Saturday, October 18, 2008

Does patience exist?

Chesterton makes the observation that single virtues, when separated from all the others, are as unhelpful and mad as vices.  For example, truthfulness without charity and patience can run violent.  Likewise, charity without truthfulness and patience is a failure to love sincerely and well. I remember studying the fruit of the Spirit, and one Bible study writer noted it is the fruit (singular) not fruits (plural).  At the time I thought the distinction was probably irrelevant, but in light of Chesterton's comment I am inclined to rethink my position.  It makes sense that the life that is born from the Holy Spirit is one that reflects God's nature more and more, and this reflected nature, which is one, has many characteristics.  

As a mom, I often make resolutions, like "Today I am going to be more patient if my daughter takes forever to go to sleep," or "Today I am going to take great joy in the work God has given me."  But at best I am generally only able to conjure up the patience or joy or whatever for about 15 minute spurts, if that long.  This is sometimes the case even on days when I've had a really great prayer time.  

I wonder if part of the problem is that things like patience or joy simply are not entities to be had.  I cannot get more patience without also growing in truthfulness and kindness and hope, because patience in itself does not exist.  The Holy Spirit is the entity that exists - the Holy Spirit is the one to be "had" - and these are characteristics of that Spirit.  And so instead of hoping and praying for more peace or kindness or self-control or name the prayer, I'm thinking it would be more effective to focus upon praying for and submitting to more and more of God's Spirit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Knowing God

I use to be able to do a lot of things I can't do anymore now that I'm a mom.  I use to lead Bible studies and clean up the church.  I use to spend hours upon hours studying Scripture daily.  I even spent years working on graduate degrees in order to eventually reach thousands of students with deeper and fuller knowledge of the Word of God and thus touch the world in a hopefully profound way for Christ.  Now when I think about all that is not getting done, I feel torn.  All these things I did - they were really good things.  It is scandalous to think that one little baby could be more important than all those people I could be reaching.  But every so often God gently touches me with the truth that my love for this baby is the outcome of living into His image.  Today the message came to me in an unfamiliar hymn I stumbled upon.  It's speaking about Jesus, but I see in it my life as I live the life of a mother, as well:

Open are the gifts of God, gifts of love to mind and sense; 
hidden is love's agony, love's endeavor, love's expense.

Love that gives, gives evermore, gives with zeal, with eager hands;
spares not, keeps not, all outpours, ventures all, its all expends.

Drained is love in making full, bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich, weak in giving power to be.

Therefore he who shows us God helpless hangs upon the tree,
and the nails and crown of thorns tell of what God's love must be.

(UMH 194, verses 2-5)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Itchy Sin

My daughter has a rash all over her belly and on her wrist and ankle.  It is so pitiful.  We can't seem to make it go away.  And it bothers her so much that of course she scratches it.  I say, "Don't scratch it!" and she does a remarkable job for a 22 month old at resisting the scratching temptation.  But it just itches so much...

I once heard someone make the astute observation that sin gives you the best it has to offer right up front, and then it's all downhill from there.  

It seems to me that the moment of giving into temptation is a lot like scratching a persistent itch - you want to scratch it, you want to, you want to, and finally you give in and do it.  And, wow, for one glorious half millisecond it feels so good.  But then it itches even more than before, hurts even worse than before, and turns even redder and more swollen than before.  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Click here to view our daughter's father's day tribute!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The legacy of this moment

Many months ago, when my daughter was very tiny, everyone kept telling me, "It goes fast!"  I made up my mind to treasure each moment as it happened so that I wouldn't regret missing those moments later.  Now, 21 months have gone by, and I really don't feel nostalgic, because I did treasure those moments, I gave her my best then, and now there are new moments to treasure and in which to give my best.  

Even still, sometimes I shake my head in amazement at how deceptively fast the seemingly endless similar days go by.  Just a few days ago - or was it a month ago? - I remember a moment when I was rocking my daughter.  It was a special moment in the same way that most of the moments are special - nothing out of the ordinary happened, but I was very deeply treasuring wrapping her in maternal warmth and security.  And I had the thought - tomorrow it will be gone.  And now it is past many days over... but not entirely.  There is something that is left.  

There is a legacy of each moment that remains with us forever.  In that moment I gave my daughter the gift of resting securely in the arms of her loving mommy, and that became a part of who she became in the next moment, and the next, and the next, and it remains a part of her in this moment.  Of course, that is not the only moment that has become a part of her - every hug, every lullaby, every nutritious meal, every rubbing on of sunscreen, every endless hour spent playing tea party, every laugh and every cry, every decision for patience and every loss of temper - these moments may be gone, but she, the living person, is their lasting legacy.  

In your life, what will the legacy of this moment be?  I've started asking myself this at random moments throughout the day, and it has been tremendously helpful in keeping me focused.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith

As a young mom, there are so many things I want my child grow in learning - potty training, ABC's,  social skills, etc.  But today I came across a verse that brought me back into focus:  

"But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith."  - 1 Timothy 1:5.

And I remembered - That is what I want for my daughter- a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith, overflowing in love.  I plastered the verse all over her playroom to remind myself.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Generations: Toledot and the book of Genesis

I was 3 months pregnant and on my way to the doctor's office for a check up.  A song came on the radio, with the lyrics, "I AM the one who knew you before your birth, before you were..."  Such statements have always amazed me.  God knew me before I was?  I've always found great joy in that thought.  But on this day, as I was thinking instead about my yet-to-be-born daughter in my womb, the thought floated across my brain, "Umm, no, she exists because of me and my husband."  It was unbelievably mind-blowing in that moment for me to grasp that God had forever known and planned my yet-to-be daughter's existence while I also considered the precariousness of conception, pregnancy, and delivery.  Maybe it shouldn't have so startled me, but it did.  

Then she was born, and God let me know her.  Day by day we laugh, sing, dance, and grow together, and in the process it is tempting to think that I am the one making her into who she will become, because, well, I am certainly a big part of it.  But it is crazy to also consider that who she is and who she is becoming has always been known and planned by God, that God foresaw all of this, that God has woven who she is into his beautiful plan for all of creation.  
In the beginning was God, and God began to create.  On day one God made light.  On day two, the sky.  For seven days God performed each work in its own time, and the Hebrew word used to describe each of these works is toledot, often translated "generations":  "These are the generations (toledot) of the heavens and the earth in their creation" (Genesis 2:4).  Toledot is the same word used in the rest of Genesis for the "generations" of humans.  It is mind-blowing for me to consider that my daughter is next in line in the unfolding of creation, that her life is a part of the next piece accomplished in its time, which is now.  

The Bible seems to be very mysterious when it comes to matters of free will and predestination, and the apparent precariousness of life highlights the tension between the two within my mind.  But I find it to be a good check to myself in my parenting to remember that this precious little girl first was God's idea.  That God chose me as one of her co-creators.  That God sees and knows and understands fully her destiny and has done so since before she was a glint in my imagination.  That my daughter's creation is being accomplished in its own time, as a part of God's beautifully orchestrated creation that continues its journey on to completion.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Learning from African Perspectives on Motherhood

"If I no sleep, my mother no sleep.  If I no chop, my mother no de chop.  She no de taya aa, sweet mother, I no forget the suffer way you suffer for me" (Nico Mbarga, "Sweet Mother").  

Being a good mom isn't that different from being a good pastor.

In her article "Abiyamo: Theorizing African Motherhood," Oyeronke Oyewumi notes that Western cultures such as ours often view the mother as "trapped in her primary role as caregiver."  I see this everywhere.  Our culture is forever offering me sympathy for my plight (this starts early - "Are you sleeping?"), hope for the bright day when my daughter starts school  ("You'll get your life back when your child starts school..."), and encouragement for me to take what is surely a deeply-needed break from my child as often as possible now ("Did you know there is daycare provided?"  "Why don't you ask a church member to watch your daughter once or twice a week so that you can get more done?").  All of this is very well-intended.  

But other cultures' understandings of motherhood confront me with the limitations of our own.  It is true that being a mother is demanding and difficult.  But this is not all that motherhood is.  Mothers are great life-givers.  Mothers exercise tremendous influence over their offspring and thus over society as a whole.  Mothers are every human being's first home.  They are the first relationship every human ever experiences, for better or worse.  In Yoruba culture, motherhood is viewed not as a temporary situation for the woman of a baby, trapped until she can return to doing what she really wants, but as a lifelong gift.  

I think our culture's perspective on motherhood feeds off of the way in which our culture nurtures the value of self-centeredness in all of us, mothers or not.  We call it "independence," but what we really mean is that we believe it is enslavement to be in a situation in which we have to give up our own needs and sense of entitlement moment by moment to care for another in the way of Jesus.  Thank God that he doesn't value his "independence" as much as we do.  

