Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Reorienting Myself

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

God, what’s your will for my life? I hounded God with the question as a highschooler, envisioning some sort of supernatural insight regarding majors and careers.

The reply he gave was frustrating at first.  To love me and know me, he repeatedly said.

It was as if, standing at a fork in the road, I asked God what turn to take and he said instead, let me show you how you can always find the North Star.

Without a doubt, his answer has changed the course of my life.

A man speaking to Jesus asked a question of similar nature to mine. What is it that God wants most?, he wanted to know. Your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, Jesus replied. For you to love him. And after that, for you to love others. (Mk. 12:32-33)

Love God.
Love people.

Here is Polaris.

I am needing to reorient myself these days because I’m hitting the same slump I did after my other kids. Inching (or barreling, how is it that it feels like both?) towards the 12-month mark of sleep-depriving infant care, the one year slump is different than the initial exhaustion of newborn days. I recognize it by my restlessness. It’s just a season, Jeff said recently about my being at home with our young kids. It’s a LONG season, I said back. The force of my reply both betrayed and surprised me, but the sentiment isn’t unfamiliar.

During my first year as a stay-at-home mom, God reworked my paradigm of productivity, fruitfulness, and service in God’s kingdom. I wrestled with living this strange disconnect between what I felt was true (namely that my work as a mom was valuable) and what I had up until then heard about what it meant to live a life unto God’s glory. But once I understood the vocation of motherhood was a calling to love little neighbors, I parented with purpose. I woke tired with long days ahead of me to the refrain, Love God, love neighbor.

Days caring for young children are full and repetitive, yet can feel frustratingly futile and impossible to schedule. Now that my youngest is becoming more independent, I feel the desire to do more. At the same time, my body feels the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation and the reality that baby girl still needs me a lot. Not only so, but there are school schedules, commutes, and other non-family related circumstances that seem to run my days. Thus, my restlessness and frustration. I want to have more energy, time, capacity for other endeavors. I want to feel fruitful and be passionate in service. Instead, I feel like I am stuck and fizzling out.

I know it’s not just in motherhood where it feels circumstances and seasons keep us from living fully unto God. We can be constrained, it seems, by singleness, by marriage, by children. We are limited in our ability to do God’s will, it feels, because of our job, location, church, and health. Different circumstances would give us a better shot at glorifying God, but we are just our limited selves, living within the boundaries set for us. And life keeps us from doing all we wish to do for him.

But what if the greatest commandment really is his greatest call for our lives?

If in all things, what God desires from us is love for him and others, our current seasons and circumstances are not constraints. Rather, they are the terrain we have been called to walk through as we trek northward.

Of all the possible points and places in history we could be in, God has determined our here and now. Scripture says he has assigned each person’s exact place and time so that we may reach out and find him (Acts 17:26-27). And having responded to this most important calling of our lives (to be reconciled to God), wherever we are, we can remain with him (1 Cor. 7:24) while walking into the good works he’s prepared for us in advance to do (Eph. 2:10). If where we find ourselves is right where he wants us, and what he wants for us most is to love him and neighbor, we are actually wondrously free to accomplish all he wants for us to do.

I remember when Jeff first taught me how to find the North Star. It was surprisingly simple: Find the Big Dipper. Follow the line from the outermost stars in the bowl to the tip of the Little Dipper. It may not be the brightest light in the sky, but there lies true north.

So, this is real time, two of my children asking me to read a book to them as I attempt to write? The baby shifting from arm to arm and on my hip having just woken up from a nap? These texts and calls that keep cutting off my train of thought? If I take a moment to reorient myself, I’ll confirm these as trail markers on the road of God and neighbor-love.

Love God.
Love others.

Here is both the orienting call on my whole life and the simple task ahead of me. And though it feels like I’m barely trudging along right now, looking up, I know I am northbound.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Of Mice And Men And God Whose Purpose Stands

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The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. -C.S. Lewis

Him: Can I go run in the leaves?

Me: No…Why?

Him: So I can jump in them and be happy!

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men / often go awry,” goes the poem, and the incidence of things going “awry” seems unusually high lately. Sickness, unexpected calls, frustrating inefficiencies (making a wrong turn and watching the time to destination jump up exponentially, anyone?), kids being kids.

So I’ve been walking around, muttering to myself, of mice and men, of mice and men.

I say I’ve been muttering, but a better word for it would be grumbling. I have been grumbling about interruptions from people, my circumstances, and the general state of being human which guarantees my making mistakes. But I am fighting, and failing but by grace still in the fight, to pivot my perspective around Proverbs 19:21.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 

Few things show my sinful desire to be God, and my inability to be him, like my plans do. More specifically, the interruption of them. Again and again in the Scriptures God challenges those who pridefully make our plans apart from him, confident in our own ability to carry them out. God frustrates the plans of persons and nations and in doing so shatters our illusions. We thought we were more than we are, surely we were deluded. Truly, truly, he alone is God.

