Stories of Remembrance

Throughout the Exodus God maintains a delicate balance as he raises up his chosen people.

First he seeks to be known, punctuating each display of his might and miraculous provision with, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

Second, even as the story unfolds in the back-and-forth struggle of God’s faithful love for a stubbornly faithless people (who bear a uncomfortable resemblance to us today), the Lord is intentional about archiving stories of remembrance for the generations to come.

After they cross the Red Sea and escape the Egyptians God tells Moses that when they reach the Promised Land, the Israelites are to consecrate their first-born sons, and the first-born of their flocks to the Lord as an act of remembrance:

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Exodus 13:14

When he provides manna in the desert he again preserves a remnant:

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

Exodus 16:32

Reflections on Remembrance

God does not wait until the Israelites’ journey is complete before instructing them to capture and share their stories. Our walks with God are never complete. We always are inadequate in our faith, and continually learning and growing in our walks with him.

Our children — and every child of God with whom we engage — need to hear about our journeys, perhaps even more so than the destination.

I tend to shirk this responsibility by leaning on the fact that I lead a pretty ordinary life. God moves in my life in ways that I find to be spectacular, but there is no parting of the sea or manna showing up on my front lawn. Will others be moved by my mundane stories?

The honest answer is, “Who knows?” Faith is a gift of God; it’s not the result of our works–or our stories themselves. God simply teaches us to be obedient in sharing what he has done and is doing in our lives…as it unfolds.

Finally God makes an interesting point of preserving physical signs. God told the Israelites to save some manna so they could show future generations God’s handiwork. This is a little tricky, but it got me thinking about what physical artifacts I can preserve.

Steps to Remembrance

So let’s get practical. If the faith of our children — and our children’s children — depends on these stories, how do we get about it in earnest? What can we do right now?

Here’s a list I’ve come up with; feel free to add your thoughts in the comments to this post.

  • Share your stories. My in-laws rode a tandem bicycle cross-country when they first retired. They arrived home with two storylines, one about the people and experiences they encountered, the other about God’s protection and presence throughout the journey. One of the stories I remember to this day was that they were almost out of water with miles to go, and my mother-in-law prayed from the backseat for God’s help. A few miles later  a random car rolled up, and a stranger offered them water bottles.

Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.

Exodus17:6

Practice spiritual discipline and talk about why. My sister-in-law used to read her Bible on her phone during her morning quiet time. Then she realized that to her children it looked the same as if she was perusing Facebook or reading email. So she reverted to her physical Bible so her children will see God’s Word in her hands each day.

When our children see us read the Bible daily, come to worship with us on Sundays or serve others as a family, it is good and right to talk with them about why we do these things and for whom.

Share God’s Word. My kids tease me about it, but I am shameless in pointing them back to Scripture on questions of right and wrong, problems they are facing or as an encouragement of their infinite value and worth. I write them letters about who they are in God’s eyes, personalizing the verses with their names. I text them verses weekly.

God speaks to us powerfully through his Word, reminding us of his truths, but the seeds must be planted in order to bear fruit.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Keep a journal; write in your Bible. When I study the Bible I make notes in my journal. An effective technique I’ve adopted recently is to read and and then answer three questions (Anne Graham-Lotz’s 3-question study): 1) What does it say? 2) What is God saying? 3) What is God saying to me?

This photo is of the Bible owned by one of the most passionate Bible teachers I know. BibleIt is testament to the truth that, “When your Bible is falling apart, you are not.”

Consider creating a priceless treasure for your children in your well-worn Bible, filled with the record of what God is showing you, even if it means leaving a broken down, dog-eared, highlighted and cross-referenced tome.

Make and preserve symbols of your faith. It took me a few minutes to even think of symbols equivalent to manna in my life, but I have them…so do you. One that came to mind is the wedding band I gave my husband for our 21st anniversary. I had it made because I had come to deeply treasure his faith leadership over our family. Since two of our four children are adopted from Korea, I had the band inscribed in Hangul with the citation “Joshua 24:15”:

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The ring serves as an instrument of witness for him on a daily basis, and one that I hope our sons especially will preserve and remember as they enter into their own seasons as heads of their households.

The message God teaches us throughout Exodus is to begin today to be intentional about the legacy of faith we are planting in our children.

