My Daughter and the Gospel

Today was a full blown “toddler day”—full of ALL the negative behaviors you would associate with toddlers (with a bonus naptime boycott)!

Normally on days like this, I’d throw in the towel on going anywhere else by about 3 pm, but we were almost out of R’s formula and a number of other household necessities, so I reluctantly piled the girls in the car and settled in for a questionable experience.

As I drove, I told God that my day had felt purposeless, boring, and defeating, but affirmed that I KNEW He had purpose for me in spite of my feelings, and asked to experience His presence during my trip to Target.

I got out of the car to see that Zoe had dumped an entire container of Puffs on herself and the backseat, and mashed them up for good measure.

I opened the car door, looked at her disheveled appearance and the crumbs everywhere, sighed heavily, and said “you are a MESS.”

And that sweet little girl smiled at me, opened her mouth, and sang,

“I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence, I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His arms…Jesus, He loves me. He loves me, He is for me.”

My frustration melted and I smiled back as I remembered that God saw me at my absolute messiest, most frustrated, most defiant, worst self and didn’t just tolerate me. He LOVED me.  And I was covered with much worse than Puffs!

I looked into her beautiful eyes and told her I loved her too, and thanked her for loving ME when I’m messy too.  And I thanked God for showing me His presence, right there in the Target parking lot.

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I know that my husband is a preacher, and yes, he is eloquent, but I think the gospel is most amazing when it comes out of the mouth of our 2 year old.

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The Background

A few weeks ago, I had one of the sweetest parenting moments I’ve had so far.  I was driving and the song “10,000 Reasons” came on the radio.  From the backseat I heard:

“Bess Lor, my soul.  Oh, my soul.  Wor-ip hooooo name.”   

It was Zoe, singing a song she’s heard probably hundreds of times in the background.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul.  Oh, my soul.  Worship His holy name.”

It’s not a song I’ve ever sung to her with hand motions or an agenda to teach it to her.  It’s just a song I sing to God myself in those quiet moments when Zoe doesn’t need my full attention—when she’s busy or otherwise occupied and it feels like just me and God.

She learned it anyway.

“I love your singing, baby,” I said to her, wiping away a tear.  “It’s beautiful.”  

Then to God I said, “Wow.”  

I think a lot about how to raise Zoe.  I want her to know God’s love and to desire a relationship with Him.  I pray for it, I read about how to foster it, I think about it, I talk about it.  I want to be intentional about the right things.

But I’m realizing that a lot of her early thoughts about God and faith will not come from my carefully constructed lesson plans or mission statements…but from the background of my own life.

I can tell her “God loves you,” and that’s good—but if I rest in God’s love myself, letting His love define me instead of relying on my actions or accomplishments, loving others from the overflow of His love to me—that will speak even louder.

I can read her books about patience and putting others first, but being patient myself and letting her see me put others first will be a better lesson.

I can tell her to be thankful to God for everything.  But when she overhears me singing “for all your goodness, I will keep on singing” over and over again in a season of loss? That speaks much louder than my words.

I’ve worried about what to teach.  But really, it’s about how I live, and what God does through that.

It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think about faith and how to teach it.  But it means that mostly, I should just work on living it authentically myself.

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I’ve pondered all of this the last few weeks.  And as I stood in my best friend’s church last Sunday, in the hometown that doesn’t always feel like home, the familiar chords began and my heart relaxed into what I can best describe as openness.  And the last verse, which has always seemed a little morbid to me, hit me fresh and new and tied all this together.

“And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.”

I will not be around forever.  I will die.  But at some point, when I’m no longer here, I hope my daughter will still be singing to the Lord she loves.

This is my prayer.  Not that she never doubts; no that she has a faith just like mine; not that she goes to church every week; not that she can regurgitate creeds or impress everyone with her Bible knowledge.  My hope is that she has found something authentic and real in my faith, in her father’s faith, in her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ faith—that all that she has seen in the background has developed the foreground of her own life.

And so, as the song says:

Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.”

I will keep singing.

