Category Archives: motherhood

Preemptive Weariness & a Ready Refuge

Is there such a thing as preemptive weariness? If there wasn’t, I am fairly certain that my thought-patterns of late have created such a thing.

Normally back-to-school season is my solace. I love the ordered anticipation, the list-checking, and the label-making that it affords.  I love outfitting my boys with new  (or new to them) lunch bags, book bags, and first day of school clothes. However, this pandemic has been raining on everyone’s back-to-school parades.

I keep find my masked-self roaming school supply aisles in nostalgia and confusion. Should we buy the pencils and order the new lunch boxes?  Do they even need spiral notebooks? The surface-level supply confusion is nothing compared to the storms that rage deeper in my heart throughout the day. Do I have what it takes to challenge my children? What are they missing developmentally and emotionally right now? If can barely keep myself on task, how will I keep three different children in three different grades on track? 

If I feel this weary, I cannot imagine the potential and/or proven weariness of teachers and administrators, single parent families, and those who are treading water already. I  wake up with a weighted heart every morning, mentally tired from playing out potential scenarios before eating my Cheerios. This morning, after the initial wave of preemptive weariness came over me, the Spirit was so gracious to remind me of an old favorite hymn, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.”

“Dear Refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee when sorrows rise,
On Thee when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel.” 

Anne Steele, the English hymn writer that penned these words, was no stranger to the storms of life. She lost her mother at age three, and then, at the early age of 19, she became an invalid. Some stories say that she was engaged until she lost her fiancee to a drowning accident; however, historical research seems to say otherwise. With or without the loss of a fiancee, Steele’s life sent her regularly running to the refuge of weary souls.  She remained single all her life, working alongside her father doing ministry. Her regular visits to the safety of the Rock of Ages seemed to prime her heart to write prolifically, as she wrote devotional poetry and hymns that have led other souls to her same refuge.

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It is likely that she had Psalm 46 in mind when she wrote these sweet words about her sovereign refuge.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling”
(Psalm 46:1-3).

The Hebrew word machaseh, translated refuge above, can also mean a place of safety, hope, and trust. It is derived from the Hebrew verb chasah meaning to run for refuge or  to flee for protection and safety.

However, the word I found most interesting in this verse was matsa which is translated “very present” above. This word literally means to attain or to find. A more literal translation might read, “a much found” refuge or a “well-proven” refuge.

The Psalmists implies that there is a well-worn, often-trod path to this sure refuge in the Lord. It has been sought out, found, and proven countless times. He has been found sufficient, spacious, and steady as a refuge for weary souls.

If preemptive-weariness exists, we can take great solace in the fact that a ready refuge long preexists it.  There was a day when the perfect Son of God wanted to run, as was His custom, into the refuge of the Father. He was not received. He was left refuge-less and ravaged on the cross. He endured this literal mountain-shaking catastrophe so that we would have constant access to the well-proven refuge.

In this season, may our feet better learn the path to the refuge of our weary souls. If this season continues to elongate, may we also elongate the list of God’s proven faithfulness to us and our children.

A Word to Would-Be School Marms

While walking around in my mask on a rare trip to Hobby Lobby for sanity crafts, I saw something that arrested my attention.  A precious little chalkboard plaque that was meant to charm me but paralyzed me, reading, “The future of the world is in my classroom.”

I might have been likely to buy something just like this for a cute beginning of the year present for my children’s new teachers, only this year, for all intents and purposes, I am their teacher.  

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There are moments when I have visions of being the next Mrs. Frizzle who wildly catches the curiosity of my boys and incites them to passion in the lanes of their giftedness. In those moments, the thought of the future of world living in my home/classroom/ restaurant/ spiritual greenhouse fills me with courage and hope. 

But there are many more very different moments when I remember that I often cannot remember why I walked into my kitchen or realize I haven’t fed or walked the dog by dinnertime. In those moments, the cute little plaque paralyzes me. After all, I should not be entrusted with educating the future of the world if I cannot be faithfully entrusted with the future of the week’s meal planning and bill payments. If the fate of our pet turtles and fish from the past are any indication of the future in my hands, things look bleak, friends. Very bleak. 

