Hair vs. Care: steps toward becoming a motherly mother

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry,  or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

I have been wanting to try out this short-in-the-back, long-in-the-front, curly, sassy haircut for a while now. Last week I took the plunge and chopped mine. I have always loved short hair because it’s so low maintenance. But I made a critical error: I do not have curly hair.

On the days I can find 10 minutes to style it, I’m in love. But on the days I have to set aside how my hair looks to handle the less obvious but more important things, I’m kind of wishing I’d stuck with a haircut that lends itself to a ponytail.

This verse in 1 Peter echoes Colossians 3 with its advice to adjust my mindset to the unseen things. It is natural to be drawn to and elevate the importance of what I can see. But what matters most is not as obvious as a hairstyle or how I dress or what I earn or what I live in.

What matters most about me is hidden in Christ. What matters most to the Lord are the hidden qualities he is cultivating in the inner person; and they are precious, and they are beautiful, but they are not obvious. They do not call attention to themselves. They are praiseworthy, but they often go unpraised.

People have been asking me if I am loving being a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son deeply and I’m thrilled with who he is and savoring the sweet moments with him, but do I love being a mom? The answer is no. I feel like a failure all the time. I feel unimportant and invisible. I don’t feel very motherly. There are sweet moments, but there are also a lot of moments where I just feel tired and annoyed and unfulfilled. 

So I took some time this week to iron out in my mind the concept of what “being motherly” is,  and it came down to two central qualities: unselfishness and humility.

A motherly person puts the needs of another at the top of her agenda, above her own plans and desires and passions and vision. Being motherly is saying “no” to myself so I can say “yes” to my baby over and over and over again all day long. It is humbling myself to lay aside all I would like to be, all I would like to excel at, in order to care for him. 

And I do not feel very motherly, because I am not unselfish. I grate against the calling of motherhood, because I am not humble.

But perhaps mothering is not just the raising of a child, perhaps it is the making of a mother.

Perhaps the process itself is a beautiful thing because it is movement toward humility and unselfishness, even though that is not where I start from. 

So, Lord,

I bring these costly, beautiful qualities before you and I confess that I need you to change me. I desperately want the hidden person within to be beautiful in these ways.

To be willing to be hidden, I must become humble. To mother kindly and fully and whole-heartedly, I must become unselfish. I must lay aside the need to have an identity totally independent of being a mom. This is a central part of who I am now and I cannot sacrifice it because I want to excel in some other domain.

I must remember that the character you desire for me is something worth all I must give to chase after it. To be gentle and meek is not a mark of failure. It is strength held in check by kindness and humility; it is power and ability willingly laid down at the feet of the One who is worthy to direct it. 

So Lord, move me toward humility. Let me love to be hidden in you. And help me see that it is a good thing you are doing in me, even here and now, where it doesn’t feel so good.

“May he equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him…”

Hebrews 13:21

Press On: on patience with the pace

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”

Philippians 3:12

During our orientation, we have been speaking much of how important flexibility is on the mission field. It’s been killing me a little bit because if I’m honest with myself, I am not a flexible being. I am high strung. I’m a planner. I like to know what I can expect. I do not know how to roll with the punches. And so I feel like I will fail. I feel afraid of moving overseas because I look at how I’m coping here and now, and I know it will fall far short of what is required over there. I start to stress over whether I’m a horrible fit for this ministry and maybe they should find someone else.

 Much of this transition has been a series of facing up to how I fall short. Attitudes, struggles, and bents that are not Christ-like, discouragement over how slow and invisible the growth and progress seem to be, anxiety as I notice how others seem to be taking in stride what constitutes a major upheaval in my life. Man, is it messy when I look in the mirror.

But I have been sitting with these words from Philippians and considering the choice of the phrase “press on.”

The word press holds the idea of moving forward against resistance.

“All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need…”

Colossians 1:10-11

This walk with the Lord, this learning to know Him better and better and growing to be like him; it’s an uphill battle, it takes endurance, it is pressing against resistance.

And patience allows for a slower pace because it acknowledges the resistance I am facing.

And so I need the strength that Christ offers to be patient with myself, to continue taking up hope and pressing on when I’m starting to feel like a hopeless case.

