The Fruits of the Spirit for a Mother’s Heart

Dear Father,

The further I journey into motherhood, the more grateful I am to call you my Father. When I am overwhelmed, tired, and clueless on what to do next, You are there to show me how to parent with grace. When I wrestle once again with my attitude and temper, and I wonder where the gentle and quiet Spirit I pray for daily has gone, You remind me that the fruits of the Spirit are not the fruits of my Spirit but of Yours, living and breathing inside of me.

Lord, fill me with love – a divine love for my children – a love like Yours. A love that loves without selfishness, without agenda, without limits. Fill me with a love that drives me to do the hard things for the greater good, and to offer grace no matter how undeserved.

Lord, fill me with joy – the kind of joy that transcends happiness. Joy that soaks in the precious moments and presses on through monotony and struggle.

Lord, fill me with peace – a peace that is deep and unshaken by a chaotic home, a tantruming child, or a lack of sleep. Fill me with a peace that breathes in and breathes out, accepting and giving thanks for each moment.

Lord, fill me with patience – the patience I don’t have on my own. The patience that can see the forest for the trees. The patience that recognizes my children look to me for guidance, help, direction, and security. Patience that sees my children looking up at me and bends down to speak to them in a way they can understand – just as You came down to live in our skin and guide us home.

Lord, fill me with kindness – Teach me to be kind in the face of backtalk, bad words, squabbles, and rudeness. Teach me to treat my children as my neighbors. Fill me with the type of kindness that kneels down to wash their feet. Let my kindness be an example.

Lord, fill me with goodness – fill me with You. Fill me with pure motives and a true heart.

Lord, fill me with faithfulness – the kind of faithfulness that prioritizes You no matter what is going on around me. The kind of faithfulness that holds on to Your Gospel in the moments when things seem to be falling apart. The kind of faithfulness that disciples my precious children even when I’m worn and tired. The kind of faithfulness that makes time to rest in You but does not turn away those who need You when they come.

Lord, fill me with gentleness – Lord, how I need Your gentleness. Fill me with gentleness rooted in wisdom and empowered by Your Spirit. The gentleness that speaks slowly and listens quickly, that makes room for vulnerability, that creates a home of safety.

Lord, fill me with self-control – In the moments when none of these other fruits come easily. In the moments I want to yell, be sarcastic, or ignore. In the moments I want to forsake the dignity of my children and vent their failings to the internet community – please give me self-control. Teach me to control myself by surrendering completely to Your Spirit.

Let the fruits of Your Spirit be alive in me, that by drawing closer to Your heart my children might do the same.

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Tick Tock

It seems like the best definition of being a stay-at-home-mom is being busy all day, exhausted at night, but still having no idea what to say when asked, “What did you do today?” I used to be proud of myself when I could accomplish my whole to-do list in a day. Now making a to-do list at all is an accomplishment. It amazes me that any day I have to grocery shop automatically means: exhausting. And heaven forbid they don’t have a car cart because the consequences are the toddler has to either 1. walk (i.e. run a 5k down every aisle and fill the cart with canned corn and fruit snacks) or 2. get covered in groceries that he may not touch, eat, sniff, crush , rearrange, or throw. Also, your legs are numb, offspring? Suck it up or tough it out – I literally have no other options. You may have a free cookie from the bakery, or 4 if the bakers aren’t looking.

Bribery is your friend.

I wouldn’t trade my role as a stay-at-home-mom for the world, but these young years can be tough. Hilarious, sweet, fun, rewarding, but tough. There are days when all the busyness is exhausting not only because it’s a constant rotation of squat, lift, bend over, carry, repeat but because reading children’s books, playing restaurant, and explaining over and over that brown grapes don’t have dirt on them is far from mentally energizing.

My church teaches this principle of the pendulum. In the first century, grapevines were given three years to rest before they were allowed to grow grapes. The vine dressers knew that without enough rest they wouldn’t be strong enough to bear fruit. the same principle applies to us – we need to work from our rest, not rest from our work. Our life is like a pendulum constantly swinging from rest to work, abiding to fruitfulness, tick tock. Neither can exist alone. A clock can’t stop at one hour and keep ticking and you cannot stop on one end of the pendulum and keep living.

