Burnt Okra

Getting a big family ready for any kind of outing takes extra…extra time, extra effort, extra energy.  When you throw a baby into the mix, you have to plan even more carefully. That’s why I was super excited that we actually had everyone out the door and in the van by 8:00 am on a Saturday morning, heading an hour south to a town called McDonough, Georgia to go berry picking.  It takes so much extra that I almost cancelled the outing, but my desire for fresh blackberries overcame my non-desire to do the extra work to get us there!  When we arrived, the weather was surprisingly cool for late June and the children were ecstatic.  After visiting the variety of animals, we finally made it to the blackberry bushes…and oh, the blackberries! There were thousands ready to be picked…big, plump and full of summer sweetness.  Our kids have never done anything like this, so their shock and awe was pretty priceless.  Molly Kate (my biggest lover of fruit) was delighted, saying she could easily see us living on a farm and that picking berries was so much better than most fun, she couldn’t even think of a word to describe it! She even said she was falling in love with the blackberries…it was pretty darn adorable!

Slowly, the summer sun began to warm up the day, so after tackling some blueberries and noticing that Maggie was rubbing her eyes and past ready for her morning nap, we decided to call it a day.  We headed to the little hut to pay for our fruit when I overheard the cashier telling another customer about the okra ready to be cut. Okra?!?!  If there’s one thing to be true about the Cuthbertson clan, it’s this…we probably love fried okra even more than blackberries, especially when it’s fresh from the garden!  The big kids were waiting to see if I would head back out to the field and Kevin sweetly offered to take the two littles back to the van and out of the heat.  Yep, back to the field we went with shears in hand to fill a 2 gallon bucket with whatever goodness we might find!  We conquered the okra…I say conquered because you had to practically dive into the huge plant to find the ones ready to be cut and there were bees swarming in and out the entire time.  Plus, without any gloves, I was being eaten alive by the scratchy leaves.  But to our delight, we also found squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and string beans.  I could already taste dinner and a blackberry cobbler!

I have to give the background details as to how the okra came into our possession for one to understand fully why I absolutely lost it when hours later, after I had been in the kitchen preparing our farm feast for over two of those hours, I started smelling the okra burning in my cast iron skillet.  I know that idols still lurk in my heart, but it’s super defeating when you come face to face with more than one of them in the same instant.  I had the cobbler made, baked and now cooling, the potato/squash au gratin in the oven, the string beans/onion/sausage in the skillet and Kevin was making homemade ice cream in our new KitchenAid attachment when in walked my four kiddos and our neighbor’s son.  One thing I love about our new neighborhood is that our children have quickly made friends with our neighbor’s children…and they are all very sweet and easy to have in our home.  But, we still have a rule that the children must come ask before inviting any friends in…and this particular moment and day, I was so happy to not have anyone in our home. For the last three weekends, we have hosted out-of-town company/family and in between the weekends, we’ve had numerous play dates and families over for dinner.  My introverted side has been quietly screaming for a break from people, so I was fairly irritated with the children for not thinking about our rule and allowing their visitor to come on in.  And in thinking through how to gently tell this little boy that we were about to eat dinner as a family and not hurt his feelings that our kids couldn’t play right now, guess what happened on the stove?  Oh yes, the okra was turning a not-so-beautiful shade of black on the bottom.  I flew to the stove to salvage what I could and Kevin quickly intervened with our guest and the children walked him home.  When they came back in the door, all of I just lost it.  I cried and I yelled and then I ran up the stairs and slammed the door (I wonder how many of you are surprised that I actually have such moments?! 😉

Amidst tears and trying to pray, God began showing me some big idols and some major unbelief.  I was clearly holding too tightly to a perfect meal…I was living out a dream of being to go pick your food in your garden and bring it to your table for dinner and I didn’t want anything to mess that up.  I was also idolizing family time…holding so tightly to just having us seven in our home that I was unwilling to show hospitality to a child and angry words were spewed into my children’s hearts because I cared more about a perfect meal in a quiet house than I did their souls. But harder than swallowing the fact that these idols had been erected in my heart was the fact that now that I sinned, I couldn’t receive God’s grace.  I was ashamed to go back downstairs and face my family.  I didn’t know how to say “see, Mommy messes up the same way you guys do, but I’m so thankful that my righteousness doesn’t depend on me and that God still loves me when I fail because the blood of His Son covers me.” I didn’t know how to say it because through the tears and failure and heartache, I couldn’t believe that it was true.  One of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture is this:

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts
And said to you, ‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’  Isaiah 41:9-10

And as much as I have meditated on those words and found counsel and comfort in times of trials, I deeply struggle to believe them when dealing with my own sin.  I can say with all my heart that I believe that God has favor on me because He chose me and I have trusted in Jesus Christ and Him alone.  I know that my works could never earn God’s favor and I know any good in me is because of His grace at work in me.  But, when I fail…I mean when I really blow it, I act as though none of this is true and I picture my Father looking down on me in disappointment and disdain.  My reaction in these times proves that I still seek to perform for God, I still believe I can please Him with all my good works and I still fail to rest in grace.  It was a long, hard evening…my heart was low and the truth blaring at me was more than hard to swallow.  But isn’t God good that He doesn’t let us continue on in unbelief….He opens our eyes and unveils our hearts and points us back to the pure joy and hope found in the gospel alone. He relentlessly pursues our holiness and sanctification through all sorts of ordinary means, sometimes even burnt okra.