I am happiest as a mom when I am surrounded by people who believe that what I am doing in being a mother is valuable, when the benefit to the child and thus to the world is emphasized, when the cost is taken as a given not to be avoided but as something that must, for the sake of the child and the world, be embraced.  I believe this is true not only for mothers but for all persons called to live of life of sacrificial service for others.  

Next time you encounter a mother with a small child, please offer a word of joy and delight for the great benefit of her sacrificial service.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Staying with Mom Instead of Childcare

I just spent the past several days at Annual Conference for my denomination.  It was such a helpful time for me as a mother.  Our culture encourages mothers to leave their children in childcare for the sake of giving the moms a break to do other things.  And so, at this conference, there was childcare provided.  And it was really excellent childcare.  The woman in charge was herself the mother of three, and she was fabulous with children.  The rest of the workers were very attentive and loving.  There were activities for the children to do throughout the day, food to eat, pillows for comfortable nap times, and even a special devotional time.  It was great.  But I didn't leave my daughter there.  I took her, but I stayed with her.  

Imagine that your entire family is going on a trip to visit a new land you have never been to.  Once you get there, you are surrounded by new people... and then you turn around and discover your husband, your wife, your siblings, your children, they disappeared when you weren't looking.  Ughh.  How would you feel?  Add to that the fact that you are at a stage in life in which being with your family means everything to you, in which things feel right when you are with them and wrong when you are not.  This isn't the case at all stages of life.  A teenager equivalent to the experience of a toddler being left by his mommy with strangers would probably look more like having his/her clique of friends from school disappear at a party.  But whatever the case, I just couldn't bring myself to do this to my daughter.  

When my daughter was five weeks old, a friend of mine asked me, "Now, what do you think you should do when your baby is crying uncontrollably in the back seat of the car and you still have a long way to go?"  I replied, "Umm, turn up the radio and ignore her?"  My friend taught me how to get in touch with the part of me that would not want to do that.  And today, on our way home from the conference, I sat in the backseat with my daughter feeding her Cheerios, reading her books, and singing and signing songs.  I've come a long way.

I know that childcare is an important thing - there really are moms who absolutely need it for financial reasons and such.  And sometimes there is no alternative but for a child to cry in the car.  But often, if we are honest, we who are nurtured in this easiest-is-best culture are inclined to use these methods just because we are worn out and it feels easier to do so in the moment.   But often the best way - not just for the child, but I believe for the mother - is the way of the cross, choosing to die.  My daughter and I stayed together for the entire conference.  The entire weekend was mentally and physically challenging for me as I cared for my daughter 24 hours a day without the comforts of routine and home, and in an environment that required constant vigilance as she was constantly in danger of disappearing from sight in the huge hotel.  But the rewards were priceless.  I don't even know if I could do justice to them in just a few words.  Suffice it to say that our bond grew seven-fold these past 3 days, I am more capable of focusing upon her than ever, she is even more confident and secure, and my maternal warmth has doubled.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life is Tenacious

The other day my husband, daughter, and I went on a hike in the mountains.  At one point we got lost, and we were just wandering through the mountain.  It was breathtaking.  I had never been off-trail before - this was my very first experience really being in the deep of nature.  The fresh moss and grass padded our feet.  The high, arching branches shaded us from the sun.  The gentle breeze constantly refreshed us.  There was a constant variety to the scenery - sometimes lots of leaves on the ground, sometimes rocky terrain.  Sometimes the climb was so steep I had to use all four limbs, but there would be a level grassy area, giving our muscles a break.  "This is a human's natural habitat," I realized at one point as I sat down and watched a rush of wind make the trees dance.  We weren't created to live walking on hot, mercilessly glaring concrete with radios blasting.  This was home.  I would have no idea how to live in a home like that, but I felt so much more human there.  

Today I had to drive some distance.  In my car, on the road, I felt a pain as I drove over the slab of concrete that pressed itself upon the ground.  It felt like a bruise upon the earth.  I am overwhelmed when I think about the extent of how out of touch we are as humans with the good habitat that God created for us.  It hurts.  It hurts us.  The Bible begins, continues, and ends with the story of how God wills the existence of life - abundant life.  And the Bible also constantly describes how humans are constantly throwing a slab of concrete over the places where life - our own lives - should be.  I feel this at work in my own heart.  Years of living in a world full of sinful people who have hurt me.  Years of living as a sinful person who has hurt others.  There are places in my brain and my heart where instead of abundant life and life-giving fruit there is nothing but concrete pressing itself down upon my soul.  The forces of death and destruction are overwhelming.  And yet, what would happen if a road was left all alone for a time?  After awhile, life would break through it.  The concrete would crack and separate, and up would sprout plants.  Life is tenacious.  As overwhelming as the concrete is, it is a mistake to underestimate the power of life.

And so I pray today that God, the Creator of all, the One who so loves life that He made it so tenacious, the One who so loves life that He sent His Son to conquer death once and for all, that the great and glorious Living One Who Is would cause life to break through the concrete that has sadly been laid over our own hearts.  That life would spring up from the ground in our own soul in ever more abundant ways.  That we would know the abundant life for which we were created.  That we would experience being truly human, in the image of the living God himself.  O God, I know were are not at all worthy of this, but I pray that you would glorify yourself through us anyway.  Amen.  

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Practicing Patience

When I was in college I participated in a Fruit of the Spirit Bible study.  Every week we would study and pray for God to fill us with one of the "fruit":  
"O Lord, let our lives overflow with the fruit of love..."  

"O Lord, fill us with overflowing joy..."  

"O Lord, establish Your peace..."  

But then we got to patience.  And it was strikingly funny to me that no one wanted to ask God for more patience.  "What if God actually answers the prayer?" one girl asked.  "I think I'd rather God just give me what I want now, not patience."  I guess we all want lives full of peace and joy, kindness and goodness, and lots of love.  What makes patience so different?

Etymologically, patience is related to the idea of "suffering."  We are practicing patience - no, suffering - when we quietly clean up a toddler's fourth potty accident of the day, when we wake up for the fifth time at night to hold a crying baby, when we gently answer the person who interrupts us from a special quiet prayer time with God...  Practicing patience means choosing to suffer.  

Suffering doesn't feel nearly so neat as joy or peace.  But the fruit of the Spirit all goes together in one package.  Loving others necessitates patience.  And patience that endures is impossible without the love of God in one's heart.  Experiencing peace is great.  But peace that lasts is peace that is practiced, and practicing peace in one's relationships with God and other humans necessitates patience.  The fruit goes together. 

And that is good news for all of us who want and pray for love, joy, peace, and such, only to find that obedience to Christ requires decisions to suffer everyday, in little and big ways.  Those moments we might erase from our days if we could - That is where the love is.  That is where the joy is.  That is where the peace is.  That is where God is.  And there is no other place we should want to be.         

Monday, May 19, 2008

Exulting in Monotony

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say 'do it again;' and the grown up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning 'do it again' to the sun; and every evening 'do it again' to the moon."

Friday, May 16, 2008


Toddlers have an amazing gift of reflecting the anxiety in a room.  This week has been a rather exciting and stressful one in our family.  We found out that we are moving and to where we are moving.  My father and sister are visiting from far away.  We spent a day looking at graduate schools for my sister as she approaches her graduation next year.  There is a lot of energy in our house right now, and tonight, for the first time in quite awhile, we had a really difficult time getting our daughter to go to sleep.  Nothing quite worked.  She was obviously tired, obviously needed to rest.  It was exactly her bedtime.  We went through the routine pristinely.  And yet she was just wired.  I could hardly blame her.  I was wired, too.  "O God," I had been praying just minutes before trying to put her to bed, "Transitions can be so difficult.  Please make us all ready.  Please speak peace to my heart..."

After awhile of trying to get my daughter to fall asleep like she usually does, I gave up.  I stopped singing and began to talk softly and honestly with her.  "I know that there are a lot of things that are different right now.  Grandpa and Auntie Beth are here.  We are getting ready to move.  You haven't been with Mommy as much as you are use to.  Things seem so strange right now.  But now it is time to sleep.  Close your eyes... Close your eyes...  It is time to rest..."

I think one of the hardest aspects of dealing with so much transition at once is that I have a tendency to want to think, think, think about it.  And yet I heard part of God's answer to my prayer as I reflected upon my own words to my daughter as I soothed her to sleep tonight.  Things are really unsettled and unsettling right now.  It is strange and you don't know what to expect...  But rest...  Be still and know that you can rest...  Close your eyes, be quiet, lean deeply into the arms of your Father, know that he will take care of everything, and rest...  

