Parenting a Full Quiver with a Barren Heart

[Originally published HERE at www.DesiringGod.com]

I had assumed I’d be a great mom. I liked kids, came from a large family, was in high demand during my babysitting heyday, and thought of myself as a decently patient individual.

Then I had children.

Desperately turning to the books and the blogs, I put together my game plan for how I was supposed to be navigating these hard and holy trenches of Christian mothering: delighting in my children, sacrificing for my family, “choosing joy,” being appropriately content with dishes and diapers, and reminding everyone how much “children are a blessing” — because my heart was supposed to be full.

In reality though, my hands were full and my heart was weary.

Parenting was really hard for me in ways I just hadn’t expected. I had faced hard things my whole life as obstacles to conquer and overcome, but parenting was different. No powering through by sheer will, no knocking it out and moving on to the next thing, no easy means of measuring my successes. Was I joyful enough? Was I sacrificial enough? Was I content enough? Was I delighting in everyone enough?

Idol Swap

God was using parenting to sanctify my stubbornly independent, self-sufficient soul. But quietly, unexpectedly, I simply exchanged one idol for another. I had traded in the American Dream of pursuing a successful career for a more religious version of pursuing perfect parenting. While this idol seemed far more holy and sacrificial, in reality it pointed to myself just as much, and was equally as heavy to carry.

I don’t remember exactly when it hit me. Somewhere around the time we started struggling with secondary infertility, and miscarriage, and parenting really difficult and high-energy toddlers, I realized that while I seemed to be checking all the right boxes, my soul felt as parched and lifeless as it had all those years prior when I’d been running from God.

In attempts to fight against a world that suggests otherwise, we can hear so much about the worth and value of motherhood that it becomes dangerously easy to feel as if motherhood is where we attain our worth and value. Satan is just as happy to see us put motherhood or parenting before God as a successful career or self-fulfillment.

How Beautiful Becomes Barren

When motherhood becomes our main focus rather than seeking Christ before and above all else, we are exchanging truth for lies and carrying burdens we were not designed to carry. Idol-carrying always makes beautiful things into barren things. As I walk this path of parenting God has placed before me, I’ve noticed some of the idolatrous lies I’m particularly prone to clinging to.

  1. Family First

We often hear far more about delighting in our children than delighting in the Lord, easily directing our focus away from what should be our source of delight (Psalm 37:4). Our lives must revolve around Christ, not our family, for we cannot nourish their souls if we neglect our own. Be filled first with the joyful, sacrificial, delightful love of Christ and let it overflow into the lives of those around us. We will be significantly better parents and spouses when we do this. Relying on anything else to fill our family is putting our faith and hope for transformation in something other than him.

Whether it’s trying to be a great parent or spouse, being hospitable, making healthy meals, being content in our domestic duties, desiring good behavior from our kids, providing them with a good education — or thousands of other great and godly things — let us count them all as loss compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).

  1. Sacrifice Is All God Wants

You don’t have to be a Christian to give up your wants for those you love. However, as children of God, our serving should draw attention from ourselves to our Father. Not shouting from the rooftops that parenting is the world’s most important job, attacking anyone who suggests a stay-at-home mom isn’t the hardest job on the planet, or always reminding our children and spouse how much we do for them.

Sacrifice can be just as intoxicating as pleasure, and both are wasted when they’re self-centered rather than God-exalting. The Pharisees sacrificed to garner attention and respect, touting their way as the most holy way as they focused on the sacrifice itself. Jesus called them fools for thinking their sacrifice itself was somehow intrinsically holy without the desperate act of placing it upon the altar of a holy God who gives it its worth and value (Matthew 23:1–28).

Only when we devote our sacrifice of parenthood to sacred use, for God’s glory, does it become holy.

  1. Self Instead of the Spirit

One of the heaviest idols we often carry as parents is the burden of self — the idea that it’s all up to us. That our choices dictate who our children become or what kind of parents we will be. Those choices do matter, but ultimately our trust and reliance on God and the work of his Spirit will shape our children more than anything else we could ever say or do. Commit your parenting to the Lord, trust in him, and watch him act (Psalm 37:5).

Drink from the fountain of God’s free, refreshing peace. And do it in the eyes of your children, praying that the Spirit would lead them to do the same (Isaiah 58:11).

Full Quiver, Barren Heart

Parenthood is not some intrinsic means to becoming more holy (in my case, I’m not sure anything has exposed my deeply-rooted sins so quickly and repeatedly), but it is merely one means God chooses to slowly, often painfully, chip away parts of us that aren’t him. We must not focus so much on the chisel that we forget about the Sculptor. Parenting changes us all, but the true and eternal beauty of it comes from the One whose loving hands are using it to patiently shape us into his image.