I don’t think that I am alone in these pendulum mood swings. As such, I feel the need to remind us all that the future is, in fact, fully secured and utterly ordered by the God of the Universe who has proven Himself good, kind, and capable. 

He is at the center, gladly usurping the usurpers of myself and my children who take turns stealing that seat. He who created my boys with full knowledge of their unique foibles and frailties stands outside of time (Psalm 139:13-16). As such, He fully sees and secures their future. He knows the passions that He has planted within them  (Ephesians 2:10). While I am beginning to see tiny threads of their gifts  and driving desires, He sees the finished tapestry (Hebrews 4:13). 

While my year (or dare I say more?) of schooling them will certainly be shaping and significant, it is not central. He is (Colossians 1:17). And His will and ways will no more be thrown off by my mistakes and missteps than a tiny pebble would throw off Mount Everest. 

Neither Saxon nor Singapore Math will secure my children’s future; their Savior has done so. 

While I want to nourish their minds through classic novels, it is far more significant that they  and their mother be nourished by the promises and presence of Christ. Zoom calls may suck the ever-living life out of them, but we are promised the refreshing zephyr of the Holy Spirit who  will refresh and renew us as we go. 

The burden of schooling can feel crushing, especially when everyone is doing at the same time mostly involuntarily. This unique situation leaves ample space for the additional crushing weight of comparison and competition. “She made a cute chart and bought old fashioned desks for her kids, but my kids are sitting upside down on their heads and the dog just ate the chart.” 

Rather than buying an alphabet carpet for the future school room that we don’t have space to make, I need to set myself squarely in the center of the portion that God has allotted for me and for them. 

He who has entrusted me with these particular children in this particular time has already become my portion and my cup. The lines He has drawn up for us are secure (Psalm 16:5-6). 

He knows already the days where they will soar and the days when we will sink. The Lord has made one day as well as the next (Ecclesiastes 7:14).  

While Hobby Lobby’s plaque may not be wrong, it is incomplete. The future of the world is most certainly in my classroom, but their future has been long secured by the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As such, this future school marm has some planning to do in the presence of Christ. Godspeed, fellow mommas!  

Grace at the Edges

I don’t like edges. When we were small, our wild and zany grandmother and her equally brave and brazen sister took all the grandchildren to Niagra Falls. While I loved eating milkshakes for breakfast and being spoiled rotten, I remember cowering in fear at the edges of the falls. My younger sister and cousins were hanging on the railing, in awe, while I sat four feet back shaking with nerves.

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It seems old habits die hard, as I am still not my best at edges. I don’t like change. Where others feel adventure, I feel anxiety. Where others teem with excitement and hope at new wineskins and ventures, I shrink back, clinging to old wineskins. They may be shot, but they are known. They may be haggard, but they are comfortable. I just don’t like the ends and the beginnings; I much prefer the solid middle to the bumpy borders. Given the choice, I would live my life without edges.

Thankfully, I have a Father who pushes me gently out of old wineskins, off the solid ground of the known and into the unknown.  I have known the stubborn love of the Father with His long-view to my sanctification that forces me to overcome short-term discomfort, inviting me to venture out of the stability of the boat and onto the wavy water. Yet, of late, I have seen it anew and afresh through parenting my own children.

For years we have been praying and wrestling about schooling decisions, always approaching education on year-by-year, child-by-child basis. This past year, we sensed the Lord calling us to switch schools from a place that has been a precious haven to our boys for the past 6 years. While we feel convinced that this is His best for our boys, they are terrified to leave the known, a small, intimate Christian school for the unknown, a larger charter school with 4 times the students.

For months, bedtimes have been tearful, honest times of sharing fears, hopes and nerves.  It seems my big boys, like me, have an aversion to edges, especially big ones.  In my flesh, I want to appease them, to let them be comfortable; but my love for the Lord and desire to obey His call, coupled with my desire to see them stretched and grown in grace and maturity, keeps me gently leading them to the edges.

I know that in six months, they will look back and see God’s gracious provision of courage and friendships and will have solid ground to stand on. I know that they will be able to look back on this major transition at the next major life transition and remember the Lord’s faithfulness and steadiness in a sea of change. But they don’t know that yet. All they know is the discomfort of the edges.

