Is the Bible Good for Women? (book review & personal recommendation)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, sometime in that second half when we already knew she was a girl, we heard a culmination of flippant, derogatory comments about women from a church community. The teaching wasn’t just “unpopular” or politically incorrect while remaining faithful to God’s word – it was wrong. It painful and embarrassing to hear: that girls should be raised to have “wife and mother” as their sole vocational aim; that a woman who earns money is a shame to her husband; that a wife should only read books pre-approved by her pastor or husband; that it is not appropriate to leave an abusive marriage. (Every single one of these things takes marriage for granted, subversively shaming single women as well.) Beyond the turmoil it caused us to hear those things, my pregnancy made this rhetoric stand up in a new sense. I sighed to Aaron that I was afraid about how hard church might be for our baby when she grew up. As time went on (in other churches, obviously, and not that one), this was a concern I didn’t quickly shake.

We’re Christians and we’re raising our kids in a definitively Christian home. They may or may not become Christians themselves, but there is none of this “feel your own way to your spirit leader when you’re old enough to want something religious” business happening here. Part of this means that some of our values aren’t going to reflect culture, and there will be things we hope to instill in our kids that will seem weird or offensive to others. As a Christian, I read the Bible that esteems women in cultures that demean them, inherently values them as God’s image-bearers instead of as child-bearers, and establishes churches and families to most fully celebrate the God-given dignity of each person. But brokenness is pervasive, and navigating theologically conservative churches as a, um, “woman with thoughts” has been harder than it should be. Though we’re in a wonderful church now, no one can deny how much harm poor theology can inflict on women and families. Some teachers I have known and loved otherwise become pharisaical and legalistic on this topic, placing restrictive guidelines for women that mimic affluent white families in 1950’s America more than any family the Bible talked about. 

In this I felt a heavy burden: conflict between what I saw in the Bible and how that could be twisted into derogative rhetoric wasn’t just a personal issue now. It was a maternal one, too. It’s one thing to set some of my own cognitive dissonance aside, but it’s another to assume my child could be quick to do the same.  Could I expect her to trust me when I teach her God’s word is good but then quickly excuse some of the inappropriate teaching we’ve heard? How would I talk her through some of these hateful or dismissive comments in a way that wouldn’t shake her understanding of a Savior who repeatedly demonstrated his personal love for and engagement with women, even to the shock of religious leaders around him? What was I going to tell her about the straightforward stuff that I still find hard to swallow sometimes?

And beyond this, how on earth would I deal with the really nasty stuff in there? You know, that the Hall-of-Faith father-of-nations Abraham and the man-after-God’s-own-heart King David start looking like sexual predators when you read their stories as an adult? Or the horrendous story of the concubine ripped in twelve pieces from the book of Judges? (And maybe the fact that concubines are even a thing? Hello, King Solomon. I mean, the Old Testament stories are really not lining up with ANY talks I heard at youth group about Christian sexual ethics.)

These are all good questions, and they are things any pastor or scholar should expect a thoughtful Christian to confront. I want to take my bible study seriously, and I generally find the teachings on the liberal end of the theological spectrum seem to be more serious about various agendas than about the scripture or about God Himself, which I cannot share. (This is not to say that my friends who align there are flippant about their faith.) But even though we give lip service to “being good Bereans” and wrestling with scripture ourselves, my more conservative evangelical circles tend to consider these questions more antagonistic than anything else. This is not how it should be. (And as we settle in to a new church, I’m glad to see it is not always this way!) In this turmoil, I found myself extremely grateful for the wise work from Wendy Alsup, “Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture.”

is the bible good for max

see? even Max likes it.

 

 This book isn’t specifically about parenting, but if I’m honest, I can’t even say it was primarily about women, either. It’s about Jesus and how God’s plan for salvation is evident on every page of Scripture. Alsup shows how turning just to those “feminine” passages in the Bible (the ones that show up if you search “women” in a concordance) perpetuates a disjointed and hurtful view of the human race. Reducing problems so often to “gender role differences” damages men and women alike, though it usually hits women more immediately. Upholding the Bible as the greatest commentary on itself, she tackles the hard questions about faith and femininity using the lens of Christ to understand God’s goodness to women.