I used to take this literally. Without enough sleep I get short-tempered and sad so I need to make sleep a priority. Not a bad idea, in theory – extremely hard to maintain in practice. Babies get sick. Toddlers have nightmares. Laundry piles up and thunderstorms happen and sleep is no longer a constant. It used to be discouraging to think I’d always be operating on 50%, always fighting off frustration and bad moods and apathy. I was trying so hard to get enough rest and it never paid off, so why on earth was God nudging me to start getting up early again to spend time with Him? The baby still wasn’t sleeping through the night. Wasn’t this the grace period? But finally I did, and I realized oh. Physical rest, though important and something to strive for, isn’t a constant. But spiritual rest can be. Resting my mind and heart in Him every morning lets me “go to work” yawning and tired, but renewed and at peace. Does it always “last”? No. Do I still lose focus, roll my eyes, yell at my kids, or pretend I can’t hear them sometimes because I just need a break? Yes. But giving up a little physical rest to invest in spiritual rest every morning makes me feel like a new person.

The days are long, but I want each morning to be a fresh start, not another “Here we go again.” And on the nights when I stay up too late, bending over to pick up the pieces of a day that blew up in my face, those are the nights I KNOW I need to take some time to rest in the Lord, not just to recover but to prepare for a new day investing in my children. If my job description is to parent my children with grace, to teach them about a God who adores them, and to gently shepherd them towards His heart, they need my example more than my words. They need a Mommy with rings under her eyes who showers them with grace and patience, much more than they need a Mommy who got 8 hours of sleep but is tiring under the weight of all the yesterdays that she is dragging into today.

Maybe it feels more like your life pendulum swings from cuddles to tantrums, from Caillou to Dora, or from goldfish to Oreos. Maybe your baby is precariously wedged between your arm, your husband’s back, and somehow your left knee and if you twitch she WILL wake up. Maybe you’ve given it a fair shot and decided that mornings just do. not. work. for you. I’ve been there and I get it. He understands, too. But carve out some time. Find a way to wake up and get some rest. He can restore your heart and prepare your mind for another day of tea parties, crayons, The Hungry Caterpillar, and squat, lift, bend over, carry, repeat. There is no guilt in abiding and no greater productivity than pointing (little) hearts towards Him.

Erring on the side of compassion

Today the moment we all dread happened to me. In the semi-sketchy parking lot of the downtown library, steps away from the bus station, I got hit up for money. I was in the middle of trying to get both kids and all their accouterments out of the car while making sure that Malachi didn’t run into the middle of the street. A skinny, young, shy, black kid with the absolute quietest voice I have ever listened to approached me and I knew what was coming. “Excuse me, ma’am?  I’m not trying to bother you or nothin’ but I just got out of jail and I’m trying to get somethin’ to eat.”

I used to always say no. I’d shake my head and say “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything,” which 90% of the time was not true. Not once has anyone asked me twice – they just thanked me and walked away. My heart would kick a bit and I’d drive away feeling awkward and a little guilty and mostly just unsure of myself and ready to move on with my day. And I would.

Growing up my Pop would drive people to restaurants and buy them meals and I always really admired that. He didn’t want to feed a drug or alcohol habit but he also didn’t want to leave a hungry person without food in their stomach, so he met the need. Men would thank him, eat a hot meal, and hear the truth about a Jesus who loves them. I’ve known of people who carry McDonald’s gift certificates with them to give to beggars.

Once I heard a story about a man who bought value meals for an entire family of visibly hungry people. The father was so angry he wasn’t given money that he threw it all in the trash while his children cried and asked if that was their dinner and why they couldn’t eat it.

There’s always a risk.

I’ve heard so many Christians talk about “being good stewards.” About how we need to be generous but we also need to be responsible with our money and take care of our families.  About how they didn’t work hard for their money to give it to someone who might “waste” it. I agree we should care for our families, but I disagree that generosity and responsibility are on separate ends of the pendulum.

Where in the Bible does it say to care for the poor as long as we know they aren’t drunk? Where does it say to give food to the hungry as long as we’re sure they have really tried to get a job first? When did God make us responsible for what happens to our money after we let it go? When, in fact, did God ever tell us it is “our” money?

I live in a small town, so it’s easier for me. I don’t walk home from work and pass countless dirty, shoe-less people asking for spare change.  I might get asked for money 3 or 4 times a yearI live in a bubble, and I know it. When Jeremy and I were in Seattle we walked down the “wrong” street and passed about 10 beggars in a block. If I had given something to all of them I wouldn’t have had anything left. I don’t have an answer for the bigger problem.

