Monday, March 6, 2017

Kingdom Work Is Inconvenient

Sometimes, bringing Emerson to youth group feels like a huge inconvenience.  I often have to leave in the middle of the message or a game to go and nurse him.  My arms or back grow weary from toting him around.  When I'd rather be chatting with students uninhibited, I often have to multitask:  making conversation with them, and caring for his needs simultaneously.  Sometimes his already sporadic sleep gets thrown off because youth starts right around his bedtime and there's no way he's dozing off when there are so many people, sights, and sounds to take in.

Last week the Lord showed me that he could use this for good.  As small group time was about to come to a close, and my group was finishing up praying, a girl asked me, "Do you pray for Emerson?"  To which I said, "Yes."  Her stare lingered on me, a begging look in her eyes.  "You want me to pray for him right now?" I asked.  She nodded enthusiastically.  "Ok, sure," I replied.  So I began to pray and recited many of the things that I pray over Emerson each night as he settles in his crib.

"Holy Spirit, please fill Emerson up.  Give him peace.  If there's anything that needs healing in his body please bring him healing.  If he's experiencing any pain please ease his pain.  Lord, help him to know that he is loved.  Help us to love him well, and fill in the gaps where we fall short.  I pray that one day he would come to know you personally, and experience your love and presence.  In Jesus' name, amen."

It's a simple thing really.  By me bringing Emerson to youth group, these young women are exposed to a godly mother--I use that term "godly" loosely because let me tell you I am oh-so aware of how imperfect I am.  However, I am open to the Lord.  I've stayed in communion with him throughout the ebb and flow of this journey.  Jesus is at work in my life.  I believe that, through his grace, his goodness reigns in me.

Who knows what situation these girls come from.  Some of them probably have darn near perfect moms.  Some, might not have moms at all.  Others still have mothers who've painted a picture of rejection, harshness, or abandonment where tenderness, unconditional love, and selflessness should have been.  These girls get to watch me parent with the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  While I am grumbling about being inconvenienced, God is taking my small sacrifice and doing Kingdom work.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Dirty Diaper Gospel

As soon as I walked into church I smelled that familiar smell.  So, there I found myself behind the sanctuary in the appropriately named, "Mother's Cry Room," (I have cried in there numerous times) changing a poopy diaper.  Missing worship, something that I love.  Thinking about how unfair it was.  Thinking about the many things that I have given up for this child without much more than the occasional coy smile or open-mouth kiss in return.  When I was reminded, this is the Jesus way.

Matthew 10:39

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

So, Emerson, I will keep laying down my life for you on Jesus' behalf.  And, hopefully, on the other side of this, I will be more like him.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My Nets Are Breaking

As I was reading the bible last week Jesus brought me to Luke 5.  It’s the moment when Jesus calls his first disciples to leave everything and follow him.  “Don’t worry, soon you will be fishing for people,” he tells them.  What a comforting thought.

 Jesus happens upon these grisly, seasoned fishermen after a bad night of fishing.  In fact, they have nothing to show for a full night’s work.  Their boats are at rest, their nets are being cleaned.  Climbing aboard one of the boats, Jesus asks the men to go back out to sea, just a little ways, so that he can preach to the crowds from a safe distance.  They oblige.  When he is finished, the prophet has the audacity to instruct them to try fishing again.  Simon reminds Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”  

To toil is to work extremely hard or incessantly.  Fishing is Simon’s trade, so I’d imagine he knows the ins and outs of catching fish.  He probably used the best techniques, fished at the optimum time, and put down his nets in the place where they were most likely to—as modern fishermen would say—get a few bites.  Yet he caught nothing.  Can you empathize with Simon’s frustration?  Have you ever toiled after something and despite your best efforts found yourself with a big ole net full of nothing? 

 Most recently, I have been working incessantly at helping my six-month-old son learn how to sleep.  Let’s just say, I have a few choice words for whoever coined the phrase, “sleeping like a baby.”  For over a month my son, who once let me sleep in glorious eight hour chunks regularly, has been waking up every one, two, or three hours needing to be rocked back to sleep.  I have scoured the internet for explanations and ideas.  The best I could come up with was that he was in a “sleep regression,” (because his sleep had gone from easy-peasy newborn sleep, to more adult-like sleep—moving in and out of light and deep sleep) and he’d developed some “sleep associations,” namely being rocked by dear old mom and dad (meaning he when he moved out of a sleep cycle he woke up and didn’t know how to get himself back to sleep without our help).  

Determined to fix this, I began to try everything I could think of.  We moved him from his Pack ‘N Play in our room, to his crib in his own room.  We added a white noise machine.  We blacked out his window.  We bought him a suit that promised to have magical sleeping powers.  We implemented a bed time routine.  We moved him to an earlier bedtime.  We worked to get him to fall asleep in his crib—by any means necessary: patting, shushing, picking up and putting down, lovies, binkies, music, you name it, we tried it.  And we waited.  