We can have a quiver-full of children (Psalm 127:4–5) and yet a heart that is barren and sterile, if we are more consumed by God’s gifts than by him. Our children can (and should) be life-changing blessings, but they will never save our soul. Our transformation is not dependent on any particular season or circumstance, but by tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), and knowing his words and truth will not return void.

My highest calling is not marriage or motherhood, but to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This does not make all of the weariness of parenting magically disappear, but it should remind us that the source of our strength and worth is not something we could ever fail or lose. It reminds us not to waste the blessings or to despise the weariness, but to give it all back to Christ so he can break it, multiply it, and hand back to us something far greater

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The Art of Womanliness

[Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.org]

What does it mean to be a woman?

Few things evoke such emotion as someone questioning, or attempting to define, what it means to be a woman — especially, in my case, a Christian woman. The overarching concept of womanhood trickles down into so many of our roles and relationships that it can easily become the currency by which we measure our worth. We vehemently resist anything that might threaten the foundation of womanliness we’ve defined for ourselves.

What Matters Today?

Lately, I’ve devoted a lot of bandwidth to thinking about and studying the complexities of biblical womanhood, submission, and other gender controversies. One evening, I sat down and began furiously organizing my thoughts and observations into meaningful, impactful words and sentences meant to analyze and “solve” the issues. . . .

And then I stopped. I looked at my passionately penned words and hesitated. Not so much over the words themselves, but the why behind them.

How will grasping these profound theological ideas before I climb into bed impact who I am when I climb back out in the morning? Will my day look different? Will I be a different wife, or mother, or friend? My current struggles and sins would still be there to greet me with the sunrise. I’ve never wanted to be another vague and distant voice adding to the noise.

So I put away my notes and went to bed wrestling with God. What do I need to know about womanhood right now? The next morning, as I woke up to the sun and its colors and God’s beautiful new mercies, I stepped out of bed with the question pressing on my soul, “How will I be an excellent woman and reflect God’s beauty today?”

The Always-Pressing Question

How do I reflect God’s beauty today? This is the question that should be at the forefront of our mind, longing for an answer every hour. It’s what lies beneath all our labels and arguments and definitions — whether you’re a young wife or a grandmother, single or married, eight-years-old or eighty.

It’s the question that mattered when I waved goodbye to the bus carrying my children off to public school, and it mattered when I sat for hours schooling them at home. It mattered when I was waitressing twelve-hour shifts, when I was in D.C. editing military plans to combat weapons of mass destruction, and when I was changing diapers and mediating temper tantrums as a stay-at-home mom.

Like a carefully chosen tattoo on the forearm, we imagine the perfectly defined self-identification will mark us so powerfully as to change how we are perceived in the world. We believe our ideologies or labels will magically make us more obedient and holy or a crusader who cares more about social justice or oppression — without the cost of actually living it out. 

Too often, the vortex of discourse surrounding biblical womanhood blinds us to what it means to live excellently and reflect the beautiful image of God in this very moment, in the next thing we do, or type, or say.

Tell the Story of the Beautiful God

As women, our strengths, our beauty, our value, and the essence of who we are, come from our Creator — the one whose image we bear —long before the gender debates of the twentieth century. My Maker defined me when he selectively impressed his fingerprints upon me as I was formed. He defines all women when he intentionally creates us to reflect unique facets of his beauty.

What does it mean to be an excellent woman, today? It is to tell that story with strength and passion, to magnify the beauty of Christ and delight ourselves in the joy of God as we reflect him in our own unique ways.

Satan hates beauty because he hates the one it reflects. He does his best to destroy it and abuse it and oppress it and contort it into reflecting the broken world rather than God. If he can’t destroy it, he is content to see us spend our days fighting and writing about it. Satan is happy to see us discuss the beauty of womanhood all we want — so long as it distracts us from living it. There is a way to be so paralyzed by every new “how-to,” and so divided by debate that we will never get around to actually submitting our lives to God with a willingness to be led by him wherever it may take us.

A Partial Picture of an Infinite Artwork

We often work backward, focusing so much on presenting ourselves to the world as image-bearers of our chosen ideologies, forgetting whose image we were made to bear. God’s glory needs to overflow into every single aspect of what we do as women — this is what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

But what does this look like?

Since the infinite God is the source of our beauty, we could never paint a complete picture of what an excellent and biblical woman looks like. Knowing the source of our beauty and excellence should give us purpose in the small things and humility in the big things. True beauty is not subjective — there are things which are not beautiful — but it is infinite, in that there are endless ways to truly reflect our Artist.

It’s letting go of what my fists are so tightly clenched onto when I’m fighting with my husband. It’s identifying the places my mind wanders when I’m angry or anxious. It’s seeking God’s kingdom at the expense of my own. It’s treating my body as a temple, but not an idol (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s being greatly saddened by my sin, but joyful in God’s forgiveness of it. It’s putting aside the lesser things that hold me occupied to hold or read to my child, and it’s allowing someone else to hold or read to that same child when God puts other duties before me.