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But the inability to help everyone does not exonerate us from the responsibility to help someone.  Have you ever read the story of the man throwing star fish back into the sea? The beach was covered with them and left in the sun they would surely die. Someone told him to stop because there were thousands of them and he wasn’t making a difference. “It made a difference to that one,” he said.

At the end of my life, I think it’s far more likely that God would honor any generosity I managed to show than to reprimand me for it. “Well done, my good and faithful servant, except I wish you wouldn’t have given so much money away.” No, just…no.

I do believe in responsibility. I believe that long-term solutions are preferable to short-term ones. I think dependency and the white-savior complex are dangerous and I believe in sustainability and interdependence. I also believe in compassion. And when faced with a difficult choice, one in which there may not even be a right or wrong response, I want to err on the side of grace. I want to err on the side of hope. I want them to see Christ in me, and I have a feeling he wouldn’t tell them he didn’t have any change and then drive away to meet his friends at Starbucks. I’d rather give and hope than hold back and wonder.

I couldn’t very well take the young man to McDonald’s with both my kids and buy him a meal. I didn’t have any gift cards on me. So I gave the young man, who looked the age of my oldest brother, the last 2 dollars of my clothing budget for the month. I smiled at him and said “You’re welcome.” I wish I had said Jesus loved him, that he could be free in his soul like he now was in his body, that I cared about him, but I didn’t say any of that. After I got my kids out of the car I turned to see if he really had walked to the McDonald’s or not.  I saw the choice he made. And you know what?

It really doesn’t matter.

(Un)Certainty

**Have you noticed how long it’s been since I last posted?  I have, and I hate it.  I am itching to write but simply won’t have the time for a few more days.  Until then, this is a blog I wrote on an old project quite a while ago.  It still holds true for me, and hopefully for you, too.

Sometimes I just don’t know.  Sometimes I don’t know what the right thing is.  I know what the Bible says, I know what Christ says, and I trust it.  But I wonder how we’re really supposed to go about it and if our methods are hurting more than they are helping.  Hurting people, hurting our cause, hurting Christ.  Sometimes, it’s really hard to draw lines.  Maybe drawing a line will hurt me and the people around me.  Maybe not drawing a line means I don’t trust what God says. Maybe there are some situations in life where God isn’t asking us to draw a line, or even stand on either side of one.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

Sometimes it seems impossible to do both of those things at the same time.  Sometimes loving God, holding to what He says is true, and obeying Him can really, really hurt other people.  Not just offend them, or make them angry, or make them think you are stupid.  Actually hurt them.

But…

But…

Does that mean you aren’t loving them?  Does hurting someone mean you don’t care about them?  Does offending them mean you don’t want what is best for them?  In complete honesty, doesn’t doing the right thing almost always hurt someone, somewhere?

Love God.  Love people.  Speak truth.

Sometimes, I don’t like the truth.  In fact, there are a lot of things God says and does that, if I were God, I wouldn’t say and do.  But you know what?  I’m not God.  I don’t get to tell Him who He is or who He should be.  I accept Him completely, even the things that make me uncomfortable.  And I think that God, in His great sovereignty, understands right and wrong, up and down, hot and cold, back and forth, justice and mercy, judgment and discernment, and even left and right a whole lot better than I do.  I can trust this – even when I don’t like it, even when I don’t feel it – and believe that His ways and thoughts are higher than my ways and thoughts.  Or, I can discard everything that makes me uncomfortable and end up with a “faith” based on my own god-concept, with no roots, no foundation, no certainty, and no backbone.

I don’t understand God, or claim to.  I don’t have all the answers, or claim to.  Sometimes I change my mind.  Sometimes I screw up.  Sometimes I say too much and sometimes I say absolutely nothing and in both situations, I usually err.  Sometimes I might even get it right.  But all of the time, God has the answers.  God never changes.  God never screws up.  God always says enough of the right thing.  God always gets it right.  If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be God.

He is sovereign.  He is holy.  He is loving.  He is just.  He is right.  He is.  And when I can’t trust the world, when I can’t trust people, when I can’t trust the lines, when I can’t trust myself, I can trust Him.  So can you.

The five seconds of profound life change in between ordering a soda and restraining a child on a plane

Ever since my kids were born I have no longer been able to watch crime shows.  I used to love CSI, Cold Case, and a couple others but I just can’t do it anymore.  There are no disclaimers that say “this story will involve a murdered baby” or “this episode including child trauma” and therefore when it takes me by surprise it always takes my breath away and brings me to tears.  And I don’t mean just normal TV-show tears.  I mean crying on the couch, Jeremy asking if I’m ok, go look at my sleeping kids kind of tears.  I just can’t handle it anymore.

