black and pink hearts: sharing the Gospel with my firstborn

I shared the Gospel with my four-year-old son today. It wasn’t the first time, but it felt more complete, more interactive in a way, and it got me thinking about my motives and instincts in telling the old, old story.

Benjamin has always been an inquisitive boy intent on learning everything about a given subject, even before he could speak and would just study the minute facets of every object or mechanism in his sight, but now with his most expansive (and ceaseless) vocabulary, he is a seemingly bottomless pit for knowledge. “Tell me about it!” he says. “Tell me ALL about it! Tell me ALL THE WORDS about it!”

In the van on the way to my friend Beth’s house this morning we were listening to the worship song “Forever Reign” as sung by Shane & Shane (my personal faves). Catching the name “Jesus” in the song, Benjamin asked, “Is this song about when Jesus died?” and I said, “Well, no, this one is more about how much he loves us.” “Tell me about it, Mama! Tell me all about it!”

Okay then. Let’s start at the beginning.

I talked briefly about Creation and then zeroed in on the Fall of Adam and Eve, a story he’s familiar with, striving to use language he understands when getting into abstract topics. It’s one thing to know what happened and quite another to know what it means and how it affects us. When talking about how Eve made the choice to disobey God, I asked him if he ever makes the wrong choice and disobeys even when he knows what the right choice is, and I assured him I do it too. We talked about how Adam and Eve couldn’t stay in the Garden anymore after they had sinned because only perfect people could live there, but they now had sinful hearts and had to be turned away.

I then fast-forwarded to Jesus. I mean, hey, four-year-olds have short attention spans, and this wasn’t a cross-country road trip either. I talked about how everyone has a sinful, yucky heart, how we all make bad choices and treat people wrongly, how we know the right things to do but choose not to do them. We talked about how he fights with his sister, or how I yell instead of speaking kindly. I told him we all have yucky hearts and make bad choices, but Jesus was the only person who ever lived  who never made the wrong choice, whose heart was not full of sin. And I told him about how we deserved to be punished for our sinfulness, but that Jesus took our punishment for us when he died on the cross. He let the people who hated him beat him up and hurt him until he died, but how a few days later he came back to life again so we could live forever with him! I told him that our hearts can be clean again if we believe that Jesus saved us when he did that.

Boom.

Now what?

I realized at this point that my instincts wanted to kick in in spite of myself. See, I was a child of the 80s and a youth of the 90s, decades in which the prevailing theme in evangelism was the “Sinner’s Prayer”. I see a good number of you shuddering along with me, and others putting up their defenses. Let me clarify something before I move forward. Millions of people have been and are being saved with the help of this tool, and I would be a fool to suppose it has no place. However, I also believe it has been so misused and the Gospel done such a disservice in its explanation (with or without the inclusion of the Sinner’s Prayer) that the prayer has often done more harm than good.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago I was a junior high youth leader and was doing a Bible-overview book study with a couple 8th grade girls. On separate occasions when I was one-on-one with each of them they each asked me how they could be saved. The first time I was completely caught off guard and unprepared for the directness of the question. I froze and defaulted to my churchly upbringing, walking her through a form of the Sinner’s Prayer, though taking care to emphasize the focal point of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the means of salvation (which I believe is unforgivably lacking in too many “Gospel” presentations). When the second girl approached me some time later, I was less startled by it and focused more on explaining the means of salvation by faith and, as I said before, the focal point of Christ’s death and resurrection. When she expressed that she understood and believed the message, I rejoiced with her that her salvation was real and final, not emphasizing any further action necessary to “seal the deal”. (I will happily talk to you all day about the place for repentance, obedience, and the like — so please don’t misquote me as stating those are unimportant — I just do not believe they are tied to our salvation. We are not saved to be saved, we are saved to bring God glory and be used to change the world, and repentance and obedience come into play as we move forward in our walks with the Lord. But that is another conversation for another day!)

Back to my 8th graders. One day some time later as I had them both together for our study, it came up in conversation that they had both accepted Jesus, and they were each surprised to hear it from the other. They described their experiences to each other, and then the girl who approached me first, with whom I had “prayed the prayer”, said, “Well, mine was better because I prayed.” Uh-oh. I had to apologize for misleading her and tried to explain that the prayer didn’t save her; Jesus did. I said that the prayer wasn’t necessary, it’s just a way for us to express our faith to God but doesn’t determine whether or not the faith is there.

So I got to this point in my conversation with Benjamin this morning, and I found myself envisioning this day from an overhead view, reminiscing with him years from now about the day he accepted Jesus, telling my Christian friends and family about how I walked him through it, the great joy and accomplishment I would feel in knowing my child had understand and accepted the most important message he would ever hear.

I actually asked him if he wanted to pray and talk to God about it, and he said yes. So I asked him if he wanted to tell God about how he knows he makes bad choices and has sin in his heart, and he did that. He prayed about how he wanted to live forever in Heaven with Jesus. Then I said, “Do you want to talk to God about how you know you can be saved?” Crickets. “Do you want to tell God about how you know you can go to Heaven because Jesus died on the cross for you?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Backing up.

Why push it? I said to him, “That’s okay, buddy. You don’t have to talk about that. Do you want to tell me why you don’t want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Okay, buddy, that’s just fine.”

I realized what a pride issue the “moment of salvation” thing is for me as a parent, and maybe other parents could relate. And not only pride, but also our own self-assurance. We want to know our children are saved, and we want to know it with a concrete experience and a concrete time and date that we can look back on. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel safe.

Does that mean that children his age can’t understand the Gospel, can’t have a clear and definite moment of comprehension and acceptance shared and recognized by their parents, or can’t be saved with the inclusion of a “Sinner’s Prayer”-type experience? Of course not!

I was saved when I was three. I was at church looking at the famous painting of Jesus knocking on a door, and it just clicked. No one (besides God) was involved in that moment. I just got it, and I received it. I actually believed for years that there was a variation on that painting in which the door was designed as a heart, painted pink and heart-shaped, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that that variation doesn’t exist, I had just visualized it that way as a three-year-old in whose mind the concept had just come together. I knew almost nothing, but it was enough. The Gospel is infinitely profound yet profoundly simple.

I want my children to have no doubt about this: their salvation is contingent on the death and resurrection of Jesus, not on anything they could ever do. God forgive me if I ever put it in their minds that his love for them or acceptance of them is hinged on their choices, good or bad. It is firmly hinged on his goodness, his justice and holiness, and his profound and bottomless mercy, all of which have their center on the historical, actual factual event of his death and resurrection. I can no more undo his love for me than I can undo what he did.