As a result of Joshua’s bold witness, Scripture tells us he created a legacy of faithfulness:

Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua 24:31

“Do You Want to Get Well?

Throughout Scripture and today we see stories of God bringing life and healing into the dark corners of our world and our lives. It happened to me.

In late July I published Surprised by Sin, where I shared how God called on me transform my broken relationship with my youngest child.

I had tried to change things on my own, but had failed. I had prayed about it, but my prayers came before repentance; I had not invited the Lord to chasten and refine my heart. After so much time and so many failed attempts I told myself “it was what it was.”

Get Up

One man had been an invalid there for 38 years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off….

A little later Jesus found him in the Temple and said, “You look wonderful! You’re well! Don’t return to a sinning life or something worse might happen.”

John 5:1-14

The sick man’s malaise thrived in his stagnant refusal to believe he could be other than what he had always been. He had many excuses, few involving personal responsibility.

Jesus’ question exposed his denial, “Do you want to get well?”

Maybe when he first arrived at the pool he really did have a hunger for change and healing, but failure opened the door to discouragement and discouragement to complacency.

Then that familiar voice inside kept him there by reminding him that he was “less than the others” (otherwise why else would he continue to be passed over?), “Things will never change.” “It’s not your fault.” “It is what it is.”

As he watched the others emerge healed he tried to imagine what lay ahead for them. Walking was only the first step. There would be so much more to do. Learning. Working. Striving. And failing 1,000 more times as he worked to close the gaps from 38 years of paralysis. It all sounded so exhausting; perhaps he was better off to just stay put.

Take up your bedroll.

John 5:8

The Greek word for “take up” is airo, literally “to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.” Jesus is speaking about more than the bedroll; He is commanding him to take responsibility for himself, his circumstance, his joy and the life to which he was called.

See, You are Well

When Jesus brings healing it is complete and abundant. Shortly after that day in July my heart for my daughter, and our relationship, was completely renewed. I see her in a new light, and that light is beginning to shine all around as she sees herself reflected in new and positive ways.

Her attitude about her capabilities and responsibilities is improving, and with it her grades. Our household is more cohesive. And I feel better too, free of the shame and discouragement of what I had considered to be an intractable situation. As Jesus said,

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:26

Stop Sinning

With his final words to the now-upright man Jesus offers a valuable warning to him and to us:

Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.

John 5:14

You see, God accepts and loves us in our brokenness, but He is faithful to lead us to the right path, the way to life. We then have a choice to make: get on the right path or continue to go our own way.

At a distance the choice seems obvious: Why in the world would a sick man opt to sit on the sidelines rather than leap into a full and abundant life? Why did I refuse to surrender my relational brokenness to God for 14 years?

  • What sin in your life have you learned to live with?
  • Will you seek His word, invite His Spirit’s conviction and listen to truth spoken by fellow followers to uncover where God is calling you to change directions?

And lastly, but most importantly:

 

Do you want to get well?

Give a Gift that Lasts

Our family has adopted a birthday tradition that I’ve watched bear fruit in the lives of those we celebrate, making it too good not to share. I hope you’ll consider incorporating some version into your family celebrations…and share your own traditions in the comments section below.

For many years now our family has taken turns, during the pre-meal blessing, to offer thanksgiving for one trait of the birthday boy or girl that has blessed our lives. Recently, my sister-in-law improved on this idea by buying a bunch of mylar balloons, and tying index cards to them with a variety of words written on the front, linked to scripture passages written on the back, each representing character traits she saw taking root in my eldest son.

So encourage each other and build each other upToday that has evolved into a ritual for significant birthdays in which we reach out to friends, family and others who are influential to our children, and invite them to share “one encouraging word” they associate with him or her, along with a brief explanation of why they chose that word. We make just one ask and then trust the Lord to put a word on the hearts of those He moves to respond.

