Preparation

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When people oppose you in your work for Christ, will you pray as Paul, formerly called Saul, did in Acts 22:19-20 and see what new door He wants to open to you or what new trust He wants to teach you?  His closing of one door invariably means that He wants to direct your steps into a different ministry.

As described in Isaiah 49:2, Saul was hidden in God’s hand until he was ready for God’s use.  Are you patient while God prepares you for an unknown future ministry?

BSF, The Acts of the Apostles, Lesson 5, pg. 6

Before I became a SAHM, I worked in college ministry overseas for four years and on the East Coast in the States for three years.  I left Asia for good reasons.   My husband and I weren’t married yet, and still in the dating stage at the time we were working in Asia, and my mother had a difficult time with our relationship.  She had always dreamed that I would marry a Chinese man, but Dan was not Chinese.  He’s Caucasian.  It didn’t matter that he spent two years living in Asia, learning about the culture, the language, even how to cook some of the region’s dishes.  After two years, our relationship had grown serious and we talked about marriage.  We knew we had to return to the States to try to reconcile with my mother and give her an opportunity for her to get to know Dan.  Leaving my home of four years was difficult, because I loved what I was doing.  I loved that my faith was being stretched on a daily basis as  I taught English, be-friended my students, and shared the Gospel with those who were interested, and discipled others who already loved Jesus.  When Dan and I left, we always thought we’d return.  However, it has been seven years and we’re still in the States.

The three years after our immediate return from Asia were not wasted.  In the end, my mother did come around. She eventually accepted Dan for who he is, and now even kisses him on the cheek before we leave from a visit.  I’m always shocked when I see her do this since she didn’t often do that sort of thing while my brother and I were growing up.

In terms of ministry, Dan and I were developing contacts, and investing in students soon graduating from undergrad in the states.  We hoped that some would feel called and would like to come back to Asia with us to participate in the ministry we were involved with previously.  But God seemed to have something else in mind for us.  We attended Urbana ’06 where Jesus spoke to my husband about his passion for business.  As much as Dan loved being in Asia, he didn’t enjoy the teaching aspect and considered what other ways God may be able to use him should we return.  We prayed, spent a great deal of time reflecting and meditating on God’s word and then took a leap of faith.  Dan applied to a few business schools.  One stood out amongst the ones he applied to, and we moved to the Midwest.

I was supportive of the move.  I trusted that God was going to use us in unforeseen ways, despite moving us further and further from Asia.  I admit that during the time Dan was in business school and started working for a large marketing company, I was floundering in my spiritual life.  I felt displaced.  I didn’t feel a real calling for myself and I was tired.  As much as I enjoyed my time working with college students on the East Coast, I felt drained.

It was during this spiritual valley that both my daughters were born.  I dedicated the whole of my seven years of my adult life to ministry and now, it seemed God was bringing to fruition life from within me.  And now, that’s where I’m at.  I’m a stay at home mother to two girls unsure of the future.  My husband, Dan, is working off student loans from his business school days.  We talk with friends who are currently raising their families in Asia, involved in ministry, and wonder whether if that will be us someday.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus brought us here.  But I don’t think I’ve thought much beyond the practicality of it.  Jesus gave Dan this job.  I feel confident in saying this.  It’s mostly because of the unusual circumstances that surrounded his application and the offer to work for this company that I believe this to be true.  It’s a story I’ll have to save for another day.

When I came upon the questions in my BSF lesson that I wrote above, it got me thinking.  All this time that we’ve been confident that our family is meant to be here, to live here in Midwest, we’ve never really sought out why here.  We’ve settled with the idea that this is the right place, but didn’t ask the question why, or for what purpose.  It’s been especially difficult for me to wrestle with, because with two young daughters, I feel stuck at home.   I’m afraid of the meltdowns and most of the time do everything in my power to stay on schedule with their naps.  Elle still takes two of them.  Minnie still needs her afternoon one. I still nurse Elle five or six times a day.  I don’t like to admit this, but it’s very hard for me to get the three of us out the door.  It requires a great deal of preparation on my part, a deep breath, and a moment to muster up courage.  The few times I leave the house with just the girls on a regular basis during the week are for BSF, MOPS and the gym that is literally 5 minutes away from us.