Your Grace Finds Me

It had been a long day.  I had woken up at 5:15 am feeling sick, got right to work mothering at 6:10 as David had a morning meeting, and continued working throughout the day.  We had a fun day, but it was now 6:45 pm, David was still at work thanks to an evening meeting, and Zoe was getting progressively crankier and crankier—her fatigue and my fatigue locked in a battle.

Is it bedtime yet? I wondered wearily.  I looked up at the clock and sighed.  45 more minutes…

In that sigh, my heart sank.

Though I know it’s natural to feel tired, I feel guilty every time that I catch myself wishing time away.

I didn’t become a mom for nap time and bed time; I became a mom for the waking moments, when I get to watch Zoe develop and grow and explore.  I didn’t become a mom to have time to myself; I became a mom to give of myself.

When I told my boss I was not coming back to work full time, she said, “The way this baby found her way into your family was such a miracle.  I’m glad you’re not wasting the miracle.”   I’ve thought often of this as I’ve watched my sweet baby grow faster than I could have ever imagined.  This IS a miracle.  Every moment.  And our recent failed adoption reminds me of just how miraculous it is for a mother to give up the privilege of parenting so that her child can have a better life.  It defies logic.  It defies the cry of a mother’s heart.  It is a miracle—a heartbreaking and perplexing and yet ultimately beautiful miracle when God takes a child who needs a family and places it into the arms of a family who need that child.

It was now 7:00.  My sweet little one was relaxing on my lap and drinking her bottle as I thought through all this, chastising myself for my lack of discipline and energy and appreciation for our miracle and my general suckiness as a mom.   (You know, the loving things you say to yourself that really spur you on to greatness.)

In the midst of my motivational inner monologue, I happened to glance outside and realized that the scenery looked different than our usual 7:00 darkness.  Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, a beautiful sunset was happening outside our window.

It’s a shame we’ll miss that sunset, I thought.

And then it hit me.

Why do we have to miss it? 

Just because I set an arbitrary bedtime—just because we have a routine—just because I planned on a 7:30 bedtime—doesn’t mean that we had to follow through.

A few weeks ago I had heard a sermon where Andy Stanley challenged us to ask ourselves the question “what would an extraordinary person do?” in our ordinary circumstances.

As the sunset gleamed outside, I asked myself what an extraordinary mom, one who doesn’t want herself or her child to miss a miracle, one who doesn’t want to end their day in fatigue and discouragement, would do.

And just like that, Zoe was done with her bottle.  I looked her in the eye and said “baby, do you want to go outside?” 

She ran to the door, confused and excited, following at my heels as I grabbed my shoes and keys.

We stepped outside and I walked us to a place where we could see the sunset.

And as we looked up at the sky and pointed to squirrels and birds and picked flowers and waved to each car as it went by, I realized that the only people missing the miracle tonight were the people who didn’t look out their car windows to see the loving little girl waving to them and the people whose hands gripped the wheel too tightly to wave back.

Tonight, I wasn’t one of them.

Thank you, Lord.

(Want more? This song.)

Harvest

I don’t share a ton on here about my life as a ministry wife, because even though it’s my story, it’s not JUST my story…it’s my husband’s story and the story of our church community as well.

But I HAD to share a cool story from the last two weeks because I think it might encourage someone who is struggling with the question “when will I see RESULTS in my ministry?”

You see, in ministry you put all this effort into planting seeds.  You try to plant knowledge, passion, love, faith, and hope in the Lord.  You shape your life around planting. The rhythms of your family life, your finances, your conversations, your passions, your location—everything is affected by the work you or your spouse feel called to do.

A lot of it is rewarding.  You see lives changed and people inspired and relationships restored.

Yet you don’t always see the harvest.

You’ll pour hours of mentoring into a kid who winds up getting arrested.  You’ll talk a student off a million ledges only for them to keep walking off those ledges like they haven’t learned anything.  You’ll urge a parent to talk with their son/daughter based on something alarming that their child has told you, you’ll give them suggestions about how to do so, and they won’t even address the issue with their child.  You spend extended amounts of time with students who are borderline rude to you on a trip and then they never return to your church, so you don’t know what ends up happening to them.

