Sunday, December 6, 2015

Grieve: Face to Face with Eyes Open

It’s really easy to want to close my eyes and turn away. Much easier than looking into the face of the paradoxical Father of all Comfort. For if I recall the two most important words my pastor admonished me to never forget, I wonder how God’s sovereignty and his love can truly coincide. Always remember, he said. No matter what, “God is sovereign, and He loves me.” But the sovereign God who loves me who would cause my soul such anguish at loss makes me question this love. Severe Mercy. He whispers in my ear. It is a severe mercy that he took my Grandmother when he did. Severe to my own soul and the soul of my family – a piercing of everything that we held dear and true, a cutting through and cutting off of something, someone rather, that we held so dearly near to our hearts. Mercy toward the one taken. Great mercy. Mercy that she is out of this chaotic and frightful world. Mercy that she is rejoicing in the presence of the Savior. Mercy that I cannot comprehend.

God is Sovereign. His control is supreme. And yet he does things that confuse me – even confound me. Or he doesn’t do things that confuse me even further. Job was more righteous than I as he proclaimed that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. He didn’t go in search for answers. Simply the knowledge that God was in control was enough. Oh that my soul could find such rest.

God loves me. Nothing can separate me from it. Height, depth, present, future, angels, demons, death, life – no, none can sever that tender love and compassion. It is because of his great love for me that I am not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam 3:22).

When more questions rage than answers and my soul is faint at sorrow. I must remember. I must. Though a mystery to my eyes bound by earth’s dimensions. God is Sovereign. And he loves me.

And I open my tear-filled eyes to gaze at my Savior. I see tears in his eyes as well. I know you do not understand right now, my child. I care. I’m sorry this broken world has caused you such sorrow. His heart breaks for me. I see the tender compassion as he looks deep into my heart. Continue to grieve my child. I will hold every tear. I will take every question. Grieve. I am here. Grieve face to face with eyes open. Looking to Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith… I am sovereign, and I love you more than you know!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Grieve: Face to Face

I always looked forward to taking family pictures. I loved seeing the smiling faces and how our number seemed to exponentially increase each year – that’s what happens when you are one of five siblings. Each year, new babies or new bellies getting ready for the forthcoming child. The excitement of a new family photo was only diminished by trying to fit everyone in and keeping the littles smiling and looking at the camera. No bunny ears, please! Pictures, always joy – that is until this year. When our number, rather than increase, has decreased by one number. Our faithful matriarch met her Savior on Thanksgiving day. My grandmother, with Jesus rather than with us. It seemed so unfair! And just like that death has hit our family!

It seems surreal and removed when it happens to someone else. I try to sympathize, be present or involved. But it’s hard, and maybe you’re like me and would rather distance yourself because you don’t understand death: it’s unnatural. We as humans do everything we can to stay alive – and then something like this happens, something I cannot control, something that is as certain as tomorrow, but is ambiguous and overwhelming at best.

I try to run, but you can’t. Try to hide, but the thickest covers only suffocate the soul. Gasping for fresh air, maybe try to be strong. Some in the church would say that is the appropriate response to grief. Go numb for a while, look for distractions – those are easy to come by these days…facebook, anyone? Being distracted is easier than trying to figure out what my heart is really dealing with, anyhow. But the dyke of distraction can only hold back the flood of emotion so long. Something sparks a memory, and the tears break through. Emotions, overwhelming and threatening rage as fierce as a storm.

Questions are raised. Questions that haven’t come to the surface for years – the reality of mortality, my own and others, the questions of eternity and wanting to know that I know…..A new hunger for understanding the heavenly realm and longing to feel the nearness of Christ. But grief is a process, and I found myself in a battle – a battle of trying to be strong, to push through, deal with my anger, bitterness, rage, questions and finally land at some point of acceptance and move on. At least that’s what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said should happen. Maybe they’re fluid and dynamic, but there’s a certain process to grief. After losing my first child and my grandfather within two days of each other and now my grandmother, I’m not so sure any more.

I’ve found myself at a crossroads of sort – and it’s a choice I must make. I can go on like I have been in my own strength and futilely attempting to control and direct my emotions. Or I can turn and gaze into the face of the one who is a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. So often, I find myself turning my back on Comfort, himself. I run away from Peace seeking some sort of artificial replacement in this world. Surely he has borne my sorrows. After all, he holds my tears in a bottle.  Why should I be scared to allow him to see and hold my hurting heart? Why should I deny the pain of loss on this earth? Jesus Christ was familiar with the sting of death. He withdrew to grieve for a time on hearing of John the Baptist’s death. He wept at Lazarus grave. And his bloody sweat ran down his face as he was in agony over his own death. He soul rend and torn so that I, we, could find ultimate comfort in Him – the Prince of Peace.

