Monday, March 31, 2014

The Gospel for Moms

People prepared me for a lot of things before the birth of my twin boys last year. I received advice on everything from sleep training, my own impending lack of sleep, the difficulty of learning to be a parent, and that in reality you are never really prepared. I was fully prepared to feel completely unprepared when those two little ones burst on the scene. And they did with complete surprise (eight weeks early!). We were as unprepared as we were ever going to be.

I knew my life would be turned upside down, but since that had never happened to me before I didn’t really understand what to expect. And no one really prepared me for the fact that even the simplest things that I once held dear (like quiet time reading my bible or a good book, or the ability to focus while praying) would be left at the hospital with my former life. The last thirteen months for me have been about getting my bearings back.

Gloria Furman knows what it’s like to have “mommy brain” and no time to think. She understands full hands and an exhausted body. She spends her days pouring out all of her energy for her husband and four kids. Yet she has learned how to trust and treasure Christ in the midst of this seemingly mundane life. That is why she is the perfect person to write a book about this very topic. In her newest book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms, she speaks to women in the trenches of motherhood and offers the very encouragement she speaks to herself. With this book you feel like you are speaking to a trusted friend, one who knows your struggles and has real help for you right where you are at. For a busy mom, who can often feel isolated in the daily grind of caring for young children and a home, this book offers exactly what we need—more of Jesus.

I found myself wanting to write down nearly every other sentence because of the nuggets of truth that were packed into even the fewest of words. Reading this book felt like Furman was speaking directly to me, as if she knew what my daily life looked like. And that’s the beauty of this book. There is something for every mom. If you struggle to find a quiet place to commune with God, Furman assures you that Jesus is not confined to a comfy chair in the wee hours of the morning. He promises to meet you where you are at, even if it is at the changing table or the kitchen sink. If you find yourself weighed down by your endless quest to be the “perfect mom,” Furman shows that while no mother is remotely close to perfect, we do have a perfect Savior who is sufficient to cover all of our sins and failures. If you feel yourself losing sight of the goal in this whole motherhood thing, Furman lovingly reminds us that we are parenting eternal souls who will never die. Motherhood is about tomorrow and eternity, she says. While she helps us feel the tremendous weight of this calling, she also points us to the tremendous joy it affords us.

Throughout the book, Furman reminds us that while we are weak, Christ is always strong. This is good news for weary moms who simply cannot add one more thing to an already overflowing plate of responsibilities. So if you are a weak, needy, desperate mom this book is for you. You will find on these pages that Christ is sufficient, his gospel is true, and his promises are all you need to faithfully do all you have been called to as a mother to your children.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Stewardship of Pain

Nobody likes pain. I know I don't. We hate pain so much that we do whatever we can to avoid it. We have a headache, we take ibuprofen. We get a leg cramp while running (true confession!), so we stop running. We have surgery, we go under anesthesia. As a society, we have come a long way by means of pain management.

But what about the pain that runs deeper. The pain that settles itself within your very soul. How do you avoid that pain? Some turn to a variety of coping mechanisms. Some simply try to avoid it all together, as if the pain never existed. What is the Christian to do? Do we adopt the world's methods for "pain management," or is there a better, more sustaining way forward in the midst of searing pain?

Jerry Bridges has some helpful words for our pain. In God's providence, Jerry Bridges has been on my nightstand for both of my miscarriages. For the first one, it was Trusting God. This time, it was The Joy of Fearing God. Both times I have been helped tremendously by Bridges careful and God-exalting words.
We usually think of Christian stewardship in terms of money. Some churches have "stewardship campaigns" during which they seek to get their membership to pledge toward the annual church budget. Then the concept of stewardship was broadened to include our time and talents--or as one slogan puts it, "Be a good steward of your time, talents, and treasure." The idea behind these concepts is that whatever resources God has given us, He has entrusted them to us as stewards to use for His glory.
Now apply that idea to pain, either physical or emotional. If we believe God is sovereignly in control of all circumstances of our lives, then our pain is something He has given to us just as much as our time or talents or treasure. He has entrusted the pain to us to be used for His glory...
Closely akin to trusting God in our pain is trusting Him to fulfill His promises, even when we can't imagine how He can fulfill them (225-226).
That is what I want for my own life. I want to steward the pain he gives me for his glory, and ultimately for my own good. This radically changes our perspective on suffering and pain. It takes pain from being something that is against us to something that is given to us as a gift. It is always for our good, even when it feels and seems bleak.