It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than Christ.

It’s doing my work with excellence. It’s allowing my womanhood and its beauty and its answers to be the fruit of God’s spirit within me, rather than my focus.

The Art of Womanliness

That’s biblical womanhood — the art of womanliness, if you will. It is actually living so beautifully and excellently that the symphony of our lives draws others to the infinite beauty of our designer, drowning out the provocative siren song of the world, whose fleeting and shallow beauty lures only to ugly brokenness.

Art can reflect but never surpass its artist, and when we climb out of bed with the goal of being a masterpiece whose beauty reflects our creator for his glory in the very next thing we do — only then will the ripples of our faithfulness carry on for eternity.

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The Ugly Snapshots

I tend to write what I’m learning. What I am being convicted of, or truths God is putting before me over and over until my slow processor at long last recognizes the patterns and repetitions as the pictures they were meant to be, or in the very least that they are pictures. Sometimes beautiful pictures, sometimes ugly ones — ugly in that they capture weakness or brokenness or messiness. Though stirring I suppose, in the way that they are snapshots of something real and unfiltered and I am grateful for the glimpse of something as it is, rather than how I’d like it to be.

I then attempt to study and organize and string together these various snapshots into clear and meaningful strands that convey something truthful and useful and practical. It helps me attach meaning to those raw segments of life and emotion. It motivates me to seek God for answers and look for his providential thread being woven in my life. It excites me to share those fragments all sensically strung together in the hopes that others might appreciate the masterpieces God is slowing weaving in my life and more easily identify the ones being woven in their own.

It’s a craft I enjoy and see the utility of, but the more I do it, the more I’m starting to realize the limitations of it. I’ll have seasons and bursts of productivity when I feel as if I can barely write quickly enough to capture and properly organize all the pictures God is putting before me, like one of those old-fashioned slide projectors being advanced way too fast to really savor and experience the fleeting images. And then nothing. Though nothing isn’t quite the right word, because so often I’m thinking and feeling more than ever, but I feel as if I’m staring at a messy pile of snapshots, that aren’t particularly lovely or related and I just can’t quite figure out how to string them together into something logical or useful. Not as a lack of transparency, or a desire to only show the pretty things, because I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing my hard things or my struggles — more so a desire to share them in the most useful way possible. Isn’t it what we do with those ugly things that makes them beautiful?

And that’s often my problem, for as deeply as I think and feel about so many things, I’m hopelessly practical — even utilitarian at times. As if I’m stuck at the extreme ends of all the personality profiles and can’t figure out how to consistently migrate to the middle of any of them, which is where you feel like everything is supposed to mesh and all the magic happens.

Like when you realize you haven’t posted on Instagram in ages, and you flip through your photos and all you seem to have are utilitarian screenshots and grocery lists and things you’re selling on craigslist, or else those blurry shutter clicks of weeping babies or shattered coffee mugs sitting in puddles of never-sipped coffee, merely meant to quickly communicate life as it’s happening to your husband at work. In ways that effortlessly convey the depths of your emotions at that very second without necessitating words you don’t feel like (or probably shouldn’t be) forming. And you realized you haven’t documented anything in weeks that isn’t either sterile or blubbering — no feelings or all of them.

But I’m starting to realize that maybe I’m missing out on the value of trying to see God in those individual and unrelated snapshots. Maybe those micro-moments in life are meant to be lessons in and of themselves, and while I don’t know for sure, I do know that the uncertainty and unknowingness of it all is doing things to me that I think I need, even though I can’t quite articulate exactly what they are yet.

Perhaps I should start writing more often without having outlined exactly where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. Maybe I need to practice and learn how to look and listen for God and his truths in all the little moments when I haven’t yet figured out the point or the lesson, or if there even is one.

That one paragraph I’ve re-read five times, in the book I’ve been trying to read for weeks but keep getting interrupted.

Those intense discussions about politics that bring out so many thoughts and so few answers.

The moments when I hate these culturally tumultuous times for revealing so much ugliness in the body of Christ, and yet I catch glimpses of realness and truth and feel like something better is just maybe beginning to emerge, albeit slowly.

That great dinner date I finally get to have with my husband where we at last share some food and drinks and excitement that God must be doing big things, but we can’t figure out for the life of us what they are.

Those conversations that are equal parts hard and frustrating and deep and true. And I can’t tell if we’ve moved forward or backward.

That acknowledgment that I’m struggling in so many areas of parenting, and I’m ready to make big changes, but can’t quite make them stick.

That realization that we’ve been “moving” for six months now and still have no forwarding address and still can’t figure out what God has for us in a town I don’t really want to be in, but I know it’s just gotta be something.

