Category Archives: motherhood

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.

 

The Artful Arranger

Every once in a while I splurge and buy a bouquet of flowers from Trader Joes. I snip the edges, throw them into a plain vase and consider that a victory in the flower department.

My arranging skills leave much to be desired. Not so with my mother-in-law. Amma, as I lovingly call her, has a way with flowers. It’s as if they speak to her and tell her where to arrange them so as to create a beautiful bouquet. You can hand her a pile of random, clashing flowers and sticks, yet she can somehow, in a matter of moments, turn them into the envy of any housewife.

I watch Amma during our visits to Texas. Her eyes naturally gravitate to flora. She notices every blade, bush and begonia. Withour her saying a word, I can see her mind rushing ahead of her into arrangements that perfectly suit each one.

Amma comes from India, a world of strong spices, rich colors and saris that are equal parts modest and revealing. She is as stunning as her culture.

We have a beautiful framed picture in our home of Amma and Appa on the day of their wedding. Amma tells me that she looks nervous and frightful in this photograph because she was, indeed, both of those things. This picture captures her wedding day which also happened to be her second time meeting the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life.

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When I asked Amma how she felt about being arranged, her calm acceptance amazed me. She explained that arrangement, when done well, happens within a very unique and loving environment and presupposes parents’ deep knowledge of their children.

A beautiful arrangement, be it musical, floral or marital, must be preceded by an artful arranger. These arrangers must be keen observers and intimate knowers of their subject matter.

As I look out upon a world and a future that can so often seem chaotic and random, I find myself deeply comforted by the presense and power of an artful arranger. Just as Amma knows her flowers, our God knows His children and His creation. Just as Amma’s hands are naturally adept at twisting and bending and ordering strands and pieces and petals, our God is completely capable as He arranges and directs the strands of history and humanity. His transendence and His cosmic knowledge pair perfectly with His immanence and His intimate knowledge.

At the end of a bumbling yet beautiful life, King David finds great comfort and confidence in the able hands of this perfect arranger God whom he knew intimately. “He has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered in all things and secured” (2 Samuel 23:5).

Our artful God arranged the painful display of His perfectly beautiful Son on the Cross. In this awful arrangement, He assures us that our brokenness need no longer obscure our beauty.

He knows His children the way Amma knows her flowers. His scarred hands arrange the lives of His children, poising them and positioning them for our great joy and His great glory.

He doesn’t simply throw us in some water the way I do my poor little purchased flowers. He tends and nourishes, draws out and tones down, prunes and pushes His flowers to their fullest potential.

I find great hope, great peace, great comfort knowing that my life, my children’s little lives, and the lives of his global family are being arranged by the Artistic and Able One.

To the Momma who Feels like a Failure

I was doing my best to make this week feel equal parts festive and holy.  I have been digging deep into our craft closet and even deeper into the basement of my being to find some scraps to make our Spring Break shine despite the COVID cloud.

We made pretzels and quickly consumed them. We hosted our first ever Family Lip Sync battle (no cameras were allowed, thankfully). I even slept (more like did not sleep) in a blanket fort last night with my youngest son and the stuffed otter he is convinced he is training.

But today I hit a wall. I am tired. I am grumpy. And, despite my best efforts, I feel like I failing.  With all the helpful suggestions of ways to better homeschool and use this strange time, I find my heart drowning in comparison and crushed with expectations.

Our activity for the day was supposed to feature a happy family making Easter ornaments from salt dough to paint and hand out to neighbors.  Only my boys did not want to help make them. And we did not have any cookie cutters except Ninjas (because  I mother three boys). What was supposed to be shiny and sanctified came out lumpy and  bumpy. “Neighbor, here is a Ninja ornament because Christ knocked the tar out of Satan!” is not quite what I had envisioned.

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I imagine I am not the only one who feels like they are failing.

Good news, my friends. Holy Week has so much room for our failures, our lack, our limitations.  Our short tempers and our tired tears can be far better ways to lead our children to the cross than a set of resurrection eggs.

In Psalm 73, David talks about being a brute beast before the Lord. I can relate far more to this side of David than the giant-slaying side. I love David’s rawness with the Lord and his shocking realization that even in his beast mode, the Lord’s presence was continually  with him.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right  hand. You guide me with  your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides  you. My flesh  and my heart may fail,  but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:21-26.

