Thursday, October 30, 2014

ten thoughts that can cure baby fever

I currently have approximately twenty pregnant friends. Which is fine. I don't miss being pregnant. Heartburn, weight gain, waiting for two hours for a ten minute doctor's appointment, swollen ankles.... Pregnancy holds very little allure for me.

Except for the siren song of the precious, squishy-faced, brand-new, darling, cooing babies that all those women will have in a few months. All those uncomfortable, hormonal friends of mine are so stinking lucky.

They better let me hold their tiny treasures, or I will never forgive them. Babies send butterflies aflutter in my heart and make my knees weak.  I love babies!!

i. love. babies.

At times like these, I have to ignore the peaceful joy of sleeping infants and remind myself of the trenches of babydom.  It is my only defense against full-blown baby fever.

Maybe this will help all of you babyless baby-lovers out there to get through another day without a squishy-faced newborn to snuggle. And, maybe it will help you baby-mamas to know that some day, your season with babies will pass, and there will be reasons to be grateful that time marches on as babies grow up.

Or maybe you'll just think I'm crazy. Anything is possible, I suppose. Here are ten things I do not miss about having a baby:

10. The aroma of spit up.The only thing worse than realizing your baby reeks of regurgitated milk is realizing you reek of regurgitated milk. And should your baby happen to spit up in your hair, you must take a full-blown shower to rid yourself of the odor. I know this from personal experience. Ick. So gross.

9. Baby monitors. Baby monitors crackle and make weird noises all night long. Sometimes I would wake up and wonder if a tornado had struck the nursery. Other times I could hear my neighbors' late night phone conversations through the monitor. Ours had a battery option and if they became unplugged for some reason, an alarm went off in the middle of the night!! Living without those things is true deliverance at its best.

8. Carrying a human in a car seat. Baby carriers are awesome until the baby weighs more than fifteen pounds. After that, when the baby falls asleep in the car and you have to lug that carrier into a store, you can plan on making a stop at the chiropractor after your Target run.

7. Germs, the flu, people who sneeze on planes, older children with runny noses, the sound of a cough in a movie theater. Nothing says "panic" to a new mom like the possibility of a fever or the flu in a brand new baby. All it takes is one friend whose baby has had a spinal tap in the ER and you will never want to leave your house until your baby is old enough to have a dose of tylenol.

6. Being the primary food source for a human. There came a point with each of my babies that the sweetness of nursing disappeared. Like some some sort of Looney Tunes mirage, I'm pretty sure they saw a giant turkey leg every time they looked at me me. My life was not my own when I was nursing, I was constantly trying to figure out if the baby was getting enough or "snacking" too much or just cluster feeding. It was so complicated! Weaning is no picnic, either, so nursing was just all one big emotional conflict in my soul.

5. All the gear required. Every simple trip to the grocery required the utmost preparation and forethought.  Diapers, wipes, bottles, nursing pads, extra change of clothes, nursing cover, pacifier, toys, baby food, spoon, stroller, and teething tablets: should you forget any of these items, it was certain that there would be some sort of humiliating experience the resulted from your forgetfulness. I recommend buying everything online and never leaving the house if you have a baby. Way easier.

4. Date nights with an infant in tow. Don't get me wrong, we were always happy once we got to go out, even if it meant taking a little one with us. But date nights that don't include changing a diaper in the backseat of your car are much more romantic, know what I mean?

3.  All the parenting advice forced upon you. The world is apparently full of baby experts.  You learn this when total strangers stop you in Costco and ask if your baby is sleeping through the night, if he is taking a bottle, or whether or not he sleeps in a crib or your bed.  When you answer that, no, he wakes every four hours, he hates the bottle, and you stuck him in a crib because you like to sleep without a snorting baby next to you, they explain everything you have done wrong and how to fix your life, you baby, and your marriage.  It's astounding how much everyone else knows about your life.

