April 28, 2015

Miscarriage: An Inheritance of Tears

Kyle and I were giddy. I do remember that. We had practically floated into the doctor's office, he'd squeezed my hand as we waited for the doctor, and we'd joked with her as she prepared the instruments for my ultrasound. My exact words were, "We hope this pregnancy will be twins so we can get two for one--two babies for one pregnancy!" And then we'd laughed and laughed, like it would all be easy and life was fun and games, as if we could place an order for exactly what we wanted, as we wanted it.

I laid back on the exam table and waited as the doctor probed. I'd had a baby before, so I knew what to wait for: the magnified, pulsing beat of a heart reverberating loudly in the room. Not just any heartbeat; our baby's heart. I looked over at my husband, who was seated and waiting as well, and smiled.

But then the waiting stretched a little too long. I felt a small twinge in my heart, and I wished it was a twinge in my womb instead. Oh Lord, please.

The doctor, who had been quietly probing, put down her instruments, stood to her feet, and said, "Let's take you to the ultrasound technician for a better look."

Kyle and I waited silently for our turn in the ultrasound room, and I tried to be brave, but a lone tear slipped from my eye.

Again, I laid back on the exam table. Again, the technician probed silently. Again, I felt a twinge in my heart because the beating we all were listening for didn't come. Again, the technician stood to her feet and said, "I can't find a heartbeat but it's possible that we're a little too early and that another ultrasound will show a healthy baby. I'd like for you to come back after the weekend for another exam."

After the weekend? That weekend, we'd planned a 60th birthday getaway for my mother-in-law in New York City. We were supposed to be celebratory and happy all the while wondering if we had lost our baby?

I went home and went to bed, although I cried and cried instead of sleeping. In between fits of tears, I prayed for God to do a miracle, but I knew deep down that we'd lost our baby.

I couldn't believe I was having a miscarriage. We'd been joking one moment and then drowning in pain the next. How could that be? Why was this happening? The whiplash made me feel almost foolish for being excited over the pregnancy.

The next week, our fears were confirmed in the doctor's office. I had miscarried, and it was even further confirmed when I began to bleed heavily and painfully later that day.

The silent grief began. We hadn't told anyone we were pregnant, so we weren't sure who to tell that we'd miscarried. Those we told figuratively shrugged or reminded us how commonly it occurs. I wondered if I'd done something to cause it, because I'd been violently ill just a few weeks into the pregnancy. I wondered if we'd be able to have more children. I wondered why God chose not to do a miracle for our baby. With others experiencing more intense loss, I wondered if I should push through the grief as quickly as possible. How do you grieve a baby that you barely knew about?

We have three boys now, so some of my questions have since been answered. I've learned that grief is grief, that we all experience it, but we experience it in different ways. Obviously, some questions haven't been answered, because I can't explain God's sovereignty and goodness according to my human calculations. I don't know why we lost that baby, but I trust God's goodness toward me anyway.

And you know what? I still think about that baby, not with grief but with joy. That spark of a baby we lost came between the first and second of our boys. I always wonder if that baby was my girl, and I secretly hope it was, because that means I'll have a daughter to enjoy in heaven. And that's just it--that baby turned my heart toward heaven and taught me to be homesick for my true and eternal dwelling place. That baby taught me to cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Many, many women in my life have experienced miscarriages, some even stillbirths. If you are one, I grieve with you and for you. I also want to offer you a wonderful new resource called Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb by Jessalyn Hutto. It's a quick read (I read it in one sitting) and extremely helpful for women grieving a lost baby, as well as women walking alongside one who is grieving. She answers many of the questions that I was asking after our miscarriage and helps her readers turn their hearts in trust toward the Lord. You'll also want to check out Jessalyn's blog. She has some additional posts and information related to miscarriage that will certainly be helpful for those currently walking through it.

April 23, 2015

When Life is Unmanageable

Life isn't meant to be manageable. At least not a life of faith.

Sure, I can try to keep everything in my life nice and tidy, packed in among boundaries that fit how I think life ought to fit. A person difficult to like, much less love? Shove them politely outside the boundaries. An unexpected trial? Something has gone terribly wrong in God's sovereign plan, so I must control it within an inch of its life and squeeze it into my safe self-made structure. A calling to take on a ministry outside of my natural abilities? I am quick to assume my answer should be no. Weights and burdens and busyness? Perhaps the answer is to throw off a few things, even things that God has clearly put on my plate.
I am good at managing. It requires little faith and keeps me far removed from my tendency to control, stress, or worry. I can do only those things I want to do, nothing that I don't. I can be only with the people I enjoy, none that I don't.

