Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

A Better Vantage Point

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Jeff and I attended a pastors and spouses retreat this week. All the costs were completely covered– it was a generous gift from God through the retreat center. My parents took care of the kids for a few days, and we had a good time with other couples in ministry. We ate and rested well.

During the retreat, we decided to hike up the mountain on the property. It was the perfect combination of strenuous enough to be interesting and short enough to be survivable (for me). We talked and caught up as we followed the trail one mile up, comparing heart rates on our watches for fun and asking Siri about our elevation every now and again.

At one point, the trail seemed to end abruptly by a small waterfall. The next tree markings were visible only after we climbed up a set of large wet rocks streaming with water from the overflowing fall. Here, it looked as if part of the mountain had been plowed through, and I stopped to wonder aloud at how the massive rocks came to rest the way they did. The Ice Age was Jeff’s guess, and though we weren’t sure about the geology, it wasn’t hard to imagine a glacier moving through the mountain to expose bare rock, leaving huge stones in its wake and paving a miniature gorge for the waterfall and stream.

Soon, we arrived at a small lookout and were taking in the nice, though not exceptional, partial view, when another couple hiking down toward us pointed to a wooden cross 30 yards away marking the actual overlook. We made our way over and as we reached the rock ledge, trees by the trail gave way to a clearing with a stunning, 180 degree panoramic view.

Close to us by our left, about 300 feet below, we saw the retreat center buildings. In the far distance, 20 miles out, mountains filled the horizon. A set of almost indiscernible white lines on the base of one, we identified as a ski resort. A slight break and dip in the ranges toward our 2 o’clock, the Delaware Water Gap. Between us and the mountains, a valley of smaller, rolling hills covered with leafless trees and scattered patches of evergreens. At almost 2000 feet elevation, the view was so far and wide, I was dizzy from disorientation. “We’re not used to seeing this far out,” Jeff said.

The next day, back in our room, we talked and prayed about ministry and heavy things on our hearts. And as we prayed, I thought again of the huge rock formation on our hike and whatever had left it behind. I thought of how there is only One who knows how they came to be not only because he directs all things, but because he was there as witness to its history. And in view of God’s eternity, I was comforted.

I remember being fresh out of college and talking to older people who seemed to throw around years when they spoke. As a student and in your twenties, thinking about next semester is thinking about the future, and waiting one or two years for anything feels unbearable. We wrestled with questions regarding God’s will, which often meant knowing what to do the coming summer or next year, or maybe plans for after graduation. But these elders, who in retrospect were probably not too much older than me now, tossed about decades like semesters. In a few sentences, they’d talk about spending ten years in this country, then seven years in that one, now going on four here. Because of their age, their view of time was different than mine. Their perspective, unsurprisingly, meant when they spoke about the future, they were was less anxious, less urgent, less impatient.

Though I am now old enough to need to recalculate my age every time my daughters ask and I can’t recall off the top of my head how long I’ve been back in Staten Island, I’m still young. Young enough to give into anxiety about the near future, to be utilitarian in my decisions— wanting visible, guaranteed results to think something is worth my time. I get restless in the mundane and give up too easily when prayers are not yet answered. I feel worried when God doesn’t meet me experientially in the few hours I set aside to be in prayer and the Scriptures. I wonder if I’m missing his voice if I don’t hear from him this very instant and I get frazzled over hiccups in plans for family or ministry.

But, God. From the beginning, through the ages, thousands of years from now, he was and is and will be. In my restless, anxious toil, meditating on God’s eternal nature is often the force behind the seismic perspective shift I need.

When longing for swift deliverance, Christians are exhorted to remember that our view of slowness is not his. That though ten years may sound like a hundred to us, to him a thousand are as a day. That his purposes for our suffering go far beyond our years and through unsearchable paths into eternity.