I am praying to deeply embrace and believe the following and I know He will help me…

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.  Zephaniah 3:17

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First Fruits

I knew it was going to be a long day.  The past two nights children were up later than usual, summertime activities and swimming were taking a toll on everyone’s energy levels and birthdays always seem to create an element of chaos.  So when Madden woke up fairly grumpy, whining and complaining on Wednesday (his 4th birthday), I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  Nevertheless, we had a super-fun day (or that was what I was aiming for!) ahead of us, and so, we dove in to the day-long celebration.  From our breakfast stop at Krispy Kreme to the splash pad at the Atlanta Zoo, Madden complained or pouted or whined about a dozen times.  Though weary and disappointed that he wasn’t able to enjoy his special day to the fullest, I continued seeking to make his day enjoyable as any good mama would…and even his siblings were bending over backwards, trying to please Mr. Impossible.  Of course, there were still lots of giggles and smiles…when the kids got the entire zoo playground to themselves and when they fed the giraffe for the first time.  But I felt like the over-arching theme of the day was discontentment, fatigue and complaints…not quite to joyful birthday I had envisioned!

Then came the cake and ice cream…about two bites into his cake (which I spent about four hours making, at least!), he looks up in all seriousness and announces “I don’t like this cake.” Forcing back tears, I looked at him and calmly and kindly said “that’s okay…you don’t have to eat it.” I could tell the other kids were stunned and Molly Kate quickly tried to cover up his remark by assuring me that he just thinks the icing is too sweet (which I do believe ended up being the case).  I told the kids that it was fine and that Madden just seemed to be struggling with complaining that day.  I got up to get Maggie ready for her nap and I think Kevin may have mentioned something to Madden about his attitude.  Then we all headed to our rooms for rest time, which I certainly needed by that point!

A few hours later, as I was helping the kids get bathed and dressed for Wednesday evening dinner and bible study, Madden suddenly looks at me and says these words…”Mommy, I’m sorry that I’ve been complaining a lot today.” It was the sweetest, most sincere moment of repentance and I was and am so thankful that I happened to be in the middle of reading a book about giving the grace of the gospel to our children. I got down on my knees, looked into his beautiful blue eyes and said something to the point of “you know, Madden…Mommy has a hard time not complaining too sometimes, especially when I’m tired.  But you know what? I know that even on days when I complain, God still loves me because I have put my faith in His Son Jesus.  Will you ever be able to stop complaining?” He shook his head and I said “that’s right….Who is the only One who can help you stop complaining?” And he quietly answered “God.” And I reiterated the truth that is already taking root in his heart…that our God is the only one powerful enough to break the evil in our hearts through the righteousness of Jesus…we can never do it on our own.

These conversations happen often with my children, but for some reason, I reflected on this incidence with a bit more gratitude and a few more tears.  You see, of all my children, Madden is the one I probably spoil the most, discipline the least and the kid I have spent the smallest amount of time teaching Bible truths.  If his salvation was up to me and my efforts thus far, he’d probably never know Jesus as Savior.  But, praise be to God that He is the One who saves whom He wants to save…and praise be to Him for the grace He’s granted my little boy to see his sin, to ponder it for a while and in humility, to come to me and repent.  I recognize that is no small thing and I rejoice in seeing these first fruits of the gospel taking root in his heart.

I’m reminded of this passage…one I reflect on often as I persevere in raising children…sinners who need the light of Christ…

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

I recognize that God is the One who unveils, God is the One who gives sight to the blind, God is the One who shines the Light into a dark heart…and I know that my children need Him to do that work in their lives more than they need anything else.  May God grant me the grace to press on in the ministry of mercy and not lose heart as I teach, correct, train and rebuke this little crew He has entrusted to me.

Here’s a few moments from Madden’s big day…thankfully, there were still smiles abounding:

Balloons at Krispy Kreme!
Balloons at Krispy Kreme!
Breakfast of Champions!
Breakfast of Champions!
Yummy!
Yummy!
Zoo Time!
Zoo Time!
Empty playground means plenty of time to play!
Empty playground means plenty of time to play!
Loving the slide!
Loving the slide!
Cuthbertson Train!
Cuthbertson Train!
Madden's favorite part of the zoo!
Madden’s favorite part of the zoo!
Present time!
Present time!
Excited about the Jake Hideout!
Excited about the Jake Hideout!
Happy Birthday to Madden!
Happy Birthday to Madden!
The many faces of my little man!
The many faces of my little man!
Mommy and the four year old!
Mommy and the four year old!