Unexpected Miracle

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Dear Grace,

I just ended the day reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to you. We read “God Sends Help” about how He sent the Holy Spirit to be the disciples’ Helper and dwell in them…how He lit a fire in their hearts and they weren’t afraid anymore. You stopped me at this point and said, “Wait Mummy, I have a question!” and you said in your I’m-being-very-serious-I’ve-thought-about-this voice, “Sometimes Mummy, I feel this flutter inside my heart…and I think it’s Jesus in there…Jesus in my tummy…” And you let it hang there, a question in the air…waiting for me to affirm the presence of the Living God with you, inside you…

JSB

From where I was sitting (well, lying), I didn’t realize at first what was happening. The cares of the day and the thoughts bombarding my anxious busy mind threatened to drown out the quiet profundity of this moment, and the door that God was flinging wide open right in front of my face…if I would just open my eyes and see it! How often I have prayed in your 3.5 years of life for you to desire Christ…for you to see Him as glorious as He is…for you to see your sin and your need for the Saviour…for you to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. And here it was – the moment I’d prayed for – at the moment I least expected it.

“Well sweetie,” I replied, “Have you ever asked Jesus to come into your life…to change your heart…to make you a new person?”

You furrowed your brow, classic “Kloosterman frown” style, and though for a moment before responding with a concerned, “No…?”

Me: “Do you want to pray and ask Jesus to come into your life?”

You: (emphatically and excitedly) “Yes!!!”

Me: “Ok, well you can repeat this prayer after me…”

I carefully chose each line, and you eagerly, clearly and with understanding repeated after me, articulating the following:

-that you believe in Jesus

-that you know He died on the cross for your sins

-that He didn’t stay dead but is alive

-that you want Him to come into your life and change your heart.

– that you are sorry for your sins (worded as “the things you do wrong”) and want Him to forgive you

– that you want to live for His glory

After we said “Amen” you made the excited noise you make when we’re about to do something that delights you (like go for doughnuts with Daddy or to Finn and Levi’s house) and you displayed genuine joy and excitement that you had asked Jesus to be your Saviour.

Now you’re fast asleep and this Mama is struggling to process what just happened…weeping tears of joy at the miracle I just witnessed…praying that you would bear much fruit in keeping with repentance and that our gracious God would carry onto completion the work He has started in your little heart…praying that He would use you (and me, and Daddy) to lead your baby sister to Him too…and thankful that He is so good to us, even in spite of us.

You see, today I was far from a good Mummy. Today I was irritable, quick to become angry, and very self-centered. In fact, I would say this was by far one of my worst days not only as your Mum, but as a Christian…as a Christ follower called to represent Him on the earth.

How often I fall short of all He’s called me to. How quickly I choose disobedience over obedience…wandering away instead of remaining faithful.

Yet this unexpected miracle with you tonight has reminded me that, even when we are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). He is GOOD. His steadfast love endures forever and His faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

By His grace and with His strength, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 89:1)

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God is faithful, Gracie. Welcome to His family. May you taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

 

 

Joy in the LORD’s place

bindmyheart

The sink is currently piled high with dishes, and my laundry basket is FULL of clean clothes to be folded (well, actually, it’s overflowing)…as is the DRYER…while the washer is full of WET clothes that need to be dried. I’ve got laryngitis, the babies are both sick (poor sweeties), and the toys are EVERYWHERE again.

“We say God is enough, but the fact that we hover and worry and fret when our goals and hopes don’t pan out proves otherwise…” ~ Lydia Brownback in “Joy” ~

So, here I am, as the girls both sleep, trying to put my actions where my mouth is…seeking harmony and intimacy with God before seeking to have a clean kitchen and a tidy house.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

I so often say that my God is enough for me, yet I fret and hover and worry when my household goals aren’t met…when my “treasure” of a comfortable, well-organized life is threatened.

“For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendour and Majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place.” (1 Chronicles 16:26-27)

God’s Word confronts my obsessive compulsion with cleanliness today, reminding me that the strength and joy I so desperately need are not found in having everything “just so”. Strength and joy are found in the LORD’s place…where He is…in that place of sweet harmony and fellowship with Him, where I see Him over all, and through all and in all.

Oh, how I need His grace to see rightly…to see with a heavenly, eternal perspective! Already, as I am trying to meditate and focus on these truths found in His Word, my mind has begun wandering off to Christmas lists, the Christmas budget, the how-and-when of Christmas shopping…agh!

But I hear the instrumental version of this hymn playing softly from Gracie’s resting time CD, gently calling me back:

“…Let thy goodness, like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord,
Take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.”