In her book, Beholding and Becoming, Ruth Chou Simons says this:

“God is more interested in how we keep running than how fast and flawlessly we get to our destination. He calls perseverance the outcome of a faith in progress and tells us how to keep on keeping on with diligence and hope, even when we don’t see or feel progress in the now…Beholding how Christ endured the cross helps us set our gaze on His provision and not our performance along the course…”

How I need the reminder that God asks me to keep going, even if it’s not going smoothly. I can set my eyes on his provision and he is pleased if I just take the next step, however clumsy, trusting in that. He is not wishing I would get it together faster.

When I decided to follow after Christ, I signed up for a mud run. Obstacle after obstacle, stumbling upon stumbling, but pressing forward, even if that progress sometimes happens at a crawl.

And so, may I learn to take up his strength to be patient with myself and with my journey, because this does not look like I expected it to. I am in pain over how slow and invisible the progress is. But I can surrender my pace and my progress to him. I can decide that he knows what he’s doing and be patient with where I am, internally and externally, because I know he is taking me somewhere good, and I have confidence he can get me there.

I can be light-hearted, even as I see areas that desperately need growth, even as I struggle on repeat, even when it seems like I will never figure out how to handle things better, because I know what he is capable of. He will not abandon a slow pupil, because he is a skilled teacher.

Patience is a resolve not to worry about the timing, that flows from confidence in what the outcome will be. So I will take my inflexible tendencies, my weaknesses and issues and struggles, and lay them at his feet. I will be patient, and I will take up great hope.

If I rest my gaze on what he is able to do in me, I will find that seeing my issues loud and clear does not have to prompt worry in my heart.

Great hope says this: I do not know how to do this yet, but Christ is my teacher, so I can learn. I do not feel prepared for what’s ahead, but he is prepared to carry me through it. I am not able, but he is always able. He does not ask me to be fast; he asks me to be faithful. And when I stumble, he does not yell: That’s it! You’re through!

He comes alongside my brokenness and whispers: “I’m here. Keep going.”

Hostility Radar: on how to not be harsh in conflict

“…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life…Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes…get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words…Instead, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:22-23, 31-32
 

These used to be words I read over easily and nodded my head, “yes, yes, don’t let anger control you, be kind and forgiving, got it.” But in this season of my life, stripped down and rubbed raw by all the moving and transition and stress and adjustment, I have been poring over scripture, desperately searching for help with my anger.

My two sweetest relationships: with the Lord and with Cody, have been riddled with conflict and punctuated with my outbursts. And so this week, I sat long with this passage. It describes the purge of what is harsh and the renewal of tender-heartedness that I so long for.

My response: “Yes, but how?”

The answer provided in the passage is: Instead, let the Spirit.

As I have processed this last year and some of the difficulties I’ve walked through, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to place myself in a stand-off with God, to grow frustrated with Him and accuse Him, and then end up feeling hopeless because I don’t like how He’s doing things, but where else can I turn?

Two verses from Romans helped me to understand this pattern of what I tend to do and what it means to insteadlet the Spirit:

1.  “For the sinful nature is always hostile to God.”  

Romans 8:7

The stand-offs, the arguments, the frustration, the hostility, these are not some new dynamic in my relationship with the Lord that I have to figure out how to navigate. No. The sinful nature IS ALWAYS hostile to God. These attitudes are only the sinful nature’s expected response to trouble. This is how it always acts. It’s that annoying character in the story who takes every opportunity to pick a fight. Hostile thoughts are not cause for alarm, they only signal that I need to adjust who I’m listening to.

2. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?”

Romans 8:35

 
This is the new nature’s response to trouble: yes, God has allowed something hard, but that does not mean I am separated from his love. It doesn’t mean that I have lost his favor, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that he’s no longer on my side. Trouble does not equal abandonment. The Spirit speaks truth and the new nature clings to it.
 
One response is filled with suspicion. The other chooses to operate on trust. I can lean into my frustration and my demand for answers, or I can instead, let the Spirit answer my troubled heart with the reassurance that it is not unloved.

And so, I am slowly learning not to put myself at odds with God when I don’t understand my circumstances. It is in hard situations that I most need to let the Spirit speak truth rather than allowing my fear and hurt and confusion to push down his words. I need to recognize that when hostile thoughts crop up, it is a sign I have been listening to the sin nature’s poisonous words and started to distrust the One who is only ever true.

In the same way, I think the how of exchanging harsh for tender-hearted in my marriage lies in recognizing hostility.

