Sharing Elsewhere: Risen Motherhood

RisenMotherhood Text Pics (15)

I’m really excited to be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my miscarriages on the Risen Motherhood podcast this week! Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler discuss the way the gospel transforms a mom’s everyday life on this quick weekly show. Since neither of them have suffered miscarriage themselves, they asked if I would be willing to share a little bit from my journey as part of a back-to-back interview episode about miscarriage and the gospel. Most of what I shared won’t be completely new to friends or readers here, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing the complementary stories of God’s grace during the episode. This is a fabulous resource for women seeking hope and healing after losing a baby, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of this beautiful ministry!

[ If you’re not already a faithful Risen Motherhood listener, you can always listen in on their website (www.RisenMotherhood.com). I also suggest connecting with them on Facebook and subscribing with your favorite podcast streaming site (maybe iTunes?) or app so you don’t miss an episode! ]

Strengthen Me According To Your Word

STRENGTHEN ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD: Scriptures to Read After Miscarriage. 

“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” – Psalm 119:28

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I’ve been very humbled to walk in grief next to many friends after they have miscarried a baby, and I think the most common question they bring up has been, “Did you have any particular scriptures I should read? What does the Bible say to me about this?” (And others want to know how to help someone else, what they can say after their friend loses a baby, too.) While I’ve already written about the journey I took discovering [how the topic of miscarriage fits into the “big picture” of scripture] after my losses, the Bible does provide some additional encouragement here as well. Scripture is words of life for those in the midst of death. We don’t have to fumble for random and theologically troubling explanations outside of this!

On Grief & Broken Hearts

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
Psalm 31: 9 “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted with grief.” 

It is okay to be honest in prayer about the difficulty of grief; God never asks us to get our emotions under control or pretend like everything is fine before coming to him.

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It’s a gift that this doesn’t say:“Blessed are those who have bad things happen to them, for they shall be stronger than everyone else.” Everyone has difficulty in life, but not everyone actually mourns or allows themselves to grieve. God’s comfort comes to us while we’re working through difficulty, not by avoiding it or pretending something wasn’t a big deal.

On Hurtful Words & Difficult Relationships 

Psalm 31: 20 “You store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” 

The Lord offers refuge and healing in himself when other people’s words cut deeply.  When facing difficult conversation and remembering painful comments from others, rest in the shelter that God offers in himself. We can always keep running to him instead of reopening the wounds made by others’ thoughtless words.

Isaiah 53:3-4 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 

[One of the most common responses to news of a miscarriage is “At least you weren’t further along, like my friend’s stillbirth,” or “At least you hadn’t been trying long,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” The message this sends: ‘Grief is a competition and lots of other people have it worse than you. You don’t deserve to grieve.’ That is a lie.] There is a time to empathize with others and get some perspective, of course. I wouldn’t approach someone whose children were killed by terrorists and say “You know, I had miscarriages so I know just what this is like.” No way! But when you are stricken with a personal tragedy, that grief is real and it matters.  Being dismissed by people who should have known better doesn’t make this less true: For a Christian, the only real “competition” for grief is Jesus. While bearing the weight of all sin and sorrow, he also felt the pain of messed up relationships. He was abandoned and misunderstood. He was hurt by people he trusted. His suffering was the worst because he took all our grief and sorrow to the cross, and in the resurrection he is victorious over all of it, too. Sin and suffering (which sometimes correlate, and sometimes do not) are not ultimate for us because of this.

On Weariness & Strength 

Psalm 31:7 “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.”
Psalm 119:50 “My comfort in my affliction is this: your promise preserves my life.” 

For a Christian, the remedy for sorrow and weariness is found in the Lord. Not in a future earthly good (for example, having another baby after a miscarriage) or “moving past” the difficulty in question. When other people aren’t walking alongside you in ways you need, and those relationships feel very disappointing? You can rejoice in the steadfast love of God, who has known the distress of your soul. When you are afflicted and sorrowful? You can trust that God’s promise of salvation preserves your life.

On Sin & Shame 

Psalm 103:10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

A miscarriage is not punishment for sin, and a living baby is not a reward for righteousness. No one “deserves” a miscarriage for any reason, just like no one “deserves” a child. 

The Baby’s Life & Purpose 

Psalm 139:13-14 “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

When you really consider all that’s involved with conception and fetal development, it’s a wonder the human race has sustained this long. A 1st-trimester baby, even one with profound genetic deformities, is a pure miracle. Whether we have a “reason” for a miscarriage like that (which is supposed to be about 50% of losses) or not, we can praise God for his marvelous creation in the baby’s life. I’m still surprised by how many people told me, “There was probably something wrong with the baby,” as if that was supposed to lessen my grief or explain God’s purpose. My specific medical history indicates this was probably not the case anyway, but no matter what: God’s image was placed in the baby just as much as it was with any of us. Even the shortest of lives is a praiseworthy and mysterious marvel. 

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought these verses were kind of unfair – why would God create a baby with a life only in the womb, even life measured by days more than weeks? What is the point of that? Why even create the baby in the first place?  Yet we can be comforted that God is not limited by time or human frailty; we are all like helpless children before God. That God can use my 30-year-old life and reasonably well-trained mind to fulfill his purpose is not less astounding than that he could do the same in the MUCH shorter life of a baby who died in the womb.