Like I said, neat and tidy.

But a life of faith isn't neat and tidy. Faith, by definition alone, implies hoping for things unseen outside my self-made structures, actively praying for God to come through for me, waiting on Him, and trusting that God can do in and through me spiritual work that goes beyond my natural abilities. I'm going to feel stretched beyond what I think I can do or what I can handle, because it is God working and God handling and God directing.

My life is not manageable at all. In fact, it is out of my hands entirely.

And that is a very good thing.

April 21, 2015

The Undercurrent of Temptation in Ministry

There are many around me who are suffering right now, and several are so close by that I am vicariously suffering too. How painful it is to see sin bear its fruit, how disheartening to encounter the stark reality of brokenness, how difficult to watch others suffer!

As a friend to the sufferers, I also recognize a tug of temptation, and this is where I must be careful.
I recognize this temptation, not just in times of difficulty and pain, but constantly and insidiously lurking throughout all of ministry. As a leader, I have influence, a voice, and an invitation in to the path-altering moments and the daily routines of people's lives. These opportunities, I find, ask me the basic questions of who I am and what I am to do.

John the Baptist exemplifies this undercurrent of ministry. He appeared on the scene after 400 years of God-silence. Naturally, those waiting for and seeking God's voice perked up at John's cry for a repentance to make straight the way of the Lord. "Who are you?" they said, seeming to marvel at this one speaking so authoritatively in the echo of the prophet Elijah.

In the hanging question, temptation lurks. John the Baptist had a following. He had a ministry and a reputation that elicited crowds. He had disciples, men who would eventually transfer their allegiance to Jesus. He could've answered the question in a way that gave him a greater platform, albeit a false platform. His response to the question, however, sent temptation fleeing. "He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.'"

The temptation for John the Baptist is the temptation we face: to think of ourselves as the Christ. We know we are not the actual Christ, but we're tempted to believe and act from the idea that we're able to be all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, self-sufficient, without limits, self-existent, and in control of all things. Especially in how we minister to others. The very real truth is that we are not able to ease the suffering of others, we are entirely unable to produce spiritual change in others, and we cannot be the Spirit of God to others. We are not the Christ.

This temptation is not solely internal. It is also external--others will want us to be their Christ. John the Baptist fled from the internal temptation to exalt himself, but he was then faced with the external temptation of others wanting to exalt him. John's disciples, the Bible says, were alarmed that so many who were following John chose instead to follow Jesus. In other words, John was losing his followers and his earthly stature and others who admired him wanted to help him maintain his ministry. John's response?

"A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:27-30).

He would not let others attribute qualities to him that solely belonged to Christ: I am not the Christ. I bear witness of the Christ. I rejoice in the Christ. I point to the Christ. I exalt the Christ, not myself.

Again, the temptation for John the Baptist is often the same temptation we face: to allow others to think of us as the Christ. People will seek wise counsel and godly leadership, which is well and good and not the issue. The issue is how we respond to their seeking. Like John the Baptist, we must point them to the real Christ and not exalt our own wisdom, abilities, and counsel. I am not the Christ. I bear witness to the Christ and His wisdom, abilities, and counsel.

In other words, we walk alongside them as fellow sojourners and willing vessels in desperate need of the Christ.

April 10, 2015

In Her Shoes: A Christian Woman Who's Had An Abortion (Part Two)

In Part One of this In Her Shoes series, a Christian woman shared about her rebellion against God and the circumstances surrounding her two abortions. Today, she tells about how God redeemed her and how she's experienced true forgiveness.

What were you living with in your day-to-day life?
I kept my abortions secret for a long time, although there were constant reminders of what I'd done. For example, every time I went to a medical appointment and they asked about previous pregnancies, I would admit one abortion but not both. It seemed to me that if you make a mistake once, people can forgive you. But if you make a mistake twice, it cements who you are.
Describe the wrestling inside as you tried to reconcile your present with your past.
Over the years, I grew spiritually, despite this buried secret. I was able to serve in the church and other women, but I lived with a nagging sense of “if these Christian women knew who I was and what I’d done, there would be no room for them to embrace me as their friend”. That thought encouraged me to keep it quiet and keep it buried. I didn’t want everyone to know who I was. I was pretty open with everything else in my life, but not this one thing. I felt certain godly women would walk away from me in horror.

