Category Archives: motherhood

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.

 

 

The Gifts Our Birthday Boy Gave Us

Our middle son turns eleven today. He received the Chelsea jersey and soccer ball he has had his eye on for quite some time. His younger brother (who lost his wallet) declared proudly this morning that he was giving Eli the best presents he could afford considering the recent bankruptcy:  “love” and some of his Halloween candy. He received some new Rubix cubes and other thoughtful gifts.

But, as I reflect this morning, we were the ones who received the gifts this year.

Over a month ago, on an ordinary Sunday morning before church, our middle man got stung by a bee. I was out walking the dog when my uncharacteristically alarmed husband called me to ask where I kept our Benadryl.  In a matter of minutes, Eli’s throat was closing, he was throwing up, and his face was swelling.

We immediately called 911. In the few minutes while I was running as fast as my out-of-shape self could from the far side of the neighborhood to get to my boy,  time seemed to stand still.

In those moments, as much as I wanted to get to him, I was confident of his sincere love for the One who loved him first. I knew that even the worst-case-scenario would not and could not separate us because our ultimate end-point, the very lap of Christ, was the same. I simply wanted to see him again first.

Thankfully,  paramedics arrived and were able to get the reaction under control. Thus, beginning the list of gifts God gave us this year as Eli’s parents.

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We get more days to come alongside him and prepare him for the eternal days set before him.  We get to watch him grow in wisdom and stature, in fear of God and fear of man. Our days and his days are known and numbered by a loving Father. Your eyes saw his unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,  the days that were formed for him, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16). 

We received the reminder that each moment with each of our children is a gift, not a right. While such a reality should go without saying, busyness and routine tend to numb and blind us to the incredible gift of an ordinary day. Oh, Lord, teach us to number our  days that we may present to you a family full of hearts of wisdom (Psalm 90: 12).

Now I see bees everywhere. We all do. And every time we see one, we have the chance to  entrust our Eli to the One who made bees and controls even their stingers. We are all receiving fresh, buzzing refreshers on how to take captive every fearful thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

While we have Epi-pens at the ready and Benadryl pills tucked into every known bag and crevice of our house, we don’t trust in these things. We trust that the One who made our fierce, brilliant, sugar-loving, Rubix-cube-solving Eli sees, hears, and knows him. Our Eli is ultimately God’s masterpiece, His poema. God has good works prepared since long-ago for our middle man (Ephesians 2:8-9). His will, whatever it may be, will be good and right and perfect.

Eleven years is a gift. Eleven minutes of life on this earth created by an infinitely wise and loving God would be a gift.  Oh, that we would live all our days from Him and through Him and to Him.

I must be going. I have a Hogwart’s letter to write for my eleven-year-old Eli!

The Weight of a Human Heart

The average weight of an adult human’s heart is only about 11 ounces or 310 grams. That is less than one pound. However, anyone who has walked long enough on our broken globe knows that, emotionally and spiritually, the human heart can weigh so much more.

Last night, one line from the poem “In Praise of Self-Deprecation” by Wislawa Szymborska (say that three times fast) resonated with me deeply.

The killer-whale’s heart weighs one hundred kilos /
but in other respects it is light.

Even though a killer whale’s heart is about as massive as a Harley Davidson motorcycle at at an average of 400 pounds, in some respects, the comparatively puny human heart can weigh far more.

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The Ones who Carry Weights

Our friends have been in and out of the oncology wing at the local children’s hospital for over 9 months. When I have been privileged enough to visit them on occasion, I shoulder momentarily a sliver of the unthinkable weight their hearts have been holding constantly.

We have been privileged enough to get to know some Syrian families here in the states. While they speak poor English and I speak no Arabic, the weights their hearts carry do not need translation. They worry about how to make ends meet and how to hold on to their culture in a new land; they live with survivor’s guilt, wondering how the people who were left behind are faring.

Even in seasons of plenty and prosperity, human hearts hold weights. Fears of the future, concerns for children and grandchildren, sicknesses both physical and mental. The list is as varied as the people in whose chest cavities hearts pump.

We carry the weight of consciousness. We carry the weight of our own actions and the actions of others. We carry the weights of circumstances. And, even though we don’t like to talk about it in our culture, we carry the weight of being separated from God from whom and for whom we were created.

The One who Carried all Weights

God, being in very nature one whose heart bleeds both mercy and justice, took the weight of the weight of our mistakes and our human condition. He could have let our hearts sink under the crushing weight of sin and its resulting brokenness, but His love compelled Him to send His Christ to us.

Christ was connected to his mother by an umbilical cord until he breathed his first gasp of air, then his heart and lungs worked in concert. His human heart constantly beat in sync with the heart of the Heavenly Father. Because He was not hardened by sin’s nature, His human heart felt more deeply than even the most tender bleeding human hearts.