I would guess that nothing about Jesus’ request made sense to Simon.  He had already worked his hardest to try and catch fish: with no results.  Why would he try it again?  For whatever reason, he was obedient anyway.  As Jesus had asked, Simon put the boat out into deep water and let down his nets for a catch.  Next, the fishermen encompass what could accurately be described as a ridiculous amount of fish in their nets.  In fact, the nets can’t even handle the amount of fish they have caught, because they start breaking!  There are so many fish that they have to call out to their partners for help!  There are so many fish that they fill not one, but two boats, to the point of almost sinking under the weight.  One night, they put out their nets, and nothing.  The next day, they put out their nets and they are so full they start to break. 

This week I started to feel hopeless, as I have at various points during Emerson's sleep journey.  We’ve had good nights and bad nights.  There have been nights when the baby was up every hour, and nights when he only woke up twice.  There have been nights when we heard him self-soothe multiple times, and nights when he wouldn’t even try.  We had been overall making progress, but it hadn’t been linear.  We were at a point where most nights he would wake up around three times and we were getting at least a four hour chunk of consecutive sleep consistently.  That felt survivable.  Then, three times this week, baby boy decided to be up basically every two hours again.  A couple of those nights when he woke up he really struggled to fall back asleep.  I was devastated.  I was sleep-deprived.  I was confused.  I wondered why God wasn’t intervening.  I knew he had the authority to do so.  And yet, I believed that he was good; I believed that he loved me.  Loving my baby through this stage was the work he had given me to do, and I would continue to do it even though it was difficult.  Even if it seemed like my efforts weren't yielding any fruit.

The passage in Luke spoke to my situation in a few ways.  As I read, I heard God telling me this:

1. You don’t have as much control as you think.  Because at the end of the day, you can do all the right things and still not catch any fish.  I needed to stop blaming myself when Emerson had a bad night.  I needed to let go of the guilt I was feeling.  You can’t make fish swim into your net; you can’t make babies sleep.

2. Listen for my voice.  Jesus told Simon where and when to drop his nets.  So I asked for help, and listened.  When I thought Jesus was giving me an idea for something to try with Emerson, I’d obey.  

3. Don’t lose hope.  You might have no results one day, and more results than you know what to do with the next.  Simon fished all night and got nothing.  The very next day he began to fish and instantly caught a bounty.  I knew that I couldn’t give up hope.  I might try my best to get my son to sleep one day, and see nothing come of it.  But the next day might be the day he gets it and finally sleeps through the night.  

It turns out that is exactly what happened.  One night, Emerson was up every two-three hours needing to be rocked to sleep.  I didn’t hear him attempt to fall back to sleep even once.  The next night, I tried again and my nets started breaking!  Emerson slept for ten hours straight!  He has only done that a handful of times.  Even back when he was consistently sleeping through the night it was typically six-eight hour stretches.  I’m not saying we’re out of the woods yet.  We may have more rough nights ahead of us yet, but I know that my son is getting it.  He is learning how to sleep on his own.  Above all, I know that God is faithful—on nights when I toil for nothing and I nights when I get a net overflowing with fish.  

Are you toiling today?  Remember that God is good, and he loves you.  These things are true whether we get zero results or abundant results.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because you can’t make fish swim into a net.  Listen for Jesus’ voice telling you where and when.  Then, drop your nets, yet again,  hopeful for a catch.  Because you never know which day God is going to step in and bless you.  One day, you might get nothing, and the next he might fill your nets until they're breaking. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I Am a Terrible Person

The other day I got to chat with my wise friend Jocelyn.  Joce has successfully survived the baby stage with three, count 'em, three boys.  During our conversation, she said many things that brought me freedom.  Like, "Stay alive," which coincidentally is the same advice that Haymitch gave Katniss before the Hunger Games.  I suppose the arena is somewhat analogous to life with littles.  Among her sage advice was this:  "You are a terrible person."

"So I'm not a terrible person?" I had asked.

"The good news is you are a terrible person.  But you're swimming in oceans of grace," she answered.

I've always known that I was terrible, in theory.  I mean, I knew that whole saved by grace thing--at least in my head.  I could have told you, "I am a sinner saved by grace."  I knew that Jesus died so that I could be forgiven.  It's just that now I really know.  I'm coming face to face with just how terrible just how big God's grace is.

My house perpetually stinks.  I don't call my friends. I curse at my baby when he won't nap.  I nitpick my husband's every move.  I complain about how unfair it is that I don't get to sleep.  I look longingly at other people's lives.  Instead of living out of my principals, I just do what it takes to survive the day.  Through all of this Jesus doesn't even flinch.  He's just there, loving me like always.  

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Nothing to boast about here.  Just a mustard seed worth of faith, and oceans, and oceans of grace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mary did you know...what you were getting yourself into?

Somehow the Christmas story becomes fresh for me each year like an untouched covering of snow. As life changes, I am able I see Jesus' birth in a new light.  This Christmas season I find myself reflecting on Mary.  No, I haven't converted to Catholicism, I just feel like I can relate to her now more than ever before.  I know what it's like to carry a child, give birth, and care for a newborn.  I keep wondering how Mary did it.  

