Gum and a Ring and a Simple Truth for Greedy Hearts (Like Mine)

I turned 48 last week. At this point in our lives, we have 4 adult children: 3 who live independently and 1 in college who spends summers and school breaks at home. That leaves 4 kids at home full-time, and means an inconsistent showing of our kids at family meals and other special events, like my 48th birthday dinner.

For this little birthday celebration, we had 4 of our 8 kids present plus one French house guest. Lately, we've housed several French guests because God put them in our path years ago and the relationships continue to grow. 


This ring, though, is what I need to tell you about, because our Mighty Joe—the brain-damaged 10-year-old—wrapped it up in a piece of black construction paper adorned with his own artwork of a train done in white crayon, and presented it to me after dinner. 

After I dramatically declared my love for the tiny heart with the faux red ruby, Joe needed to let me know how he came by it as my birthday present. 

"Daddy gave me a quarter. I wanted to buy gum but then I saw the ring and bought that for you instead."

Be still my heart.

"If Daddy had given me two quarters, I could have bought you the ring and the gum."

Well, there it is. Honesty. Out of the mouths of babes and all that.

But I often treat God this way, knowing that he's given me a gift to give to someone else, only to turn and wish he'd given me something I obviously wanted from him instead, or in addition to. I'm happy to give to others, but most of the time I think I'd be happier if I got to keep something for myself, as well. I mean, if I'm being as honest as Mighty Joe was the night he gave me the ring with the tiny heart. 

And again, this is why I need Jesus. It's the theme of my life. I wish I could tell you my heart is purer than that, but the truth is, without the perfect heart of the Savior standing in my place, it's just about as valuable as a ring bought for a quarter out of the machine in the grocery store. 

What made that ring valuable was the giver. What makes my own heart and your own heart so is the giver. And his gifts are always, always, always the best. 


The Cross Took Care of That


My friend Hannah has three sons with autism, all under the age of six. I’ll let that sink in a little bit, because that fact about Hannah alone is as extraordinary and overwhelming as it sounds.

But Hannah doesn’t come across as overwhelmed. She’s tender, often tearing up as we moms gather every Friday morning with one main thing in common: the parenting of kids with special needs. We share our struggles and our triumphs over a living room coffee table, and for some of us, our weekly gatherings together are the only place where we feel truly understood.

I want you to know Hannah as I know Hannah, because not only is she tender-hearted and kind and extraordinary and yes, sometimes overwhelmed, she is rock-solid. When she tells stories of the escalating tantrums her sons stage, complete with violent bouts of throwing objects at each other and kicking and biting, of the daily phone calls from school because of yet another behavioral issue gone down, of the screaming and the lack of sleep and the way in which their family has had to change everything about how they even live inside their home, she also reminds us that God is there in the chaos of their environment, that He gives her what she needs in each singular moment, that she knows, because He has always been faithful, that He is unshakably faithful. Hannah is a rock of a woman.

If Hannah were to read this, that’s what I would want her to know: that each of us feels as if we’re about to be pummeled by the next big wave, but standing outside of each other’s catastrophes, we can see the strength and courage and beauty of each other when we often cannot see it in ourselves.

I hosted our gathering on a late autumn morning before Thanksgiving, and only Hannah was able to come. We poured steaming mugs of tea and sat together at my dining room table. Hannah’s youthful smile was hiding behind weary eyes, but it emerged as it always does, especially when she talks about Jesus. Hannah doesn’t know the details of our story — of the legalism and religious gate-keeping we slowly shook out of nearly a decade ago — and so when I made an off-handed remark about doing something for God, she replied without any sense of self-righteousness, “Uh-uh. The cross took care of that.”

Just when I think I’ve grasped the whole impact of the gospel, I am shown, again, how much I really want to prove to God that I am worthy of all that Jesus did for me. As if I could.

Boom. If there were a word for the gospel slapping me fresh across the face, I’d use that. It would be better than “boom”. Hannah’s words caught me with my law-loving pants down and I felt thrown a little off-kilter, too. In that disorienting moment, I saw once again that in my heart of hearts, I am a legalist who continues to look for ways to add to what Jesus has already done for me. Just when I think I’ve grasped the whole impact of the gospel, I am shown, again, how much I really want to prove to God that I am worthy of all that Jesus did for me. As if I could.