Just as hostility toward God is how the sinful nature always responds to trouble, I think that hostility toward each other is how the sinful nature always responds to conflict. Hostility is NOT an inevitable symptom of how serious the disagreement or misunderstanding is.

I have been operating in frustrated, angry helplessness as we face our conflicts, knowing that I’m doing this wrong but not sure how to do it differently. I’m all fired up, but determined to press on because I’m sure we can’t get to a better place until we solve the problem at hand, so it’s bound to be messy until it’s settled.

But I have been wrong.

We can get to a better place before we solve the problem at hand. If I only recognize that the reason I’m angry and harsh and exploding is not because of the conflict, it’s because of the sin nature. If we let the Spirit in, we can then work at the problem while still offering kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to each other. We can be in the midst of a conflict and at the same time not hostile with each other. We can problem-solve while we walk in the Spirit.

And so, as I walk forward, I must have a radar always operating that checks for hostility with every sweep. Conflict does not equal hostility, and a blip on the radar lets me know it’s time to step back, check who I am listening to, and alter course.

Lord-

I know there’s a learning curve here, and I desperately want to get it. Please be my teacher. Please show me how to recognize when I am operating out of anger and bitterness. Let my own harsh words catch my attention. Let me not over-complicate what’s going on, but recognize that I have a sin nature, eager to jump into a fight and an enemy, eager to destroy us, who only waits for the foothold anger gives him to force his way in and stir up all sorts of trouble.

Teach us, Lord, to be a team who knows how desperately we need you and who always, always lets you in to our troubles, trusting you to renew our thoughts and attitudes, to give us a fresh beginning at what feels so impossible and new understanding of what feel so hurtful. Remind us that we are working together at this. We are not enemies.

Supply kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to the point of overflowing so we have plenty to buffer us through the rough spots.

The rapids can be bumpy when you are white water rafting, but if there’s enough water in the river you don’t snag on the stones. Let it be so with the kindness and grace you pour into our relationship, for we have been snagging.

Lord, we need your help and your Spirit living within us to guide us through our conflicts so that we are not waiting until we reach the other side of the rapids for things to be okay in the raft.

Help me to grow toward maturity and learn, in the heat of the moment, to let the Spirit in. May I start to see what a difference you are able to make in the midst of my helplessness and what beauty you are able to craft from my struggles if I only invite you into them.

Approved Of: on how much is enough

“…After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing?…Abraham believed God and God counted him righteous because of his faith.”

Galatians 3:3, 6

Moving brings out the Pharisee in me. I have not figured out how I fit into this new place yet, I am building first impressions, and so I throw myself into things, desperate to prove myself, even when there’s nothing to prove.

I’m on edge in every conversation. I anxiously look around and compare every detail to see if I’m keeping up, measuring up, meeting expectations. I want to impress, but I’m not impressive and it’s hard to ask a whole new group of people to extend the grace I need.

Righteous isn’t a word I use a whole lot in my every-day English, so I looked up the Greek word used for “righteous” in this verse in Galatians to try to get a better sense of its meaning. The definition I found hit home: “approved of.”

How I long to be approved of.

I echo the crowd who asked Jesus for an assignment:

“We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” (John 6:28)

I need His answer just as much as they did:

 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 )

Always, always it comes back to this: I am counted righteous only and ever because I put my trust in Jesus Christ. I am approved of because, like Abraham, I believe God’s words. It is never because of my work or effort or performance, diligent as they may be.

So easily my eyes shift to what I’ve invested, how hard I’ve worked. Always I am asking, “Is it enough? Can I rest yet?”

Always He answers, “I am enough. You can rest in that.”

So much pressure I carry around to accomplish something big and important because I represent the Lord. But I forget that it is HE who chooses to represent me.

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.  Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

(Romans 8:33-34)

I have a Savior who has finished the work of placing me in good standing. And He does not require me to improve on what He has accomplished. I am approved of in Him.

I read these words from Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday this week and they caught within me:

“…stand on tiptoe and see…beyond what is to what could be.

And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust him to be himself even as I dare to be myself.

He is big and important and able and so I do not have to carry the pressure of making sure his plans go off without a hitch, or ensuring that I become all I am meant to be. I am all I am meant to be in Him, and it is enough to just follow.

Lord-

Take my worries. Help me to leave them in your hands awhile.

Help me choose to just to believe you, and then do whatever the next thing is out of freedom, not out of fear. That is the work you ask of me.