Snubbing at Communion

Two Sundays ago was communion Sunday.  It's an exciting day for my toddler, because I carry her to the front of the church when it comes time to take the elements.  This particular Sunday, as we were walking down the aisle, I noticed that no one was following behind us.  "That's odd," I thought.  We had been sitting at the end of a pew, and the next row behind us should have been  following us.  It was clear that there would be plenty of room at the front.  It turns out that the people sitting in the pew behind us didn't want to take communion next to me and my toddler.  The church frowns upon children being in the worship service, because it views them as a distraction from the pristine and holy silence that they seek on Sunday morning.  I understand, and I have come to accept that there are people at this church who will never agree that my daughter should be there.  But this was communion.  This is the great act of church unity, eating and drinking from the one Savior's body.  I felt pained, because the ushers had to scrounge to find someone who would take communion next to us.  The lady who finally came forward was very strict with my daughter.  When we kneeled at the kneeling rail, my daughter reached out curiously to touch one of the little plastic cups in the holes on the other side of the kneeling rail.  "No," this woman said firmly, taking my daughter's hand and removing it from the cup.  The lady kept a watchful eye on my daughter through the ritual, just expecting trouble.  My daughter has never caused trouble at communion.  I have really struggled to process what happened at communion two weeks ago.  How does one find comfort and joy and thanksgiving in the reality of communion in Christ when the the way in which communion happens speaks so strongly against this reality?  It is really disheartening.  My only comfort has been in remembering the truth that Christ is bigger than the church's manifestation of him.  

Sunday, May 11, 2008

As a Mother, I Need Pentecost

Today there was this odd mixture of Mother's Day and Pentecost at church.  The Children's Sermon was mostly Mother's Day-ish, with a Holy Spirit kind of twist at the end.  The sermon was more Pentecost-ish, with a mother kind of twist at the beginning.  The children were handing out flowers to moms as they left the sanctuary.  The colors in the sanctuary were red.  And every mom I met in the hallway said, "Happy Mother's Day!"... and I kept thinking, would they be offended if I replied, "Happy Pentecost!"? 

Because the truth is that I couldn't do what I do as a mom if it weren't for a constant refilling of the Holy Spirit in my being.  Mothers are expected to act a lot like God (I sort of got this from the children's sermon) - we are suppose to be always caring, always available, always putting others in front of ourselves, dying daily for the sake of our family, and doing so with a smile on our face, beaming with love that radiates into the whole house, filling it with warmth.  Who can do that all the time?  I NEED things like a fresh experience of Pentecost to enable me to do what I do at home.  I would far rather find that at church than a pat on the back if I had to choose.  

Sadly, I don't think many moms notice this, and the pat on the back sure feels good when the back is sore from a long year of constant and often overlooked service.  Mother's Day IS important.  But I think we do a disservice to mothers when we fail to give them what they need most - a fresh inpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Prayers for Help!

Today I was teaching my daughter the different types of coins.  One of the things we did was put them into a plastic water bottle.  All the coins fit except for the quarter, which is how she eventually learned to distinguish the quarter from the nickel.  But she was SO distraught over the fact that the quarter wouldn't go in.  "Help," she said to me, confident I would fix it.  I said, "It's too big. It won't fit."  I showed her me trying to squeeze it in to no avail.  "Help.  Help.  Help," she kept saying.  Eventually she began to despair that I wasn't going to help fix it.  Tears welled in her eyes.  "Help!" - the cries became more desperate.  "Help!  Help!"  But the simple fact is that the world isn't made for quarters to fit into water bottle tops, and, actually, this was the very thing that was making the lesson so valuable for her.  

I began to think about how my own prayers must sound to God.  "Help," I pray, confident God will fix it.  And often things do get "fixed."  But every so often the problem remains.  "Help. Help. Help," I keep saying.  And I am sure that sometimes God is helping... me to learn something new.  "Help!" the cries get more desperate.  "Help! Help!"  But the simple fact is that as much as God loves me, more even than I love my daughter, the world is not made in such a way that quarters fit into water bottle tops, and sometimes I guess that is the point.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Focus and Life

I am so excited about my new homeschooling toddler blog.  I keep thinking of new things I want to post there.  I am amazed at how intoxicating this whole blogging thing is - I am so dazzled by my self-perceived God-given cleverness that I can share with the world, and it really charges me.  I am so ashamed at this attitude in myself.  Not that I don't really think that God has given me a lot of really good ideas for fun learning activities to do with my toddler, but the problem is that I have subtly shifted my focus away from that which gives me life - the worship of God in the pure GRACE and love of Jesus - and am instead feeding off of my success with my daughter.  I can feel the cloud of heaviness that hovers over my brain as this goes on and on, stealing my alertness to matters of Christ, draining my prayer life, and ultimately leading me down a road in which I move toward being unable to actually write anything worth reading.  Oh, please pray for me!  

The fact of the matter is that there is only one in the world that gives lasting peace and joy and abundant life - God.  "I have come so that you may have life, and have it abundantly," said Jesus.  "My peace I give to you.  I do not give it to you as the world gives it.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid."  "You will keep in perfect peace those whose hearts are stayed on you - in peace because they trust you" (from Isaiah).  

There is no one but God who truly loves me to the point of sending his son to die for me on a cross.  It is him who I should be seeking to please and glorify and honor and delight, not myself and not the world out there that might read this.  I am so thankful for knowing God.  God is the absolute best thing that ever happened to me - better than my husband and daughter, whose goodness I have discovered fully only in and through God.   And so it is back to God that I am turning my attention.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Creating Children with God

In Genesis 4:1, Eve gives birth to her first son, Cain, and she says, "I have created man with God."  The Hebrew word for "create" in this verse is the verb Cayana, related to the noun Cayn, or, in our English Bibles, Cain.  Cain is given his name, because, as the story goes, when his mother looks upon him, the first child ever born to a human mom, her mind focuses upon the miracle that she, with God, has created a man.  I don't typically think of myself as my daughter's creator.  I'm inclined to think such a thought is potentially blasphemous.  And yet this verse has made me reconsider the serious roll I am playing in her creation.  Last week she wouldn't lay flat in the swimming pool.  Yesterday she was not only laying flat but kicking and reaching...  because my husband and I had taken her to the pool almost every day this past week.  Every moment of every day I make a decision to stay at home with her, to work with her, to enjoy her, to love her.  When she was in my womb, I carefully monitored my diet for her, and to this day my body continues to give of itself in ever new ways for her sake.  It would be silly for me to think I have had nothing to do with her creation.  And thinking of myself as working with God in her creation helps me to see what I am doing as ministry.    

Friday, April 25, 2008

Deeply Loving Hands: Basket, Ark, and Church

While reading Genesis, I recently discovered that the Hebrew word for "ark" in the Noah story only occurs one other time in the Old Testament - it is the word used for the "basket" Moses' mother places him in when he is found by Pharaoh's daughter.  There are numerous other similarities between these two stories.  Both stories participate in ancient Near Eastern imagery of water as deadly and symbolic of chaos - the flood in the Noah story and the river for the killing of babies in the Moses story.  In both stories, Noah and Moses are delivered from this water through this vessel.  

The Christian church tradition associates the ark in the Noah story with the church.  Like the ark, "in" the church we are saved from death.  Seeing the similarities between the Noah and Moses stories, I was considering the Moses story from the perspective of the basket he is placed into as the church.  The church, in this story, is that vessel, crafted carefully by deeply loving hands with those materials which happened to be available, to deliver the smallest and most helpless of humans - a baby.  And in so doing, this vessel becomes an instrument of salvation for many, many, many more.

What if our churches viewed themselves as Moses' basket?  Thanks be to God for his deeply loving hands.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kissing God

My 19 month old said, "Love you" to me today for the first time.  I was so deeply, deeply touched.  And it reminded me of a speech I heard a number of years ago at a missions convention.  The speaker was talking about the first time his toddler gave him a kiss.  For years he gave her kiss after kiss, eagerly awaiting the day when she would kiss him back.  Finally, one day, during the Barney theme song ("...with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you..."), she gave him a peck.  He said the skies opened, lights came down from heaven, and his heart soared.  It really wasn't much of a moment in her mind, but it was huge to him.  He used this as an image of the love God constantly gives to us, despite our general indifference, despite our taking his daily tender care for granted, eagerly anticipating the day when we kiss him back.  Later in the conference, the speaker and his wife brought their daughter onto the stage.  She wasn't more than 2 or 3 years old, and they held her sandwiched between them.  The two of them gave her a kiss on her cheeks, constantly glancing at her adoringly.  The daughter, for her part, was just kind of looking around, more interested in this new view of the auditorium than in how elated her parents were with her.  In light of all he had said, it was hard not to think about these adoring parents as giving to this toddler the type of love God shows to us.  The speaker concluded with words to his daughter, "You are an inspiration to all these people here." And though she didn't even know it, she was.  Not because of anything she had done, but because of what her father had done through her, despite her not even having a clue.  I hold that picture in my mind, and I wonder how often it is this way with us - God gazing at us with parental adoration, kissing us daily, using us despite our complete lack of ability to comprehend what is going on as we just stare in curiosity at the odd circumstances surrounding us.  Why not take a moment to worship and kiss God back?  