In my desire to dig deep and conquer this Quarantine Spring Break, I began like an excited puppy and ended like a brute beast. But the Lord is with me. And He is with my children. He is the head of our home, its cornerstone.

When the continual presence of my children during this COVID season brings out the beast in me rather than the best of me, God is continually with me and them.

Unmet expectations on all sides pick our eyes up from lesser things and set them on the One who meets all our expectations through His perfect love.

I know these things. The Lord teaches me them on the regular. But today, I needed a fresh application of these timeless realities. I needed to remember that what my children need more than an exciting day or a disciplined homeschool teacher is Christ. They need to see real confession of real sin and the freedom of real forgiveness from a real Savior. Thankfully, I can provide that from even in my failures.

I needed my own heart to remember that the point of painting those little dough crosses was to help my children remember and celebrate the Christ who carried an awful cross for our real failures.

After a few minutes to confess to the Lord and cling to the gospel, I am not ready to paint those bumpy, lumpy dough crosses from a spirit of freedom and wonder. Oh, how I pray  that my boys would know the Christ who faithfully walks with their faltering parents.

May our feet which continually run to the cross leave a foot trail for our children to follow.

 

He Giveth More Grace

TP is not the only thing on short supply in our house. We are running low on books, despite my hoarding of library books before the lock down. We are nearly out of sidewalk chalk and snacks. But those are not the lags that leave me worried.

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At times throughout the day, patience is on short supply. While our creativity levels have been steady, I fear for the moment when what feels like an adventure to our boys starts to get old. Left to myself, my hope, willpower, and perspective have expiration dates.

While I don’t have much to offer on the former set of lists, I have good news for those who are running low on the latter set.  I’ll let Annie Johnson Flint say it, since she captures it best in a poem she penned which became a hymn.

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Lest you think this is mere poetry, you must know that Annie was twice orphaned and was crippled from arthritis that made her an invalid. She knew limitations and lack in every possible way; but those limitations led her to an all-sufficient, ever-present, always-abundant Savior.

Maybe you haven’t the end of your rice or frozen bread or canned goods yet; maybe you  never will.  Maybe you were among the early adapters who took multiple Costco runs for hand sanitizers and TP. Maybe your hospital won’t run out of protective masks.

But your heart will run out of drive and hope and energy and perspective if left to itself. While funny memes keep us laughing (keep them coming, they are like cinnamon sugar on milk toast days), a steady diet of happy thoughts are not enough to keep us hopeful in the midst of a sustained two front war against an invisible virus and a wave of mental health battles.

If you find your heart empty, don’t rush to fill it quickly with a short hope or a sudden surge in self-will.  Please listen to your empty heart and know that it is meant to correspond to and live in conjunction with an ever-full God.

The emptiness in us corresponds to his fullness.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of  the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:14 & 16. 

All people are invited to face an invisible virus with the companionship of the God who made himself visible.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross…Colossians 1:17-20.

If you are too quick to fill your emptiness (or your children’s emptiness or boredom) with new lists of fun indoor activities (again, keep them coming…just don’t rely on them or your ability to implement them to sustain you), you might miss out on being refilled by  the living water from the fountain of life.

Only empty things can be filled. We have an upper hand in these COVID-19 days.  As those who will know emptiness like we have not known before in a land that has smacked of abundance for most of our lives, we have a front row seat to the glory of God as seen through his sustaining grace.

As we get deeper into hard days, and closer to empty pantries and toilet paper rolls, may we know that, spiritually speaking, our Father’s full giving has only begun.

Leaning in to Lament

Today the tears of fear, disappointment, and the unique tiredness that comes from trying to be tough for your kids welled up from within me.

We have been doing the workouts, reading together, and making the most of things. We tried to make Phin’s birthday two days ago feel as festive as possible. He tried to be grateful and act like it was the perfect day. But it wasn’t. He did not get to have his party. He misses his friends. Today it culminated in him being sad and disappointed that life looks like this right now.  When his honest tears started flowing, mine joined him, and we made a little river.

I don’t think I realized how much the dust of disappointment has been gathering in my heart and in their little hearts. Continue reading