What does ministry look like when you’re a SAHM, especially one with young children?  It could be that my ministry, for now, is with my children.  As I’ve said before in previous posts, raising my kids has been a difficult journey, one not without its rewards, but one that definitely has forced a season of stretching in my faith and character.  It could very well be that this time is about God growing in me fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control so that I’d become more like him.  It could be in preparation for an unknown future ministry.  Like Saul, maybe I need to be hidden so that I can grow in the ways I need to be.  The only thing is, I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that this is all there could be.  Granted I’m far from feeling able to leave the house and suddenly getting actively involved in an outward focused ministry. But I can’t discount the question of why here. Why did Jesus bring us here?  At the moment, I don’t have any answers, but it’s a question that I believe is worth wrestling with.

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Singing

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I’m exhausted today.  I’m not at my best, possibly at one of my worst.  My inhibitions are lowered, my patience already wearing thin, and my feelings are far too accessible, worn on my sleeve. Given the choice I’d probably stay in bed and sleep the day away, but I can’t afford to.  This week was full of activities and as a result the exhaustion has worked its way into my bones.

Minnie, in full out defiant two year old mode, refused any suggestion with an instant rebuttal this morning.

I held out her outfit for the day. “Let’s change our clothes,” I gently suggested.

“No, I don’t want to.”  She runs off skipping and picking up her basket of dress-up clothes from the toy shelf.

“Let’s eat some breakfast.”

“No, I want a sna-ack.” She says in her slight Southern drawl.  My husband and I don’t know where the accent comes from, but it has somehow decided to stay.

“Can you finish your Cheerios?”

“No.  I want to get down.”

No is the order of the day.  It’s hard on any given day, but today it feels especially hard.  I can feel the anger rising and me acutely aware that I need to muster strength to push it down.  I feel like I can barely handle her.

While I was coaxing Minnie to stay in her seat with some paint with water pages, I rushed to stuff some Cheerios down my own throat.  Elle, at the same time, fusses, cries and yawns.  She’s showing all the signs of her exhaustion from waking up early.   I go and pick her up, turn on the white noise, wrap her up in her blanket, nurse her and place her in the swing.  Then I wait for her eyes to close, the steady, but recently loud congested deep breathing that mark her restful thirty minute nap.

Not today.  She wanted to fight.

Instead of laying down in her swing, she rocked away upright.

Instead of closing her eyes, she watched Minnie intently.

Back-arching. She’s trying to use all her might to escape the dreaded swing.  Her face turns red.

Screaming. The shrill cry.

Yesterday we went to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and they reminded me how when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely and/or Tired we need to stop and take a breather.  HALT.  This morning, I was all these things.  But I couldn’t stop what I was doing.  I had to get them dressed.  I had to get the kids breakfast.  I had to put Elle to sleep.

Finally,  I stopped.  I prayed. I uttered the simplest of prayers.  I begged for Jesus to put my baby to sleep, to calm her spirit, to bring her peace, to heal her runny nose.  Because if she would just sleep, then I felt that maybe I could get through the day.  And while I was still patting her, I read the passage for today from Philip Yancey’s Grace Notes .

The passage was about how Ron Nikkel of Prison Fellowship International visited a prison in Zambia.  “Eighty of the 120 prisoners went to the back wall and assembled in rows.  They began singing-hymns, Christian hymns, in beautiful four-part harmony…thirty-five of those men had been sentenced to death and would soon face execution.”  The prison was in a terrible state.  It reeked of feces.  It was heated by the hot African sun.  The prisoners lived in cells that are so small that all of them are unable to lie down at once to sleep, but have to take turns.   In the midst of all of this, they sang.

If these prisoners living in such squalor and were facing death could sing, I could sing too.  I closed my eyes, continued patting Elle and sang to her of God’s love.  The next thing I remember is opening my eyes.  My baby was swinging, asleep.

Birth Story: Beginnings of a Love Story

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She came one day early than her due date.  We couldn’t have planned it any better because we were hoping she’d come at a time when my husband was on break from his business school studies.  He could, then be able to help out until I was ready enough to care for her on my own.  We planned and prepared ahead of time,as best as we could buying all the things she’d need, taking the classes to know what to do during labor and attending the classes on how to care for a newborn.