On God’s Love

Psalm 103:13-14 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  

God’s love and desire for his children is even more powerful than the difficulty of a miscarriage or other loss. He isn’t surprised by weakness or failure, and he doesn’t expect us to summon supernatural strength apart from himself.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NOT: “For God so loved the miscarrying woman that he gave her a new baby of her own, that whoever believes in him will no longer miscarry, but have a pro-creative life.” We know God loves us because he gave us his son; we do not measure or prove God’s love for us by anything else.

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That “…nor anything else in all creation” includes your baby. Their life or death does not separate us from God’s love.

On Hope & The Resurrection 

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 27 “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. …The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The true message of hope and encouragement in grief is in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and return. (And if this feels weird, it is. Y’all, Christianity definitely requires a little weirdness. There’s no Jesus Lite version to opt out of this stuff.)  Grief is one of the many places where the rubber of Christianity hits the road of real life. In many ways this is where you actually need the weirdness of Christianity most!

The poet John Donne, who grieved many profound losses (father, siblings, children, wife) reflected on these verses and wrote the sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud,” with an ending that says this better than anyone else: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!” The pain and loss of a miscarriage find their final remedy in the Resurrection, which destroys destruction and kills death.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ” But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 

This scripture is a particular treasure after a miscarriage because it doesn’t tell us not to grieve, it says we grieve differently than other people.
It doesn’t tell us that hope replaces grief, it shows that hope transforms our grief.
It doesn’t tell us we’ll be happy when we can “get over” the difficulty we face, it points to Jesus overcoming the difficulty in our place.
And it doesn’t tell us we will stop grieving at some arbitrary point in life, or even when we see our loved ones in heaven. It offers a better promise: that we will always be with the Lord.

Writing Elsewhere: Jesus & GMOs

In the last few months, Aaron and I have been excited to share with wider audiences about his vocation as a Christian in the biotech industry, where he’s developing genetically modified crops. We’re thankful to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the relationship between our faith, scientific advances, and the food we eat. If you find eating enjoyable or necessary, we invite you to click through these links to read these articles about the relationship between faith and food production!

For a quick read, Aaron was interviewed by our friend Abigail Murrish over at The Gospel Coalition talking about Growing Food More Reliably and Efficiently:

In [God’s] image, I help to grow good food for people, too. Yet it takes our team years of hard work to change just one aspect of one species of plant. His work, in contrast, is truly amazing.

If you’ve ever wondered about how the gospel should inform our food choices, what a Christian theology of agricultural biotechnology looks like, or if Jesus would eat a GMO food, my longer article “Faith and Fear in the Food Wars: Biotechnology’s Role in Redeeming the Cursed Ground” is just what you’re looking for! It was published by the fine people over at Christ and Pop Culture (originally in Magazine Vol. 4, Issue 6), and is now available without a paywall.

…When we look this stuff up online, the social media results offer a lot of confusion and guilt without a lot of information. The scientific community as a whole is overwhelmingly supportive of biotechnology and GMO crops, but the pushback from groups promoting natural foods has levels of near-religious fervor. Type any question into a search engine, and you’ll quickly find a website giving you the answer you want. Is organic food healthier? Do pesticides cause cancer? Are genetically-engineered foods safe? There are plenty of people saying yes, plenty of people saying no, and lots of us questioning what to buy at the store because of it. Those who aren’t “eating clean” or “going organic” often feel guilty about it. Who hasn’t heard about food sourcing and wondered how to choose the best food? What shopper hasn’t felt pressured to pay more for a product that is marketed to seem healthier? Without knowing much about science or agriculture, most people are going into this food war blind.

Present Joy & Past Sorrow

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Though I’ve shared before that [having kids isn’t “the key to healing” from the grief of a miscarriage], the present joys of raising my children do offer some perspective on those past sorrows. While it doesn’t erase previous hardship, mothering my living children has helped me understand even more about the miscarriages I had before they were born.