And it’s okay, because obedience to your calling is why you do this—not because you need results.  And you pray “okay, God.  I may not see the results of the seeds I tried to plant but I know that you’re the one doing the work anyway—that you will water them and that there will be a harvest someday.  Help me continue faithfully and energetically regardless of the outcome, trusting that YOU see the harvest at the end even if I don’t.”

But sometimes, God just chooses to bless you anyway by showing you results.  In the last two weeks, I’ve seen some harvest from the seeds I’ve tried to plant.

I’m humbled.

The things I hope most for the girls I mentor and spend my time and prayers on are that they will know their identity in Christ, that they develop a passion for growing in the Lord, and that their hearts become loving, soft, aware of others, and servant-like.

Well…two weeks ago, two of my college girls (that I mentored for two years when they were high schoolers) came back from school and saw an area in my life where I needed some help.  They pointed my need out, like “hey, Sarah, you could probably use help with this” and then offered to fill it.

On their break from school.

I didn’t prompt them in any way or even realize that I could actually benefit from some help until they asked.

My first inclination was to say no, I’m fine—thanks anyway.  Enjoy your break.  I can do my own work.

But I thought about it and realized that this is exactly the kind of thing I should say yes to. I want them to see needs and feel a pull on their hearts to meet those needs, and I want them to respond to that pull.

And that was what they were doing.

So I said yes and thought, if they are volunteering to help, I am going to give them a REAL job.  So I had them babysit Zoe for a while while I ran some errands, and while she napped I had them clean a gross closet in my house (it used to store our recycling bins, sandy lawn chairs, & outdoor goods, if that says anything about how gross it was.)

I came back and that closet was sparkling clean.  My baby was happy.  The girls looked tired and happy.

And I felt thankful.  Thankful for their sacrifices, thankful for the privilege of being called to this life of ministry, and thankful for the fact that every so often, God lifts up the veil of what He’s doing and says here’s some encouragement.  Here’s some harvest. Check out what we’re doing together. 

I’d do what I felt called to anyway.  But it feels good to do it encouraged!

My First Advent

I have a confession to make: I’m a pretty horrible Presbyterian.

I grew up in a non-Presbyterian church that didn’t really follow a “church calendar” outside of an annual summer revival series (can I get an AMEN?) and an epic Vacation Bible School that could not possibly have been a vacation for the volunteers who put it on.  Sure, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but the more important calendar was the Wednesday night dinner calendar.  Only a fool would miss the monthly fried chicken night.

As a result of my upbringing, I don’t know the slightest thing about the church calendar and often find myself saying “what?!! ANOTHER special Sunday?!! What is it this time?! Presbyterians!!!!”

Clearly, I don’t have a clue.

So when David asked me a few months ago for suggestions on how to make this year’s Advent season more exciting, I made the perfectly logical suggestion of cutting its length in half or skipping it all together. “Why do we have to prepare for Jesus’s birth for so many weeks?” I said. “He was already born.  It seems a little unnecessary.”

After collecting his jaw off the floor, David earnestly explained the importance of the season of hope, of waiting, of anticipation.

I laughed and shook my head as if to say you poor misguided fool.  

“There is literally no suspense in this story.  IT ALREADY HAPPENED.  Why the anticipation?”

He didn’t ask for any more Advent advice.

Resigned, I settled in for another season of ritual prayers, inward scoffing, and a pervasive sense of guilt about my lack of enthusiasm.

And yet? This year, despite my opposition to Advent candles (fire traps!) and moving closer to Bethlehem (while staying in the same place) and anticipating something that ALREADY HAPPENED, I got Advent-y.  The most Advent-y I’ve ever been.

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Here’s what happened: I did my first-ever Advent themed Bible study. And although I have been a week behind the entire time (Jesus will be born in a few days…I’m getting excited!) it has actually been really, really cool.

I like the Bible.  I’ve read it in its entirety, I believe it all fits together and that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.  I’ve believed it for years.

But now, I’ve experienced it in a new way.