Those moments when I profoundly miss the community and ministry and relationships I had to leave, yet I know I’m being purposefully altered by the deep lessons God is carving out in my soul in all the quietness.

Those days when I have to fall to my knees over and over again because my ugly sin keeps re-surfacing and my knees are sore and I’m tired, but I feel profoundly impacted by all that time I’ve spent before a holy God.

Those few words of scripture that will pierce my soul unexpectedly, though I couldn’t even tell you why.

Those hours that string into days and months, and I live them feeling as if nothing is happening and nothing is changing and yet I feel like a completely different person than who I was half a year ago. Maybe in good ways, but I don’t feel quite ready for that adjective yet — more so, deep ways.

And if our God is the Lord of our lives, he’s also the Lord of our minutes and our seconds.

He already sees every single snapshot of my life from beginning to end. From the time he called me into this world to the time he’ll carry me out. And even the times I am unable to picture how they’ll all fall out into lovely arranged collages, or identify the chapters or even guess tomorrow’s pages, I know they are not haphazardly placed. Each one has a story and an aim and significance, even if only for the fingers that placed them there and the one who was with me as it was taken. There is value right then and right there in the things not fully understood, regardless of what is made of them later.

And I find comfort in words written long ago, reminding me of our wise and loving God who is directing all these mixed up snapshots of my life, as he soothes my heart into patience, lifts it in hope, and floods it with courage for the times ahead, whatever they may be.

“The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain; but its groans shall not disturb the music of their life, nor its travail cloud the brightness of their little day. In contrast to this Pagan temper the Christian method is to look elements in the face, and see in them the promise of blessing. Christianity does not simply declare the inevitableness of sorrow, or merely lay down rules for lessening its bitterness. It discovers a wise and loving God directing all the mixed processes of life to a beneficient issue. And thus it soothes the heart into patience, lifts it into hope, and floods it with courage.” ~T. Hammond

 

 

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A Revolution for the Weary

Revolution for the weary

I overheard one of my kids describing the New Year, as “that time when grown-ups make New Year’s revolutions.” It made me think. I’m not one for resolutions—the cold and dreary arrival of January rarely incites enough excitement for me to add things to my endless to-do list. The holidays are over, everything is starting up with a vengeance, the expectations of the new year are before me, and I am WEARY. And weary people have no business making resolutions. Those are the things I make every night of my life. Tomorrow, I’m going to [insert well-meaning and lofty goal]. So many things I could put there. I just can’t.

A revolution, however, is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works and by the time I actually get around to buying a calendar with the accurate year on the front of it, the reality that things just aren’t working could not be more apparent. A hard look at what my weary soul is revolving around is the only fix for something a resolution band-aid could never mend.

There are a thousand reasons I really, truly should exercise more, eat better, sleep longer, spend less, de-clutter, and parent more effectively but these things must never be my life’s orbit. My soul matters infinitely more than my body or my diet, God determines my future (not my savings account or 401K), my messy house and dirty laundry are not eternal (praise the Lord), and contrary to what all the blogs imply, motherhood is not my highest calling. There are so many good and noble things I can do, but the truth is, I will do them immeasurably better and more effectively and they will not be wasted when my life revolves around a perfect, holy, unchanging foundation—the person of God, rather than the hundreds of great things that will ultimately lead to the opposite of rest and peace when they become my focus, rather than my fruit.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We are drowning in choices. It’s hard to know which fight to pick, which cause to rally behind, or what to make our life’s work.  We can become so obsessed with finding our purpose and knowing God’s plan for our lives, that we forget HE is our purpose and knowing HIM is his plan. Not accomplishing our next (even godly) goal, but knowing the creator of the universe in a real and intimate way. God’s wisdom, direction, and his purposes are so intertwined with who he is. The deeper we know the person of God the more our hearts and passions (and resolutions!) will align with his. Oftentimes, this means letting go of the goals we already have.

I’m not sure why I fight this so much—embracing surrender. On paper it sounds beautiful and easier and simpler, but giving up goals is hard. “Surrender” is the last word that comes to mind when we think of revolutions. But God’s ways are not our ways. The world tells us to fight it and make it and do it and take it, while God says, “be still and know that I am God.” How’s that for a fight song? Instead of taking back our life we are called to give it up. We can say “in God we trust” all day long but if we can’t surrender our job, our children, our marriage, or our future then it’s not him we’re trusting in.

 “The Lord will fight for you. You only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Still can be the hardest. The word conjures up images of just sitting here oblivious to reality while our house degenerates into shambles, our children eat leftover Christmas candy for dinner, and our un-exercising selves just get more flabby and out-of-breath as we hide in our room reading the Bible all day. Or maybe that we give up on our dreams, stop applying ourselves to our work, or turn a deaf ear to the needs and battles around us because we need to “focus on God.” It just sounds lazy. But lest we think we are destined for a dreary existence of just quitting and eternal waiting, we must remind ourselves, that is not God. Why? Because that is not life, and God assures us that: “Whoever finds me finds life”! (Proverbs 8:35).