When my water broke, it didn’t all go quite as expected.  My contractions weren’t progressing the way my doctor liked to see and so I was advised to take pitocin.  I wanted to try to have my baby as naturally as possible and wanted to wait as long as possible before taking any medication.  At the next check, my doctor said that my contractions were at a standstill.  I agreed to the pitocin to start them up.

After several hours passed, I was exhausted. Dr. Kirsch said there was little progress despite the flurry of contractions. I was frustrated and disappointed that the pain didn’t seem proportionate to the progress. I needed rest and asked the doctor if there was anything she could recommend to help.  Her advice?  Morphine. The hope was that my labor would progress, while I could rest and have enough strength and energy to push later.

I felt wracked with guilt for not taking the natural route, but felt I couldn’t continue without more rest.  I kept asking Dan, “Do you really think it’s okay for me to take the morphine?  Are you sure?”  All I could think was, “This is wrong!  For goodness sakes’, it’s morphine!  This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!”  The crazy thing is that, despite all of my turmoil, the morphine was ineffective or perhaps only worked when there were no contractions. I fell asleep for the few minutes in-between them.  Then, I woke up screaming in pain when the contractions startled me awake.  After what felt like an eternity of this back and forth resting and excruciating pain, I was permitted to receive an epidural.  Again, more guilt.

I finally slept for a few hours.  When I woke up, I was told that I had a slight fever and needed to wait before pushing.  My body told me otherwise.  I resisted for about ten minutes.  When the anesthesia ran out and the fever had ten minutes to resolve itself, she was on her way.  And that’s how Minnie came into the world.  She was beautiful.  All 8 pounds and 6 ounces of her.

When the doctor told me how beautiful she thought my daughter was, I believed her.  I knew my doctor had delivered dozens and dozens of babies before mine, who I’m sure were just as beautiful as mine.  But for that moment, I believed my daughter was the most beautiful.

When we arrived at the postpartum wing, I kept waiting for that instant elation that I often hear other young mothers exclaim,  “I’m in love.”  I certainly loved her.  I was just not in love with her.   It never became the nervous, exciting infatuation I imagined it would be.  That feeling of being in love with my baby grew gradually.

I had to get to know her.  And it took awhile.  Before I knew it, one day while she was peacefully sleeping with her daddy, I felt my chest flood with a warmth.  It happened when she giggled or smiled.  I laughed out loud when she did her “Blue Steel” look like Ben Stiller from Zoolander.   She’d open her eyes wide and open her mouth into a little O.  All these little things, made me love her.

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made all the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.”  From C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, P.41-42

I had all these expectations of what a good birth looked like, how I was supposed to feel as I held my newborn.  In comparison, I failed.  I’ve been embarrassed by that.  Because if my whole identity is caught up in these expectations of what I think is right for a young mother, there will always be faults to find.  There will be better birth stories with women experiencing much more natural births, other women who had much more traumatic births and were victorious.  There will always be women who had that wonderful feeling of falling in love with their baby right away.   What I’ve come to realize is that God didn’t mean for it to be like this, for me to be constantly measuring myself against certain expectations or specific people.  He gave this story to my daughter and to me for His pleasure and for our pleasure.  He has called it good. Why should I believe otherwise? This is the story of the birth of my daughter.  It’s the story of when I first became a mother.

Exploiting God’s Grace

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If we truly grasped the wonder of God’s love for us, the devious question that prompted Romans 6 and 7 – What can I get away with? – would never even occur to us.  We would spend our days trying to fathom, not exploit, God’s grace.

From Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? (190-91)

Gratitude.  It’s not something that comes to mind naturally or easily.  In college, I forced myself to write three things I was grateful for each day so that I’d be reminded to live gratefully.  Unfortunately, that list has long gone been left to the wayside.   It is part of the reason why I wanted to start this, to have a place where I’d be accountable to “count my blessings” and to re-align myself to Jesus’ perspective daily.  It’s too easy to be carried away with my doom and gloom point of view.