As we’ve repeated this tradition with a variety of people in our family I’ve seen God move through this simple, powerful gift in the lives of adults and children alike. In preparing to do this for one of my children’s birthdays this week, I realized three reasons this is a gift #worthimitating:

  1. It is a great reminder of how many people love and care about you and are invested in your good. This is particularly helpful to young people with extended family who may be far away, godparents and others who care deeply for them and relish an opportunity to speak positively into their lives.
  2. This world tears us down much of the time; we receive criticism, negative labels, rejection and hurt. What a beautiful thing then, on the day you were born, to be reminded of the good your life brings to those around you, to take a moment to see what others see and treasure in you. For parents, who serve their families with no expectation, it is a blessing to have the fruit of their labors returned to them as loving kindness. For children, it is a great anchor to help them define themselves by their strongest character traits.
  3. Finally, in my vocation of marketing, when I brand a company I never use a cross-section of all customers; I seek to engage “evangelists,” those who are most passionate about their experience of the company and its products. In a very personal way this gift does the same thing: Sharing with others how they are seen and valued by those who care most about them helps (or reminds) them who they are in God’s eyes, how very loved they are and how greatly their lives matter.

I invite and encourage you to adapt this idea in a way that fits your family. It is never too late to start a new tradition. For ours this has made birthday celebrations something special, much more personal, meaningful and rich, and strengthened the bonds across our family and extended family by reminding us that over all these virtues [we are to] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

 

Surprised by Sin

I love Jesus. I read my Bible every day (almost). I worship weekly. I pray often. In other words I try really hard to be the kind of girl who glorifies God in how she lives.

But my very best effort is a complete and utter failure. It’s the whole point of Paul’s letters to the Romans:

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)

When you are so busy trying, like I was, sin has a way of sneaking in the back door and taking up residence right under your nose, well a little farther south, down in the recesses of your heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:9

So there I was as the Proverbs 31 She Speaks conference last week, learning how to grow my ministry  (and my blog following if I’m being honest), when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, God confronted me with an area of sin in my life that I never saw coming.

I had almost gotten out scot-free. I was at the final session called, “Discovering God’s Power for Your Life and Ministry.” It was a how-to on waging spiritual warfare through the power of the Holy Spirit. As I listened to Wendy Blight candidly share her past struggles parenting her daughter, I felt a twinge of conviction, a little spiritual angina, as her story struck some familiar chords in my own relationship with my youngest child.

At the end of the session each attendee received an anointing with oil and a message about their ministry, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Mine was:

You are called to be a light in the darkness.

My initial reaction was that this was kind of generic inspiration (I know, I’m awful but it is true!), and I was tempted to disregard it. But as I turned to scripture to see what God’s Word had to say, the weight of conviction fell heavily upon my shoulders:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven

Matthew 5: 13-16

Here is what this passage spoke to me: I am called to be light, and the first place I am called to do that is at home. As I let God begin to transform my relationship with my daughter, one of the four children He gave to me to love and nurture, others in my home — friends and family alike — will see and know that it is God at work.

And conversely, unless and until I become a light here at home I have no ability to shine into the darkness beyond.

As I marinated and prayed over this I was reminded that God and my kids are counting on me to help them form a lasting relationship with the Lord, to set priorities for themselves and their lives that will make them a light to others, and to learn that sinfulness and spiritual warfare are not rare things, but a constant battle of repentance and renewal.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5: 6-7

‘Twas Blind but Now I See

I was shocked and saddened when confronted with my own sinfulness. My past words and deeds flooded my consciousness. I felt deeply ashamed.

The second thing that happened was I became acutely aware of many recent moments when God was calling me to awareness, but I had remained blind to it. Just a few days before the conference I was sharing my latest frustration over my child with a friend and she said, “Yes, I have seen how you two interact and the stress it creates. The thing to recognize is that God is using her to refine something in you.”

How right she was. How blind I was!

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.

Acts 9:18

 

Amazing Grace

Without grace I would wallow in shame for my failure in this important area of my life. Without grace I would not know how to make a change, nor believe it could last. Without grace I would not have the courage (nor the right) to ask my daughter’s forgiveness and work with her to make our relationship new, something God does again and again throughout the Bible:

  • Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. (Isaiah 43:18)
  • Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
  • And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)
  • By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace… (Ephesians 2:15)
  • And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 2:24)
  • In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)

I think one of the lies I allowed myself to believe was that as I drew closer in my relationship with God I was somehow building up an immunity to sin. It seems now that the only thing I was building up was blindness to my sin.

One Day at a Time

I know I am powerless to make this change on my own. I’m still a pretty impatient person. I’m still too easily annoyed by some of the things my girl is wont to do. I still feel those bursts of anger flare within me. So where is the hope even after repentance?