 “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11:32b)

God sent his own son to the middle of our mess and Jesus did not merely sit home all day praying and neglecting the broken world around him—because he was in perfect fellowship with his Father. He knew God’s will because he knew God. And there were times he waited. He was a carpenter for thirty years before starting full-time ministry because sometimes God’s purpose for him was to live excellently with what was before him, sometimes it was to turn tables, and sometimes it was to rest and pray and literally give up his life. The more we know our God, the more his wisdom overflows, and the clearer it becomes whether we need to sit still and stand firmly in his presence or whether it’s time to act and fight his holy battles. We must cease striving for one hot second and seek him before searching for answers.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we set out to know God and bring him glory he opens our eyes to paths we weren’t aware of before. He wants us to have that unrivaled feeling of living out what we were called to do. These changes often happen in subtle almost imperceptible ways, but when we walk in his presence he directs our days and our thoughts and our work and our conversations and our errands in ways we never would have on our own.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

It can’t be an afterthought, checklist, or just another read-through-the-bible plan. If we truly want our life to revolve around God rather than all the things competing for our heart and our thoughts and our time, we must expect to do life differently. There is a cost. A revolution can’t be one of our many nightly resolutions to do better tomorrow—it’d be like the earth trying to revolve around the sun in addition to a dozen other things. It will fail. God wants our all not just our Sunday mornings. But this can be different than our feeble attempts that rarely make it to February, because this one doesn’t just depend on us. In our distractibility and weariness, he is strong. His power is perfected in sleepless nights, 60-hour-work-weeks, mom-brain, failing bodies, and A.D.H.D. prayers. We need to be willing and open and fervently commit this to the Lord, but it is him who will act. He will show up every day and do beautiful things and show us who he is. Will we stop and look and listen and learn? Will we let him change our days so he can change our life?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It’s the only answer to our busy, un-restful, un-peaceful lives. So let this be our desperate prayer and our rallying battle cry whether we’re crawling or sprinting into this new year before us:

Dear Lord,

Help me open my weary eyes in the morning and immediately seek you rather than the world. Turn my eyes from worthless things and let no sin rule over me. Make my weaknesses clear and your strength blindingly clearer. Transform my thoughts and my lists and my habits. 

Help me parent my children the way you parent me, and don’t let me forget that being filled by you first allows me to fill them better. Make the minutiae of my life matter eternally.

Trouble me more about the state of my heart than my body—help me train and exercise my soul to pursue you. Don’t let me use relationships to fulfill me in ways only meant to be satisfied by you. Enable me to use every cent that comes or goes to advance your purposes rather than my pleasures or security. Convict me that your Kingdom is more important than my house.

Help me rest in your hope rather than wallow in my fear. Thwart my feeble yet habitual attempts to rely on my own abilities. Burden my heart with what distresses you rather than what stresses me.

Help me seek you more than answers. Help me pray more than worry, and worship more than grumble. Be my rest after sleepless nights and my peace in the chaos.  Help my mind wander to you when I’m weary. Show me your glory today.

Amen.

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Lord, Help My Daily Unbelief

Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

I once sat in a hospital room and watched my incoherent eight-year-old boy battle a life-threatening intracranial blood clot. I was oddly calm. I clung to the goodness of God and did my best to trust that he held my son in his hands — at that point it was essentially my only option. There were no more decisions to make, no actions I could take, and nothing I could control.

It’s easy to look back at times of seemingly big faith, where I “let go” of things I never really had, and foolishly pat myself on the back a little and think, “Hey, I got this. I was faithful. It worked!” only to be blindsided as I fall apart during much smaller trials — the ones that require me to make decisions, solve problems, or actually do things based on my beliefs.

Now, not even a year later, I’m losing my temper with that now nine-year-old boy as he fights with his brother, or makes one of his little sisters cry. I’m weary from a hard move that’s not finished. Worried about a house that needs to sell so we can join my husband in a different state at a new job. Stressed about finances and the future. Losing my cool over a leaking washing machine and a kitchen being taken over by ants. Concerned that my offspring are planning a coup d’etat in response to my obvious weakness and lack of leadership.

I feel far from God. My quiet times, when they happen, seem rote and shallow. My prayers feel weak. I’m stripped of my usual security, and home, and church community, and ministry, and my support system. And what’s left isn’t pretty. My soul is at war.

Betraying Our Theology by Unbelief

Here I am, collapsing under the pressure of a move and ants and some immediate uncertainty. Why? Is the God I placed my trust in at the moment of my salvation any less good when I’m navigating my second hour in line at the DMV with weeping children? Even though I’d still vehemently defend God’s absolute sovereignty, my actions often reveal an unbelief that speaks louder than my words.