This is my prayer today…that Jesus would bind my wandering heart to Himself, keeping my mind stayed on Him…keeping me in “the LORD’s place”, even as I go about my everyday, ordinary life.

 

Anxious toil and unrealistic expectations

I feel like one lesson I’ve been learning over and over again throughout my pregnancy and now through motherhood is the difference between anxious toil and joyful service. By God’s grace, I am finally starting to relax and unwind because of a change of perspective…a change that could only come from Him.

Over the summer, Alex and I listened to a sermon called “Don’t eat the Bread of Anxious Toil” by John Piper [you can listen to it here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/dont-eat-the-bread-of-anxious-toil]. It was so convicting and encouraging for both of us, and it was based on Psalm 127 (verses 1 and 2 below):

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved [in his] sleep.”

The one point that Piper made that really stuck with me is that God can accomplish more for us while we sleep than we can accomplish for ourselves. So often I eat the bread of anxious toil, laboring in vain to complete my chores, tasks, and to-do lists, all the while laden with guilt for all the things I don’t get around to – from coffee dates with friends to cooking to folding laundry and making the bed.

It has been so freeing to be reminded (again!) that all of my striving and my consumption with “productivity” is just straight-up vanity. Even worse, it reveals the anxious motives of my heart, which means that my days are being driven more by fear than by faith…more by worry (about what is not getting done) than by worship.

As Rachel Jankovic articulates in her book “Fit to Burst”, this anxious cycle I so often find myself in comes down, in many ways, to unrealistic expectations.

“…my expectations were not aware of what my life is actually like. My expectations were ignoring – intentionally too – that…a mountain of laundry had been tamed. My expectations ignored that dinner was served. They pretended not to notice…all the dishes that had been done that day. They turned a blind eye to the baby that was (at that time) growing inside. My expectations were a seriously mean boss.
When you’re a mother and a homemaker, you are your own boss. The days are what you make of them. The tasks that need to get done are put on a list at your discretion…Making a list that you cannot accomplish does not make you a better housewife…

You set the standards for yourself based on some sort of mythical time when children didn’t get dirt under their fingernails. In this life, there is nothing for you but discouragement because, no matter what you do, you cannot conform your performance to your expectations. This would probably manifest in your life most often as you succumb to discontent, discouragement and despair. Or it may manifest itself by making you an absolutely no fun person to be around…Nobody wants to gather around with people who…see you as a task to be checked off.

It doesn’t matter what is on the table when the people around it aren’t at peace. It doesn’t matter how clean the house is if bitterness is growing…

[Our children] should see us setting realistic (but maybe difficult) goals and working hard toward them. They should see us being visionaries who are anchored firmly in reality. They should see us steadily plodding, faithfully working on things in a realistic way. They should see us laboring hard to make a beautiful life for them, while not losing sight of THEM in it.” (p. 29-31 Ch. 3 of “Fit to Burst”)

Having read this, and having lived for 1 month and 21 days as a Mommy to my sweet little Gracie, I now have a fresh resolve to set realistic expectations for myself…expectations that are grounded in the reality that is my life.

And what do I want that “reality” to be? I want my home to be peaceful and Christ-centered. I want it to be a joy-filled place where hearts can “sit down” and rest in the presence of an I’ve-already-done-it God. I want our home to be driven by a reliance on the love and grace of Christ, rather than being performance driven.

Yes, I want dresser drawers to be tidy, meals to be prepared, beds to be made, showers to be clean, clothes to be folded and our house to be well-organized. And that’s a good vision for me to have as a homemaker! But these things must not be prioritized at the expense of organized attitudes – hearts set on Christ.

Yes, I want to make a delicious variety of meals for my family that makes their mouths water and their tummies happy. But this must be done in the context of a home where the Bread of Life is the priority. Living a life of love that pleases Him must be central, even if that means having the occasional Kraft Dinner or hot dog meal in order to have time to biblically address the heart issues that may have arisen during the day.

So I have decided to put the bread of anxious toil on the compost heap. With the help of my loving Savior, I’ve let go of my unrealistic expectations and embraced a fresh vision of what my everyday reality should be as a wife, homemaker and mother. I know that it will be a constant fight against my flesh to keep this perspective and maintain the right priorities in my home. But I know even more certainly that the cross of Christ has made it possible for me to return to this place of peace and rest again and again, as I repent and run to Jesus.

Praise God for this indescribable gift! (Phil. 4:6-7)

Gratitude

If you want to have a lasting impact on the world, define yourself with gratitude. Be thankful over the laundry…Be full of gratitude, not only for the cute photo opportunities that will come your way as a mother, but over the accidents and snotty noses and dirty floors. Give thanks for the sticky juice rings on the counter. Give thanks for the milk spill,  for the stomach virus, for the pants that are too tight after that last baby.

