80 lbs of strawberries and a sister who makes me get things done. “Tomorrow’s the day,” Heather said in a message. “It will be over 100 degrees all weekend and the last of the berries will be gone. Be ready by 8:30. We’ll pick tomorrow and jam on Thursday.”
For as long as I can remember my sister has been a balancer to my visionary ideals. Like my husband, she can put feet to ideas in a way I cannot. We harmonize well together, and as a team, we get things done.
I’m thinking about her as I read this verse this morning:
6 o’clock in the morning and I’m shivering at a coffee shop. It’s no 100 degrees in here, yet. I cradle my paper cup and watch two elderly Catholic men seated the next table over as line by line they read a chapter of Proverbs aloud. One verse, and then the next, and the next, without commentary on the part of the men. Closing their Bibles, they relax into their seats, open a wooden board, and begin a game of Cribbage. Cribbage! I love them. I want to be them when I grow up.
Silence reigns from the men as pegs are moved, but every few minutes a comment is made – a question about directions from here and there, an inquiry about the others’ wife, and, once or twice, a vulnerable thought about a line from Proverbs. Cards are dealt and Scripture meditated, and a day is harmonized and begun. I’m thinking about jam. I’m thinking about parenting. I’m thinking about my sister, and her brand-new experience of being a mother.
You say things when your hands are occupied.
“Our whole group of friends gathered and prayed over the baby,” my sister told me over berry rinsing, “They asked what prayers are already in our hearts for him, and then added their own.”
“What kinds of things are in your heart?” I asked. She weighed her words, and let them tumble and spill.
My own heart, it caught its breath and listened. Now, two days later, her words keep playing in me. I can’t stop thinking about it – about what it was like to have a firstborn son in my arms, about the prayers I used to pray over him, the dreams I harbored in the watches of the night, the tears and fervency and love. About my brokenness and how it manifested itself in my affections toward my son. My prayers back then often echoed my fears. “Keep him from this and that,” I’d plead, the worst parts of my memories burning in the dark. My sister’s expressions fall on my ears more hope-filled, her prayers hint at expectation rather than fear.
Ah, son. I’m taken back. I can’t shake it, the feeling of holding you. The feather-like weight of you in my arms and the granite-like weight of my responsibility toward you crashing into my heart. Your first 24 hours of life I sat stark still in bed and stared at your face, thinking, “This came out of me? This person? This human? This son? He’s a part of me, yet not me; his own, yet mine?”
What can compare to the emotion of a mother toward her firstborn child? Can anything? Are we not at our closest to Eden, in the moment of becoming mother – both to the glory and to the fall? Is not the oneness of conception culminated in the sacrifice of birth, is not the death of Self-Love brought to bear in the Sacred Birthing of Other Life?
When my sons were young – 1 and 3 years old – I often stole into their room in the dark hours of night to fall on my face beside their bed. With gut-wrenching prayers I would sing and plead, seeking the face of this God who dared give them life. How could they have been entrusted to me? How could I do them justice? How could I do them right?
That verse about harmony is from Colossians, and I flip to it as the second game of Cribbage begins. I am aching in tender places of my heart. “Take off these things,” Paul says in following verses, all the things I’ve failed to permanently take off: “Anger, wrath, malice, slander, old practices, covetousness, evil desires.”
Put on these other things, all these things I’ve never completely put on: “compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace of Christ, thankfulness, wisdom, songs, teachings, harmony.”
Bear with one another, he tells me, and forgive if anyone has a complaint against anybody else. Don’t be like the world. Take off; Put on; Don’t complain.
Ah, complaints. My children have many complaints against each other. Like the lost boys of NeverNeverLand, they “fight and quarrel” just as James describes in his epistle: “They want something and cannot have it, they covet and cannot obtain, so they fight and quarrel.”
“They don’t have it, simply because they don’t ask,” James explains, “and if they do ask, they probably are asking out of wrong motives, wishing to spend that thing on their passions.”
This covetous approach to living? He calls it friendship with the world.
Isn’t enmity with God the opposite of harmony? The opposite of the perfect bond of love?
My own prayers for my children have changed since the ones uttered a decade ago. Maybe this means my youngest babies are getting the short end of the stick…or maybe it means they are recipients of a mama whose prayers hold a lot more grace. Maybe both are true. Maybe this heart of grace and hope I hold is tired, and needs a bit more time in the presence of the Lord.
Maybe there needs to be a bit more binding.
It was ten-thirty last night before I skimmed the last bit of scum from the last batch of jam. It took me 60 jars to learn that if I skim too soon, scum remains mixed in the jelly and jelly is lost in the skimming. Instead, there needs to be a resting period, where the sugared berries bind and harmonize into jelly and the unwanted foam rises to the top. Then, once the jam has bound completely, the scum peels away like the foreign object it has become.
I watch the hands at Cribbage and think: this is like our hearts.
Maybe we need to rest in love before we can ever put the old self off.
When I swoop in to discipline the quarrels of my children while emotion still simmers, good is taken, and scum remains. The job is done, but it’s not whole or kind or beautiful. Hearts haven’t been bound. Friendships haven’t been harmonized.
When I try to put on “my new self” right over the top of my old, rather than resting and putting the old self to death in the donning, I am like a jam bound together with scum. There is disharmony. Love is not fully put on.
“You’ve died, and your life is hidden with Christ,” Paul goes on to say in Colossians. “So put to death all that is earthly in you.”
But then again, I’ve tried. It’s a tall order, one I cannot quite meet. I’m 12 years into this parenting thing now and I know that despite all my first-time-mama prayers, I’ve broken every commandment ever written on my heart. I’ve done all the things Paul says not to do, and I’ve fallen short in all the ways he says to excel. It’s all scum and foam and berries and sugar mixed together, canned into what feels like eternity.
But then I’m back in Colossians and I find it, the hidden jewel of grace, the pectin of the whole concoction:
We have new selves to replace the old, sinful ones, yes. But – and stay with me here, because this “but” is big – these new selves are in the process of also “being renewed.”
They are new, AND are being renewed.
It is our knowledge that is being renewed, our knowledge of the Creator, and so these new selves that he’s given us are not unchangeable stone, but viable flesh. We keep learning about Jesus, we keep knowing him and being known by him and in his likeness we are changed from “grace to grace” – always grace, grace before, behind, below, above – GRACE.
It’s a journey. It’s a process. It’s like making jam. Paul echoes this when he says we are both sanctified (holy) and being sanctified (being made holy) at the same exact moment in time. We both are, and are becoming.
We both are, and are becoming.
We are both holy and becoming holy.
We are both new, and are being renewed.
We are loved, and are being loved.
We’ve put on love, and also, we are still putting love on.