For more than 40 years, I’ve misunderstood grace. Seven years ago we left a church culture that informed us of all we must do, how we must strive, work, gain, grasp, and earn God’s love for us. When God gently began to peel off the layers of religion, as He reminded us of Who He is and what He’s done (done: finished, already accomplished, put to bed), our lives began to change in remarkable ways. First of all, we finally understood what Paul was talking about in Romans 8. Truths like “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and “God has done what the law could not”, changed everything. The cross changed everything.

We began to grasp what it actually means to “live in the flesh”, too. For all of my religious years within evangelicalism, I was led to believe that those people who ran to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll were the only ones living in the flesh. No one ever pointed to our own religious, law-loving hearts as also rejecting the freedom of living in the Spirit. But when God pulled us out of our legalistic environment, my religious heart finally understood that by trying to add to what God has already done, I was living far more “in the flesh” than all those heathens I thought were doing so because they wore their worldly sin on their sleeves.

That’s what it looks like to live in the freedom of the gospel.

We’ve been pursuing a relationship with the loving God now for the past seven years, and it looks very little like the old religious lives we led for nearly a decade before. Our choices are made in freedom, our daily lives influenced by the solid knowledge that God loves us, and there’s nothing we can do to make Him un-love us. But even so, I am, in my very human heart of hearts, still wanting to try harder and do more. And God shows His love has no bounds, no constraints, no end, when he brings into my life the mother of three little boys with autism and she looks me square in the eye and declares, “The cross took care of that.”

That’s what it looks like to live in the freedom of the gospel. It eternally redeems the worldly and it beckons and restores the religious, freeing both from sin and sure death. The gospel seeps into the dark corners of autism and uncertainty of every pedigree, and it declares, with a resounding boom, “The cross took care of that!”

We're All Messed Up, and I'm Not Just Saying That

Pontoon - Sandy Cove

Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

That guy you think for sure has all of his ducks in a tidy little row and singing out of the hymnal every Sunday morning and in church on time? He's messed up, too. I confidently know this and my expertise is backed up by decades of experience in a variety of churches, but then last week my husband Fletch and I spoke at a family camp all the way across the country and let me say this again in case you doubt: Christendom is full of messed up, broken, needy people.

The 600 people we hung out with at Sandy Cove's homeschool family camp were not more messed up and broken than any others, but like us, they are really good at the "shiny, happy people" masquerade. And then we got up on that stage on Monday morning and just put all our own messed up, broken, neediness out there, and it began what was at first a slow trickle of the broken, messed up, and needy moms, dads, brothers, and sisters that grew day by day into a deluge of the most sinful junk and yuck hidden beneath years of shiny, happy Christianity and laid bare at our feet. And we wept.

How have we missed the truth of the gospel in this? The truth that Jesus paid it all, just for us? The truth that He weeps over us, not because we are messed up, broken, and needy, but because He is the answer, the way, the truth, and the life, and we sit in our musty little corner polishing our shiny, happy people idols and missing all the fullness of everything He is. 

And aren't you tired of it all?

Laughing - Sandy Cove

Laughing - Sandy Cove

After we spoke about shifting our hope off of Jesus Christ and onto, oh, everything and anything else, we followed up with a session on what it looks like when we live remembering how loved we are by God, and then a session on living confessionally, with all our stuff out there, living lives of authenticity, and then a big, loud, beautiful reminder of how very much loved by God we are.

Many of the people there were tired of it all.

They came wounded, bleeding, hemorrhaging. They waited by our door in the morning and grabbed us on the way to breakfast. They scooted their chairs next to us as the salad was just about to hit our lips. They even pounded on our door late one night in a last attempt to confess and break through the chains of addiction that had bound them for years and years and years. 

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

Cargo Net - Sandy Cove

And lest you be tempted to think it must just have been this wacky group of people out there in Maryland, let me reiterate: We're all messed up. And I'm not just saying that.

Isn't it grand? It is, because >>> Jesus <<<. Because the gospel. Because the truth that there is not one of us who does good except for our loving and generous and perfect savior, Jesus Christ, and we get to lean in, hide under his wings, and be seen by the God of the universe as complete and whole and not messed up.

How does that change the way we think about Jesus? About the good news of his death and resurrection? Does it make it truly good news? It makes it great news. Excellent news. Perfect love and grace for messed up, broken, needy people. Like me.

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove

Sunset across the bay - Sandy Cove