At this point, I was completely familiar with the scriptures. I would read Psalm 139 and wish I’d read it before my abortions. I hadn’t known those words about life in the womb were there. I had been raised in the church and didn’t know that was there. It fueled my desire to know Scripture and know exactly what it teaches. I also became aware of abortion being wrong and against God’s plan. The more I was convicted of how wrong it was, the more I was sure of my own shame.

I knew all sins were the same in God’s eyes. But in reality, we do compare our sins. Confessing impatience doesn’t sound the same as confessing murder. I wondered if God saw sins differently. I was panicked for years that abortion is the sin that can’t be forgiven. I didn’t think God could forgive me for this.

How did you move from long-term shame to sharing it with someone?
I had so much anger at myself, and eventually I just got sick of living with the secret. I so badly wanted to hear something different than what I was telling myself about how God couldn’t forgive me. I needed to talk about it.

I was also aware of my long term sadness. Threads of that were affecting my life. God had revealed to me over a period of time all the shame and sadness and fear of punishment I held and how heavy the weight was. Eventually I got to the point where I considered that if what I believe the gospel is true, then certainly healing was available to me. I needed to accept the truth of the gospel for myself. It was if God were saying to me, “You say you believe the Word I’ve given you. You say you want to honor Me, but you’re not walking the walk, because you’re not believing I’ve forgiven you.”

What made you finally decide to do something about it?
I had a conversation with a friend who I felt was safe to share with. She’d told me at some point, “Shame thrives in secrecy. There is healing available through confession. Confession is the first step toward experiencing God’s healing.” It was extremely hard to say it, but I confessed my abortions to her. I hadn’t really believed that saying it out loud would help, but I felt a progressive lightening of the shame, and that was a compelling catalyst for looking into how I could pursue healing. I didn’t feel forgiven by God in the moment I confessed, and I didn't think I was ever going to feel forgiven, but I desperately wanted to. At the least, I wanted to know how to walk in faith that I was forgiven. I decided to pursue a group study to at least know the scriptures and act like I’m forgiven, though I didn’t think I would feel forgiven.

What did you do next?
I went to a group led by three women who were post-abortive. We had a weekend retreat and then 8 weeks of meeting together and studying Scripture. It was important to me that the group be led by women who were post-abortive.

The first day of the study, I said, “I want to feel forgiven”. But I was surprised I said that because I felt certain it would never happen.

Do you feel forgiven now? If so, how did you get to that place?

I do. The Lord touched me exactly how I needed according to how I am put together. He knows that it has to be in Scripture for it to speak to me. He used the scriptures I’d read countless times, but He opened my eyes so I could read them in new ways.

What are some of those passages that spoke to you?
The first one is in Exodus, when the Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew women to kill their firstborn. Moses’ mom chose to not do that. What I was struck by is that this was an act their culture expected of them. The same is true for our culture in that it’s accepted. There were women in the Old Testament who had to kill their babies. I didn’t have to; I chose to. I had no problem believing God forgave them, so why couldn’t He forgive me? That was healing for me.

The second passage was about David and his desire for Bathsheba. He so badly wanted her, and when he got her pregnant, he wanted a quick fix for the problem of Uriah. He chose to end a life to get what he wanted. I chose to end a life because I didn’t want the responsibility of a baby. I was so focused on what I thought I wanted and what I needed; I didn’t think about the fact that I was going to kill a life. David killed for similarly selfish reasons. Right after Uriah died, David took Bathsheba into his household and she bore him a son. You can almost sense David’s relief when he got what he wanted,  almost like he got away with it. I could relate to that short term period of feeling immense relief after the abortions. But the very next sentence in Scripture says, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”. And then the Lord sent Nathan to David. God, through Nathan, pursued David to help him confess the sin. God so badly wanted to restore His relationship with David that He pursued him. 

