Category Archives: motherhood

Dayenu in Dire Days

I cried today. Partly because I am tired. Partly because it is a strange birthday for our youngest son. Partly because we are reading Pax, a beautifully written but sad book aloud for our temporary homeschool arrangement. Partly because I have been watching our housemate and his fiancee decide what to do about  their wedding next Saturday, a wedding they have been planning for half a year. Partly because my friends in the healthcare sector are tired and exposed to a disease that shows no signs of relenting in the near future.  All the partly’s make for a whole lot of emotion churning in my heart and the hearts of my little ones.

In the midst of the list of real emotions, the Holy Spirit was gracious to bring one word to heart and mind: dayenu which means “it would have been sufficient.” Continue reading

The Magnifying Glass of Motherhood

Aleksandr Solzhneitsyn said of his prison cell in the Russian gulag that it taught him how to run a magnifying glass over life.

Not the perspective one would expect from a man falsely-imprisoned in one of the most cruel prison systems in history.

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made
to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.” Continue reading

Love’s Lonely Offices

Today love will be celebrated with saccharine candies,  glittery cards, and helium balloons, and well it should be in a world laced with hate and envy and self.

I loved making a soccer field Valentine box with my middle schooler. In fact,  I cherished it knowing it may be one of the last we make together before he thinks such things cheesy.  I set out sweet treasures for my boys last night. My hubs and I have some sweet things planned for the morning.

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But today I am also thinking about love’s lonely offices. The uncelebrated, unnoticed, unseen acts of daily love that keep families and churches and cities alive in the midst of the entropy of a broken world.

In his poem Those Winter Sundays, Robert Hayden dropped a line that has been stuck in my head like the thread of a spiderweb.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires ablaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The last two lines have been playing on repeat in my mind for over a week. What do I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?

As I continue to step further into parenting, as I watch my mother-in-law care for her sick husband, as I wade into a new Church leadership role, I continue to notice more of love’s lonely offices.

Waking up at odd hours of the night to spend an hour getting her husband out of bed and to the toilet and back, my Amma knows austere and lonely offices well. She has opened my eyes to the quiet faith and uncelebrated fortitude of caregivers to the aging and sick.

Being around our church more, I see the pastoral leadership team bearing the weight of the congregation’s needs and sufferings. I have an inside vantage point to the wrestling in prayer and planning that happen behind the scenes on a daily basis, another window into love’s lonely offices.

Watching friends serving the foster care system set up visitations and caring for children that are not theirs. Love’s austere and lonely offices.

A smaller example, yet significant in its own little way: I spent time writing notes in my boy’s notebooks for school only to be told, tenderly, but still painfully, “Yeah, I saw that. All those notes always say the same thing.” A little example of love’s little yet lonely offices.

The world is full of austere and lonely offices, but they are all glimpses of the Love’s most austere and lonely office, the office of Christ.

In the poem, the image of the father waking with tired and blistered hands to stoke the fires of warmth for his son are both moving and memorable. Yet, the image of the Creator God sending His beloved, dear Son-self into the hatred and hardness of our broken globe trumps the former image.

The image of Christ in the garden, laying with His face to the ground, in agony while His closest friends slept. Love’s austere and lonely office.

The image of Christ lifted on a Cross, perfection pounded by imperfection’s penalty, forgiving the offenders. Love’s most austere and lonely office.

In an eternal string of days, our Christ sets the table, serves His children, offering them the meal of Himself, his body broken on our behalf that we would be made whole. Often, the meal is skipped, if not scorned. Yet Christ faithfully serves in His austere and lonely office.

What a joy to know that as we go about our own nuanced versions of love’s austere and lonely offices, followers of Christ are not alone.  Far from alone, Christ’s brothers and sisters are empowered and enabled by the Spirit and strength from His lifetime of love’s lonely offices.

The Father’s sending, Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s closer-than-the-air nearness transform our lonely offices into lovely offices, chances to join the Trinity in an eternal office of love.

 

 

 

 

To Carry or Be Carried

Being a mother,  I am also a sherpa. I may not appear strong, but on any given walk from the car to the house, I can become as strong as an ox. I can simultaneously carry a backpack, a lunchbox,  a random shoe, and two grocery bags, along with my Mary Poppins purse which has bandaids, mints, pens, Nerf bullets, Hotwheels and other necessary items.