I would love to be part of my children’s “Aha!” moments as the reality of this glory settles into their hearts. To be honest, they may not even recognize the moment for what it is when it comes. Despite my heart-shaped-door moment at the age of three, I had several occasions throughout my childhood and youth in which I felt the need to pray for forgiveness and salvation again and again, just in case it didn’t “take”. I didn’t stop this cycle until it sunk in that my salvation was not hinged on my sincerity or even my complete comprehension — my salvation was done, because “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Nothing more is needed. Now we move forward into the life to which he’s called us.

After my conversation with Benjamin he quickly proceeded to get into a fight with Carolyn in the back of the van, and I asked him, “Benjamin, are you making good choices right now?”

“Mama, I’m sorry! Mama, is my heart black now? How do I make my heart pink again?”

“Oh, buddy,” I said. “First of all, when I said our hearts were yucky I didn’t mean they were really black, just that they are full of sin, that we want to make bad choices even when we know better. But I want you to understand that if you believe Jesus saved you when he died on the cross for you, then you never have to worry about your heart being yucky again. He cleans it and saves you forever. Your heart can never be yucky again.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t still make bad choices. It just means that it doesn’t change how he loves us or how he sees our hearts. We can just ask him to teach us to make the right choices, but we can know that no matter what, we are clean, and we will live forever with Jesus because he saved us.”

And that, folks, is the stuff of life. May it never stop being fresher to us than the day before.

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Top 5 Things I Wish Every Woman Knew About Labor

Normally I like to fill this blog with reflections on my journey through faith and motherhood, and while this is still my favorite, I wanted to take a break to get some nitty gritty off my chest. I’ve had several conversations with several mom-friends lately which has reinforced to me how much misinformation is out there and convinced me that so many women would have fewer regrets about their births if they simply were told more about what was normal and what was not. So without further ado:

5things

1. The Natural Alignment Plateau (NAP)

Here’s a phrase you’re probably more familiar with: “failure to progress”. You may have even heard it in the context of your own labor, possibly immediately before you were put on Pitocin to “speed things up” or were whisked off to the operating room. This concept of “failure to progress” is based primarily off of something called the “Friedman’s Curve”, which assigns time limits to laboring moms as they progress, requiring something in the vicinity of 1 cm dilation every two hours for first-time moms or 1 cm every hour for subsequent deliveries. But the Friedman’s Curve was never meant to diagnose “normal” vs. “abnormal” or “safe” vs. “dangerous” — it was meant to illustrate an average. The problem with diagnosing based on an average, however, is that some (most? all?) moms have the audacity to not fit into a mold! What we often see is a normal, easy progression of a centimeter or two every hour, and then suddenly the last three, four, five hours have passed without a budge in dilation, and everyone’s faces get very stern and serious. “It looks like what we’ve got here is a failure to progress,” they say. “If we don’t see some change in the next hour, we’re going to need to talk about our options to get things moving and get this baby out.”

Marjie Hathaway, one of the co-founders of The Bradley Method®, coined the phrase “Natural Alignment Plateau” to illustrate the normalcy of this phenomenon. We don’t know exactly what causes this temporary stall in dilation, though it could be anything from the baby adjusting himself into a better position for birth, the mother having an emotional hurdle to work through before her body can relax and move forward (such as fear of motherhood, conflict with her partner, trauma from a previous birth, etc.), an internal physical process that hasn’t finished yet such as the widening of the pelvis or the breasts preparing for the production of colostrum as soon as baby is born, the baby’s head still molding for a smoother passage through the pelvis, the mother feeling stressed or tense due to her environment or the people around her (see “The Physiological Effects of Mental/Emotional Stress” below) or even just that mom is exhausted and her body is taking a mandatory break to store up energy for the big finish. What we do know, however, is that it is normal and common and nothing to be afraid of. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine reasons to intervene in a labor, but without further evidence of a problem, the “stall” in and of itself may not be reason enough. Often a stall at one dilation for what seems like a long period of time can suddenly end with a huge leap that takes your body all the way up to 10 cm, and wouldn’t you know it, you feel like pushing!
(For more information about the Friedman’s Curve and NAP, click here or enter the following link into your browser: http://allaboutbirth.net/pdfs/Failure-to-progress.pdf)

2. The Emotional Signpost of Transition

“Transition” is the stage of labor that comes at the very end of the dilation stage, right before the body begins pushing the baby out. While every labor is different, transition usually encompasses the period from about 8-10 cm and is characterized by being quick but very intense, physically, emotionally, and mentally. This is the period of labor during which moms might find themselves burping, shivering, throwing off all their clothes in a hot flash, or vomiting. (Side note, at the risk of being gross: throwing up in labor is not such a bad thing when you consider the amount of expulsive power your body produces to vomit. Have you ever had a stomach bug that meant you had to be sitting on the toilet with a bucket in hand to vomit because you weren’t going to be able to help the pushing on the other end? Well, think about that and how it might help move that baby along…just sayin’! ;)) And aside from the physical characteristics of transition, there is the emotional element. While early labor is characterized by excitement and enthusiasm and active labor by seriousness and focus, transition is often accompanied by a sense of apprehension or self-doubt. Particularly in a natural birth, the intensity and frequency of the contractions at this point can feel completely overwhelming, and this, my friends, is the stage of labor in which so many women who dearly wanted a natural birth find themselves giving up and asking for an epidural. I feel for you, my friends, I do, because labor is HARD. I’ve been there and remember it well. I didn’t have either of my babies at a hospital so there was no anesthesiologist waiting in the wings, and let me assure you, this does not make me a rock star any more than accepting an epidural makes you a failure! When I hit transition, both times, I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been in the hospital, but I sure can tell you that I would have been sorely tempted to receive medication. Natural childbirth is many things, many of them glorious, but for most women, “easy” is not one of them! My goal isn’t to tell you how hard labor is, however, but to tell you that for most women who wanted a natural birth but accepted an epidural or IV narcotics after putting in a valiant effort, there is a good chance you were in the home stretch and never even knew it. While it’s much easier said than done, when we reach that place where we feel the panic rising and the sense of “there’s no way I can do this any more”, we should remind ourselves (or, better yet, make sure your partner and birth team are poised and ready to deliver the encouragement!) that the self-doubt doesn’t mean you can’t go on, it means you’re almost there!

3. The “40 Weeks” Myth

The delightful Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, recently gave birth to the heir to the throne of England, but what caused arguably almost as much of a stir as the royal significance was the fact that she had a natural birth…and at 41 weeks! *gasp!* (Okay, I’ll admit it. I am a total Kate Middleton fan. She is amazing.) Classically, “full-term” has been deemed 40 weeks, though some caregivers will allow a pregnancy to go as long as 42 weeks, though this is far more rare than I’d like to acknowledge. All too often the estimated due date is viewed as an expiration date.