I’ve read a prophecy in the Old Testament that corresponds with an occurrence in the New Testament.  I’ve read parallels: God’s frustration with our sin and His love for us regardless.  His calling us out, desiring for us to repent, and the sacrifice and solution that enables us to return to Him.  His telling that something was coming and His sending of that something.

And instead of rushing through it…I’ve savored it.  I’ve maintained a slow pace corresponding with the season.  The season of anticipation.

You see, right now, I’m in a waiting season myself.  And my tendency is to rush, rush, rush.  I hate waiting.  I want to get directly to the outcome and know what happens.

But in the rushing, you miss the beauty of anticipation.  And that means you miss the full gift…the full joy.

When you read the scriptures slowly, you feel the build up.  You feel the darkness that they lived in, the inevitable entanglement of a sinful world that tries to stamp out everything good and destroy us all and you think, will this darkness win? And when I look at our world sometimes…I feel the same way.

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But their story doesn’t end there.  Like I said, there is build up—not to destruction, but to good news:

“See, darkness covers the earth
   and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
   and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

No longer will violence be heard in your land,
   nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
   and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
   nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
   and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your days of sorrow will end.  (Isaiah 60:1-3, 18-20)

I’ve read this scripture before.  But this time, after weeks of anticipation, a strange thing happened.  I felt the excitement that Simeon and Anna felt when they realized, FINALLY.  He has come.  FINALLY.  This world is redeemed.  We are made right again.  Sin is defeated and we are free. FINALLY.

It was all I could do not to jump up and down.  In fact, I raised my hands in the air, shouted “Praise Jesus” and laughed out loud over my coffee.  (I told you I didn’t grow up Presbyterian.)

You see, all this time I thought I knew the end of the story.  But what I really knew was the beginning.

Advent reminds me that He has come once.  That He has fulfilled His promises once…and that He will continue to fulfill His promises because that is what He does and who He is.  Advent reminds me that I no longer wait alone…that He has come, that He is here, God with us.  That I have a living hope.

And so instead of rushing through my season of waiting, I choose to sit in anticipation with Emmanuel by my side.  Instead of groaning about the waiting, I am ready to be built in the waiting.  Instead of doubting in the waiting, I beg for the faith of those who have gone before me.  Instead of anxiety, I choose trust.  Instead of running through worst-case scenarios, I patiently and joyfully anticipate His provision.

I choose the fullest joy possible.  I choose the gift.

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“Joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God…He keeps every promise forever.”–Psalm 146:5-6

On Having It All: My Journey

I love reading about women’s issues.  As a woman, feminist, and person with an interest in psychology, sociology, public health, and personal development, it’s kind of a no brainer area of interest for me.

A question I keep coming across: can women have it all?

The answers differ.

You can’t.  You can.  You can, but just not all at once.  You could if our government provided a system of subsidized childcare options or if maternity and paternity leave policies were different in this country.  You can if you can afford a nanny.  You can if you have a feminist husband.  You can if you don’t have a high level position.  Lean in.   It takes a village—use your village. Put your big rocks first and then the sand.  Bla, bla, bla.

At first I was really into this debate.  As someone who feels the tug of war between the privilege of motherhood and an aptitude for a meaningful career outside of the home, I felt invested. But lately, I’ve grown sick of it.

It’s not that I don’t care about equality or women having opportunities to succeed.  I do.

It’s not that I don’t understand the history of feminism or the ground we still have to cover.  I do.

And it’s not that the concept of “having it all” isn’t appealing.  I would love to have a fulfilling and financially rewarding career on my terms, opportunities to advance to high level positions, rich friendships, a fabulous romantic relationship, all the time in the world with my child(ren,) AND time to work out, blow dry my hair, shop for awesome clothes, have my own hobbies and pursue philanthropic work…with no stress or strain placed on my relationships or health throughout it all.  Who (male or female) wouldn’t want this?!

Our culture says that if we work hard enough, we can live this dream.  We can have it all.  I bought into it, and it was my goal when I thought about becoming a mom.