First it’s found in surrender. I have given this defect of mine to the Lord, and my prayer is that He will teach me to see and love my daughter with the same abundant, unconditional love with which He sees and loves her.

Second is that when I feel tempted to react or speak in ways that are not life-giving I intend to pause and invite the Lord into that moment. I know it won’t be a perfectly straight path, but if I am faithful to invite Him in I trust that He will be faithful to give me a heart like His: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

I’m not looking back at the years behind us, nor too far forward; instead, I’m focused on committing this day to the Lord to do the next right thing, as one of my dearest friends advised me in my lament.

And finally, I’m owning it. I hesitated to write about this experience until I could look safely in my rearview mirror and tell you it was all better. But then I realized I would deny you the opportunity to see the place of failure and brokenness from which I am beginning; the one where we all begin as we nail our “self” to the cross, and through the work Jesus accomplished there, begin again to live freely and abundantly:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Romans 6:6-7

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36

 

The Ball Factory

When my kids were little the Pittsburgh Science Center was one of our favorite destinations, and “the ball factory” was our favorite thing to do.

work is like a ball factory

The kids never tired of loading balls into the vacuum tubes that transported them to the other end of the exhibit, or placing them on the conveyor or in the vertical bucket-brigade. They loved to cover one of the openings with a foam board and watch how it accelerated the balls’ movement through the tubes.

All that changed on Saturdays. That’s when the Dads showed up. Entering the arena on the premise of “helping the kids,” they quickly took over, barking orders and inevitably nudging toddlers out of the way in the name of getting work done.

Even then I knew there was a lesson in this parody about the proper role of work, ambition and career beyond the obvious: Avoid the Science Center on weekends.

The Search for Meaning

In addition to providing for our families the work we do often is a central part of our search for meaning in the world. We all want to contribute, to belong, to make a difference. It is how we seek to answer the question, “What is the purpose of my life?”

Mid-life crises arise when, after years of scurrying to keep as many balls in the air as possible for as long as possible, they inevitably fall, and we find ourselves then asking, “What is the point?” “Does what I do make any difference at all?”

On Saturday mornings at least, the dads in the ball factory seemed oblivious to this problem; the work itself was the point, and it was sufficient.

During the early part of my career, before becoming a mom, that was true for me too. I loved working, and especially working hard. Tracking my time by the quarter-hour made me acutely aware of the value of my time, and I took pride in logging the most billable hours, even if that meant working nights and weekends. It was an unspoken challenge to see if I could be the first one in the office. I liked it when others noticed how busy I was because busy meant relevant, necessary, valued and important.

The Cost of Success

Becoming a working mother introduced a new tension and deeper questions to my motives and priorities. This is complicated territory in which many women struggle internally and with judgment from other women, so to be clear, I speak for myself only.

I valued the opportunity to continue working, even part-time. I gained new efficiency in everything I did because I was mindful that every minute wasted was time away from my family. However I began to struggle to find meaning in work relative to the great importance of parenting; what had energized and motivated me before now looked empty and irrelevant.

I yearned for home knowing that my time with my children was fleeting. Work in any circumstance looked like the ball factory to me: What difference did it make? What difference did I make?

Heavenly Purpose

Here on earth work is a necessary part of life. We need to provide for ourselves and our families. But is there a point beyond that? Can you serve God’s purpose through secular work? What is God’s view of work and career?

Growing up I learned that God meant work to be “toil.” Adam and Eve sinned, and God told them they would have to survive by blood, sweat and tears:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food… (Genesis 3: 17-19)

At the peak of my cynicism about work I discovered Timothy Keller and his book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. In it he explores all human work — from janitor to CEO — as an act of worship. Keller outlines a Biblical view of work that focuses on serving others, suggesting this perspective as the key to building and enjoying a thriving career and maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

About that time I also was introduced to Randy Alcorn who suggests that in heaven we will have work to do:

The idea of working in heaven is foreign to many people. Yet Scripture clearly teaches it. When God created Adam, he “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Work was part of the original Eden. It was part of a perfect human life.

God Himself is a worker. He didn’t create the world and then retire. Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). Jesus found great satisfaction in His work. “‘My food,’ Jesus said, ‘is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work'” (John 4:34).

