Monday, November 11, 2013

Post 35 | The Two Faces of Legalism

It's a pricy penny.  And there are two sides to this coin.  Legalism.  "Behaviorism," I've heard it called.  Pharisee-ism.  Self Righteousness.    In my last post I talked about my firm, growing and delighted belief that the cross is not the gospel, or the most important part of or "the heart of" the gospel.   My belief that the events of the cross aren't the center, with the "other" events of Jesus toggled around it, like the rays of a child's hand-drawn sunshine.   The gospel events are the pieces of a puzzle, or dominoes -- one goes missing and the whole operation halts and cannot be finished.  I shared that I believe the gospel is what God, three-in-one, did for us and gave to us, because He loved us and it made Him happy and glorified to do such things.

(Recap if you missed it:  

What did He do? Chose, loved, made, sustained, came, lived (sinlessly), died as a Lamb, experienced hell, defeated it, resurrected, left the grave for good, walked on earth again, ascended to heaven, sat on the throne, and made us heirs of every single good gift.  

What are the good gifts He gave us? Family, Salvation, License, Nobility, Righteousness, Freedom, Hope, Paradise, Feasting, Companionship, Blessing, Honor, Power, Home, Victory and every other good thing.  Every single one.)  

Legalism contorts both of those things (what He did and what He gives).  It uses His very Holy Language, Scripture itself, and twists, mangles and stabs.  It is offended by diversity, license and individuality.  It thrives in like-mindedness, repetition and rules.  

“There are people... bent on making you a slave of their conscience. They are legalists, and their tools are guilt, fear, intimidation, and self-righteousness. They proclaim God’s unconditional love for you, but insist on certain conditions... I’m not talking about people who insist you obey certain laws or moral rules in order to be saved.   Such people aren’t legalists. They are lost! They are easily identified and rebuffed. I’m talking about Christian legalists whose goal is to enforce conformity among other Christians in accordance with their personal preferences. These are life-style legalists. They threaten to rob you of joy and to squeeze the intimacy out of your relationship with Jesus."  Sam Storms (borrowed be EGM)

There is a legalism that tries to re-sculpt what God has finished.  It tries to convince you that you need this on top of Jesus' complete, A-Z, work.  Many a cult and religion have taken off by using the Bible and Jesus Himself, and then adding to it.  Many not-cult churches are guilty of doing the same thing.  Sometimes it's as "simple" as saying "You must be believe in Jesus and be baptised in order to be saved."  

This form of legalism -- the kind that claims you can add to the security or finality or actuality of your salvation -- is, well, to be frank, very easy to identify.  Anything -- anything -- other than "by grace I have been saved through believing, through faith!" is salvation-legalism.  "I did not do this myself -- I contributed nothing, as this is the gift of God to me." Excellent.  Easy.

"Yet, I have noticed that many of us Christians are certain that God's observing face must be twisted in a displeased scowl. Most seem sure that God experiences a roller-coaster ride of emotions regarding us – dictated by this morning’s state of behavior, spiritual focus, or attitude. We seem to assume that God saves by grace alone and then enjoys us according to a fluxuating, gold star, logarithm-graphed, merit badge system…alone. I knew I should have paid better attention to cosines and tangents in high school and if only I could remember that one other spiritual discipline we were taught last year." Enjoying Grace Ministries

This other form of legalism is a crafty serpent.  It sounds like Colossians 3 with a "don't you dare!" and supernatural-ultimatum tone.  It looks like hands held high (much like the shirt collars), busyness and involvedness in church affairs, and a Bible filled with underlines.  It looks good.  Really good.  Self-depricating, scripture on the tip of the tongue, and a fierceness in guarding God and 'His commands', while remaining doting, 'humble', and friendly.  Pharisees.

They convince you that you are to work hard at pleasing God.  "If you have been raised with Christ, you better seek the things above." They talk about 1 John 1:9 as if it were written to believers, not the lost.  For some reason you feel like you're never quite walking out your salvation without enough fear, enough trembling, and enough accomplishing -- psh, you feel like it's your responsibility to "walk out well," its in your hands.  Conversations in church groups and accountability sessions -- more often than not -- circle around your and their struggles: the conflict in marriage, the unbelief in hearts, the (always sexual) lust given into, the pride we possess that deceives us more than we can know, the single person's fight with emotional purity.

When you share with them the honest, vulnerable, painful stories of your life, they ask you things like "Do you think you are being bitter?" or "Do you think you deserve something more?"  Sports were "gospel-centered" by doing things like praying before, after or during games, never missing Sunday morning church because of sports, by opening up practice with a devotional -- I even know of kids who were sent out of practice to spend 10 or 15 minutes 'with the Lord' because they hadn't done it earlier in the day.  The way to make 'regular things' turn into 'a Christ-honoring thing' was to do 'the spiritual things' (pray, encourage, use scripture, confess sin, etc).  'Godliness' (according to human standards) was often highlighted publicly and often for doing publicly-'spiritual'-things (for example: the youth worship band being applauded for their godly lives and their motives for playing in the band -- "their desire is to glorify God!" -- when I know for a fact that some of the kids are 'struggling' or abandoning their walk with their Lord, and some were playing in the band because they loved their instrument and... that was about it.  I also know some of those kids were Pharisees. PS. I don't care about which kids were up there... I care that their personal lives, motives and hearts were often falsely announced and then clapped-at.  Why can't we just clap-at their talent and thank them for their time? Regardless of "why" they play?  Their skill reflects their God even if they don't realize it.  I actually have more to say about "this" so I should let it be for now.  It should be a separate post.)