When my mind is consumed with my bank account, I’m believing that money provides my security rather than my Savior. When I yell at my children for leaving a mess I need to clean, I’m believing that my comfort comes from an orderly house rather than from the God of all comfort. When I become despondent over an uncertain future and lack of stability, I’m failing to believe that I am merely a pilgrim and this is not my home.

Every hour that goes by that I fail to pray and cry out to God is an hour that I’m telling him, “It’s okay, I got this.” And then I hypocritically wonder how I got here.

“Help Me If You Can”

This became evident to me as I wearily stumbled over Mark 9. A father desperately seeks healing for his son with an evil spirit. He’s tried everything in his own power, he’s tried the church, he’s even tried the disciples, until at last, when everything else has failed, it’s just him and Jesus. There’s nothing left but a feeble, “Help me if you can” (see Mark 9:22).

My prayers sound like that far too often. I exhaust all options before sheepishly coming to the one who has power over all, and then I pray as if I’m not totally sure he can even help. Or at least I don’t expect him to. But Jesus responds to him with such power and authority that the boy’s father immediately saw in this man something far more glorious and powerful than the darkness that tormented his poor son for years. And at that moment he believed.

But the mere presence of belief does not completely eradicate unbelief. He immediately and honestly beseeches Jesus to fill that gap. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Such a perfect and simple response. Raw faith combined with the confession that he needed Christ to attain the far more perfect faith he craved. And Jesus answered him with a wonderful miracle, because miracles are born of faith.

As I walk through my valley, I am struck by how easy it is to be blinded by unbelief. My problem goes far deeper than my present hardships. Understanding that unbelief is often the hidden root underneath a variety of different sins is an important part in being able to weed them out of our souls.

War Against the Glory-Thief

Belief and unbelief can exist side by side. In fact, in this fallen world where uncertainty and doubt find their home, there will always be a war raging between these opposing elements. This shouldn’t feel comfortable. If for the sake of ease, you try to pacify and accept the enemy of unbelief in your soul, you’ll only get more unrest by housing a ruthless enemy in your heart. Never become complacent with unbelief. The ease and comfort we seek in complacency is a weak and pale prize in comparison to purer belief.

“Unbelief robs God of his glory in every way,” said Charles Spurgeon. Just because there will always be a war between the two doesn’t mean we accept the presence of unbelief. Darkness thrives on unbelief, often leading us into sin. While doubting isn’t necessarily a sin in itself, the sin begins when our doubts lead to action. When we enthrone unbelief over belief and actively serve that falsehood, we are exchanging a truth for a lie.

We can’t pretend to know God’s ways, and the righteous will not escape hardship, but there are times when I truly believe my trials are lengthened or even repeated due to deeply-rooted habits of unbelief. I’m robbing God of the glory that comes from believing the truth of his sovereignty, even down to the frustrating little details of my day.

Pray in Faith

Prayer is medicine for unbelief. When belief and unbelief collide, let us turn to the one our belief comes from, the source and object of our faith. Personal contact with Jesus our Savior is how we drive away unbelief. Seek his face. Pray desperately and expectantly — the belief we do have is the only means of vanquishing the enemies of our peace. Let your weak faith cling to our mighty God. Repent and pray for deliverance from unbelief even before praying for deliverance from your circumstances.

Lord, forgive me for not believing that your truth permeates every single layer of my life. Fan my tiny smoldering little spark of faith into a burning and consuming fire that will bring you glory and drive out darkness. But don’t ever let me think it is strong enough or that I have any hope of stoking it and keeping it alive apart from you. I believe; help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Teach Our Kids ‘Beautiful’

Originally published HERE on www.desiringgod.com

On a recent vacation, I sat on the beach enjoying a sliver of one of those exquisitely designed days: clear sunny sky, warm breeze, the Atlantic Ocean that stunning mix of clear and steel blue.

My four kids were content and un-requiring (for once), so I sunk into my chair to take it all in. Almost immediately, a child walked into the expanse of sand between me and the sea. I watched as he aimlessly wandered up and down the beach, cell phone in hand, eyes squinting at his little screen, completely oblivious to everything around him.

It made me think about parenting — not this particular kid or his particular parents — but my own parenting.

Oblivious to Beauty

Vacations tend to provoke all kinds of ideas about life, work, balance, and everything you want to do differently when you get back. The quietness and loveliness contrasts real life so much it begs for some recalibration. You realize, at some point along the way, you may have started heading the wrong direction.

It hit me as I watched this wandering, distracted kid, mesmerized by a tiny handheld device, oblivious to the glorious beauty stretching in every direction. Are the things I am consistently putting in front of my children helping them see and enjoy God, or are they blocking the view of him? It’s easy to simply focus on what not to put before them, but forget to show them beauty, or forget to teach them about beauty when they’re exposed to it.