What many people may find surprising, however, is that the 40-week gestation measure was established in the 1800s, whereas studies done in the 1990s determined that the average length of pregnancy falls at 41 weeks and 1 day. That’s right, folks. At 40 weeks, you are still early. Yet despite this new research, every day women are being told that once they have passed their 40-week due date, they are “overdue”, that the baby “doesn’t want to come out”. Bottom line, they’re being told they’re broken, and that only our doctors can save us from ourselves.

Let me be clear: there is such a thing as an overdue baby. But actual symptoms of post-maturity happen so much more infrequently than we’re led to believe, and often when labor is induced or baby is delivered by c-section at or near the 40-week mark, a baby is born not with signs of post-maturity but instead with signs of prematurity! Due dates can be wrong, and not all babies need the same amount of time. Simply being past your due date does NOT mean your baby is necessarily post-mature. There are a number of non-invasive tests that can be administered to determine if the baby is in any danger or if he’s simply just not quite ready yet. If your doctor wants to hand your baby an eviction notice based solely on the calendar, consider asking what your options are, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

4. The Physiological Effects of Mental/Emotional Stress

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a huge fan of out-of-hospital birth, specifically for low-risk moms who don’t want to be in the hospital. One of the primary reasons for this is that feeling safe, comfortable, and trusted during labor and birth are not just happy things to have in a perfect world — they actually have a real effect on the safety of your baby’s birth. Tension not only causes greater pain in labor, but it produces adrenaline, which can slow or stop labor. This is a clever built-in feature harkening back to times past or more primitive civilizations where the threat of attack was very real and could happen at any time, even in the midst of labor. Other mammals share this quality for the same reasons. If a laboring mother of any mammal species feels threatened or unsafe in her environment, her labor pauses to give her the chance to flee to a safer location where labor can resume. The problem is that even though in modern society few women will encounter surprise attacks in the middle of labor, those same fight-or-flight hormones can be triggered by feelings of tension or fear due to your environment, the people around you, or your feelings about labor, delivery, or parenthood.

One thing I try to make clear when I talk about my advocacy for home birth is that I genuinely don’t believe it’s the best choice for everyone, even among low-risk women, because what’s arguably more important than the location is the environment. If you don’t feel safe, your body will not respond the way it was made to. Some women (like myself) don’t like hospitals and have difficulty relaxing in them, and as I’ve said, this has a real, physiological effect on the way labor will progress, both from a experiential standpoint as well as a safety standpoint, and this is one factor in evaluating the safety of home birthing (which is not to mention risk of infection, the pressure for unnecessary interventions, etc, but that is another post altogether). However, many women, particularly in America, feel much safer in a hospital, and if that’s the case they should be where they feel safest. What’s the point of having a planned home birth if you feel panicked about your baby’s safety in that environment? Wherever you feel safest, it’s also key to have a support team that supports your process and decisions, that loves you and believes in you, and that will stand up for you and your baby. Hiring a doula is a great way to encourage this atmosphere and is associated with better outcomes, fewer requests for pain medication, shorter labors, fewer cesareans, and happier mamas!

Bottom line, tension can lead to stalled labor which can lead to medical augmentation or an unnecessary cesarean due to failure to progress (as we discussed earlier), leading to the greater safety risks associated with augmentation and cesarean section. Tension can also lead to greater pain which can lead to requests for pain medication even among women who wanted a natural birth, which leads me to my last point:

5. Pain Medication Actually Does Put You and Your Baby in Greater Danger

There are real, actual, statistical risks associated with the use of pain medication, including epidural anesthesia. I want to be clear that I believe strongly in personal freedom and a woman’s right to have the birth she wants, whether that’s an ultra-crunchy unassisted lotus birth in a meadow or an ultra-medical super-modern designer planned c-section with a tummy tuck finish, or the whole gamut in between that encompasses the vast majority of us. But let’s not be ignorant about the fact that just because something is common does not mean it is harmless. It constantly amazes me how many people argue for the use of epidurals based on ideas like “What’s the point of having modern medicine if we don’t take advantage of it?”, “My mom/sister/best friend/etc. had an epidural and everything was just fine,” “I’m a total baby about pain so there’s no way I’d want to go through that!” or “You must be some kind of rock star to want a natural birth!” As I’ve already stated, I am not a rock star for wanting a natural birth — I’m pretty much just a big baby who hates hospitals and doesn’t want the temptation of pain medication dangling like a carrot in front of me. Plus my midwife is the best thing since sliced bread, and I didn’t want strangers looking at my lady bits. And also it’s crazy safe. Did I mention home birth is super safe?

That said, let’s talk about pain medication used in labor. (Note: this will be a very brief and basic overview. There are many more thorough studies out there on each individual drug and its risks to mom and baby, but I’m willing to bet this post has already gotten way too long for the average reader as it is!) All medications have potential side effects, and while the placenta was once considered a reliable barrier between the mother’s blood stream and the baby’s, it is now known that this is not the case; the baby will receive some of any medication his mother receives. This fact alone carries a wealth of implications, and the wise consumer should take these into account with a great amount of gravity. (Does it not give us pause to consider that with all the warnings about any drug use during pregnancy, even drugs as common as over-the-counter pain relievers and cold medications, the whole thing goes out the window the moment labor begins? Is the baby not still connected to the same placenta via the same umbilical cord and have the same fragile little developing body?) Among the more common side effects on both mother and baby is the fact that these drugs dull the senses, which has its benefits, i.e. dulling the pain, as well as its risks, which include restricting the mother’s ability to respond to her body in the way of movement and position changes which could be a crucial element in the baby’s ability to position himself for birth. The dulling effect also carries into the post-birth introduction period, where medicated babies are statistically shown to be more sluggish and sleepy immediately following birth, restricting the initial bonding period that is so crucial as well as the first breastfeeding session, which can determine the tone of the entire breastfeeding relationship. For a list of reported side effects of epidural anesthesia, click here.

I love motherhood and the process by which it begins (for most women — adoption and parenthood via marriage are awesome too :)), and I mean not to shame anyone, only to inform. And also, for the record, I am not a medical professional and do not intend this post to replace medical advice or treatment, only to enhance the mother’s experience and fuel her fire to educate herself on her body’s natural process. May your motherhood journey be safe and fulfilling, whatever your route.

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  

the earthly position

This floored me today: “When the Lord Jesus’ love is before you, you find this love is drawing you from darkness to light. He begins by showing His desire for your spiritual advancement, and not by advancing you in earthly position.” (from None but the Hungry Heart by Miles Stanford)

I guess I would have read this really differently a year or two ago, thinking that “earthly position” doesn’t really apply to my personal aspirations and struggles, so this really applies better to people who are trying to climb the corporate ladder or be the queen of the upscale suburban soccer moms. That’s not really me.

But I’m suddenly reading everything through different goggles as I realize how universally we can apply the same truths to our myriad downfalls. We have different appetites, different would-be conquerors, but they are all rooted in the same brokenness and pride and healed by the same God of the Empty Cross and Empty Tomb.