Gratitude …transforms. It is such a force that it cannot coexist with selfishness, with discouragement, with discontent…When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life…Gratitude enables us to do our daily work as unto the Lord. It makes the little things that we do every day an offering to God.

~Rachel Jankovic in “Fit to Burst” p. 118-119~

As I read this, my initial reaction is, “Thankful for snotty noses and dirty floors and spills? Thankful for the ‘mess’ of life? Thankful for overdue babies and unrealized expectations? How can I make myself truly feel THANKFUL for these things?” I don’t want to be a mother who is only thankful for the “cute photo opportunities” that present themselves. However, it sometimes seems impossible to haul myself out of my ingratitude or change my mood to one which would be more in line with the life of a Christian. How do I change how I feel when I am ungrateful and dissatisfied?

I think the key is found when Rachel says, “When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life…”

At peace with God’s will for my life.

That’s how I can be thankful for things that seem so unpleasant or undesirable to me: I can stop complaining long enough to realize that the “problems” I face are part of His will for me…that nothing can pass to me that does not first come through His Sovereign hand.

For “all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17)

The One who holds all things together holds my life in His hands. And when I see Him rightly…when I take my eyes off of me and what I want long enough to contemplate what He may want, and the fact that His ways are much higher than mine, I feel peace washing over me…gratitude that I’m not the one in control of everything…and I find myself humbled by the realization that I don’t see the whole picture, but He does.

So today I’m thankful for a baby who’s 3 days past her due date, and weeks past when I wanted her to arrive.

I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about patience and trusting God’s timing.

I’m thankful for the uncomfortable, sleepless nights (that I was initially very grumpy about), realizing how kind the Lord is to use this to prepare me for the first weeks and months of mommyhood.

I’m thankful for the walks I now take every day in an effort to bring on labor (that at first seemed like such a drag and the last thing I wanted to do) – walks that provide an awesome opportunity to commune with my God in prayer.

I’m thankful for the prepare-in-advance, slow-cooker meals I’ve been able to stack in the freezer for my family…for some additional, unexpected alone time with my husband before our lives change quite dramatically……for the extra time I’ve had to prepare my heart for the journey of motherhood.

And, at the end of the day, I know that I will not always see glimpses of God’s greater purpose in ‘messing up my hair’ …that I won’t always understand why He doesn’t give me things according to MY plan. Yet, I will seek to obey His Word by “giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for [me]” (1 Thess. 5:18), and I know that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam. 15:22)

 

SABBATH: On being quiet, still and at rest.

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.” (Ecc. 4:6)

How right the author of Ecclesiastes was, and how applicable to my life today! So often I find myself longing for a “handful of quietness” in the midst of the toil and striving of my everyday life. However, this desire for quietness before my God is somewhere deep inside, buried under my desire to “be productive” and my inability to say “no” to the plethora of good things I could potentially be involved in. I fly around checking things off my to-do list and, even when I’ve accomplished most of my tasks, I can’t shut off my brain. There’s always something else I could be doing. Someone else who could use my help. Another situation that needs my input (but does is really? Or is that my foolish pride talking?). Another program or activity that would benefit from my contribution (again, did someone say pride??).

Then, on days like today, I discover that I’m utterly spent and on the verge of breaking down if I don’t just…

STOP.

So I stop, more out of necessity than by choice, and take what my sister, Mel, calls “a sabbath” (she has an awesome blog that you can check out: http://www.nearerstill.com/).

Today was the first sabbath I’ve taken in a long time…so much so that I can’t even remember when the last one was! So what is “a sabbath”? It’s a day to spend with God in His word and in prayer…a day of rest and relaxation, where I take a break from all of the everyday responsibilities that clutter my normal days and do the things that I enjoy…the things that make my soul thrive instead of shriveling. 

And before anyone gets up-in-arms about the term “sabbath” and thinks I’m returning to a legalistic adherence to law, let’s have a quick look at Hebrews 4:8-10…

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[b] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

This “sabbath” I speak of is not a legalistic keeping of a “holy day.” After all, Colossians 2:16-17 says:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to … a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The Sabbath that was mandated/commanded in the Old Testament was a shadow of the rest that was to come to the people of God. The substance of that rest is now found in CHRIST! We don’t have to work for our salvation, striving to be “good enough” for God. Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the cross; and it was! He did the work we couldn’t do, so that we can be at peace with Him and find rest in Him. Added to this, we are wrong if we do away with the principle of resting, because God Himself rested from His work. Hebrews clearly tells us that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” So why don’t I take hold of what Jesus made available to me on the cross? Why do I persist with my striving, incessantly busy, teeth-grinding obsession with my to-do lists? Why don’t I build margin into my life that allows me to keep a right perspective, remembering that it’s not what I do that matters so much as what He has done?

