stooped down.

I turned to look at the water once more. Quiet waves drew back. The tide went low and left behind bubbling sand. There, little gifts waited for those who would bend low, those ready to become small as children.

Starfields: A Song for Epiphany

“To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat-tails and the heavens hailing your heart….” -from The Journals of Jim Elliot (Image Credit: Blue Boabab Tree by Jennifer Moffett)

The night sky was free of clouds
The village fields held no fire
The people sang their pain out loud
There they danced and never tired
Off the map and through the mountains
I stumbled on that place
And found a harvest ripe with stars
In the fields of outer space

He led me through the starfields
He kept me looking up
He led me through the starfields
The Keeper of them all

I was beset with bittersweetness
At the fencepost where I stood
‘Cause knowing how way leads on to way
I had to say goodbye for good
Then I looked up and saw it streaming
I was cradled in its bend
In the dark someone was watching
Though He could not be seen

He led me through the starfields
He kept me looking up
He led me through the starfields
The Keeper of them all

We stand embraced in the shadows
Where the heavens hail our hearts
We turn from things that do not matter
And give ourselves again to God
I hope one day, He’ll grant us children
So we can lead them through
And pass along the stories
Of what we have seen Him do

We’ll lead them through the starfields
We’ll keep them looking up
We’ll lead them through the starfields
We’ll help them ponder God

He will lead us through the starfields
He will keep us looking up
He will lead us through the starfields
The Maker of them all

© 2004, Darcy Wiley

Inspired by personal experience & the January 16, 1951 entry in The Journals of Jim Elliot“I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God–what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose fingers’ ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes–ah, then, not stars nor children shall matter, only Himself.”