"Rarely would these folk ever admit to any of this. They don’t perceive or portray themselves as legalists. If they are reading this they are probably convinced I’m talking about someone else. They’d never introduce themselves: 'Hi! I’m a legalist and my goal is to steal your joy and keep you in bondage to my religious prejudices. Would you like to go to lunch after church today and let me tell you all the things you’re doing wrong?'

I suspect that some of you are either legalists or, more likely, the victims of legalism. You live in fear of doing something that another Christian considers unholy or vital, even though the Bible is silent on the subject. You are terrified of incurring their disapproval, disdain, and ultimate rejection. Worse still, you fear God’s rejection or displeasure for violating these things. You have been duped into believing that the slightest misstep or mistake causes God’s disapproval and disgust." Sam Storms

The first time I read this article I had tunnel vision and sat on my bed wide-eyed.  I was such a blinded, knowledgable legalist that I even frequently used the word 'legalism' and accused other people of it!  Flashes of my life struck like lightning in my head, and I sat there in stunned acknowledgement: "Oh. My. Gosh.  That's me.  I'm a thief of joy, and I'm terrified of God being disappointed in me.  The times when I was most convinced I was 'taking a stand for God' or 'being a good friend by not shying away from tough love' were the times I robbed joy the most.  I must make people so uncomfortable."  While I never (EVER) told anyone that the way to be saved was to "add to the gospel," I did live like people could do things to add or detract from God's pleasure with them, therefore, I was a legalist. "IF you LOVE Him, you WILL obey Him." I announced.  It was a demand, not a new way of life, a promise.  "Guess what, guys!  If you love Me, if you believe in Me, part of the perk is that you're going to obey me! More and more, until heaven where you'll be flawless."

I didn't realize that my salvation was final and God's delight in me was final.  I had lived two decades primarily thinking of 'the gospel' as 'my salvation' and "I'm not a legalist because you can only be saved in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone!"  but I didn't feel like God really absolutely enjoyed me all.the.time.  All the time.  That I never disgusted Him.  That when He thought of my name, when He watched and walked beside me in my life He wasn't thinking "Gosh, when will she EVER learn?  She's a hard-hearted one, this Kristen.  It's a good thing I'm strong so that I can change even HER."

"I will not keep silent... you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give. 

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, 
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, 
but you shall be called -- your name will be! -- My Delight Is in Her!   

Your land will be Married for the Lord delights in you, 
as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,     
so shall your God rejoice over you."

Since the gospel is two-pronged, legalism is too: what God did for you, and how you can add to it!  What God gave to you, and how you can change that.

"When you are around other Christians, whether in church or a home group or just hanging out, do you feel free? Does your spirit feel relaxed or oppressed? Do you sense their acceptance or condemnation? Do you feel judged, inadequate, inferior, guilty, immature? Jesus wants to set you free from such bondage!" (Sam Storms) Do you feel like you have to explain, in dramatic detail, why you can't make it to small-group or other church events?  Do you still feel really, really, really bad about not going?  When you walk into church after worship has already started, do you feel like your friends in the seats around you are disappointed you are late or are thrilled to see you?  (Also, does it cross your mind that if you show up late looking good and made-up that people will think you are really vain and self-absorbed... and if you show up late and disheveled people will think you are really a disaster?)

What I am writing and sharing here is much more about my own story and what I believe with all my heart the world needs to know -- the riches we have in God -- than me feeling angry towards or trying to bash the people and leaders (and parents!) who surrounded me growing up.  This is about my husband who grew up a thousand miles away and who had never heard of my church/family of churches, but lived his life in legalism.   This is about anyone who could be a legalist and not know it (most don't).  This is about Scripture saying "They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them and their offspring throughout generations.” (Exodus 30:21) and the men who cared deeply about Scripture, who spent their lives desiring it be passed to their offspring and the rest of generations, being offended when this Jesus waltzed into the scene saying things like " eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15)  He directly contradicted Scripture and therefore God, so it seemed.  The Word of God matters! they must have thought!  How dare He! they must have worried!  God's Word is True! they must have countered. But they missed the point.

This is for anyone who may have missed the point.  Who have devoted themselves to God, Scripture, Church and missed it.  Like me.  Like my husband.  You may have been raised in the circles we were raised in and never missed it.  But we did.  And we know others have.  And if you have perhaps missed it -- if you have perhaps obeyed, and memorized, and know the language, and serve, and sing, and have a lot to say about your faith because you take your faith very seriously, stayed a virgin, have a bright shining face but make possibly make your fellow saints feel uncomfortable, please listen.  This is where Jesus was harsh.  This is where He was violent.  The diligent, obedient, compliant, determined, admirable, dedicated Older Sons can be left outside of the Father's House.  Obedience is fabulously important -- please don't hear what I'm not saying.  Obedience, diligence, etc is good.  It's necessary.  It is.  But there is a reason the horrifyingly disrespectful, greedy, douchebag, sleezeball son was rejoicing at the feast, welcomed into the house.  There is a reason the boy-who-would-fulfill-every-checklist, the son who obeyed was left out of the celebrating.  He missed the point.  He had the appearance of wisdom and goodness.