But slowly, I’ve realized: having it all isn’t a good enough goal.

And the fact that we have a national debate about our right to “have it all” may say more about our entitlement than our interest in equality.

And although we may cloak this conversation in terms like “justice” and “the right to self-actualization,” what “having it all” really means is “if I can’t simultaneously have everything I want, I feel deprived, angry, and like my rights have been violated.”

In other words, my personal fulfillment and satisfaction at any given moment is the most important goal.  

Here’s the thing I’ve realized as a person trying to follow Christ: it’s not.

We aren’t called to pursue our vision of personal fulfillment—we are called to obedience to God’s call on our life.

We aren’t called to “have it all”—we are called to have right hearts and right actions.

We aren’t called to create our own dreams, but to ask God what His dreams for us are and partner with Him in living them out (they are much bigger and cooler than ours anyway!)

Scripture never promises that we can “have it all.”  It offers no formula for attaining this, no encouragement to strive for this, no affirmation of this lifestyle goal.

What we ARE are told in scripture is that God will meet our needs.  We are told to seek His kingdom first and that everything else will be given to us as well.  We are told to deny ourselves, to consider others as more significant than ourselves, to be humble, to be content, to look not only to our own interests but to the interests of others, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What it doesn’t say is “seek yourself and your own self-fulfillment first.  Your happiness is most important.  You deserve everything you want, so go ahead and put others’ interests beneath yours while you try to attain everything you want all at once because you’re terrified of not being satisfied.”

Yet it is so tempting to live life that way–to move ahead with your ideas and your vision of what life should look like without checking in with God about His vision.

When Zoe was born, I had a nanny hired, a return date for work, and a plan–MY plan.  After my 6.5 week maternity leave was over, I would be back at work balancing everything. The intensity required by my management position would be hard for my family, would likely put some strain on my marriage, and wouldn’t allow me a lot of time with our baby, but I needed to make money and be satisfied professionally and not hate my daily life (because I just knew I would HATE being a stay at home mom…who could possibly like that? 🙂 )  I had a job that made me feel important and a team to supervise and professional goals and I would accomplish it all and be an awesome working mom because I had worked hard and that’s what I deserved.  I didn’t really check in with God about it, but it was my plan and what I wanted, so it had to be okay, right?

Then I spent the morning of my 27th birthday sobbing in my bedroom because I couldn’t deny God’s call.  He was gentle but clear.  And He was telling me that I couldn’t have it all.  That for my family and my personality type in this stage of life (not a prescriptive statement, just my story) it was best for me to stay at home, to focus on one thing at a time, to stop striving for a life that was all about ME and my sense of status and self-importance, to make a decision that was best for the people I have been given to love instead of just looking at what I wanted.  That 27 would be different than every other year because this year, I would surrender to God’s plan for my life even where it differed with mine.

I’ve had to mourn this dream of having it all.  I have.  It hasn’t been easy to walk away from an idea that is so entrenched in our culture, so attractive, so positively phrased.

But as I’ve walked away, I’ve found a surprising paradox: that as I turn away from my own goals and vision and hopes in favor of His—I find the fulfillment that I’ve been looking for all along.

Instead of trying to cram everything in and fighting a constant battle for balance, I have a sense of clarity about my priorities and am able to enjoy and be fulfilled by the present.

Instead of worrying about my next move and whether or not I’ll meet the goals I want for myself, I am learning to trust His provision and His ability to satisfy me in the opportunities He brings me to.

Instead of feeling bitter about opportunities I’m missing out on, I find myself thankful for the gifts I already have.

When you realize that everything you have is a gift, you’re less concerned about “having it all” and just so, so grateful you have any of it.  

We are guaranteed nothing in this life.  Everything we have is a gift.

I want to live a peaceful life of gratitude and offering to others, not a restless life of grasping and striving for my own goals.  I want to be passionate about personal growth—not personal fulfillment.  I want to view my children and husband and people in my life as the gifts they are, not as objects to work around and obligations to balance in my calendar.