It’s true. Death is not natural or normal. It was not a part of original design, but a part of the curse. I can rage over these things righteously. For my Savior grieves in the same way. When I look up into his face, tears clouding my eyes, I see the gentlest compassion and deepest mercy. The very nearness of Christ brings light and helps me to understand how his heart breaks with mine. And now I can see clearly too, the tears that fill his eyes as well.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why I'm Giving up on Being the Perfect Mother

I don’t usually involve myself in posts that could be controversial. First, I really struggle with the comparison game, myself, and elevating one philosophy of mothering over another can easily turn into harsh slung words over who is right or what ideas carry the greatest weight. Secondly, ain’t no busy momma got time for that!

But this topic is near and dear to my heart and is one I have long struggled and labored over. Yet, in writing this, please don’t feel I’m pushing an agenda or saying this way of thinking is best for everyone. I just want to share my heart on one topic I’ve wrangled with and seen the effects play out in my sons.

The perfect mother. It’s something we all have strained toward. We research what it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like – we seek the ethereal example of motherhood perfected. If it requires a new gadget, we invest in it. A change of thought, we conform. A habit, an effort, a fruit of the Spirit, we model our life after actions that may lead us to a closer ideal.

I’ve read blogs – leave the house dirty, hug your little ones, the time passes quickly – be slow, be intentional, stop saying no, order is the way, schedule, free play, make lists, organize, relax, take you time, discipline, give grace. And each time I walk away feeling a little more of a failure in my motherhood – like somehow I don’t measure up. So I set the bar higher, leaning and stretching to attain some form of perfection in my parenting. And I’ve grown weary. Weary of trying and failing. Weary of what forever seems impossible, but unable to break out of the relentless cycle of pursuing perfection.

Here’s the problem: I can’t do it. And I will never be able to do it.

Now if I said that’s the reason I’m giving up, this blog post would be over, but there’s more to it than that. My struggle toward perfection is strangling my motherhood. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
First, when my focus and my goal is that of my own idea of perfection and I fail, who am I failing? Namely, myself, my own ideas and desires. And if I’m failing myself, what is my response? Well, guess I better try harder next time. And you know what I miss? I miss how my failure in that moment may be affecting one of my sons. When my eyes are fixed on my own goals and motives, I miss the dynamic bigger picture of how my impatience or my harsh words may be breaking my boy’s heart. I don’t sense the need to apologize for anything because the offense was against my own goal – not against anyone else.

Second, when I set perfection as the standard for myself, I am inadvertently setting the standard at perfection for my sons. If I am not allowed to fail, then neither are they. What is this teaching them about grace but that there’s no need for it? If failure is not an option (and Lord knows how often we mess up), then am I communicating that they will never be enough? Never measure up? When I don’t give myself room to fail, my sons don’t see my need for grace. When I communicate that perfection is the standard, I don’t give them room for grace either!

Finally, when I strive in my own strength toward perfection, I am turning my motherhood into a vessel that is to be set on a shelf and adored rather than a usable vessel to nurture my family. I communicate “don’t touch,” “do not disturb,” “Hands off.” This is my pretty vessel – it doesn’t need finger smudges and boogers to flaw its surface. But this is not what I am called to as a mother. The direct commission I have been given is to bring forth life and to bear fruit (both in a physical and spiritual realm). And who is the life giver? God! Who is the vine that I must abide in? His son, Jesus. Who develops the fruit in my life? The Spirit. And I so desperately want my sons to know this. This, right here – the power of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwelling in me!

So, no, I cannot do it. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. I say that all the time – and that’s why God must be the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

So where does that leave me? I am going to mess up. I will have moments where my anger gets out of hand, where the house is not perfect (or maybe for the moment it is, but I have missed an opportunity to invest in one of the little ones), I get impatient, I speak harshly, I don’t give grace, or I mess up in many other ways that I know I will. And I want my sons to know that’s okay.

When I wound them, I want them to see me admitting it, asking for forgiveness, seeking their grace – so that they can go and do likewise.

When I fail, I want them to see that it’s okay. Perfection is not something we can attain. I want them to see me receiving grace in my time of need so that they also can receive grace in their time of need.