Before my eldest, Minnie, turned two I couldn’t believe all the warnings other parents would say about two year olds.  Minnie had such a sweet disposition, an innocent face and was so polite, rarely forgetting her pleases and thank yous.  A few months before two, she started to test her boundaries- she wouldn’t do what we asked of her or would eventually obey us after doing what she wanted to do first, she’d storm off if she didn’t get her way right away, she started to finesse her tantrum tactics, she began to throw tantrums for goodness sakes.  And despite all that I’d been told, I was still caught off guard.  It continues to be difficult.  Starting from the moment she wakes up, it’s a battle to get her to eat some semblance of breakfast to night, getting her to go to bed and sleeping in it.  I’m a little worried because I’ve had a few friends who’ve expressed that this sort of asserting one’s will continues into age three.  For some, it seems, they haven’t had a respite since their baby was one.  I get so frustrated with the constant battles, that many days I just think, “How do I get through the day without my head hurting too much?”  In basic terms, it’s the thought of  “What can I get away with?” in terms of my engagement with her. In the most minimalist of terms, what can I get away with and still do right by her.  I don’t like that I think this way and often feel guilty that I do.   I wish I had endless energy reserves and emotional stamina to do more, to be more for them.

What it all comes down to, really, though is that not only as a mother, but as a human being I also exploit God’s grace not because I necessarily want to do wrong, but as Paul said in Romans 7, “So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:25 NLT) As much as I don’t want to, I will end up exploiting God’s grace again.

That’s what amazes me about Jesus.  Because when I became a mother, my perspectives on Jesus and his relationship to his disciples and God’s relationship to his children have changed.  God continues to pour his love on his children, despite our disobedience, despite our tantrums and impolite natures and despite our consistent exploitations of His grace. He has the limitless reserves, the emotional, but more importantly the spiritual stamina to keep up with any and all battles we may bring up with Him.

It’s only from him, that I can find my supply of what is needed to care for my children the way God desires for me to raise them.

Yancey points out, the only way to avoid this desire to exploit is to, from minute to minute, hourly, daily attempt to “grasp God’s love for us.”

So this is my prayer for today:

Please Jesus help me to remember your love, that it would be a reality for me today.  I pray that with each routine task, with each battle, or difficulty  I wouldn’t disengage from them, but know that you did these things for me and still do.  Thank you.  Help me to love and care for the daughters you’ve blessed me with out of Your strength and power instead of my own.

In Jesus’ Name I pray,

Amen.

Doing Better

From 1 Peter 3:15a, 17 NLT

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life… Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!”

When I became a mother, I realized that the biggest challenge was being at my best when I was exhausted.  There’s a sort of survival mode that I’ve been living in during these past eight months and also the year before when my first daughter was born.  To a great degree, I understand that this is just necessary.  At the end of the day, sometimes, it’s a victory to know that you all came out of it alive.  Both my girls have struggled with sleeping through the night.  My first, it took about a year.  I’ll let you know when the other one sleeps through the night.  There are the days, however, where I know I could’ve done more but didn’t.  The reasons aren’t surprising, because if I use my energy to do something beyond survival I’ll be tired later and will feel like I can’t do that one more thing, I’m discouraged, did I mention I’m tired, I’ll be expected to do that extra thing everyday and I don’t know if I can.

The one thing I can’t get past, however, is the fact that this isn’t the kind of life Jesus calls us to.  I can guarantee Jesus has experienced far longer and deeper exhaustion than I can imagine, much less experienced.  Yet, he consistently gave of himself to strangers and to his disciples.  When you’re constantly called to give of yourself whether you feel like it or not, you have two choices-to grit your teeth and bear it or to “worship Christ as Lord of your life.”  For too long, I’ve been gritting my teeth and bearing it.  And for too long, I’ve been running on empty.  The truth is, I don’t really know what it’s like to worship Christ as Lord of my life as a mother of two.  But I’m guessing Jesus can teach me.  If anything, I think it looks like thinking of him, praying to him, giving to him my exhaustion, my needs, my insecurities and laying it before him even if all I can say is, “Help me.”

I’m not currently facing persecution for my faith like the Christians that Peter is speaking to here.  The question is if I’m going to “suffer” why not do so while doing good. It’s no longer a matter of doing the best I can and just surviving, but doing better with Jesus’ help.