This isn't directed at someone or some specific group: it's for the church kids and adults anywhere and everywhere who are doing it right.  Be. Careful.  If you may be an Older Son, listen closely:

“You tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders... You do your deeds to be seen by others... you love the place of honor and greetings in the marketplaces ...

... For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces... You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! 

You clean the outside of the cup but inside they are full of self-indulgence... outwardly you appear beautiful, but within are full of all uncleanness... So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy. 

You serpents. 

You group of venomous snakes."

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' referring to things that all perish as they are used — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." Colossians 2

Be free.  Be free to be real.  Come as you are, and be who you are.  Pursue every good thing you can get your hands on.  Enjoy it.  Live life like you want kids to respond to their Christmas gifts: with anticipation, wild, noisy happiness, and natural excitement.  He's everywhere.  He's in running line drills, He's in strumming your guitar to Dave Matthews Band, He's in the sound of a toddler's voice, He's in a new haircut that just kind of makes you feel pretty, He's in the color of eggplant, He's in the pages of a Book and in the pages of wordy Ernest Hemingway.  He's in nature and in Times Square and in bath-tubs and in graveyards and in coffee shops and in bed at noon (because you slept in).  He's in the days of sweatpants and the days of sweaty workouts and the days of tears and the days of cheers.  He's not disappointed with you.  He adores you.  He is in charge of "who you are" and He calls it "good" and He is making it "perfect."  Everything about Him is good, and everything about Him is yours.  If washing your hands makes you happy, wash away Germ-Freak and if you don't mind jumping right into a meal without, stuff your face Fatty. You are free.  Do not submit to self-made, severe religion.  Be free! Head inside for a feast!


---> EDITED TO ADD <---

I am not looking for just affirmation and "positive" response (don't get me wrong... I want that too!).  In a way that's not "giving you permission" but that's hoping for conversation: it's okay to disagree with me.  I'm not trying to draw the line in my sand and push you away and keep you in, I'm opening up the front door and putting my self, life and thoughts out here hoping you'll come in, even if your story or beliefs are different.  I don't *have* to write -- I believe this, and I talk about it as much as I can as it fits the occasion.  I want to discuss, I want to help, I want to share -- and I want you to as well.   And if you think it's futile slash annoying to discuss on comments... e-mail me (kristen leigh photography at gmail dot com), ask for my number and call me, set up a time to chat in person.  I'm not afraid of people disagreeing.  I'm afraid of what would have happened to me if I hadn't been told the things posted above, if I hadn't become completely free, indeed.  Especially if you've grown up in the same places Caleb and I have -- we know those two "worlds" well, and we love so many people in them.  Even people who we might disagree with on every point.  If you're willing to join in a discussion and chew over big, real topics - welcome! Really! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Post 34 | The Cross Is Not The Gospel

I was chatting with my mom about whatever it is we chat about.  At the East Village and Goshen crossing we had somehow sparked up a conversation about church or last Sunday or caregroup or something or other.  We inevitably go there at some point during a long, good conversation.  I was tracking with her and we were agreeing with each other (in fact, I think the conversation may have been about worship) and then she said something that concerned me.  Real, uncomfortable concern.

"Not to mention that I can't remember the last time I heard the name JESUS! spoken.  It's the gospel the gospel the gospel.  And the cross and the gospel.  By the way, the cross isn't the gospel.  It's part of it, but you're not supposed to 'stay at the foot of the cross.'  Why don't we hear the real gospel?  Why don't we hear about Jesus."

Oh my gosh, I almost felt bad for her (I was an obedient, stuck-up ol' puss).  The poor woman hadn't been listening close enough.  Didn't she know?  I mean, the popular song said it perfectly:

Holy God in Love became, 
Perfect Man to Bear my blame,
On the cross He took my sin,
By His death, I live again

It took the destruction of my assumed and imagined life and a couple of years for me to realize that she was right.  When I was quizzed on "the most important question" of becoming a member in my church: What is the gospel? it took a long time for me to understand how awful my answer was, even though it was wholeheartedly accepted: "The five finger gospel! Jesus. Died. For. My. Sins!"  It took a long time for me to unwrap and then enjoy the real gospel.  To not live a 'cross-centered life.'  To not think "cross" equals "gospel."

Even the recent Chris Tomlin song repeats a bridge cry of "The cross was enough! The cross was enough! The cross was enough!"  I actually like the song, but if I had heard it a few years ago I would have messed it up.  The cross was enough to kill Jesus, send him to Hell and, because of who Jesus was, satisfy God's wrath, but the cross was not enough to save us.  The gospel was enough to save us, however.  Jesus was enough.

This may be obvious to every other person, but in my life it was all mashed together.  What I was hearing and believing then applying was a "Jesus died for sinners" gospel and it made me incredibly guilty, nervous about my sin, harsh towards other folk's sin, and uncompassionate.  My half or part gospel (which is arguably false gospel) would have me, for example, scan for key words when someone was crying and rambling in front of me about something happening in her life.  I was looking for that sin-root to grab a hold of.  I was looking for the "source" of this problem.  I wasn't being God-like, Jesus-like, Gospel-like at all.   I had no idea how to "be God" to someone.  How to just give, be understanding, enjoy our differences (freedoms).  I a bad concept regarding what is "written in blood" and what is "written in pencil, with a good eraser."  Turns out a lot less is written in blood than I thought.  Turns out He is a God of feasting far more than fasting.  A God of indulgence far more than deprivation.  Turns out He thinks of us as dear far more than damned.  Turns out the cross was piece but not adequate to do the whole job.