2. Sleep deprivation. Aside from a few select nights of my youth in which I chose to stay awake for hours and hours, I have never known exhaustion like I knew during the years we had infants. I can recall days that I scraped myself around the house out of sheer duty to my young offspring. The thought that I had no idea when I would have more than four uninterrupted sleep again was demoralizing. It was painful to live like that. Sleep is awesome. Big kids sleep. Therefore Big kids are awesome.

1. The way babies coo, wriggle, and cozy into the crook of your arm when you rock them... wait... Oh, man. I guess I can't think about babies and only think mean, spiteful things. Their cuteness and sugar sweetness takes over my brain.

Quick, someone call me and let me hear your baby scream in the background....

Monday, October 27, 2014

how to be a missional family

"Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved; whoever refuses to believe is damned." -Jesus (Matthew 16:15-16 The Message)

We had a busy weekend.

Saturday morning we woke up and cleaned our house from top to bottom. It's for sale and we didn't know if it would need to be shown after we left for the day's activities. (It didn't. Boo.)

Then we drove to a stranger's house. We pulled weeds, trimmed bushes, installed a ceiling fan, insulated the front door, and laid mulch along with fifteen or so other people from our community group.

Afterward we hurried to the football fields, where my boys caught passes in fabulous boyhood glory, or they missed altogether because they are kids and not NFL legends (yet).

When the games were over we drove to our dear friends' house and relished the blessing of how life has woven us together into lifelong relationship. (I was filthy and exhausted and smelled like dirt but they didn't comment- my friends are saints.)

Sunday morning I rolled my window down at the stoplight to chat with the man who daily stands on the corner.

Two hours later I hugged the same man in the lobby of our church. He started coming last week, and it was good to see him there again.

"This is the best thing that's happened to me all day," he said. I blushed and laughed.

We took communion as a church family, and I looked at the bread and juice in my hand. The pieces of my weekend began to fall into place.

Jesus taught us an amazing lesson when He came to earth to be God With Us, and then died so that we could become the family of God.

Family, done properly, is inherently missional.

Why do we go to football games, tend our homes, steward our blessings, and gather together with the people God has gifted to us? Because the gospel shows us we ought to always be loving one another, spending time and effort to cheer, connect, and celebrate the life we share.

Why do we serve strangers, open our lives to the outcast, and prioritize giving out more than we are taking in? Because the gospel shines light on how we ought always to be elevating the lives of others above our own, it shows us that greatness is wrapped up in smallness, and it pushes us out of our comfort and into bearing the brokenness of others.

Our lives were God's most cunning missional outreach. Now we take His love everywhere we go.

Missional living looks like mercy and kindness and compassion and faith and trust and rejoicing and sacrifice and encouragement and honor and truth and grace and vulnerability on our lips and on our calendars and in our everyday interactions with the people in our path.

Sunday after church we had two more football games and then the Harvest Fest at church. The kids won candy playing carnival games, hopped in bouncy houses, and ran around the church parking lot with their friends.

I am grateful that for my kids normal life looks like laying mulch in a single mom's flower bed and then praying a blessing over her before they go play football.

I am glad that it's unsurprising to my children that everyone they know comes back to church on a Sunday night to enjoy a fall afternoon together.

I am blessed that there are so any people who ask my sons if they won their football games, who cheer when they hear they won and who say, "Next time, buddy!" when they hear they lost.

I am grateful for the blessings of living missionally with amazing brothers and sisters in Christ, with Jesus as our center and and His life as our best example of love on display.

Our lives are on mission, and we are also God's great mission field, forever being won by His glorious sacrifice. I don't want any other kind of life. I just want all of this.

Monday, October 20, 2014

parenting with hopeful tenderness

I found Boy 1 lying with his face in a pillow, sobbing with great, big gulps of grief.

"Did you already know?" he asked.

"Yes, buddy. Daddy told me last night. I'm so sorry, sweetie. Can I rub your back and sit with you?"

"I guess."

His voice was muffled because his face was still buried in feathery pillowness. I sighed. What's a mama to do?

There are problems a ten year-old boy's heart mourns with with great sorrow. They seem small compared to other sorrows that the earth can scarcely bear- war, poverty, sicknesses that have no cure. But that really isn't the point, is it?