  • Motherhood (of any sort) is emotionally intense. My love for my children is overwhelmingly fierce and surprising. Every so often I’m overcome by the burst of affection for the kids I have, which is saying a lot for me because I generally just have lots of feelings all the time anyway. Compared to the way I felt after the miscarriages, it’s a little like Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion in my heart: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  My grief and sadness about the miscarriages was equally intense, surprising, and often unpredictable  – and it makes more sense to me now. It would be extremely concerning if I didn’t experience such joy with the kids now, and these “highs” helps me reconcile the emotional lows from the miscarriages.
  • The unknown potential of what “could have been” from the other babies is still a little haunting sometimes. Due to gracious doctors who knew how comforting this would be, I have very early ultrasound pictures from both of my kids. I occasionally marvel that the little 6-week-old pulsing sweetpea (the baby is basically all beating heart at that point) we saw in December 2013 is now exploring and babbling and making herself known throughout my home every day. I witnessed a miracle then, just as I do now: all the potential in the world, wrapped up as a bundle of flesh and blood and water. I also have ultrasound pictures of little babies before this, whose potential will remain unknown. The possible beauty and joy of the other babies’ lives before that was just as significant. What sorts of delights and needs would those babies have brought? Who would they have grown up to be? We’ll never know here what would have been. It doesn’t steal the happiness we have now, but I’ll probably always wonder about this.
  • … Equally haunting is the frailty of the ones who made it. What if I hadn’t take that exact cocktail of medicines to keep hormones doing their jobs at the beginning? Would my daughter be here if that paranoid doctor hadn’t ordered the extra “unnecessary” ultrasound that diagnosed a treatable-but-concerning problem? Would I have survived my son’s birth if he had been born in the car instead of right after we got to the hospital? The number of things that have to work just right to bring a child from conception to birth is staggering, and I marvel at how it all worked for these kids. I know a child is not something to take for granted.
  • Miscarriage really is a mini-birth in so many ways. I’m the opposite of a birth-junkie. Other people get really excited and enjoy talking or writing about private body parts with all the sensations and whatnot that brought their child into the world, and it’s legitimately meaningful for them. I am not like that. I thought maybe I was grossed out by this because the topic of having a living baby was so tender for me; I usually felt like people around me got way too personally invested in the details of their birth plans, or were overly spiritualizing and competitive about their natural deliveries. I would have cut off my right leg to have had a c-section and a formula-fed baby myself. Then I actually had a baby and … I still don’t think it’s that exciting to talk about the nitty-gritty details of birth most of the time! But, on this topic, I did find that all but 5 minutes of my son’s (unmedicated and nonsurgical) labor and delivery was actually the same or easier than one of my miscarriages, which validated my shock at how painful and difficult the physical experiences were. My post-partum hormonal fluctuations and heightened awareness/anxiety after birth and miscarriage were nearly identical, as well. 
  • Sometimes it is still better not to know. It’s amazing how many people have said, “It’s too bad you didn’t know you’d have these two kids back when you were having all those struggles!” In some ways, this is true. It was painful to wonder if I would ever get to have a baby and experience all this joy, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard if I had just known that it was really coming. But [sometimes not-knowing is a gift,] and the all-knowing God met me in my unknowns in ways that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We hope and pray for more good to come, with these kids and maybe with more in the future. Yet plenty of bad things (including, but absolutely not limited to, more miscarriages) could be ahead for our life. We can rest in the truth that God is in control and works everything for his purposes, but it really is a measure of mercy that we don’t know what’s coming before that. 
  • Every baby is part of me forever. There’s no way to make me “stop” being a mom to any of my kids. My home now is bursting with laughter and diapers and coffee; the particular love and delight of each child changes me in new ways every day. Their blue eyes and belly laughs are etched into me; no matter what happens to any of us, we’re bound to each other for life. But there is still a bit of frustrated maternal instinct from before. I’m not “just” the mom of these two, because my miscarriages gave me a little baggage and a lot of perspective that spill into life now, too.
  • Being a child of God is more important than being a mom. The mother-identity that comes from my children is overwhelmingly huge. Going too far in one direction, this identity quickly becomes an idol for many women. On the other side, we rightly assess a woman who does not connect with her baby as suffering post-partum depression or anxiety. The identity balance can be tricky, but it’s necessary. Wrestling with motherhood (am I a mom? am I not? why is this so hard?) was a big part of recovering from the miscarriages, too. Situations or relationships where my lost babies were not acknowledged or where mentioning anything was awkward became an overly-personal rejection to me… but I also worked hard to make my life about other things, too: teaching piano, reading, writing, DIY projects, and other things like that. I’m not sure anyone ever strikes the identity balance perfectly. I certainly didn’t (and still don’t!), but God graciously provides all that we really need, by creating us in his own image and saving us by his own son. 

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[You can check out more posts & my recommended resources about miscarriage here!]

On Miscarriages & Reading the Bible

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Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29

My miscarriages revealed that I didn’t understand how the Bible really works. Even after 12 years of earnestly studying it, leading numerous devotional groups, writing Bible Study leaders’ training curriculum, and earning a college degree in Christian Studies! Me, of all people, not knowing how to read my Bible! The first thing that clued me in? You don’t get many responses from a Bible word search for verses about miscarriage. There’s a few small references, but on their own they were kind of confusing. For being the book that’s supposed to be the source of all life and sufficient for guiding you through any situation, I found this extremely disconcerting. Women were having miscarriages in Bible times, too, so if the Bible doesn’t talk about them… is it even relevant right now? Was it EVER relevant?

My Scripture-Reading Pedigree is reasonably impressive. I already knew you couldn’t just use one phrase of the Bible to “claim as a promise” without considering the context (knowing the culture or life story of the author and original audience). And I knew my feelings were not an interpretive tool, but I still felt lost to figure out how the Bible spoke to me after a miscarriage. 

Since I couldn’t find chapter-and-verse to give me a solid explanation, I sought out what other people were saying about miscarriages and the Bible. Maybe I was just missing it and someone else had already figured it out? I looked at all the blogs written and ordered whatever books I could find. Pickings were slim and unhelpful. (Thankfully, much has been said since about miscarriage from a Christian perspective and I do have a list of my favorite articles and books I recommend on the menu of this website.) Blogs and books are useful, but they are only a tool; they do not replace the living and active word of scripture. What I needed was not just “a book about miscarriage from a Christian perspective,” but a more cohesive understanding of how the Bible fit together to speak a better word to my sorrow than any online concordance could supply.

You don’t have to geek out on complicated words or reading dead theologians to figure this out. I liked those things long before I had any miscarriages, and they hadn’t brought this to light for me. Plenty of my college classes and personal reading had circled around this topic. For some reason, reading scripture as part of a “meta-narrative” (where all the parts serve to ultimately fit into an “ultimate story” of the gospel) had seemed dry and unwelcoming to me. This sounds crazy now, because nothing seems relevant or approachable about flipping back and forth between random passages of the Bible when you’re looking for help or hope. Reading the Bible with the full lens of the gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) proves it is rich with encouragement and sufficient for difficulty, even the hardships of our lives that it barely mentions by name.

