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.