Teach me to savor and hold on tight to the assurance that you approve of me. You call me righteous; not lacking, not disappointing, not inadequate, not a failure.

I need not make an idol of my issues by giving all my attention to them. They present no obstacle to you.

It does not honor you to strive tirelessly. It only shows I do not believe your words.

Lord, teach me what it is to be still and believe in a God who does not need my help and yet invites me on a journey to see what He can do through one willing to take him at his word.

Show me how to walk into this new season with the confidence of one who has been approved of, able to extend and accept grace, at ease with myself and with others, and leaving behind the tireless question of whether I have done enough.

Because your work is enough, and I can rest in that.

Waiting in the Water: on standing still when it’s getting uncomfortable

Feet of the person standing in the water

“Give this command to the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.’

 It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge,  the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam…”

Joshua 3:8, 15-16

 

We had another rough budget month. We’re still trying to pay off the gas, vehicle repairs and medical expenses from our trip in June and here we are, moving in a week, and about to take on the cost of Cody flying again.

I have sat before the Lord, more than willing for Him to re-direct:

Listen, it’s okay if I misunderstood the plan here. I’m a little daunted by it anyway. I could go back to work instead? We could support other missionaries? The transmission on the truck went out and we can’t really get to Arizona without a truck, so if this is you communicating to hold up right here, I’m good with that!

And then He provided for the transmission repair…for free.

All day long, I have been holding my plans before Him: I surrender, Lord. It’s okay, we don’t have to do this!

All day long, I been flooded with the imagery of the Israelite priests walking into the water.

It was harvest season, so the river was even deeper and swifter than usual. I imagined myself as a one of these priests, shouldering the hefty weight of the sacred Ark of the Covenant, leading hundreds of thousands of people, and feeling absolutely ridiculous as I walk…into…a river.

jordan river flood season

I’m wet. The water is seeping up my tunic. I’m praying my sandals don’t catch on the current and the slippery river rock, causing me to lose my footing. I’m putting on a confident face, but, really? Take a few steps INTO the river and then wait? If God was going to bring the water to a halt, why couldn’t we wait on shore? 

Two principles I’m learning from this story:

1. They had to touch the water.

God provided a footpath across the dry bed of the biggest river in the country for at least 600,000 men, plus woman and children. It’s like if something barricaded the Mississippi so completely that people started driving their cars across it instead of using the bridges. His answer to their need was nothing short of miraculous, but He did not act until the priests came into contact with the water. Not the step before, not the step after.

touch the water

2. They had to wait.

The story says that as soon as their feet touched the water, God answered. But He didn’t answer right there before their eyes. He answered far away, in a town called Adam.

The river was immediately stopped, but it was not immediately empty.  The effect of that first step of faith was out of sight. But God had done something big, it just took a while to trickle down so that those waiting for His answer could see it.

And the priests stood in the cold, fast water, supporting the weight of a solid wood, gold-plated chest for every long minute of the wait.

feet underwater

And so this is my take-away: when God has led and you have followed, there may be some wet, cold minutes where you seriously question if you heard Him right.

Keep listening for His leading, keep holding your ideas and plans out in surrender, but don’t turn back.

Even if it looks ridiculous to the onlookers, even if you’ve taken a risk and now you’re getting wet, even if the load is heavy and your footing feels unsure, you may be only one more uncomfortable minute away from seeing God part the waters, and if you turn back now, you’ll miss it.

 

Lord –

I am trusting you, as my toes touch the river’s edge, as I stride forward into the cold, that you are doing something big upstream.

I do not see how this will come together. I do not see how we will have enough. I’d rather wait on shore, especially when I don’t know how long the wait will be.

I am worried. I am waiting in the water. I’m confused and shifty and restless, asking, Lord, just show me what you want me to DO!

Your words from another time echo: “…Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you…” (Exodus 14:13)

“…take a few steps into the river and stop there.” (Joshua 3:8)

ps 27 14

You did not ask the priests to help you by bailing out the water so the river would empty faster. You did not want their help; You wanted their confidence. And so You asked them to walk into the river and then stand still.

“…They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.”  (Joshua 3:17)

In story after story, people who have put their trust in you watched as you did mind-blowing things. Like so many others, the wet priests held their ground and waited for you. And so will I.

Like so many others, these priests saw you were worthy of their confidence. 

And so will I.

