When your heart aches on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can bring all sorts of feelings, and they are not always pleasant. Maybe you want to be a mom and haven’t gotten there yet. Perhaps your spouse is not as invested as you’d hope or he/she is nowhere to be seen. You might be missing your mama, or an ‘out of the box’ child could be causing you pain. There’s a myriad of reasons you might ache on this weekend for moms, and I am no stranger to those feelings. I ached for a lot of years, waiting to get the ‘mom’ title. Sure, we moms love being moms most days, but this world is far from perfect, even on the best days. Do you resent the idea that you ‘should’ have babies but don’t want to? I’ve been there too. What are you longing for today? I’ll share part of my story, in hopes that it would encourage you on this good, and sometimes, hard day.

We got married later in life, and then we waited for the ‘right time’ to have babies – definitely not an easy road, with a lot of longing and wrestling and discouragement. I actually didn’t desire marriage and babies as a young woman. But God had good plans for those seasons, changing my heart and preparing me to serve as a wife and mom. The many difficulties, including a miscarriage, led to sadness that gave way to despair some days. And my heart changed, really wanting marriage, and quickly after marriage, longing for children. Would I always carry sadness in my heart? Maybe you are waiting too. Or perhaps you have children, but in some way, your heart still aches. A difficult adoption, struggles with parenting, or financial concerns might tinge your joy in mothering too. The list is long. If so, my heart goes out to you. Waiting for a good thing is not easy. It’s not easy when the unknown looms long and hope goes knocking on someone else’s door, happy moms living the life you crave. Or even worse, you hear women complaining about what you would be delighted to enjoy.

I get it. The question ‘why’ is hard to resist, despite the fact that God IS good, and all His plans for us are good and loving. That doesn’t mean we will get answers, and the hard fact is that God doesn’t owe us answers. I had to really wrestle with His goodness and sovereignty on my path to motherhood. How could a good God deny the gift of motherhood for so long? Could I live a joyful life even if this gift was not granted? Some days I wondered. But in the midst of it all, a contentment and joy apart from motherhood grew and developed, something that was not dependent on whether God gave us children. A deep sense of God’s goodness, and the knowledge that He can be trusted, was hard won but so satisfying. It’s in these hard times that our faith must grow, lest we fall to bitterness. The latter was not something I wanted, so I persevered and fought for joy. Many stood with me and finally the day came when I held our dear son in my arms. But your story might still carry an ache, and to be perfectly honest – ours certainly carries them. What about you? Are you a working mom longing for more quality time? Are you struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety? Month upon month of fertility treatments? Waiting for marriage? All these and more can make the journey feel unbearable.

How can we find joy when our hearts ache? For all of us, we must find our hope in the Gospel. There is a sweetness with Jesus that cannot be found but through trials. He alone is our greatest joy, and I pray you will persevere and rest in that love. I found so much comfort in knowing that Christ suffered too, and frequently found myself in deep fellowship with Him and His sufferings. That connection is not found in holding a child, but only in knowing God and letting Him hold you. God the Father mourned as His Son suffered, too. Life is not free from suffering, even as believers in Jesus Christ, even when we receive the good gift of being a mama.

In it all, God is near and we are asked to come to him. “I am with you as you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers you will not be overwhelmed. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2 (ESV) We may be ‘afflicted…perplexed…” BUT (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 here) God has not left us. It is hard, just like labor, but He brings us through, and there is great joy on the other side. This is another verse that I have held close, and I tell you friend, it is absolutely true! “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

God has not walked out on me as I’ve struggled, and neither have the people who love me. Be kind to your aching soul, but remember to celebrate what God has given. Acknowledge any pain, reach out to others who may be longing too, even if you are not. There is healing on the other side. And there is a Healer. Though our desires may not be met on this earth, our hearts will be held by the One who knows us and calls us by name.

Finding contentment : on babies and garbage men

Last week on a walk with Little P, our garbage man was joyfully bustling about his work, and I casually said, ‘Good morning! How are you?’ (not expecting a response, really!) Much to my surprise, he looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m tired’! I wasn’t ready for that, so I just observed his hard work and joyful attitude, and went on my way. I thought about this as we walked towards the park, and just as we rounded the bend, a big fancy truck zoomed past, almost pushing us off the roadside. I was shocked. Clearly, they had no time for a baby and mom enjoying the day – much more important things to be done – and yet my garbage man took the time to give me a happy, honest reply and relay his humanness. The morning was a beautiful one, low humidity, and a gentle sun that peeked behind a few clouds – thoughtfully blessing us with warmth. The trees are green and beautiful lately, and blooms were everywhere. The tulips and spring flowers bobbed cheerfully in the breeze, and my sweet boy babbled happily at the birds, flowers and puppies we saw along the way. He is full of wonder at the smallest things, and picking dandelions in our yard is his new favorite activity, as well as being outside as often as possible.