Children Learn to See

My one-year-old was new to the beach this year. It wasn’t enough for me to plop her down in the hot sand, and tell her to have fun. I had to teach her how to experience and enjoy the beach — carry her to the water and help her begin to dip her toes in the waves. I had to point out the shells, and show her how to rinse the scratchy sand off her hands.

My five-year-old is a bit further along. She knows how to dig for sand crabs, and points out how the ocean changes shades of blue from day to day. My older boys can now swim out to the sand bar and catch waves. The oldest notices cloud formations, warning me there will likely be an evening storm. They’re each learning to see and savor the beach. Just like I am.

Five Ways to Teach Them Beauty

As I watched this all unfold, I realized how badly I want them to be able to experience and enjoy God. I want them to see him in ways I was oblivious to for such a huge portion of my life. My eyes were glued to lesser things that seemed so big and wonderful at the time, until I finally exchanged the poor shadows and reflections for the true and full source of all beauty.

And yet so easily with my parenting, I slip into rules and lecturing that (in the words of my 10-year-old) “make God sound like a grumpy old man.” I hide the beauty and the wonder.

How do I avoid this? Here are some resolutions I’m working through as a mother.

1. Put before my children what is true and lovely and excellent.

Saturate their lives with God’s word and God’s creation. What I put before them is often more important than what I am not. It’s so easy to surround them with what’s mediocre, flashy, and dumbed-down, and then wonder why they don’t respond to excellence when finally confronted with it.

2. Parent them like God parents me.

Am I parenting from God’s strength and grace, or from my emotions? My ultimate goal should be that my children desire to do what is good and right and excellent because that’s who God is, not just because I say so. Yes, children need to learn obedience and boundaries before they can enjoy freedom, but they are never too young to learn beauty.

3. Teach them and show them how everything points to God.

Teach them about beauty that makes our soul soar, and about ugliness that makes our soul ache. It could be the sunset, or an artistic masterpiece, or Greek mythology with its capricious and temperamental gods, or a musician singing about sorrow or longing, or a movie that make us laugh, or well-written literature about the triumph of good over evil. It all points to God.

And don’t waste the ugliness that ends up before them, because it can make the beauty that much clearer. Point it out if needed, and talk about it with them. The goal isn’t developing cynicism, but identifying truth and valuing beauty. If we’re regularly showing them beauty and excellence, it quickly becomes easier to identify a counterfeit.

We might talk about why an overheard word is wrong, or why acts of violence in our world are so contrary to God’s character, or what that TV commercial is trying to sell us and how. The light shines through far brighter in the darkness. Use discretion, but make sure they understand that it’s the gates of hell that shall not prevail against Christ and his church — not the other way around.

4. Stop relying on someone else to do the majority of this for me.

God has not given this particular job first to teachers, or Christian radio, or even our church. God entrusted these sons and daughters to my husband and me. Teaching them should be a constant, intentional, organic process in our home and outside of it — at times, requiring surprisingly few words.

Point out God’s handiwork in how plants grow and in the beauty of nature. Pray together and often, and about lots of things. Read God’s word, and memorize it together. Lead them to the source. Resist the urge to lecture or package it up into entertaining little child-friendly snippets, while underestimating the power that simply God’s word and his creation can have on a child over time. Let the Holy Spirit work. Allow them to experience the wonder and joy of God as he wants them to see it, not the weariness that can so easily come when I hit them over the head with God’s truth as I want them to see it.

5. Enjoy God in my own life and allow them to witness it.

Don’t focus so much on my children’s souls that I neglect my own. How can I point out beauty to them if I can’t see it myself? Why would they yearn for the joy of knowing God if that joy is not evident in me? My life needs to revolve around Christ, not my children. I can parent far better when my heart is set on him first.

I’m slowly learning this in my own life. I’m learning how to see and savor God in the peaceful moments, as well as in the chaos. But knowing God isn’t a journey we begin once we’ve hit adulthood; it’s one we embark on the second we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch.

My children belong to God, not to me, and they were created to know and enjoy their Maker in the same way I do. We are on that journey together. My job as their parent is to point them to their Father, teach them to truly see him, and help them grasp their need for a Savior. That is why we teach them “beautiful” — because there is nothing more beautiful than the cross and the One it purchased for us — the One whom every other beautiful thing reflects.

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The Finer Things Club

Every day at 2:30pm, the 10-year-old, and I drop whatever we’re doing and he makes us each a cup of tea. I clear off the kitchen counter and we sit. Usually we flip through art books, listen to music, or talk about books we’re reading. And we chat.

Today it was about The Wind in the Willows, Manet, and our NCAA brackets.
Hands down, the nerdiest thing we do. I love it.