Stewarding our pain well can only be done with the future in view. If we merely looked at the present we would grow weary rather quickly. Instead, like so many who have gone before us, we must look to the eternal home, healing, and rest that awaits us with our Lord. It is impossible to steward our pain well on our own and with tunnel vision. We need God to give us an eternal perspective and the hope that Christ will reign victorious over even the most excruciating pain we face.

Oh Lord, let it be so in my own life, even today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm a Quitter

It's true. I am a lifelong quitter. It started in adolescence when I would repeatedly sign up for activities that I really thought were my life's calling. Dance. Gymnastics. Softball. Swimming. Volleyball. It only took a short while to realize that flexibility, coordination, and athletic prowess were nowhere to be found in my gene pool. So I quit.

But there were other things I quit, too. Over time I recognized that music and the arts were where my talent flourished. So I did what any ambitious teen would do and I took guitar lessons. When my fingers started hurting and I missed my favorite shows for practice, I quit that, too. Twice, in fact. I lost a part in a musical once because I decided to go to my friend's lake house for the weekend rather than attend practice for the try outs.

I quit things not just because of my lack of ability, though that is a factor sometimes. I regularly quit because it just gets too hard or I lose interest. I am not one for perseverance.

As I've grown as a Christian I have seen this come out in greater degree. When a relationship is strained or difficult, I want out. When I face push back from people over my beliefs or a decision I make, I want to retreat. When I face another sleepless night because my children are sick, I want to crawl into a hole and stay there for a few days. Escapism, in many ways, has always been my comfort. But this is not the way of the Christian. Endurance and perseverance is a key component of the Christian life. The Bible says that only those who persevere to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13). God takes our perseverance seriously.

But life is hard isn't it? A quick survey of the news reveals that there is enough going on even today that would make anyone want to throw in the towel. And if you add our personal lives to the mix, you have a recipe for a dozen quitters. What I've grown to understand, though, is that my quitting nature reveals something tragic about my understanding of this life.

I want this to be it.

When it is easy, I soak it up. When it is hard, I want out. My actions reveal that deep down I think this life is it. I live for right now, not the future. But everything about the Christian life is about enduring for the future--to the end. Being a Christian is a call to persevere. As harsh as this sounds to my quitting ears, quitters don't make it to the last day because they fail to persevere. They prove they were never saved in the first place.

Perseverance requires a long-term view--an ability to see what is unseen and to rest in that. This is how quitters like me can persevere. It is not because of my own strength, but because of the strength that God supplies and the eyes of faith he gives us to see the end result. Perseverance is about faith, not circumstances. When I quit, I am trusting in circumstances. In my mind, it's not working out. I'm not happy. I'm uncomfortable. It's too hard. I take a short-term view of my life, rather than a long-term one. But when I have faith, I am resting in the One who knows and controls the outcome of my circumstances.

When Jesus told his disciples what to expect from this life in Luke 21, I imagine quitting seemed like an attractive option. If someone told me to expect persecution and betrayal, the escapist in me would be running for the nearest exit. But that is what Jesus promises to us, too, if we are his. The same tribulation he warned them about is our story as well.

But it is not the final word.

Luke 21:19 is a promise to us:

By your endurance, you will gain your lives.

Though we lose our lives in the trial, we gain them by the endurance. No one knew this better than Jesus. He faced the ultimate betrayal and persecution so in our weakest moments we could rest on his work to bring us to the end. Just like Jesus gained his life back through his patient endurance of the cross, so we gain our eternal lives by leaning in to his perfect endurance on our behalf.

The Christian life is not for the quitter. I know that now. It is something I will probably have to overcome my entire life. But there is a day coming where my weak faith will be sight and my limping endurance will bring me to the finish line--where I will see my Christ and there will be no more need for struggling faith because I will be home.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Testimony of Patience

I have never been a very patient person. In fact, it is a constant struggle for me. I suppose I could attribute it to the fact that I am a planner and with my planning comes a regular anticipation of what is to come. My lack of patience can be in something as simple as childlike hope in a future family vacation to sinful frustration when things don't happen in the time frame I have planned.

