Receiving the Appointed Bitter Gifts of God

Writing a book is a funny thing because it becomes like your little shoulder angel, whispering in your ear, reminding you of all the fine words you wrote that you’re supposed to be also putting into action. Maybe God has a little chuckle watching me deal with the many opportunities I have to do so. Like, oh you wrote about sacrificial love? Here’s a 6 am wake up call, some poop handprints on the bathroom wall, and a vomit covered toddler. Enjoy.

It sounds stupid, but I’m often taken off guard when life is hard. I can be personally affronted by inconvenience. Do something hard and unpleasant? Surely, not ME. Maybe we never grow out of this childishness without a perspective shift…because if we believe our lives are fundamentally about us, then our daily difficulties seem out of place. If we think we’re the director and star of our own drama, we will be continuously perplexed when our storylines go awry. 

While we’d like to think that our lives are self-made, scripture tells us that they are appointed to us. “Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). Our lives and every day that makes up their sum, including its difficulties, has been assigned to us.

If we see this, if it dawns on us that perhaps we are not the stars of this show nor the authors of this story, but recipients of a part to play in God’s grand narrative, we might begin to see our daily difficulties differently, even as a gift. I’m not sure I can ever look at poop handprints and think, “What a lovely gift,” but I think at least, we could see such inconveniences as bitter medicine with a sweet purpose. 

Every hard thing is meant to remind me that I am here on this earth to magnify Him and not the other way around. I can fight what He has assigned to me or submit myself to it, receiving the hard things as God-ordained and therefore, good. The toddler tantrum has been assigned to me. The poop handprints have been given. Though I might regularly pray, “Lord please let this cup pass from me”, the dishes and the laundry have apparently been appointed unto me for all my days under the sun. Yet I know from whom they come. I know who holds my lot and draws my boundary lines. The path He’s set out for me may include many things I’d rather leave out, but I know where it leads. To life. To joy. To pleasures evermore.

Big announcement! Upcoming Book

Thank you to those who are following along on this blog. I started this blog as a fresh out of college philosophy graduate. I, and my writing, have changed a lot since then, as I am now a stay-at-home homeschool mom of five. God began to help me hone what I wanted my writing to do: enlighten and encourage. And naturally, it has veered mostly toward the topic that consumes my life: motherhood.

A few years ago (3 1/2 to be exact, but who’s counting?), a handful of people told me I was funny and I should write a book about motherhood. Apparently, that was all it took to convince me that I’m funny and I should write a book about motherhood. But truthfully, it had always been a dream of mine to have a book published though it felt a little like dreaming of making it on broadway or becoming the queen of England.

Nonetheless, I started writing. I set out to create a book that gave moms in the trenches what I believed they needed: real gospel encouragement for the calling of motherhood and help laughing at the parts of motherhood you have to laugh about or go crazy.

I began to send it to publishers which felt like a big shot in the dark in a world where it’s very hard to be traditionally published, but God opened a door and led me to a publisher that was interested in my book.

Lots and LOTS of waiting, uncertainty, pandemic delays, hours and hours of editing, more waiting, and two babies later, it’s finally coming together. The cover is still in process and release date TBD…but stay tuned.

I am SO excited to announce that Majoring in Motherhood, my motherhood crash course, is coming soon. 🤗

For the Unholy Mother

I thought I would be holier by now.

I thought surely eight years of motherhood would turn me into a June Cleaver who smiles beatifically through the travails of raising children. I wake up with the resolve to be more like this, but somewhere between the morning oatmeal smeared on the table and the fiftieth exclamation of, “He hit me!” My resolve crumbles.

God’s love is described as steadfast, like the waves that relentlessly hit the shore. My love often feels fickle, pulled back and forth by a moody, unpredictable tide. I want to grow to be more like Him, more steadfast, but instead I feel like I’m just “fast.” Fast to anger. Fast to grumbling.

But maybe, that’s a big part of becoming holier: first seeing how unholy you are. Maybe the work of sanctification in motherhood is seeing just how wide the chasm between you and righteousness really is. We are not just a little worse than God. We are so very human while He is completely “other”, in a category of holiness we could never even come close to achieving on our own.

“If you O LORD should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

Salvations means God has descended down into our depths and hauled us back up to stand in the field of grace. It’s as simple as that and yet, there’s tension here. Grace is free, but not cheap. We are welcomed to its throne, but we must not tread flippantly on holy ground.

I thought I would be holier by now.

But maybe, the holiest person is the one bowed down to the dust, the one who reaches for the cup of salvation with trembling hands, knowing their only hope of receiving it is to plead the merits of another.

Reverence and redemption. Mourning and joy. Forgiveness and fear. How closely are they intertwined.