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A 4-year-old’s List for Her Future Husband

4-year-old and I hanging out in the kitchen:

Nora: “So Mommy, what should we talk about? I know, let’s talk about husbands!”

Me: “Sure, what about them?”

N: “I wanna talk about how I’m going to get one. You know, in some more years.”

Me: “What do you think he’ll be like?”

N: “WELL. He’s going to be kind, funny…grateful. Tall like Daddy but more hairs. Not sprinkles like Daddy’s hairs. He’ll build things, like houses. And sometimes he’ll give me rings when I DON’T even ASK for them! And I’m going to get HIM presents on Amazon. As long as he doesn’t look at them first. He’ll hug me ALL the time and he’ll be strong, and caring, and…delicate. [Pause]…Hm, is delicate the right word?”

Me: “Delicate means kind of, fragile.”

N: “No. That’s not right. My husband will be sturdy. …Are you writing all of these down?”

Me: “Um, no. Would you like me to?”

N: “Yes. Write them on a list, please. Then when I find the man who will be my husband, I’ll send him over to your house and you can give him my list.”

I can’t handle this.

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My Brazil-Bound Baby

My husband, Kevin, went to Brazil for the first time 9 years ago when my oldest, Caleb, was one. I was pregnant with my second and could barely get out of bed or keep anything down. To top it off, Caleb came down with a stomach bug while Kevin was gone (with the rest of my family)…and it was rough. My heart was ugly and I remember laying on the floor watching my baby toddling around needing things from me I couldn’t provide.

I never imagined that almost a decade later, this same needy baby boy would be confidently boarding a plane with his Daddy, passport in hand, to finally meet these people he’s grown up hearing about and seeing and watching and praying for. His Brazilian family. People we’ve known longer than him and have watched grow up and have kids of their own. People parts of my own family now live amongst. A remote little corner of the globe that by the grace of God, looks so very different than it did over a decade ago.

I pray that my worries will be overshadowed by my joy. The kind of joy that comes from sending my child off to a place where so many people already know his name and have likewise seen pictures of him growing up. Where God has done big things that I’m praying he’ll see and understand. Where he can meet and squeeze his new little baby cousin who one day will probably help him learn a language he wasn’t born speaking.
And though I’ll miss him and his Daddy like crazy, I pray these people will teach him and change him and become HIS people too by the time he makes it back to me…

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Ode to My Fresh 10-Year-Old

Happy birthday my Caleb! The only thing crazier than my eldest turning 10 today, is the fact this also means we’ve been doing this parenting thing now for a whole decade.

I had to take months of behind-the-wheel before they gave me my license. I had to sit through four years of classes and exams (on top of the thirteen I already had under my belt) before I could get my degree and diploma to prove it. I had to interview with like six different people, intern, and hand over countless references before my first company hired me. I had to go through almost a year of forms and questionnaires and more interviews about all areas of my personal life before someone in the government decided I was responsible and trustworthy enough to handle sensitive documents and info for my job. Eight weeks of waiting for a passport. A month or so of applications and interviews before adopting our first dog. And then…

…I waddled into Fairfax hospital at the age of 23, and Kevin and I walked out shortly after with ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. To keep. I’m not sure they even asked us any questions to really make sure we knew what to do with the needy 7-pounder that was now ours. Mercy. …And guess what? WE HAVE KEPT THAT CUTE LITTLE GUY ALIVE FOR TEN WHOLE YEARS.
And not to say it hasn’t been a bumpy road, or that parenting isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there is no question this freshly turned 10-year-old has changed my life.

Oh Caleb. He’s 10 going on 75. He’s an old soul who knows what he wants. Sometimes I feel like I’m raising a mix of Ron Swanson and Steve Jobs. He prefers classic literature and 50-year-old chapter books. He watches documentaries, cooking shows, and “This Old House.” He loves real estate. He has a notebook titled, “My Business Ideas,” and can turn a $2 investment into $54 in an afternoon or two out in the neighborhood. He’s the kind of kid who enjoys putting money into his savings account (yet he’s surpringly generous when he is confronted with a person in need). He loves sports. Playing, watching, discussing. The day we let him join our Fantasy League is a day our lives were forever changed 😉 He prefers homeschooling so he can get his work done, cut out the fluff, and get outside. He really likes being around people, but isn’t particularly sentimental. He reads history textbooks for fun as he goes to sleep. He knows a trillion more facts than me, and doesn’t let me forget it (and frequently questions whether or not I even went to school). He likes coffee, and games, and likes to cook. He’s incredibly useful and capable and smart and independent. He says whatever immediately pops in his mind. He doesn’t really care what people think. He is not a follower.

He is going to do big things, and my prayer is that he will do those big things for the glory of God. I love watching this kid grow, and growing along with him!

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