I think of God’s people being led out of Egypt, purposely doubled back to stare at imposing sea.  It must have seemed like they had been led to the edge of annihilation rather than to the edge of liberation. Yet, at those edges, God met them mightily. The  parting of the Red Sea would become a memorial to God’s faithfulness, recounted in the Psalms over and over when God’s people found themselves at yet another edge.

When we find ourselves at edges, at the outskirts of various seasons or stages, we would do well to remember another set of edges.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14

What we have known and experienced of God up to the present are only the mere edges, the outskirts, the fringes, the beginnings of His power, His presence, His promises. He has so much to reveal, so much more to expose and strengthen in and to us. He will continue to call us to move toward the middle of His power; He loves us too much to let us linger on the outskirts, to let us stay splashing in the surf. He would have us continue to move toward Him.

To get past the edges of His ways, we must cross many edges. To move toward the middle, toward being more and more conformed to His image, we will cross countless borders of change.

Thankfully, our Father holds our hands and leads us across the liminal places. I find great rest in my troubled soul when I think of the Father walking my nervous boys over rough edges and into more experiences of His grace.

May God’s grace meet you at your edges.

 

 

 

To My Teenage Son

A baker’s dozen. One more than 12. 6 + 7.

Thirteen used to sound like any other number to me. Until recently. My oldest son turns thirteen in five days, and I swear I was just thirteen weeks pregnant with him.

More than I have been preparing for a COVID-friendly celebration for him, I have been preparing my heart for what feels like a huge milestone in his life. When he turned twelve last year, I realized that, assuming he took the college route, we were already two-thirds done with his years in our home. But this year, my heart has been even more ponderous approaching my son’s next trip around the sun.

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As I was reading David Brooks’s The Second Mountain, specifically the sections on calling, a few lines burrowed into my soul.

“There comes a time in many careers when people face a choice between helping a small number of people a lot of helping a large number of people a little.”

“Emerson underlies one of the key elements of the commitment decision. At the beginning it involves choice – choosing this or that vocation. But  99.9 percent of the time it means choosing what one already chosen….It’s saying yes to the thing you’ve already said yes to.”

When I was processing what we could purchase to make our son’s upcoming birthday feel set apart and special, I was struggling. I ended up sitting up all night and wrestling with the Lord. You see, for the past few years, my mind and heart have been rightly preoccupied with my responsibilities as a women’s ministry director. I love my job. I love what I do. I feel I was born to do it (it helps that I get paid well to do what I would want to do anyway!). Yet, I sensed the Lord asking me to give my child a very costly gift for his thirteenth birthday: more of my focused time, space, and attention.

As I have continued to wrestle with this costly gift, the Lord has been so good to remind me that He always gets my yes. When Mother Theresa felt called as a young girl to become a nun, she nervously told her mother who loved her and depended upon her care. She had no need to be nervous, for she knew that her mother could never say no to Jesus. That line grabbed my gaze and has become a prayer of mine ever since. I want to never say no to Jesus. Even when His call feels uncomfortable, unnatural, or illogical.

While Jesus gets my first yes, my husband and children get my next yeses. I said yes to my husband on a crisp April night (on April Fool’s Day…not advisable, by the way). But I keep saying quiet yeses to him and our marriage. God made me a mother early in my marriage, when I was a hair past 24. Motherhood has not always been an easy yes, but it has been one of my very best yeses.  Saying yes to the brood of boys the Lord has given us has meant a navy of no’s.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no martyr. I know I have a self to steward. I have grown in my capacity to say yes to things that are in my gift set and even to some that are well outside of it. But those other yeses always follow behind my guiding yeses to Jesus, to my husband, and to our boys. Prayerfully, there will be decades to come where I can say some of the yeses that I have had to decline (sometimes with a good attitude,  though often with a poor one). I want to run another marathon, though I barely walk the dog these days. I want to disciple more women, though these days my life is full of boys. But right now, my fellas need my yeses. The days are flying by, and there is much work to be done, laughter to be had, tears to be shed, and prayers to be prayed.

You are my Yeses

My guiding yeses are decided
Before a question is asked.
My soul is already crowded
With roles I’ve been tasked.

There are myriad mantles
Sold and offered in this life
My most noble mantles are
Daughter, mother, and wife.