God’s Love is Under the High Chair. A Poem.

God’s love is under the high chair

The one who stoops down will find it

She condescends, descends into a lowly realm 

to scrub dried applesauce and mystery goo 

As she bends to peel spaghetti noodles,

noodle by noodle she discovers

God’s love is under the high chair

For before her, there was another 

who condescended, descended into a lowly realm 

to cleanse hearts and to redeem

Now, there is no job too low, no work too humble because 

God’s love is under the high chair

Motherhood: Looking for a Harvest

This morning I started my day here as I try to do. Bible open. Coffee in hand. Prayers for supernatural patience and grace and love and all the things I desperately need for the day ahead. Tonight, after finally getting all the kids to bed, I picked up the debris of the day: stray legos, burp rags, and lidless markers. And I stared at the Bible still left open and thought about how it felt like eons ago that I sat there.

I once wrote that motherhood is a marathon and sometimes, every day of motherhood feels like it’s own mini marathon and I’m actually just running the same loop on repeat. I wake up knowing what awaits me. Sibling fights. Juggling homeschooling and the baby’s schedule and the three-year-old’s mischief. Today, it was the usual pooping and peeing of the pants and stand-offs over ridiculous things. Slightly better than the clogging and overflowing of the toilet two days ago.

Sometimes, I wonder…am I accomplishing anything? Is any of this producing anything? But I’ve also been thinking about how motherhood takes a lot of faith. Like…crazy amounts of faith. I think of the farmer tilling his ground, sowing his seed, watering bare dirt for days, never knowing exactly when or how or which seeds will grow and someday produce fruit, but believing firmly that they will. 

I think motherhood is like that. We’re just showing up every day with a handful of seeds and some meager faith, ready to care for what’s in front us. We never know exactly what God is doing beneath the surface, buried under a foot of dirt that no one but Him can see. Most of the time, it looks like a big fat nothing is happening. But faith expects. Faith hopes. Faith knows. Great things grow from small seeds. Life stirs under dormant earth. The one who sows shall reap. Someday our eyes will see…harvest.

When Rest Is Hard

Rest. I never used to have trouble doing it, but somewhere along the way, with the addition of four kids, five zillion loads of laundry, and the realization that I am the adult in charge here…rest has become difficult. I find it hard to sit still in my own home because when I do, I’m usually just staring anxiously at all the things that need to be done and fighting the sense that with every second I sit there, everything is devolving further and further into chaos. Sometimes, I feel like that little boy with his finger in the dike, the one small barrier holding back a complete eruption.

And yet, we are commanded to rest, to cease from our labors, not when they are done because they are never done. There’s always another load of laundry, another dirty dish. The floor we mopped yesterday is already covered in crumbs and sticky spots again. There is no finish line to our work. There’s only more work. So, the command to rest is meant to be a gift, permission to stop trying to achieve what we can never achieve. It’s a gift wrapped in humility though. It’s hard to receive because it ultimately means relinquishing our illusion of control and trusting that there’s someone else holding it all together besides us and our little finger.

Isn’t that what the Gospel ultimately is? An invitation to rest? A gift we can only receive if we cease striving and start trusting in something outside of ourselves? In the same way we lay ourselves down in bed at night, trusting that the bed will hold us up, we lay ourselves down in the grace of God, trusting that the work of Jesus will hold us up. It will atone for all our unfinished work and all our futile strivings. He finished His work once for all and sat down at the right hand of God. Now, because He sat down…we can too.

And so today, I’m setting aside the to-do list and turning a blind eye to the random mess and baskets of unfolded laundry. They will be there tomorrow…and every day until the day I die. I’m trying to be better at receiving this humbling gift…“just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace.” 

Motherhood Musings on Juggling and Struggling

“Struggling isn’t failing.” I stop and say the words out loud to myself as I’m cleaning up the kitchen. 

My mind feels chaotic as the many things I need to accomplish for the day come at me like missiles, missiles that circle back around every few minutes to land again. Get my son to piano lessons. Finish school for the day. Shower. Maybe. Schedule that appointment. Call about getting the baby’s shots up to date. Put on makeup before my doctor’s appointment so I don’t look like a cast member of The Walking Dead. Everyone needs baths…and their nails cut. Why are there so many fingernails that insist on growing?

The chaos in my mind is mirrored by the chaos in my house. There are crayons. Everywhere. In the corners of the kitchen. By the stairs. I’m convinced they’re multiplying. Dress up has been discarded on the floor. Magnet blocks all over the living room. There are mac n cheese noodles stuck to the floor under the three-year-old’s chair. The lid to the coffee creamer wasn’t shut when I shook it and it spilled everywhere in front of the refrigerator. It is now a giant sticky spot that is collecting dirt and hair and who knows what else. I need to mop…I need to vacuum…I need a maid. 