The “thorn in my flesh”, as it were, is my inharmonious relationship with my body. I can’t just say my weight because I am learning more and more how much more deeply it goes than that, how my weight is just a side effect of a larger issue. The issue is that my drug of choice is food and physical comfort. If I am stressed, bored, celebrating, or socializing, I eat. I eat when I’m not hungry. I eat when I’ve had plenty, because my mind and soul are unsatisfied even when my stomach is full. Adding to the problem, I hate to exercise. Hate. And I find it disconcerting that the God-given use of my body – movement – would be such a chore to me. I watch my kids wiggle and run like little monkeys everywhere they go and wonder when I lost that enthusiasm for exploring the limits of my physical ability.

And this journey I’m on is taking me to profound new places, applying age-old truths to areas I never realized they could be applied. (How short-sighted of me!) It’s only after coming to the end of your ability to change the weakest part of yourself that you can start to see what’s been staring you in the face all along: Jesus Is Best. No self-medication – whether by chocolate or cheeseburgers, thunderous applause, vodka, cocaine, promotions or raises, Facebook likes or Twitter retweets, argument wins, novel-worthy love stories or sex lives, or the genuine respect of your peers – nothing will ever last, nothing will feed the hunger but Jesus. And when Jesus really, truly does satisfy our deepest, most secret (even to ourselves) hungers, everything else will lose its flavor. We’ll realize we were eating sawdust all along while He spread a banquet in front of us.

The “earthly position” I’ve been pining for but been powerless to achieve is to be thin, to be at peace with my body, to love what I see in the mirror. And as I read the above passage from Miles Stanford’s devotional this morning, I had a revelation: it doesn’t matter if I’m never thin. It doesn’t matter if anything I ever strive for on earth is ever achieved. Many things will be, but none of them will really matter, not as far as my soul is concerned. What will matter is if Jesus is the one thing that really satisfied me. Other things will bring me happiness and joy, but Jesus must be my Sustenance, my Source. If I fall back on anything else when the hunger comes on me, if there is anything or anyone else in my life that I cannot say “no” to, then Jesus is still not the King of my heart. And when He is, my life will reflect that effortlessly.

The good news is, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)! We are in process, and God does not condemn the process. He knows that we are dust, and He revels in our baby steps. Two days ago I read the following in Stanford’s devotional and was encouraged. I hope it does the same for you!

“In this stage of spiritual development there are continual discoveries of the old man which make that old self more and more repulsive, and there is also the presentation of the Lord Jesus again and again in which the soul finds increasing delight. Growth! ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’
“This repulsion and attraction go on together until the soul accepts with God the reality of the incorrigible badness of the old man. This fact prepares one to see that the death of the Lord Jesus severed us from the old man, and that the Lord Jesus is now our Christian life. We are free, by the finished work of the Cross, from the dominion of the man who is now so repugnant to us, and we discover with untold delight that the One who so attracted our hearts is our very life.”

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

the measure of a mom

I had a conversation yesterday with a fellow mom-friend about the pressure we put on ourselves to take enough pictures of our kids. Facebook, being a breeding ground for comparison, can make a mom feel like the only parent out there who isn’t documenting every fun outing, every tiny milestone, every moment we cling to now in the knowledge that one day this will all be a blur. We feel a desperation to not lose a second, a fear that we’ll forget this day, this cute mispronunciation, this silly habit that will one day be gone for good. And let’s not even get into the fact that my almost-three-year-old son’s baby book is incomplete, and my 16-1/2-month-old daughter’s baby book…wait a minute…oh yeah…she doesn’t have one. Whoops!

And while I’m playing the comparison game and letting that ever-present mama guilt wash over me: my kids watch WAY too much TV and would eat chicken nuggets and fries every night of the week if I let them. Nine times out of ten I have to sneak veggies into their food if they’re going to ingest any at all. I don’t buy organic, local produce, I don’t buy free-range chickens and eggs and grass-fed organic beef. I hardly ever do more than a cursory surface cleaning of my house. I lose my patience and yell. I have been known to let my kids go a little nuts in a public place when I’m at a loss as to how to handle it in a way that won’t just make things worse. You know. All those things you SWEAR you’ll never do when you’re the flawless parent of not-yet-born children.

This morning I was driving around with my kids in the 90° heat running errands, part of which included driving a half an hour out of my way because of a misunderstanding. And these children, I don’t know if there was body-swapping involved, but they were sweet as pies. No whining, no fighting, no rambunctiousness in stores, unprompted “please” and “thank you”s from my preschooler, just all around lovely behavior. I just wanted to hug them forever and tell them how proud I was of them, and while those recognitions are great and should absolutely be done, I also remembered the most important thing: this is a great opportunity to give glory to God and remind them of the Gospel. This is not a time to simply tell them they behaved wonderfully and that I am so proud of them and to stop at that, but to involve them in praising God that He gives us the strength to make right choices and treat each other well, and that even when we have our rougher days, He gave His life to assure us that we are not lost in our failures.

I could spend all day thinking of all the ways I fail as a mom, a wife, and a person. I could list the things I’m doing right, but what would be the point? The point was never to put my successes and failures on a scale, and my children’s eternities will never be determined by how perfectly my children were fed, educated, or trained. I’m called to be a faithful steward of the little lives under my care, and if I didn’t take that seriously I wouldn’t be bothering to feel guilty about my failures in the first place, so don’t misunderstand me. These things matter, but they don’t matter MOST.

I have a potent memory of my dad intently telling me that when I die and stand before God and He asks me why I should be allowed into Heaven, I needed to tell Him that it’s because Jesus took my place and bought my entrance with His blood.  I remember worrying that I wouldn’t remember how to say it right. (I’m guessing he was feeling a moment of panic that I would die before understanding the Gospel fully, though I know he understood that I couldn’t enter Heaven on a script.)

But years later the reality of what my dad was trying to tell me is a part of my soul. It’s not like cramming for a test anymore. I know my place in Heaven is secure because I know Jesus’ death and resurrection were accepted by God, so my morality, faithfulness, and ability to remember the right words are irrelevant. Jesus will still have died, come back to life, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father, and nothing on my end can change that. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (II Timothy 2:13)

Bottom line, someday my children will stand before God, as individual souls without their parents to hold their hands and vouch for them or give them the right words. In that moment, it won’t matter how well they ate, how much TV they watched, whether they were cloth-diapered, breast-fed, or home-schooled. It won’t matter if they threw tantrums in the grocery store or pushed their friends in Sunday school. It won’t matter if they had a Facebook album of their first camping trip. It will only matter that in the deepest part of their hearts, they know they are free because Jesus made them free. That they can stand before the Throne with ear-to-ear grins because of the depth of gratefulness in their hearts that they are WELCOME.