As I've gotten older, I have grown to realize that my impatience is actually something far more serious. In my impatience I often am proclaiming (with my attitude and my thoughts) that if things could simply go my way, I would be much happier. In its most basic form, I'm saying that God can't be trusted.

I can recall a number of times where I have gotten to the end of a particular situation only to realize that the joy in the outcome is diminished by the tantrum I had in the waiting. Sure, God acted on my behalf, but my distrust for him left a bitter taste in my mouth when I should have experienced the sweetness of his grace. But I can recall times where I've seen God act and felt great joy and trust in his good plan for my life. No bitterness over my sinful attitude. No sorrow over my attempts to control. Just pure, sweet fellowship with the One who always has my best interest at heart. I want more of the second outcome. Not the first.

David knew well what it meant to wait for the Lord to act. He faced crisis after crisis with little insight into the end result. Yet, he trusted in the God who promises good things to his people. Psalm 40 is a beautiful testimony of a man who "waited patiently for the LORD" (verse 1). David had seen God act on his behalf repeatedly and this reinforces the truth in his weary mind that God will do it again. When he is faced with enemies on every side he remembers that God has delivered him in the past. When he feels that his life is in danger, as it most certainly was on a regular basis, he recalls the God who holds his life in his hands. When he feels forgotten and alone, he remembers the God who promised to never leave him or forsake him. For David, external circumstances were not the final say in his life. God and his all powerful purposes were. David trusted in the God he could not see, not the circumstances that were so clearly in his full view.

But there is something more important about waiting on God in the midst of a trial (or even a slow moving situation). It's not just about us. In Psalm 40:3, David says that "many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD." Every response we have to any given situation is telling a story to a watching world. Every attempt to take matters into our own hands, instead of waiting on God to fulfill his purposes for us is saying that God can't be trusted as much as we can. In contrast, every time we trust God when everything else around us is crashing down, we tell a very different story about our God. Trusting God, and waiting on him when it looks bleak or pointless to wait, tells the watching world that God's ways really are better than our own. It puts him on display, not us. It makes him look great, not our own ability to manipulate an outcome.

Manipulating is easy. We all know that. It's the quiet trust when you can't see through the dark and foggy window of life that can take your breath away. And that is why we remember. David knew that left to himself he would never be able to endure the myriad of flaming darts that life would throw his way. So he remembered God's past faithfulness and hoped that it would come again. The same is true for us today. Not only do we have the anchor of our own history with God to steady us when the waves come crashing, but we have something even more powerful. The history of God's people through the ages as told in his word. David's testimony and the testimonies of countless others remind us that God can be trusted. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the cross. God promised thousands of years before Christ that he would make a way for his people to be right with him again.

And then he did it with his own Son, Jesus.

We can rest patiently on the Lord because every promise he makes to us comes true. We can rest patiently on the Lord because Christ came, died, and rose again and is now seated at the right hand of the Father pleading for our very patience right now. We can rest patiently on the Lord because every word of God proves true, even the one that says he will keep us until the end.

Monday, March 10, 2014

It Never Gets Easier, But God is Always Good

"It doesn't get any easier, does it?"

You meet kindred spirits in some of the strangest places sometimes. As I nervously stood in line at my local drugstore I dreaded what I was about to do. I knew I needed the medicine in order to have some form of closure and to complete the miscarriage, but something felt so wrong about it all. Deep within my soul I wanted to scream to all who were around me:

"I'm not having an abortion. I promise. I was pregnant. I wanted this baby!"

Thankfully I didn't have to. But that didn't make the situation any less uncomfortable for me. As the pharmacist asked me the obligatory "are you pregnant?" (which is apparently required when you take medicine like this) my heart ached. I didn't know how to respond. Yes, I kind of was still pregnant. I was still carrying the baby, but the baby was no longer there. So I stumbled to get the words out and eventually confessed that I needed the medicine to help with the process. No one tells you how awkward it will be to do that.

But then something sweet happened. After the pharmacist left, the pharmacy tech continued to finish out my order. As she processed my credit card she mouthed the words "I'm sorry." She went on to tell me how she also had two miscarriages and confirmed my feelings that this really doesn't get any easier.  She understood. She had been there. And she validated my grief and my fears. The Lord met me with comfort even through a process that brought me much dread.