 

Frosting: on bad sleep, crumbly cake and how God leans in

frosting a cake

“If we claim to have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves…but if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us…”

1 John 1:8

 

This teething stage is wrecking me. The baby was up at least seven times last night and it took me forever to fall back asleep each time. By wake-up call number 4, I was enraged and murderous and stewing over all the reasons this might be Cody’s fault. It felt like I didn’t even have a moment to choose how to react. It was 2 in the morning, and I was losing the battle for my heart on repeat. 

I have been praying desperately and obsessing over every strategy to get Abishai to sleep because I think to myself, “If only I get a decent night’s sleep, I’m almost likable. I don’t have to see the monstrous person I can be when I’m tired and frustrated. I don’t have to spend the day in shame and self-loathing.”

Man, has sleep become a god I worship.

If only I appease it, maybe today will go better. If I can’t meet its demands, I live in terror of how the day and the nights to follow will go. I feel doomed because I know I’m going to spend the foreseeable future blowing up over small things and snapping at minor annoyances and everything will feel big and overwhelming and bring me to tears.

Good sleep helps me cover up and smooth over the messy, angry interior I don’t want to acknowledge is there, like pretty frosting on a dry, crumbling cake that’s falling in on itself. The cake is bad, the shape is failing, but if you heap on enough frosting and look at it under the right lighting, it can seem pretty appetizing.

Frosting. Lighting. Physical Rest.

Externals I chase after because I feel helpless toward the internal. I know that sleepless nights with young babies are a common fare and people do learn to handle it graciously. I know it’s possible, but I’m not even close.

I read this thought by Emily P. Freeman in her book Simply Tuesday:

“If I feel shocked and ashamed when I snap…maybe I am assuming I can handle life on my own and don’t need redemption, not really. And so when my soul has a bad idea, I can’t believe it.

Shock and shame are my response…when I forget what really happened at the cross.

Don’t try to change your attitude, bring your attitude into the presence of Christ…my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.”

So here I am, asking God for the millionth time to help me with this ugliness I see. I’m devastated and disappointed by it, desperate to find anyone or anything else to blame. Alarmed and at loss for how to change, how to not be this.

I want to run away, to turn and accuse, to scream at Him for letting me face hard thing after hard thing for so long. But I’m seeing that those are distractions from the truth.

This darkness is nobody else’s fault. It is not solved by things finally going right for me. It does not go away just because a good night’s sleep or a good coat of frosting makes it less obvious. And it would be unloving of the Lord to answer my prayer for the baby to sleep and leave unfinished his work on a heart that loses it over being woken up. 

It is painful to look upon it and I want to turn away, but He ushers light and growth and purity into my most stagnant waters if only I will be open with Him and welcome Him in.

Bad sleep has a wonderful way of revealing the true state of my heart: self-centered, demanding, bitter, unforgiving, easily-angered, entitled and proud. But I was rescued for more than this. It is only a shadow of who I once was and it cannot hold me.

bad sleep

I read a challenge this morning to ask God to reveal the depth of His love for me. It stung because I know I need that. I do not feel lovable. But I think that confronting my own darkness always carries with it the potential to develop an even deeper understanding and appreciation for His love.

I do not always see this side of me, and when I’m forced to look at it long and hard, I am horrified. But He always sees this side of me, and He is not horrified.

I want to turn away in disgust. He does not turn away, He leans in closer.

I want to throw up my hands, give up and run. He tightens His grip and locks Himself in for the long haul.

I am full of despair. He is full of promise.

This place I’m in is only a starting point, and a train is identified by where it’s headed as much as by where it came from. So who I am is not just the boiling up of selfish fury I saw at 2 am. Who I am is also all the beauty He is crafting in its place: others-centered, giving, sweet, forgiving, not-easily angered, unassuming humility.

So change me, Lord. Peel away the frosting and work with the reality beneath it. Help me to see that you do so out of love, not contempt. You never reveal my issues to discourage me, but as an indicator of where you will next produce growth. I am safe in your unyielding favor even as I acknowledge my most unattractive traits. And I do not need to know how to fix what lies beneath. I only need to bring my brokenness to you and ask you to help.

For even in the beginning, you were the one who was able to create “very good” out of nothing at all.

 

2 cor 3 18

 

“Because he bends down to listen,
    I will pray as long as I have breath!”