Even without a full baby book. :)

Published in: on July 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

the slow path

This is Bradan.

Bradan

Bradan’s parents were in the same birth class as us when they were pregnant with him and we with Benjamin.

Three days ago Bradan died of a rare form of cancer.

Every time I look at my son since I found out about Bradan’s diagnosis, and especially since he passed away, I can’t help but feel lost in gratefulness, wanting to memorize his every facial feature, his every word, knowing Bradan’s parents can never do this again. I want to hold on to my babies and never let go, to tell them over and over how loved they are, how thankful I am that God gave them to us, that they are healthy and strong, that they are safe.

As a mother, how do you come back from the loss of a child? I know parents learn to move forward, to breathe and eat and sleep and smile again, but it’s hard for me to imagine. How do you function? How do you speak to anyone without sobbing?

And this, with hope. This, despite: O death, where is your sting? Despite: Death has been swallowed up in victory! Death hurts, even when we have the hope of eternity. The space of time between now and when Bradan and his parents are reunited is infinitely smaller than the vast expanse of forever that they will spend with him after that glorious day, but even in spite of that truth, the pain and the days feel so long, and to look forward at the slow path of waiting must be suffocating.

What must the pain look like without the hope of eternity? Immeasurable. If the slow path of waiting is suffocating, what would the end feel like? What is life without hope?

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'” (Revelation 21:1-4 NIV)

Enjoy Jesus for us, sweet little Bradan, as we trudge along the slow path. We will see you soon!

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 8:50 pm  Comments (2)  

our great privilege

Clearly having two kids has chased me from the blogging world for a while! From time to time I sit down in front of my computer with a head full of things to write about but can’t seem to find a way to express them eloquently, and the moment passes. A dear friend of mine is working through an incredible personal journey right now and has thus jump-started her blogging initiative (you can find her blog here), and she’s been encouraging me to give this blogging thing another shot.

So this is me, giving it a shot!

Beautiful Carolyn, snoozin’ on her mama

It’s amazing the small things that click. I’m walking through the house the other night and realize there’s something bulky in my pocket, and out I pull a baby sock. And it hits me how blessed I am that I casually find a baby sock in my pocket, and my heart is full. Something so mundane, and how many people would kill for the chance to have to keep track of baby socks?

May I never take for granted the great joy and privilege that it is to spend my days folding tiny laundry, wiping tiny faces and fingers, singing tiny songs of ABCs and Old MacDonald (who, for the record, has a robot on his farm, “with a ‘beep beep’ here and a ‘boop boop’ there”), having my hair pulled by tiny hands, joining with the laughter and enduring the tantrums that stream from tiny mouths, serving tiny meals and changing tiny diapers, knowing that these tiny things combine to create what is arguably the most enormous of earthly callings. We are the first voices of purpose and truth in these tiny people’s lives. Whether they embrace or reject the messages we communicate to them is not something we can guarantee or predict, but regardless, what we speak and how we speak to our children will affect them for life, and it is a great responsibility to make sure we speak to them with kindness, truth, and wisdom, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Benjamin, my big boy!

As I’ve been thinking lately about in which ways I do and do not want to communicate the character of God to my children, I’ve become convinced of how important it is that we don’t communicate to them that their behavior dictates God’s feelings about them. I want thoughts of God to become as natural as eating and breathing to them, that they see His hand in everything around them, but never in the context of guilt and condemnation. If we’re doing our job as parents, our children will become keenly aware of their sin and need for salvation simply by virtue of their struggle with making right choices, as we guide their awareness that even though the natural consequences of poor judgment speak loudly of the benefits of wisdom and kind actions, we still wrestle to make those right choices, even if we genuinely want to do the right thing. (Romans 7:14-20This is as true for children as it is for us seasoned sinners. I could try and motivate my kids to good choices by telling them God wants them to be kind and obey, but we know that and we don’t do it either, at least not often enough. As followers of Christ, we know better than to think we should make good choices because God will be disappointed in us if we don’t. We do it because: a) we love Him and want to please Him, and b) we know from experience the benefits of making wise choices (and, conversely, the grief we naturally bring ourselves and others when we choose poorly). Even if my kids don’t have the relationship with God yet to motivate them to obey Him out of love, we can pray that will come in time, and we can orchestrate natural consequences to motivate them in the meantime. It might mean that they are making good choices with selfish motives for a while (i.e. if I am generous with my toys then my friends will be more inclined to be generous with theirs, or if I choose not to hit my friends then they will be more interested in playing with me), but let’s be realistic: kids are selfish and are motivated by personal gain just like we are. Just like me, they need redemption. They need the Holy Spirit to produce good works in their lives, and if I think the condemnation of the Law will produce fruit in them any more than it does in me, well, I might need to reevaluate whether I think my children are some different breed of human than I am. Consequences will help keep our children from making certain mistakes, and that’s healthy, but rules and consequences will never produce true righteousness.

What I know is this: in my life, the only thing that makes a difference is that Jesus lived a perfect life, died a humiliating, criminal’s death, broke all the rules by rising from the dead, and returned to Heaven to stand and speak on my behalf with His own perfect record as my defense. As if it were me who lived without fault. As if it were me who paid the ultimate penalty this wretchedness of mine deserved. As if it were me who shook off the old life and rose into a body that could know nothing but life and victory. And if I know that, I also know that this is the only thing that will make any difference in the lives of my children either. What a privilege to speak this glory to them, a glory profound enough to wrack the brains of scholars yet simple enough for toddlers. What a joy to shed the condemnation and shame of Law and instead to live before our children the Cross and the Empty Tomb, to extend such a rich grace to them as we have received in Christ, and to never fear that grace will produce sin in our children’s lives (Romans 6:15-18), because even when it goes against everything that makes sense to us, God’s way has always been and will always be better. We can trust the Gospel to be greater than the Law. We really can. We really can.

Published in: on April 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm  Comments (2)  

our happy home birth story

And baby makes four! We welcomed our new baby into the world early last week, and the following is a detailed account of the birth, if you’re into that kind of thing. ;) Enjoy!

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I had been having timeable Braxton-Hicks contractions on and off for about two weeks, so when I woke up just after 4:00am on Monday, February 27th, feeling crampy, I tried not to get too excited about it. It was true, though, that these cramps felt very different than the contractions I’d been having. I lied in bed trying to pay attention to what my body was doing, and when John woke up shortly before 5:00, I let him know there was a chance he wouldn’t be going to work that day. My contractions were lasting about a minute and were around five minutes apart, but shortly after calling my midwife, Pam, they seemed to get a bit weaker and shorter. I spent the next couple hours bouncing on the birth ball and occasionally using a breast pump to try to keep things moving.

