under the shadow (mother’s day 2015)

This year’s avoidance of any Mother’s Day greeting card displays has been due mostly to having a little more to juggle while I’m at the store these days, and less to do with feeling like everything inside me was shriveling up every time I thought about children or the idea of being a mom. I definitely like it better this way.

annie at store

 

The past nine months of real-life mothering have been so dear. I wouldn’t wish the journey I had before this on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t trade the lessons coming from that and my sweet girl for anything, either. It’s also a little pointless to think about what I would trade because I can’t go back and change anything, anyway. My initiation to motherhood was not at all what I expected, and this means so many of my attitudes and perspectives about life as a parent are different than they would have been otherwise. Sometimes that is still hard, and today I still come in to relationships with the shadow of past grief, carrying a lot more baggage on the topic of children and pregnancy than I would have liked. I have been profoundly blessed by the example of Mary, who was also decidedly shocked by the way she became a mom, too. I take comfort to know that she saw clearly how the purpose of her role as a mother was not primarily that she would have a baby, but that she would encounter the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise, even when it happened in ways that confused her and seemed so different from how she might have planned it.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” – Luke 1:35.

While I was pregnant with Annie, I wondered how mothering a child would differ from the sort of “mothering” that came out of my miscarriages. There is everyday stuff to sort through, yes, and more to juggle than before, but at the core I think these things have been mostly the same. The everyday acts of raising my daughter are hard work. They require sacrifice: of my time, my pride, my selfishness. I am diligent to read and pray and make decisions we deem best on every topic imaginable, like medical care during pregnancy and delivery, how to feed the baby, where she sleeps, what kind of structure we have to our days and nights, consoling her or letting her cry, vaccinations, education, spiritual formation, etc., and then continue carrying on relationships where other people have also thought long and hard in making those same choices for their kids and somehow come to the wrong conclusions. I know. But the demands I experienced before: sacrificing so much without a choice in the matter, battling so much insecurity and uncertainty about the future, and navigating awkwardness in some relationships because I was so tender? That was also incredibly difficult, and it happened without the obvious joy of a child to bring such delight! Parenting now is difficult because I feel the weight of responsibility so heavily. A child is a real person; the stakes are high. But I take great comfort to know that parenting Annie — and the new baby coming this fall! — is supposed to be overwhelming, and the strength needed for this task comes under the protective shadow of the Holy Spirit. The difficulties of life before and after the arrival of a baby are both satisfied by the same faithful promises of help and joy. Even with the reality of parenthood, the true satisfaction of life is not found in relation to a human child but a heavenly father.

Several people have asked me if motherhood has provided any “healing” from the losses and heartache of the last few years, and it has been interesting to think about. There is so much joy and delight in the very places I was so sorrowful, yes. Maybe even more happiness than I might have experienced otherwise? Who knows. It is not difficult in any way to look at my beautiful girl or my again-expanding midsection and wonder how this could be a blessing, like I had to do with the babies I lost before this. But “healing”? I don’t want to think of it in those terms. The answer to the true problems posed by those miscarriages, the wrestling with death and grief and what it meant to be a mother? Those questions are met with the same gifts I find for the troubles of today: The presence of the Holy Spirit now, and the coming full understanding in the resurrection, when the shadow of death is removed completely.

Many people are burdened with desire for many things — having a baby was not the lone thing I longed for — and the beauty of any wait is that it is not a waste when it clarifies the source of true fulfillment. I look back and say the grief-shadowed wait was beautiful not because it led to children, but because it led me closer to the everlasting shadow of God’s love and protection.

There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. – Isaiah 25:7

My soul will be satisfied… for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:4-7

reading round-up (5.09.14)

“Max, you know what we say in Minnesota: May showers bring June flowers!” – Aaron, while the dog was perturbed during his first real thunderstorm on Thursday.

[maybe by memorial day the polar vortex will be a memory?]

[maybe by memorial day the polar vortex will be a memory?]

[One] Much encouragement over at The Art of Simple on the difference between organizing and decluttering. We pared down our “stuff” a lot before moving, and the new house is much larger… and we still feel like we have way too much floating around here. I was not in a state of mind to dream about maybe having a baby when we decided to get this particular house, so we lack a real “nursery” and will likely be turning our beloved walk-in-closet into the baby’s room. (Where will those shelves go? Maybe the laundry room? Questions abound.) This means there is lots more unorthodox organizing needed in the next few weeks, and this post nailed my frustration: organization is always temporary; decluttering makes you love your house more. So here’s to wisely culling in order for more love in my home!

[Two] My regular bible study is wrapped up until fall, and I’ve been especially missing the girls I had a fabulous summer study with last year. This is just not the summer for a big project, but I’ve been checking out a few online resources to fill in the gaps. It’s refreshing when my daily She Reads Truth devotional pops up in my reader — and those free printables would be fun to have if I ever actually printed anything off. (I usually find it’s easier to grab markers and copy the artwork than wrestle with the printer we should have recycled two years ago.)

[Three] However… if anyone wants to do Nancy Guthrie’s The Wisdom of God study with me (virtually) this summer, I will make my best effort despite the, uh, impending upheaval during the second half of the season.

[Four] Love these thoughts on social media from Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas: Don’t be a hater. It’s not evil, it’s a tool. Just use it well.

[Five] With Mother’s Day coming up, I’m (of course) thinking and praying for the many, many women I know that find it a stressful holiday. This humorous out-take of the story of Hannah’s prayer from 1 Samuel is good advice for those who want to best love the barren and truth for all.  Additionally, I find that (if anything) a new baby coming so SOON (9-13 weeks for a regular full-term delivery, people!) doesn’t negate the lessons from past years. Maybe she makes me realize how true those things really are? If you haven’t read it yet, check out “Only A Dry Tree?” from my archives, and look for ways to bring a special blessing to those who may feel dry and unfruitful this weekend.