You see, one of the biggest problems with my inability to quiet myself and rest is that it skews my view of God. Psalm 46:10 says,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

Here we see the direct link between being still, and knowing that God is God. All my rushing around and being consumed with other things truly becomes an unproductive “striving after wind” because I lose sight of the power and glory of God. He becomes small while everything else in my life looms large before my eyes.

This inability to rest is an even bigger problem for me now that I have a darling baby girl growing inside me. I have read all about the dangers of stress in pregnancy, such as preterm labor and the baby having a low birth weight. Yet I’m also thinking about the other consequences of my stress…the eternal consequences. After all, what I want most for my daughter is for her to know God. I want her to be a little girl at rest…peaceful in the knowledge of her loving God who is sovereign…knowing that she is safe in His hands. But how will she know this? How will she functionally experience this truth if mummy – who is one of the people she is most likely to learn from and imitate – is frazzled and struggling to see Jesus through the forest of commitments and flurry of activity?

Something has to change. Not only for my sanity, but for the sake of the little life that God has graciously blessed me with.

So I started today knowing that I needed a day of rest, but unsure of how to “shut off” and finding it to be an EFFORT to just relax and do nothing. I was feeling much like Job when he said:

My inward parts are in turmoil and never still (Job 30:27)…I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest… (Job 3:26)

Yet we have hope in a God who, by his power, stilled the sea (Job 26:12), and that same God has stilled and quieted me today.

So for those of you who, like me, have days when stillness seems miles away, take comfort in the words of God:

Fear not… let not your hands grow weak.17 The Lord your God is in your midst,  a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

The Words of our God are true. He is able to do what we can’t do. So…

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not…” (Ps. 37:7)

“In returning/repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Is. 30:15)

 

The Frailty of Life

I wrote this blog on March 30th, 2013, at 6:48 a.m. as I was sitting in the Toronto airport waiting for my flight to Barbados to start boarding. I can’t believe I’m only now getting around to posting it! In any case, here it is!
I love it and I hate it when I’m faced with the frailty of life.
I hate it in my flesh…the part of me that likes things to be stable and predictable…the part of me that likes to feel “in control.”
Today, in just over an hour, I will get into a metal structure and ascend thousands of feet into the air, defying all laws of gravity. I will have no control over that plane and that reality reminds me that this life truly is a vapor…it can be here one minute, gone the next.
With regard to my health, I’m doing everything I can to avoid sickness and remain healthy in this pregnancy so that the baby will be healthy. An example of this is the fact that I cancelled all babysitting engagements to reduce my exposure to kids once I discovered that I’m not immune to Parvo19 (slapped-cheek disease), which is particularly dangerous to unborn children before the 20th week of pregnancy is reached. I’ve done everything in my power to ensure that I don’t get this illness. Yet, as I looked at my little nephew’s sick self last night (we live with him) and his little red cheeks, I realized that all of my vigilance can only go so far.
I have no idea if my nephew has Parvo19 (he probably doesn’t, in all likelihood), or whether or not I’ve been exposed to this virus through some other means (there are no really visible symptoms when the virus is contagious).
But the one thing I do know is that:
“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and never see decay. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish…man…does not endure…”
(Psalm 49: 7-9, 10a, 12 NIV)
The human, fleshly part of my heart hates this…hates that I can’t prolong my baby’s life or my own for that matter…that I have no control over whether or not I catch Parvo19 or whether or not my baby will have health complications…that I cannot MAKE my life or my baby’s life endure.
Yet Psalm 49 does not end there. Verse 13-14 says:
“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves…they are destined for the grave.”
And I begin to see why I fear the reality of death sometimes…it’s because I’m trusting in myself and seeing death as “the end.”
So now I come to the reason why I LOVE being faced with the frailty of life, and why it’s sometimes exactly what I need: because it makes me TRUST JESUS.
It’s true that no man or woman can redeem, prolong or provide a ransom for my life (or that of my baby)…but Jesus has! Hebrews 9:15 says that Jesus died as a ransom to set us free from our sins! No human payment could ever be enough, but Jesus paid it all!!!
My hope on this Easter weekend is not that I can somehow control every outward influence or preserve my life and the lives of those I love. My hope is in a crucified and risen Savior who conquered sin and death so I no longer have to live enslaved by fear of death.
Psalm 49:15 articulates so perfectly this hope I find when I trust in Jesus rather than myself:
“God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.”
And so I rest in this truth, and the reality that NOTHING (not even death!) can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8).