These troubles are dark and heavy to this boy of mine, all full of grief, sprawled on his bed. I sit on a Spiderman quilt next to the child whose birth ripped my heart in two, making space for a grander love than I ever thought possible, and I wait for him to find his way through his loss.

There has never been a human on earth who hasn't felt the cutting of this kind of moment- expectations slashed by circumstances beyond our control.

Plans rescheduled, school applications rejected, cars totaled, promises broken, job interviews gone awry, families torn apart, deals that don't work out, crops that fail, babies lost, churches that fail, and lives that despair in the middle of storms that won't cease. 

Free will leaves so many loose ends, so many possible ways we can be wounded by unexpected tragedies.

Aren't we made to be loved? Aren't we made to belong? Aren't we designed to know in deep soul spaces that there is a God and He never fails us

Yes, but we live among empty tombs. Like Mary, we think the worst has happened, and we place our hope on one last glimpse of hope in the darkness. Maybe the emptiness of our losses is confusing because our hearts can't bear the vacancy any longer. We need fresh hope from heaven and to hear our name called out by the Lord of Love.

I rubbed my son's back for a few minutes until I had to go.

"I have to go get dinner ready. Maybe a good meal will help?"

"No. It won't." 

Ah, yes. Each heart knows its own bitterness, as the Proverb says. I said a silent prayer and left.

Later that night, after tacos and brownie sundaes, those blue eyes locked with mine, and he sighed with contentment.

"You were right. Good food helps."

I smiled, and I knew we both felt the emptiness fill a bit. The loss is still there, but now so is something else: tender hope. 

That boy I love made it through after all. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

when you want to ask God why

{Today I am reading back through old posts, looking for light and truth in all God has already given. This is a repost from 2012, and it's encouraging to know that circumstances change, but our hope remains in the same God who is the great I AM....}

"I don't want to be a cliché," I tell him late one night after a hard day.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

"I don't want to be the wife who pesters her husband to death because she can't handle her own responsibilities," I mumble out the words because they are the most soul-born, honest sentiments I have spoken in months.

It had been a day full of emotions and hormones that I buried down inside, dumped at the feet of Jesus and refused to let dictate my responses, my tones, and my actions. I was exhausted and alone in that moment; who knew all I had laid down today? Only Jesus could really ever know.

I think of it more now, and I know what else I don't want to be. I don't want to be the mother who keeps her house in order but loses her children's hearts. I don't want to be the pastor's wife who is lonely and has no life of her own. I don't want to be the Christian who reads her Bible but misses the most important commandment: to love God first with her whole heart, soul, and mind, and to love others more than herself.

Keeping that commandment is easy when your life is full of cozy emotions and easily-won achievements. Dark days require bravery if you don't want your heart, mind, and soul to harden and shrink away from God.

I stood in soul-dimness for several years after the birth of our sons. We had three boys in twenty-seven months. Let's break that down: Boy 1 was born in January of 2004. When he was four months old I got pregnant with Boy 2 who was born in February of 2005. When Boy 2 was five months old I got pregnant with Boy 3 and he was born in May of 2006. They were newborn, fourteen months-old, and twenty-seven months-old in the spring of 2006. I was overwhelmed and tired.

I rocked three babies at one time and cried this prayer a lot, "Why God? Why would you do this to me? Why would you do this these poor babies? How can I possibly be a good mom to all of them at once?"

Many days I wasn't a "good" mom. I just survived the tantrums and the diapers and the feedings, went to bed and got up to do it all again the next day. No one learned their letters, how to count, or their colors. No one went to butterfly parks to marvel at God's creation, or to the museum to see how wind makes electricity.  On the worst days no one napped, my patience wore too thin, my anger burned a little too hot, and my apologies flowed like a fountain.

But most days, I trusted that since we were in the middle of God's will, we were going to be okay. Most days Boy 1 and I drew with sidewalk chalk on the driveway while the babies slept. Most days we took a walk, two boys in the stroller, one boy in the sling. Many days I made dinner in the crockpot to avoid insanity in the afternoon, put lipstick on as Mr. Fantastic walked through the door, and was thankful for adult conversation.