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deeply Wanted

I once read a ritual used for the receiving of an adopted baby into a new community.  It included a part in which those within the community who had themselves been adopted were to come into the center of a circle, and then the words were to be spoken to them: "As we welcome this new baby and celebrate his birth and his new parents, may this day symbolize for you that you are deeply wanted, that you were always deeply wanted.  And from now on, no matter what happened to you in the past, may you know how meaningful your birth was, and, seeing how deeply wanted and blessed this child is, claim the same thing for yourself." (Christine Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, Bantam 2002, 441).

I believe this holds true for all of us who, as Christians, have been adopted by God through the payment of Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hope for Children

I just wanted to bring attention to a blog written on April 5 by the Garcia family, a missionary family adopting from Haiti their 4th and 5th child.  I have been touched beyond words as I have followed their journey.  This past week, this was one of their entries.  

In Case You Ever Wonder

... if the needs are real.

This little boy, Kelly, was abandoned in the yard of the Real Hope for Haiti clinic in Port-Au-Prince one year ago. He suffers from severe autism and seizures, and just today suffered another seizure which resulted in an injury. His caregivers are praying that someone might love this little boy enough to add them to their family and to provide for his special needs.

And in case you ever wonder if the care these children receive makes a difference ... look at Kelly now:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Child Birth and the "Curse" of Eve

As I approached the due date for my baby's delivery, I was not a little scared with regard to the pain of labor. I wanted to deliver the child as naturally as possible, but it just looks so much more painful than anything I had ever experienced. Could I do it? And then there is the story in Genesis 3, in which Scripture affirms that delivering a child will be necessarily really painful and difficult. At one point, in the middle of a contraction, I remember praying, "Oh God, I am so sorry for the sin of Eve..."

The funny thing to me here is that the word "curse" is never used in God's punishment for the woman. It is used in the punishment for the snake ("cursed are you," Genesis 3:14), and it is used in the punishment for the man ("cursed is the ground in your toil..." Genesis 3:17). But the woman stands alone with no "curse" language. What is more, the Hebrew word used with regard to women in labor, translated "painful," could also be translated "with great toil" and such (3:17), and it is the same word that is used for God's punishment of the man in the very next verse: "with great toil/labor/pain you will eat from it (the ground) all the days of your life." Finally, as a Christian, I believe that in Christ, we are new creations - the old has gone and the new has come. And so I'm not sure that it would be faithful for a Christian to wallow under the weight of the punishment of our sin when, well, the second Adam (Romans 5) has redeemed us from it. This does not mean that all the consequences of sin are abolished now - death still remains (see 1 Cor 15), but spring is coming and the trees are already blossoming.

My point is that I don't think that, at least for Christians with a New Testament added to the Old, Genesis 3 should be read as giving an inevitably terrible description of a woman in childbirth, anymore than it describes an inevitably terrible life of labor for a man. We are not a cursed people. In Christ, we are free and we learn to live into our freedom. I wonder what childbirth feels like within the peace of the cross. I don't know - I was so scared that I took the epidural.

... Years later, I will now add that I did give birth naturally to the child with whom I was pregnant when I wrote this blog post two years ago. There was physical pain. And my body did not recover very quickly. But there was also plenty of natural pain relief. At the very end, when I seriously considered it, I suddenly realized just how well my body was handing the contractions. I was all but falling asleep in between contractions, there was so much natural relaxation and relief. I was like, what do I need an epidural for? And by the grace of God I delivered into the world a wonderful, snuggly, sweet little boy. =)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Out of the Waters: Adoption as Giving Birth

I had never really noticed how much creation imagery there is in the beginning of the book of Exodus.  It is especially apparent when you read it in the Hebrew.  The book begins with a description of how "fruitful" the sons of Israel were.  It says, "The sons of Israel were fruitful, they swarmed, they multiplied, they became very much exceedingly numerous, and the land was filled with them" (1:7).  This echoes Genesis 1, where, when God creates humans, he tells them to "be fruitful and multiply" and to "fill the earth."  I am reminded of my cousin who has five kids and wants to buy a six acre property to fill it with her children and, one day, grandchildren.  But even more than her, this family was bursting at the seams, obeying God's call to continue the process of creating new life.

After I gave birth to my daughter, I remember thinking that I could never adopt a child, because I needed those maternal hormones released at birth and through nursing in order to care for this child round the clock.  I read Exodus chapter 2, and I greatly empathized with the mother there.  She conceived, she gave birth to a son, and "she saw that he was good."  Again, this echoes Genesis 1, where, after creating each of the things God created, "he saw that they were good."  When I saw my daughter, the overflowing sense of how wonderful, how beautiful, how precious she was took over every piece of my being.  I very powerfully "saw that she was good," and I was set to protect her.  In Exodus 2, this mother, though, was faced with the promise of immanent death for her child.  Because, even thought is God's good desire for continued creation, there are forces in the world that desire to kill, to demolish, to enslave and make life bitter for the good creations, as seen in this story through Pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-22).  And so this mother placed her new, good, beloved creation into a basket made with the materials of her slavery and placed him in the waters.  In the ancient world in which this story was written, waters often symbolize chaos and death.  The Bible begins in Genesis 1 in an uncreated universe in which there is nothing but waters, nothing but chaos.  But God's spirit hovers above this uncreated, watery, chaotic void, and speaks order, presence, creation into existence.  So in this story, the forces of destruction call for the drowning of all sons in the river (Exodus 1:22), the uncreating of them, the return to chaotic nothingness.  

In our world, there are mothers and children who experience this everyday.  Out of the water of the womb comes a new, created, good life, but there are forces in the world which make it impossible for the mother to nourish that life.  But she cannot bear to surrender this little creation to those forces.  And so, though she must depart from him and place him back in the waters, she puts him in a basket with hope, because she, his mother, cannot bring herself to drown him.

The story doesn't end there.  A rich woman from another culture, a safe woman, Pharaoh's daughter of all people, finds the basket, opens it, and when she sees the child, "she is filled with compassion."  She draws the baby up out of the waters, out of the river of death, and he becomes her son.  Twice now he has been drawn out of the waters.  First out of the waters of his mother's womb and into existence.  And now out of the no less real waters of death and into the safe arms of his adopted mother.  Her compassion gives him new life.  And with this life, God delivers all of his family in the remainder of the book.

So now I see adoption differently.  And I see creation differently.  God's call to "fill the earth" with new little creations is not just a call at the beginning of Genesis to populate the planet.  It is also a call to work against the forces of the watery chaos that seek to destroy the good creations that which God makes.  It is a call to obey that impulse of deep compassion, like Pharaoh's daughter, that God puts inside of us when we a baby, a child, a teenager, a young adult, a co-worker, an elderly widow within the waters of death, to draw them out of the waters and, in so doing, give birth to new life.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Fruitful Life

Today I turned 30.  I know to a lot of you out there I'm still really young, but last night at midnight, when I suddenly realized I was in my 30's, I had a moment of real shock.  It was like I had to totally rethink my self perception.  I've been in my 20's for, well, 10 years, 1/3 of my whole life.   I rolled over in the bed and whispered to my husband to see if he was still awake.  Well, he was then. "It's midnight.  I'm 30," I whispered.  "Happy birthday!" he whispered back and hugged me.  We talked for a little while.  He was so kind, so generous, so loving.  I rolled back to my spot on the bed and thought through memories, realizing how close my experiences from childhood and onward have stayed with me, the good and the not so pleasant.  The love of my husband and my child, in her crib close by, produced a warm and safe ambiance in which I could explore my experience of this transition.  