Her birth story happened amidst extenuating circumstances.  As a woman pregnant outside of wedlock, she was looked down upon.  Many judgmental glances passed her way.  Her fiance almost up and left when he found out she was expecting.  She and Joseph were scorned by their family who didn't buy the whole "immaculate conception" story.

As Mary drew near to her due date, a census was taken. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register.  This meant that Mary had to ride for miles on the back of a donkey--while she was full term.  I could barely handle being in the car for two hours when I was that pregnant!  After that long journey, Mary couldn't even find a place to kick back and put up her swollen feet. There was "no room at the inn."

According to some biblical scholars the "Inn" referred, not to a hotel as we'd understand it in modern days, but to space in a home.  In this time period, hospitality was the norm.  Rather than staying in a hotel when you traveled, a family would host you.  Since Mary and Joseph had traveled to Joseph's hometown to for the census, this actually meant that Joseph's distant relatives wouldn't take them in, and instead pointed them to the nearest stable.  "No room," was just an excuse.  Can you imagine being so shunned by your family members that they would turn away a woman who was nine months pregnant? This is how God chose to come to earth.

When it came time to give birth, Mary's delivery happened in a cold, dark cave probably next to a pile of sheep poo.  She had no midwife coaching her.  No mother encouraging her.  No epidural.  Nobody bringing her ice chips or wet rags.  Her only support came from a man, her betrothed, that she barely knew.  Yet this is what the Lord tasked her with.  He gave her this job because he considered her "honored," "chosen," and "favored."

Even after the birth she had to go into hiding because a jealous king wanted to kill her son.  Joseph and Mary had to flee to a foreign land to escape his wrath.  How alone they must have felt.  Throughout all of this adversity, Mary had to take care of baby Jesus.  She was promised a savior, and yet for months he was just a crying, pooping, (hopefully) sleeping baby.  It was years before Jesus did anything remarkable.  I wonder if Mary ever grew weary waiting for God to fulfill his promise.  Did she ever get lost in the mundane chores of keeping this little "Son of God," alive and well?

Not to mention, Mary had to do all of this without the modern conveniences that we have today.  Mary didn't have nursing pillows.  She didn't have lactation consultants or nipple butter.  What if Jesus had latching issues?  Or Mary got Mastitis?  What on earth did they use for diapers back then?  How did she wash Jesus' clothes when he had, yet another blowout?  Who did Mary ask for help?  She couldn't google, "Is his poop supposed to be that color?" She couldn't text her mom, "Is this normal?"  Or "Will this get better?"  I don't know how she did it.

I find myself asking, "Mary did you know?"  And not the cutesy version.  More like, Mary did you know what you were getting yourself into? Did she know how this was all going to play out when the angel came and she humbly, boldly stated, "I am willing to be used by the Lord."  If she had known what this was going to cost her, would she still have said, "Yes," to God?  At any point throughout this journey did she begin to ask, "Really God?  This is the honor you chose to give me?"  Did she ever think to herself, "Some favor."

Without a doubt, Mary suffered. It might sound strange and a bit sadistic, but that fact gives me hope.  Because, to really be honest with you, I have been suffering for the past four months. It feels wrong to even say that.  The words come out with a tinge of guilt.  A baby is a blessing!  I love my son more than I have ever loved anyone else.  There are times that I just stare at his face and think, "How did I get so lucky?"  I have a husband who loves me.  I got pregnant without difficulty.  My son is healthy, happy, and thriving.  Yet, at the same time, this is the most difficult thing that I have ever done.

Having a baby has brought much joy, but also much pain.  I've had to give up my independence. Live life according to another's whim.  Give of myself whenever this wee human beckoned.  I've had to go without sleep.  And finally start getting some sleep.  And then go without sleep again, without any foreseeable cause.  I've gotten lost in the drudgery of another diaper change.  Another rocking session.  Another mess to clean up.  I've felt alone.  More alone than I've ever felt--like the walls of my home might close in on me.  I've wondered, what is the point of this?  This work that God has asked me to do, will it amount to anything?

Then, I think of sweet Mary.  God chose her.  He had a great work in mind for her.  She was blessed among women:  hand-selected for this particular role.  Did he make her a preacher?  An evangelist?  A missionary?  A philanthropist?  Nope.  She was just a mom.  I find strength in knowing that part of God's great rescue plan for the world involved a woman doing the very things that I do day in and day out.

Mary's suffering lead to hope.  She suffered through pregnancy and childbirth and the light of the world came.  She suffered through raising her child, and he became the hope of nations.  Then, Jesus following suit, suffered the cross. His suffering brought forgiveness and reconciliation.  Through suffering came hope.  I can only hold out as much hope as I can muster that maybe, something good will come of my suffering, too.  That like Mary, the things I do every day might mean something.  That through my suffering, I will find hope and bring it to others.  Maybe, my ordinary, at times painful, life will make a difference in this world.  I will hold on to this hope.  (And on the days that I can't, will you hold onto it for me?)
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