Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pain of Motherhood

In a recent article at The Gospel Coalition, I wrote about Mary’s coming pain in the wake of Christ’s birth. Motherhood is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and she was not exempt from such emotions. With the joy of her newborn baby’s birth came the dark shadow of his foretold death. She felt the sting of motherhood acutely throughout his adult life, and as she stood at his cross and watched him gasp for breath.

I've said before, motherhood, like many things, is a great equalizer for women. It takes women from all walks of life, all cultures, and all time periods and brings them together under one unifying purpose—loving a child. It’s why women cry at birth stories of strangers and weep over the caskets of children they have never met. We know the joy and the pain that comes with being a mother. We feel it in our bones.

But like everything in this sin-cursed world, every joy carries with it the reality of pain. With the overwhelming joy at the birth of a baby comes the paralyzing fear of SIDS. With the excitement of watching your young toddler takes his first steps comes the all-consuming fear that he may one day get hit by a car or run into danger. With the joy of watching your teenager drive away for the first time by herself comes the helpless fear that she may not always be safe on the road alone.

We all have lived long enough to know that every happy moment we face as mothers can in an instant be laced with soul-crushing sorrow.

So what are we to do when we face these fears, sometimes on a moment by moment basis?

It’s easy to look to the temporal, tangible realities staring us in the face as our assurance of hope, like the assurance of our newborn’s breathing patterns or making our toddler hold our hand at all times in public. We feel like we can control those moments. We can put our finger on them as markers of goodness and faithfulness towards us. But those markers aren’t always there, are they? When every earthly treasure gives way, Christ is all our hope and stay.

The psalmist has this to say about our fears:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

He didn’t look to what was happening around him, good or bad. He looked away from his circumstances to the God who lovingly controls his circumstances and is working them for his good. But the truth is, it’s hard to do when everything is crumbling around us, isn’t it? Trusting God with our circumstances starts when all is well, when we are overwhelmed with joy. Mary couldn’t contain her wonder at what God did through her and for her in the birth of her son. But this wonder is what would carry and sustain her when all seemed hopeless and lost.

The same is true for us. Walking the road of motherhood carries with it more emotion than I ever knew humanly possible. Giving your life for another does that to you. With the intense love I feel for my children comes the possibility of tremendous heartache. Where does my help come when my fears seem to be my undoing? Or even more devastating, when my fears become reality? The same God who gave me these precious gifts, is the God who sustains me in my fears and heartache as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning from Hannah More

Earlier this Fall I received a copy of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. I couldn't wait to read it. I had been hearing about this book from Karen Swallow Prior for a while, and the more I heard about Hannah More, the more I wanted to get to know her. I think you will too. Here are some brief observations about her life that really stayed with me. I hope it will make you want to read the book (there is still time to get it before Christmas!).

  • Her accomplishments as a woman in her time period. Hannah lived in a day where women were not educated like men were. Women had little rights and voice in the powerful ranks of society. But Hannah was an exception. She did not embrace the early feminism that was rising up in her day, instead she understood her creation as a woman and used it to accomplish great things. 
  • She valued female education. In a Western context it's easy to take this for granted. But for many women in our world this is still a very real means of oppression. She taught women to read, to think, and to use their mind for good. But she saw a clear distinction between teaching women to think and making women think like men. "She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men" (24).
  • She was brave enough to go against her culture regarding slavery and the treatment of all human beings. It's easy to look at history from our vantage point and think Hannah's positions on the deplorable practice of slavery and the refusal to educate lower class people are simply no-brainers. But we must remember that she was standing up for things (abolition of slavery and education of all people of all classes) that were unthinkable to many English men and women. Like every society, we have our own blind spots, and like Hannah, we must ask God to reveal these blind spots and give us the courage to stand against the tide.
  • She had a consistent ethic regarding the dignity of persons and creation. One of the more surprising, and interesting, aspects of her life to me was how she fought for the ethical treatment of animals. It might seem like a random addition to a book on her bravery as an abolitionist and educator, but the more I learned about her the more I realized that it all goes together. Hannah believed in the dignity of people because they were created in the image of God. She believed in the fair treatment of animals because she valued God's creation. Her high view of God enabled her to honor and fight to protect all that he had made. 
Those are just a few of the many things that struck me about her compelling and convicting life. I hope you will take the time to read Fierce Convictions and discover the myriad of ways that Hannah More's life means something for us today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Dependent Woman in an Independent World

The twins and I just got back from a two week trip to Florida to visit my parents, which means I flew by myself with two 21 month old boys. It was fun. It was intense. It was filled with memories. It was exhausting. This is a snapshot of how it went.