As I thought through my memories, I had the sudden thought, "Did I accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in my 20's?"  At first glance, I realized that the answer was yes.  I got my masters, entered a really good Ph.D. program, got married, had a baby.  I'm right where I hoped I would be.  But as I kept thinking about what I really hope to do with my life, I realized that none of these things, in themselves, are what I really wanted to do with my 20's.  I wanted to lead lots of people to Christ.  I wanted to help people grow closer to their Maker.  I wanted to be really, really fruitful.  It is a lot harder to quantify that kind of "accomplishment," to run through a check list and say, "Yep, two thousand souls saved!" or something like that.  None of us really ever know the full extent of the fruit of our lives.  And as I laid there in contemplation, I realized how little of my life has been "accomplishment," and the real fruit I seek has happened more in the in-between time, the saying a prayer in traffic, the soft lullaby sung to young ears, the kiss to my spouse on his way to work, the hours and hours spent in thought - sometimes constructive thought and sometimes self-centered thought that edifies no one.  So, yes, I had a really productive 20's in terms of education and career development and family life.  And I'm set up really well to go into my 30's.  But if I want to avoid a midlife crisis in another decade or so, I don't know how much this really matters.  In the words the famous song: "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

In one year and 2 months, my husband will turn 30.  I don't know how he will experience that.  But I do know that the warmth of the love that he chose to give me last night when I woke him up at midnight bore good fruit in my soul, and that is what life is all about.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two Births

There is an African proverb that says that two births take place at the moment of delivery - that of the baby and that of the mother.  After a lot of thought, I can see what the proverb is getting at.  Life is never the same again following the birth of a child, and even physiologically the woman is transformed through the process in ways that will not be reversed, from hip size to brain chemistry.  The simple fact is that before I had a child, there were things - biologically, psychologically, even spiritually - I just didn't need.  And once it is time for child to come, I entered into a new reality in which the old me wasn't sufficient for what is happening.  In that moment of transformation, God has it set up so that everything I needed suddenly became available.  I've noticed that these new provisions continue as the child gets older.  I know moms who say they were never any good with this or that age group, but then when their child got to be that age, they suddenly were able to work with kids that age.  Likewise, things I can do now, like nurse, I won't be able to do anymore once the child no longer needs it.  

Sometimes, when I look into the future - not necessarily with regard to being a mom, but just generally - I'm tempted to get worried.  Retirement income.  College tuition.  Job decisions.  Buying a house.  Having more kids.  The list goes on and on, and any one of these things is enough to hit my stomach with some force.  But then I remember that God has never, never, not once, left me without what I need in the exact moment when I need it.  Never.  In addition to the many times I have seen this throughout my young adulthood as I have followed Christ, it is one of the lessons of parenthood.  Two years ago, I couldn't make milk.  Today, it pours out of my body, because there is someone who needs it from me.  It is the way God has designed the universe to work.  Thanks be to God who gives us our daily bread.  

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Godly Hormones?

There is a sweet young girl I know who is about 13 years old and just started "developing" this past year.  And she seems a bit lost with what to do with it.  Gone is the little girl from the beginning of the year.  Now she is wearing tightly-fitting, breast-accentuating shirts and seriously short shorts, thick make-up coats her face, and she seems preoccupied with how "sexy" she believes herself to be viewed by others.  She wants to attract.  And this is, to some extent, understandable.  Her body is developing, preparing for the day when it may be her time to give life to another human being, and in getting ready for that her body is focusing her attention upon how much "attention" she attracts.  The sad thing is that she believes the lie fed to her by the media and friends at school that wearing these clothes and such is a good way to go about doing this.  

At the other end of things, when my time had come, I went to the hospital like I was in a life-threatening situation or something.  Doctors hooked me up to medication to control the contractions, even though there were zero signs of any problem with my body's own contracting ability, because that's just what they do in our country.  The contraction-inducing medication made it hurt all the worse, and so I ended up getting pain medication.  Then I was so numb that I couldn't feel the muscles that I was suppose to use to push the baby out, and so the doctor used a vacuum to pull the baby out along with my body's contractions.  Then they handed me the baby, and we began to bond.  Hormones naturally fly in a mother's first moments of contact with a baby.  Few medical professionals deny that the first hour is critical to the bonding process, which is critical to the necessarily incessant motivation on the part of the mother to care for the baby 24 hours a day and successfully breastfeed.  All of this bonding is facilitated in part by natural childbirth.  My baby and I had to work harder than necessary to develop the strength of bond that ought to have come easy, because people kept taking her away from me.  And I didn't trust my hormonal instincts that were screaming - give me back that baby!  I interpreted them as potentially selfish, certainly not a God-given instinct.  Why do we take it as just a given that depression rates in women following child birth are so high in our country, that breastfeeding is so often unsuccessful, that mothers exhaustedly try to care for their babies without the natural hormonal aids given by God?  (For the record, besides these issues, the United States has the highest mother mortality rate in the industrialized world, and the second highest infant mortality rate - and in most of the rest of the world all of this distrust of the mother's body when it comes to birthing is nonsense.  In fact, seventy percent of births in Europe and Japan are facilitated by a midwife.)

I've been thinking a lot about these issues recently.  And, in particular, I've been thinking about them from the perspective of how I think about hormones.  For years, since I was myself a teenage girl with a developing body, I was under the impression that hormones are "bad."  Female hormones, in particular, are really bad - they do things like make you have inconvenient periods and "mood swings."  There is nothing of redeeming value in them.  I learned not to trust them.  They might lead me to do something unholy.  Better to just ignore them as much as possible.

But when my time had come, and I held that baby in my arms at home, I discovered quickly that I could not nurture this little life day and night without them.  And as I have reflected upon my experience giving birth and raising my daughter, I've come to realize how holy hormones really are.  They are God's invention.  Eve's sin might have made childbirth painful, as the story goes, but Christ has redeemed that.  We don't live in that era anymore.  We are new creations.  Certainly we in the church ought to be able to affirm the inherent goodness of at least some of our hormones.  

I know it is not this simple.  There are issues of "the flesh" leading us to things that really are not holy.  But I think there is a real difference between hormones under the lordship of Christ and hormones gone nuts in the direction of an imitation, a substitute, something other than the God-intended use.  If my little 13 year old friend gives herself over to her hormones like her attractiveness is the source of her self-worth, there is going to be trouble.  When she gives herself over to fulfilling her desire to be attractive no matter what type of attention she is attracting and no matter what unhelpful thoughts she is provoking in the other sex's brains, there is going to be trouble.  If I try to use my natural high that comes from constant contact with my baby as a substitute for finding my ultimate satisfaction in Christ, there is going to be trouble.  But, at the same time, if "all things are sanctified through thanksgiving by the word of God and by prayer," the hormones themselves are not the problem.  Today, I thank God for them.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Imperfect but Fixable

Today I saw a bumper sticker, "Keep kids alive, drive 25."  I saw it while I was on a drive to put my toddler to sleep for her nap, because she was refusing to go to sleep otherwise.  When I saw the bumper sticker, I had the glorious thought, "You have to drive slowly when kids are around because mine is not the only kid in the world prone to run into the street!"  I know that sounds silly, but sometimes, when I hear about other kids going to bed for their naps really easily and happily holding mommy's hand in the parking lot and sleeping through the night and putting away each book on the bookshelf before picking out another, it sounds like every other toddler in the world is a perfect angel and I must have done something really wrong with mine.  It was good to be reminded that, actually, my daughter is a perfectly normal toddler. 

I was surprised when, upon the birth of my daughter, I was immediately considered the expert on raising her.  "Would you like to give us permission to immunize her?"  "Would you allow me to hold her this way?"  "What should we do about feeding her - is a bottle okay or are you going to exclusively nurse her?"  The options were endless, and I felt like I didn't know nearly enough to be making some of these decisions.  And I worried.  Not knowing the consequences of almost any of the options, and growing in my awareness that no one else really did, either (although there are a LOT of opinionated people out there who fundamentally disagree with each other), what could I do?  This worry only got worse the more convinced I became that it was inevitable that at some point along the way I was likely to do something less than what was best for her.  

I was involved in a car accident a number of years ago when I was on my way home from college.  A lady was hurt and her car totaled, and she decided to milk this opportunity for some cash.  So she sued me for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  No, her medical and car expenses were nowhere near that, but there were "loss of happiness" issues and such (no kidding - that was the wording on the lawsuit).  My car insurance hired a lawyer and we went to court.  While prepping me on what to say, the lawyer concluded, "Just relax.  There is nothing you can say today that I can't fix."  

While the ethical implications of my lawyer's comment in that setting made me uncomfortable, God has used those words to give me great comfort in many other areas of my life, including that of raising my daughter.  Yes, I may make mistakes.  But there is nothing I can do that Jesus can't fix.  Jesus will call my daughter to himself, Jesus will be stronger for her than any habit, Jesus will bind up her wounds, Jesus will forgive her and me and make us both whole, and we will rejoice with him forever, not because I was perfect, but because Jesus is.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Created Female

I am a Ph.D. student.  And I am a mom.  Before I was a mom, I never really thought of being female as something all that significant.  Not to say that I was oblivious to traditional gender roles and the biblical debates.  But being female didn't seem to affect my giftedness one way or the other, or my calling, or my friendships, or my worship, or really anything in my life that I thought of as significant.  Yes, I had that annoying monthly issue.  Yes, my breasts developed differently than those of men.  But it didn't seem to really matter.

Years later, I got pregnant.  The plan was for me to take my comprehensive exams, have the baby a few weeks later, take a few weeks to recover, put the baby in childcare, and plunge into the dissertation.  The plan seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

Throughout the pregnancy, I would marvel at the fact that I didn't have to read a book about how to carry the baby in my womb.  Somehow the body just knew how.  Perfectly.  Then the baby was born, and I was surprised at how incessantly this little limp person still needed me, my milk, the warmth of my skin, the sound of my voice familiar from the womb, the presence of my maternal love. I didn't think it would be best for her, or for me, to jump back into work.  Since I didn't have to, I didn't.  And as I've met more and more new moms, I am struck at how many quit their jobs if they are able once they have a child.  