Yet, He willingly took upon Himself the crushing weight of sin for those who would trust in Him by faith. His tender heart was separated from its vital, eternal connection to His father, a separation far worse than the severing of an umbilical cord.

The heart that had stopped beating sat stagnant for three days, until the Father revived it in the Resurrection. His heart thumped in excitement as He showed Himself first to Mary and then to His disciples.

The One Who Helps Us with our Weights

While He has now ascended into Heaven, His heart remains human. He has not forgotten  the weights carried by His children’s hearts. What Christ once was and did, He still is and does. After all,  He is God immutable who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He who carried weights when on earth still carries weights today.

He sits at the right hand of the throne of His Father and intercedes on behalf of His heavy-hearted children (Hebrews 7:25). He sent His Holy Spirit into the hearts that are His as indwelling weight carrier, a comforter, and a translator of sighs and groans  (Romans 8: 26-27).

While the human heart sometimes feels more weighty than that of the killer whale, we have one who claims our heart twice,  once by creation and  again by redemption. He will carry our weights with us until the day when the human heart surges with full hope, freedom and peace in His bodily presence.

Keep Your Lamps Burning with Oil

The parable of the ten virgins has always been a strange one for me. I know I want to be like the five virgins who are wise. I mean, who wants to be grouped with the foolish sisters? And why don’t they share? Initially, they seem like stingy, wise virgins to me.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying,  “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.”

It helps a little to understand, as much as one can, the culture and customs into which this parable was spoken. Weddings back then were more like traditional Hindi weddings are today in that they took place over numerous days. And we thought waiting as bridesmaids for the actual wedding to take place after all the preparation and getting dolled up and hours of pictures was hard. We are talking days of waiting and an uncertain start time, let alone start date.

Even a toddler can understand that bottom line of the parable: stay prepared, stay ready, for you never know when the bridegroom will announce himself.  That part I understand.

The wise girls brought enough oil to last through delays. They had the longer view. I also understand that part.

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But how does one read this parable through a Christ-centered lens rather than a moralistic lens?

This morning, as I was stuck in traffic, the Lord reminded me of another story from 2 Kings in which oil supply plays a significant role.Unlike the parable, this story involves the end of a marriage, rather than the beginning.

A poor widow who had lost her husband found herself at the end of her supply financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  A creditor to whom the family owed money had come to take her two children away to be his slaves since there was no money to pay for the debt and no husband to work to pay it down. In desperation, she came to the prophet Elisha.

And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside,  borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When t the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing (2 Kings 4: 2-7). 

I want to be like the wise virgins who have ample oil. But so often,  I am more like the widow. I don’t have enough physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally to do one day, let alone plan days in advance in a state of preparedness.

But what if the way to be prepared and keep our lamps burning with oil is to have empty vessels lifted unto the Lord in dependance and desperation like the widow?

We don’t have the oil we need. We never will. The stores don’t sell it. And even if they did, it would not be enough.

In the Old Testament, oil often represents the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, it would make sense why the wise virgins did not share their oil. The Holy Spirit cannot be purchased or borrowed, it must be given and received from the Lord Himself. It is a personal and intimate exchange. My dependence upon the Lord and His provision for me cannot be shared with you,  and vice versa.

Each one must bring his or her empty vessels to the Lord to be filled continuously. This is  what John 15 assumes when it speaks about abiding.

Preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming is a daily dependance upon the abundantly unctuous one. Lifting empty vessels,  admitting our own utter lack and looking expectantly to the Lord for provision.

If emptiness,  neediness,  and desperate dependance are what it takes to keep one’s lamp burning with oil, then maybe, just maybe, I can join the wise virgin club.

 

On Greater & Lesser Advocates

I am not a lawyer, but I am a mother. Which means that though I am neither demanding in personality nor powerful in presence, I turn into a fierce advocate for my children. Watching the classic courtroom scenes from A Few Good Men and reading To Kill A Mockingbird are about as close as this girl comes to training in argument or advocacy. However, when someone I love is threatened or put into a difficult place, tenacious advocacy erupts from a dormant place deep within me.

I have watched the most shy mothers turn into brave warriors on behalf of their children, advocating for their rights, their treatment, their place at the table. It is a scary and stunning thing to watch someone advocate for another.

At some point in life, we all find ourselves in need of an advocate to greater or lesser degrees.  Whether in an interview, a legal argument, or a garden-variety misunderstanding, certain circumstances will trigger within us a deep desire for someone to advocate on our behalf, someone to take up our cause and go to bat for us.

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Advocacy in the Scriptures
Advocacy seems to be woven into the very character of our God. As such, it should come as no surprise that we find in ourselves a corresponding hunger to both give and receive advocacy.