When David was confronted by Nathan, he confessed his sin. At this point in the study, I kind of got stuck. Not admitting my sin was like wearing a 2000 pound weight around my neck. It limited what I was able to offer the Lord, because I hadn’t let go of the shame. I hadn’t allowed the forgiveness. I had asked for it over and over again, but I hadn’t accepted it. I couldn’t serve the Lord to the full extent because I wasn’t fully available. David had responded differently, however. He let it go. And he was called a man after God’s heart. I knew I needed to let it go and accept God’s forgiveness. 

The third verse that God used was Philippians 3:13. Paul, who doesn’t have the best past, says he focused on what’s in front of him and not behind him. In order to do that, you have to deal with what’s behind. If you don’t accept forgiveness, you can’t move forward. Not accepting the forgiveness was limiting my ability to glorify the Lord.

The Lord brings healing to everyone differently. He needed to touch me in the way that I would respond. When I saw His specific care toward me, I remember thinking, “The desire to feel forgiven was the desire of my heart, and God’s given it. I feel forgiven now.” 

I took a step forward in faith and He poured grace and love all over me. I remember praying, “Lord, I will take at step toward You, but I just want this to be between you and me. I don’t want you to use it in the lives of other women.” But because He abundantly poured grace and love all over me, I now can’t help but to want to talk about it, because it’s not about me anymore, it’s about Him.

I still feel a lot of sorrow and sadness about the choices I made. I feel disgust for myself, not in a browbeating way, but a disgust for the way I was living my life. I don’t know if that goes away. I don’t think that it should be my expectation that it will go away. We should feel disgust over evil and sin. I hate abortion as much as the person who's never had one. But I do think that because I’ve known the depths of my sin, I’ve digested the gospel in a way that I’m not so sure if I would’ve if I hadn’t wrestled with all of this. My life is a perfect example of God taking something evil and turning it into something for His glory.

Going through the experience of grieving and reliving these experiences, but also feeling forgiven and hope for my future and an enormous weight cut off my back has been much like feeling death and resurrection all at the same time. I’ve felt the gospel. I'm grateful for that, though not grateful for the experience. I feel like I understand grace much better than I did a year ago. And the natural response is to want to pour that onto other people for His glory.

For people who are reading this who have had an abortion, what would you say to them?
Healing is available to you. If you take one step forward, God will go above and beyond for you. If you’re living with shame, that is weighing you down. If you really want to serve the Lord, you have to get rid of it. Again, you just take one step and He’s going to make it happen for you. You’ll start laughing at how far He goes. He lavishes it on you, so you can’t miss it. 

Men are involved in every abortion. There is a different piece for them because they didn’t have the baby in their body. Some men have had abortions and didn’t have a choice in it. Whatever the case, the same healing and forgiveness from God is available for them.

An important part for me was having women who have not had an abortion show me God’s grace through how they treated me. That was tangible grace. They still loved me, they weren’t turning away in horror. That was the face of God to me. There is obvious worry in putting stuff out there, that people will judge. I feel sorry for those who judge, because they are missing the point. They haven’t fully accepted the grace that covers all of us. Grace frees you to not be identified by your past. I am not my past. 
For people who read this who haven’t had an abortion, what would you want them to know?
If you haven’t had an abortion, please know that your acceptance and love of a post-abortive woman are critical and help with healing for her. Also, it is not only about what you can give to that woman. She has something to offer you when it comes to understanding grace and forgiveness. Because we all have shame, we carry little secrets around feeling as if we’re not worthy of God. Learn from the woman who’s been forgiven of abortion, because her life shows the extent of God’s love and grace toward His children. Think about the woman pouring out perfume on Jesus’ feet. She knew the gift of forgiveness. The Pharisee standing by, complaining about the waste, had something to learn from her but he missed it. He missed what God made beautiful about her. 

The statistics are high for Christian women and abortion. Be aware that there are men and women in your congregation who have made this choice and are dealing with shame of it. Pastors, when you speak about abortion and the sanctity of life, remember these men and women. Say to them, “We see you, we love you, there is healing available to you.” Let them know there are biblical resources available to them. Convey acceptance and love.

What resources would you recommend?

For a full list of recommended resources for women and men who are post-abortive, as well as resources for churches and ministers, please click here.

I love that she says, "Grace frees us to not be identified by our past." If we are in Christ, we are identified only as God identifies us: as holy, righteous, redeemed children of God. I rejoice in what God has done in this woman's life, and what He's done in mine! I rejoice that He can do the same for you.