I have learned a lot through this experience of what it means to be created female.  And I've learned a lot about the de-womanization that our society does to its daughters.  Until I had a baby, I thought of the distinctively female parts of myself as either (1) meant to be sexually stimulating (e.g., breasts, etc) or (2) a real annoyance to be medicated (e.g., menstral cycle, mood swings, PMS, pregnancy potential, etc).  But what if, instead of a sex object or disease, my femininity is fearfully and wonderfully made?  What if being in a natural cyclical rhythm like the moon and seasons isn't a problem but is something beautiful, like an ocean wave?  What if my overwhelming desire to be all alone and curl up in bed one or two days a month isn't first a bother to an economy of efficiency but is rather first a potentially fruitful gift out of which God intends to bring something good to all of creation?  What if I am called to the workplace AND I am called to care for my baby, not in the way a man in a suit decides is appropriate (e.g., 6 weeks maternity leave and then hand over the baby and plunge back in like nothing happened...), but in a way that is to this day unimagined by our society (like, bring the baby to work held against her in a sling and nurse throughout the day covered by nursing shirts).  I am amazed at my body's ability to nourish life in those ways in which it is distinctively female.  

O God, thank you for creating us male and female.  Teach us to truly appreciate both in all of the complexities.  Teach society to allow women to be women.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Many Times as Much: Reflecting on Itineration

I want the absolute best for my daughter.  I want to give her a nice home with the warmth and security that comes from lots of family and friends surrounding her.  I want her to have good experiences at church and come to know the deep, deep love that God has for her.  And I am learning that, as a United Methodist pastor's wife, I'm kind of limited in my abilities to give her that.  We've already moved once in her short 18 months of life, and within the next few years we are going to move again.  We do not get to choose what church we will go to, whether it will be a "good" experience for her or not.  We do not get to choose the house.  We do not get to choose the community....  

Luke 18:29 says, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, eternal life."  The people of God have always had leaders, some of whom were called to wander.  Like Abraham, who heard the call, "Leave your country, your relatives, your father's house, and go to the land which I will show you" (Gen 12:1).  In the New Testament, the apostles were all over the place.  All of them experienced hardships, but all of them also received blessings beyond what they would have had otherwise, and in their obedience they became blessings that blessed the entire world.
I know that, as an itinerating pastor's family, we will probably not experience the same good as we would if we were settled "in the land of our father's."  But the promise is that as we follow God in Christ, we will experience good, a different good, an abundant good that will be many times as much as we would otherwise ever have known.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dangerous Prayers

Back when I was in college, I use to pray dangerously.  "O God, show me what you want me to do.  You are my Lord.  I'll be single or married, have children or not, have a successful career or rot in a prison starving to death..."  And I meant it.  After all, God made me.  Who knew better than he what this clay pot was formed to do?  

Last year my husband was a part-time Local Pastor at a church with about 30 members.  We lived in a parsonage built in the 1860's, with a foundation that made me nervous.  There was crumbling lead paint on the upstairs walls, there was no counter space in the (orange) kitchen, and no matter how hard I scrubbed the bathroom (with a door that did not close) had a perpetually dirty feel to it.  Then my husband went for his commissioning interviews, passed, and we awaited that glorious day when he would be sent to a full time appointment.  And my prayers went like this:  "O God, please send us to a big church with lots of children for my daughter to pay with.  Let the parsonage have new paint, new carpet, new bathrooms, new furniture, and lots of counter space in the kitchen.  Let us be in the suburbs - I think I'd be more comfortable there and I don't want to live anywhere too dangerous for my daughter's sake."  And what do you know, no kidding, my husband was made an associate at a big church with lots of children, a parsonage with new paint, new carpet, new bathrooms, new furniture, and lots of kitchen counter space.  We are in the suburbs in one of the safest parts of the US.  

Not too long ago I read 2 Corinthians 2:17, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God..."  I think of myself as "from sincerity" (as the verse continues), not as someone who would ever dare to do such a vile thing as use the gospel for personal gain.  But as I remembered my prayers of last year, as I faced my fear of someday going to a church in a more "dangerous" location, with a less than "nice" parsonage, I wondered if in my heart have I become a peddler of God's word?  Ouch!

On Good Friday, people cast lots for the clothing of Jesus.  They were so concerned about not destroying a nice piece of cloth, but they missed what was happening in the death of that man.  Had I become like one of them?  But I'm a mother, and I'm concerned for my child.  Surely that is good and right!  John's gospel follows this scene with the story of Jesus providing for his mother.   As a woman, she was dependent upon the care of the men in her family.  And here was her firstborn son dying.  That Jesus felt the need to find someone to provide for her suggests to me that maybe she was really dependent upon him beyond what I thought.  But even from the cross, Jesus remembered her, Jesus loved her, and Jesus made sure she was taken care of.  I, too, have cast my lot, and thus the lot of my daughter, with Jesus and am very dependent upon him.  Dare I trust him?  O God, forgive me!

Today is Easter.   The old has gone.  A new day has come.  What will this daunting new world of resurrection be like?  One thing is for sure - the old categories are shattered.  It will not do to worry about the destructive powers in the world.  Such would be silliness.  And so, mustering all the courage I can find in me, I return to my "dangerous" prayers in a world turned upside down.  Thanks be to God.  


Friday, March 21, 2008

Were you there?

"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"  I've always thought that was a strange question.  No, silly, I wasn't born, yet.  Of course I wasn't there.  As I've sung that song countless times through the years, I've always just tried to ignore the question aspect of the song and focus upon the details of the crucifixion of Jesus which the song skillfully recounts.  Then I try to be so focused that I can effectively and appropriately "tremble."   I'm not always successful, though.  Maybe the author of the song wasn't, either - after all, it says "sometimes it causes me to tremble."

It wasn't until today that I finally got it.  I think of myself as a smart person, but it would seem that I've been quite dense when it comes to this.  At noon, my daughter was napping and I was in her playroom reading the Scriptures and praying.  When I heard the church bell chime in the distance, in honor of Good Friday, I put down the Bible in a respectful silence.  I suddenly felt led to sing "Were you there..."  I don't really like that song because, like I said, I think the question part is so annoyingly weird, but not wanting to disobey a prompting from the Holy Spirit, I began to sing.  

The question hit me like never before.  "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"  No, I wasn't.  Like the other disciples, I abandoned him last night.  I was at the Maundy Thursday service with my daughter, but she got a little chatty and we had to leave.  I was so mad.  Not so much at her - she was behaving like a normal 18 month old - but at some of the people in this church who have been so unkind, so unwelcoming, so outright mean to me and my daughter since we arrived.  But even though I wasn't mad at my daughter, she was the only one present once we left, and so it came out at her.  I was short and snappy and unkind, myself.  I knew better - I thought, "Control yourself!"  But I felt like I had such a good reason to be mad that I chose the unfaithful route.  It wasn't until later in the evening when I "heard the rooster crow" and realized that, despite my best desires and intentions, I, too, had abandoned Jesus.  Then all this morning as I continuously would draw my mind back to the cross, my mind would immediately get dragged back away.  I chose thoughts that tickled my vanity, stroked my pride, and filled me with temporary delight.  Sure, I tried, but habits of the mind are no small force.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  I wanted to be.  I tried to be... sort of.  I was following him to the cross, but I only made it halfway.  Rather than dwell in the glory of the invisible, my mind chose over and over again the visible, temporary images before it.  I didn't choose the cross.  That, in response to the question of the song, causes me to "tremble."  

This is such a good day - we receive such grace today.  Were you there - really, fully there - to receive it?  Thank God that despite the absence of many of his disciples, two thousand years ago and today, he did it for us, anyway.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Home on Maundy Thursday

This is going to be different from what I usually write.  It is the Thursday of Holy Week.  I want to be at church with the family of Christ, celebrating the Last Supper and remembering the events that followed.  But I had to leave the service, because my 18 month old was making noises.  And so I am here at home all alone with my daughter.  I could read the biblical story alone, which is what I will do anyway later tonight, but it really is not the same.  I think that is why I'm blogging this - I just can't bare to be alone with this on this night, but the church community does not want me and my daughter there.  And so here we are.  As we left the church, some of the people even sent me haughty, "It's about time" looks.

