When you want to trade Little for Big.

They are still small, mini-people, with that baby fine hair and the imperfect use of pronouns.  But every single one already has strong opinions, big plans.  “Mine,” says one. “I want purple.”  She snatches a block, fierce and determined.  Her tower is prodigious (maybe six inches tall).  She guards it with a look that means trouble is coming; the boy next to her grins and his arm swings.  Purple blocks go flying.

She has built her little masterpiece with great care, but doesn’t yet know the rules of the game.  Nothing built under the sun will last.

Ecclesiastes says it loud and clear:  “I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.   And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!  So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.” (Ecc. 2:18-20, NLT)  

It’s a knowledge that can drive you mad or set you free depending on your perspective.  Howard Hughes?  Crazy as a loon.  Ernest Hemingway?  Despondent to the point of death.  It was Hemingway who once wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”  It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that life is short and work is hard.

Still, tilt your head another way and it’s a beauty that will knock you down.  Sometimes artists grab onto this, chiseling their sculptures in sand or ice or melting candles.  Even the medium they choose testifies to the truth:  life is so, so very short.  Like a fabulous sunset or a towering stormcloud, we live for a brief, incandescent moment, and then we are gone.  It's the blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality of life that makes it so precious.

But we little people like to do big things.  We want to build the Taj Majal, the Great Wall — but even those are an earthquake away from oblivion.  Our best efforts are more like the ancient mosaic archaeologists uncovered last year:  a happy skeleton with his wine bottle proclaiming, “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.”  Yep.  Chew on that irony for a minute.

So we squirm, we scorn our little lives.  We miss things of eternal value because they are small and transient, and we are reaching for grand and magnificent.  But what if the things that really last, that really matter, are intangible?  We see “through a glass darkly,” a wobbly, cloudy image of what’s real.  But one day we’ll step into the light and see clearly.

In an absolutely fascinating BBC video you can watch a Japanese pufferfish on the ocean floor–happy little guy, living his fishy little life far from Hollywood.  He seems to have found the secret of joy “under the sun,” embracing his momentary existence with verve.  He is just like us, small and insignificant, committed to projects that will soon wash away.  And yet in his own little way he whispers his winsome secret in his quiet corner of the sea.  It really is a marvel (you have to see it to believe it), but this engaging creature went undetected through all of history until just now.  The BBC comments, “Its fragility has no doubt played a role in this undiscovered secret. The structure has no permanence, or any need for permanence. Perhaps its simplicity has rendered previous witnesses confused or merely unimpressed.”  Think of it, such a wonder happening year after year, never seen or celebrated by the likes of us.  What kind of God bothers to make such crazy spectacles, only to keep them hidden for millennia?

My small son commented that our fishy friend has painted the sun, just as it would look from a rippling under-the-sea perspective.  I would like to say to Solomon that even “under the sun” there is beauty.

A fish that makes God smile.  A sandcastle that will soon erode away.  A life that flashes by, but touches other lives that touch other lives that touch other lives…

A diaper changed.  A nursing home visit.  A cup of hot chocolate for cold, homeless hands.  A field plowed and sown, weeded and fertilized, not just the once, but year after year after year.  Choosing joy when your heart aches and it would be so easy to just give up, choosing to serve when you’d rather sleep.  These little things are slow, unseen, difficult, and generally monotonous.  They remind us that we have more in common with strange, small fish than Michelangelo, and even Michelangelo is more fishy than forever.

Don’t be too quick to exchange Little for Big.  Maybe in the end, a little love is all that lasts.

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photo credit:  BBC

Glory in the Grilled Cheese

What’s a good career path for a girl who just wants to change the world?  Stay at home mom, right?  Wait…

I’m a person who feels strongly what Courtney Reissig calls the “pull of the spectacular.”  I want my short life to count.  I want to do eternal things with the days I’ve been given.  I wanna imitate the disciples, 12 ordinary guys who turned the world upside down.  And the world needs changing.  It’s so broken!  There is so much injustice, so much poverty; it breaks my heart.  In college, I studied great writers, great thinkers, great teachers and revolutionaries.  I studied the lives of missionaries and politicians, and I wanted to be one of them.

I’m all about doing big things.  If I help to plan an event, I want 1,000 people to show up.  If I write a book, I want 1,000,000 to buy it.  I want to do big things for God, but that’s not the commission He has given me.  Evidently, He wants me to do small things with great love.  He wants to take center stage, not to shine a spotlight on me.

So I’m a stay at home mom.  I don’t even have a dozen children to boast of, just three.  I spend my days assigning books to read, catching up on a sinkful of dirty dishes, and cooking.  I don’t even cook amazing gourmet meals — we eat a lot of cereal.  My house is always in need of a good scrub, and I’m perpetually behind on school with the kids.  So what does it mean to be faithful in exile as a mom?  It’s what my husband calls “the peculiar glory of humble circumstances.”

First, I think being faithful means having faith.  Having faith, as we teach our little ones, that “God is great,” and “God is good.”  He is mighty, He is thoughtful, and He is sovereign over all of the little details of my life.  He doesn’t need me to accomplish great things; He’s got “great” covered.  Just as I can trust Him for my salvation, I can trust Him to make all things beautiful in His time—including all the little details of my life.  And little things can be eternally significant, like little mustard seeds that grow up into towering trees.

I think being faithful means loving God—ridiculously.  It means worshipping Him with a glad, full heart, day in and day out, even when my days kinda start to look the same from one to the next.  My primary contribution to the world is to adore and enjoy Jesus with my husband, with my children, with all of y’all.  It’s not about me at all.

I think being faithful means loving my neighbor extravagantly.  In this case, my most obvious neighbors are Michael, Josh, Abbey, and Patrick.  When I wash a pan that somebody made a grilled cheese in, I am loving my neighbor.  When I do the bills, I am loving my neighbor.  It’s not glamorous, but it is God-honoring.  And frankly I don’t even do it for my family, I do it for Jesus.  Whenever we give a cup of cold water in His name, He receives it as a gift to Himself.

And finally, I think being faithful in exile means remembering that what matters eternally far outweighs what matters for a fleeting moment.  Love is significant, because it plants seeds that bloom in eternity.  Our lives are really, really short, but every moment that we dedicate to the Lord will have long-lasting impact.

We are in exile here, in a broken and fallen world.  There are “thorns and thistles” — obstacles and tediousness and heartache galore.  As a stay at home mom, I experience this exile as a long wait, a wait for Home.  And whenever I can serve with humility and love, I am reminded of Jesus’ exile here on earth.  He did not seek fame and fortune; He came to love extravagantly, to serve ceaselessly, and to lay down His life for you and me.  Any frustration I feel at being mired in little chores is swallowed up by awe when I consider the God who came to our little earth out of a great, great love.

This post was written for a quick testimony at church.  We’ve been walking through the book of Daniel (check it out!) and considering what it means to be faithful in exile.  Each week someone from the congregation has shared what faithfulness looks like in their unique context.  This was me taking a stab at it.

“The gospel redeems and enchants every aspect of our lives—from the spectacular to the quotidian. We have a Savior who was a carpenter, a King who spent his days with fishermen. And he taught us that work isn’t ultimately about us, or about how it makes us feel—it’s about ‘loving and serving our neighbor.'” –Gracy Olmstead for TGC