April 9, 2015

In Her Shoes: A Christian Woman Who's Had an Abortion (Part One)

Let us not ever forget that the Church is a redeemed people. Each of us, by the grace of Christ, have been redeemed from our slavery to sin. Among our own, let us not forget, are those who, though made holy and righteous, wrestle with secret shame about the sin they’ve been redeemed from. Let us not forget, so that we might bring the light of grace into the dark and hidden, so that we might speak grace and be a tangible picture of God’s grace toward one another, so shame and condemnation are banished.
I ask you today, as I’ve done before, to take a walk in another woman’s shoes: a Christian woman who’s had an abortion. I’ve asked her to share her story so we see the power of Christ’s redemption and so we’re ready and able to respond when someone we know and worship beside confesses an abortion. She desires to start a discussion in the greater Church about men and women who walk in secret shame, shame that has ripple effects in their lives. In her words, she wants those men and women to know “there is tangible healing available in Christ”, something she didn’t think possible for herself for many years. Here is part one (of two) of her story:

Describe the circumstances surrounding your first abortion.
I had grown up in a Christian family, but in my college and adult years, I was not walking with the Lord. I was, however, seeking the attention of men. I lived a promiscuous and partying lifestyle. One night, I was with a guy I was casually dating. We drank too much and had sex without using protection. In the morning, aware of not using protection, I worried. If Plan B existed at the time, I probably would have used it.

A week or two went by and I went out with some old college friends, one of whom was a guy I’d known. Again, I drank too much, as did he, and we ended up in bed together.

Later that month, I missed my period, took a pregnancy test, and it was positive. Because I’d slept with two men in two weeks, I didn’t know who the father was. I felt so much shame that my promiscuous lifestyle had gotten me to a point to where I didn’t know who fathered the child. I was further conflicted because the first guy was of a different race, so I knew if I brought it to term, it would be obvious who the father was. I couldn’t face the shame of trying to figure out who the father was, the shame of sleeping with two guys in two weeks, so I told the first guy I was pregnant. He said immediately, “We need to pursue an abortion. This is not something I want.” Because I was pursuing acceptance from men, I wanted to do what he wanted to do, to please him. I don’t know what I would have done if he said that he wanted me to have the baby. I think I was relieved when he said he did not because that meant I did not have to face the issue of paternity. I also lived very much in the world. I believed the baby in me was just cells, not a living thing.

I found an abortion clinic. He drove me, he paid for it, and he was there the whole time, attentive to me. The physician was nice, comforting us with the idea that we were doing the right thing. She was maternal and seemed to care for me. And so we had the abortion. I was awake the whole time. I remember feeling taken care of, which is strange to say. I felt this doctor had my best interest at heart. I never was offered an ultrasound, at least not that I remember. Part of the problem is that I stuffed the feelings down so far that I don’t remember much, but I do remember feeling I was in good hands.

Afterward, I went home and slept for a long time. I felt enormous relief at not having to face the shame of the pregnancy and figuring out who the father was. But I also remember thinking what a horrible person I was because I made this guy believe this baby was his, and I don’t even know if it was.
Describe the circumstances surrounding your second abortion.
Years went by, but not much had changed in my life. I was still in rebellion against God. I started seriously dating a man, and we got pregnant. When I told him I was pregnant, he didn’t want the baby. He said, “This isn’t how you do it. This isn’t how people have babies. You have to be married to have babies.” He was very aware of perception. This time I was in a different place. I knew who the dad was. I was financially sound. I could have raised the child by myself. My life was much more together by this point. But again, I wanted to do what the guy wanted to do, because I foresaw that keeping the baby would mean losing him. I was also still convinced that as long as I got an abortion before the end of the first trimester, it was just a bunch of cells.

Again, I found an abortion clinic, but my experience was very different from the first one. The clinic environment was very cold. I was one of 8-10 women on stretchers shoved in what seemed like a big shower room. There was a room to the side where they would take each woman one by one and then bring her back and offer her orange juice and crackers. None of us spoke a word to one another. I don’t remember hearing crying, but I felt it was very strange that we were all there for the same purpose, but none of us spoke to one another. The shame was palpable. And then it was my turn. I was wheeled into the side room. I wasn’t given any pain medication, and I remember every painful tug. I remember thinking to myself, “I deserve every painful thing I’m feeling. How did I get in this position again?” The doctor was an old man who didn’t talk to me at all as he ripped this baby from my womb. He didn’t care at all about me. It was like he was disgusted with me and I remember feeling he has every right to be disgusted. I disgusted myself.