I'm reminded of a story - I forget the author and the name of the book, but the plot goes like this.  There once existed a Utopia-like land.  If you lived there, you could have anything you could possibly want.  It was a deliciously beautiful place and everyone was super happy all the time.  But there was one catch.  In order to live there, you had to place one of you children into a dungeon where they could only eat stale bread and drink water once a day for the rest of the child's life.  The question of the book was, would you do it?  Would you sacrifice just one of your children so that the rest of your family could live a perfectly happy existence?  Tonight, I feel like the church answered "yes," and I'm the child in the dungeon.

It's tempting to think, "Hmm, that means I get to identify with Jesus, abandoned by all his friends and left alone on this night."  But there is a certain uncomfortable irony to think that the people who went to church tonight because they love Jesus and want to be close to him and don't want to be interrupted in that very worthy goal - these are the people who are like the disciples who abandoned Jesus on this night?  That doesn't seem quite right.  I wonder, should I be OK with being stuck at home on this night, separated from the church, so that the church can remember in a focused manner?  I think I would be more able to do this if the people there weren't so nasty about wanting me to leave.  But would that even be right if they were nice about it?  

The day before we came to this church, I was praying about what God would have my ministry be here.  As I prayed, I suddenly could hear the cries of young moms all across the area -  moms pouring their lives out for their families day after day after day, with no input, tired, lonely, going on nothing.  They were crying out to God, and I felt God saying to me, "I am sending you here for them."  I had no idea at the time that I would become one of those young moms myself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tears of the Savior

Several nights ago, as I began to rock and nurse my baby to sleep, she bit me.  Now, this has happened before, and I can generally handle it.  But that night I went nuts.  I was startled at the violence of my own reaction.  "NO!" I yelled, and I pulled her away.  I called for my husband to come rock her, which really upset her because she wanted me, but for some reason I just had zero patience inside of me.  My husband took her, and I left with her crying uncontrollably in his arms.  Once she was finally asleep, I went in to look at her.  She was huddled against my husband, little choking sobs still coming out of her limp body as she lay there, asleep.  And I felt horrible.  Why couldn't I handle her in that moment?  The fury with which I reacted - it really startled me.  

Before I went to sleep, I had my evening prayer time.  I was so distraught over the way I had treated my daughter.  And I was really worried that maybe I had scarred her for life or something by just abandoning her in her tears.  I know, I know, this may be a "new mom" thing and I'll get over it by the third child, but in that moment the concern, the distress, the shock at how upset I became - these were very real to me.  And I brought them in prayer to God.

As I sat there, praying, I saw the image of Christ, grieving over the sins of the world, agonizing on the cross.  As I imagined this image, his tears and my daughter's tears of distress became one.  My sin caused both.  In their unity, my daughter's grief became less life-threatening.  Not because my sinning against her somehow isn't really all that bad, but because the cross confronts the depth of the badness and goes deeper still.  It embraces her cry along with the cries of every human being who live in a world with broken people who break each other over and over again from the moment of birth, sometimes without even knowing it, and often dismissively.  And insofar as the cross is redemptive, it offers the very real potential for the genuine redemption of all this grief, including the redemption of my daughter's tears that night.

What is more, as I imagined this image of Christ, his tears and my tears became one.  That God would send his Son to die on the cross - so great must be his grief over the sinfulness of the world.  I, too, in that moment, deeply grieved the limitations of my flesh in raising my daughter.  God didn't tell me I was over-reacting.  He grieved with me.  And he offers me the cross as his powerful answer to this grief.  Thanks be to God that there is genuine power in the cross for the redemption of my own heart - a heart that does not yet love perfectly.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On the Cross: Death Comes First

I often hear people talk about the Old Testament as being all about law, as opposed to the New Testament which is all about grace.  I'm an Old Testament scholar, and talk like that makes me shudder, because it's really not true.  Consider the book of Exodus - it tells the story of God saving the people out of Egypt, out of the clutches of a cruel master who beat and whipped them, before it moves into telling the story of how the people are now to live, within the hands of a good and kind Master.  In Ex 20, the Ten Commandments begin "I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt..."  Before God commands anything, God demonstrates, "I love you, and you can trust me."  Before God reveals the law, God reveals what is the purpose of following these laws - that you might have life.

When my daughter was born, I could have let her cry endlessly when she was a day old and insisted on my own way, but God had given me all kinds of maternal instincts saying that was not right.  Before I became the one who disciplines her, I spent months upon months dying to myself on her behalf.  I gave up everything to hold her, to nurse her, to quiet her when she was upset, to let her know that in this world there is someone who loves her, someone she can trust whole-heartedly.  It was only as she got older that I began to discipline her, to teach her how to walk the path of life in such a way that she can really live.  I often meditated upon how much this is like the pattern with which God deals with us as his children - before I told her how to live, I told her I would die on her behalf.

This gives Holy Week a whole new meaning for me.  When I was younger, I left everything to follow Jesus.  But my motive was not yet just like Jesus' - I did it because I wanted to draw near to God, not because I so loved the world that I wanted to draw near to it.  I wasn't thinking, "I want the world to know, before I have the Holy Spirit call it to salvation through me, that I would die for it."  I didn't even know, yet, how to think such a thought.  It has been the strange providence of God in my life that the work of parenthood has brought me nearer to the cross than any of the sacrifices of my youth.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting Stuff Done

I reflect often on how strange it is to me that God would have children take up so much time and energy.  Certainly we could all get more done if children could raise themselves.  My brain, formed by this utilitarian culture in which we live in the United States, is just baffled.  After all, isn't "getting stuff done" the chief virtue in life, the proof of a life well-lived?  Today I checked 4 significant items off of my mental to-do list.  This was, then, certainly a good, well-spent day, right? I mean, we all KNOW this isn't true.  But then how is it that when I spend hours laughing and playing with my 18 month old I'm "taking time off?"  In sharing quality time with my daughter, where does this lingering sense come from that I didn't actually do anything.    

But God certainly understood the implications of children needing their parents' time and attention to the vast extent that this is the case.  When I reflect on this, I experience a real shock that reverberates deep within my soul as I come to understand on ever-deeper levels that all those things I could be doing (really good things - like, teaching the Bible, tutoring kids with difficult family situations, gathering food for the homeless, etc., etc., etc.) are not as important to God as my caring for this one little person.  That is so weird.  I mean, what am I raising her to do?  Raise kids of her own?  Is this the created world just an endless, pointless cycle of ceaseless child-raising?  Certainly that can't be the case.  

But this created world is a place, I am confident, in which God wants us to learn to love.  It is easy to feel like I'm accomplishing things, great things, when I get a new degree, when I present a paper before a large, appreciative audience, when I explain a difficult passage of Scripture to a student in need of clarification.  And surely those things are important, right?  But never have I learned to give myself up for another person like I have through embracing motherhood.  Just maybe the One who turned the world upside down through a child born to no one special in a little, insignificant town - maybe this One has it in him to call me to transform the world through holding this child.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Holding Back from God

This past Sunday was communion Sunday.  As we approached the kneeling rails, my 18 month old had her eyes open wide.  She watched in eager attentiveness as the bread was brought to us, one by one.  She said, "ooooh" at the little cups that had been placed in the holes on the kneeling rails by earlier communion-takers.  She picked them up, tried to drink out of them, and then put them back in the holes.  She looked down at the pads upon which we were kneeling and touched them curiously.  She listened in wonder as the pastor said the words that signaled that our time was over and we should return to our seat.  And she did not want to leave.  Better put, she refused to leave.  "Noooooo!" she cried out as I picked her up to take her back to our seat. "It's time to go sit down again," I whispered in her ear, but she just said, "Again."  "We're all finished.  Time to sit down.  Do you want to draw with the pencil?"  But no, nothing would satisfy her other than to go back to the front of the church for communion.  And so, sensing the great anxiety and expectations of the congregation over my taking her out of the sanctuary over the understood-inappropriateness of my daughter's behavior, we left the sanctuary altogether.  But even then she couldn't get over it.  She wanted to go play communion... and I wanted to let her.  This is how she learns.  It's not like she doesn't want to participate.  She does want to participate, arguably with more enthusiasm than some of the quiet, behaved adults, and I want her to know that the Lord welcomes her just as she is to his table. 

Having an 18 month old in worship is a very different experience than worshipping with just adults or older children.  My daughter doesn't know the rules - not just the theological rules like "Don't take the Lord's name in vain," but the rules of social propriety.  And teaching her to worship is showing me just how much we mix those two things up.  Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who does not receive the kingdom as a little child will never receive it."  Maybe instead of holding children back, we should consider emulating them.  I know that many times I have wanted to stay longer at the communion table, but the music was coming to an end, the people around me were leaving, the pastor said those special dismissal words.  Inside I have felt, "Noooooooo!  Let me sit here without worrying about these things!"  But I am a grown-up, fully capable of keeping my mouth shut, and I don't want people thinking I'm weird.  And so I quietly go back to my seat to pray there ... but it isn't the same. 