As your worlds grow larger,
I’m fighting to change pace.
Your needs, though less noisy,
Can be heard with ample space.

I cannot say no to Jesus,
He gets my yes and amen.
He determines my calling:
Who, what, where, and when.

 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

Right-sizing Summer

Expectations on summer somehow grew to exponential proportions in my momma heart. I did not realize the pressure I felt until tears were welling up in my eyes today.

When I look back on the summers of my childhood, I can taste ice cream cones, smell the chlorine of the pool, and feel the thick layers of neon zinc oxide gathering on my freckled nose. I am sure my mother remembered soggy wet towels and being our sherpa as we lugged supplies to the beach at Avon-by-the-Sea. But I don’t remember those.

The happy memories of summer, along with those memes that circulate to remind us that we only have eighteen juicy summers with our children, are not intended to heap pressure on already haggard momma souls. Nevertheless, they do.

I have the same internal wrestling match seasonally; however, this year the expectations feel more heightened because of the preceding months of a pandemic.  We have already been living the summer life of staying up later, lazy mornings, and dinners outside on the porch for a few months. While we have loved this slower pace, the end of school did not usher in a new season. It led us into more of the same without an idea of what the fall might hold.

We are not summer-camp-every-week people, but we do usually have a few exciting events that punctuate and give shape to our summer season. Those are not happening, which heaps more pressure on me to give shape to our days. Our growing boys are so hungry for friendships, but zoom calls are no longer packing the same punch. We are committed to fighting the good fight against the encroachment of screens, but such a fight is exhausting.

All these realities compounded with the complexity of social distancing and walking in wisdom leave me feeling frail, fragile, and faulty as a momma. I assume I am not alone. When I hit this wall, I need my perspective adjusted and put back into its proper place. I need the Scriptures, not nostalgia, the consumer market, or the newsfeeds of friends, to inform my summer.

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Repentance > Resorts
I need repentance, not a resort. I find myself daydreaming of a vacation on the Mexican peninsula and imagining that having a pool would cure my discontentment and restlessness.  But my issue is not our location, it is my idolatry of rest and comfort and quiet. I have bought the lie that summer exists to make me and my children happy and shiny (both literally and figuratively). I have forgotten that the chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.

I have been daydreaming about escaping on the highway and missing opportunities right here at my house to travel the byways into my children’s hearts that are set before me. The little squabbles are opportunities to train my children. The windows of boredom can also be doors into creativity and a cultivated contentment that takes practice. It seems that as much as they need to be trained, my own heart needs to be retrained and refined.

Sanctification does not take a summer break. Motherhood does not offer a sabbatical. But God knows these realities and has promised His steady provision and sustenance even in the summer when our budgets and our patience are simultaneously stretched.

For thus said the Lord  God, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. 

Vivification > Vacation
I need vivification, not vacation. As much as we want a change of location and a change of the monotony of the past few months, my soul needs to re-home itself in the Lord and His ways. While I want to float in a lazy river and read in a hammock, what I need is for my soul to be refreshed by the Word of God.

Reviving the soul. Rejoicing the heart. Enlightening the eyes. While these may sound like an add for a vacation rental, they are promises that come from God Himself.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Psalm 19:7-8.  

Rest in the midst of the ordinary; peace in the midst of the pressure; purpose even when a pandemic has life and summer plans on halt. These provisions of the Holy Spirit are helping to right-size our summer.

 

Feasting in the Midst of the Mess

Picnics are my love language. Something magical happens when I load up my motley crew, fill the saddle bags with snacks and head to an outdoor space. I love the act of spreading out our massive, well-worn blanket. I love creating a little haven, even if it is only 36 square feet. I love how my children return intermittently to the blanket after roaming, scavenging, sliding or swinging. I love how picnics provide little patches of peace in the midst of the mess that is real life.

Lately, the Lord has been inviting me, in the most tender yet tenacious way, to picnic with Him. Not next week, not when the house is cleaned or the kids are well, not when my marriage is stronger or when my friendships are less messy, but right now, in the midst of the mess.