From 1 Peter 3:18 NLT

“Christ suffered for our sins once  for all time.  He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”

New Way of Thinking

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I’m still reflecting on Romans 12:2 today.  However, in addition a Steven Curtis Chapman song called, “One Heartbeat At A Time” from his album, This Moment, came to mind.

Here are the lyrics:

You’re up all night with a screaming baby
You run all day at the speed of life
And every day you feel a little bit less
Like the beautiful woman you are

So you fall into bed when you run out of hours
And you wonder if anything worth doing got done
Oh, maybe you just don’t know
Or maybe you’ve forgotten

You, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time
Making history with every touch and every smile
Oh, you, you may not see it now
But I believe that time will tell
How you, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time

With every “I know you can do it”
Every tear that you kiss away
So many little things that seem to go unnoticed
They’re just like the drops of rain over time
They become a river

And you, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time
Making history with every touch and every smile
Oh, you, you may not see it now
But I believe that time will tell
How you, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time

You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
How you’re changing the world
You’re changing the world

You, you are changing the world
One little heartbeat at a time
Making history with every touch and every smile
Oh, you, you may not see it now
But I believe that time will tell
How you, you are changing the world
Oh, I believe that you
You are changing the world
One little heartbeat
At a time

And you’re changing the world

I face this truth everyday.  It’s so easy to forget in the moment, when Elle is crying because she can’t reach the toy she’s so determined to grab or when Minnie is refusing to eat her breakfast for the umpteenth time.

Today I’ve gotten a taste, a reminder that each word, each action and reaction has the power to build up my daughters, grow us closer to each other, transform them and me into the people God desires us to be.

And, I was reminded to think like a child.  I don’t especially remember what it was like for me to be a two year old, much less when I was eight months, but I’ve been trying to imagine what it may be like if I was in their place.

They so often seem so unphased by their surroundings, by what I say or do.  It’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter.  At a moment of bad mothering, I was reminded that this just isn’t true.  I lost my temper when Minnie refused to use the potty before her nap and instead carried her and placed her on the toilet instead of leading her to walk there herself.  I was angry.  And she could tell.  “Why are you being so crazy Mommy?”  I’m ashamed to know that she saw me lose control of my anger.  She saw.  She knew.  I’d like to hope that, though, she didn’t make any unusual remarks she also saw how I tried to make her favorite dinner, packaged it in a way that I thought she would like.  I sang her songs to sleep, made sure the humidifier in her room wasn’t too loud so she wouldn’t be scared, gave medicine to help her breathe despite her cold.

There will always be mistakes and failures on my part, but my hope is that with God’s strength and Spirit, transformed with new thinking there won’t be quite so many.

Transformation

From Romans 12:2 NLT

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It seems especially pertinent today to be reminded of this verse.  Life with two young ones has been especially tough recently.  It’s taken a toll in more ways than I’d imagined.  When I was pregnant with my second, I never imagined life to be like this…on the brink of being unmanageable.

I feel like I have nothing left to give, except my flaws, my imperfection, my sin.  It breaks my heart that I feel this way.

It’s easy to know where I’m being tested, where my failures come from.  Being a mother has tested my will, my patience, my self-control to its outer limits.  When I reflect on where I failed I see my poor choices-not sleeping earlier, unwilling to let go the belief that my time is no longer my own.

Why is it hard?  It’s the constant battling with my two and a half year old.  The constant attention my eight month old requires as she rolls on the floor every which way, her only way of transportation at this point.  Making sure Elle, doesn’t choke on a toy that her older sister enjoys playing with but is the exact size in which Elle would be able to stuff down her throat.  The eight month old is teething.  So much crying and yelling on both their parts.  Not knowing when it will end.

I t doesn’t sound all that bad.  But at this particular moment, the doubts are loud, the failures even louder. They come like a flood.  Can I do this?  How do I stop being angry when my two and a half year old , a mini me, when she again feels the need to exert her will over listening to what I’m asking her to do.

That’s why this verse seems necessary.

Pray.

Pray for that transformation.

Pray for a new way to think.

Pray to ask what God’s will is for me today.

Pray for grace that is Jesus today.