I don’t want people to look at me and say, “wow! She is Superwoman.  She really has it all!” Instead, I want them to look at me and say “wow, she loves the people in her life well and I feel loved when I am with her.  I wonder if there is something to this God she talks about.”  

I don’t want to have it all—I want to steward what I have well.

And so my takeaway message, to you and to myself as well: God has a special plan for each of us.  Be obedient to God’s plan for you–don’t be a slave to your pre-scripted plan for yourself. And don’t fear His plans–God doesn’t call us to boring and unfulfilling lives.

(A few cases in point: I LOVE every day as a mostly stay-at-home mom and I actually find it to be a perfect fit for me right now despite it being my worst nightmare for years!  Another friend of mine recently went back to work after maternity leave even though it wasn’t her initial “life plan” because she feels God has given her the job she has as a way to provide for her family.  She works hard at her job, is intentional to spend time with her baby every day, and her family has been blessed because of her efforts.  A friend of mine is single in her 30s, has no kids, and lives pretty much paycheck to paycheck—a far cry from the “all” that society talks about having.  Yet she isn’t trying to get more–she is trying to GIVE more.  She impacts others every day through her career and spends her evenings working with youth who need a positive role model—evenings she has to give because she isn’t frantically trying to climb a corporate ladder or meet a husband.  And her life is so, so rich.)

I don’t think anyone (male or female) can have it all.  But with His guidance, I think we can have the right things…and that’s what I’m striving for these days.

On Mom Guilt & Forgiveness

A friend told me that I always “make motherhood sound so good” when I blog.

And being a mom IS my favorite thing ever, but really, it’s not a 24/7 walk through fields of sunflowers and rainbows.  I don’t ever, ever, ever take it for granted because it is a HUGE gift, so I don’t complain very much.  But, in the spirit of keepin’ it real…

Motherhood lately has been fun.  And scary.  And messy.

It’s been FUN, because Zoe is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.  She’s bold and she has spunk and she will not sit still & quiet.  Last week, I took her to the playground and she wanted to walk over and over again into the splash pad to get wet.  I took her to music class at the library and she waved her arms, clapped, and screeched to the music, screaming and clapping when each song ended.  We took her to a birthday party on Saturday and she didn’t want to make small talk with anyone—she wanted to cruise around the playground holding onto our fingers for support.  She gives hugs, screams for joy, rips through her toy basket, and generally lives life to the fullest.  I love it.

IMG_1549It’s also been SCARY, because, well, Zoe is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.  She tries to kill herself multiple times a day, totally by mistake, and it is SO scary to think that her safety and security hinges on my close supervision.  I used to nanny and could give my sole attention to the child for the hours  I was there because it was my only responsibility.  As the mom, though, I have multiple things to manage.  I can’t watch her every moment and I can’t predict what zany idea she will think of next (eating carpet, pulling heavy toys on top of herself, yanking the dog’s ears, trying to pull the shower curtain down on herself, putting a twig I didn’t even notice into her mouth…my mind does not work the way hers does and I can’t always predict her next move.)

There’s a lot of pressure on me to, you know, keep this child alive and sometimes that pressure feels choking.   I try tactics to work through my fear, like praying or reminding myself that I used to be in charge of 24 middle schoolers on a daily basis, but in the amount of time it takes me to give myself that mental pep talk or lift up a prayer she usually has come up with her next Evel Knievel idea and terrified me again.

IMG_1462Think fast, mom.

And it’s been MESSY, because (what what?!) she is independently moving and is the most fun-loving kid ever.

Now, I’d already made peace with the fact that as a mom, I am messier than I was as a non-mom.  I have a certain level of acceptance for the bags under my eyes, the ponytails (a few months ago, Zoe became terrified of the blow dryer, so I can only blow dry my hair once a week or so when David is available to distract her,) and the mom uniform (I now own the same shirts, pants, and shorts in multiple colors so that I can get dressed in three minutes or less.)  I’d gotten used to life without jewelry (Zoe breaks it) and heels/platforms (who knew I was 4’11? No one, apparently.)  That’s messy, right?