What about us? Are we forgetting that each day holds joy, wonder and contentment in small and profound ways? How can we acknowledge our vulnerabilities to each other? What simple joys are we missing as we rush through life? Just some thoughts and prompts to focus your thoughts on this morning…. Truly, we can learn a lot from the joy and contentment of babies and people of every worldly status. Jesus certainly thought so and His life is alive in us. Lean in, friends. There is joy and wonder to be found in your busy, stressful day – let’s be on the lookout for those treasures.

Waking up to wonder

 

Saturday, 5:00 am. Woke to the sound of my baby’s cries and remember that he still takes a bottle early in the morning – I should get up and do that. I go to the bathroom, return to our room, try to ignore his cries, and I am reminded that this phase won’t last much longer. I tiptoe to his room next door, and bring the bottle, comfort and cuddles that won’t last forever. As I tuck him back in, I hear the birds chirping, beckoning me to sneak out and watch the sunrise – something I haven’t done in a very long time. I tie on my running shoes, and open the door to a world of wonder – trees blooming, birds chirping happily, sun just beginning to wake up. So too, my soul comes alive as I remember how God invites us into His presence if we but listen. I’ve been trying to listen more closely. And it’s hard, but good. I’m turning from the noise, temptations, and distractions, to see what good things God might be waiting to give just around the corner.

I love the MSG paraphrase of Matthew 6:30-34 –

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

7:00 am. I make a family recipe – Pfannkuchen – and listen to waking and rustling upstairs. Baby babble, happy laughter and tickles, chasing and throwing on the bed…My home is waking up, and I am ready to serve. I’m not always awake at this point, but today feels different. God has been whispering and calling to my heart, and it doesn’t feel as hard to repent from bitterness that has settled in over weeks and months.

9:00 am. Walk with my guys around the neighborhood. These walks are both good and hard, as are most things. Conversations bring connection and also conflict, but I find that God’s earlier preparation of my heart to look for what He has done, and not grasp for what He hasn’t yet, has softened me and brings sweet connection with the ones I love.

11 am. Dishes washed, and my heart has been washed too. I’m alive to God and though the battles still crouch at the door (Genesis 4:7), I’m more in tune with God and what is truly real.

What about you? Are you awake to the work of God in your life? I’m finding that small steps early on prepare my body, mind and soul to rest in Him all day. Our Warrior King has won the victory over all sin, flesh and evil. Will we walk in that? Put on those shoes. The birds are chirping and He’s waiting to open the door for you too!

 

Looking for the first step to a healthy body?

 

Hello friends! Some thoughts rolling around in my head, and again it is connected to what I am reading and learning, to where God has us. The weather is turning (at least for this past week!) and I am wondering if it will stay or we’ll go back to winter. Do you ever feel that way in your wellness journey? That roller coaster of success and then disappointment? I do. Having a baby is a wonderful thing, but it certainly takes a toll on your body and I’m not quite back to where I’d like to be. Life can be like that too. We go through a hard season, and it can be easy to get stuck in a mindset of discouragement, rather than looking ahead to what God can do.

I’m realizing, again, that my hope is not fully focused on Christ, and that is what leads to this discouragement and lack of hopefulness. A fit body comes from having a fit soul! We cannot put our hope in these earthly things, like wellness and health, or in our circumstances being how we would prefer. It’s a back and forth, up and down ride, that God does not intend for us. He longs for our souls to be anchored in truth. When we fix our eyes completely on Christ, setting our hope in His unchanging character and our eternal hope in heaven, life is steady and fixed on the Rock, even if circumstances are not. It’s hard in this self-help, get-all-you-can-get world that we live in. Life is full of distractions from the narrow way, but God’s way is always the best way for deep, lasting hope.