We’ll also have work to do, satisfying and enriching work that we can’t wait to get back to, work that’ll never be drudgery. God is the primary worker, and as His image-bearers, we’re made to work. We create, accomplish, set goals and fulfill them—to God’s glory.

Today I understand that work is a necessary means of provision for life here on earth, but also can be something good and even Godly.

We are the children of a creative God, so it is good to find joy in creating for its own sake (e.g., the duckbill platypus). Work can give meaning and structure to our lives if the meaning focuses on using our gifts to serve others whether they be customers, coworkers and/or our families.

Work becomes problematic when we engage in idolatry, which by definition involves taking a good thing and making it the only thing. I have struggled most with work when I have allowed it to become the source of my identity and self-worth, fuel to my ego and ambition, and the focus of too much time and energy (to the detriment of the family).

At these times I find it helpful to remember the ball factory. While there is undeniable satisfaction and joy in helping to move those colorful balls through the intricate labyrinth of tubes and belts and connectors, true joy comes in doing it with and for others.

At the end of the day all the balls will fall to the ground, and the lives of everyone who kept them moving will be unchanged by that reality.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

Colossians 3:23

Homecoming

homecoming

My son is coming home, not just for the summer, but for good. After spending his freshman year of college in Texas, he is transferring in-state and will be less than an hour away. It’s been a long, trying year that challenged and changed him.

I was thinking about his pending return as I awoke today, filled with anticipation and joy. Then I read my scripture passage for the morning, 2 Corinthians 5:

Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever. While we are here on earth we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.

I was struck by the parallels between my son’s journey and our journeys through life. He thought going to school in Texas would be like going home because he spent most of his childhood in Texas.

We live here convinced that we are home, yet from the moment we arrive something deep inside reminds us we are not where we belong. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. (Hebrews 13:14) We live with an often intangible yearning, a desire for a respite from the burdens of this world, some our making (Running on Empty), others falling rocks in a fallen world.

These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan.

By working to do his best, even under less than the best circumstances, our son learned perseverance, endurance and a healthy longing for home. God knows what we’re going through and He loves us. Yet His focus usually is on changing us rather than our circumstance.

But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.

As I anticipated what it would look and feel like to see my son again at the airport I imagined what we must look like in God’s eyes when we finally return home, haggard, worn, bearing little resemblance to the innocent children we were when this all began. Even so, we will radiate with the joy of knowing that we are home at last.

This hope and promise carry us through the difficult days with patient endurance, and through God’s grace, joy.

God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it. So always be cheerful!

If our son simply had passed time until he could come home he would have missed many opportunities for blessings. Instead he worked diligently every minute of every day — he had the crowded calendar to prove it — and returns home stronger, wiser and with the august mantle of adulthood upon his shoulders.

Similarly, if we only pass the time as we journey through this world we will miss out on many blessings. His kingdom is not a remote, future thing only; it starts now:

As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. But we live by faith, not by what we see. We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord. But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.

  • Do you view your present struggles as burden or blessing? 
  • Where do you see God working in your most painful circumstances for good?
  • Ask God to infuse joy and peace into your day, right here, right now.
  • How will you seek to please God today? 

 

Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings

empty nest

Empty Nest

I originally published this last year as my first child prepared to go off to college. Apparently it struck a chord with many momma’s of the “cap-and-gown set” as it was my most shared and commented post. So I offer it again for the Class of 2016’s mothers:

When I was pregnant I remember being astounded by the secrets the women in my life had kept from me. It’s a wisdom of the ages that lets us sense what a sister doesn’t need to know…until she needs to know.

Roots and Wings

This week, I experienced this phenomenon again. As I prepared to take my first child to college, I grasped with new clarity why the “one word” God gave me for the year was brokenhearted. I texted my mom about the mix of emotions forming on my horizon. My mother replied,

“Had the same feelings about all of you. But this is life’s plan, not an easy one. Not something you want to tell your children. You learn as you experience. Pray every day for strength. Wonder why I go to church? If I can do it you can.”

She knew about this and didn’t warn me? Another holdout! Then I began to look around; after all, I had watched plenty of my friends release their children from the nest. I imagined that it was hard, but I had no idea how hard. And in that moment I realized that the women who knew, who could have warned me, weren’t talking. (I say this with a smile.)

