Bidding moms of young children to rest in the power of Christ

My sons are now sixteen and eighteen, but the days of bending over to care for their needs seems like it was just yesterday.

The years I spent investing my life in theirs felt like a mix of chaos, cherished moments and sheer exhaustion at the time. My mothering isn’t over, it’s just entered another stage, but those early years I needed to hear the messages Liz tenderly delivers in her first book, The End of Me: Finding Resurrection Life in the Daily Sacrifices of Motherhood. 

When my oldest was a toddler and I was carrying around his newborn little brother a woman whose children were grown saw me looking tired one day at church. She pulled me aside and told me to go take a nap. I felt like a failure. I had plans for what I would do with my toddler. I’d teach him to identify colors, read him stories and sing Jesus Loves Me with him. But instead I was exhausted from the screams of my newborn and the tantrum throwing of my toddler. This woman I looked up to didn’t give me a do-better speech, she took my kids and told me to rest. 

Liz’s book calls moms who feel like they’re failing because they’re tired and don’t have the ideal circumstances they imagined, to let their pride, ideals and expectations die. And instead receive the rest and life that comes from trusting in the resurrected Christ to be enough for our mothering. 

Like the older woman who took me aside when my kids were little and bid me to die for an hour in a room with a pillow, Liz calls moms of young children to learn from Jesus and embrace the rest we find in him. 

Young moms need this message. We need each other in the church to help us raise our kids and to help us see our need for Jesus. Liz’s book serves young mothers of the Church well in giving a primer on what dependence upon the power of Christ, not ourselves, looks like in motherhood. 

Liz’s writing is clear and full of scripture. The End of Me is easy to read, and gives young moms who may have very little down time to read a book, a helpful and encouraging message in short chapters with room to reflect at the end of each chapter. 

As a leader in my church’s ministry to children and parents, I plan to give this book to new moms. If you are a mom to young children, or you know a mom of young children, get this book. The End of Me is a welcome word of truth and hope to weary young moms. 

Ecclesiastes and a Pandemic

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I didn’t keep a journal during this pandemic. I wish I had. I find myself scrolling back through my iPhone calendar trying to figure out how many days we’ve been like this. Arizona “reopened” on May 15th. We’re eight days into gyms, restaurants and many retail stores being open for business. But life is by no means business as usual.

For me, as a nurse working in a hospital during this crisis, I have not experienced the shelter-in-place like so many have. The big changes in my family’s life has been having our two high school boys doing school at home via online learning and my husband being mandated to work from home until May 1st. The 2019-2020 school year officially ended yesterday.  Not being able to hug my friends, pick up their kids, sit on the floor with elementary students and talk about Jesus and sing loud with them all on Sundays is by far the biggest area I’ve felt the impact of Covid-19.

I’ve been doing my shopping weekly for groceries and feed for my animals. People are shopping, some with mask, others without. To me it seems about a 50/50 split. I can now find toilet paper at Walmart and the pasta isle at Fry’s is almost back to being fully stocked. No one has harassed me for wearing my homemade mask. People have been polite and I’ve been thankful for the efforts of grocery clerks and cart runners who continue to serve me with a smile I can’t see. I may not see the smile, but the way their eyes sparkle as they nod makes me think the smile is there.

We aren’t big out-to-eat-ers so we haven’t tested the reopening of restaurants.

All in all, life feels fairly normal for my family. The strangeness is in the buzz on social media and news stations. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are tattered with anger, accusations, suspicion, conspiracy theory, blame and divisive politicizing. All those people I miss from church, see at the store, work with in the hospital, drive by running errands… they all have feelings and thoughts about all that has happened in the pandemic. A handful of them I’ve spoken to personally. And of those there’s a handful of differing opinions about what went wrong, who’s to blame, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, and where we go from here.

I’ve been listening to the audio version of the ESV translation of Ecclesiastes lately. I’m drawn to this long meditation on, “What’s the point of life?” This global pandemic has brought me face to face with my utter lack of control over life. As a Christian, I believe my God is good. Jesus showed me that. And if he’s God, and he’s good, I can just ride the wave of this pandemic and trust he’ll make everything right in the end. But it’s not that simple.