“Is the Bible Good for Women?” is not just written to theologians and church leaders, it’s for skeptics, too. The answers aren’t always easy. She says, for instance, that the highest levels of church leadership are still reserved for men and my progressive friends probably wouldn’t change their minds here. I sensed in a few spots that my renewed parenting-induced panic meant I was the skeptic she wrote for, but I suspect this book would not make them immediately want to punch someone. I have loved enough people on both “sides” of Christian gender discussions to recognize this is a significant accomplishment. From the initial charge to read the Bible as commentary on itself through to the fascinating concluding analysis of the apostle Peter’s character development as a study in leadership and maturity, Wendy Alsup demonstrates a firm faithfulness to God’s good word and humility in these difficult topics. This is a gracious entry into a deeply divided discussion, and I hope to see further conversations on this topic continue in the Christ-oriented and compassionate direction she leads with this book. 

There’s a fascinating relationship between math and formal logic, and the author’s formal training in mathematics education is evident in the systematic flow of argument and the careful presentation of facts. But it’s still personal, and the discussion often touches deep nerves. From Dinah’s rape (Genesis 34) and the Levite’s dismembered concubine (Judges 19), she shows God’s faithfulness to avenge those who abuse women. From the Law’s description of capital punishment for adultery (Deuteronomy 22), she points to the perfect fulfillment Jesus made to protect women where the Law was insufficient (particularly in John 8). From confusing and seemingly oppressive passages in the New Testament epistles, she demonstrates God’s extravagant goodness, too. Where women are forbidden to teach (1 Timothy 2), we see God equipping all women with gifts for the good of all people. Where Paul discusses head covering (1 Corinthians 11), we see God’s disgust for slavery and sexual oppression. Where wives are commanded to be subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5), we see more of the God who laid down his life and all earthly power for the sake of his bride, the Church. All this exalts the God who created all humans bearing his image, called us “good” then, and has given us his Word and Himself only for our good ever since then.


This book was a blessing to me and I expect it would be encouraging to most other readers! If I haven’t exactly convinced you to read this yet, you can also read an excerpt published in Christianity Today, listen to the  Mortification of Spin podcast with Wendy here , or consider this shorter review from the Gospel Coalition. And then you can buy it for yourself!

the wormwood & the gall(bladder) || part 1

With over a year of living in Missouri, it’s fair to say this has been a move no one would ever want to relive. Though it came with so many good things, like a new job and a baby, moving is an unpredictable mix of gift and loss. Leaving and remaking home is hard anyway, but many of the details of this move and the rest of our lives this year have been notably challenging. When I was coordinating my recent gallbladder removal surgery (because amid this all I was having painful gallbladder attacks, of course), Aaron kept saying, “This has to be the last thing, right? No more emergencies for a while.” Two weeks later we were stranded with the kids in busy traffic when our van overheated. If this is irreparable, it will require a third vehicle purchase in less than eighteen months.

I am the man who has seen affliction … Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:1, 21-23

With physical ailments all around, expensive home repairs and neighborhood problems, and a long haul in cultivating new friendships and community, much of this has been affliction. But it’s also wandering, which feels like wasting, uncertainty, aimlessness, and disconnection – an affliction of it’s own sort, really. Our Minnesota theme was we didn’t see that one coming. So far Missouri’s is we can’t get a break or as thine income, thine emergencies shall be in measure. I said settling in here was going to be full of unknowns, full of newness. That has definitely been the case. 

These new things are hard, but there is also always, always good there, and it has been my practice to keep a gratitude list, recounting God’s gifts in all things. There is something particularly sacred about training our eyes on the way beauty and grace come through in all of life, but there is a difference between talking about redemption through hardship and ignoring hardship all together. 

