On Miscarriages & Reading the Bible

snappa_1465963566

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

snappa_1464808636

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!

walk in newness (2016)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4

So much of this year – this move, this new baby, this new house – has felt like one giant baptism by fire. In many ways I am a much richer woman at the start of 2016 than I was for 2015, but it has come through much surrender, sacrifice, and sanctification. Last year demanded  we bid goodbye to life in Minnesota, goodbye to other dreams we would have welcomed, and I’m realizing that it was goodbye to another layer of certainty or control,  too. Five months into Missouri, I don’t think we’ve made much progress figuring out what it is we’re greeting with a “hello” here.

I knew I’d hit my life-surprise threshold when the new Star Wars movie came out. Since we had to wait a few weeks after The Force Awakens opened to see family (which was really just a cover for having babysitters so we could go to the movies), I almost read a bunch of online spoilers after I wailed to Aaron that I could not handle even one more big life event curveball. (Star Wars is a life event at our house. We are also in complete denial about the upcoming presidential election — no emotional reserves left for thinking about politics right now.) As someone who really likes goals and dreaming about things that could happen, my stance toward this New Year is extremely anti-climactic. Amid the general hopeful talk of “new years resolutions” and annual goals that everyone else is throwing around, I don’t really want this year to rock. I don’t want to make any big life changes or start any big dreams or have anything else I need to take care of added to my plate. We’re trying to remain positive but realistic about life right now, which means thinking in terms of an entire year is still a bit… much.

What I really want in 2016 is for my life to calm down and be more predictable. And maybe to get everything in the house painted. We’re trying to move from the current Breaking Bad drug den look into more of a “Fixer Upper” feel, and after 7 straight years of remodeling, I would like my house to look decent.

No matter how desperate I am to reduce the turbulence levels of my life this year, I can’t predict what God will bring us in 2016. But on the most practical level I know it is new, and that even when something new is hard, facing it with joy is a practical living-out of Christianity. Paul talks about “newness of life” coming from baptism, and that helps reframe the baptism-by-fire of this fall. Because the Christian life is is both initiated and sustained by the power of the resurrection, this isn’t something we hear once and move on from; it continually transforms us. This means the same resurrection that gives new life in salvation also empowers and compels me to walk in the newness born out of these changes, too. It might not mean I’m marathoning in newness or achieving greatness in any sphere outside of keeping my people fed and clothed. But it does mean we can walk forward step-by-step into this year with faith that this newness is for God’s glory, even without the excitement of big goals or new dreams about what that might look like.

So maybe all we know of 2016 is that it’s new. And that’s a good thing.

12 Reasons My Toddler Might Be Santa

Is there a name for the coming-of-age trauma where kids stop believing in Santa? What would you call that? De-Sant-ification? My childhood excluded Santa from Christmas for religious reasons so I skipped that, but now the tables are turned and I have the opposite scenario: Kids start thinking Santa might be fake; I’m thinking Santa might be real. Kids start to think their parents might be Santa; Now that I’m a parent, I’m starting to think my kid might be Santa.

Here are a few reasons we think Annie may actually be the Jolly Old Man:

  1. Santa has reindeer; Annie loves the deer in our yard.
    Annie Deer
  2. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good”; she knows if I have been bad or good, which she demonstrates by copying me at all times. Mommy eats hummus? Annie eats hummus. Mommy eats a cookie? Annie eats a cookie. Mommy talks on the phone? Annie talks on the phone. And so on. This is her way of making sure I know that she knows exactly what’s going on. (It’s terrifying.) 
  3. Santa loves milk and cookies; She loves milk and cookies.
  4. As Bishop of Myrna in the olden days, Saint Nicholas reportedly slapped/punched Arius in the face over a theological dispute at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD; She frequently hits her little brother. I originally thought it was because she wanted to see what would happen, or she was mad at him for taking up my time, or she wanted me to pay attention to her. 
    Adam Bond transparent santa saint nicholas arius
     “Say ‘homoosious’! Say ‘homoosious’!” 
    Instead, I now wonder if it she is hitting him because, as a non-verbal infant, he has not yet professed his allegiance to the doctrine of Christ the Son being of one substance with God the Father. (“We use our words during theological debates in this house.”)
  5. Santa brings toys to children while they are sleeping; She frequently gives toys to her little brother, usually throwing them on his face while he is sleeping. 
  6. “He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake”; She knows if Thomas is sleeping or awake, and uses this knowledge to ensure her daily naps contrast with his.
  7. Santa has a round belly; She has a little round belly.
  8. Santa’s belly shakes when he laughs, just like a bowl full of jelly; She would probably eat a bowl full of jelly if I gave it to her.
  9. Santa hears requests and fulfills only some, reflecting their parents’ budgetary guidelines, which is something children do not fully comprehend; Sometimes she willingly gives me what I ask her for (that piece of mail), and sometimes she doesn’t (that iPhone), for reasons I do not fully comprehend.
  10. Santa puts toys in stockings (or shoes, if you want to get really traditional about things); She is particularly curious about socks and shoes right now.
  11. Santa puts toys and goodies in a bag that he carries over his shoulder; she likes to put objects in my purse and carry it around. 
  12. The dead giveaway… Little Saint Nick here is obviously making herself comfortable coming in and out of the fireplace. 

    ("I'll just finish folding this laundry," I thought, "She's certainly reading to herself.")

    (“I’ll just finish folding this laundry,” I thought, “She’s certainly reading to herself.”)

 

Advent and FOMO (advent 2015)

“He withholds no good thing…” (Psalm 84:11)

Those who read things on the internet or voraciously scour the Oxford English Dictionary, which added today’s word to their compendium in 2013, have probably come across the acronym “FOMO” long before this post. The letters stand for “Fear of Missing Out,” the official definition is “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere,” and when you move as much as we have, it’s a very real struggle.

I really am excited for Aaron having this great job and moved to tears of joy over having these two babies on a regular basis. This is a life I have desperately wanted for a long time. It’s important to be present in all these moments, even the tough ones. I don’t want to waste it or wish it away, but we are still far from “settled” in our town or home, and feeling so not-at-home for so long is discouraging. Days with two babies are intense, and it seems like things would be so much easier back in our Minnesota neighborhood, which came complete with a built-in best friend/babysitter. (It was more than a little bit awesome.) Even knowing that this move is supposed to be so good for us, all this upheaval makes me feel like we are split in a million pieces. Christmastime makes these aches more noticeable: I want to enjoy roaring fireplaces and watch snow falling outside the windows of our parents’ homes. I want to be in my Iowa Bible Study class. I want to drink candy cane hot chocolate with my neighborhood coffee moms from Minnesota. I want to sing Christmas carols with my college friends in real life and not just interact occasionally on social media. I wish I was having this conversation in person with pretty much anyone who is reading it.

This is compounded because I also have some FOMO about Advent. Again. I’m not sure why this even merits a mention, because I feel like this every year. I have a dream of observing a month of Advent for spiritual reflection and meditation. I have the Advent devotionals, I have the Jesse Tree ornament set, I have a list of all the appropriate songs. Something inside me really craves this. We have never observed the season as fully as I would dream, but this year is it’s own version of missing out because we haven’t made plans for implementing any holiday cheer around here. No tree. No lights. No concerts. No advent wreath. No energy to get excited about presents. I suppose this is the year to scale back – the kids are too little to know we are pulling it in so far, and we’re extremely tired. I want to do all the things that make the celebrations special for us… but only badly enough to feel their absence, not enough to actually make it happen. This family desperately needs a long weekend together more than the holiday hoopla.