The Lord told us Himself “sufficient is the day for its trouble,” meaning each day will have messes all its own. We tend to be a people who insistently trust that “in the next season,” things will be neater, easier, less busy. We power our way through to-do lists, seasons of sickness and endless doctors appointments, unwanted singleness or hard marriages, thinking that once we get to “the other side,” we will enjoy God’s peace and person to a greater degree; however, “the other side” continues to be pushed into the future, swallowing up all our todays.

I am guilty of listening to the voice that says, quite loudly, “After this load of laundry,” or “Once I have the children down,” or “When the Church gets through this crazy season.” But lately, the Lord has been doing the sweetest thing. In those moments of mess, He has been unfolding a blanket and spreading it out right there, on top of a layer of a real life. I can almost literally hear the crisp snap of a blanket, His way of inviting me to come and feast with Him right now, right here.

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It is so tempting to want to clean up the mess, the spilled milk of a marriage that has been worn thin, the piles of friendships that could use a little TLC, the stubborn stains of personal failures that need addressing. It is in our fallen nature to want to clean up before we commune. If this is true of our friends and family, how much more so when the communion is with the Lord Himself.

If our fellowship with Him and our ability to enjoy His peace and presence depend on the mess being cleaned up,ordered and organized, we will never experience the gifts He purchased for us at so great a price.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.  Psalm 23:5.

I have always wondered about this line in the 23rd Psalm. In the midst of a such a melodic psalm of peace and promise, the idea of supping in the midst of angry enemies sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Who would want to do that? I’d much rather the meal be a celebration of enemies taken care of, conquered and subdued than a meal eaten in the presence of danger, dis-ease, or disappointment.

The snapping of the Lord’s picnic blanket in the midst of messy life with messy family, friends and circumstances has changed the way I read that troublesome line. What used to sound uncomfortable and unappealing to me, a meal in the presence of problems, is beginning to sound like the tender whisper of a lover to come join Him. “Don’t clean up, don’t wait, just come join me. Now, yes, now, even in the midst of the messes within and around you.”

In one such moment this week, when the Lord had invited me to His picnic blanket in the midst cankerous and uncertain circumstances, He took our picnic peace to the next level through His Word.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Isaiah 25:6-8. 

Jesus is the feast that He invites me to daily. He is the richest of foods and His spilled blood is the finest wine.  And even though we live in and among persons with internal messes and places with external messes, He cleaned up the biggest mess. Death has been neutered, declawed and destroyed by Him.

I can come join Him on the picnic blanket in the midst of these little messes because He was faithful and fierce with the biggest mess. If He accomplished the greater, He can most assuredly accomplish the lesser. My fellowship with Him, my enjoyment of the peace He need not wait until the minute messes are tidied. He spreads out His picnic blanket for me right here, right now, in the midst of them.

Come, all you are who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me, listen to me, that your soul may life. Isaiah 55: 1-3.

 

 

 

When Sidewalks Scream

The binary tendency innate in my children is being blown to bits this week. Children have a tendency to draw hard lines: the good guys and the bad guys, the right thing and the wrong thing. A nuanced approach that matches the complexity of life in a broken world with broken systems is hard even for adults, let alone developing bodies and brains.

And yet, in the past week, we have been inviting our boys more deeply into the complexity of racism. Some of our dearest friends and mentors have made their homes and their lives in the city of Minneapolis. We have prayed and texted, texted and prayed, with and for them. We have also been processing the riots happening there with our boys, trying to help them understand what we can barely wrap our minds around: the complex history of racism in our nation, the image of God in humanity, the hope of the gospel and the way Christians have to wrestle with how to speak for justice while trusting ultimate justice to the perfect judge.

And then the ripple effects came closer to home. About a mile away to be exact.

Within 24 hours, our little city of La Mesa has seen so much. Peaceful protestors, holding signs and chanting for justice during the daylight hours. Rioting and looting while police officers attempted to protect city center well into the night. Burned buildings in the neighborhood we have grown to love and to which we have felt called by God.

When Sidewalks Scream

The sidewalks saw so much.
They cried, shook, and sighed.
If only they could’ve screamed,
All the complexities outside.

The wave of peaceful protests,
Bringing racism to light,
The marching feet of allies,
Trying to put injustice to flight. 