In addition to these physical weights,  I have the uncanny ability to carry the unnecessary emotional and spiritual weight of idols. I usually don’t realize that I am carrying these unnecessary burdens until my soul begins to ache and revolt.

Thankfully (and yet sadly), I am not unique in this idiocy. Unfortunately, since our foremother and forefather traded created things for the Creator in the place of preeminence, we have passed down the unnecessary weight of idolatry.

This past week, the Lord convicted me through a study of Isaiah 46, revealing to me that I have been lugging around the added weights of impotent idols.

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Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he,  and to gray hairs  I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?  Those who lavish  gold from the purse,  and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith; and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders; they carry it, they set it in place and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble” (Isaiah 46:1-7).

The tongue-in-cheek nature of this indictment of fallen humanity is obvious even if we are not familiar with the original context and language. However, a deeper study only  highlights this reality.

Bel (Baal) and Nebo were two of the most common Babylonian and Chaldean gods. Baal was the Babylonian equivalent of Jupiter, the King of the Gods in Roman mythology. Nebo was his right hand god, the scribe of the heavens.

Here, the prophet Isaiah, speaking through the inspiration of the Spirit, depicts these supposedly powerful gods as silly statues being lugged around as burdens on the back of donkeys.

These gods, which were supposed to carry and deliver the people who worshipped them and looked to them, ended up becoming extra weights that had to be lifted and borne. They were impotent. Not only were they unable to relieve the burdens of the people who had fashioned them, they became an added burden to their backs (or the backs of their beasts of burden).

While I have not crafted a molten idol of Bel or Nebo, I have my own carefully crafted idols that I have been carrying around with me. The idol of success, which promises to provide relief, becomes an additional burden to be born, one that weighs me down with fear and steals my freedom as a child of God. Rather than freeing me to walk in confident obedience, this dumb, ubiquitous idol of America, makes me afraid to fail  and thus afraid to risk. And as a mother, I don’t just carry the idol of my success, as a sherpa, I carry the idols of success that I have crafted for my husband and my three children.

I could go on and on, emptying my over-filled bag of idols, but I would rather juxtapose those dumb weights that must be carried and cared for with the Ever-Living God who carries and cares for us.

The same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 46 to describe the burdens of idols is used in Psalm 68.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death (Psalm 68:19-20). 

Here, we see the Living God carrying our burdens, not adding to them.  Idols (success, comfort, beauty, significance) require our constant attention and doting care for upkeep and maintenance.  They add burdens to our already-burdened and heavy lives.  However, our God is the burden-bearer who not only carries our burdens, but also carries us as His children.

Rather than weight us down,  He lives the weights from our necks and replaces them with His yoke which is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-29).

He can do this for us, because He Himself, the Creator, was lifted up on a cross of wood  for His impossibly idolatrous creations. The One who now carries our burdens was first crushed by them at Golgotha. He who delivers us from death allowed Himself to be delivered over to death on our behalf.

Oh, that we would stop carrying the idiotic weight of idols and be carried by the One who conquered over the Cross!

Powerlessness, Paralyzation & Prayer

I am not sure what I thought my late thirties would be marked by. I anticipated being a soccer mom, paying bills, and steering both a car and a grocery cart regularly; however, I never imagined the amount of powerlessness I would feel at this age.

As a child, when I saw people in the middle years,  I saw certain and secure adults. However, now that I somehow find myself in said demographic, I realize how deeply these middle years are marked by a deepening realization of limitations and weaknesses.

I imagined that making droves of decisions daily and being in charge of families, business, and churches were privileges entrusted to the powerful. I am now realizing that these privileges only expose a deeper sense of powerlessness and dependence in those who are entrusted with them.

This past week, despite my repeated attempts to halt the terribly contagious stomach flu with Lysol sprays, bottles of bleach, and meticulous hand washing, I was reminded of my powerlessness over microscopic germs.

My boys are getting older, which means that we are in the process of attempting to wisely and incrementally lengthen their leashes. They are trying out for sport teams where real risk offers both real reward and real rejection. They are choosing friends, tracking their own grades, and being faced with moral decisions. In all of this, I wake up daily being hit by fresh waves of powerlessness.

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As a Women’s Ministry director at a fairly large church, I experience similar waves of powerlessness.  I can buy all the cute napkins and have all the creamers, but I cannot make the women whom I have grown to love hunger for God and walk in righteousness. I can set the living and active Word of God before them, but I cannot change them.