CREATION
From the beginning of the Creation narrative we read that God created all people in perfection and gave the first command: “Be fruitful and multiply.” It doesn’t say “Be fruitful and miscarry!” We were originally created to have bodies and relationships that worked the right way, which would mean a baby wouldn’t die before it was even born. Other passages celebrate God’s special work in forming and developing every child in the womb of a woman.
See: Genesis 1-2, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1, Ecclesiastes 11:5

FALL
The earth and the animal kingdom experience the curse of sin right away, in broken fellowship with God and woman’s increased pain in childbearing. This is not limited just to labor and delivery, but encompasses trouble in all facets of maternity: debilitating cycles or hormone shifts, infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, post-partum depression, birth injuries, and the ongoing difficulties of motherhood. Every woman, even one who is happily childless, battles some bit of this in some way.

This same curse later meets mankind in the worst possible way: the death of an innocent son. It strikes me that when humans experience death, it’s Abel who gets killed, not Adam or Eve (who have no earthly parents). Knowing that we have to read the Bible in terms of the “big picture,” this points us clearly to the death of Jesus, the innocent Son of God. Knowing that the Bible speaks to all sadness, this also validates the particular grief of parents. Now, I know people who have held full-term babies that never drew breath, or who trace their child’s name in the cold, hard etchings on a gravestone. I certainly imagine (in brief, horrible moments) that losing one of my living children would be a new, more awful devastation than the miscarriages I had before, but miscarriage is still the death of a child in it’s very earliest stages. At the core of the gospel, the Fall shows us that death is, indeed, a really big deal. 
See: Genesis 3-4, Hebrews 11:4, Hebrews 12:18-24.

REDEMPTION
At the crucifixion, Jesus faces death, carrying the full weight of everything that is wrong and broken upon himself. Beyond our individual sin and the sin of the world, our sorrows and grief were laid upon Jesus as well. This is where some of the overly-simple talk about “Jesus dying for our sins” in childhood altar calls becomes less helpful for understanding the gospel in real life. At the resurrection, Jesus physically rises from the dead AND makes the pathway for the resurrection of all the dead, which is why Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of all who sleep.” As Christians, we know this means we will be restored to eternal life. It also promises us that all who “sleep” (are dead) will rise, including babies lost in miscarriage.
See: Isaiah 53, Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 13-21, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

RESTORATION
Do you know where you actually find the word “miscarry” in the Bible? The Old Testament. Moses’ writings about how miscarriages and barrenness will not exist in the Promised Land are actually the most explicit places the Bible talks about it, and these passages are pointing beyond Israel to an ultimate fulfillment in heaven. Unfortunately most of the discussion about miscarriages and heaven twists this a little bit, focusing on finding hope in “seeing your babies in heaven someday.” A faith that is held up primarily by the desire to see your baby (which is, of course, entirely appropriate) does not follow the pattern revealed in scripture. Whether those babies we lost are in heaven or not, focusing on that point alone is small comfort compared the profound hope in the gospel: Christ promises that in the Resurrection, everything will be made new. It’s eternal life, perfection, without sorrow or tears or death. It’s a life where God fully satisfies every question, longing, and emptiness with his love. Christian hope in the wake of a miscarriage or other loss is not about having another child on earth or reuniting with a child in heaven. It’s about experiencing full, unending communion with God himself.
See: Exodus 23:26, Isaiah 25, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 61, Isaiah 65:20, Matthew 22:29-33, Revelation 21:4-8

 

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
…All flesh is like grass…
The grass withers,
the flowers fade,
but the word of our God will stand forever.”
– Isaiah 40:5,7,8

Voting Without Fear of the Future

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She is clothed with strength and dignity; she laughs without fear of the future. – Proverbs 31:25, NLT.

If I can manage to register to vote in Missouri before then, I’ll be in a polling booth on November 8, exercising one of the greatest political freedoms in all history: a woman, voting, in a free election. I don’t want to lose my wonder at this privilege.

This is the 4th election cycle I have participated in. Since no governmental system or politician (especially) is perfect, it’s likely that I will sometimes vote pragmatically instead of ideally, as I have already done in the past. But this time and this election is different. Neither major political party has nominated a trustworthy candidate representing anything I believe is supposed to be right and good about this nation, so I refuse to vote for either one of them. I plan on casting my ballot with a write-in vote for my friend Cate, who is not actually running for President (at least not this time).

Letting the rest of the country decide who makes it to the Oval Office feels strange to me. I do not pretend to be a political scholar with elite Washington insider secrets, but I do strive to be thoughtful and informed. Taking the responsibilities of democracy seriously, I study the Constitution.  Taking my responsibility to love my neighbor seriously, I remember living overseas among squalor – the  aluminum-shack-and-no-toilet variety. I see what war winnows even from a man who walks away from battle honorably. I have wept for tiny lives lost from my own body while other little ones were legally destroyed at the exact same age. In the same breath, motherhood (even more than I expected) has burdened me significantly towards the plight of women in poverty, especially those with unplanned pregnancies or children of their own. None of these things fully exclude that I am a woman prone to fear about my own circumstances, and what things might be like for my children in the years to come.