As the days dwindled into hours more and more girlfriends came out of the closet, sharing their experiences. Several really strong women I know admitted they had taken to bed for the first few days and grieved it out. Others talked about sitting in their children’s bedrooms mourning the emptiness.

But then, the old cleanup lady Time shows up. She’s slow and not very efficient; she always leaves something behind. But, she works her way through that mess of Grief one sweep of the hand at a time. I look at those same girlfriends and see that they have accepted new normals in which their children will never all live under the same roof again and where when “Mom” is yelled in public it’s less likely it is for them. 

Another unique theme for this life milestone is the shared heartbeat between children and their mothers. My mom characterized it this way in her text: “When u hurt, I hurt.” My girlfriend says of her freshman, “When I know she is happy I will be.”

And therein lies the divine mystery of motherhood; it is the good Lord offering us the tiniest of glimpses into what it is like to live and love with complete “other-centeredness.” Just as He is for us in all things we are for our children…always. Their joy multiplies our joy; their pain breaks our hearts because we would gladly spare them, substitute ourselves for them. While we almost never can, He did.

For the love of our children, as my mother so wisely said, we pray for strength that we may not burden them with our pain, but instead lift their joy on the wings of ours so they can fly higher, freely and often farther, than they otherwise could (or we wish they would). 

Mother and sonThis transition to college is an unusual one because it is such a mixed bag of emotions that usually are not experienced together:

  • Joy for my child’s accomplishment and the good things in store as he embraces this new adventure
  • Grief because the family we have spent 20 years building is now dis-integrating, albeit in the healthiest of ways
  • Regret because I really do wish I would have played dinosaurs longer instead of doing those dishes; I wish I could have responded with grace instead of fatigue and anger so many times when he was young; and I wish I would have lived every moment like these recent ones, hanging on each as precious and fleeting.
  • Fear for my child so far from home, and fear for myself about what I will become when “Mom” isn’t my first calling any longer
  • Anxiety about my child in the big bad world, about him being lonely or stressed or sick without my being able to comfort him
  • Anticipation of pouring everything I have into my three other kids’ needs; anticipation for my son and the amazing things I see blossoming in him at this very moment

Today we’re stand on this edge of this new reality — at the boarding gate literally and figuratively. On Tuesday I leave him…and life will never be the same. Even if my sisters didn’t warn me, I draw strength from their examples. My mother-in-law, who treasured motherhood in the same way I do, told me once, “There is life after children and it is good.”

I’m counting on it.

What God Has to Say:

  • I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3
  • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1
  • Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:15-17
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
  • I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. John 16:12

And finally, as Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us now in John 17: 6-11, may we as mothers be able to offer this same prayer as we release our children:

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them….Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. 

Please feel free to share your experiences, wisdom or learnings about your children leaving the nest. 

Read more: Jane Brock offers a corollary post on this topic called “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I encourage you to check it out.

Woman’s Work

Today is Mother’s Day; it’s the day we celebrate, remember, thank and love our mothers, mother-in-laws, aunts, grandmothers and the other women who helped shape who we are and who we are becoming.

From Biblical times through today God consistently uses women to lead His children home. So today’s post is offered in gratitude for the gifts given to me by the women in my life, and by their Biblical sisters who modeled it first.

Praying on your knees. From as early as I can remember my mother knelt with us by our bedsides each night to recite a prayer she created, a prayer of thankfulness for our families, our country (she’s always been deeply patriotic) and for the blessings of each day.

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Spiritual discipline. My mother took us to church every single week of our lives. I don’t remember ever missing a Sunday, whether away on vacation or out on Lake Erie, our weekend itineraries were structured around it. Sometimes all of us, including my dad, would resist and cajole her to bend “just this once.” She never did. And today it’s a habit we’re instilling in our own children.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The Word. I didn’t grow up reading or studying scripture outside of church. So when my sister-in-law brought her Bible on vacation I watched, wondering what she was reading and why. Her daily habit and out-loud thinking about Biblical principles seeded an interest in me that grew over time.

So love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them. Write these laws on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Pray without ceasing. My mother-in-law prays all day long. She “has fun with God” as she likes to say, engaging Him in every aspect of her daily life. She seeks Him and finds Him in everything. (Learn more about mothers-in-law here.)