I could easily share how God’s grace flamed so fiercely in this, and maybe I should, but I’m also starting to think there would be some spiritual benefit to keeping track of the bad stuff in life, just as much as the good. Why memorialize the wormwood and the gall, the bitter and bile? Scripture does so all the time, I find. Still, I have been fighting this since it seems to conflict with (among other things, like not wanting to sound whiny) my very-present concern for those souls stranded or running for their lives in the war-torn Middle East. We’re not under siege or refugees, so we’re okay, right? Things aren’t that bad. I’m a secure stay-home mom with living children, great health care, and food in the fridge, which alone means I have many, many circumstances “better” than others. People around the world risk their lives every day pursuing a small portion of these comforts and freedoms. But this mostly-empty empathy is more pride than gratitude. My help in life is not in being generally safe from ISIS coming to my front door, or comfortably feeding and staying home with my kids during a season when they need so much of me. My help in this, and everything, comes from the Lord, Psalm 121 says, under the heading “a song of ascents.” What is an ascent but climbing from lowliness to height? With the right perspective, with our hearts grounded in God’s mercy, recounting hardship is part of gaining a humble perspective. Brushing difficulty off because “it’s not as bad as someone else” is not always a sign of a content heart; sometimes it comes from a heart that doesn’t want to be needy.

I didn’t even realize this part of it until I started groaning every time I saw the negative consequences of my exhaustion, which has been just an undercurrent of these overall afflictions. This looked like lots of grumbling, but little praying, and a fair share of disappointment against other people. These are not the responses of seeing-grace-in-the-hard; this is evidence of resentment when others need me or I need something, and ignoring neediness, maybe hoping it will go away.  Acknowledging hardship admits a lack of control. Given full autonomy, who would choose difficulty or incapacity? Yet this is precisely why Christianity is not a point of achievement but a constant path of growing smaller: We are the backwards people, and our journey of ascent starts out being bowed down in neediness. Lamentations doesn’t tell us the wormwood and gall are to bend us down forever, but it does show that hoping in God and recounting his mercies starts from a place of honesty and humility about that affliction. 

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

[I don’t think I’m copying her ideas directly in anything here, but my thoughts on humility have been very much formed by Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Humble Roots. It’s definitely recommended reading!]

2016 wrap up (& what I read)

The year of Baptism By Fire and Newness of Life has come to a close, and for supposed “recovery” from such upheaval in 2015, it still felt very fast and very full. I didn’t sleep much. My family changed a lot – my grandpa died, but we welcomed a brother-in-law and two nephews. The daily needs of my children still feel constant, but these little kids are breathtakingly bigger and even more dear with each passing day. (Usually.) The presidential election found me casting my ballot for a third-party candidate for the first time in history, which I pledged to do without fear, but I cried quite a bit when the election results came in and it has been much, much harder to remain hopeful than I first expected.

we just saw Rogue One. these are our "excited" faces.

here we are after seeing Rogue One. we really liked it. these are our respective “excited” faces.

One of my few hopes for the year was to get the whole upstairs of the new house painted and appropriately furnished, which did not happen, but I did muster the self-control to avoid spoilers for this year’s Star Wars movie before seeing it in theaters, so I’m calling my goal-fulfillment a draw. I also didn’t blog much, but I wasn’t sure if I would. I’ve had a few projects simmering in the background and I was glad to contribute elsewhere (like Christ and Pop Culture, Risen Motherhood podcast, This Village Blog, and Vernacular Pocast), but I’m itching to get more thoughts out. I’m reorganizing a few things in my schedule in order to write over here and elsewhere more often!  During this year of writer’s hibernation, I’ve been able to do more reading than I expected, which has been great. Here’s most of what I read:

Theology & Christian Living 
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. Very much a fresh articulation of Augustinian thought (“It was foul – and I loved it” … “Late have I loved Thee”), the genius of this book is that it is profound and yet not just for nerds who want to talk about St. Augustine. In fact, it’s arguing that even for people like me who like to just think about every single angle of something, being human means we are still shaped much more by our loves than our thoughts. This is a great look at how much culture shapes our hearts and our worship, and an important corrective to those who tend to equate spiritual maturity with studying theology (or, as I have seen it said tongue-in-cheek elsewhere, the idea that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy reading theology books forever.”)

Teach Us To Want by Jen Pollock Michel I read this alongside You Are What You Love and felt the combination was a little bit redundant. She says some beautiful things about desire, ambition, and the life of faith, so I don’t not recommend this, but if you are interested in the topic I would start with the Smith book first. I might try to re-read this and see if it works better as a standalone, but I’m really glad I bought it even if just for the gorgeous red apples on the cover. (Her narrative tone and our common experiences of moving frequently makes me excited to read her upcoming book about the meaning of home, Keeping Place.)