When discouraged about the slowness of his Kingdom’s advancement in ourselves, our families, and our churches, we look to the God of ages past whose view of slowness is not the same as ours.  We remember that, “He has moved like rapids — quickly and vivaciously — and startling to see. But the Spirit also moves like a glacier — subtly and cumulatively — and sometimes so imperceptibly that the believer might be unaware of his work.” It may seem slow from my vantage point, but his movement through history is steady, unimaginably powerful, unstoppable.

God’s eternal view of time directly speaks against my need for fast answers, quick fixes, and instant results. He is not working on my timeline– and his eternity is good news for me. As a parent, my discipline is unkind when I feel the pressure of time and am unsure of the future. I begin to demand immediate perfection from my children, correcting in fear, not faith and love. God though, does not panic at the passing of time, nor does he resort to flustered last ditch efforts in his dealings with me. His eternity means patience with his impatient children.

Sometimes, in his goodness, God gives us glimpses of his good purposes, lookouts if you will over a few years of our lives. At the retreat, Jeff and I were placed in the same room we had been in two summers ago. We’d gone with our church and I was barely surviving. As I surveyed the room this visit, I could still see the set up we had then– the girls on one bed, the pack-and-plays side-by-side for our foster boys, and just enough floor space to walk from the entrance to the bathroom. I remembered not being able to sleep, being anxious about sick kids, and feeling upset toward God about both.

The days felt so long back then, so it surprised me how two years could fly by and find us at the same location but in such a different place. The boys are with another family and we welcomed our now almost 18 month old since then. There have been new beginnings in writing, headway made in homeschooling, lessons learned in life and ministry.

But there is still all I have been slow to learn, prayers God has yet to answer. I see recurring requests and repeated struggles thematically spanning years through the pages of my journals. There are new unknowns my mind fills with threatening futures. We all carry sadnesses yet to be healed, questions yet to be answered. There are long walks through the valleys of the shadow of death still to come.

So we look at our everlasting Rock (Is. 26:4).  One day, we will ascend the heights, having received the eternal weight of glory, to where our deepest sorrows will seem “light and momentary” and the longest seasons of darkness, “a little while” (2 Cor. 4:17, 1 Pet. 1:6).  Until then, we trust our eternal God has a view of our lives so complete, and from there his purposes so spectacular, we would be dizzied by its vastness and beauty if given a peek.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:1-4 (ESV)

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

You Don’t Become Superwoman Overnight

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My daughters are not good eaters but I can’t complain, because apparently I’ve never been a good eater either. My dad tells a story of when I was an infant, and how my mom called him at work in frustration after I threw up all the food she’d painstakingly fed me over the course of an hour. I like this story because it gives me a plausible genetic-predisposition excuse for how my girls eat, but more so because it gives me a glimpse of my mom as a first-time momma.

If you knew my mom, you would probably agree with the man who stopped me a few weeks ago at church to tell me, “your mom is a superwoman.” Her capacity for working to serve others and enduring difficulty is super-human. That’s why it’s strange for me to imagine her calling my dad at work about a feeding session, and that’s why I enjoy the Faith-was-a-terrible-eater story so much. It reminds me my mom didn’t become superwoman overnight.

Some of you may be in the thick of learning how to keep a home, be a wife, or survive as a mom. You may be looking at the superwomen in your lives— your own mom, a godly older woman, or a friend with more children— and hang your head in shame for being so weak and struggling so much. I know how it is. Today, I want to encourage you to remember, these superwomen didn’t get there overnight and they didn’t get there on their own.

As a mom with three littles, my daily agenda most days is still usually “make it through the day.” So the just-married and first-time mom stages aren’t so far behind me that I don’t remember how hard they were.

I remember, as a newlywed, being surprised at how much time was spent on food. Pre-marital counseling prepared me for a lot, but I did not expect meal planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning to be so taxing. Three meals a day, seven days a week– and repeat again with no end in sight!

I remember the terrible morning sickness of my first pregnancy. I remember being sad because I wanted to have more kids but didn’t think I’d ever be able to make it through pregnancy again.

I remember the never-ending day that was in actuality the first few weeks after the birth of our eldest. The theme of my days were “I need Thee every hour!” because truly, I didn’t think I could make it through the next sixty minutes.