I expect to wake up on November 9 and hear that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump has been elected president. Checking the news that morning with coffee in hand, making my kids some oatmeal, I may sigh a bit. I am determined that I will not despair. When we settle at the table, those dear little mouths will babble along while I sing “This is the day that the Lord has made/ I will rejoice and be glad in it,” as we always do for our breakfast prayer. It will be just as true then as it was this morning.

Singing songs and eating nutritious food with my healthy children is fairly idyllic while so many things in the country – and the world at large – seem like a mess. Thinking about that makes me feel very small. The problems present in our current systems for healthcare, poverty assistance, and education are not ones I can solve. I don’t really know how to battle systemic dysfunctions that usually benefit me and penalize others with fewer resources. I can’t decimate ISIS or breathe life back into the lungs of that little boy who drowned between Syria and Turkey. Sometimes political activism allures me by dampening my sense of powerlessness. When there is Bad Stuff happening, I can vote for Someone Else to enact The Right Plan (As Approved By God) and feel like I’ve really done something. It is always a short-lived relief.

The vote I cast this year is not about electing a president, but about telling the powers-that-be, “I care enough to vote and I don’t like these options.” Mostly, I’m hoping enough people join me in sending this message to cause a shake-down and rebranding in Washington politics so I can have better options next time around. I can’t pretend my vote for president is going to solve the world’s problems, like I have sometimes accidentally believed in the past. Instead, this forces me to look at what I can, and should, do:
Feed my children breakfast while cultivating a hope-filled home.
Befriend my neighbors while walking alongside people who are hurting around me.
Think less of my own circumstances while speaking up for the cause of the afflicted.
Search out the organizations and ministries that are doing good on a broader scale, supporting them instead of upgrading my own lifestyle.

These are not small things.

It’s also not a small thing to say “no” to fear. The rhetoric of political seasons like this one becomes especially charged; the promises are impossibly yuuuge (sorry, I had to do it) and the threats -implied or explicit-  are fearsome. Yet when God’s word tells me not to fear, it’s not excluding politics. When an election cycle doesn’t go the way we want, it often reveals a sort of political idolatry. What I heard people saying after Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee for the Republican party sound like an email forward I received after President Obama’s election in 2008, urging me to trust in God despite the impending apocalypse ushered in by the “victory of Evil and Darkness.” (Let’s trust this was a spiritual reference, not a racial one. Either way… what?) Those sentiments betray a misplaced hope in political solutions to spiritual problems, because trusting God is always the right thing no matter what is happening in the government. Eight years later, I still don’t believe the President is working for goals I support, but that election definitely was not The End Of The World As We Know It. And even if it was? My primary call as a Christian in loving God and others has not diminished because of it.

Resting in the authority of God means accepting the responsibilities and privileges granted in my earthly citizenship – I’m not, for example, staying home on election day, or suggesting women in free countries should stop voting until women everywhere can do the same. It also excludes confusing any brand of patriotism with Christianity: Political powers (including parties) rise and fall, and it is unlikely that God is as much of a Republican or Democrat as some want to imagine. It calls me to funnel more energy to loving my neighbor than to elation or frustration about whatever democracy has wrought.  Mostly, this compels me to face November 8 (and all the crazy news I hear until then) in confidence, without fear of whatever news I hear on November 9 for the years following.

 

on turning thirty

Every year on April 12, I perform a series of adult birthday rituals.

I call someone who sent me something that I somehow misplaced, a document which contains information I need to finish filing my taxes. I vow to be more organized next year, and to do taxes in February. I text message my friends about how much I should bill the government for the time it took me to get everything pulled together. I submit the returns and take myself out for happy-birthday-done-with-taxes-starbucks. I revel in my newfound freedom from the IRS and think about what it means to be another year older. And I usually hack out a quick blog post. It’s kind of become my routine.

This year I am thirty, which is KIND OF A BIG DEAL. I’m more tired than excited about most things, which makes me feel a little old. This year may have been the most intense and best one yet. I am still not ready to think about upcoming goals, necessarily, but both of my children are magically napping at the same time, and I have been thinking about the things I’ve learned in the last few years.