“…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” -1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)

And so, I’m turning back to Christ for my ultimate fulfillment, even as I continue to eat well and exercise, care for my soul, and look forward to a new and hopeful season. Life might go how I hope, and it may not. But my soul is becoming more and more anchored in the One who alone can bring the fullness of joy I crave. What about you? Can you take a moment to consider where your hope lies? What outcomes are you working towards? Do they lead you to Christ and His kingdom? Do they lead you to eternal joy and hope in this life and the one to come? Exercise, nutrition, and a good life are not wrong in and of themselves. God desires good things for us. But more than that, He wants the best things for us, and we must be careful to focus on the best – seeking His kingdom rather than our own.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

More encouragement for your wellness journey:

Alisa Keeton’s 7 Days of Total Training

Ellie Holcomb’s Wonderfully Made and Red Sea Road

 

A new season of grace + why right living does not always equal blessing

We’re all waiting for the cold and snow to blow away and spring to come in its place. This, too, is what our family has waited for, for quite a while. It has been just like this winter, a back and forth of hope and discouragement – maybe it is going to be winter? No, it’s going to be 50 degrees out! No, it’s actually winter. 🙂  But God has opened the door to a new season of ministry together, and we couldn’t be more excited. True, there are other emotions swirling, as we pinch ourselves and wonder if it’s really true. The prayers we’ve all been praying have been answered! As I reflect on where God is taking us, I’ve been thinking, too, of the Gospel.

I tend to fall in the ‘do this and you’ll get this’ mindset, as my natural mode of default, if I am not careful to run to Christ and His Word. It’s a dangerous place, this formulaic approach to life that ultimately brings death and not life. I’m finding it sneak up as we enter this new season, both in ministry and parenting. First let me say, we did not ‘do all the right things’ for God to open up this door, or give us a sweet little boy. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Suffering well honors God, but it does not guarantee His blessing. There are no guarantees. So I’ve been reminded as we move forward that there will still be challenges, ups and downs, and hard days. A blessing does not mean the struggles of life go away completely. Nor does it mean we have ‘figured life out’.

That is what the Gospel reminds us – to celebrate the good, but also rejoice during the hard (James 1). Celebration is good and right. We celebrate this new ministry opportunity, after years of prayer for the right door to open. We celebrate our sweet little P, after waiting, loss, and struggle. And we go back to the Lord and thank Him for what He did not have to give. But had He not given these gifts, the Gospel reminds us that we can still celebrate. It is a painful grace to walk hand in hand with God, through the painful spots, and find Him faithful. For those lessons of grace, I am ever grateful. I often struggled with jealously as others ‘moved on’ to buying houses, having babies, and living out their calling with joy. But a quote from this book reminds me that we can, in a sense, be jealous of those who have not been blessed with the gifts we have. Theirs is the joy of walking with Christ in His sufferings. The eternal hope that has been forged into our souls during this season is a great gift. So too, do I see this as I study 1 Peter. We are called to suffer for good; we are told we as believers we will suffer, and not to be surprised by this.

I’m also starting to see this a + b = c mentality sneak into my parenting. When I rejoice for having parented well, or despair when P disobeys, my heart is convicted that the salvation of his soul, and decision to live in obedience to God or not, is not ultimately in my hands. It is God that saves, not my good efforts at parenting. Yours either. This book is reminding me that Gospel-centered thinking must undergird all we do, not legalistic thinking and parenting. I’m entering into a phase where my sweet boy is developing his own opinions and requires direction and correction. This is requiring new grace for me, and for him. We are both covered by the grace found in the Gospel, and God disciplines me, even as I learn to correct Him in grace-filled, Gospel-centered ways.

All this being said, we are beyond grateful to be moving from a very hard, hard season of multiple trials, to one we anticipate will bring much joy and delight, as we serve this body of believers and grow together. We are praising the Giver of good gifts, who knows exactly what we need and when. Thanking God for many of you, too, who have fought for us in the dark times. What a Great God we serve!

Be kind to your already-tired January soul

Hello there kind friend – thanks for stopping by!

I’m thinking of you today, and how you might already be tired with the resolutions, new calendars, and gizmos that were supposed to make this a great year. Are they working? I hope so. Maybe you’re the super-productive sort, that loves lists and can stick to a resolution all year long. I hope so. But maybe you’re like me, and it takes you a little bit into January to even decide on your resolutions, and honestly you don’t like calling them that. Maybe you’re a recovering perfectionist, and the word resolution makes your skin crawl! If so, read on…

The past couple of years I have enjoyed slowly setting goals for the upcoming year. I don’t want this to be a how-to-set-better-goals post, because lots of famous writers have done that better. But I will share what I am doing and how it is helping me feel good about making progress without crushing my soul.