John stayed home from work just in case things were going to pick up suddenly, so I wouldn’t be stuck trying to take care of Benjamin and having strong contractions without help. Nothing changed much over the course of the morning, and Pam came to see me around noon. She checked my cervix and I was only about 2-3 centimeters dilated. I wanted her to consider sweeping the membranes to help things get moving, and she thought about it for a while and decided she was okay with it if I was sure it was what I wanted. She added some evening primrose oil to my cervix and gave me a sweep, and my contractions began to feel different right away. They were still mild, but noticeably stronger than before. Sometime mid-afternoon they began to get strong enough that I needed to focus and breathe through them, and I used the opportunity to build a habit of deep, focused breathing and relaxation whenever I felt a contraction beginning. I kept Pam posted throughout the afternoon, and she came back to our house at about 10:00pm. The three of us talked and settled in, and Pam watched and encouraged me through some contractions as she observed how I was focusing.

John called my mom and my friend, Charise, who was going to be taking pictures for us, and they headed over. At around 11:00 or so my contractions were really beginning to get uncomfortable. John put on some worship music I had chosen earlier, and I sang or whispered along with the lyrics in between contractions.  I was sitting on the living room floor with Pam gently rubbing my back and telling me how well I was doing, while John sat in front of me and massaged my thighs which were beginning to ache. I started to shiver like crazy as if I were freezing cold, though I didn’t feel cold, and Pam said it was from the hormones. I wanted to get in the birth tub to see if it would help the discomfort, and the water felt very nice. I knelt in the water and leaned on the edge of the tub, and John sat in front of me outside the tub, rubbing my arms and encouraging me during contractions. Everyone was showing up, including the other midwives, Jan and Valerie, and they all went about their business quietly and respectfully so they wouldn’t interrupt our focus.

As the contractions continued to intensify, I paid close attention to my body and was noticing how things were beginning to feel different between this labor and my labor with Benjamin nineteen months earlier. It seemed to help that the progression from mild to intense was moving more gradually and steadily, which helped me feel more in control of how I coped with the contractions. I had an easier time keeping my voice low-pitched and my energy moving downward rather than tight and high, and I didn’t feel as much like the contractions were overwhelming and defeating me, even as they began to get very strong and painful. I was able to whisper with John in between contractions, even joking with him from time to time, or letting him know that I needed a drink of water or a different kind of touch or help. I had been hoping to have a water birth this time, and so far the tub was continuing to be comfortable for me, even as I felt my body begin to transition from dilation to the beginning of pushing, so I was encouraged that I might be able to stay in the tub until the end.

Another difference between this labor and Benjamin’s was that thinking about and talking to my baby were encouraging to me, whereas when I was having Benjamin, I wasn’t in the state of mind to think about the end result, only to try to survive each moment. After my body had been beginning to push for a bit, Pam encouraged me to reach in and feel the baby’s head. It was still fairly high up, but it was within reach, and I smiled and said hello to my baby as I touched its head for the first time. My waters hadn’t broken yet, but the head was still easy to feel through the bag. A while later after a handful more pushing contractions, I reached in to feel the head further down, but it didn’t feel any further. I tried not to let this discourage me and instead kept focusing on handling the contractions productively.

As Pam explained to me later, when she reached in to feel my progress at this point, she noticed that the baby’s head had moved further up, not down. Her first thought was that the baby was stuck, but when she tried to feel around the head to see if it felt wedged, she noticed that it moved easily beneath her fingers. At my last prenatal visit, Pam had told me that I had what was called a pendulous uterus, which meant that my uterus (and thus the baby) was sagging over the top of the pubic bone. This condition was apparently what was holding up my labor as well – the baby was slouching over the top of the bone and couldn’t keep moving down into my pelvis because of the angle. Pam wanted me to get out of the tub so we could try moving around and getting into different positions to try to help baby get into position. I sat on the toilet for a while with Pam and John both crammed into our tiny bathroom in front of me, Pam kneeling down and pushing up my belly during the contractions while John supported my arms by holding my elbows while I pulled down on him. We spent a few contractions moving around the hallway, standing in the doorframe while I leaned against John, and then we moved to the bed where I lied on my left side.

A third difference in this labor was that it wasn’t the strong pushing surges that felt so uncomfortable to me. During Benjamin’s labor, I had hated the feeling of my entire body forcing the baby out whether I was ready or not. It felt terrifying and uncontrollable to me. But this time, I finally understood the experience that other women have described in which the pushing sensations feel somehow positive and productive. When each contraction reached its peak and my body pushed strongly, it felt almost like a relief to the buildup of energy from the contraction. The part that I hated about this stage, though, was the horrible ache of my pelvis as I literally felt my bones spreading apart to try to let the baby through. If it hadn’t have been for that ache, I may have really enjoyed the whole pushing stage, aside from the apprehension we were feeling about getting the baby to keep moving down, which was still not happening.

As I lied on my left side with John lying beside me holding my hand, Pam told me that she was going to need me to spend a few contractions in a few different positions as we tried to help the baby move up and over the pubic bone and down into the pelvis. She warned me that it was going to hurt really badly, because changing positions typically can be very uncomfortable as your body adjusts to the new position, but that it needed to be done. First she wanted me to get on my knees and elbows into a “knee-chest” position, and as I turned over I said I was scared. I was afraid of the pain being even more intense than it already was, but I knew that we were running out of options and I wanted this baby out. The pain was terrible, but the space in between contractions suddenly stretched out very long, which was a wonderful, welcome break. Pam said that the long breaks were an indicator that the baby was using the new angles as an opportunity to move into a better position, and I was encouraged to hear that it looked like progress. After spending three or four contractions like this, Pam had me flip over to lie flat on my back, which she warned me might be the most painful position of all, but that it would help the baby move back away from the pubic bone so it could start heading downward again. She had me pull my knees up toward my chest during contractions, and it felt funny to me to be in the typical American birthing posture when just about everything else we were doing was so contrary to the norm in our culture! Surprisingly, and thankfully, this position actually hurt slightly less than what I had been doing previously, and Pam said that this confirmed that baby was moving into position and my body wasn’t having to work against itself anymore. Being on my back, however, was causing the baby’s heart rate to drop, so after a few contractions I was angled slightly on my left side again, with my belly supported by a pillow, and the heart rate came right back up to where it belonged.

Sometime around this point I overheard Pam making a comment to one of the other midwives that I wasn’t actively pushing, and when I heard her say this, something clicked in my head. During Benjamin’s labor, the involuntary pushing of my body was more than I could handle, and participating with or adding to the pushing was never really something I considered, nor was it necessary at the time. I had gone into this labor expecting something similar, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I could (or even should) add to the already strong pushing my body was doing on its own. But when Pam’s comment made me realize that this was an option, it occurred to me that I might be able to get this baby out faster if I give it all I’ve got rather than just letting it happen as it happens. (There is a time to let things go more slowly if it prevents tearing, but I was at a point by now where I didn’t care if I tore as long as I could get this labor over with and the baby out!) When the next contraction came, I PUSHED! This was when my water finally broke, and immediately things started happening.