– Plenty of good advice does not apply to me. Maybe I’m reading different books, maybe blog articles have changed, maybe I’m giving other people a better picture of life when I ask them a question? Those are possible, but I also think I’m much quicker to discern when something that could be right for someone else is not going to work out for me. I don’t feel guilty if so-and-so advised me to take one path and I do something else.
I have to work with my personality, not against it. The first time I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, I was 17 years old and told an adult what I had learned: Of the sixteen personality types profiled in their system, I was an  “ENFP” – I liked keeping lots of friends, working with people, having deep conversations, creativity, dreaming about possibilities, starting new things (and struggling to finish them), and I was driven to find meaning in the world around me. Reading the description was like reading my own diary! The person I was sharing this with told me that sounded like a celebration of immaturity more than an explanation of who I was. (I don’t think they meant to be hurtful. And like I said, I’m not taking bad advice personally anymore.) Every time I’ve taken one of those MBTI tests since then it has told me I’m … an ENFP. After thirteen years, I don’t think this is something I’m going to grow out of. Most of the frustrating circumstances I’ve faced in my adult life have been magnified because I considered my personality a hindrance. Yes, I have to finish projects, and yes, I have to handle details even when I would rather find meaning in the world around me. But I’m also seeing now that I’m going to accomplish a lot more by embracing who I am, even if it’s a little more all-over-the-place than whatever standard of personal maturity I’m measuring myself against.
It is very possible that I was born 30 years old. Other people talk about the shows they’re watching on Netflix, but Aaron and I have nothing to say: we have accepted that we strongly lean towards the WW2 documentaries. (Every so often I tell him I know the good guys win, but I can’t handle any more Hitler and we watch space exploration documentaries, which are also fairly depressing.) Other than that, waking up to hot coffee is my idea of a good morning. I have Birkenstocks and a minivan. I kind of feel like I’m living the high life.
Real life is changing my reading preferences. My favorite genre in high school and college was utopian/dystopian fiction. Talking about the subtle nuances between those two terms for a few hours would be my idea of a good time. I’ve read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World at least six times. I had portions of George Orwell’s 1984 memorized for a while. I took a college class where we surveyed Utopian fiction throughout history and considered it the most fascinating experience of my life. I was thrilled that so many people read the Hunger Games because I could finally talk to other people about an alternate reality world. Maybe growing up means becoming more in tune with reality? I wonder, because we really branched out from our WW2 documentaries and watched V for Vendetta this month. Instead of being fascinated, I kind of felt like I was watching the news.
Politically-oriented talk radio is a terrible way to fill your brain. Even if the majority of the facts are correct, the way something is communicated matters. Consuming rants and inflammatory programming appeals to pride and our desire to be right, but often costs us our ability to disagree respectably.
– It’s not always worth it to save money. Do I need to be cutting edge on everything? No. But savings is not the highest goal in life, and many of the cost-cutting measures we have utilized in the past 8 years have cost us in other ways more than we saved financially.
– Better to admit I’m wrong later than to wish I’d said something true sooner. I can trace my own fear of being wrong as the source of many tough situations in the last few years, and (humbly) going out on a wing to say something unpopular or new has always been worth it. Sitting on something I feel strongly about usually means it just blows up later because yes, things were unwell, but I’m not even in a great position to recover well because I KNEW IT and I HAVE BEEN RIGHT ALL THIS TIME, when speaking up sooner probably would have saved going down a bad road in the first place.
– Loving someone is never wasted. With moving so much, it can be easy to see how much it has cost me to love other people and wonder if it was actually worth it, especially in relationships that drop off when we aren’t close by. It is hard, but good, to trust that God is accomplishing his purposes through friendships that are short, stilted, and interrupted, even when it seems like it might have been pointless.

birthday flowers

[birthday flowers from my sister]

Thirty is a big milestone, but it’s good. I’m grateful for the growth from these lessons, and others left unshared. My life is full of more grace and laughter because of them. “I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” – Charles Dickens. 

What We Have Left Undone: God’s Grace in Exhaustion

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
 coffee cup 1
(It took me four months to write this post, during which time I fell asleep at my computer five different times.) 
My new baby is six months old. He and I are still getting a lot of quality time together after the sun goes down, and without fail there is always something happening with the dog or my toddler on his better nights. (One time he slept seven hours, but Aaron was out of town so I had to respond when the dog threw up on the carpet and my daughter woke up screaming about her incoming teeth twice. This is just how it goes sometimes.) This is a tough thing to talk about. We learned quickly last year, even with our “good” sleeper, that mentioning a bad night in the wrong company could lead to an awkward well-intentioned lecture about parenting philosophy, because if you had read the enlightening book they loved your baby would be sleeping already. People just want to be helpful, and there really is supposed to be a lot you can do to help your baby figure out sleeping, but receiving sleep evangelism is not helpful when all you want is a fist bump …and maybe an extra cup of coffee.  However, I have also read all the books with all the different theories and have concluded two things: First – they were written about other babies, not this one. Second – there are gifts latent even in long seasons of flat-out exhaustion.

The Bible offers me some mixed messages about sleep. God causes people to sleep, like in Genesis 15 when Abraham fell asleep and was under deep and terrible darkness. Wisdom literature indicates sometimes people who sleep are lazy, and sometimes they are receiving a gift. In the gospels falling asleep is almost always a picture of a person’s spiritual state, like when the disciples fall asleep in the garden instead of praying for Jesus, and the apostles urge readers to stay awake (spiritually) instead of falling asleep. Sleep covers a lot of ground in scripture, and I have tried to pull these different things together into some cohesive theological point I could hang on to here. Maybe it’s there, but I’m too tired to figure it out right now.

It seems like my life would be easier if I did not need to sleep. Really, as much as I want to blame this all on sin, scripture mentions rest occurring prior to the fall. God called darkness “evening” and the coming of light “morning” from the very start. He worked for six days and rested on the seventh. He even caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep to remove a rib and create Eve. (Supposedly prostitution is the oldest profession, but I see scripture clearly pointing to anesthesiology for that honor.) These things all happened before sin entered the picture, and I’m struggling to figure out how something that was designed in perfection -my physical need for sleep- can seem like such a crutch.

After every long day of loving my very small children in my dated house-that-still-doesn’t-feel-like-a-home, with unanswered emails, ignored blog, unread books, disorganized basement, and unexercised body, I set up my coffee maker to brew at 6:00 am and groan quietly while walking down the half-painted hallway to collapse in my bed: think of how much I could accomplish in the next few hours if I didn’t need to sleep!  The insomnia I experienced after my miscarriages was similarly exhausting and paralyzing, but this has been longer and more intense, and it’s teaching me that I have a really bad attitude about my own need for sleep. In a stage of life that seems full of limitations, I am annoyed (no, I am offended) that my day wraps up with another reminder of things-I-can’t-do. I believe, secretly, that I will find peace to comfort me through the significant daily demands of my so-small children if I can type out the thoughts in my head, or paint the walls of my living room, or maybe even just get the house clean.

