Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Long Goodbye

I’ve always been pretty sentimental about things. My earliest memory of my sentimentality is crying outside my elementary school on the last day of fifth grade. I hate goodbyes. I hate when good things end. I don’t even really like change. So much so that I’m content to eat the same thing for lunch every day for weeks on end. I like the way things are to stay that way, for a very long time.

This is why motherhood is often so hard for me. Nothing stays the same for very long. In fact, the only constant about parenting children is that it’s constantly changing. A newborn baby quickly becomes an infant. An infant moves into toddlerhood before you have time to catch your breath from just having had an infant. Toddlerhood leads to school age. Elementary school leads to teenagers. Teenage years lead to college, which means they are gone. And now I’m already crying over something that’s at least sixteen years away.

I’ve been feeling this coming change acutely as we prepare for the arrival of our third son in just a matter of weeks. I never had a chance to really prepare for anything with the twins since they came so early, so this time around I’ve been a lot more introspective (with all the extra time to prepare). With each passing week I’m more aware of how the new normal of our life these last two years is about to give way to a whole new normal, one I’ve never done before. I’ve never had three kids. I’ve never had one baby at a time (THAT I hope is easier!). I’ve never been pregnant past 32 weeks.

But I’ve also been aware of how this life I’ve had with the twins (just us three a lot of the time) will now include one new precious person. My time will now be divided three ways, instead of two. And I can already feel the pressure of splitting my time between all of them, knowing that in a lot of ways I’m going to miss more opportunities with them than I would like simply because I’m one person limited by the constraints of time, energy, and quite frankly, only two hands.

As I’ve grown into this motherhood thing I’ve started seeing motherhood as sort of a long goodbye. While we all are on a journey of this long goodbye from the moment we take our first breath, parenting has a way of making you feel like everything is the beginning of the end in such profound ways. Motherhood is a temporary vocation. It won’t last forever. While I will always be their mom, I won’t always mother them in this way. One day, a long (but all too short) day from now, I will let them go. Everything I have taught them will not be practice any longer, it will be reality.

And I feel an ache in my soul about it all.

Most moms have had it said to them “the days are long, but the years are short.” And oh, how short they are, aren’t they? With each step we take on this long goodbye, we are reminded that each passing day is one that we won’t get back. They will never be two year olds playing in the snow for the first time again. Next year, they will be one year older, and allowing us to see the world from their eyes in a whole new way. But it will be one step closer on this long goodbye.

Understanding the reality of the long goodbye is more than just coming to terms with the ache of motherhood. It has theological undertones that find their hope in something greater than simply treasuring every moment of each passing day (though that is certainly a good and right thing). If my hope is in holding on to the moments that I know won’t last forever, then my joy will be determined by the limited nature of these days. But if my hope is in the fact that all of my days are guiding me towards a greater joy in the presence of my Savior, then I can trust that even the tears shed over fleeting moments aren’t in vain. They mean something. The answer is not holding on to my sentimentality anymore than it is in pretending like my heart isn’t experiencing the reality of living in a world that is passing away. Neither of these will bring me lasting comfort. But in the times of my greatest sadness over the temporal nature of motherhood, and this life in general, I must run not to my circumstances, but to the precious reality that one day Christ will return, make all things right, and wipe away every tear from my eyes—even the tears I shed on this long goodbye.

Motherhood, like all of life, is cursed by the fall—meaning it’s not what God intended it to be. It’s painful and it ends. So as we walk the road of this long goodbye called motherhood let us hold in tension the reality of enjoying this life, one day at a time, and longing for the perfect one to come.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Complete Obedience of Our Christ

"Although the eternal Son, as God the Son, obeyed the Father and fulfilled what the Father willed for the Son to do prior to the incarnation, yet it was only the God-man, the human Jesus, who could obey in this way. To obey to the point of death requires the ability to die, and for this, Jesus had to be human. To be placed on a cross required that he be in a human body, and so again, this obedience required that he be fully human. But is this not the very point Paul is making--this eternal Son who was himself in very substance God and was fully equal to God, took on our human nature precisely so that he could undergo suffering, affliction, rejection, crucifixion, and death that he experienced, all because the Father had sent him to fulfill this saving mission? What a Savior is our Lord Jesus Christ. How amazing was his obedience, and how great was his love. May we cherish daily the beauty and agony of this eternal Son, becoming incarnate Son, all for the purpose of suffering death for our salvation (page 26)."

--Bruce Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reading to Our Children

Our library has a reading program that encourages parents to read 1,000 books to their children before they enter pre-school. It seems like an overwhelming number, doesn’t it? When you break it down, it actually doesn’t require a lot of the parent. Especially when reading the same book over and over counts as reading multiple books. (A must when you have toddlers who thrive on repetition).