Oh well.  Totally worth it.  “Polished 24/7” has never been my identity anyway, and  I love Zoe way more than straightened hair.

And I’d already made peace (or so I thought!) with the fact that life isn’t just about me, that this season is a little messy, and that’s beautiful.  Deeper meaning understood! I’m so well adjusted, right? Nothing should phase me now!

BUT GUYS.  In reality?

My house?

AHH.

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I’m phased.

Zoe is in a phase of development I’m referring to as “learning through mess-making.”  Or “MAKING MOMMY LEARN NEW COPING SKILLS.”

And she’s loving it.

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(That photo was taken at 6:15 am.  She had already consumed a bottle & taken every toy out of her toy chest.  Time for sunglasses.)  

I’m forcing myself to allow the messes because she NEEDS to make messes to explore and learn about the world.  If, for example, I insist on feeding her so that it’s less messy, she’ll never learn how to do it on her own, and she’ll be a two year old or twenty year old that still needs her mommy to feed her.

But giving her control?!!

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IT’S SO MESSY.

I know, I know…this is parenting.

I know, there’s a deeper lesson…that you have to let go of control and let them mess up because that’s how they learn.

And I know…these are the easy messes to clean up.  We have youth group parents that talk with us all the time about the harder ones so I should appreciate the avocado on the wall and poop in the bathtub while that’s all I have to contend with.

But AHH.  The stickiness.  The repetition of cleaning up the same messes over and over again. IT NEVER ENDS.  And that is the spot where I break, the spot where I am vulnerable, where I suddenly think: you deserve more than this.  You are too smart to be a full time housecleaner.  Maybe you should go back to work. You just spend your whole day serving your family—who serves you? When was the last time you got time to yourself during the day when you weren’t working? August? Why is your husband at work right now? What has he given up? Does what you’re doing right now matter at all? 

And I hate that these lies come.  I want to love and honor the people in my life, not despise them and feel weighted down by untruths about them.  I want to live joyfully and purposefully. Silently muttering to myself as I slam bottles into the sink and clean up toys for the gazillionth time that day doesn’t really fit into any of that.

I want to live authentically.  Pretending to clap for my daughter’s joyful exploration of our toy chest while I secretly think you are making work for me feels like a betrayal of our relationship, a betrayal of the kind of mom I want to be, proof that she deserves better than me.

I want to live sacrificially, because there IS more to life than my whims and wants and unmet needs, but sometimes the deficits feel so overwhelming.  I think, I have nothing left to give you.  I am empty.

So no, motherhood is not all sunflowers and rainbows.  Sometimes it’s visible sin that you can’t deny and frustration with yourself and guilt and hiding tears from your baby as you implore God to change your heart.  Sometimes it’s growth.  Sometimes it feels like stagnancy or regression. Motherhood is good—like I said, it it seriously my favorite thing ever—but it is refining and it is revealing and it is not something you should do if you want to feel successful and good about yourself all the time.  Because motherhood can create your best moments, but it also shows you your weakest spots and takes you to your most vulnerable and defeating places.

But you don’t have to live there.

I’ve always felt grateful for God’s forgiveness of me.  But since becoming a mom, I’ve awakened to how grateful I am that He enables me to forgive myself.

My sense of responsibility for this precious life is so high; my mistakes and failures are so numerous.  It would be easy to sit around in shame and frustration and guilt—not because I let someone else down, but simply because I want to be better than I am.

But He keeps me moving along, unencumbered by yesterday’s mistakes.  And so I sweep the floors and pick up the toys and wash the bottles again, knowing I am forgiven, loved, seen, and chosen even in my imperfection and (yes) messiness—knowing that He picked me for this job and that He can equip me to do it a heck of a lot more efficiently when I hold up my empty hands instead of trying to do it all on my own.

It’s humbling.  But it’s freeing at the same time.  Fun.  Scary.  Messy.

Hope that was real enough for you, friend 🙂

October 22

Today, I am sharing a journal entry I wrote one year ago.  I wanted to commit my feelings and thoughts about that day to paper so that years later, I could read it to someone special.  I share it with you today. 