Her words have stayed with me these two weeks since we learned we lost our fourth child. In many ways her words are very true. I used to wonder if having another miscarriage would be easier since I know what to expect or since I have two other children now. But I don't think those things really change the awful reality that there is nothing good and easy about losing a baby. It is true, since I have gone through this before I know what to expect. I know what a miscarriage is like. I know how my heart processes things weeks and months later and I know the dark days that can lie ahead. The knowledge of what to expect makes me prepared, but it doesn't lessen the sting in any way. And having our sweet boys surely gives us great joy in the midst of great sorrow, but having gone through a successful pregnancy only reminds me how wonderful it is to hold that precious babe for the first time. They are a bright spot to our weary souls and a needed distraction from the chaos of our lives right now, but we still feel the loss of their sibling acutely.

As I've walked through miscarriage, infertility, and now another miscarriage I have quickly learned that there is nothing easy about living in this sin-cursed world. The stain of sin is all around us. Sometimes we are impacted by it directly. Sometimes we see the effects from a distance. But it never makes it easy. If it were easy then this would be our home. Right now our eyes are veiled to the glory that will one day be revealed, but our hearts know it is coming. Our hearts know that one day this will all be made right and we will understand God's purposes behind it all. Right now we only see darkness, but our hearts tell us there is light coming. And that is what we cling to. With tears in our eyes and lumps in our throat we are begging God for more faith through this dark valley of loss.

And we trust him.

The same God who brought us through our first miscarriage and infertility will sustain us through this loss as well. The same God who gave this barren woman arms full of two precious children will not leave me to myself. His love is sure. His ways are always good even when they feel utterly awful. By his grace we are (and beg to continue) walking by faith in his good ways and not by the sight that is so clouded by our circumstances.

"The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Frowning Providence of Miscarriage

Pregnancy has always been a bittersweet experience for me. We lost our first baby through miscarriage after a few short weeks in my womb. After two years of surgery, medicine, tests, and begging God for another child, God graciously gave us the twins. They have been the greatest earthly joy in our lives. But my pregnancy with them wasn't easy either, leading me to deliver them eight weeks early. We love having children and long for more, but we always enter pregnancy with a slight hesitancy. We know how it could end. We know how uncertain it can be. The innocence has been lost for us.

It was with that cautious fear and expectant hope that we began walking through another pregnancy. In mid-January we were overjoyed with the news that God had given us another life. We were so excited to see the twins with another sibling who was so close in age to them. But we were a little nervous. Would this pregnancy proceed as planned? Or would it unexpectedly end? Would it be complication free? Or would I face another difficult pregnancy? Early on we learned that my progesterone was low, which only heightened our fear. But we also felt a calm that only the Lord could provide. We had seen him walk with us through so much already and wanted to trust him completely with this little one he had given us.

Pregnancy symptoms came on early and with full force, leading us to believe that all was well. We scheduled our first appointment and went last Monday fully expecting to see our wiggly, 9 week baby on an ultrasound.

But that was not to be.

I knew something was wrong when the ultrasound tech took longer than I was used to. With the twins, she found two of them within seconds. This time she struggled to find even one. Within minutes our worst fears were realized. The baby had never fully developed, but the sac did. Essentially, my body had been thinking I was growing a baby all along, which explained all of my pregnancy symptoms.

To say that we are heartbroken would be an understatement. It's been a week and we still are trying to process the reality that we are walking this road for a second time. Miscarriage is so ugly and so raw. It takes the hopes and dreams of expectant parents and dashes them on an ultrasound table or the bathroom floor. It takes something that should bring the greatest joy and ushers in the greatest pain.

And we are feeling all of it.

The twins have been such a bright spot for us in these dark days. They don't know that Mommy and Daddy are grieving, but they do give us love and affection regardless of our tears and pain. They are a balm to our broken souls.

We have been comforted by the truth that God never lets us go. The loss of our third baby was not a surprise to him. He is a good and loving Father who walks with us through even the darkest of days. And we have felt that mercy, too. We learned with our first miscarriage and subsequent infertility that God is working good even in our pain. It is through tear-filled eyes that we long to see his goodness in the midst of this sorrow, too.

"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face."