Lest I sound too despairing, I am beginning to welcome this powerlessness as a driver towards the all-powerful One. As I continue to catch glimpses of my insufficiency,  I have a choice to make regarding the regular realizations of my utter powerlessness: I can either let the facts paralyze me or I can allow them to drive me to prayerfulness.

Rather than being utterly paralyzed by daily doses of powerlessness, weakness, and limitations, I am learning to lean all my weight unto the Rock that does not move.  Facing my powerlessness is an invitation to seek the face of God who cares far more about the people entrusted to me and under my keeping than I ever could.

Power made perfect in weakness is beginning to be stretched from a postage-stamp-sized reality to my permanent address. I wonder if the Apostle Paul felt like he was unraveling as he grew more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

After all, he had lived a life of zeal, confidence, drivenness,  and surety.  He knew what it was to be on top of life and at the top of the pack.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;  as to the law, a  Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,  blameless. Philippians 3:4-6. 

And then Christ grabbed a hold of Him, stripping him of  all confidence in the flesh, but equipping him with an eternally founded confidence in Christ.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6. 

Paul, who might have been on the cover of the Hebrew version of Forbes magazine as an up-and-coming leader, spent his life after conversion as a man quick to admit his powerlessness. An amazing orator, he spent his life preaching the power of Christ, not the power of his own word play.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of  wisdom,  but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians  2:1-5. 

Powerlessness alone will lead to paralyzation. But powerlessness turned into prayerful dependence will enable a faithful life proclaiming our powerful God.

In light of a God whose Word calms the sea, I will fight to welcome the waves of powerlessness. Bring it on, late-thirties and early forties. Your exposure of my powerlessness will push me deeper into the lap of the Powerful One.

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Behind the Ball (that just dropped)

The ball dropped three days ago, yet I already feel behind the ball.

We are finally slowing down after a few weeks of holiday travel and excitement which preceded a full eight days of intense college ministry. Even the slowing down feels like a quick pit stop to frantically patch up some popped tires, refill with gas, and get back on the track.

While others seem to be stepping into the New Year with selected theme words of purpose, goals, and stocked pantries, I feel like I am starting in a deficit on all fronts. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply drawn to intentionality and planning, I simply have not had space enough to do laundry, let alone come up with a laundry list of goals and plans.

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While flying home late last night, the Lord was so gracious to use one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson, to speak hope into my tired soul. In this particular chapter of his book Under the Unpredictable Plant,  Peterson has been talking extensively about the way that God uses the storms in our lives to expose us and realign ourselves with Him.

“They {the sea storms} expose us to what we cannot manage. We are returned to primordial chaos, to the tohu and bohu of Genesis 1, where we submit our lives to the world-making word of God. These storms are not simply bad weather; they are the exposure of our lives to the brooding, hovering wind/spirit of God. In the storm  we are reduced to what is elemental, and the ultimate elemental is God. And so prayer emerges as the single act that has to do with God.” 

While I am not experiencing any particular storm, I do feel haggard from the continual exposure to the weather that is this season of ministry and life. Three sons, each in one sport they love, fills their cup, but tends to drain mine. Our calling to college ministry keeps us on the front lines of the gospel advancing, but also exposes us to the shrapnel of the spiritual battlefield. Doing women’s ministry in our local Church is my dream job, but it has a way of exposing all the ways that I am not the women’s director I dream I could be.

If I am honest, I feel weary and worn. I know in my mind that these are the best kinds of weary or worn, but they still cause my soul to sag and my hands to drop. Rather than looking out on a new year and a new decade with hope and excitement, I have been looking at them through eyes of very real powerlessness and insufficiency.

Peterson’s reminder of two harsh Hebrew words strangely brought me hope.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2.

The Hebrew word tohu, translated above as “without form,” can also be translated as confusion, chaos, emptiness, desolation, and empty space. Likewise, the Hebrew word bohu, translated above as “void,” can also mean emptiness, vacuity, and an undistinguishable ruin.

The canvas on which God chose to work His creation was chaos, confusion, emptiness, desolation. Figuratively speaking, those were His media in creating everything ex nihilo, out of nothing.

God did not start with a Create-by-Number kit, unfolding an instruction manual and opening His fresh paint pots. Our powerful, self-existent, all-powerful Trinitarian God took emptiness and made everything. He ordered chaos with His voice.

In Genesis 1:1, bara, the Hebrew word translated “created,” can also mean to shape and to bring about.  Our God is the cosmic chaos-shaper, the ordinal order-maker.