As I’ve thought about this program and the value of reading to my children, I’ve been struck by how many biblical connections there are to the goodness of reading to our kids. Of course, studies show that the more you read to your children the better the fare. Reading encourages bonding as they snuggle up to you for a story. Reading encourages language development as they hear you talk and associate words with pictures. Reading encourages cognitive development as they remember things they see and hear. We can all agree that reading is good for kids (and adults).

But as Christians, it’s more than that. We know that God values words and reading, too. In a post-fall world, he gave us his very word to communicate with us. Faith in Christ and his finished work comes by hearing this word (Rom. 10:7). Without reading and hearing we are unable to know the God who made us and loves us. Without reading and hearing we are unable to understand the depths of Christ’s love for us displayed so clearly at the cross. Without reading and hearing we miss the triumphant victory of Christ’s defeat of death and our coming joy in heaven.

Of course, there are a variety of circumstances (many devastating) that prevent people from being able to read, hear, or comprehend this word. And I think, in God’s kindness, there is special grace for that. But, reading matters because words matter. God speaks to us through words. In an increasingly technology saturated society it is harder and harder to embrace and enjoy reading. We are so easily entertained that it is difficult to do the hard work of slowing down and reading something of value—or that’s more than 140 characters. But we must. And we must teach our children to do the same. Without a clear understanding of the value of reading and words, and the discipline to persevere when reading gets tough, we will all miss the treasure that is before us in God’s revealed word.

So I’ve signed the twins up for the 1,000 books reading plan, and we’ll see how it goes. While I want them to thrive in this world academically and socially through reading, I care more about the outcome of their souls. I want them come to a saving understanding of the faith that can only come by hearing—hearing the very words of God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Our Third Son

One year ago today, we walked into an ultrasound room with hopeful hearts. We walked out of that very room heartbroken and confused. February 24, 2015 looks very different than February 24, 2014. I spent the better part of that day last year packing for a planned trip to Florida and processing next steps for our unexpected loss, all while weeping uncontrollably over the baby I would never meet.

It was a harder miscarriage than our first. Emotionally it registered about the same, but physically it took its toll on me and dragged on much longer than anyone ever expected. It made us wonder if we could endure another pregnancy, another rise and fall of dreams for a child. So we waited the months that were medically necessary because of the physical effect of the miscarriage and asked God to unite our hearts around the possibility of another baby--a baby we knew in our hearts we ached for.

And God heard our prayer.

We spent the better part of the first half of this pregnancy convinced we were having a girl. All the old wives tales about gender seemed to be leaning pink, so we were pretty sold on a name for the baby should we have a girl. But a boy? We were stumped. We had already used up two names on the sons we currently have, so thinking about another name proved difficult for us. So we didn't.

When the ultrasound technician informed us that our suspicions were false, we were floored. Daniel kept saying "wow" over and over again. We are delighted to add another boy to our brood, we just weren't expecting it this time around.

For weeks we talked about names, wrote down names, looked up names, and then talked about names some more. We could not come to a consensus. As we were driving to the airport for Christmas we settled in to listen to a seminar on parenting. The speaker read from Genesis 4 and when he got to verse 25, we stopped:

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”

"What about Seth?" Daniel said.

We have always liked the name, we just forgot about it until that moment. Seth means "appointed one" and in particular to the story in Genesis, he is the God-appointed son in place of the one who was lost. So much of this pregnancy has linked us to the baby we lost. We heard Seth's heartbeat the day after our other baby was due. We found out we were pregnant the month we were due with the one we lost. In many ways, we feel like Seth is the joy that has come in the morning (Psalm 30:5). After we talked about this name, and the meaning behind it, we knew that the story of how he came to be would be perfectly woven into his very name, much like the names of his older brothers.

For his middle name we went off from our normal way of naming our kids. So far we have chosen family names for our children. Luke's name is Lucas Daniel (after Daniel). Zach's is Zachary Garrett (after my grandpa), but we could not find a family name that went with Seth! When I first became a Christian I was exposed to the writing of Elisabeth Elliot. Reading her gave me a context for a female Christian writer. Prior to my conversion, I wanted to be a writer. As a new believer, she opened up God's word to me, and gave me a female example to emulate. And he also happens to be due the month my first book releases! Jim Elliot's story influenced Daniel as a college student as well. So we felt it fitting to name him Seth Elliot, to honor the lives of two people who have impacted us greatly.