I can’t just ride the wave. People all around me are getting knocked out by the wave. Ecclesiastes reminds me that death comes to us all. Whether by Covid-19 or a car accident, cancer or coronary artery disease. Pick your reaper, either way, he’s coming. And you don’t even get to pick your reaper. So what am I to do with this life? It sometimes feels like all my concern for my neighbor, my desire to share Jesus with my friends, my heart-work to become more emotionally intelligent and aware of the logs in my eye, the work of loving a husband and raising men is for nothing.

Listening to Ecclesiastes I’m reminded that life is painful and sometimes seems fruitless. The point of it all is found in the God who made it and rules over it.  Even there I find Ecclesiastes telling me to stop trying to figure out what God is doing, and do my work, be a good friend, be thankful, love my neighbor, enjoy my glass of wine, go outside, take in a sunset and laugh when the dog chases his tail.

Tonight I’m sitting on my back porch listening to a bird sing in one of our sissoo trees. The sky is a faint peach and grey, the aftermath of a blazing fiery orange sunset that was a few minutes ago. Tonight one of my friends is sick with Covid-19. His wife is scared. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and I pray my friend gets up feeling much better. Life with Covid-19 will go on. At least until the One who makes the sun rise says it’s all over.

Hope for a sick heart

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“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:15

This verse came via email to me today like shade in the hot Arizona sun. I used to tolerate the heat in Arizona pretty well, but as the years have gone by, I haven’t grown more accustom to the heat, I’ve grown more intolerant of it.

Hope seems a long way off these days. Coming around the calendar again my body remembers the fiery trials like the heat of summer and seems to wither in its sting rather than stand weathered and resistant.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fullfilled is the tree of life.” the wise man wrote. It’s hard to dream when hope seems to keep getting pushed away by the hot troubles of life. I noticed today that I don’t dream much. I don’t aspire to hopeful things, beautiful things. I would say I feel like the Psalmist, weaned, not thinking about things too high for me. But the reality is I feel like a sick child, tired, curled up fetal trying to sleep away the hard things.

There’s only one way to escape the heat of summer- get in the shade.

I find it hard to dream, but like Elijah, I can hunker down some place and give up. Yet, even there I find the Lord comes nourishing my weak flesh, letting me rest, and giving me what I need to keep going.

Sometimes all you can do is find a place to hide with God’s word and cry. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.

There is a dream of a hope of a place I have never been, of a man I have never met, of a love I have only felt echoed in my chest when I read things like, “I have come to give you life full of life.” If I lay down to die under some broom tree of shade, some silent place, some Starbucks, or glass of wine, or early morning outside, even there I cannot escape the presence of the shadow of his wings. Even there his hand holds me.

Hope that keeps being put aside does make the heart sick. But when you look to Jesus, the sick heart is shaded by a reviving hope in the heat of trouble. Is your heart sick? Does hope seem to evade you? Look to Jesus. His wings are big enough to shade you from the heat and feed you hope in the very place where trouble beats down.

Hope against hope

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How long till I see the fruit
of what I cannot see?

How many season? How many years?
What if it takes my whole life and then
I’m buried six feet under dirt and worms
and grass and
more seasons pass and…

I cannot see the future days
when there are no more weeds
no more thorns
no more seeds dead in the ground
just oaks of righteousness
plantings of the Lord
seas given way to forests
of branches clapping their hands
waving in the presence
of the scarred King
who once bore a crown
that pierced his brow and left
him dead upon a tree
and left him broken among
the rotting things
but could not keep him there.

I cannot see the future days when
this dying will bring life.
But I am putting all my hope
in his rising.