The guy I was dating went with me, although I don’t remember him being there. I felt completely alone. It was me who had to take care of it, me who had to go through it. I felt that way, although he was there and was supportive in the way he thought he could be. I felt completely alone. I only know that he was there because we talked about it years later.

I went home and slept. Like the first one, I felt an enormous amount of relief, as if it never happened, but I also felt intense shame that I’d allowed this to happen twice.

Describe the next few years. What were the after-effects of abortion that you were living with?
A couple of years after my second abortion, I got married. Soon after that, I started to feel a pursuit from the Lord. I can’t verbalize it fully, but I knew He was pursuing me and giving me a desire to go back to Him.

My husband and I started trying to have kids. When I found out I was pregnant, I was excited. I remember thinking, “This is what it should feel like”. Throughout the pregnancy and after our baby was born, however, I often thought, “Oh my goodness, what did I do? This was a human being, a soul. I can never be forgiven for that. Horrible people do this.”

At that point, I was heavily reconnecting with my faith and pursuing God, and I was unsure how I was going to reconcile my past with where I was headed. I decided not even to attempt to reconcile it but to bury it. I would pursue my faith and try not to let my memories and thoughts ever come to the surface, and, if they did, I’d stuff them back down.

There were two big lies I believed. One was that I didn’t have to tell anyone about my abortions because it wasn’t having any ramifications in my life. The second lie I’d convinced myself of was that there would be no freedom in confession. I didn’t think that in order to heal that I’d have to uncover and wrestle with what I’d done.

But I was wrong. I did have to pick open the wound in order to heal.

The redemption part of this story is so rich. In the second part of her story, she describes the internal wrestling she experienced, how she finally found the courage to confess her abortions to a friend, and how she took the first step toward healing. Read Part Two here.

April 7, 2015

No More Ministry Exit Strategies

I’d been a pastor’s wife for less than a year when I began preparing my exit strategy. I’d unknowingly slipped on the pastor’s wife persona when we arrived at our church, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and had been attempting to live up to its clawing expectations ever since. I wanted so badly to be a good pastor’s wife, to have the answers when asked, to serve up profound wisdom, and to love people well. However, preparing my exit strategy highlighted what it is that I really wanted so badly: to be liked, to be approved of, to be appreciated, to be thought of as a “good” pastor’s wife.
I was going on as if everything was perfectly fine, but, inside, I was all knots and confusion. Condemning thoughts lurked behind every conversation, every Sunday morning, every word that spilled from my mouth. Privately, I cried and cried as I evaluated and wished back every mis-step.

Hiding my insides from others wasn’t the worst of it. I also hid myself from God, so sure that I was failing Him. I didn’t dare cast my cares on Him, because I felt certain He’d throw them back in my face, disappointed about all the things I had yet to get together. So I tried harder--smile, hug, serve, minister--as if I was a single performer under the stage’s harsh spotlight, feet tapping ever faster, trying to win the smile of God. Yes, He was my audience of One, but my audience appeared, in my own estimation, completely unmoved.

Life moved slowly, or perhaps it was just me moving slowly, weighed down, heavy, trudging along.

Less than a year in and I was already so.very.tired. I didn’t cry out, not to anyone, least of all my God. I simply gave myself a pep talk, swung the weight once again on my back, and took a step.

The thing I didn’t yet understand about God is that we don’t move toward Him, but rather He comes to us. He is a pursuer, a wooer, an initiator. With me, He waited until I had only fumes of self-effort left, and then He came. Because, as I can see now, He knew I needed to understand my need, because only then could I understand the extent of His grace toward me.

Sitting across from two college girls, I attempted to explain how God works by starting with “if”. If I obey Him, then He will approve and act. Did that not sum up everything I’d believed and everything that formed the foundation of my Christian life?

Respectfully, one of the girls said, “Christine, I don’t think that’s right.” And God came. There in my heart, I knew instantly that things were changing, that God wanted to show me some things, some things about His true character, about grace.

I drove home, praying all the while, “God, I know nothing of grace. And I desperately need to know. Show me.”