Psalm 116:2

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

Genesis 1:2-3

 

Cave vs. Grave: on not being swallowed by stress or sorrow

cave 3

“Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions…For this world as we know it will soon pass away.”

1 Corinthians 7:30-31

I liked this reminder that it’s okay to weep, but not good to lose yourself in the weeping, because whatever I’m weeping over isn’t forever and it isn’t all in all.

This life and the stuff of this life – joy and hardships alike – this is not it.

It will soon pass away and I will be whole and healed and in the presence of my Savior. And being with Him at last…the stuff of this life, big and overwhelming as it is, can’t compare to it.

Storms always rain themselves out eventually. 

I saw two kinds of caves this week as we camped. One was dark and icy and tight and down very far, and I didn’t have the confidence to explore it.

The other got dark, but it was wide enough to walk through side by side with Cody, and just as it got too hard to see for sure what the ground was like underfoot, soft light rimmed the edge of the corner up ahead. We couldn’t see very much where we were, but we knew there was a way out, and we were heading toward it.

I have a much deeper appreciation for caves when I’m not walking through them alone and I know there’s an exit on the other side.

There is beauty in the dark, the moist air, the stillness of a cave. Perhaps hard and confusing seasons hold beauty, too, if only we can rally the confidence to remember that we are not in them alone, and that we will certainly climb out the other side of them eventually.

Lord, I am having a hard time, but it is just for now. So help me not to become absorbed in it. Teach me to faithfully replace my attention on you, again and again all the day long. Teach me how to walk through stress and sorrow with my eyes on you, drawing from you the hope I need to keep walking and the kindness I need to handle others gently and generously.

Help me to distinguish between a cave and a grave. For you have promised that whatever this life holds, I am not buried under it forever; I am passing through it into light.

cave

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”

Romans 8:18

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face…And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them.”

Revelation 22:3-5

I Am No Expert: on how to be a bold beginner

bold

“Because of Christ and our faith in Him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here…When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and earth.”

Ephesians 3:12-15

 

The season I’m in is a gift. Somewhere, on the periphery, I know that. But mostly I’m struggling to notice what is so sweet about it as I rush around over-analyzing, fearful, constantly asking if I’m getting it right.

I have not yet figured out how to sit still in the midst of all the unknowns and just let myself be who I am, where I am, learning.

It’s new territory, this parenting thing. In spite of all my preparation, I do not get to skip being a beginner. And I’m realizing that I will not enjoy this season if I’m determined to be an expert. Experts are not allowed to be overwhelmed. Experts don’t fall to their knees and ask what they should do. Experts don’t find the simple things difficult.

I love that this verse in Ephesians describes us as bold and confident; not as we face down challenges and struggles, but as we ask for help to face them. 

What a concept. To be bold and confident in my role as a beginner. Perhaps God’s best for me is not to become an expert at knowing what to do, but to grow into a practiced seeker of His help To freely and happily ask for directions and feel that I have done nothing wrong. To let go of the pressure to handle this myself.

I believe that parenting bravely and confidently is within reach for me. I long to be out from under the thumb of fear and insecurity. But I think that only happens when, instead of running in circles, desperate to figure out what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it, I take what weighs on me and follow the pattern of Ephesians 3:15:

  1. I think of all this
  2. I fall to my knees
  3. I pray to the Father

I like the progression of these three steps.

three steps 2

Think of all this:” it’s like permission to walk around my mind and gather it all up: all the anxiety, all the fear, all the disappointment and failure and frustration, all the questions, all the heavy things, all the tension, every single thing that just feels off.

Fall to my knees:” an acknowledgement that these things are heavy and overwhelming. That maybe it’s not just me, but the things I’m facing are hard. That I don’t have to stand up straight and presentable and be able to talk about them with an even tone and a steady gaze. I can get down low on my knees and let my eyes well up and my voice waver. This place is safe for those in a humble, broken posture. It is a place for unloading, and we rarely do that while we stand totally erect.

Pray to the Father:” Unload. Let it out. The worries, the concerns, the confusion, the “What do I do now’s.” Psalm 55:22 literally says to throw down, hurl, or cast off my burdens onto the Lord. Confidently. Boldly. Passionately. I am invited to ask Him, to tell Him all that troubles me, to collapse in His presence, rip it off my back and thrust it into His hands. Yours, Lord. Yours. Yours. Yours. Not mine to carry anymore.