I won’t be passive about the evil destroying women and children

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First I want to confess, I’m a coward by nature. I, like Pilate, avoid conflict, washing my hands of decisions that might cost me peace. Without the reigns of the Spirit of Jesus in my life, I would trot off down the path of keeping peace, shutting my mouth. I would disguise my passivity, hoping it would come off as piety- seeing both sides of an issue- yet never taking a stand.  That said, I am my mother’s daughter, and when I smell injustice I want to hunt down the predator and rescue the prey from his mouth.  But most of the time this fierceness gets stamped out by the part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the damage my truth-telling might cause- mostly I don’t want to be cut off, or cast out.  This putrid, passive stance would be me without Jesus every day.  But I’m not without him. He exposed me with his words, rescued me with his line in the sand, calling me daughter.  He’s been making me brave ever since, trading my peace-keeping comfort-lust for peace-making confrontation-in-love.

Taking up your cross and following Jesus is not a self-flagellating quality that proves your worth. Taking up your cross and following Jesus is what the Bible Project call, “the way of the exile.” It’s a practice of what they call subversive hope, where by both speaking boldly and serving self-sacrificially, a Christian exposes evil and suffers the pain of another’s sin and judgement.

So I need to take up a cross and say something: Deliberately destroying the life of an unborn human being is evil.  Saying that, I hear my friends and my passionately-left, now-with-Jesus grandma’s argument that the evil done to women is too great and that if someone has to die, it shouldn’t be the woman or girl.  I see both sides. I can’t help it. The self-preserving nature in me would see both perspectives and say nothing. But Jesus, who said to the woman at the well, “You’re right. You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you’re with now isn’t your husband,” and then offered her his life, won’t let me be silent about the evil destroying women and their children.

The argument that Pro-Life anti-abortionists are hypocrites because they don’t do anything but protest abortion and make women in vulnerable positions feel condemned is an attempt at diversion. In a tweet thread I read today (can’t remember who wrote it) the writer pointed out that just because a person stands openly against abortion and for the life of the unborn doesn’t mean they are not doing their part to support women and girls in crisis with unwanted pregnancies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t for life-preserving sacrifices for the elderly, the disabled, the immigrant, the poor and the marginalized.

The argument that women in crisis shouldn’t have to go through the torment of pregnancy and child-rearing or the torture of giving their child up for adoption comes down to a belief about suffering and human worth. If you believe that the woman’s life or quality of life is more valuable than the unborn child’s life or quality of life then you believe the child should suffer the death required to keep the mother alive and well. But if you believe that someone is going to have to die in this sin-bearing relationship of mother to child, and you believe it should be the strong who lays down their life for the weak, then the mother should be the one to suffer the daily death and maybe even the ultimate death to give a child life.

Giving life to another always involves some dying to self. It’s just the way life works. Even seeds have to die for plants to be born.

I’m reading the Dignity Revolution right now (finally). Last night I read this:

“…I wonder, had I been a German Christian, living under the rule of the Third Reich, would I have possessed the unyielding conviction to resist the pressure to conform, to see the Jews as less than human? Would I have had the courage to step forward and affirm in my actions the dignity of those being sent off to their deaths, even at a high cost to my own privilege?” (Chapter 2)

It’s easy to look back on the Holocaust and be aghast at the atrocities, condemning those who were explicit, implicit and passive in the evil done to Jews. It’s so obvious. How could they have thought it justifiable? The same way we do.

One day, just as Karen Swallow Prior wrote at Vox, posterity will look back on me, on us, and be appalled at the evil we perpetuated, justified or did nothing to speak against or stop.  As I live in the presence of the One who laid down his life for me, I cannot be silent.

Today, I saw a clip from a PBS documentary on elective abortion.  In the short clip, a woman early in her pregnancy with twins took the first of the two medications that would kill her unborn babies. And she knew it. And at the end of the clip she said, “What I hope I feel, is a sense of peace, not only with myself and the decision that I’ve made, but also a sense of peace with these two beings that I’ve chosen not to bring into the world. Thank you for choosing me. And I’m honored to be given this gift of life. And also I can’t do it right now. I can’t accept that mantle in terms of the other lives that I’m taking care of and I’m responsible for.”