I have always had a lot more ideas than time, but even though the current imbalance feels suffocatingly huge, I’m hardly the first stay-at-home mom to articulate that my life is full of big responsibilities with very little immediate “accomplishment.” As I face the end of each exhausted day with the alarming sense that THERE IS STILL A LOT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN, I keep thinking about the opening worship litany from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent…

This same grace is what I need when there is too much to-do-list left at the end of my evening. Though the things I’m not doing are not generally in the category of sin by omission, they can be offered to the Lord with the same humility of this prayer. My inability to accomplish what I want, whether because I set something aside in order to sleep or because I cannot focus well enough when I have time, reveals more and more of my need for God. His grace faithfully offers solace to the burden of unfinished projects I have surrendered for the sake of caring for my family.
When exhaustion prevents me from accomplishing tasks of any size, from installing curtain rods to remembering where I left my keys, my comfort is that Jesus fully sympathizes with my weakness and graciously provides his mercy over all of the many, many needs I deal with – for the kids, and for me.
…For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.”
(I would also like to mention that our out-of-context theme verse for this year is 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “So let us not sleep as others do, but let us stay awake.” )

Reclaiming Martyrdom

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” -Hebrews 12:1-3

My mother used to joke that sometimes homeschooling me was a breeze; she could just “accidentally” leave a dictionary or encyclopedia out for me to get lost in, and I would spend dinner recounting what I had been reading all day. Now that I’m an adult and “know myself” a little better, via compulsively journaling through life experiences and taking too many online personality quizzes (ENFP all the way), it makes perfect sense that I would get a little bit obsessed with a lot of random things and enjoy figuring out how these were all connected.

Resulting from my early encyclopedic studies, I can become a bit of a stickler about language and word definitions. I like finding just the right term to express something, and I have a strange fascination with watching how the use of words impacts discussion. Sometimes I hear a sermon and wonder why the pastor chose one word over another, or excitedly tell Aaron that I think our last fight happened because we were using the same words different ways. (He is not always so enthused to hear my explanations.) It also means I bristle on the inside when a word is used ambiguously (like the word “blessing”) or wrongly (like “dignity”). The one that’s been bugging me lately is the cultural use of the word “martyr” pejoratively: “Mommy-Martyr,” describing a woman who complains and exalts her sacrifices as a parent.

This phrase irks me because it belies a serious misunderstanding. If we roll our eyes at someone acting like a mommy-martyr, we’re wishing she would stop complaining, maybe get herself pulled together. A mommy-martyr is usually working harder than necessary to draw attention to herself, but she might also just have a bad attitude about the legitimate hard work of raising children. Remedying this requires more than just a better perspective on parenting; we need to better understand martyring and we need to better understand Christ.

To be a martyr is to die, to have your life taken for the sake of your faith, and most of us will probably never have to do that in a full, physical sense. But our lives are full of opportunities to emulate Christ’s sacrifice in some way when we offer our selves and bodies to God in physical acts of worship. This is not just about parenting. Maybe it means turning down reproductive technology that might give you a desperately-longed-for baby because you aren’t willing to risk the destruction of embryos inherent in those processes, or choosing joy in the midst of difficult relationships that may remain frustrating for the rest of your life, or taking on the requisite challenges of any other situation where immediate desires have to be sacrificed for the sake of Christ and not necessarily for the sake of future earthly gratification. The fact remains, though, that children (especially when they are so small like mine) are needy little neighbors and a parent is called to love and sacrifice for them every minute of the day in some seasons, without firm promises about what their future holds.  So I actually think christian motherhood is very much a form of daily martyrdom.

Primarily, of course, it is becoming a christian that solidifies the call to lay down your life, but the landmark sanctifying experiences most people point to (like marriage, ministry, loss, chastity, parenting, etc.,) are usually where the rubber of christianity hits the road of real life. Yet if you do not lay yourself fully down in marriage, or singleness, or other difficulties, the results may not be so immediately obvious. There was plenty of sanctification and living sacrifice happening before I had children, but in extremely personal ways without many immediate witnesses. If I chose self-denial or self-indulgence at those times, few would necessarily know about it, and I might not see the repercussions for good or bad. If I choose selfishness now, the consequences are really drastic: my kids aren’t going to have lunch. The choice to care for these little children well is an act of thanksgiving to the God who made them and gave them to me. Doing so all day, every day, even when it is hard, is a physical act of worship. Looking at it this way, decrying “mommy martyrs” irritates me because this rightly identifies complaining as a problem but loses respect for the bravery and beauty of true sacrifice in the process. 

Maybe the solution to the problem of whining that gets called “mommy martyr”-ing is to replace the focus on self with a heart that tunes in to the devotion of actual martyrs, even today around the world. Where the “mommy-martyr” complains and looks at herself, measuring her identity by her children and what they have taken from her, a true martyr faces the very real demands of laying her life down by looking to Christ and finding her identity through all she has received in him. My heart, and the heart of any Christian mom, can be renewed by the same thing. 

