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

FC6B1786-F456-44D8-9276-D900DC76A3D6.jpg

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

IMG_1924.jpg

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)

Motherhood & Family

My Soil

IMG_0732.jpg

(from Instagram)

“Can we check on our garden?” I give them the go ahead and they run to fill their cans in the bathroom, watering the kitchen tiles on their way out. They return with strawberries, cilantro, and news of promising zucchini flowers and sunflower stems.

I leave most outdoor activities to Jeff, but I think writing, for me, is what gardening is to him. When I arrange and tend to words and thoughts, I feel I’m doing good work, even if only as an amateur in my backyard. The fact that my work yields handfuls of fruit at a time is okay with me. I enjoy it and am thankful it can be beneficial to others in some measure.

It’s hard though to find energy and time. And a few months ago, I found myself growing impatient at the demands of home and family because I wanted to write more. It occurred to me then that I was in danger of resenting the very soil God wanted me to write out of.

It’s tempting to imagine we’d accomplish more— for God even— if not for the circumstances we’ve been placed in. It’s easy to believe we’d bear more fruit if only. If only the kids weren’t so needy. If only the people I discipled more mature. If only my parents more reasonable. If only schoolwork easier. If only my health were better.

But beloved, Divine Love has ordained for you this season and place to offer worship and obedience you could not offer in any other time or place. And as you abide in Christ, he promises the fruit you bear this season will last (John 15:16).

If it were up to me, I’d probably choose to bear fruit in a climate-controlled, sterile greenhouse. Here I’d serve, live, love, and write without hindrance. But I am bound to my own time and place, affected by the weather and surrounded by dirt. This is the soil I have been placed in to work out my salvation— the vocation of motherhood, the heartache of ministry, the needs of souls, life circumscribed by my limited body.

Here, I have been called to bear the fruit of the Spirit, to serve, to be made more like Jesus. Here, in this season, in this space, with gardening children and slippery kitchen floors.

Motherhood & Family

Wisdom To Number Our Days

7477DCB9-6C39-4219-AAD0-6873FB9AC65D.jpg

(from Instagram)

My heart has been feeling achy these days. Having a newborn has made me realize how our years with her siblings have flown by. It also reminds me how little time they all have left here with us.

Like a dream. Like grass that grows and withers. This is how the psalmist describes our years on earth (Ps.90). So in light of our fleetingness, he asks God to teach us to number our days. This, he writes, is how we gain wisdom.

I have seen lately how my parenting is often downright foolish. I am irritable instead of grateful for the moments God grants me with my children. I respond to them with harshness instead of commending Christ. I waive opportunities to build our relationship in the name of busyness. And when I do these things, I am forgetting that my years, and our years together, are numbered.

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom- Ps. 90:12.— I need this divine, day-numbering wisdom so badly.

I need this wisdom to look through my children’s behavior and aim to win their hearts. To discipline with their 13, 18, and 30 year-old future selves in mind.

I need this wisdom to build them up with words of grace and not just give orders. To remember the significance of the years between us is growing smaller by the day. One they will one be my peers and hopefully friends.

I need this wisdom to seize every opportunity to make much of Christ. To put down what I’m doing when possible and help my children see the goodness of God while I still can.

I need this wisdom to enjoy my time with them. To stop and thank God for the fleeting, sweet craziness of life with 3 young children and an infant.

Parents, truly, our days may be long, but our years are short. Let’s look to number them rightly — these exhausting, sweet, bitter, good, frustrating days— that God may grant us hearts of wisdom.