Life is always born out of someone else’s sacrifice, someone else’s sort of death.  Confusion breeds evil. This woman’s confusion about where life comes from, and who should die has her believing the evil that says, “Life. You can take it or leave it. It doesn’t have to cost you anything.” But the truth is all life is born at the tearing, the bleeding, the breaking, the dying of one for another.

I hear the critics of my convictions about abortion crying foul and I am listening. I’m examining myself. I’m asking what I can do to apply my belief about suffering and sacrifice and life and human worth to all human beings, no matter their sexual orientation, color of skin, immigration status, age, religion, income or addictions. I believe I should die. I should lay down my life. I should be willing to suffer so that others might live. I believe husbands should do this for their wives, and leaders should do this for their followers and mothers should do this for their children, and Christians should do this for their neighbors.  All of them.

An argument for the costly care of the least of these

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If
wrinkled Boomers
with diabetes and heart disease
amputations and hemiparesis
are random collisions of worn out atoms
draining our society of valuable resources…

If
the cost of rehabilitating the Grey Tsunami,
aphasic from stroke,
requiring a hoyer lift
to move their paralyzed frames
from bed to a rolling shower chair
so nurses’ aides can wash silver strands
and run, warm soapy water under breasts
and cleanse away the urine and waste they cannot control
is debilitating our healthcare system…

Why
nurse them with care and aide?
Why not kiss them on the cheek
and hand them over to death
and use the thirty or more pieces of silver to give to the poor
and make our lives a little easier?
Because…

Imago Dei
In every crooked grin
In every slobbered chin
On the face of every one of us
Who sin
And live
And don’t quite die
But slowly break down
In a body of death
Still coursing with blood
And disease

We’re holy
Bone and flesh
Breasts and chest
Bowel and bladder
Tongue and breath

Jesus
in the least of these
who have yet to peak beyond the womb,
whose contracted legs
curl up in an aged, fetal form

We
tremble and shudder
We’re traumatized
We give dignity
and pour expensive resources
on the broken body
because…

Imago Dei

When you feel like you’re endlessly marching around a wall

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“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” -Joshua 6:1-4,10

This story has always caught my attention.  If I had to put it into my own words: God told Joshua to tell all the people to march around a wall where a bunch of strong and powerful men had locked themselves inside. He said, “Don’t make any noise, just keep marching until the day I tell you to yell.”

I mean of all the things God could tell his people to do to get at a prostitute and her family out of a city of proud and strong people.  March around a wall?  How mundane. How boring. How redundant.

I’m sure there were conversations back at the camp at night after days of walking around the wall of Jericho in silence.  I’m sure there were those who wondered, “Why in the world are we doing this?”

Do you ever feel like you’re living this life of faith, doing what God tells you to do, and it seems like you’re walking in circles?  Do you have a person or people in your life that you long to see surrender their hearts to Jesus, but year after year goes by and there’s no response? No change. No desire to come to church with you. No willingness to talk with you about the gospel. They seem perfectly and firmly shut in, keeping your Jesus out.

I do. And I start to get weary.

Today, I drove into the driveway of my house, the grey skies and dormant yellow grass leaving a dull hew on the visage of my normal veiw of home. I shut the car off and sat there for awhile, looking up into the thick cloudy skies, and muttered a prayer of fatigue.  “Lord, how long?  How long am I supposed to keep…”  My prayer was interrupted by the verses above ringing in my ears.  “Yes Lord, how long am I supposed to keep marching around these walls?” I surrendered.

The Holy Spirit searching my thoughts before I spoke them, knowing my doubts and slowness to believe, helped me remember that eventually those walls came crashing down and Rahab and her family were saved.

I love a man who has resisted my desire for him to know Christ for 25 years. And for 25 years the Spirit has continued to give me my marching orders: Keep dwelling with him. Keep loving him. Keep bearing with him. Keep serving him. Keep worshipping me while he watches what the King James Version of the Bible calls, “… the conversation of your life.”

One day the walls are going to fall. Just as Jericho’s walls fell, one day the walls around the heart of those I love, those God has commanded me to stay the course with, are going to crumble at the sound of the instrument God choses to bring them down. And on that day I am going to be overjoyed.