And God came, specifically through the book of Galatians. I discovered that, because I am in Christ, I am holy and righteous before God, and nothing I do or don’t do can change my status before Him. I discovered that He’s given me a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to help me, guide me, and convict me. I don’t have to lead and convict myself but can depend fully on God to do so. I discovered that my external behaviors are not what make me loved and approved by God, but that once I receive the love of God given through Jesus, it will compel me to love Him back. What I’m saying is that I discovered grace and my whole life flipped on its head because of it.

As I received this great grace, I finally understood why Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Because He carries the burden of my sin, my ministry, my life. I am loved, so I am freed to love.

The posture of the Christian is not performing in order to receive, which bears bitter fruits of pride and condemnation. The posture of the Christian is primarily receiving, because we’re receiving something that wells up in us and compels us to joyfully respond.

God came. That exit strategy? It’s long forgotten, because He still comes. He is still guiding my exploration of His love and grace, and all that I uncover becomes another building block in my enduring hope.

April 1, 2015

Dear Mama of Littles

Dear Mama of Littles,

Perhaps you've snuck into the bathroom with your phone and they haven't discovered you missing yet. Or maybe you're half-asleep on the couch, celebrating having survived another day of diaper explosions, nursing while cooking and simultaneously wrangling a toddler, or rushing from home to childcare to work to childcare to home again only to discover spit up has been plastered on you since early morning.
Mama, the season you're in is exhausting. And often numbingly routine. I promise that you won't have littles forever, so while you've got them, enjoy them. Those little chubby, dimpled hands holding yours and chunky legs on your lap won't always be so small and adorable or even fit in your lap at all. Though they take all the energy and brain cells and patience you can give (and more), give freely. Those littles are gifts.

Can I tell you something, Mama? In order to pour out your life, you must have life to give. This is why I'm writing you, because when I was Mama to littles, I mothered hard but often only with reward in mind: the end of the day, the occasional morning to sleep in, the dazed stroll around Target, the milestone when the baby finally slept through the night. My hope, I'm saying to you, was in false hopes, temporary hopes, lifeless hopes, hopes that were never guaranteed to give me anything.

I didn't recognize this until one Saturday my husband, seeing how depleted I was, sent me to the bookstore by myself to read. When I got there, I was immediately drawn in by a celebrity magazine--a guilty pleasure--and spent my entire time reading that magazine, and then another and another and another. When I got home, I felt more tired than before I'd left, because I had sought life from something that could not give it. I'd sought help in something that could not give it. This is the greatest temptation for a Mama of littles.

Mama, mothering littles strips and sanctifies. Let it. Let it show you your false hopes. Let it show you that you can only have true hope in things that are sure and steadfast.

This is why I'm writing to you, because I spent too many years as a Mama to littles holding out hope for the next reward, no matter how small it might be or how small the return. I didn't think of God as my only true hope, and because of this, I didn't spend time with Him.

One day while my boys were napping--a day when I actually picked up my Bible instead of napping too--I read Psalm 27:8 where David says, "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.'" Mama, do you see it? In the midst of life, however busy or mundane, David said God called him to His side. And David simply said, "OK." And therein lies a dynamic that, as a Mama to littles, I needed to see.

Because sometimes I woke up before my kids and felt God nudging me. Sometimes, picking up the toys in the living room just after my kids were in bed, I felt God nudging me. Sometimes I'd feel anger and impatience rising and I felt the Holy Spirit's conviction and offer of help. There were moments throughout my day when God nudged me and impressed on my heart: "Come spend time with Me" or "Ask me for help in this moment". Mama, I'd been saying no, I'd been seeking things I thought would refresh me and help me continue mothering but weren't. I'd been putting Him off. I just needed to say yes. Yes to the Helper who offers daily counsel, wisdom, truth, and grace, even and especially in the routines of mothering.

I needed to say yes, Mama, and you do too. Say yes when He's nudging you. Say yes when He calls you to His side. Say yes to Him rather than to the tv and all the lifeless choices that are draining you instead of giving to you. When you say yes to God's nudging, you are saying yes to help, to true hope, to true life, and to letting your Father lead you and take care of you. Isn't that exactly what every Mama to littles is craving?

He wants even now to draw you under His wings, just as you nurture your own littles.

Say yes, Mama.
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