On the surface it seems we’re not even “doing” Advent this year, and we evangelicals could all point out that liturgical seasons are unnecessary because God didn’t include a calendar in the back of the Bible anyway. But there can be rich treasure discovered in honoring this ancient practice of remembering, in some tangible way, the wait for Jesus. Without lighting candles or keeping up with any special reading, this month when “missing out” seems to be overlaying my every thought,  the purpose of Advent -celebrating what came and is still coming in the incarnate Christ- should override what seems held back from me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

The stories I dream of reading with the children during future Advent seasons are full of people who sojourned and wandered, often far away from those they loved, grounded in the firm conviction that God would fulfill his promise with a deliverer and a homeland. The special gift of this Advent is that no matter how much I can identify with those who mourned in lonely exile right now, I am not missing the Promise who fulfills the eternal YES in the midst of my life’s (much) lesser nos.

the long good-bye

Though the past year was one of the most demanding of my life, I read a few very short books while I was pregnant with Thomas, mostly on the occasions I would leave Annie with a friend so I could attend some of my OB appointments solo. One of these slender tomes was The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris, which I have had on the radar for several years. I was glad to finally read it in a stage of life full of cloth diapers, when I was figuring out church with children in tow, and grappling with how staying home with children was transforming my daily life… which is to say, at a point when I was already thinking about laundry, liturgy, and “women’s work” quite a bit. It’s not a perfect book, but I appreciated some of the insights and affirmations that the “daily grind” of a homemaker need not develop into oppression, but instead cultivates opportunities for worship and a deeper understanding of God.

As I scan through the pages again now, with soup simmering in the crockpot, toys and board books strewn about the floor, a dog snoozing at my feet, and one baby sleeping in crib in the next room while a smaller baby sleeps on my chest, the portions about sharing in God’s grace while “doing-the-next-thing” seems a little more meaningful. When I originally read this under posters about gestational growth and development, during some of the only times I really gave much conscious thought to the new little baby, this is what resonated:

“At the deepest level, a pregnant woman must find the courage to give birth to a creature who will one day die, as she herself must die. And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.

…Now the new mother, that leaky vessel
Begins to nurse her child
Beginning the long good-bye.”

-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Maybe because this year I’ve also known more women who watched their children rest in caskets than before, or because my social media feed is full of discussions about abortion providers, or because I have sobbed while reading about drowned refugee children, I know that passing into the “magical” second trimester of pregnancy did not guarantee ultimate protection for either of these children. Now this imagery of saying goodbye to my children seems a little more real – and therefore more morbid – at this point than it did at other times.

However, it’s not just the potential loss of their earthly lives that stands here in my mind. It’s also the fact that they are each in full possession of their own personality, with plenty of surprises about who they are. (And they can’t even talk yet, so we will be seeing exponentially more of that in the coming years.) We have dreams, prayers, and hopes for these children, which is such a central part of parental love. It comes out when I feel like my heart is bursting out of my body because Annie loves pressing piano keys and wearing a stethoscope, or praise her for being so kind to Thomas, “because he is your brother and your best friend!” or proudly dress them in Hillsdale gear. There is nothing wrong with hoping my kids have meaningful careers, a close relationship with each other, or  follow in our footsteps for college, but it would become twisted if I clung to any desires I have for them more than embracing the children themselves as we discover what their unique gifts are. It is very possible that what I want for them in any aspect of life is different than what will happen, and I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed in the ways God lovingly works in their lives.

Receiving these children as an undeserved gift means saying good-bye to some of my desires. Right now it’s usually sleep, drinking hot coffee, and being able to wear the same clothes all day without being slimed on by either one of them. But as they grow it will also mean subordinating my dreams and rejoicing that they were created to fulfill God’s plans, not mine. Even under the best circumstances where I would share a long life of loving and mothering these children, receiving them as the gifts they are means living the hard goodness of this long good-bye. This is the best way to truly celebrate the work God has done in bringing them to me.

“As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.
I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.
So now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life…”
– 1 Samuel 1:26-28