When I walk this road of life with my sons, I want to be tangible, real. I don’t want to be hands off. I want them to see my desperate need of Christ. I want to be usable. And the only way that will happen is to let Christ live through me. I don’t want to be an empty vessel on a shelf – I want to be filled and spilled. And that means being willing to get dirty (sometimes in physical ways too!).

So I’m giving up on the idea of perfection in my mothering. I’m giving up to the one who can live His life through me. Christ, the image of perfection – that who I want my sons to see!

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Don't Stop at Death...

I awoke from my nap to the smell of hot milk. Oh No! I had forgotten about the yogurt starter in the crock pot! I rushed into the kitchen to discover it boiling and scorched edges all around. I had needed the nap so desperately after the combo time change and waking baby the night before. I didn’t even think to turn the pot off before I slept. And now, it may be lost – just another mark on my inability to manage things right now. My spirit sunk once again into a deep introspective spiral. What am I really battling with right now?

I rush out the door in frustration having wasted 10 more minutes trying to figure out my yogurt problem (no time to restart it – I need it for breakfast tomorrow). Can it be saved? I don’t know yet…

I hate having my boys see their mommy like this – shipping myself out the door (encouraged by my husband) in order to get away and order my heart. If I get time away, I want it to be time to live – not time to just discover how again.

The winter has catapulted my heart into a torrent of self-preservation – a hibernation of sorts, and I’m feeling the desire to awake again. It’s not so much been a depression of sorts, but more so a measured way to survive the moments that make up my chaotic days. But this measuredness, this cautiousness has also caused a callousedness to creep over my heart – hardened to potential, thickened against holy expectation, and ignorant of abundant life. I’ve survived the winter – but barely.

Spring is coming – and with it, the hope of new life. I’ve taken some purposeful steps this spring to step away from some of those things that have been life suckers. I’ve taken some extra time to pursue the giver of life – and I guess that’s the only way to go about finding it again.

Ironically, the call in the Christian life is a call to die, to carry your cross, to deny yourself. And on initial inspection, it seems too large a demand for my already frail and tattered heart. Why would a lifestyle like this draw anyone? Turmoil, pain, difficulty – this life is wrought with them. “Try harder” is the cry of our churches – you need to be patient, kind, self-controlled – grow the fruit of the Spirit. Keep being joyful (don’t you dare let anyone else know you may be struggling), live a life of peace (don’t rock the boat or confront conflict), and Love God and others by sacrificing your life, your passions, and your desires for them (it’s not right to pursue your own interests when others have needs). 

So I struggle, I labor, I work, and I work, and I work, and I work to become the “fruit-bearing” tree that I’ve been called to. I try to catch the sun on my leaves, I laboriously pull water up my trunk, providing movement of nutrition to my branches. I dig my roots in ever deeper, but the more I try, the more worn out I find myself, and season after season, I’m discouraged at the lack of fruit in my life. (at least fruit that is worthy of being used for anything more than animal fodder.)

Here’s where I’ve found myself, and yet as spring approaches and Easter approaches, I (we as Christians) of all people should know that Death is not the end. Why do we stop there so often? Why do we speak of the resurrection only this time of year – Death – necessary? Yes, but Christ rose victorious over death and rose to life – in order that he may bring us also to NEW LIFE. Do you realize that in all gospel accounts (except one parallel account in Luke – which could just be oversight) of Christ speaking of His death, He never did so without also mentioning the resurrection!!!! So, why do we, as believers stop at dying to ourselves, taking up our cross, and counting ourselves dead to sin? Why not move on to alive in Christ Jesus?

Even Christ himself spoke of a tiny seed that went into the ground and died (the mustard seed) and once it did, it grew into the largest tree. Unless a seed dies, will it ever live and bear fruit? No, but the end purpose is not dying – it’s living!

So yes, I need to die to myself, I need to bear the cross and count myself dead to sin – but ALIVE to God in Christ Jesus. He has brought me from death to life. And his desire is to see me live – and live life abundantly that will bear fruit unto his name and for his glory.

So I am pursuing God in this season – the author and perfector of my faith, of my life – to discover the resurrected life that He intends me to live, by Him, for Him, through Him and to Him. Will you join me? Don’t stop at death – Live! He has called us from death to life – and Jesus who conquered the grave and power to bring life to our mortal bodies! Blessed be His name!