“Let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off… I will… make them joyful in my house of prayer.” – Isaiah 56.


[Six] Guess what — Maybe Jesus Wants Us to Get Stuff Done! And get off the computer!? Really. This advice isn’t always going to be helpful — but I think keeping it in mind makes the days of work AND the days of rest more useful and encouraging, just as God really intended. My friend Hannah wrote about how the Sabbath rest of a Sunday is a blessing… and after living with her in college and being so blown away by how she both DID ALL THE SCHOOL THINGS and DID ALL THE FUN THINGS while also DOING ALL THE RESPONSIBLE ADULT THINGS LIKE RUNNING HALF-MARATHONS AND GOING TO BREAKFAST EVERY DAY, I think she’s on to it: Work hard and rest well in the rhythm God provided.

[Seven] Happy weekend! I hope it involves flowers, lots of french toast with copious amounts of coffee and orange juice, and special moments for honoring those who have cared for you and celebrating whatever fruit God has ordained for your life.

“I know now what they say in your world about justice. And perhaps they say well, for in that world things always fall below justice. But [God] always goes above it. All is gift. …The best fruits are plucked for each by some hand that is not his own.” (C.S. Lewis, Perelandra.)

[As always, more weekend quick reading available at Conversion Diary!]

Only A Dry Tree?

Only A Dry Tree? Loving the Have-Nots this Mother’s Day.

Ack. Mother’s Day is coming up. I don’t begrudge the celebration of motherhood overall – Aaron and I are both so much like Timothy, taught and prepared for ministry by his mom and grandma. We are overwhelmingly blessed with Moms (and Grandmas, Aunts, and others!) who love us and I can’t imagine what our lives would look like without the selfless care and godly influence of these women. (I can’t even find pictures of us to share because, let’s face it, Mom and Other Mom were always taking the pictures.)

Even though scripture teaches a lot about honoring parents, I think it’s okay to question the typical holiday celebration because the roots of our modern Mother’s Day come from a pacifist protest of the Civil War. Though parents should be deliberately honored, it’s probably worth rethinking some of the way we talk about Mother’s Day.

In an informal survey of my friends, I quickly discovered Mother’s Day is challenging not just for those who have lost babies (like me) and can’t figure out how to identify themselves, or struggled to become pregnant in the first place. It can be challenging for single women who would love to be married with children, women whose husbands are not open to children, and women who are not honored for their role as adoptive mothers, too. They find these celebrations very hurtful in the places they are already most tender. Fluffy Mother’s Day sentiments crowd  TV commercials, Hallmark displays, and even church. (Sometimes women from the church give testimonies about motherhood, mothers are asked to stand and receive applause or flowers, and sometimes the sermon misguidedly praises motherhood as the most noble spiritual calling for a woman!) I have had bad experiences and I’ve even stayed home from church a few times myself; I’ve been avoiding the card section at the grocery store all month, too. No fun, but I think there’s a solution here:

Let not any eunuch complain,  “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. …These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:3-7

In Jewish law and culture, eunuchs were excluded from fellowship and not allowed to worship in the temple. Obviously, a eunuch can’t reproduce, and this imperfect analogy works for modern baby-wanters who feel like something inside of them has been cut off – whether it’s the function of their bodies, hope of marriage, or ability to receive something good they really wanted – and they also feel isolated from their community on some level.

This command to the childless person is really important: Don’t buy the lie that God isn’t using you to produce life and growth if you don’t have children. I think there is a good lesson that, by extension, it’s important to praise the spiritual fruit of someone’s life even when it isn’t the pitter-patter-of-little-feet-variety, too. (I received a marvelous gift among my Christmas cards this year when a friend quickly commented, “We continue to pray for your family, but we praise God for the fruit and blessing he is producing in your marriage either way!”)

The encouraging news from Isaiah is the promise of a “name better than sons and daughters” for those who hold fast to God’s covenant. We know that name now: Child of God. And since God says it is more valuable to be “Child of God” than “Parent of so-and-so,” we should certainly emphasize this in our conversations about motherhood. From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks: the only way to make your speech reflect this is, parent or not, keep the good thing (raising a child) in second place to the very, very best thing (salvation) in your heart. That’s the key to experiencing the promised “joy in the house of prayer,” too!

I hope these thoughts were uplifting if you’re feeling awkward about Mother’s Day, and inspiring if you have people in your life who could use a little extra love this weekend. If you want to do any further reading, I really like this blessing from “The Messy Middle,” which offers some helpful ways for churches to encourage those along the entire continuum of motherhood in their congregations. Seriously, send it to your pastor – or at least look for a way to encourage someone in your life who fits into one of the categories she mentions! I think Wendy Alsup hits the ball out of the park in “A Mother’s Day for All Women” when she says, “Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of the Christ to the glory of God.” That’s a timely reminder for the “haves” and the “have-nots” this Mother’s Day.

Some poor bird built a nest in my wreath; she spent two days divebombing the front door when I took it down. Mother's Day might be hard for her, too.

Some poor bird built a nest in my front door wreath; she spent two days dive-bombing the house when I took her little creation down. I know how she feels. Mother’s Day might be hard for her, too.

(I don’t think conforming to the image of Christ as a mom means you can’t graciously accept the honor of people who will make you cards, give you flowers, and feed you french toast or take you out to eat. So if you have that option, you should totally take advantage of it and enjoy a day with your loved ones. Really.)