As I reflect on all God has taught me in the year since our second miscarriage, like our first, I am undone by his goodness once again. In the dark days that followed our loss it felt as if I would never see the sun in my circumstances again, let alone in my own soul. But God is faithful. He restores the years that the locusts of sin, suffering, and loss have eaten. He brings joy out of mourning. He causes the sun to rise in the dark corners of our hearts when his frowning providence seems to tell a different story.

In two and a half months we will meet this precious boy, Seth Elliot. We love him already.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Leaning on the Right Understanding

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths" --Proverbs 3:5-6

Many of us are familiar with this often quoted passage. When we don't know what to do, or when things get hard, we can run back to this verse for comfort. But what does it mean? It's easy to go straight to the promise of this verse--he will direct your paths--while missing the exhortation leading up to it.

It's easy, isn't it? Trusting in the Lord takes work. It takes faith. It takes denying our natural tendency towards self-sufficiency and pride. Sometimes our estimation of our circumstances is quite good. We look around at what's expected of us, or what is going on in our life, and we sense our own competency. We lean on our own understanding. But other times the outlook is bleak. We have no idea how we are going to make it through the day before us. We are weak. We are faithless. In fear, we lean on our own understanding.

Lately, I've found myself leaning on my own understanding in a variety of ways. When I have a burst of energy, or am able to knock things off my to-do list, my chest swells with pride over what I can accomplish. Facing writing deadlines and toddler conversations with relative ease, some days feel more accomplished than others. On the days I come out ahead, I feel pretty good. But I rarely look to the Lord. Instead of trusting in the Lord for help, strength, and wisdom, I've found rest in what I can accomplish (or at least what I think I can accomplish). Other days feel not so accomplished. I still have writing deadlines and toddler conversations, but they lack passion, joy, or hardly happen at all. I write no words and am short with my kids. Looking at my own understanding, I feel defeated and hopeless wondering how I will make it through the hours that seem to inch slowly by.

This verse speaks to both the competent and the feeble, the weak and the strong. God is no less God if we get our to-do list accomplished or barely get out of bed. He is no less the one who acts on our behalf in moments of greatness and great humbling. Any semblance of accomplishment is only an illusion of our own glory. It all is pointing to him, the author of our good and bad times. We simply need eyes to see it, acknowledge his hand in it, and seek him in the next moment.

I'll be the first to admit. It's easier for me to seek him when the walls are closing in around me. But it's harder to trust that he's working in the midst of the difficulty. It's harder to trust him on the front end of the good times, but easier to see his hand when all is well.

I want faith to do both, to trust him at all times and always lean on his interpretation of my circumstances, not my own.

I have no idea what tomorrow holds for me. But I do know that before my feet hit the floor in the morning I pray I have the humility and the faith to seek him first.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

For the Ordinary Valentine's Day

Yesterday I asked Daniel if he was expecting us to get something for each other this Valentine's Day (a little late, I know). He said "no." 

"Good, me neither," I said.

It's not that I don't like Valentine's Day. It's actually quite the opposite. Both of us love holidays and celebrations, so we try to make something out of any occasion, even Valentine's Day. This year, real life has taken over and we are simply thankful to spend a quiet evening at home. 

This is our sixth Valentine's Day together. We've never gone out on Valentine's Day, but instead have continued a tradition of Daniel making dinner for us. Every year it becomes more of a treat for me that someone besides myself makes dinner. But this year there won't be any flowers, there are no cards, and their certainly aren't any presents. Three months from today our third son will, Lord willing, be born and we just replaced our heater. Real life has eclipsed candy, cards, and flowers. 

I used to not be okay with such ordinary efforts. In the days leading up to Valentine's Day, anniversaries, or my birthday, expectations were high and emotions were tense. Especially on Valentine's Day, I had a real time means of comparison in the form of Facebook and Twitter. With every poem written, bouquet displayed, and gift shared, envy and disappointment simmered inside me.

It's not that my husband isn't romantic or thoughtful. He's actually quite the opposite. But no husband or wife can live up to the perfection displayed on our computer (or phone) screens. And I felt the sting of not living up acutely. Sometimes I would forget about Valentine's Day and fail to write him a card, only to be met with a heartfelt letter from him over dinner that night. Sometimes he would rush to buy the ingredients for dinner and hurry through preparation because work doesn't stop for Valentine's Day.

The truth is we haven't had a "normal" Valentine's Day in a couple of years. Two years ago, the twins were in the NICU and we hurriedly ate a meal brought to us by a church member before heading to the hospital for our nightly visit with them. Last year, I was six weeks pregnant and could barely stomach food. This year, I'm pregnant again and we are smack in the middle of a busy work season for him. 