"If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' 
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, 
you will be saved."

"Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay...
I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David."

I had crucifixation-centered life.  It was easy for me to call myself a sinner, and difficult to call my self heavenly royalty.   It was easy for me to have concerns/observations/thoughts for my friends, and hard for me to chill out, empathize and listen.  The cross-part of the gospel is a dramatic, chilling, necessary, horrifying part of the story.  It's in many ways unbelievable.  But I'll never forget reading this for the first time:

The Most High God, the Goodly-wise, the Maker of Heaven and Earth loved us before the earth was made. For all eternity He lived in extravagant Joy with His Son, bound together in the love of His Spirit. He needed nothing – not even us. But He wanted us. He wanted a bride for His Son – a bride shaped in His image, glorious in beauty, and birthed through His irrepressible grace.

He wanted to be known for His grace more than anything else, so there was an Incarnation and a Substitution and a Sacrifice and a Resurrection and an Ascension and a breathtaking Celebration; and now all who are known by Him (and therefore love His Son) are His own children and heirs and treasured saints – blameless and faultless before His face. We are priest-kings in His expanding Kingdom and no eye has ever seen or ear has ever heard or dreamer has ever imagined what He has prepared for us – from this moment forward. Without delay.

Because all this (and even more) is the Gospel.

A grave-cented gospel would be dangerous.  A virgin-birth centered gospel would be dangerous.  A cross-centered gospel is too.

Love centered? Grace centered? Heck, celebration centered?  Now we're talking.  The gospel is what God, three-in-one, did for us and gave to us.  What did He do for us?  He loved us, then made us, came to live with us, died a punishment death, endured Hell, triumphed above it, lived again, walked on earth again, flew to heaven, and started the party.  What did He give to us?  Family, Salvation, License, Nobility, Righteousness, Freedom, Hope, Paradise, Feasting, Companionship, Blessing and every other good thing.  Every single one.  

That's the gospel.

If Jesus had only come and died, we could not be saved.  If death had beaten Him we could have no hope.  If He couldn't enter Heaven as our representatives, we couldn't have access.  If the cross was the climax and center of the story, we'd be doomed.  We don't live by His death, we live by his life -- or at least his life, his life, his death, his life.

The five-finger crucifixion? Jesus died for my sins.
The five-finger gospel?  Every good thing from Love. 

The cross and it's events should not be minimized, ignored or misunderstood.  They are a (phenomenal) part of the story, just not THE story.  Mom was right.  On our pilgrimage we should encounter the foot of the cross (after many other events!), and we should crumple in relief as our burden's are plucked off our back, as our rusty shackles are unscrewed, and then we should get up with our perfume and walk to that empty grave, where we can crumple with relief again knowing that Our King couldn't be swallowed.  And then we raise our eyes and follow our Hero like a balloon into the Holy Places where gates are encrusted with jewels, and the streets -- the asphalt of heaven -- is made of gold.  ("What will the gold of heaven be?").  And now we have to rely on our imaginations and a few descriptions, but the celebration of the Prodigal-children-turned-priests commenced, and it's raining down on us here on earth, too.  It's final.  It's complete.  And it's ours.  NOW.

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim my crown, through Christ my own.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Post 33 | Happy Birthday, Mama Bear

Happy Birthday, Mama Bear! 

For the love, don't "live like you were dying."  Live like you are living.

Live like "shlupping the kids around in a minivan - 'I feel like a chauffeur!'" is a joy.  Because you have children who are alive, and you are alive to drive them, and you live in a place where there are paved roads.  Like my mom does.   Live impressed with beauty around you.  Like my mom does.  I've told this story before, but God let it stay in my head.  I think about it almost everyday, and have for years: mom and I were grocery shopping -- not even, we were running into the Giant really quick to get a few ingredients for dinner.  I was bagging onions, she was bagging tomatoes and then the eggplant caught her eye.  She stopped and stared at it.  I thought she was trying to decide whether we needed it for our meal or not.
"Just look at this color.  Come here.  Look at this.  I don't even like the color purple, but isn't this so beautiful?  Why did God decide to make all these red, orange and green vegetables and then pick one to be deep, navy purple? He's so creative."
We left eggplant-less, but I always notice the particularly royal color of an eggplant.  Live like your mom or best-friend is available to go grocery shopping with you.  Live like you can call her up or send her a text whenever you want.

Live like your lungs can take deep breaths, and your legs can walk up and down stairs easily, and like your body can enjoy a hearty, tasty meal and that you can look forward to food.  Live like beauty is all around you, and that who a person is is what makes them beautiful -- stop hating the wrinkles and soft patches and boniness and chubbiness and acne and bags under your eyes.  Goodness, the most beautiful woman I've ever seen is bald (for the third time), barely ever wears make-up, is thinner and bonier than she should be, doesn't have toned muscles, has one arm swollen to twice the size of her other arm, wears glasses and crow's feet.  God, she's beautiful.  She has cancer in her liver, bones, lungs and brain and she absolutely loves to braid her youngest daughter's hair before bed.  She never misses soccer games.  Like.  She can't come downstairs for dinner.  And she   She does not shoo children out of her room or life because she's too busy.  "Let the little children come to me, and do not hold them back."