It’s too much. There’s not enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough of me.

I am struggling. And it feels like failing. 

I’ve never been sure if I should call myself a perfectionist. My disorganized drawers would suggest no, but the meltdown I had after my first B would suggest yes. Sometimes, less than perfect doesn’t bother me, but others, it feels devastating.

Why is it so devastating? I’ve been trying to figure that out. I think ultimately it’s because it means that I am lacking. Lacking means deficiency and deficiency means failure. That is the path my mind naturally takes and that is why I find myself talking to myself in the kitchen, trying to take the thoughts out and examine them to see where I’ve gone wrong. 

What if the lacking was supposed to lead me somewhere else? To someone else?

We are uncomfortable with our limits. We balk at the reality that we only stretch so far before we break. My struggling feels like failure, but it’s actually just a reminder that I am a finite being, bound by time and space and the ways God has made me. It’s actually just God telling me I am not enough and this is a good thing to remember because it points me to the One who is. He exposes weakness not in condemnation, but love. He gives me more than I can handle so that He can give me more of Himself. 

The struggle is where He meets us. It’s where He pries our battered, ruined self-sufficiency from our hands and says, “I have something better.” 

“Struggling isn’t failing,” I say again. “It’s a gift.”

“She is clothed with strength and dignity.” And also probably armed with wipes and coffee…

Photo cred: my 3 yr old

Wash Their Feet. When Mothering Feels Beneath You.

I can gravitate between a noble sense of martyrdom, believing that I am the best mother ever and my children should be adoring me at every moment, and a nagging sense of failure, wondering why I can’t get my act together. Why can’t I shake the underlying tone of irritation that comes as I reply to “Mommy?” for the 500th time? Why can’t I respond more joyfully to a request for more milk when I have just sat down to eat my lunch? Why can’t I keep from snapping when my daughter asks me the same question for the 10th time in 10 minutes?

Today, it was the poop. And then it was the dirt. And then there was my daughter’s favorite game of 20 unnecessary questions. And then there were the scribbles on the new table. 

The poop came and interrupted my lunch. I swear my daughter waits to do her business until I sit down to eat, after I’ve ensured that everyone else has been fed. The call of “Mommmmyyy! I need you to wipe me!” is too perfectly timed with my attempted first bite to be coincidental (Yes, we’re working on teaching her to wipe herself. It’s a fine art, okay).

Then came the dirt. After sending the kids outside, so I could tackle the kitchen in quiet, my mind began to whir and I actually sat down to write, something I hardly ever manage to do. Then came the call, “Mommmmyy! Micaiah’s doing something bad!” It’s always vaguely communicated, leaving me to wonder where we are on the scale of “bad.” Today, it was mid-level bad. Dumping dirt from the garden bed all over the play gym, his siblings, and himself. Bad enough to have me seriously irritated. 

The dirt cued the questions. “Mommy, can you wash my feet?” over and over. “In a minute,” I said  for what felt like the 900th time as I shook dirt from his hair, scrambled to clean up the mess from the morning craft, and rushed to put on my 2 year old’s sheets I’d washed after he’d leaked on them this morning. Dirt or no, it was nap time. 

The last straw was the scribbles. While I was doing those things, the two year old was getting artistic on the brand new, white table I had just bought for my oldest’s lego building. It’s not like I thought there was any way that table would stay white. I was just hoping it would stay white for longer than a week. 

My daughter chose the moment of me furiously scrubbing the table to ask yet again, “Mommy, nowww can you wash my feet?” “I said HOLD ON!” was my patient, maternal reply. Even as I yelled and felt justified in my yelling, I knew I was about to be filled with regret. I knew I was going to have to go to my daughter and confess that I had failed. 

Mothering littles ones is lowly work. It should probably have run in the title sequence of Dirty Jobs. This week I have cleaned pee off the floor, wiped too many poopy bottoms to count, cleaned smeared guacamole and  yogurt and other gooey substances from many surfaces, and so on. There’s always dirt. There are always crumbs. There’s always something sticky. In the words of Luke from Gilmore Girls, kids always have “jam hands.” 

The truth is sometimes it all feels…beneath me. Once upon a time, I had a lot of potential. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now, I sometimes think…things that wouldn’t so often involve dealing with other people’s bodily functions. Yet here I am, the resident butt-wiper. 

That’s when that noble sense of martyrdom creeps in. I am a martyr to my cause, a silent sufferer, an unsung hero. Surely, when I’m dead, they will resurrect monuments in my honor. There might be a movie. At the very least, these children of mine should recognize and appreciate all that I do. Maybe even let me eat my lunch uninterrupted.