Every day I hugged my boys and told them how much I loved them.

Then, as the days turned into weeks, then months, and then years, I learned how great God is. I see how the chaos has driven me to Him. I have learned how selfishness is driven from the human heart when suffering turns into submission to a God who sees everything.

The answer to my prayer of "Why?" was simple: so I could know the gospel. The gospel answers the deepest questions the darkness of this world brings up in our hearts. It says:

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen." - 1 Peter 5:10-11

The gospel, in its truth and power is never cliché.

Monday, October 13, 2014

when silence thunders of God's love

art by Jen Renninger

We stand on the edge of a cliff. Can't you feel it? The wind swirls around us, water from crashing waves occasionally sprays our faces, and even though we know a deafening roar rises from below us, the silence overrides it.

It's so very quiet on the edge of God's newness.

The truth of our souls lies beneath the water. God wrought caves there. They hold mysterious corridors and the answers to our deepest cries for mercy and justice. Will we dive into the unknown darkness, entering the places God has already gone and prepared for us?

For this how we begin to map out our souls.
Our Creator Father breathes in deeply, a long inhale that takes generations to be completed. His holy lungs fill with the joys and pains, the glory and the ashes, the beauty and the brokenness, and He smiles because He has good plans for all of it.

High above us, beyond trees that shelter from the heat of summer, past the clouds that hide rainbows of promise, above the air that waits in anticipation for the day it will hold rays of Light carrying final redemption, He is beginning to exhale a fresh wind of His Spirit.

The silence is pregnant with God's pleasure, His adoration of His children, and His sovereign plan to bring us deeper into Who He really is.

It is time to leap from this cliff, to swim beneath the waters of God's mysterious ways, and to be held by Him in the darkness.

Oh my soul, don't be afraid. This is part of the terrifying journey of faith. Quiet your rattling words that beat hope to dust. Let go of every anxious thought and swim into the caves. Be brave, my soul.

Find treasure in who He is, feel the quiet thunder of His grace, know that "He is". This is how new things begin: one leap of faith into God's mysterious ways.

Friday, October 10, 2014

how to have real love in your marriage

Before we were married, I thought love would make life richer and more beautiful. I had it backwards, though. It is life that makes love gain in beauty, with its days full of both hard things and good things, with its months wrought with changes and transformations, with its years of trouble that blossom into decades of new vitality.

The years have certainly worn on Mr. Fantastic and I a bit.

Like the stuffed rabbit in the proverbial tale who found that love made him real as it tattered and wore him, we can't help but be real after all these years.

We have carried each other around and occasionally dropped one another by accident. Selfishly we dragged each other through the dirt a few times, and often held on to the other person too tightly because joy or sorrow overwhelmed us.

At first glance, from afar, we look a lot less scuffed up than we are. But if anyone watches or listens for long, they learn the truth: we love each other more than the other deserves. We have forgiven greatly, sacrificed much, believed the best, endured the darkness hand-in-hand, and rejoiced together when dawn broke with all its glory. 

Ours is a velveteen marriage, held by a God whose real love for us makes us real. He sees our wrongs, our sins, our shortcomings, and forgives us. He pours His mercy into our hearts for one another so the forgiveness can be passed on.

We love each other to pieces. The love in our hearts is our most precious possession, and it grows exponentially with the wrinkles on our faces and the days crossed off on the calendar.

God's love goes on and on, never diminishing or failing, more real than anything else we have ever known. It never fails us, even in the darkest fears, the loneliest moments, and the angriest storm.

With that love coming to the rescue again and again, real is all we know how to be. The realest things are often invisible and rarely tangible, but when they touch you, you are never the same again.

Life slips through our hands so quickly, and the memories fade into dreams of what once was. But love birthed in those memories is ours forever. And it is the most beautiful thing we will ever behold.

"We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love." -1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (The message)

Monday, October 6, 2014

...and if being a wife and a mom doesn't really seem good enough for God- then what?

The bass vibrated from the stage and the music somehow pierced a hole in my heart when I sang these words:

"We love You. We'll never stop. All this is for You, Jesus."