Raising living children is not a vocation of victimhood or self-glorification, but in many ways it is one of living martyrdom, as all God’s callings are in some sense. And maybe through this we can reclaim the sacred honor of true martyr, so that calling someone a mommy-martyr could be a colloquial praise of her love and selflessness, as she raises a family with her eyes fixed firmly on the all-giving Jesus instead of her all-needing children or herself.

[Even Unto Death by Audrey Assad, written in tribute for the 21 Christians martyred in Libya in December 2014 and January 2015]

family devotions with a toddler

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Like most Christian parents, we would say teaching our kids about the Bible is utmost in our parenting goals. And the scripture itself is pretty straightforward: this is a non-negotiable part of raising a family. Practically, though? We have felt a little paralyzed when thinking about how to go about it at this stage, with a baby and a toddler who can’t sit still long enough for the evangelical neocalvinist gold-standard Jesus Storybook Bible lesson. My craftsy brain loves thinking about flashcards, crafts, activities, pictures, and all other sorts of things the lower-case-g-gods of Pinterest had to offer me as tools for toddler family worship times, but… anything with manipulatives or print-outs is totally not happening right now. Our life is not settled. The walls are half-painted. I keep my baking dishes in the basement because between three houses and two apartments, this is the smallest kitchen I have ever had. I don’t even have our printer set up and I have no idea where I would keep extra papers/toys/Jesusy-things. And the thought of having more items to pick up at the end of the day might make me cry. So for now, those devotional “extras” are out.

Beyond my online blog hunting, I have also been reading up on The Most Elite Parenting & Family Devotional Books in an effort to figure out  The One Right Way to Teach Children About Jesus Without Screwing Them Up.

books

Just a start here… I have more books on this topic on a different shelf.

 

With all the upheaval of our life and the pressure of figuring out how to handle this task, imagine our relief when we figured out what to do! We just started reading a great book with Annie before bed. It’s called (wait for it) … The Holy Bible, which is perfect for distracted wandering toddlers and toddlers-at-heart like me.

Yep. After exhaustedly searching through loads of blogs and books, I threw my hands up, put my daughter on my lap, and did what I should have done in the first place: I opened up my Bible and started reading it to her. Although there is a part of me that panics about this, I did not download lesson plans or create a comprehensive a reading strategy or make verse cards or read three books about how to teach the Bible to children. There can be a great place for this stuff and they may enter the picture later, but programmatic extras would be a burden instead of a blessing right now.

I’m still battling some inner anxiety about how much more we could be doing, but I realized if I am waiting to read the Bible with my kids out of fear that I’m not doing it right, I have really, really missed the point. . While it might be beneficial to organize things more than this, I am realizing quickly that there is a line between being intentional and overthinking things. When I don’t respect that difference in my parenting, my kids are going to pay, and this is the one place I would be most heartbroken to mess up.

So what does this look like practically? I hope this season of transition will come to an end soon and the following statement will never be true again, but we just moved so we do not have a home church and neither one of us participates in a bible study program, so without something else to track with we are reading the gospel of Matthew. Why the gospel of Matthew? Because I seriously just flipped through the pages Bible-roulette-style and realized the gospels were broken up into lots of manageable paragraphs that can be read quickly. No overthinking.

PART ONE: At first, we start off with a quick prayer. (“Help us listen to your true word, the Bible, so we can learn about Jesus.”) Then, one of us reads a few verses while the other corrals and redirects Annie to sit quietly. We usually reinforce a few basic points that may or may not be going completely over her head.

I began making a 5-minute-prep lesson plan on a sticky note. That lasted two nights. We now wing it. But in case you are curious, here’s what my plan said for Matthew 1:18-25. I would share a picture, but the post-it no longer exists. I believe someone ripped it in half and possibly ate it. (I know what you are thinking, but no, it wasn’t Aaron.)

“Jesus:  He will save his people from their sins.” “Immanuel: God is with us.”
Sin separates us from God. When Jesus saves us, we are not separated from God and He is with us!
Songs: Jesus, Name above all names & O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

That’s it. This is a few verses with a 16-month-old, not a seminary class.

bible time

Not seen: bedtime bottle thrown to floor, Thomas eating or shrieking like a pterodactyl, Annie yelling “Ba! Ba! Ba!” every time she sees Max, etc.

PART TWO:  We sing some songs we already know. The double-edged sword of toddlers’ development is that they are wired to love and learn from doing the same things over and over. (On a related but less important note, I have some very serious side-eye looks to send Eric Carle about “Brown Bear, Brown Bear.”) This means that a toddler or preschooler needs to sing the same songs 2-3 times in a row, and repeat them night after night, too. I’m a musician so this comes naturally to me. Aaron’s not, so I encourage him to use volume to make up for what might be lacking in the vocals department. Family worship is a lot like spreading Christmas cheer, so the best way to do it is singing loud for all to hear. This is just private time at home, not a Hummel Family Singers professional debut.

Then we say a prayer and go to bed. The. End.

Being a little disorganized here works out because a toddler’s need for repetition translates to the scripture reading, too. Sometimes we’re really tired and realize we’ve been camped out in the same parts of the same chapter for too many nights, but that’s okay. Learning to sit still and establishing the habit of opening God’s word together communicates just as much about how much we need this as do the specific truths we’re picking out each night.

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” – Deuteronomy 32:46-47

If these were just idle words, I could wait around and procrastinate in this. But these are my life, so I can’t wait to keep reading and learning alongside my kids. Ditching the idol of perfection on our own has been very freeing here!