Most of that indignation evaporated at the sight of my daughter’s crumpled face. She just wanted me to wash her feet. To wash her feet. Hello, Jesus, looking over my shoulder saying “Ahem.”

There was another who washed the feet of messy, needy people. And He didn’t do it with a chip on His shoulder, grumbling about all the other things He could be doing which for Him was like…sitting on a throne of glory in heaven, ruling over the universe. No, He did it joyfully. He did it humbly. He did it on the way to a cross.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to come wash our dirty feet and put up with our nonsense. But He did. It was anything but pretty and it was most definitely beneath Him. If anyone had a right to complain about the lowliness of His job, it was Him. Yet He never did. He served faithfully, in love and obedience.

Jesus was Lord and Teacher. I am neither of those things. I am not greater than my master. So what if I laid aside my sense of martyrdom? What if I actually relinquished my sense of superiority to my task? What if I joyfully embraced the humbleness of my job and stopped begrudgingly trudging through it? Jesus says I will be blessed. 

 As I told my daughter when I asked her forgiveness, it takes a lonnnng time to get a new heart and God is still working on mommy’s. I know I will continue to struggle with this. I know I will not become a joyful servant overnight, but I also know God is slowly working His heart into mine. 

After all, good and beautiful things grow from lowly dirt and a little poop makes excellent fertilizer. Lucky for us moms, we have plenty of both.

The Israelites, Covid-19, and Our Greatest Battle

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…

These words comforted my soul as we sang them with our church body via live stream this morning. We are studying the book of Daniel and a message on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reminded me that God is with us in trial. My faith was bolstered, my heart uplifted.

Then I looked at the news.

I’d say you’d have to be living under a rock to not know what’s going on with covid-19, but actually, we are all living under a rock because of covid-19. Every day feels a little bit like groundhog day. Every day we wake up, stay inside, and wonder when this nightmare will end. Then we repeat.

Trying to even just process the state of the world is difficult. It’s hard to even quite wrap our minds around how our lives have been upended in just a matter of weeks. This morning as I cranked up the worship music in an attempt to calm my heart, I began to think about the Israelites in Exodus.

God delivered them from the slavery and oppression of Pharaoh. He passed over them when they hid behind the blood of a lamb. He miraculously divided the sea so they could walk through it. And He assured them that He would lead them into the Promised land.

They knew their past. They knew their promised future. And yet, they hovered in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

We have much in common with them. God has delivered us from the slavery of sin. He has passed over us because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb. He has done amazing things in our lives and never failed to be faithful. He has promised to lead us into the Eternal Promised Land where death will be no more and sorrow and sighing will cease.

We know our past. We know our promised future. And yet, we hover here in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

Like the Israelites, our greatest battle in these days is the battle for faith over fear, the battle for trust over grasping. Like them, we face many temptations. We are tempted to turn to idols when God seems absent and we don’t understand what He’s doing. We are tempted to worry about tomorrow, hoarding “manna” in a vain attempt to make ourselves feel secure. We are tempted to run in fear when we hear reports of giants in the land.

Covid-19 is a giant that looms large and seems unconquerable. The battle for faith as we face this giant is a daily one.

Today, I will not trust in myself, in government, in doctors. Today, I will trust in the Lord

Today, I will not worry about tomorrow or the days after. I will look to the Lord to provide the resources, grace, and strength I need for this day.

Today, I will not give in to fear when I hear reports of growing threats and danger. I will lift my eyes to the One who rules over all. 

I’d be lying if I told you’d I’ve been winning this battle every day of this global crisis. My faith is weak and fickle, just like the Israelites, but God is staunchly faithful to me and all who are called by His name, just like He was to the Israelites.

And thankfully, the battle for faith is never a battle we fight on our own. He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust. He knows we could never win this battle by ourselves. So He fights it with us. When our hearts begin to tremble with fear, His Spirit leads us back to faith just as a good shepherd leads a weary sheep to water. Again and again and again.

I don’t like feeling like my life is out of my control, but actually, it’s always out of my control whether I “feel” it or not. However, it is never out of His. It makes me uncomfortable that I have no idea what the future holds, but it gives me hope that I know the One who holds it. Today, I will fight the battle for faith in Him. Tomorrow, He will help me do it again.

God has delivered us from sin and promised to deliver us to that eternal shore. He will surely lead us through the uncertainty of the in-between. He is in our midst. He will help us when morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

sars-cov-19

 

 

And Yet…We Praise Him. Thanksgiving When Life Is Hard.

2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.

Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).

And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).

Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).

Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.

A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.

Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).

This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic.  Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.

Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.

This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.

Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).

The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.

thanksgiving.jpg