And just so you know, she did these things before she was sick.  She's the most "here" person I've ever known.  During our last long drive from Oklahoma to Maryland I called mama.  I missed her and wanted to talk.  We talked for over 100 miles.  She listened a lot, because I blabber a lot.  She's brilliant and tried and incredible and I should listen to her more.  She was so tired, I know it.  But she wouldn't hang up on me.  She never does.  She lets me talk and she's there with me.

I know being a part of humanity is hard.  I know we each have our battles.  I know many battles are more intense and scary and lonely and miserable than ours -- by longshots.  But as we're on this distorted escalator that is moving forward to a terrifying final stop, and as we're banging on the walls hoping to find a trap door or emergency hatch to escape through (because it happens.  People who are 'guaranteed' to be gone in nine months are here three years later, fit as fiddles.  A man in Guthrie had such an aggressive, deadly form of brain tumor that he was given three months to "check off his bucket list."  And I talked to him two weeks ago... He's been here for 124 more months 100% tumer-less!  Our God is a Healer, a Powerful Miracle Worker, a Rescuer.  There just may be that miracle door up ahead.  Please, Jesus.  Let there be!)  we're staring life's hardest questions and possibilities square in the eyes.    Days and times and two months and two years and two decades and two minutes.
To quote Joel's mama: "And it's so hard, and I've never more overwhelmed in my life. And it's so worth it.  And it's so wonderful.  And it's not going to be like this forever.  It's not the worst thing in the world to be needed."  

My mother, the made-with-common-sense, neo-natal, pediatric, army nurse, the science major, the one who has to "just do something creative!" every once in a while, who just loves good church worship, who gave us all our stubborn spirits and refusal to quit character quality, who can interact with a 4-month-old like a flippin' Baby Wizard, who can calm the frantic, serious, noisy rants of a teenage son, who listens carefully to the stories of almost-pre-teen girls, is alive.  And we've needed her all of her life.  We've sucked and pulled and drained and taken and exhausted and worn this lovely woman right out.  And she has, quite simply, lived like it was wonderful.  This isn't cheesy.  This isn't cliche.  This isn't a nicely designed quote on Pinterest. This isn't a sentimental blog post about how my mom was sick once but now she's better.  My mom is sick now and this is real and it's heart-breaking.  I think about my children never knowing the woman who made and raised me.  How could I possibly describe her to them?  How could they miss out on someone so beautiful and strong?  How on earth could they live a life without going to Disney with her?  And hearing her yell at the refs on their behalf?

Mom, it's no small joy that I get to see you every day.  That my son adores you.  That my testimony of growing up in a "big, homeschooled, conservative Christian family" is so different than so many.  You know us as individuals.  You didn't place the responsibility of being a mother onto us -- you've carried that burden and that joy.  Watching you be a mom and woman and person has made me want to try to give people what you've given me.  You make me want to be to my children what you've been to me.  I respect you, and thoroughly enjoy you, and wish I could make all your cancer go away.

I pray we are able to share many more life holidays and milestones together.  I hope you're in the birthing room for many more Morris babies.  I hope we're going out to dinner for many more birthdays.  I hope we're sitting in your bed (waaaaay too late into the day) talking about whatever while "The Chew" is on for years to come.  I hope you feel better.  I hope I get to spend the rest of life on earth with you loving you the way you've loved me.  Thank you for your sincerity.  Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for being honest and not trying to appear to be something you aren't.  Thank you for your determination.  Thank you for being able to simultaneously be accurate and truthful about who your children are while being so happy and eager to love us as we are.  Thank you for noticing beautiful things and drawing attention to them.  Thank you for being a beautiful thing yourself.  Thank you for seeing my curiosity, and Caleb's child-like-ness, and Timmy's goofiness, and Katie's big ideas, and Kevin's sensitivity, and Michael's quirkiness, and Shannon's ferocity, and Lauren's communication skills as our strengths.  Thank you for making my childhood a dream, for pushing me to find my way as an adult, for giving me the wedding that was straight up magical, and for plowing the way for a future that is hope-filled and good.  Thank you for being what God is like even more than saying what God is like: for treating me like I am loved and precious and honored in your eyes.  For carrying me.  For delighting in my joys and in me, even at my worst.  For being brave enough to say hard things to me.  For desiring me to be happy, even at the cost of yourself.  For making home the best place.  For always being available (I don't say 'always' lightly.  It make take four-times as long, and we may get interrupted constantly, but you are always available.)  Thank you for showing me Jesus-like love and admiration.
I want to be like you.  Don't deflect that.  I mean it.  You're extraordinary.  And I'm one of the lucky seven in the entire world who get to call you "mom."

Happiest of birthdays to you, mama.  Let's celebrate hard and plan to celebrate even harder next year.  Maybe I should make eggplant parmesan ;)

All my love,
Kristen, the privileged first-born of Suzanne Lee Snyder.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Post 32 | One Year Anniversary

To my Human, my Knower, my Knowee, my Warm, Happy Place and my "With You."
Happy One Year of Being a Family.
Thank you for all that you have been for and to me.
You are adored and treasured.
1 /// Thank you for being a human with me

"all the jazz you've heard is true
love is patient and love can burn
and it won't ask to be excused
and it won't ask if it can please return

some will tell ya that it's a myth
try to say it don't exist
well, shake her hand to help her place
it's finally standing in our midst."