Having an 18 month old who cannot hold herself back is teaching me how much we do.  Maybe, instead of teaching our children that the number one rule in worship is to sit still and be quiet, we ought to accept them as God does, just as God accepts us however mature we are.  And maybe in so doing we will find our way forward.  "And a little child shall lead them..."

Monday, March 3, 2008


As a United Methodist pastor's spouse, who was also raised as a United Methodist pastor's daughter, I have moved a lot in my life.  And one consequence of this is that there isn't a place, a house, a community out there that feels to me like home.  I think this is true for a lot of people in our world where moving frequently because of job situations is such a typical way of life.  I lament this for my daughter.  She's at such a young, impressionable age, and it is so sad to me that these people, this house, this church will disappear to her life in a few years, even though it will probably be written onto her heart that this place is what is "normal."  And even worse, the culture here is so shallow, so appearance-driven, so not what I want my daughter to think of as normal.

But here is my comfort - I think of missionary families in other parts of the world, and I realize that this is what we are, as well.  And as my daughter sees and experiences us as God-sent agents of change, bringing good news of freedom to a world in which we have no home, this way of being in the world while looking forward to our heavenly glory, will become for her - as it has become for me - what home is.  


Friday, February 29, 2008

In the Moment

My daughter sleeps with me and my husband for most of the night.  We don't mind at all.  Usually she sleeps on my side of the bed with me, and I absolutely love snuggling with her.  She is only this little for so long - all too soon I'm told she won't want to be with us anymore - and I have treasured these precious snuggle moments.

These past few weeks my husband and I have been dealing with a messy situation at church.  I find myself thinking about it all the time.  My mind races through memories of conversations, ideas for things we could do differently, things I could say and things I wish I had said...  These thoughts over the stressful situation are with me almost constantly.  And when I'm not thinking about it, I'm planning dinner, thinking about when I'm going to work on my dissertation next and what my plan of attack is for that, whether to sign my daughter up for music or gymnastics class, and on and on.  

A few nights ago, as I laid my daughter by my spot on the bed, pulled the covers up over us, and laid my head down on the pillow next to hers, I suddenly realized that here I am with my daughter, enjoying a finite precious moment that will soon be gone, and I was not even there - I was thinking a million different things, other things, things that did not need to be thought about at that moment, but I was missing the gift of the relationship God had given me for that moment.  I want to live in this moment, because that is where God is.

I don't just do this with my daughter.  I do this with God, as well.  I try to spend a significant chunk of time praying each day, but on too many days, even when I take the time to pray, my mind is constantly going a million different directions.  And in the process I miss the precious moment with my Savior - the moment of peace, the moment of rest, the moment that can prepare me well for the next.

Scripture says, "Do not worry about tomorrow."   "Cast your cares upon the Lord, for he cares for you."  "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  "Abide in me... apart from me you can do nothing."  It does not say, "If you just stress out about this enough eventually you'll work it all out."  Living in the moment, trusting God with all the rest, is one of the hardest things for me.  It's like my brain just won't do it.  But I am tired of missing the gift, the rest, the peace, the joy that God provides for me at just the right moment, in just the right way, with all the fullness of his trustworthy presence and strength.  I want to live in the moment, because that is where the great I AM is to be found.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


My daughter's single answer to every question right now is "no."  Sometimes its a really sweet "no," in a drawn-out voice spoken with a smile, and other times it is a sing-songy, "No-no-no-no-no," and at still other times it is a very serious, "No!!!!!"  But however it comes out, its like she doesn't know any other words.  Do you need to potty? "No."  Do you want a banana (one of her favorite foods)? "No."  Are you 1 year old? "No."    If this were any other human being, I don't think I'd have the patience for this.  As it is, she's my daughter, a beautiful, sweet, big-eyed wonder who is going through a phase, and so I just smile and wait until she grows out of it.

What would the world be like if we gave to everyone the same grace that we give to our kids?

I remember one time talking on the phone with my father, who was also on the phone with the airline company.  I was mad at him - I don't think he really understood why - over the airline issue, and I was letting him know it.  And he was so kind, so patient, so determined to work this out.  Then I'd hear him get on the other phone with the airline company and absolutely chew them out.  

When I'm in the line at the grocery store and the check-out person is working painfully slow, I am so irritated.  When I'm in the same line and my daughter wants to help put the items, one by one, onto the belt, I smile and let her help.

What would the world be like if we gave the same grace that we give to our kids?

Of course, there are times we are tempted to take out our frustrations on our kids and put on a happy face to the world, but, in the end, I think most of us are far more committed to our relationships with our kids than we are to our relationship with just anyone who walks by.  But we are children of God and God treats us all with such love and grace and understanding and calls us to do the same.  Maybe, next time someone doesn't do what they should be doing or slows me down or behaves inappropriately, I'll use the resources I've developed in my relationship with my daughter for patience and grace and just direct it to the person in front of me.  Thank God for grace to change.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

My cousin has an 8 year old with a learning disability who is having a really rough time learning how to read.  Today when when I talked on the phone with my cousin, he was re-learning the "gl" and "ab" combinations.  He understood them last week but today he finds them to be thoroughly perplexing.  My cousin commented, "Just when he's taken a few steps forward he suddenly takes a big step back..."

I feel the same way with potty training.  My 18 month old is so close to being potty trained, but just sometimes its like she suddenly forgets everything she's learned and pees in her pants 7 times in a row.  But then the next day she does something new - like poop in the potty on demand, or willingly "go" in a public potty, or have almost no accidents all day.  I read somewhere that potty training is just like that - a couple steps back for every three steps forward.

And that gives me hope when I think about the continuing growth of us as adults.  Sometimes, just when I think I'm making really good progress in dealing with a problem or a weakness in my heart, it's like I suddenly am right back where I started.  Or just when I think I'm seeing progress among the people of God at church, people start getting mad at each other over something and divisions start to occur.  But maybe its like potty training or learning to read.  Scripture says that we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next.  If a lot of human learning seems to involve a back-and-forth motion as we move closer to the goal, then noticing a set-back shouldn't lead to despair.  My cousin's son will learn to read.  My daughter will be potty trained.  And one bright day, all of us, together, will live in the fullness of Christ's resurrection.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pica, mother of St. Francis

The story I've always heard about St. Francis is that he was raised rich, and then later in life he became a Christian, sold all he had, and gave it to the poor.  This is, indeed, the basic plotline.  However, there is another detail...

Francis's mother was a Christian, and her name was Pica.  She and her nurse were his strongest influences, as was the custom, until he was 7 or 8 years old.  In that time, she taught him the lives of the saints, Greek and Roman legends, and music.  Before he went to bed at night she made sure he said his prayers, and she took care to instill within him "cheerfulness, generosity, courtesy, and deference to his elders" (Adrian House - a professor at Oxford, Francis of Assisi: An Extraordinary Life, [Mahwah: Hidden Spring] 2000, 17).

At the same time, Pica and her husband were wealthy and took care to give Francis the best of everything.  He had toys galore... while down below in the valley was a leper colony in which lived the poorest of the poor.  I have to say, I identify with this.  I've tried to hold back the number of toys my daughter has, but then I look around her room and I'm amazed.  I think, "Oh, this toy will help her learn the alphabet!" - although she already has 3 other toys that do that - and all the while, not too far away, people sit hungry, homeless, and hopeless.  I identify with Pica, living the life of someone who has an abundance, caring desperately about my child and in so doing perhaps losing sight of reality....

This part of his upbringing really did hurt Francis, and he is remembered to have absorbed these more worldly values - a fondness for fine things, carelessness, and a self-centered focus.  Even still, his mother is remembered to have said, in reply to inquiries regarding how she felt about his excesses, "Through grace he will become a child of God" (House 52).  

In these stories, we see two sides of Pica - Pica, the mother who was a Christian who longed for her son to become "a child of God" and who strove toward that end.  And Pica, the mother who lived a life of luxury and, through enjoyable participation in the culture that surrounded them, instilled such values in her son.  Pica is not alone.  As we all are changed more and more into the image of Christ, there remains in each of us something that needs to be changed today... and today we are raising our children.

And so I derive a lot of hope from Pica, because she was not perfect, and yet, through grace, her son did become a child of God.  I think what is most helpful for me here is the reminder that I, the mom, am not the Savior.  There is a Savior who is far stronger than all of our weaknesses as parents.  At the same time, also helpful is the warning that the worldly part of his upbringing really did affect him.  Whenever I allow myself to do something I know is wrong, I am tempted to close my eyes to the effect this may have on my daughter.  But that is silly.  Sin breeds sin.  Insofar as I desire my daughter to live in the freedom of Christ, I, too, must continue all the more to strive everyday to live into that freedom.

Thank God for Pica, an imperfect pilgrim, out of whom God raised up St. Francis of Assisi.