(When Pam and I talked later, she told me that it was a blessing that it didn’t occur to me to add to the pushing before this point. Because my waters remained intact throughout most of the labor, particularly through the end while I was changing positions and helping the baby move up and over the pubic bone, the intact bag allowed enough cushion and room for that movement to occur. If my waters had broken earlier, either by my pushing harder or by someone artificially rupturing the membranes to try to speed labor along, the baby likely would have become truly stuck and I may have had to be transferred to the hospital for a c-section. I am convinced that without Pam’s wisdom in troubleshooting the problem, encouraging me to strategically change positions, and her patience in allowing the membranes to remain intact as long as possible, I almost surely would not have had a vaginal birth!)

Everyone was filing into our small bedroom now because I was nearing the end. I was squeezing the life out of John’s hand because the baby was beginning to crown and it hurt like crazy, but I was pushing through it with everything I had because I wanted that baby out! There was a lot of activity, and I could feel that my pushes were finally being productive and the baby was moving down. Pam had told the other midwives that I had wanted to go back to the tub for the birth and asked me if I still wanted to do this, but I was so anxious for it to be over that I said I wanted to be wherever was going to help me bring the baby out fastest, and if that meant staying put then that was fine! When the baby’s head started to come out, John was called to come to the end of the bed so he could catch the baby, and my mom took his place by my head so I had a hand to squeeze. I was pushing with everything I could and waiting for that sudden feeling of relief when the head is out and the worst is over, and then suddenly, there it was! The stretching feeling wasn’t gone completely, though, and I pushed hard to finish the job, and there it was again — the relief and that slithering feeling as my baby slipped out of my body into John’s hands. I couldn’t see past my belly to see the baby, but I was listening to all the chatter and commotion and waiting to hear the news — boy or girl?? John looked and said with surprise, “It’s a girl!” (He had felt like it was going to be a boy, and I had mostly convinced myself of the same because I wanted a girl so badly and wanted to be prepared for another boy!) I didn’t fully believe it, and then my mom leaned over to me crying and said, “Honey, you had a little girl!” I still didn’t believe it! They placed my baby on my lap, and I moved the cord away and cried when I saw it for myself — my sweet little girl that I had prayed for!

We named her Carolyn Paige —  Carolyn after John’s mother, Carol, and Paige after my maiden name. She was born at 3:07am on February 28th, weighing 9 lbs. 4 oz., and 20 inches long. She is unbelievable, sweet and snuggly, very content, and her big brother adores her already. Benjamin wasn’t sure about her for the first day or two, but now he is constantly coming to see her and exclaiming “baby!”, and giving her sweet kisses on the head. We are so overjoyed to have welcomed this new little one into our family! She completes us in a way we didn’t even know we needed to be completed. I can barely wait to get to know her better as she grows into the beautiful, unique personality that God created her to be!

Published in: on March 5, 2012 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  

the life ahead

As of today, I am 33 weeks pregnant with baby #2. Within a month I’ll be in “full term” territory, though “full term” is five weeks long, so there’s no telling when the little one will make his or her appearance. But the point remains: we’re in the home stretch. The reality of this baby’s imminent birth is coming into focus, and I’ve been finding myself sorting through an unexpected range of emotions as the day nears. So in the interest of transparency, you get the gory details.

My anxiousness began as I started thinking more and more about facing the labor itself. After Benjamin was born, people would ask me how the birth had gone, and I would give vague, positive reports. But the whole time I found myself thinking, “This is a lie! It didn’t go great! It was TERRIBLE!” All I could remember was that mind-numbing, body-ripping pain, though graciously as the sharpness of that aspect of my memory began to fade, I was able to remember the beautiful things about his birth — the support and love I felt from the people there to carry me through it, the serenity and safety of the environment at the birth center, the blessing that nothing major went wrong and that I was able to experience an out-of-hospital birth without fear.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that Benjamin has been worth every moment a million times over, I can’t shake the anxiousness about facing it again. Statistically speaking, subsequent labors tend to be faster and somewhat easier, but I have no guarantees other than the fact that this baby is coming out one way or another, and I can’t stay pregnant forever.

For a while I was attributing all my anxiety to this fear of labor, but soon it became clear that something more was going on. I was having a hard time bonding with the baby, and even the thought of having my newborn here, safe and sound with the birth behind me, was not comforting to me. And I hated feeling that way. I hated that I didn’t feel as excited to meet this baby as I did when I was expecting Benjamin. But why not? What was holding me back?

Bottom line, I love my life. As is. It was an adjustment at first, and obviously it continues to be as Benjamin enters new stages and we face new challenges for the first time. But the three of us, we’re happy. We’re a little family, we have a system and a routine, we have so much love and so much laughter. And then there are the constant reminders from the well-meaning peanut gallery of those-gone-before: “You’re going to have your hands full!” “Two under two! Wow, you’re brave!” “It’ll be fun when they’re older and can play together, but it’s going to be exhausting in the beginning!” Part of me starts to feel like I’ve messed it all up, that even though I never wanted an only child, things are really great this way, and maybe we shouldn’t have meddled with it. I realized that I had begun to see this new baby as an intruder.

I should have realized sooner that all the rationalizing and self-motivating in the world was not going to set me free from my fears, so on New Years Eve I went to bed praying for love for this child. Praying for an eagerness to meet him or her, like I had with my sweet boy, for a fearlessness as we step forward into the unknown of a new labor and birth and a family one soul larger than before.

And wouldn’t you know it? I woke up New Years Day feeling 100% different, and almost halfway through January I’m still yet to feel that anxiety again; at least, nothing like it was. It will be an adjustment, yes. And birth is hard, yes. But just like we’ve developed a “normal” here with the three of us, we will find a new “normal” with four. And while it’s hard to imagine loving another child as much as we love our Benjamin, I have no doubt we will, and we won’t be able to imagine life without him or her.

We’re planning a home birth this time, and I’m finally beginning to get excited about it. Now that I can accept that the time is coming soon, I’m beginning to enjoy preparing — prepping for birth, getting baby things in order, brainstorming freezer meals for postpartum, and doing exercises that will help the baby get into the optimal position for a quicker, easier labor, not to mention getting my own body ready for the feat. It’s much more motivating to prepare when you’re not so afraid of what’s ahead, that’s for sure.