The gathering crowds at dusk,
Police protecting the ground.
Rioting and alloyed anger,
Fires blazing all around. 

Ashes and tear gas gathered,
Remnants of the riotous hours.
But at dawn, the helpers came
With all their needed powers.  

They gathered, wept, and swept.
Repairing the ruined walkways,
But racism is far more complex,
It’s repair takes more than days.

Oh, that these sidewalks would see
The leveling of a prejudiced past;
That God’s children would resemble
The One to whom they hold fast. 

For if sidewalks could scream,
They would cry out for His aid. 
They seem to know better than we,
The price He has already paid. 

Profanity sprayed on buildings is not the biggest issue. After all, our town came out in droves and had it all covered up by 9 am. We sleep still in our eyes, we joined them with our garbage bags and broom. My boys swept shattered glass and learned about tear gas by accidentally sweeping it up. But African American children have been experiencing both of those things for centuries. 

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We don’t have a neat, tidy response to this as a family. And that is hard and uncomfortable, both for us as parents and for them as children. We know that Christ knew the depth of the human condition, the height of our hatred, and the width of the countless chasms our sins have created when He carefully carried the cross.

What we are wrestling to figure out is what it looks like to take up our own crosses and follow Him, living as He lived, blessing as He blessed, redressing as He redressed. Pray for us. Pray for our city. Pray for your city. Pray for wisdom to live in these broken, bleeding, but beautiful cities until the day when we are with Christ in the city whose builder and architect is God, where justice flows from the very person of Jesus.

 

Compassion Fatigue & Our Tireless God

Compassion fatigue is a newer term that describes a human’s limited capacity to exhibit compassion in comparison to the countless news stories and real life tragedies with which we are bombarded.

Before globalization which directly result of modern advances in technology, a human’s experience and relationships were bound by time and space. Whereas one’s borough, parish, township or neighborhood used to contain all the people and events that might require compassion and action, today, the limits have been stretched to potentially include the entire globe. No wonder compassion fatigue as a term was coined; after all, one human heart can only be pulled in so many directions and carry so many weights before sinking under an inhuman load.

In this season of COVID, compassion fatigue has become an increasing reality. Due to isolation and increased relational and financial strain, our hearts are already eerily  close to capacity. Thus, there is only limited remaining space to process the rest of reality. Horrible acts of racism, children ravaged by starvation, sky-rocketing unemployment rates, the details of a new virus, and countless other realities compete for the limited amounts of compassion we have remaining.

As a mother, on a very small scale, I wrestle with the tension of having three very different sons with three very different sets of gifts, challenges, and opportunities to love.  While I mean it when I tell them, “There is a room in my heart just for you,” I also know that those rooms are small, cramped and insufficient to meet their needs, let alone the needs of others around me.

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Compassion Fatigue in the Early Church

Long before the term was coined, compassion fatigue was a reality.  Even in the early church, long before i-phones pinged with updates of COVID numbers and news of natural disasters, followers of Christ wrestled with a limited capacity for compassion and patience.

Living in a world that was increasingly unjust and unfair to those who proclaimed faith in the resurrected Christ, the early church was growing weary and impatient toward one another. They were wanting to take matters into their own hands or to prematurely  judge rather than patiently wait for the Lord whose return they were certain was imminent.

Closing out his letter to the church, James exhorts its members to endure unjust suffering, exercising patience towards one another and leaving room for God, the ultimate and final Judge, to execute a lasting justice in his second coming.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord…As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. James 5:7 & 10-11.

Pointing to Job who wrestled honestly but faithfully leaned into the Lord, James reminds his audience that God’s end game is clear even when his ways are dark and mysterious. They had heard of Job and by reading his story, they had seen that the ends of God’s ways are always marked by his merciful, compassionate character. James invites them beyond hearing and seeing into experiencing such a reality for themselves.

The Many-Chambered Heart of God

The incredibly good news is that our God does not experience compassion fatigue. If his heart were chambered (speaking anthropomorphically), it would be infinitely-chambered as compared to our measly four-chambered hearts.