Between staring out the window at all of the airplanes, watching Bubble Guppies, and eating an abundance of snacks, we all had a pretty good time flying together. Daniel and I have flown with them together before, so I knew what to expect a little bit. But this was my first solo venture, so I was a little (a lot!) nervous about how it would all go. In God's kindness, these sweet boys exceeded all expectations and made it a fun ride. 

What I didn't expect was how my ugly battle with pride would come full force as I boarded the plane with two littles. I prepared for little help from fellow passengers, but I was blown away by how kind people are to a pregnant lady with two toddlers. I never actually had to get the boys on the plane alone. Someone always stopped to help me, which was a great blessing. But with every offer for help from kind bystanders I felt my own self-sufficiency rise up in me. Of course, I brushed it off as not wanting to be an inconvenience. But I know what I really meant in my heart. I may have said "thank you" out loud, but I was thinking:

No, I don't want your help. I want everyone to marvel at how I mastered flying alone with twins.

It's awful, really. Only a crazy woman refuses help when she's trying to wrangle two busy toddlers. But I am that sinful, crazy woman. The very essence of pride is a desire to make much of yourself, to puff yourself up in front of others. It can even come across as noble and good, like taking care of twin boys on a flight to Florida, but it's still pride. I've written before about my struggle with accepting help from others, and while my circumstances are different this time around, it still lurks in my heart. 

It doesn't help that I live in a culture that prides itself on self-sufficiency. America is about the self-made man or woman. America celebrates independence, not dependence. We marvel at the woman who does it all. We praise the man who came from nothing and made himself into a successful businessman. We love a story of survival and grit. But that is not the way of Christ. As a Christian, everything I have is owing to the merits of another. My motto should be "nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." So even in my best moments as a mom, wife, friend, or writer, I'm still coming up short on the sufficiency front. It's pride that feeds me lies, making me believe I'm doing better than I truly am. 

Now that I'm home, I'm glad all those people offered to help me. It made the trip much more enjoyable. It protected my boys from running off when I couldn't move fast enough to catch both of them. It even allowed me to make some friends on the flights. So the next time someone offers to help me, I want to accept with a willing and grateful heart, rather than as a woman who thinks she's got this whole mothering twins thing together. Because, let's face it. I need the help.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Some Trust in Ultrasounds, But We Trust in the Lord

On September 29 the baby we lost earlier this year was due. Due dates are always hard when there is no baby coming. They are a reminder of what could have been. They are a reminder of a pregnancy that didn't make it to term. They are a reminder of empty arms. I've faced three due dates now with no baby inside of me. One was because the twins were born eight weeks before my due date. The other two were because I lost the baby in the first trimester. So I'm quite familiar with due dates.

But this due date was different. This due date was filled with anticipation. Not with anticipation over the grief I would feel that day, but because I knew what was coming the next day. I would get to see our newest baby for the first time. That's right, I am pregnant again.

I am also very familiar with ultrasounds. I have had a lot of them in my day. With the twins I had more than is possible to remember. But I've always walked into that first ultrasound with the same fear and trembling. Daniel and I barely talk in the waiting room. We know what could happen. We could either walk out of that room with pictures of our new baby or walk out of that room broken over the loss of another. On September 30 we were walking into that room for the fourth time, and at that point we had experienced more bad first ultrasounds than good ones. Because the last time I had an ultrasound was when I was still pregnant with the last baby we lost, the ultrasound log picked me up as being 40 weeks pregnant. So we had to explain to the ultrasound tech that we were in fact there for a our new baby and not the one from February.

We were scared to death.

But in God's kindness he turned our mourning into dancing by letting us see the beating heart of our newest little baby, due May 14, 2015. So far, all is well.

The first trimester is not nice to me, and this pregnancy has been no different. In fact, it's been a whole lot worse. As I'm slowly coming out of the non-stop sickness, thanks to medicine, I have found myself facing the same old fear that always plague me in pregnancy.