And this is a good thing. The firmness of his plans and sureness of his purposes.

Because it means that even when our best-laid plans are toppled, we are not left alone to be tossed to and fro by circumstances. And instead of a resigned shoulder shrug, “well, of mice and men,” we have resounding truth: God’s purpose stands.

Our lives are not dependent on our own limited vision and meticulous planning. Nor are we ultimately at the whims of other people, sickness, traffic, and our own mistakes. Rather, our steps are determined by God who created and redeemed us.

Our God is mighty and there is none like him, dwelling in the high and lofty places. Yet in his mercy he bends his power to help us and sets his wisdom toward planning our lives. Now our loving Shepherd who willingly gave his life for us, tenderly leads his sheep along the paths laid out for us. And the good news is that though we may grumble at the frustration of our plans and the One who ordains interruptions, circumstances, limitations, he still is determined to do us good. He continually works all things for our knowledge and love of him, our Christlikeness and fruitfulness, our joy and his glory.

Thus, I am hoping to grow in receiving the interruptions that seem to mark my days as God-ordained invitations.

A mistake, something I overlooked that I feel like I shouldn’t have—

He is helping me to put to death the perfectionism which suffocates grace.

Tasks taking longer than expected—

He is challenging my lifeless idol of productivity. “Can you do what I do? Do you really have power? Can you give life?”

A fussy baby on my hip, a hungry 3-year old by my side, as I stand in a how-did-it-get-so-messy-again-already home—

He is making me more like Christ, and giving me a chance to choose to believe these words even as I type them.

Cries of “MOOOOMMM” from the other room—

He is nudging me on, giving a chance to join him as he works in the lives of others. (How often the interruptions come in the form of the precious little people living in my house who I profess to serve!)

A boy wanting to jump in leaves and be happy—

He is beckoning me to stop and rest, to not miss his gifts, and to trust the One who gives good gifts I did not even know to want.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand—

He is building my life. Bringing it to me day by day, moment by moment, interruption by interruption.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8

Motherhood & Family

A Surprise

 

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I heard the door open downstairs and their excited shouts followed. Mom! We have a surprise for you! Mom! Come, look!

She handed them to me, my firstborn, with anticipation. Tiny wildflowers, purple and white, thoughtfully arranged. She and her sister had gathered them bike riding with their dad. Their mini-bouquet fit in the palm of my hand. I thanked them, hugged them, and put the gift aside.

Hours later, when everyone else was asleep, their flowers found me. As I cleared items thrown half-hazardly onto the cubby by the front door, I saw the small bunch of stems and petals so eagerly gifted to me a few hours before. They were slightly dried out, pressed under the weight of papers, clothes, and miscellaneous items. They were beautiful.

I can’t explain what happened except that I had looked at them before, but now I saw them. To be thought of during a trip out. To be unexpectedly considered by my daughters. To have them pause enough in their play to think of what would delight me. The flowers were beautiful and I felt it, the undeserved goodness of such a gift, of the childlike abandon with which my girls loved me, of the lavish kindness of my God.

“God is so, so kind. He didn’t have to say yes, but he did,” said a friend a few months ago about an answer to a long prayed request. His words, and the way he said them, with awe and humility and joy, are still fresh on my mind.

Consider the lilies of the field, Jesus said once. Consider— stop and truly see. He clothes them in his generous creativity. Not because he has to, but because he wants to. How much more does he care for us, even we of little faith?

Beauty speaks an intrusion, I heard a Christian counselor say a few days ago about anxiety.

Come.

Look.

Consider the lilies.

See what I have for you.

God, by your Spirit keep my eyes open.

You didn’t have to give me any of this, but you did. You didn’t have to give me these flowers. My girls. My life. Your Son. But you did.

You don’t have to care about me, but you do. And you are so, so kind.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Existential Angst, Baby’s Breath, & The Preacher

IMG_4370She would’ve napped for longer if I put her down in the crib, but I let her fall asleep on me because I love the feel of her in my arms. “You love this age,” my sister said to me recently— I really do. I love the way she still fits, her chubby thighs, and her soft baby breaths.

Baby snuggles are one of God’s answers lately to my existential angst.

“There is godly way to pursue things in the world and sinful ways to pursue spiritual things,” one of my professors said once. His words worked to shift something in my foundations, my concrete paradigms of the Christian life. They also point a finger at the vestiges of sin in me. In particular, a sinful way I try to pursue the Kingdom is to demand direct ties between my good works— whether through writing, at church, or in my home— and visible fruit. This is part of my bent as a big picture person (NF, for you Myerrs-Brigg-ers) who is always looking for connections. It’s why I write, and read, and think. But in the everyday, it means I often try to find peace and purpose through productivity. The measures are ostensibly spiritual— but the trap is that in seeking to justify my work through results, I am seeking to do sacred work while still walking by sight.