Toe sock-fuzz, stubbly armpit hair, crotches that smell like cheese, gunk in teeth, greasy hair, ruffled eyebrows, puking, hang nails, gaining weight, chin hairs, stretch marks, burps&farts, blisters, snores, cracked lips, ear wax, blood stained underwear.   You don't get married and stop having (terribly) bad breath mornings (and neither does he.)  You still have bad hair days, and everything-is-dirty-gawd-we-need-to-do-laundry days, and bloated days.  Sometimes you wake up just feeling off.  Sometimes you're tired, or hungry, or overheated.  (Don't underestimate the power of a good meal/nap/air-conditioned-building to make things happy again.)  Sometimes you have an overwhelming and mind-bending desire to have sex and roll around making-out, and sometimes you'd rather re-watch episodes from Season 1 of The Office or hack away at your inbox or take shower (by the way, unless you have an expensive fancy double-headed shower, someone is left standing in the cold!  I never thought about that before I got married.  Showering together turns out to be a more practical-conversation thing than a throw-yourself-against-the-wall-thing.  Plus, let's be honest, pregnant girls need help shaving - among other things.)  It's not actually all that comfortable to fall asleep in each other's arms - elbows and shoulder blades and clavicles and rib cages and necks and the tingly-numb-falling-asleep-thing.  I prefer touching toes and holding hands for the actual falling asleep part.  Or even facing opposite directions - with the back-bum touch because hot pillow breath exists  I love being so human with my Caleb.  It's less-edited and less-shallow than "pretty" life - it's beautiful life.  There is absolutely no part of my self or my body that I am ashamed to be with you or share with you. 

2 ///  Thank you for knowing me...

"To know and be known..." "I am scared of me. But I want to be known and loved anyway. Can you do this?...I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love." Donald Miller

He knows my exact order at Chipotle.  That may have been the best part of our anniversary day for me - I opened up the foil top and saw not one ingredient missing, or one extra.  It was exactly how I would have ordered it.  I would have eaten anything - extra toppings or not.  But he knew.  I don't think any other man in the world could walk into Chipotle and order my order.  Breast-feeding and baby-holding and pregnancy-recovering has been killing my back, so before anniversary dinner he surprised me with a deep tissue back massage at a swanky spa.  Usually I would have opted for getting my nails or hair done.  But right now? New Mama Me? Back rubs back rubs back rubs.  And he knew.  At dinner he gave me gift card to get five more "whenever you want!" We ate dinner at a place that isn't fancy, and isn't really even romantic, but I've been wanting to try it for over a year now.  No man would pick it for a "special anniversary dinner" in a line-up of MD/DC/VA restaurants.  But Caleb picked it because he knew.  When we were dating I knew I liked him, but his personality was so different than "what I thought I wanted."  He was different.  And I was nervous.  But one of the things I so vividly remember falling for was his special attention to me.  In the sweet, planned things, like anniversaries, yes.  But mostly in the daily things.

You know my eyes and what they're saying, you know my laughs and how to make me laugh, you know what I'm saying and then what I mean (at least you work really hard to.) You know that I love to "argue" and debate and hash-things-out and that it's not because I'm mad or divisive or trying to win, but because that's how I figure things out and connect to people.  You know that I'm messy and unorganized and don't punish me for that.  You know I love to read outloud and then talk about it.  You know I love eating and finding "new" good food and cooking - and you let that be a big deal for us, even though you'd be happy with a less diverse menu.  You know that I like making money and making creative things and being challenged, so I do photography and coach basketball and out-of-the-blue start an IG baby clothes shop.  I love you - I do - and I'm in love with you - I am - but you're so much better at "giving yourself up for me." At considering me.  At doing for me and asking and expecting nothing in return.  You love me better than I love you.  It's been the privilege of my life being loved and known by you.

3 /// ... and thank you for letting me know you.

You've let me in, and given me your trust.  And I treasure that with my life.  You've cried vulnerable tears for me that I know no one else has ever seen.   You laugh your biggest, best laughs when we're tucked under the covers like children at a sleepover.  Just with me.  You're still quiet, but not because you're stupid or empty or blank.  I know you hate when people say "You don't have much to say, huh?" because I know you're letting them talk, and you're listening.  I know you're content and don't care to be the center of attention.  I know you're much less quiet than you used to be, and I know your mind is a jungle of a place.  When we were dating I used to pray that you would really laugh with me - not joking ha-ha silly goose laugh, but let-loose, put your guard down, get tears in your eyes, and lose yourself in the humor.  Now I feel like it happens daily.   I know how you like your head-scratched, and your meat peppered, and your underwear soft.  I feel like I "get" you, and even with all the fascinated learning I've done, you keep me on my toes and surprise me.  (Like, yesterday you went into the gas station to get "a treat" and came out with caramel?! I loved it.  You've never bought caramel.  You always get somesort of chocolate candy bar or maybe a gummy-sour snack.  But you were in the mood for caramel.  Cool?) Thank you for telling me lots of stories about the first 23 years of your life, the years I wasn't there for.  Thank you for being the first person I go to when I have something to say, and thank you for coming to me first when you have something to say.  Thank you for making me feel special by being the one-and-only.  I love knowing you.