Will I lose this baby, too? 

Pregnancy lost its innocence with me a long time ago and I feel like it's God's way of pruning me and causing me to trust him with everything.

I find myself trusting in hearing a heartbeat more than I trust the God who made this baby's heart and keeps it beating this very moment. I find myself trusting in hugging the toilet bowl more than I trust the God who knit this little, nausea inducing baby together in my womb (Ps. 139:13). I find myself trusting in the passing of another week more than I trust the God who sustains the universe and numbers every hair on this little one's head (Luke 12:7, Matt. 10:30).

You see, it's easy to brush my fears off as normative. I've lost babies. I've had a high-risk pregnancy. I've had premature babies who had to spend five weeks in the NICU. Every part of my pregnancy history causes my anxiety to rise and makes me want to think I'm justified in my response to my circumstances.

But I'm not.

My fears are no different than anyone else's fears. We all have life experiences that inform our fears, but we are still called to trust in the God who is sovereign over our very lives.

The verse I keep coming back to is Psalm 20:7:

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.""

Maybe I don't have to deal with enemies seeking to destroy me every single day. But I do have the enemy of my mind that lies to me about God's goodness and care for me and my baby. We can insert any earthly means of assurance into this psalm and the outcome is still the same. God is on the throne and he is the only one worthy of our trust. No ultrasound, fetal doppler, baby kicks, or pregnancy symptom will be the assurance I need to sustain my faith. God alone is my help and my trust.

So it's in him I trust as I walk nervously through another pregnancy. Hopeful and excited for the life he has given us again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Waiting for the Promised Land

I've struggled with fear and anxiety all of my Christian life. In many ways it seems that when I conquer one fear, another one is lurking in the shadows. Fear is my constant enemy. I've often thought that the constant refrain of my soul is "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" This is my heart's cry as I seek daily to do battle with my ever present fears.

I just finished reading the book of Joshua. As the book came to a close for me, my fears were confronted with this comforting truth:
And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:44-45).
After years of wandering, failing, and being carried by God to the land he had promised, these words came true. I imagine as the people of Israel embarked on the conquest of Canaan, and now faced the prospect of entering this unknown land, many fears could arise. But here we see that in the midst of it God is keeping his promises. Every word he spoke to their fathers proved true. Every promise he made to them from the calling of Abraham, to the fleeing of Egypt, to the wandering in the desert, not one word fell to the ground.

So what does this have to do with my fears? I have no word from the Lord about deliverance from what ails me. I have no promise that I will be freed from circumstances that terrify me. I don't know that tomorrow will go better than today, or that my children will come to faith in Christ, or that my husband and I will live to see our grandchildren. I am not an Israelite and I do not have those promises passed on to me from my parents.

But do I?

In Christ I have been given a great inheritance. I may not have promises of earthly deliverance, like the Israelites did. But I have a better one. Through Christ, God is making a people for himself today in the same way that he was in Joshua's day. Through Christ, He is keeping his word to his children in the same way he kept his word to the Israelites, but even more so. Through Christ, I have the reward of eternal life, the promise that while my earthly life may not materialize into everything I hope it to be, my heavenly one will surpass my wildest imaginations. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, I have yet to reach the Promised Land. God's promise to sustain me on my sojourn is just as real as it was for them. God's promise to give me a land of rest and glory is just as real as it was for them. Like them, I must wait for that Promised Land and trust that it is coming. But I also have something better than what they had. They had the tradition passed down from their fathers through the Law, I have the promised Son who intercedes for me and makes me like himself every day. This is my assurance that this promise is coming for me, too. Christ is my guarantee that this is not all there is.

So where do I go when my fears assail me? To Jesus, the one who purchased me with his very blood and daily lives and pleads for me before the throne of grace. He knows my fears and knows that they are not the final word on my life. I am a pilgrim on this journey, like the Israelites of old. Every word that God has spoken will be true in my life because God can only be true to himself. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What I Missed About Work

The subject of work and how our faith relates to our vocation has been a topic of much conversation in our home lately. In a lot of ways, these two articles (for TGC and Boundless) are the fruit of those conversations. Daniel has sensed God's leading to stay within his current vocation (as a lay pastor and salesman) and I have wrestled with the implications of it all.