This desire to know without a doubt that I am accomplishing all I should do, and in everything doing things of eternal consequence, bears bad fruit. I’m prone to fretfulness over my own effectiveness, to perfectionism in what I do, to anxiety over wasted time, and an overall inability to rest. It also leads to, “Why-do-I-feel-so-tired-and-like-I-didn’t-do-all-I-should-but-it’s-not-like-I-wasted-time-today-so-did-I-make-the-right-choices?” and the aforementioned existential angst.

Motherhood has been sanctifying here. In part, it has limited my ability to spend time on explicitly “spiritual” work so that I need to trust God’s words on the sacredness of secular work. It has led to more exhaustingly “unproductive” days than one. But it also has been the sphere of life I’ve received gracious correction through the comfort of God’s good gifts.

As a seeker of meaning, I find myself circling back to Ecclesiastes every so often, and I have been camping here recently. Here the Old Testament Preacher grapples with the question of life’s purpose. He cannot find it in pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or toil and so again and again speaks of life feeling meaningless, “a chasing after the wind.” His answer ultimately though, is not to deny pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or work. Rather, he declares:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Eccl. 3:11-12)

The reason the Preacher cannot find meaning in the temporal is not because it is bad, but because on every side he pushes against mystery. As eternal beings, our hearts grasp at the strings to connect all we do to the eternal. But in our finitude, we cannot begin to trace them all. Thus, the Preacher’s answer for my longing to find my security and justify my life through my works is worship. God alone, he says, does work that endures forever. We cannot add or take away from it, we cannot even fathom the sum of it. And so, we fear him who does eternal things. And our role here? We are called to “be joyful and do good” as long as we live, and to receive from God the gifts he gives.

Eric Liddell, missionary and Olympian running, said once that when he did, he felt God’s pleasure. In contrast, his competitor is depicted in the movie Chariots of Fire as describing his races as “10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.” The Christian, justified by Christ and delighted by the Father, does not need to justify her own existence. We work, yes, but as a gift. And we receive all he has to give during our few days under the sun, trusting that he who is over the sun is building something that lasts through the good we do.

As we surrender our self-justification, God gives us contentment and the ability to enjoy his gifts and our toil:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink andfind enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions  and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Through the Scriptures, God dismantles my idolatry of productivity and success, silencing the voices of accusation and judgement of a twisted conscience that does not allow for rest or mistakes or a sense of God’s pleasure. I can delight in the things of this world— my work, my children— and receive the contentment I feel in loving and serving them as good. As I learn to walk by faith, to surrender my need to understand and justify my own existence on my own terms, I rest with the little one snuggling in my arms. I receive this rest— and her— as given out of an overflow of God’s love.

We celebrated a birthday in our family this week, it flew by like a highway mile marker, giving testimony that the years indeed are a breath. We each shared why we were thankful for the birthday girl. We enjoyed a meal at one of her favorite restaurants. We delighted in each other. Food and drink, family, presents, and a sudden declaration of “BEST DAY OF THE YEAR!” by one being honored— all gifts. All from God who “keeps us occupied with joy in our hearts.”

Yes, the years are a but a breath, but they are so filled lavishly with good things by the unspeakably good God of infinite worth, power, and wisdom. Knowing this, I will work and rest today, and in worship, breathe it in.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

She Sings

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She sings as she suckles. The notes rise and fall and I feel her song on my chest. This moment is a gift, a divine yes.

The last month hasn’t been the easiest. We are walking on while waiting on many fronts. Some are shorter-term needs, others are distant hopes. We are praying for prodigals and struggling saints, for suffering friends and hurting ministries, for the faith of our children and our own sanctification. In my grief and anxiety, I have wondered if he truly sees, if he will really answer. God, help me believe that you answer prayers, I weakly offered just last week.

Now, listening to my baby breathe, I think about how each exhale is a resounding testimony that he indeed hears.

During pregnancy, I prayed almost daily— God, please let this baby live.

After miscarriage, after Jeff dreamt we had another little boy and girl— God, please let this be prophetic.

As newly married— God, would you grow our family?

When we dated— God, please confirm our steps.

As a single woman— God, you know my desires.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, he said. And this is just one trail of petitions.

If I reach for a different thread, I find countless others wrapped up in this very moment. There’s confirmation about where to serve, the home I am sitting in, the faith to follow. There’s the silence right now—the gift of rest as Jeff takes out the big kids, and the notable absence of the voices of shame and condemnation, once constant companions. I have a steady sense of purpose, a will to live, an assurance that I belong to God. This hasn’t always been the case.

There have been plenty of no’s and the answers have not always come as quickly as I hoped. But I pleaded in years past— God, make yourself real to me. Steadily and surely, he has. The gift of our fourth child and the faith I have as I hold her now is but a small sampling of how.

From the lips of my baby he has ordained praise, the gift of unveiling and an invitation to remembrance. Do you really answer prayer? Her song is the gentlest rebuke for my forgetfulness, a soft yet strong word: See here my yeses.