Miriam, Hannah and Mary all have prayers of praise recorded in the Bible.

Commend your children to the Lord. One of my dearest friends walked a long, lonely road with her child through nearly a decade of rebellion and struggle. Her faithfulness and selfless love were an inspiration and are now a well of wisdom for my own times of struggle with my kids.

Hannah prayed fervently for a child and when she conceived Samuel she commended him to the Lord before he was even born, giving him to Eli to become a priest and serve the Lord. (1 Samuel 1-2)

Steadfastness. Another friend of mine was recently called “steadfast” by her son, who as a young adult is beginning to see the many ways she built and sustained a wall of protection around him and his siblings through the tumult in her life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women I know who live Proverbs 31 with courage, beauty and grace:

She takes good care
of her family
and is never lazy.
Her children praise her,
and with great pride
her husband says,
“There are many good women,
but you are the best!”
Charm can be deceiving,
and beauty fades away,
but a woman
who honors the Lord
deserves to be praised.
Show her respect—
praise her in public
for what she has done.

Honor Thy Birth Mother and Father: Reflections of an Adoptive Mother on Her Daughter’s Birthday

Adoption is a part of our family’s story as it is for millions of other families. As an adoption counselor once wisely told me:

Without God adoption makes no sense.

In this and future posts on adoption we will wrestle honestly and vulnerably with this truth. Thank you to my She Speaks 2015 prayer partner and now friend, Maura Byrnes, for leading the way with her thoughtful and beautiful post below.

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 10th birthday, and I cannot stop crying. No, it is not because my “baby” Natalie is growing up so quickly, although that fact does stab my heart.

I weep because every year around Natalie’s birthday I think, more than ever, of her Chinese birth parents. Although I never met Natalie’s birth mom, and no one knows who she is, I imagine her with stunning clarity. I see her long, silky, dark hair, like Natalie’s, pulled back tightly. Her eyes dart quickly from side to side when she is thinking hard about a problem, and they light up as she laughs or sings. Her delicate hands have long, slender fingers. Her father, too, I can see. He is also quiet and intelligent, quickly adding sums or multiplying double digits in his head like Natalie does.

Most of all, I imagine their grief. I picture them crying, regretting that they had abandoned their newborn daughter, and wondering how and where in the world she is. I have no problem picturing Natalie’s birth mom standing alone at a sink and watching the water run over her hands and wondering, “Do my girl’s hands resemble mine? What are her hands holding? Who are they holding, and who is holding my baby?”

I long to make things right and—nonsensically—want to divide this girl in half, so we can each have a part of her. I weep as I lament this broken, messed-up world where loving parents have to make the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish their baby, whatever the reasons. This is not the way God intended our lives to be.

Friends and acquaintances tell me I am blessed to have this child. I always agree and tell them I am more blessed than she. Inside, however, I pine that my greatest blessing is only because another mother’s heart is torn apart.

I long for heaven at these moments, where perfection and peace prevail and there are no broken relationships. In heaven there will be no marriages (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25), so I think it is fair to conclude there will also be no “my child,” “your child,” “birth mom” or “adoptive mom” scenarios. There only will be worship of our one true parent, our forever Father. I imagine children will run happily free from loving adult to loving adult, never knowing ambivalence, rejection or despair. Pastor and author Dan Vander Lugt writes:

All the joys of family love will be far surpassed in heaven by the joys of perfect intimacy and trust.

I am counting on this! While I wait for that day, I take steps to help assuage my own grief and to make a difference in this shattered world. Among the things I do:

  • Participate in an adoptive parents support group. It is in this sacred space that I spill out my feelings and am met with empathy and wisdom from other adoptive parents.
  • Ask God to reveal Himself to my daughter’s Chinese family. I ask Him to send Christians into their lives. I pray these believers will share the Gospel and the hope of eternity with them. I pray for her first family’s hearts to be softened and for them to accept Jesus as their Savior.
  • Send monthly donations to World Vision, Wycliffe, Young Life, and Voice of the Martyrs. While there are countless charities to support, I chose these four Christian organizations because they work, respectively, to provide education and relief in desperate communities, translate the Bible into languages for which there are no Bibles in existence, introduce kids to Jesus and help them grow in their faith, and support Chinese families whose loved ones have been tortured, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith in Jesus.
  • Meditate on the verse that every child is a gift from the Lord—not “mine,” “yours,” or “ours.” My child is the Lord’s. I am to train and raise her up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I must remember each day she is  His beloved child, and He loves her perfectly and infinitely more than I or  any other parent ever could love her.
  • Stay informed about what is happening in my daughter’s birth country. I tell Natalie that even though Chinese Christians are being persecuted, these brave women and men are not giving up their faith in Jesus. In fact, according to Purdue University Professor of Sociology Fenggang Yang, “China is poised to become the largest Christian nation in the world.” This is because persecution has caused Chinese Christians to unite like never before in their history.

Persecution is not some obscure or far-away issue. Some adoptive parents maltreat their children’s birth parents, wielding their words and attitudes as swords. Christ commands us to honor our parents, and although he didn’t specify it, I am quite certain He means all parents—birth, foster, and adoptive. As my daughter’s birthday recedes and a new holiday is before us, I pray her birth parents would supernaturally know they are esteemed in our home.

As I was writing this, I realized my silent and dreary imaginations of my daughter’s birth parents’ regret might be lies, possibly dishonoring them and most definitely stealing my joy.

So, to stop these ruminations I now meditate on Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I commit myself to focusing on what is true: God intended this child to be raised by my husband and me; He is sovereign in all our lives; Natalie’s birth parents must have many admirable qualities because they are apparent in this precious child, and I thank God for imparting these traits. In addition, I ask the Holy Spirit to empower me to have faith to believe that Natalie’s birth parents are peace-filled, and they would supernaturally know their daughter is not only alive but also joyfully alive in Christ. I also pray we will meet face-to-face in Heaven someday, where we will worship our Father together as one joyful nation.

Lured by Bright and Shiny Things

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

IMG_9497I sit before our Christmas tree, sparkling with lights and adorned with bright and shiny packages, waiting for my kids to wake up this Christmas morning. And I’m stressed out.

I worry that instead of joy and love my children will unwrap perceptions of inequity or lack of consideration or lack of effort. Gift giving is not my love language; in fact, I’m barely fluent. So with an occasional exception the experience of shopping for people, even those I love most, creates more feelings of insecurity and frustration than excitement.

Even as I wait I know that the reality behind the wrapping is less that perfect. The one gift I actually ordered early, and was most excited to give, didn’t arrive; so an empty box with a photo serves as a disappointing placeholder. And while we spent the same per-child, one has a dozen gifts to unwrap while another has just two. I know they are now teens and young adults, yet my desire to keep Christmas magical fuels guilt about these shortcomings and others.

I would like to believe I am a Christian who has not sold out to the commercialism of Christmas; in fact, I do a great job living in denial for about 350 days a year. And then in the two weeks before Christmas I succumb, driven by love-drenched guilt, and rush around like every other American, trying to express my love for my children by miraculously fulfilling some unfulfilled wish or desire.

And yet I know it’s a mirage not a Christmas miracle that they are most likely to experience; first, because I already work really hard all year round to help meet their real needs; and second, because in my heart I know that the things of this world never can satisfy the longings of our hearts.

Other than the brown Huffy bicycle I received for Christmas when I was 10 (which was stolen less than a year later), I would struggle to recall any other gifts I received as a child. The things I remember of Christmases past are my grandmother who spent the night in my room just once a year, my brother proclaiming every gift he received to be a “turtle” before he could undo the wrapping, and my mom delaying Christmas until she could swig down at least one cup of coffee. All of my memories are of how I felt being surrounded by the people I love and the simplicity of just being together.

It saddens me as an observer (and a now-confessed reluctant participant) that we celebrate Christmas — God’s daring attempt to rescue us from enslavement to the deceit of this world  — by literally buying into these false promises. Media cover God’s great love for us not with headlines of love exchanged, peace spread or hearts filled, but instead with stories of retail spending thresholds met, people fighting over the year’s hottest toy and the brokenhearted among us whose isolation is magnified during this sacred holiday. And yet:

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2: 15-20

I don’t have a bow to tie on this end of this post, but I will be looking for a way to turn this Christmas inside out.