All this is for You, Jesus. All this what is for Jesus?

My mind flooded with the vision of piles of laundry, bandaids applied to ant bites, my personal football practice shuttle service, a forgotten batch of cookies burnt in the oven, packed lunches that come home from school uneaten (they would have at least eaten the cookies if I hadn't burnt them), sweet goodnight prayers, and early mornings on the sofa reading Isaiah.

I also saw rejection letters from publishers, laughter that shakes the darkness of despair, celebratory dinners with beloved people, apologies for broken promises, money given in faith, endless Pinterest boards full of dreams and projects, and days that seem meaningless with their monotonous routines.

And I thought, "All THIS is for Jesus? Ugh. What a small offering I bring the the King of Kings."

I'm not alone, though. I know a few other lives of humble circumstances and perceived failures from the past that seem a bit unworthy of God's greatness:

The blind man whose suffering existed for the purpose displaying the power of God. (John 9)
The woman who couldn't stop the bleeding, and whose faith released the power that resided in Jesus. (Luke 8)
The mismanaged wedding feast where Jesus performed his first miracle. (John 2)
The expensive perfume a beloved (but perhaps somewhat unwise??) woman poured out at Jesus' feet, seemingly wasting it- but Jesus said she would be remembered for her act of beauty. (Matthew 26)
Pontius Pilate, who tried to release Jesus, but who sentenced Him to death instead because of a bunch of angry people. (Matthew 27)

Come to think of it, are there any lives here on earth that don't seem small when lined up beside the greatness of a God robed in resurrection power, and fueled by sacrificial love?

No. I don't think there are. Our greatness lies in the way our lives mirror the vastness of the God for whom we live, to whom we give ALL THIS.

What's your "ALL THIS"? What small offering have you brought to Him so that glory can burst forth into eternity from the tiny keyhole of your short life?

I don't really know why God stoops low to be with us in our smallness. I don't know what it is about us that delights Jesus so passionately when we decide that all this humble smallness is for Him.

But I do know that that truth makes all the obscure moments of motherhood, writing, housework, and ministry, all the monotonous effort of a lifetime suddenly seem very, very meaningful. What Jesus deems as valuable can never again be called anything less than precious.

So, yes. All this is for You, Jesus. All this is for You and You alone. Enjoy the small sacrifice of our lives, may our stories bring glory to Your name.

And, thank You for "all this"....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

what's the worst thing that could happen?

There seem to be so many awful things that happen in the world. What if we're next?

That's the trap, isn't it? That fear hisses out from the small offenses, the minor losses, and the non-life threatening horrors we must endure. It's also the disquieting hum vibrating out of nightmares that come true and tragedies that break hearts and lives.

It's often unbearable.

But what if the worst is behind us?

Sometimes I look at my children and I envy the way they open their arms wide and assume that life will always be good. Childlike faith is beautiful and its light shines out, proving that perhaps I have been a fool for many years.

And of course, it's not just my kids. Open the Bible and behold Jesus, making fear and worry seem like a complete copout. We can let it ruin the awesomeness of God's love if we want, but that's our choice, not His.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" -Mathew 5:25-27

I have begun to suspect that this life is more about sitting back and enjoying the ride home than anything else.

The horror is behind us- we were apart from God, lost in a wilderness of sin, broken by the weight of unrighteousness, hemorrhaging and dying right where we stood. There isn't anything more to worry about. Sure, there are some bumps and quick-turns ahead, but it's all going to turn out for our good.

We're heading home now. I am leaning back against the slightly uncomfortable headrest and adjusting my legs to find a good position in this small-ish seat I have been given. My eyes are focused out the window, just over the horizon, looking with longing for the gates that will take me to my heavenly Father.

Very little worries me now. The fear is gone. The Love is thick, like a fog that has settled over our lives, and it obscures the way we are going a bit. It makes the mountains faded and hazy in the distance, so that I can't tell just how high they are. But that's alright. We will climb them when we get to them, and the Love will help us through it all.

I'm going home, and in the end, that's all that truly matters.