As labor begins, what I want to do differently is spend deliberate time in prayer and worship. I think staying home will help me feel I can focus on the process more rather than worrying about packing and timing our departure like last time. It’s as true about labor and birth as it is about everything in life: without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re without hope. He faced the Cross with purpose, not relishing the pain and suffering but submitting willfully because of the joy that was ahead, the hope of victory and freedom He was preparing for us. Without His submission to the Cross and the victory He won by His Resurrection, I would have no hope of victory over my own fear, doubt, and pain. What is grace if not all-encompassing??

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

Published in: on January 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm  Comments (2)  

rejection

Lately I’m processing the reality of people thinking poorly of me. It’s coming at me in a variety of forms: severed friendships with vague, if any, explanation; people goading and attacking me for my views on any given issue; former friends who reject the opportunity to reconnect, obviously still wounded by the original split; and others too, though those less fresh and painful at the moment but every bit as real. Even though each situation I’m looking at is so different, I’m finding that the fact that so many are surfacing at once is forcing me to do some real soul-searching. Is it me? Them? Both?

The temptation is to make myself a martyr in my own eyes, to assess that I’m being persecuted for standing up for the truth. While it is true that one could potentially find elements of this in each relationship, I know I need to be careful not to pacify myself with this and absolve myself of the need to search deeper, to stand humbly before the Lord and pray with David: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) It would be irresponsible of me to shrug off these various forms of rejection and wash my hands of any personal responsibility, even if it would be so much easier.

There are friendships that haven’t really functioned in many years, but once the severing is official, I can barely keep myself from calling them up, hurt and demanding an explanation, when it didn’t trouble me to let communication fall by the wayside all those years. What is it that fuels this insatiable need to be liked?

This is me: I am loud, outspoken, and blunt. I all too often neglect to think before I speak, and I say things out of emotion and reaction rather than stopping to check with the Spirit and speak with objectivity and prudence. It’s too easy to justify our words because they are often true, when just being true does not always make it wise or appropriate to shout from the rooftops. In my pride I want to believe that those who reject me are not seeing the truth of the situation. I want to be accepted. (Don’t we all?) I can’t deny that I want to be embraced by everyone, to be applauded for my thoughts no matter how I share them, to be respected and thought well of.  It’s at best unrealistic and at worst narcissistic, but it’s the truth. I want to stand at a podium and rattle on for hours about my views on everything I care about, and I want a standing ovation when I’m finished.

Ridiculousness aside, this doesn’t answer the question of where their flaws end and mine begin. And if I can determine what fault is my own, then what? Do I apologize? What if my apologies are rejected, ignored, or mocked? And if the relationship has proven itself to be harmful and toxic as it is, is there benefit to even asking the question? When is the time to let things go? To let people think poorly of me even when it is my fault and to still let them walk away, my name a scarred ruin in their minds?

The thought occurs to me as I write this. Maybe I have to let the pieces fall where they will, for better or for worse, and just ask the Lord to change me for the future. To show me my offensive ways and to lead me in the way everlasting. If others are flawed, I can’t change them. And while I can’t change my flaws either, I just so happen to have the same power in me that raised God from the dead (Eph 1:19-20), and there is nothing too broken and ruined for a power like that to fix. I need only ask, trust, and receive. In the meantime, I’m asking Him to shut me up. ;)

Published in: on December 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

how the Gospel freed me (again!)

So it’s officially going on a million years since I’ve posted anything here. Not that I have a great surge of followers waiting with bated breath for an update. ;) I’ve been processing quite a bit lately, though, and thought it would be a good time to write!

Since I’m thinking I haven’t mentioned it yet, baby #2 is on the way! I’m 20 weeks along as of yesterday, the so-called halfway point, and I find that the further I get, the less nervous and more excited I become about having another newborn in the house (and juggling two under two!) No doubt it will be hard work, but everyone I’ve talked to who had kids close together has told me that while it’s hard at first, it’s wonderful when they’re old enough to begin playing together. Benjamin is such a good boy and is learning to be more independent, so hopefully that will make things a smidge easier.

Onto the deep stuff:

I’ve been reading two books lately, both of which have dramatically affected my thinking about life, parenting, everything. The first is a parenting book called Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, and the second is called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. (Why do books always have to have secondary titles?) In Give Them Grace, the authors challenge parents to evaluate whether they’ve been parenting from a position of law and works, allowing themselves to become burdened with a mindset that guarantees good children with proper parenting (whatever that “proper parenting” might look like in their minds). What sets Christianity apart from other religions that claim, at least in part, to follow the Bible (i.e. Judaism, Mormonism, etc.) is our belief that we are saved wholly by the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, not by anything we could ever do, and that the means by which His salvation is transferred to us is faith alone. Why, then, should our parenting reflect anything other than this? Should we communicate to our children that they become “good”, that they will grow spiritually or develop self-control (which is, we realize, a fruit of the Spirit, not of the flesh), by virtue of either their actions or ours on their behalf? The truth is that only God can save a soul, and only God is good. Our children’s destinies are in His hands, and if we think our parenting will guarantee any results in their lives, we’re functioning under a system of law, good works promising results. It’s a flawed and defeating, crushing system, which is why God never intended for us to live that way — that’s why Jesus came, to live righteously on our behalf and take our punishment, destroying the curse and freeing us forever. We are called to teach our children this truth, to train them well in order to try and prevent them doing any major damage to themselves or others, but not to change their hearts. God alone can change a heart, He loves our children more than we do , and He is mighty to save!

The book One Thousand Gifts is more of a personal account, a woman’s story of how the Lord began to work in her heart to transform her from a broken, wounded, defeated wife and mother by unfolding for her the meaning of the Greek word eucharisteo — thankfulness. She began to see throughout Scripture how over and over, miracles were preceded by giving thanks, and how living a life of thankfulness – be it in the small, usually unnoticed beauties of life or even in the darkest, tragic moments – opens one up to being finally able to live life fully, contagious with joy, with eyes wide open.

As I’ve read these books, the Lord has been using them to remind me once again that life is 100% about the Gospel of Jesus, and my response is to be 100% about gratitude. Anything beyond this is peripheral at best. I realized that I was carrying so much spiritual and emotional weight in my first months of motherhood, convinced that my diligence in training Benjamin right from the start was going to make or break his spiritual development as he grows. It’s just not true. There are great benefits to training, and it’s important that children learn to respect the word “No” (since when did that become a swear word anyway?) and to understand boundaries, but their spiritual condition is dependent upon them hearing the truth and the Holy Spirit opening their hearts to understand and accept it. Nothing I do can make that happen, I can only teach them the truth, when we “sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7) Beyond that, it’s out of my hands. If I truly trust the Lord to love and pursue my children, I can find huge freedom in that. And if I am living a life of joy and gratitude as I continue to bathe in the glory of the Gospel, this will only communicate to my children all the more what a joyful thing it is to rest in the finished work of Jesus.

Published in: on October 13, 2011 at 11:04 am  Comments (1)  
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