***

On October 22, everything in my life changed.

That morning, I felt God.  I stepped outside with Java in the morning.  It was dark and devastatingly beautiful outside.  It was colder–but not freezing.  It was clear and I could see the stars, which doesn’t happen every morning.  I looked up and really just felt awe–God was there and He wanted to bless me.

I stood on the patio in my bare feet and my pajamas looking up at the tall oak trees and the stars and feeling the chill in the air and I thought: THANK YOU.

I came inside, wanting to share my blessing with a still-sleeping David or with friends.  “His mercies are new every morning,” I would say or text, adding some commentary to share my special moment with those close to me.

But I decided instead to spend time with God, and I had a wonderful quiet time of prayer and Bible reading before heading off to get my flu shot and go to work.

Six hours later, the magical quality of my morning wasn’t matching my reality.  I was feeling sick from the flu shot and was kind of considering going home (a rarity for me.)  I met Heather for coffee from 1-2 hoping to perk myself up.  I decided I had too much to do to go home, gave myself a pep talk, and came back to the office to work on a presentation.  I almost didn’t answer my work phone when it rang.

But I did.  And everything changed.

It was our adoption agency.

“You’ve been selected,” they said.

“Selected? For what? A survey?” I asked.

They laughed, then got serious.  “No.  A birthmom selected you.”

And in that moment, my life exploded with happiness and joy, stress and joy, anxiety and worry and joy…but JOY.

And that is how I feel now.  Pure, simple JOY.

As Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed!” 

THIS girl can relate!! I am not carrying the Lord or even “carrying” a baby–but I AM overjoyed. And I am grateful and humbled that the Lord has fulfilled the things He said He would do for me.

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished!”

***

I didn’t know then where this would all lead.  I didn’t know our baby would be a healthy and beautiful girl, with no signs of the possible developmental delays that I was preparing for.  I didn’t know that I’d be leaving the job that I loved for a job I love just as much.  I didn’t know just how much more I could love my husband or how deeply I could love another human being.

But I knew something was beginning.

I don’t have a story of the moment I realized that I was pregnant.  I didn’t have a stick with a symbol on it, a heartbeat to listen to, or a belly that grew for 9 months that proved that something was happening.  But I have that day in all its beautiful messiness.

And even more than that, I have the 6 weeks that followed it, when a friend began pumping one extra breastmilk bottle per day for my baby, when emails with subject lines like “Prayer Request” and “Exciting News from Sarah and David” were sent and joyfully received among our closest friends and family…

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…when papers with scary and amazing truths were signed…

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…when my sister spent her own money and time to fly out from California and help put a nursery together…

IMG_0295…when friends willingly gave of their time during holiday season to help us create baby registries, assemble baby gear, notarize our forms, properly install carseats…

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IMG_0010…when friends encouraged us to use their beach condo and spend one last Thanksgiving as a couple without kids (and even though I felt totally overwhelmed and stressed out and may have cried for half of our beach weekend, I am so grateful that we have the good memories!!)…

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…when friends threw me a shower that made it feel like it was real…

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…and when friends and family members texted, called, emailed, and met with me to encourage me and tell me how much they believed that this would happen, speaking truths over the lies and fears that this wouldn’t come to fruition, that this wouldn’t work out, that I would never take my baby home.

YOU were my “belly,” the two lines, the heartbeat—the reminders that this was real, that something was happening, that this was joyful, that this was something to celebrate instead of stress over.  And I am so incredibly grateful for the support you have shown us over the last year.

And most of all, I am thankful for the God who showed me His presence that morning, the God who knew I needed a reminder of His love so that I could trust, the God who has shown me His presence every day since.  He is the God who knew that day that Zoe would ours, who knows who she’ll turn out to be someday, and who holds every day of our lives in His hands.

This morning Zoe woke up around midnight.  David fed her a bottle but she kept crying—she just wanted to be rocked.  So I went in and sat there holding my baby girl who is now spilling off the chair and thought: another holy morning.  Another October 22 starting with God’s presence.   May it be so for you as well.

“For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”  -Romans 11:36