But this year, unlike previous years, I'm okay with the ordinariness of our celebration. For too long I have lived for the mountaintop experience in every facet of my life. My marriage is no different. I have expected the unattainable romance of my imagination, when what I really needed (and had all along) was the steadfastness of covenant keeping love. What I'm learning is that life is not made up of the grand moments we all expect as much as it is forged by the ordinary moments that comprise our days. Our marriage isn't headed down the tubes because we long for the quietness of the ordinary, it simply means we are growing more comfortable in the safety of this life God has called us to. 

It's easy to succumb to the pressure of the mountaintop experience. And I'll admit, there are some days that are such experiences. But they can't always be that way. Most of the time our days are fairly ordinary, but there is beauty in that. There is purpose in that.

I know that, for us, this is a season. So much of our disappointment over the ordinary is owing to the fact that we can't see our season for what it is--a season. There will come a day when we have more time for each other than we do now. There will come a day where we may have more money to buy things for each other than we do now. I imagine, from what I've heard from those older than me, that we will look back on these ordinary, routine days with sentimental joy knowing that it was in these moments that a family was made. 

For the first time in my life I can honestly say that I'm thankful for this ordinary Valentine's Day. And I wouldn't want to share our ordinary with any other. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship": A Review

One of my overarching prayers for this year is that God would burn in me a desire (and the grace) to be a better friend. Like many, I love people and love having friends. But I have been convicted lately that if I want to have friends I need to be a friend. For the last two years I have used the excuse that life has been crazy trying to adjust to parenthood (and with twins, no less). However, I am not the first (nor last) woman to mother twins--so I can only use that excuse for so long. Of course, friendship looks much different for me now than it did when I was single and living with roommates. Friendships happened much more naturally back then. I lived with my closest friends. I ate meals with them, ran errands with them, and went to church with them. The depth of those relationships has carried them long after I moved away and got married.

Fast forward many years and I am in a different season of life. One that requires more intentionality and affords me less time. Sometimes I have to cancel a coffee date because I have a sick kid. A lot of my relationships happen within the context of my children, so Sunday morning fellowship, small group, and even play dates are a different animal now. 

All of these new revelations that I am coming to terms with are why I was excited to receive a copy of The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes. Holmes, a pastor of counseling at Parkside Church in Cleveland, OH, has helpfully provided a biblical framework for friendship. This short book is an excellent read for anyone desiring to grow in their understanding of friendship, but also who desires to be a better friend. Here are a few takeaways:

Biblical friendship is designed to point you to Christ. I left this book asking the question of all my friendships: "How can I point this friend to Christ?" But it would even serve the reader to ask how the friendship as a whole points you to Christ. The ultimate goal of biblical friendship is to serve the common goal of mutual sanctification and lifting high the Savior you both love. What a helpful reminder!

Friendship, like everything else, is marred by the fall. We will never have perfect friendships in this life. We were created for relationships, as seen most evidently in the fact that we are created in God's image and he is in perfect fellowship with himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The fact that we crave companionship is a good desire. But because of sin, we selfishly pursue friendships. We are hurt by dear friends. We hurt the ones we love most. The answer is not to abandon biblical friendship, but to understand that it will never be perfect in this life. I needed this reminder. 

Friendship is more about us than about the other person, and most importantly it is about the perfect friend, our God. I found this quote particularly helpful: "I've come to learn that friendship flourishes best when we seek to be and embody the type of friend we see in God himself" (46). How often do I selfishly look at my friendships based on what they can offer me, but that is not the pattern we see from God. We offer nothing to him, yet he gives us everything. Our earthly friendships, like our other relationships, mirror the heavenly one set for for us in God.  

Understand your limitations. Holmes helpfully points out that we can't be all things to all people. True biblical friendship, he says, happens best with a small number of people. Even Jesus limited his inner circle to three. This is hard for an extrovert like me, but also a helpful reminder that I am human and have limitations. Identifying the friendships that God is already forging in my life and then purposefully working to grow them in a mutual love for Christ is a better model than trying to be BFF's with everyone.

As I finished this book I asked the Lord to make me the type of friend who not only is willing to do the hard work of fostering friendships that last, but also the type of friend who is humble enough to receive the honest correction and accountability that friendship affords. I don't like being confronted. I don't like correction. But I know it is necessary for growth in godliness. I want to be a friend who hears correction and receives it with humility. 

If you desire to grow in your friendships, or simply want to understand what God has to say about friendship, I highly recommend this book to you. As Holmes says in the book, we need community (particularly biblical friendship) in order to grow in godliness. We are not made for "substitute relationships", but for lasting relationships that point us to our Savior. May we all be such friends.