While the taste of the forbidden fruit was still on Adam and Eve’s tongues, God undertook on their behalf. He, the betrayed party, killed an animal to graciously provide clothes to replace fig leaves for his ashamed creations (Genesis 3:21).

A few years later, the Lord advocated on behalf of the slain Abel (Genesis 4:10).

When Abram threw her under the bus, God Himself advocated for the vulnerable Sarai. Twice. (Genesis 12 &  Genesis 20).

Abraham would later advocate for Lot and the inhabitants of the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33), urging God to spare them if there were even ten righteous people in the whole populace.

A hardship-weather yet God-protected Joseph advocated for the very brothers who had begun his long journey of suffering  (Genesis 47).

We  have not even exhausted the examples of advocacy in the book of Genesis, but I think I can stop advocating for advocacy Scripturally.

When God established His people through Moses (yet another advocate) and the laws and precepts given through his mediacy, it should come as no surprise that advocacy found its way into the fabric of God’s people. Priests were established to advocate for the people before God through an elaborate system of sacrifices. God’s people were to advocate for the sojourner and stranger and even the accidental murderer (Deuteronomy 19:4).

The Greater Advocate
All these stepping stones of advocacy, whether human or divine, were meant to point us towards and lead us to the Greater Advocate, our Great High Priest, Jesus.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews  2:14-17).  

That the eternally offended party would come to earth, put on flesh and become the atoning sacrifice for our sins is shocking enough. But Christ not only died to make us right with God, He lives to advocate for us.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). 

Goaded to the Greater Advocate
Lately, I have found myself looking around for an earthly advocate, someone to plead my cause, to back me, to believe in me to no avail. Yet, as strange as it sounds, I am slowly becoming thankful for the absence of earthly advocates.

The lack of lesser advocates can goad us to the greater one. Rather than allowing us to stop short, the Lord will sometimes lovingly force us to walk, by faith, all the way up to His very footstool. There we will find the Son seated at the right hand of the Father, pleading for us, advocating on our behalf.

 

As It Seemed Best: Encouraging Words for Overwhelmed Parents

As it seemed best.”

These four words have been a continual source of healing and comfort to me in my  earthly parenting; however, I am even more comforted by the fact that they have no place in God’s heavenly parenting of His children.

In his letter of warnings to the Jewish Christians, the author of Hebrews addresses the concept of biblical discipline.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as  it seemed best to  them, but disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For  the moment all discipline seems painful  rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:7-11.

As Seems: Parenting from Our Limited Perspective

Discipline is a loaded and misunderstood word, especially in our culture.  However, the biblical term translated discipline holds a greater range of meaning than mere correction  or punishment. The Greek paideia means instruction that trains someone to reach maturity and full development. While it includes correction, biblical training goes far beyond meting out consequences. It is a multi-faceted process that addresses and presses  the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional lives of our developing children.

As it it were not weighty enough, this biblical definition takes the conversation around the discipline and training of our children to a whole new level. Instead of staying in the common wrestling mats of “What kind of consequences do I give my children?” and “For what actions will they receive consequences?,” it creates many more mats upon which to wrestle.

  • What is our developmental plan for our child’s spiritual well-being?
  • In which school environment will each of our children be most stretched?
  • Will this risk that we are encouraging our child to take (trying out for a sports team, taking a challenging class, going away for a church trip. etc…)  be a healthy stretch or something that snaps his/her spirit?
  • Are we over-correcting our child to the point of constant critique?
  • When do we address the various patterns we see in their lives? Do we pray and let the Lord work in His time? Do we bring them up? If so, when and how? In what order?

Even when we think we have arrived at an answer for this child in this season,  there will be another season for this child (not to mention, other very different children, for many families).  So many potential pieces. How will they ever become a cohesive whole?

These and countless other questions should cause parents to drop to their knees in prayers for discernment and wisdom.

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Parents are called by God to lovingly,  intentionally, prayerful discipline their child(ren). He knows that we are limited in our understanding of our children’s hearts and hard-wiring. He knows that are bound by time, unable to see the future into which we and they are walking. He knows that we have our own pasts, foibles and blindspots that affect our parental vision.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-14.

As Is: Parenting from His Perspective

While we, through prayer and discernment and many teary or heated conversations, parent as seems best,  God works providentially as is best. There is no seeming best to Him.

The One who ordered the stars and hummed hummingbirds into existence has hard-wired each of our children. His Spirit goes where law and even loving parental interrogations cannot (1 Corinthians 2:10).  He stands outside of time and sees the full frame of the future that is coming for each of them (Psalm 139). He will not break a dimly burning wick, and a bruised reed he will not break (Isaiah 42:3). Every incident of their lives He will work with intention to their good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Oh, what a net this reality provides to the weary, wondering parent. Rather than leaving us paralyzed by a sea of choices and potential consequences, these promises free us to move forward in fear of God and trust in Him, rather than our own limited perspective.