Oh, what hope that brings me as I stare into what feel like the emptiness, chaos, and questions of a new year (I am not even letting myself thing about a new decade)!

Oh, what pressure is released from control-hungry, expectation-starving soul knowing that my God can order and shape whatever whoops, whirls, swirls and storms are on this new year’s topographical map!

I am not behind. I am exactly where I need to be: powerless but being in-dwelt by the All-powerful One, insufficient but significantly held by the All-sufficient One.

 

 

Highlights, Habits, & Hunger

This morning I envisioned a quiet morning snuggled in bed reading while my thrill and bargain-seeking husband and children went Black Friday shopping. I did not account for our littlest one climbing into my bed wide-eyed at 6:30 am.  In a last ditch effort to catch a few more snoozing minutes, I let him watch sports. He chose to watch a Bundesliga highlight reel. I am not sure where this child comes from.

As I lay there in my bed, half-watching all the goals and game highlights from a weekend of countless soccer games whittled down to a glorious twenty minute montage, I realized  how much we live in a highlight reel culture, especially in the holiday seasons.

We love to read and write the Christmas letters highlighting the past year’s accomplishments and celebrations. We love to watch the human interest stories of victory and success. My three boys sometimes practice their celebration routines in  the  backyard more than they practice their shooting form.

Even as he was watching, I was reading Ten Fingers for God, the true story of the famous surgeon and missionary doctor Paul Brand.  I realized I finally picked up the book that had been collecting strata of dust for a decade due in large part to his highlight reel.

Brand pioneered and nearly-perfected a series of surgeries that brought back movement to the formerly clawed and paralyzed hands of lepers, changing thousands of lives from the shame of isolation, unemployment, and stigma attached to a wrong-understanding of leprosy.  I picked up the book looking for golden nuggets from a life-well-lived.  But I think that,  in my heart of hearts, I was looking for instant godliness.

Both my son and I seemed to have forgotten that habits precede highlights.

Habits before Highlights

What the Bundesliga highlight reel did not show were the large sections of the games where no goals were scored. There were no glorious moments of defenders jockeying or midfielders playing short, smart passes. Just the shining moments passed by the screen; neither the the sinking moments of failure nor the hours and decades of practices, personal training, and conditioning made the cut.

Paul Brand did not become Paul Brand over night. As I read about the decades of inglorious, hard missionary work his parents did unto the Lord with no fanfare in the hinterlands of India, I realized that, even before he was born, his parents were laying foundations of habits that led to his eventual highlight reel.

Before arriving at his clear calling to serve lepers, he trudged through years as a faithful  builders apprentice in the poor parts of London. He led Bible studies and youth groups for young men. Later, he observed and practiced thousands of routine medical procedures during the bombings of World War II in England.  After his call to India, he had to leave his wife and two small children for a year while he established himself as a surgeon abroad.

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Decades of studying and applying both the Word of God and medicine created the foundation for his life of unbelievable service.

In concert, our culture and our corrupt nature seek the highlights without the habits, not only in the world but also in the Church. We want soaring moments of communion with God, but we don’t want to wake up early or study the Word of God when “we aren’t feeling it.” We want to make a big difference in the kingdom of God, but we don’t realize that tomorrow’s highlights are largely influenced by today’s habits. We want children  who are responsible and creative, but we don’t want to enforce discipline or turn off the screens. And when I say we, I am most notably indicting me.

Hunger before Habits

It is tempting to jump in at the habit level with recipes for change. Our culture will do so in unison with the Resurgence of Resolutions at the turn of the new year. When the ball drops, we will drop a few pounds. When the holidays are over, we will turn over a new leaf. However, the gospel teaches us to dig to different layer first. Our habits will follow our hunger.

MacLaren, my favorite Bible commentator, has the following to say about hunger for God.

“It avails nothing that the ocean stretches shoreless to the horizon; a jar can only fill a jarful. The receiver’s capacity determines the amount received….God gives us as much as we will, as much as we can hold, as much as we can use,  and far more than we deserve.”

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it (Psalm 81:10).  

God not only gives to us according to our hunger for Him, but He must also give us our hunger for Him.

We who have disordered and distempered hungers for lesser things may cry out to the Lord that He would slake us with hunger pangs for Him.

Hunger precedes habits. Habits precede highlights. And our God is graciously prior in all three.