But more importantly, our thinking, praying, and crying (mostly me) through all of these issues has caused me to reflect on my current vocation (as a mom, wife, and writer) and also on my previous ones. If I am truly honest about the past, I was an unfaithful worker in my twenties. I may have shown up on time, completed my work, and even gone above and beyond sometimes, but my heart wasn't in it. I had an unbiblical disconnect between my role as an image bearer and the nature of work. I thought if I wasn't doing something really valuable (like saving orphans in Africa or teaching a bible study) I wasn't really doing anything at all. I saw my work in the secular market as a means to an end, and I had little respect for people who did such work for the rest of their lives. As Daniel has moved towards his current profession, I have been forced to move along with him. And it's been really good for me. I have grown to see his work (and ultimately my own) as valuable not necessarily because he is evangelizing everyone he meets, but because he is working faithfully in his job, thus reflecting his role as an image bearer.

This has had a profound effect on how I view my current vocation as a stay-at-home mom. While there are two little people who depend on me for their constant care, it is easy to see my work as meaningless. Because there are no tangible markers for how I am doing, I can easily neglect certain responsibilities or fail to work hard because no one really is evaluating me at the end of the day. But I also can see my work as having little value, because I don't bring in the bulk of our family's income or get feedback on my work. Besides the occasional hug or kiss, the most return I get on my work in my home is a peanut butter hand print on my clean windows or syrup in my hair. But it is still work, and it still demands my faithfulness.

Understanding the value of work that is directly related to my role as an image bearer shapes the way I work. I work not just as "unto the Lord", but also as a representative of my Lord on this earth. When my kids see me work on their behalf, for the benefit of my church, or for the good of a friend in need, I hope they see a small glimpse (albeit very flawed) of the creative goodness of our God.

This is what I missed in my twenties. I thought work was all about me and my personal fulfillment. I didn't see the people in the cubicles around me as recipients of my faithful work. I just wanted out of the cubicle. I wanted to be in a place where real good was happening, not some corporate environment. And I regret that.

My prayer for my thirties, and beyond, is that I would joyfully embrace whatever work God sees fit to give me, not necessarily because it fulfills every need I have, but because work is a good gift to God's people, his image bearers. We work to reflect his glory. We work to create and cultivate like he does. We work to make much of him as the author and giver of every good thing--even the fruits of our labors.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to get to work.

If you want to read more about how God has been shaping our understanding of work, you can read this interview Daniel did with The Gospel Coalition. It's really helpful, but I am a little biased!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Time is Never Enough

When we were at seminary, we regularly sang the hymn "Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed." The hymn, written for the first graduation ceremony of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is moving and these lines have always stuck with me:

"We meet to part, but part to meet."

It's a fitting song for a seminary setting. Students are transient. You make friends with fellow students only to say "goodbye" a few years later, likely never to see each other again.

My parents were here visiting this past week, and like every time we are all together, we always think the time really is too short. "If only we had a few more days," we say. Except this time we did have a few more days. My mom and dad stayed longer than they both had ever stayed together (with the exception of my mom practically moving in after the twins were born!). When we go to their house for Christmas, we tack on an extra day with the hopes that maybe this time the time spent together will feel sufficient, like we aren't saying our goodbyes before we even get started.

But it never does. And this time I was struck by the fact that no amount of time will ever feel like enough. We could spend the next month together and still cry with the same amount of sadness when the time to go our separate ways arrives. Because it's not about the time. It's about the relationships. The more you love someone the more you want to be around them. I love my family, so naturally I enjoy their company. I will always feel like our time is cut short because of the nature of our relationship. But it's also more than that. The deep ache I felt as I watched their car drive away on Tuesday morning is pointing to something deep within my soul. I wasn't made for such departures. As a human being, created in God's image, I was made for relationship--relationships that aren't hindered by the distance of time or place. Every goodbye with my family and friends is reminding me that there is a day coming where there will be no more tears or departures.

The time will never feel like enough because it really isn't enough. The fellowship I experience with my parents is a sweet foretaste of the eternal fellowship I will experience with my heavenly Father. So I will cry. I will be sad. I will ache and miss them with each passing day. And I will look forward to the next time I get to see their faces in the flesh.