So now, while I sit in my driveway on a cold, grey day, feeling weary of not seeing God bring down the walls yet, I chose to praise him.

Beloved, don’t grow weary in doing good.  God is using your life to save others.  Keep marching. Keep following Jesus. At the right time, whether he uses your mouth or another’s, he’s going to destroy the proud walls that are keeping the guilty from their rescue.

 

subversive hope

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(image credit here)

 

If a kernel of wheat
falls,
dies
in the dirt,
you said,
it will grow.

Here we are
under the dirt
in the dark
soiled milieu
of their waste
and death.

Here we are
silent.
They build
roads
and sidewalks
concrete curbs
over us.

The weather
changes-
heat,
rain,
frozen days
and then
warmth again.

And here we are
starting to crack
shedding the shell
of our protection
loosing to all we lack.

But it’s still silent below.

Steps of boots
and heels
dropped phones
squealing wheels
horns blaring
curses out the window
asphalt covers where we
were silently sown.

Our stratification
raises a question-
Is there more
going on than
flattery, greed
oppression and boredom?

Everyone carries on
no one thinks to ask.
Like Dave said
they’re ants marching
busied by their tasks.

But below
here we are
pushing aside
dark earth
with pale
cellulose
no pride.

We grow despite
the lack of light
and germinate
somehow
someway
through concrete.

And when one
of them
passes by
and is drawn
by Providence’s eye
to look upon our
verdent head
pregnant with bloom
conquering our tomb,

they’ll bend down low
and stop marching
and see new life
amidst pride emerging
and they will know
in that moment
there is such a thing
as subversive hope.

to the beat of a different drum

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This morning I dropped my freshman off at his high school to play in the welcome band for today’s freshman day (yeah, school starts in like a week. Yikes!) .  As I as walking back to my car I walked past the drum section.  They were doing their drills to get ready. The visceral sound of the drum competing with my heart for beats woke me from my Monday morning grogginess and got me thinking. I want the rythym of faith in Christ to beat in me like morning drum-section drills.

There’s that saying, “Marching to the beat of a different drum.”  You know, it means you’re not doing what everyone else does.  You think differently.  There’s a way you live that is motivated by a different rhythm than the masses.

Growing up in a Christian home I often thought of Christianity as a to-do list.  There were things you do and there were things you don’t do.  And if you didn’t know what to do, well then, you should ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”  But as John Piper put it- I don’t have his exact quote, but he said something like, “Most of what we do in a day we do without thinking.”  What’s in us, comes out in the way we live every day.  We don’t stop every second and ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’  That would be weird.  And it’s not what being a Christian is.  Being a Christian isn’t so much trying to do or not do certain things.  Being a Christian is something that has happened to you from the inside.  From your gut.  From your heart.  The drum beat that moved the melody of your life along has changed.  So it’s not so much that you have to ask yourself all the time what to do or not to do.  But rather, a new law, a new way of life is written on your heart.  Every beat is electrified by the life of Christ in you.

More than one crisis of faith brought about this awareness in me.  When a cup gets shaken, what comes out is what’s really in there. When I was shaken, all my put on piety fell apart and the drum drills of my heart were revealed. That process of being shaken and finding out what’s on the inside is the process people call sanctification I think.  The drum beat gets off and the conductor has to stop the music and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s off.  Let’s get that beat right.”  It’s sort of a process of cardioversion of the Christian heart.

I wish the drums of Christ’s life in me beat louder.  I wish I had ears to hear them better.  I don’t need to wish.  There are practices that God has provided for me to grow in the grace he’s drumming in me.  One particular comes to mind.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16

I need the word of Christ.  I need to read my Bible and look for Jesus in it’s pages.  I need to receive it with meekness cause I don’t know so much.  And I need to chew on it because that’s how it’ll get dwelt in me richly.  The drills for the drums of my Christian heart are divinely given in pages of scripture where, if I’ll practice, I’ll learn to hear and be moved to live out of a beat to the drum of Christ in me.  And when I get shaken, grace will spill out and lots of repentance.