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson I was excited to start this book because I am a huge fan of the author (remember the year I only read two books? Her first book Made for More was one of them and also earned my high praise); I knew she would give voice to the words already at the tip of my tongue to help correct a lot of people I know who really struggle with pride. Then I read it, and the words rolling off my tongue were significantly more confessional than I ever expected. Shame about the size of your jeans or dwelling  on the numbers you wish to see on the scale? Pride. Overwhelmed and emotional because you always have too much to do that never gets done? Pride. That comfortable feeling of wearing your slippers and drinking hot coffee before your little kids wake up? Thankfully, that one is NOT PRIDE as far as I can tell. This theology is beautifully biblical and strong, and the application is inviting and gracious. This is a great read for anyone who “has a friend” that might need to bring themselves down a notch or two.

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. This book starts off pretty cerebral, so it gets lots of nerd points, which I love, but it is profoundly practical and encouraging by the second half. It also confirms some things I’ve been wondering about, like my growing suspicion about over-emphasis of family in the American church that devastates the lonely people among us. The Christian gospel, Hill argues, transforms our personal relationships and elevates deeper and profound friendships in ways that fulfill more of Jesus’ prayer, “that they might all be one.” I’m definitely going to be referring back to this book often (and exploring his other writings on celibacy and the gospel, too.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield In language that is beautiful without being sappy and hardy without being brash, Mayfield shows us God’s grace in the hardest, loneliest stories from her 10-year mission to refugees in Portland and Minneapolis. Current political issues make this message even more timely and I am truly grateful for this author and her work. You’ll read it and weep, and hope.

Parenting & Life Management 
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne Reading this book was very self-affirming for me: he says the typical middle-upper class American family lifestyle is basically destroying children with its excess of toys, sports, activities, screentime, and clutter, and I may have loved this mainly because it confirmed what I already thought about raising kids. Still, there were great suggestions throughout and many  Simplicity Parenting – inspired rhythms have been life-giving for us. I even wrote about how this book inspired me to cull the “words” in our music and radio listening for my friend Mary’s blog over the summer. After reading several Christian parenting books, I found it refreshing to read some decidedly non-religious advice as well. (Maybe it just felt good that he wasn’t pretending his advice is the only way to honor God as a parent?) I didn’t agree with everything, but would recommend this to most parents alongside Jen Wilkin’s talk “Raising an Alien Child.”  (And I will admit I’m typing this while my kids watch pirated-YouTube copies of a Disney movie on a 43-inch screen, so we aren’t fully committed here.)

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen  The pages of this book begins with commendations, including this from Peter Kreeft: “A worthy successor to C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man,” which is double praise. Esolen’s witty book expounds on similar principles of Simplicity Parenting, expressing them through the lens of his Christian faith and setting them against much of today’s modern western educational philosophy. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one as we start to make further decisions about the kids’ education.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. While, honestly, all self-help productivity books seem to say the same things… I read this one in just the right window of time this fall and was able to clearly identify some ways that I was “being productive in the wrong direction” and “robbing other people of their problems at great cost to myself.” We will see how further application towards my goal of more writing goes this year!

Kids Books We Loved
Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty. Engaging poetry, hilarious pictures, characters with gifts in science and technology? WINNERS all around. Both kids sit in rapt attention for both of these (which are labeled for ages 4 and up), and we’ll need to get the third book about Rosie Revere, Engineer.
Time for Bed by Mem Fox. So enchanting. I will miss this one when the kids outgrow it.
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field. Annie has this one memorized, which saves me because I just choke up at the page that says “Bless other children far and near, and keep them safe and free from fear.” We love the gorgeous swedish cabin setting for the pictures and reciting the sweet rhymes before bed.
Woolies for the Winter by Betsy Howard and Laura Kern. In a world of inane drivel for the preliterate, this charming rhyme and watercolor is most welcome; I can hardly wait for their other three season-themed books to print!

What’s On My List for 2017 
A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty (started, need to finish)
What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie (started, need to finish)
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance 
Is The Bible Good for Women? by Wendy Alsup
Comfort Detox by Erin Straza 
More Fiction, TBD (I am up for suggestions here! Perhaps the Kirstin Lavransdatter trilogy??)
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
Good News For Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick (If nothing else, I’ll read this because I already bought it and I am weary of it taunting me from the bookshelf since June.)

Happy New Year, friends!

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.

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

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
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(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!