It seems that life has been hard for us, for a while, and while a new season may be appearing over the horizon, I’ve learned to be kind to myself in the hardness. A mentor gave me that helpful phrase, in a season when all was well, and I am so grateful because it stuck and helped me when I really needed it! Being kind to yourself takes a while to learn, so be kind even in that. I like the phrase better than ‘love yourself’ because that has a ring of selfishness to it (just my opinion though). Kindness is a lost art, like letter writing, long walks and slow meals. We are an impatient sort, and we want to see results – now. Kindness takes time. Whether you are learning kindness towards yourself or others, be patient, the fruit will come. It often feels like nursing something back to life.

Kindness doesn’t choose me or you, it chooses honesty and soul care. Kindness waits and listens, it honors and cherishes, it enjoys the small things. Kindness is slow, like a dish marinating and wafting through the house. It leaves a gentle fragrance that will be remembered. It’s not fast or fancy, exciting or bold. But it lasts. It’s not the latest and greatest, but your soul will change. I’m giving kindness a second chance this year. You might say that’s my word for this year, kindness. I even bought a sweatshirt to remind me – Kindness Matters, it says. And it does, whether you’re learning to practice kindness towards yourself or towards another.

Kindness is also a practice – in every sense of the word. It might feel new and strange, this foreign ritual of slowing down, listening in, and caring for those warning signs that you’ve been ignoring. It might be scary – like walking into a room alone and not knowing where you’ll sit and if you’ll feel awkward the entire time. But eventually, you and kindness will become very good friends. She will keep you company during hard times, and build bridges when everything seems to be falling apart. But you must practice. Take your time, try new ways to be kind every day. Towards yourself, your family, anyone or anything that needs nurturing. Your soul is a valuable place to start. Reevaluate occasionally, but don’t judge and definitely don’t make it into a SMART goal. Just watch it grow in your heart, home, and happy places, until you see new life everywhere.

I’m hoping for a lot of new life this year, and kindness is the path I’m taking to get there. Will you join me?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Some additional thoughts for setting kind goals:

  • Take time to evaluate last year first – look through your online feeds, your photo books, your calendar – and get a feel for what happened, and where you want to go next.
  • Try quarterly goals instead.
  • Join in with friends.
  • Set one goal and then evaluate before setting another.
  • Choose a word.
  • Be kind to yourself if you fall behind.

May this new year bring hope, joy, and much kindness to your soul, life and home. For we serve a God who showed the greatest kindness to us and still does every day if we let Him in.

BONUS: Sweet New Year song by JJ Heller that will help you be kind to yourself!

 

 

Embracing the joy and mystery of Christmas {even when life hurts}

Repost from the archives of Ruthless Love, my former blog. Though we’re not facing the trials on my heart when I wrote this piece, there are others. Reposting this in hopes it will encourage those whose Christmas is anything but holly and jolly.

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I’ll omit the apology for not writing in a while, because honestly? It’s been a very challenging season of trials and this last heartache left our hearts bleeding and crying out for Christmas joy like no other. I’m not gonna lie, if any one of us is needing joy, I’ll be the first in line! As I’ve cried out for comfort and leaned on friends in new ways, I’m finding that the things I’ll share here are making all the difference. Perhaps this isn’t exactly a picture perfect Christmas for you either? Well, stick around, because you and me, friend? We’ve got front row seats to a Christmas miracle and the tickets are FREE!
I’ve asked God for a special reminder of His presence and love, and the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel has sprinkled crumbs on the trail to His glory and grace. My worship-leader-treasured-friend reminded me that most Christmas songs are written in a minor key, and you might be asking why? Longing. We are all longing for the hope, peace, and joy that the people of God craved before the first coming of Christ. They weren’t just waiting for months, or a couple years, we’re talking hundreds of years since there had been any prophetic revelation from God.  Take a nice, slow read of a few stanzas in the song at this link.

Do you see the longing displayed in those words? These were some seriously dark times for the people of God, friends. May we find encouragement in knowing that we are not alone this Christmas, and God is again this year bending low, humbling Himself and giving His presence in the midst of whatever circumstances we are facing.