I do not have to meet this, even the smallest part of this, even the middle-of-the-night-when-no-one-else-is-up part of this, alone. I am instructed to be a bold seeker of His help, to fall to my knees and let the burdens fall and look at Him with expectation in my eyes.

I am no expert. I am a beginner, and I am allowed to be.

confident

I can shrug and smile and say “Mommy’s not sure what to do here.” I can stare down my utter novice-ness and my many questions and my clumsy handling of each situation and say “This is okay. I am right where I’m supposed to be.”

This is not a story of perfect marks and zero mistakes. This is human and real and beautiful and it rides on the shoulders of a capable God who is excellent at crafting redemption and healing and light from the messiest of situations. He erases my shame and shoulders my burdens and reminds me that this does not depend on me.

I am a beginner and I will learn to be a bold one, because I do not have to be sure of myself to be sure-footed, and whenever I need an expert, I know exactly where I can find one.

 

“So we can say with confidence, the Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear…”

Hebrews 13:6

I’ve got you covered: on bringing nothing & being cared for

relaxed

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Don’t worry about anything.

That’s the phrase I sometimes text to friends when they’re coming to my house and ask what they can bring.

It’s the phrase I use when I want them to relax without feeling that they need to prepare anything. Food? Bed? Towels? Coffee? Soft blankets? Phone chargers? I’ve got you covered. This is an evening for you to rest and just be.

I’ve always known this verse in the version that says “be anxious for nothing.” It was interesting to consider a different angle on the phrase.

How sweet it is that our God’s instructions are designed to give to us, not to take from us. That He himself reassures us with: “Don’t worry about anything.”

AKA: You don’t have prepare or bring anything. Just come, relax, rest, I’ve got you covered.

Perhaps that’s the type of ease and peace and “don’t worry” that he’s describing. The kind where you show up hungry after a long day, with messy hair and nothing to offer and you can just plop on the couch, be wiped out, and be cared for because you are in the home of someone who’s got you covered.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 46:4

Hold Me Steady: on small needs and saplings

Support-Rope-Around-Young-Tree-Trunk

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.”

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

 

Early motherhood has been challenging from the get-go for me. More often than not, I feel empty and in over my head; like I’m sweeping together the very last bits of what I have in order to keep caring for this baby’s round-the-clock needs, to keep giving to my marriage, to keep putting time into my work.

I berate myself for not knowing how to walk through this, how to balance it all, for struggling with what is painful, for needing help.  It is a fleeting season, sprinkled with such sweet moments. There is progress and relief and growth. But the build-up leaves me spent. It’s rough to feel that you’ve run out of steam for the day and it’s only breakfast time.

Especially because I am in this stage, this verse hit me.

I needed the phrase, “every good thing.”

Caring for a new baby, my days are filled with small tasks, and though they are small, they are taking everything I have.  I need the reassurance that they count, that in tending to these small needs, I am doing good things, and that I will be given the comfort and strength I need for each and every one of them.

“Strengthen” in this verse comes from the Greek word sterixai, which means “to make fast, to plant down solidly, or to render constant.”

I love the image of planting. I am not that great of a gardener and I have been the person who excitedly dug a hole, plopped a young tree down inside it, shoveled in some dirt, and then watched in dismay as the soil gave way and the tree went sideways.

It is not enough to hastily drop saplings into post-holes and call it good. They need the right depth, firmly packed soil, sometimes even stakes and ties to help them remain upright.  Good planting is more than picking the right spot and dropping off a plant. Good planting provides the firm support a young tree needs to thrive.

And when it comes to my heart, God is a good gardener. He settles me firmly, he ensures that I have all the bracing I needs to stand upright. He plants me deep and firm when I feel like I am crumpling, tipping, and falling to pieces. He offers the fresh hope I need to rally for the next day, the next task, the next word. He calms me and makes me steady for the work ahead.

Lord,

I feel worn through. I am only a human person who gets tired and frustrated, who doesn’t always know what to do, who has real limits when it comes to energy and pain tolerance, who is adjusting to a lot of changes. But for every good thing that is mine to do and every kind word I am called upon to offer, you yourself will bolster my heart with your unfailing strength and endless grace.

I am not the sturdy, unwavering oak tree that I want to be. I am only a sapling. It is easy for me to get bent and broken and off-balance. But you are a good gardener. So plant me firm and remind me that I can rest and let you hold me steady.