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Lie and the Truth of the Failing Mom

“Failure!” I heard it scream in my heart. “Failure!” You’re leaving your kids with unmet needs. You’re incapable of getting your baby to stay asleep. You’re pushing your oldest through his schoolwork. You’re doing too much housework. You’re not working out enough. “Failure!” I heard threatening my identity when I didn’t hear the phone the 5th time my husband called, and I didn’t hear the doorbell the three times he rang it. “Failure!” It’s all my fault he’s late for work.

Each day, one moment is melting into another as I get lost in the swirl and chaos of four little boys age 5 and under. The oldest needs help with school. The youngest needs his most basic biological needs met (which for anyone who has never had experience with an infant, it takes a lot of time to do so!!!). The two in the middle – well, where do they fit in? I try to find things for them to play with, watch, of do (shoot, I’m probably letting them watch too many movies right now – failure!) while I help the oldest and the youngest. And somewhere in here, someone has to make meals, feed kids, wipe bums, change diapers, clean dishes, clean clothes, bathe bodies and wipe snotty noses. (Forget mamma getting a shower – who has time for that?)

Try to get up early? Yep, tried – but when you get 3-4 hours of sleep because said littlest has needs overnight, you don’t even hear your alarm go off in the morning. Tried getting naps too, but my brain won’t slow down long enough to let me relax.

So this is where I’ve found myself this afternoon – on my couch with my computer, coffee, and a cookie (mamma’s got to get some endorphins from somewhere) willing that my youngest does not awake from his afternoon nap too early.

I’ve had experience with these emotions before. They are nothing new. I’ve heard that word – failure – it’s all too familiar.

I’ve come to see this for what it is – a lie.
And I’ve come to see this for what it is – the truth.

The Lie

Let me explain. The truth of the matter is that my kids are alive. They are well fed. They are hearing the word of God on a regular basis. They are getting hugs and kisses, and for the most part, plenty of sleep. The oldest is learning to read and do his addition. My house is not a pig sty. Most days we have clean clothes to wear – and I get a shower at least once a week! All of this signifies that I’m not “failing” on a routine basis.

That’s why this is a lie! there’s only one who wants me to feel a failure in this way (my enemy). Why? Because he wants me to give up. He doesn’t like the potential of what it could look like for parents to raise four boys for the glory of their Creator. That scares him. So if he can just get me to get discouraged and think it’s not worth it or that I cannot do it, I may just give up and decrease the potential of the amazing impact my boys could have on the world around them. (Do not lose heart in doing good – for in due time, you will receive a reward if you do not give up!)

The Truth

The truth of the matter is that this word. This “failure” is in fact very true. I have yet to meet a woman who can do it all – the perfect house, the perfect kids (especially when there is more than one), the perfect decisions to please everyone around her, the perfect body, etc. And I am no exception to the rule. 

That's why this is the truth! There’s only One who wants me to feel a failure in this way (my Savior). Why? Because until I can admit my inadequacies, I cannot accept His all sufficiency. Because until I can admit my weakness, I cannot grasp His Strength. Because until I can confess my foolishness, I cannot understand His wisdom. (For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength).

It’s only when I realize my failings that I can begin to trust God’s sovereignty. It’s only when I come to Him with empty hands that He can fill them. His grace is sufficient. His strength is made perfect in my weakness – so it is, when I am weak, I am strong.

I, myself, am a failure. I cannot do it. But Christ in me is more than enough – and when I live out of that truth, I see that He will do exceedingly more than I could ask or think. For my God is enough. His presence in me is enough. And he makes my failures into more than enough to be used for His glory!

Edit March 2020: 

The original post was created five years ago. In all honesty, it hasn't gotten easier - just different. We've added two boys, moved to a smaller house, weathered a mental health crisis, and now we sit in self-quarantine during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Life is hard, and perhaps it always will be. But through it all, I have discovered that my pursuit of truth and the glory of God is crucial in maintaining proper perspective. 

None of us are enough for this job of mothering (and many who have just been thrust into full time stay-at-home-home-school-mom status due to this crisis may feel beyond overwhelmed!) I see you. I care! If you can find even a moment today (put on a virtual field trip for the kids or send them to the backyard to run around) to breathe, take it. Find a spot of beauty (a house plant, a warm shower, a photo album, some music). Take a minute to just be. Realize that Christ is here - even in the midst of this chaos. He is still in control. His strength is still enough. 

He's got this, Mamma! He's got you! And you've got this in His strength! Take your next step with Him today, and trust Him for the one after that. Grace and Peace!