4 /// Thank you for teaching me through your life that the blog posts and books are wrong: marriage is about our happiness.

"every single broken heart will lead you to the truth
you think you know what you’re looking for
til' what you’re looking for finds you

in a cold world, it’s a warm placewhere you know you’re supposed to be
a million moments full of sweet relief
when the right one comes along."

I forget the first-time we had the conversation, but it's become one of those that keeps cycling around for us.  "If marriage is supposed to represent the relationship between Christ and His church, the King and His Bride, then it should be a place of joy, safety, delight, feasting, freedom, and, yes, happiness."  Being a Christian doesn't mean that you'll never cry stinging tears of sadness, but it means when you do, you have somewhere to go... you have hope to assure and brighten your soul... you have Christ.  As Christ makes His Church holy and molds them into creatures of glory, He's making them happy.

"...the goal of marriage is not happiness. And although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight." RELEVANT MAGAZINE

It's just not true.  There is no more significant purpose that we can have than to be wholly holy and happy in our Groom.  The purpose of our union with Him is perfection and satisfaction and real joy forever (because that glorifies Him.)  It's wrong to say marriage is about holiness, but not happiness.  There is no such thing.  If you are being made more holy, you are truly being made more happy.  And I don't say this lightly, or forgetting the dangerous, abusive, heart-breaking, disease-stained, divorce-headed, bad, unhappy marriages.  I know them personally, and I know the grief is so strong it can make you shake.  Marriage isn't about getting your way every time.  It's not about owning a servant to do what you want, when you want.  It's not about life being easy, and every single day being boatloads of "Fun fun fun!" But the goal of the marriage should be to make each other happy, so far as is in your ability, doing what is best for the other person, and thereby being filled with joy to watch the other filled with joy.  It should be about together becoming happier and happier in God, as He makes you happier and happier together.  Holiness isn't rigid and cold.  It's welcoming, warm and delightful.  Commitment and promise are meant to weather the most grievous of storms - faithfulness through unhappiness is extremely respectable.  Please don't hear me say that you will always be happy and exhilarated the whole time you are married.  But please believe that a purpose God made in earthly marriage, reflecting the heavenly union, is indeed your actual and tangible happiness.

Caleb, thank you for wanting and expecting our marriage to be a place of very real joy.  Thank you for being a safe place for me in the darkness and storms.  Thank you for wanting to make me happy - in the way you butter my bagels, talk to to me, talk about me to others, rub me, provide for me, get'it'on with me, compliment me, and be *with* me.  I so want to make you happy.  I love watching you get better at the things you're good at, and also get better at things you're not-as-good at.  I love helping you, and hoping with you, and being yours.  It does make me happy.  I'm happy doing unhappy things with you because I believe in the purpose behind them, even if I don't feel the emotion in the very moment.  I'm happy that even when I am unhappy, I know the goal and prize is still hope and happiness.  We'll keep fighting for this family to be happy and joy-filled, because we are married to Christ, Joy Everlasting.

5 /// Thank you for making our life together one where we are really together.

"you and i, we're not tied to the ground. 
oh, and when the kids are old enough 
we're gonna teach them to fly.  

you and me together, we could do anything, baby 
you and me together yes, yes."

He makes it clear by the way he lives, talks, and acts that he prefers being with me the most.  He'll go out of his way to be with me.  If that means sitting in a car for a couple hours with our baby so I don't have to drive to photoshoots alone, he's there.  If that means sitting (sleeping?) on a friend's couch while I package up baby clothes, he's there.  It means making arrangements to drive in the same car when it'd be more convenient to take two.  It means that we've seen each other every single day (that we've been in town together) since he moved to Maryland in May 2011, and we've slept together every night of our marriage (even though that sometimes meant he laid at my nauseous, miserable feet on couch cushions so I wouldn't be alone on those long, sick nights.)  (This is where I can't help but shout-out to the military and other families who have no choice but to be apart.  I'm VERY grateful.) It means guys night is fun, but wife-nights are better.  I don't think he's ever even implied that he'd rather be alone than be with me.  Of course there are nights where I'm on my phone looking through instagram, and he's on the laptop going through e-mails, and we're not saying much of anything.  But those are sweet times, too.  I think it's the consistency - looking back over a year and remembering how much of that year was spent side by side.        The last year has been painful and scary in some of the most serious ways, but Caleb has been "one with me" through our shared life.  (He swore and his eyes filled with tears when I told him my mom's cancer had come back.)  Marriage has been anything but lonely and I couldn't possible explain what peace and hope that has given me.  Because I know it's just the representation of my God, just the analogy before the real wedding feast.  Thank you, my sweet Caleb.  For everything.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rowdy + One Month of Life With Him // Post 31

"a whole new world,
a dazzling place i never knew"

