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.

Motherhood & Family

Family Bible Reading

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My parents gave me this Bible as I started ministry after college. It travelled all over the world with me, sitting open during meet-ups and quiet times. It is highlighted and underlined with remembrances of living words shedding light on my heart. And while it’s been shelved for some years (I switched translations), I pulled it out recently for Bible reading with the kids.

There’s nothing magical about an old Bible, but it is sweet to think that God knew as I read, prayed, fretted over my future with it, I’d one day be using it to speak his words to my own children.

Our family has recently started reading the Bible together daily. We’ve probably only been 50/50 (or 75/25) in terms of consistency, but it’s been really good. So while we’re just getting into the grind of it, I thought I’d share some of my preliminary thoughts for others thinking about cultivating the same discipline.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

We read one chapter in the OT and one in the NT per reading (right now Psalms and the Gospels). We try to read in the morning over breakfast and at night when the kids are ready for bed. We’re not always consistent, especially at night, but having a simple routine keeps it from feeling too daunting. For us, 5-10 minutes a reading means 10-20 minutes a day. We’re not coming with lesson plans (though we have had good conversations), just listening to God’s Word together and answering questions as they come up.

It’s a great way to serve my children while caring for my soul.

Last month, I talked to a friend, a mom and missionary, who recently sustained an ankle injury. When I asked her how she’d have time to focus on her recovery, she told me PT told her to include her kids in her therapy exercises. Right now, our children love it when we read to them. They love spending focused time with us (sometimes when we’d rather them not!) and will take every moment with us they can get. As much as I may feel too busy or tired, I want to make the most of this time while their hearts are still soft to God’s word and to me. And in this season where alone time is hard to come by, God’s been refreshing my heart through these morning and night bookends.

It’s about tasting and seeing together that God is good.

One way to make readings feel boring for kids is to automatically turn the passages into ways to get them to behave. While there are times for correction and instruction, not every Bible reading should feel this way. More than needing a moral compass, our children need (and want!) to know the living God through his wondrous deeds. When we read together, we are simply opening up the Word of God to discover together how amazing, captivating, powerful, holy, beautiful, and wonderful he is. And truly he is.

It’s not impossible.

I remember reading about families doing family devotions and thinking it was a good idea— in theory. I pictured something that felt formal and forced. I pictured families sitting still, being serious, and basically not looking like ours. (For some context, we have trouble getting the kids to stay seated at the table for meals.) It turns out our readings just look like our family having our usual time together– only instead of focusing our attention on a children’s book, game, or movie, we’re reading the Bible together. Sometimes the kids will roll around in bed, stare off blankly into space, or ask a completely unrelated question. But more often than not, they are listening. And even if they don’t remember everything we read, they are learning through practice that God’s word is worth our time and attention.

Lastly, we need to believe it is worth it it.

Though it’s not impossible, consistent Bible reading does take effort. But it takes more than just determination and grit. When I get to the heart of it, the biggest reason I often choose not to spend time in God’s word is not busyness or lack of discipline, but unbelief. I push it aside because I’m not sure he’ll speak to me. I’m not convinced that he’ll speak what I need to hear or meet me in my need.

So I need faith. Faith that God has something to say to my family, that he holds the words of life. Faith that as pressing as everything else seems, we won’t regret stopping to hear from him. Faith that above all else, we need him, his grace, and his truth. And faith that if his Word falls on good soil today, it will bear a harvest, 30, 60, 100-fold in due time.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Psalm 19:7-8 (NIV)