And I remember the struggle of figuring out the dynamics and choices involved with having children and being a ministry family. 

A few months ago though, Jeff and I joked about going on vacation with the baby when my parents took the girls away for a few days, and I wondered at the fact that five years ago, we’d never have thought “Wow, we just have one kid at home— how relaxing!” We are still young parents and far from being out of the woods, but even in the last six years I’ve noticed one important theme as a homemaker and parent— God grows our capacity over time. 

Some may see the repeating tasks of homemaking and child-rearing and wonder if it’s monotonous and mind-numbing doing the same thing day after day. Yes, there is an aspect of repetition and it is important to maintain perspective in the mundane everyday tasks that make up our days. (I’ve written about it here and here.) But I’ve also found great satisfaction learning that though the tasks of keeping a home and caring for children do repeat, over time, we get better at them. In other words, in doing our daily tasks of service over and over, we become more effective and efficient in doing them and grow in our capacity to do more good to love others.

Over time, in the kitchen, our hands move a little less clumsily at the cutting board and we get better at throwing together a meal for last minute guests. At the changing table, we become able to wrestle down the squirming poop-er deftly enough to continue our conversation with the two older kids about speaking kindly to one another. In matters of the heart, we learn to engage our children better, and discern more quickly whether they need a hug, a swat, a nap, or all three (not all at once of course). All of this doesn’t happen because some people are born with super-capacities– it comes because of all the time spent each day in the kitchen, at the changing table, engaging the heart.

To use gym language, God is the perfect trainer and the daily tasks involved in housework and caring for children are our reps. Our Trainer knows exactly how to push us a bit (a lot) past what we feel is possible or pleasant, because not only is he enabling us to serve others now, he is preparing us for the good works he’s planned ahead. God increases our capacity not so that we can gain mastery and control, but because as we do our tasks in love for those around us, he has other tasks and training lying ahead.

Day by day, God is training us in the work he’s called us to not only physically but spiritually. In putting us in positions of weakness, he gives us a chance to recognize our need for his strength and grace in our work. He gives us a chance to see his grace at work in the day-to-day and his wisdom in ordering our days and seasons as homemakers and parents. I think one reason he does this is so that we can testify to his sustaining presence and comfort to give courage to others, even after we have moved to the next struggle.

So, for the newlywed fumbling around in the kitchen or the first-time mom wondering how you’ll get through the next day, know that there is grace for you today. Grace from God to sustain you, and grace in how he is teaching you skills and lessons you will be able to employ in the future for the sake of serving others. It may be hard, and in a sense it’s supposed to be, but trust your wise trainer and gracious sustainer. The same One who has given daily grace to those you look up to is the One who is training you today.

And to the one who looks like superwoman to another, would you consider testifying to her that you didn’t get to where you are overnight? Is there a way you can speak grace and truth into a younger person’s life, apart from the “just you wait and see how it gets worse!” the world seems to offer? Would you remember how God showed you grace in the past, as he continues to do today?

“By the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:10).

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

Church & Ministry, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

We Quickly Fly Away, But…

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I don’t normally talk to inanimate objects, but there’s this one time I got mad at a flower.

During this particular day, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and happened to look down. That’s when it did it. Or at least, that’s when I noticed what it was doing. A tiny flower, no taller than 2 inches or so, had bloomed in the little patch of dirt. It was pretty and colorful and it was just standing there, being all flowery, and as far as I could tell, happily so.  I, on the other hand, completely drained and empty inside, exploded, yelling in my mind, “Why do you even exist??!”

Here’s the context: though only in my early 20’s, I was burning out in ministry and probably showing signs of depression. For me, life had been boiled down to what I accomplished in ministry and the purpose of life was being fruitful (ministry-wise). I was laboring for the sake of what I understood as eternal (visible conversions, explicit discipleship), seeing other parts of life as superfluous and worldly, and by the end of two years I was running on fumes.
Continue reading “We Quickly Fly Away, But…”