I guess part of being an empathetic person (which I never thought I was before having kids) is that when someone else feels pain, even fictional pain, I feel it with them.  Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes but it’s not from lack of trying.  News stories about abuse and infanticide, personal friends who have lost children, and TV episodes someone made up to entertain us (which, honestly, we might need to talk about this later) all hit really, really, really close to home for me.  Is this a phase?  Do all new moms go through this and eventually learn to live with it?  Do I have an unhealthy protective instinct?  I don’t know.

Before Malachi was born one night I was lying in bed thinking about how afraid I was that XYZ would happen while I was pregnant and what could I even do to stop it?  How could I protect him?  And then I realized, I couldn’t.  I knew at some point I would have to surrender him to the Lord but I realized I had to do it then, before he was in my arms, because otherwise I probably never could.  It wasn’t a long prayer or even a profound one, but it ended in a lot more peace than I had before I started.  I have prayed and re-prayed that prayer over both my children many times since.

My heart breaks and aches over some of the things going on in our world.  Abortion, infanticide, gendercide, and poverty that results in the death of unwanted children.  There are warehouses in southeast Asia where infant girls are left to die simply because they are girls.  The mother might stop by to feed them – maybe not.  I imagine what I would do if I lived there and found one of these warehouses.  Would I rush in and rescue as many babies as I could, like this woman did?  Would I walk in the door, break down, and pound my fists in anger?  Would I avoid it because the problem is too big?  When I think about how to be active in the pro-life movement, I know the biggest difference I could make would be through sidewalk counseling.  But how, HOW, could I talk to a woman about the unborn life inside her, watch her walk into the clinic pregnant and walk out….not.  Ever since I’ve had my own children I’ve been afraid God would ask me to do ministry in one of those situations and it makes me shake.  I can’t.  How can you ask me to do this?  My heart would break and it would never mend.

Whenever we go on plane trips I bring 7 or 8 magazines from the magazine stack that I never have time to get to.  I usually put off reading the missions magazines because they take the longest.  On the way to Seattle I was working my way through a World Vision magazine when I came to this story.  Go read it.  Did you go?  Go.

When I got to the end I imagined sitting beside that woman while her baby died.  Holding her hand, praying for her, and just being with her while she went through the most profound loss I imagine a mother could ever experience.  I’ve suspected for a few months now that God is preparing me to minister in some way to orphans/grieving mothers/pregnant women considering abortion and I just….I don’t even know.  So as I sat there, casually sipping my soda and eating my Delta snack mix, internally I finally snapped and said, “God, how can you ask me, as a mother, to minister to people like this?  It’s so painful!  It’s too close to home!  How can you ask me to go through that?”  And then in the still, small, earth-shaking, deafening Voice I have come to know and love, He said, “Because that is how I feel about my children.”

And I got it.  I finally got it.  Rescuing unwanted babies is not an end in itself – if it were it would be all-too exhausting.  Saving a few babies from abortion while thousands more die is not an end in itself – if it were it would be a stupid undertaking.  Ministering to grieving mothers is not an end in itself – if it were it would be pointless.  All of these hard, heartbreaking, passionate ministries exist because through them He is glorified.  It’s not just about rescuing unwanted babies – it’s about rescuing lost and lonely people who are wanted by God.  It’s not just about saving a few babies from abortion – it’s about saving souls from damnation.  And it’s not just about comforting grieving mothers – it’s about wiping every tear from their eyes.

It still breaks my heart.  Getting in the trenches – those kind of trenches – still scares me.  But the truth is, His heart has been broken for us from the foundation of the world.  He has given me beautiful children to love while His children are dying without him every day.

You know how it takes an hour to explain something that only took you half a second to process?  That’s what this is.  My eyes watered, I said a short prayer, and then I rescued Malachi’s cup of juice before it spilled all over the airplane floor.  I helped Jeremy juggle the kids, snacks, and drinks during the turbulence.  We had a conversation about soy nuts.  Life went on.

This is the first that I’ve really revisited that achingly profound, anonymous moment on the airplane.  I’m a little afraid of where all this is going, but I’m more afraid of not going there.

I decided to get on a Catholic soap-box instead of cleaning my house.