James uses two unique words in verse 11. The first, polusplagchnos (translated compassionate above), is used only here in the entire New Testament. Literally translated, it means many-boweled. While that conjures strange images to our modern brains, we must understand that in the time of the early church, compassion was thought to come from the bowels (think of that feeling that we experience when we hear terrible news about someone we love). To say that God is many-boweled is like saying God has a many-chambered heart, capable of full and unending affection.

The second word, oiktirmón, translated merciful above, is only used in two places in the entire New Testament: here and twice in Luke 6. It literally means exhibiting visceral compassion, deep pity, and lament. It is a spirit of compassion so deep that the entire body is moved along with it.

While James could not predict the specific outcomes of the specific circumstances of his audience, he could whole-heartedly proclaim any and every outcome would issue forth from the many-chambered, infinitely-compassionate heart of God.

In a world stretched thin and wearied by compassion fatigue, believers can take solace and strength for continued compassion from the inexhaustible heart of God. When our hearts are crowded, we can empty them confidently at his feet and make space for a God-enabled compassion towards those around us.

 

 

An Ode to Spiritual Mothers

Some of the very best mothers I know don’t have children, at least not physically. Two of them are young, single women raising siblings with special needs or foster children. Two more married later in life, beyond child-bearing years; yet they have more children whom they feed and nurture and protect and guide than the Duggers. Still others, well past their own mothering years and well into their grandmothering years, continue to invest intentionally in the lives of younger women.

They probably don’t get invited to special Mother’s teas and Muffins for Moms.  They likely don’t receive tender trinkets presented by eager little hands; however, they are every bit as much mothers as those who have raised physical children.

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Spiritual mothers deserve to be showered with our thanks and affection. While it may not be appropriate for us to make play-dough bowls or paper flowers to present to them, we are called to honor them for the ways they have invested their lives.

In his letter to the Jewish believers, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember, to study and to imitate spiritual parents.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

Remember Spiritual Mothers
The Greek word for remember is mnémoneuó, which aside from being a mouthful, means to call to mind, to hold in remembrance, to recollect or even to rehearse. Fittingly, it is from this root word that we derive our phrase mnemonic devices (like My very excellent mother just served noodles to remember the order of the planets in our Solar System).

The writer challenged the Church to continually call to mind and to remember those who had invested in them and others. We are asked to rehearse, to go over and over, the ways in which they have served the spiritual family.

Study Spiritual Mothers
First we are called to remember and to notice them.  Then we are called to look intently at the ways they have lived their lives.

The Greek word  anatheóreó, translated consider above, means to gaze upon, to look intently at, or even to dote upon.  While we are commanded to study their lives, we also have every reason to be compelled to study them, their practices, their priorities and the outcomes they have shaped. And we are not limited to those we know in time and space.

While I have never met Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie Ten Boom, these women have nurtured me. I hear phrases they have written and mottoes by which they have lived regularly in my daily life with both my physical children and my spiritual stock. I have gazed long at their lives through biographies and sermons, and I am seeking to glean every ounce of wisdom I can from these spiritual matriarchs.

Imitate Spiritual Mothers
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews bids us imitate these spiritual mothers. The Greek Word  mimeiomai means to follow, to emulate. Just the reading of the word calls to mind our modern words mimic and mimeograph (the forefather of the copy machine). Interestingly enough, this word is always in the middle voice in the Greek. While we don’t use the middle voice often in English, the middle voice implies a high level of self-involvement. It assumes that we are highly motivated to mimic and follow the lives of our beloved leaders.

Thankfully, this last step flows naturally out of the first two. Once one has noticed the women who have spiritually mothered others and looked long and hard at the harvest of their long investments, it is almost impossible to not want to emulate their lives.

I wish it was a simple cut and paste project, this attempt to imitate the lives of the spiritual mothers who have gone before us. I  have tried that to no avail, as apparently I am not wired like Amy or Corrie or Betsy (my spiritual mothers on paper) or the handful of women who have faithfully invested in my life with their actual flesh and blood lives. No one else is in my exact situation or place with my exact personality and my calling; yet, I can distill principles from their lives that can applied to my context in nuanced ways.

This Sunday, as you receive a flower at your Church or get ready to be fed a homemade breakfast like the Queen of Sheba, remember those who have spiritually mothered you. Notice them. Dote on them. And then spend the rest of your life seeking to imitate them as they imitate Christ.