We ushered July 14, one month after June 14, in with stuffy noses and head colds.  The household is passing it around, and it 'finally' caught little Rowdy.  And here is motherhood: sitting on the floor of a steamy, greenhouse, hot-water-running-out-of-the-shower bathroom, looking through instagram and clipping your toenails, while your face melts off and hair frizzes, so that your kid can sleep comfortably upright in his swing (which is crammed with you in the bathroom) and hopefully get his nose drained and unplugged... and not wanting to be anywhere else in the entire world.  Being genuinely as happy as you've ever been.  Not to mention when he wakes up and looks around and freaks out a little, until he hears you say "You're alright buddy, I'm right here. Sssshh." and feels you pat his belly causing him to relax and peacefully fall back asleep. "Shining, shimmering, spleeen-did."
Favorite Nicknames
99 (since he is 99th percentile for height)
RowdyRays (or RowdyRaze? Or RowdyRaise? Or RowdyReyes?)
Rascally Rabbit

Favorite Memories 
// The way he rubs his fist back and forth near my collar bone while he's eating

// He'd had an abnormally rough night when we took him to Charlottesville with GrandmaBear + Aunt Bear to pick up Aunt Shannon from soccer camp.  He finally fell asleep for good but we had to wake him up to check-out of the hotel and carry on with our trip.  Usually he grunts and fidgets when he wakes up (and, oh, I love those grunts and fidgets) but that morning he just looked right at me and smiled.  A sweet, rested, genuinely happy smile.  I got chills looking at his beautiful grinning face.

// Daddy wrote Rowdy a "Triumphal Entry" song that he would play "for him" while I was pregnant.  Now Rowdy will sit on dad's lap and watch his hands and fingers move back and forth and listen to the music.  I love when I don't know that's what they're doing together, but then all of a sudden hear the faint sound of piano coming from the basement.

// I adore when he farts in bed.  My little oven heart heats up when I hear my smooth breathing, rosy-cheeked, clean, wrapped, pajama-ed son "toot. toot. pfffft. toottoottoot" in his sleep.

// In his room, over his changing table, are 20 empty frames hung in a grid.  Daddy did his part and immaculately hung them.  Mama needs to do her part and fill the frames with Rowdy's grandfathers and uncles.  Nonetheless, Rowdy thinks the frames are the best.  He coos more for the frames than he does me.  And his legs kick and kick and kick and KICK, like an eager puppy wagging his tail.  It's so cute to watch him get all riled up with excitement!

// He loves warm baths and sca-reams when the water is too cold ;)  Apparently that is VERY offensive.   He'd sit in the bath all day if I let him.

// Rowdy is really strong.  He's been holding his head up since hours after his birth.  And he can hold his back up and "stand" on his legs, if we provide him the balance.  It makes me so proud!

// Flexibility was always an important part of our family's 'structure' and Caleb and I wanted Rowdy to share that trait as well.  In his first month of life he's been to two weddings, Harper's Ferry, Gettysburg, Charlottesville, 4th of July fireworks, a Nat's game, the Hagerstown Outlets, Costco, Target, Trader Joe's and a variety of restaurants (Chipotle, Longhorn, Bizou, Redwood, Beans in the Belfry).  He's a grand little traveler so far!

// Taking daddy's place in bed when he leaves for work.  I go to sleep at night looking forward to morning so Rowdy can snuggle in with me :)

// His ear fur.  It's darling and elfish and weird and my favorite.

// The smacking sounds when he sucks his fingers

// The way Rowdy "looks at" the pictures while we read.  Oof it is dear.

// The way he throws his arms over his head "tooooucccchhhdooowwwwn!" style when he's waking up from a deep sleep.  Which is often.  He's an incredible sleeper.  At least this month he is!  Keep it up, 99.

// Watching Caleb play and talk in his "baby voice" to and pace in circles with and enjoy our son.

Favorite Pictures That Didn't Make Social Media
One day we're just a guy sleeping with a baby blanket (so it will smell like us) and a bulbous'n'waddly girl...

... the next? We're a family of three.

Best morning of my life.

Going home outfit!  Huge deal!  Thanks Aunt Lylalalee-ya Jane!
The Welcoming Committee... and they have changed more diapers than I have!  They're very loving aunts.
We came home from the hospital on Father's Day and we had a delicious meal made by Grandma Bear and Aunt Katie.
First night in our house! (Thanks Ica + sister for hooking us up with the great bassinet! And thank you, Jess, for the best blankets ever!)

Aaaaand first morning in our house! (Love you, Chef Husband Man.  So much.  All the time.)

First doctor's appointment... at the same pediatrician office that I went to as a baby.  Nothing has changed.  Those exact stickers on the door have been there for 20-something years.
First bath!  The beginning of a wonderful discovery... baths put Rowdy in glory.

They sleep so much those first few days... it's like meeting a new person when they start to be awake more often.  I love staring into those rich blues.
First family-outing-date-night!
First family walk in the neighborhood!
I shot two weddings in the first 15 days of Rowdy's life... and Caleb + Dan played at one of them!  Love working with him :)
Chipotle choices and Trader Joe's choices: important first life lessons. 
The Oklahoma Crew came to play!  We loved having them and Rowdy thrived being passed around between so many doting aunts and uncles.  I can't wait for him to get to know each and every one of them!  And Grama and Grandpa Morris made me tear up by the way they loved on our son.  I wish we all lived closer to each other!
(I love this picture from Gettysburg becaaause I have no idea who the guy in the brown shirt is. hahaha.)
First blow-out...! 
And loooots of bed time.  It's so hard to leave our nest.
GrandmaBear has a special way with Rowdy.  I love watching them together.
It's been a month full of love, love, love.  Happy One Month, Snuggler! We adore you!