This might be a weird subject to rocket-launch right into out of nowhere but lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs written by Catholics.  Not necessarily blogs about Catholicism or faith, but still.  And I guess the whole point of this post is summed up right there in my introductory sentence: “This might be a weird subject…”  

In case you are wondering, these are my two faves: Camp Patton and Conversion Diary.  Grace Patton makes me laugh every single day and it’s possible I obsessively check for new posts on her blog more than once a day instead of just waiting for it to show up in my reader.  Jen at Conversion Diary is a converted atheist who started asking really honest questions and eventually embraced the Catholic faith.  So, so cool.

I’ve been in the evangelical church my entire life and I plan to stay here.  Let’s just get the awkwardness out of the way and say, Yes. There are some big theological differences between the standard evangelical belief system and the standard Catholic belief system.  Some of them are pretty serious.  What bothers me, though, is how quickly and completely many of my evangelical brothers and sisters dismiss Catholicism.  This is what I mean:

“Don’t Catholic people worship Mary?”

“Is she a Christian?”
“Well, she’s Catholic, so…”

And so on.

I get it.  I do.  I understand some of the misconceptions.  I know that most evangelicals who grew up in the South were surrounded by this mentality most of their lives.  I know that many Catholics seem to be only nominal in their faith (just going to church and confession but not living anything out).  I know that many Catholics curse and drink.  I know that many Catholics are northern and many northerners are liberal and many evangelicals are conservative and therefore…well, therefore I don’t really know what.

But here’s the thing: many evangelicals are nominal in their faith (just going to church and reading their Bible but not really living it out).  Many evangelicals curse and drink.  Many evangelicals are southern and many southerners are conservative and somewhere in the Bible it says that you have to be a republican to be a Christian but I digress.

Those statements above?  I’ve made them.  Thankfully the worshiping Mary thing hasn’t come out of my mouth since I was a child, but the other one has more than once.  And while I do still have some serious questions about the theology of the Catholic church, here’s what I know to be true: You don’t have to be an evangelical to be a Christ-follower.  It’s just not necessary.

As evangelicals it is so, so easy and common to fall back on the “getting saved” thing to mean you are now set for life and can live out your faith like a roller-coaster and it’s all the same in the end.  The truth is, Jesus doesn’t give us that excuse.  He calls us to radical obedience all the time.  People are supposed to know we follow Him by our life, not by the labels we stick on ourselves.

Here’s the thing: I am passionately, passionately pro-life.  I’m about as conservative as you can be on the abortion issue, and unlike most evangelicals I know I also don’t support the death penalty.  And the further I delve into the issue, the more I try to figure out what to do and how to promote life in our culture, the more I discover that the people doing the most. amazing. things. are usually Catholic.  

I also am a big believer in family.  I’m not going to tell you that I think contraception is wrong (I’m way undecided on that), but I am going to tell you that I think the family is supposed to represent Christ to the world.  That family is essential.  That children are a gift from the Lord.  And while I’m not here to tell you how many children you should have I will say that I think many in the evangelical church have made family all about themselves instead of God.  How many children they want, how many they can handle, how many is affordable.  All of these are big, important questions but our God is a big, important God and He can be trusted.  I fear that sometimes we are so focused on the size and planning of our family that we forget to just focus on the ministry of our family.  We worry too much about how many will work for us instead of letting God make it work with however many we have.  When you take away the ability to control your family’s size you are forced to change your focus to how to honor God with however many family members you have.  Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to set limits and make decisions.  Every situation is different.  Every situation is personal.  I’m just saying that I think the Catholic church, in some ways, seems to trust in God’s providence a bit more than what I’ve seen in the evangelical church.

ALL that (and yeah, wow, that was a lot) to say that it makes me sad to go to Jen’s awesome, awesome link-up and find myself to be one of the only evangelicals joining the party.  To feel the weight of surprise and a bit of judgment when I tell people in my church that we plan to have 4 or more children.  To get 20 comments in less than a minute on some funny video I post on Facebook but maybe 2 or 3 on something pro-life.  To still find people surprised when I tell them about my mom’s best friend who knows the Lord and has been Catholic her entire life.

I mean honestly.  We have tons of theological differences within the evangelical church as well.  There is a ton of hypocrisy.  There is a ton of nominalism.  And I just think it’s ridiculous that there is often more unity among completely different faiths than there is among two sets of people who claim to be following the same Savior.  Are there differences to overcome?  Yes.  Are there always going to be big disagreements?  Probably.  Will it get a little awkward at times?  Definitely.  But please, let’s try to build some bridges.  Because we have so much to learn from each other, and so much we could do to honor God together.