Emmanuel, God with us. He is the friend like no other, who will sit down with you in the middle of your mess. He’ll hold you, he’ll cry with you. In fact, He came to share the sufferings of life with you. He is the gracious and compassionate High Priest. My mind is struggling to wrap itself around the simultaneous truths of God’s goodness and sovereignty, yet again. No need to feel guilt over that if you are there too. But regardless of whether or not you are able to embrace those mind-bending truths, you can confess your doubt and struggle to believe Him.

My mind turns to the beautiful young Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. Because of her humble faith, we are able to enjoy the embrace of our Savior in hard and happy times. When we don’t understand why God is allowing difficulties, or when we are equally astounded at undeserved blessings that come our way (as we should be), we honor God by entering the mystery of His grace with the humble faith Mary had. She did not understand exactly what God was doing, but she chose to praise Him in the midst of it and she chose to embrace HIS plan for her life. It was certainly not an easy road for her, in many ways. I’m asking myself this Christmas, how can I embrace where God has me, both the good and bad, and praise Him still? How can you?

Though He will always come to find us, humbly entering our mess, we can bring Him glory by moving towards Him in faith as well. Remember, He wants to be WITH YOU in your pain. He is not asking You to wash up and put on that cute holiday dress before you can show up at the ball. He takes your hand, and invites you into His presence anyway.
I’m still learning to dance, but here are some steps I’m taking towards His embrace this Christmas…

Honesty and humility – Nobody likes platitudes, but sometimes speaking the truth as a bandaid over our pain (whether it’s our self-talk or the words of others) helps, and other times, the wound just keeps festering underneath. I know, because when the pain is gushing out bright red, your sweet little heart feels like it just might explode and who wants that? Being honest with a few friends, my husband, and most importantly, God, has been vital to surviving this recent loss. It is pretty humbling to have to admit how much we can struggle to believe (especially when that word is plastered all over ads and commercials this time of year) but no one can really help if they don’t know what you’re going through.

Friends like Philemon – If you don’t have friends like Paul had in Philemon, who encourage your heart and stand with you in the battle, start asking God for them. But most likely, I’d be willing to bet there is at least one friend or family member who is wanting to be there for you. Will you let them in? I can totally empathize here, as asking for help is again, humbling, but thankfully the people who love me are patient, and I’m certain your support network will be too.
Moving towards the pain, not away from it – Ouch. I know, I had to bring this up, right? Hiding in bed is pretty comforting too, but we’ve all got to face the day at some point. The pain and grief you are facing won’t go away, and maybe you are not ready to deal with the issues right now, but the longer we put it off, the slower the healing will be. Give yourself grace, but take some small steps every day to look at the wounds, allowing the Healer to bind them up and comfort you with His word.
Forgiveness – If nothing else in this post has spoken to you, I’m guessing maybe this one might? Unforgiveness is such a huge obstacle to joy at Christmas time, considering all the people we are mingling with. Small talk won’t cut it if there are years of misunderstanding that need to be dealt with. What if you had that talk you’ve been putting off for so long? Have you considered forgiving yourself too? The Gospel is Christ coming to earth, entering our mess, making a way for hope, joy and PEACE with Him and others for eternity.
Tears of worship – Remember those friends I mentioned? Another lovely friend comforted me with the fact that our tears are precious to God (He keeps them all in a bottle, the Word says, but it’s okay if you need that Olympic-size swimming pool next to mine 🙂 When prayer is hard, friends seem absent, and you’re just not ready to deal with the pain, tears are enough. He is WITH us, and willing to walk with us, wherever we are today, whether we are ready to heal or still curled up in a ball.
I hope you can find comfort in the mysterious joy of Emmanuel this Christmas, regardless of your circumstances. Remember that dusty, dirty stable where Christ was born? It’s okay if that’s what your heart, your home, or your relationships are looking like this Christmas. Jesus did not demand a perfect situation for His arrival on earth. He humbled Himself and came in the most vulnerable way. Wherever you are this Christmas, He wants to be WITH you there. Will you let Him in?
For additional encouragement, check out Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) by Chris Tomlin and Hope is Alive by Ellie Holcomb. I’ve had the second on repeat lately, it’s that good 🙂

Great encouragement for the suffering in this broken, hostile world from Ann Voskamp (don’t miss the spoken word video at the end!)