When “Way Better” Is Also “Way Harder”

Eight more days until my due date. Eight. More. Days.

My heart is nearly bursting with joy as I anticipate holding my second born child in my arms, looking into those precious eyes, touching those tiny feet and hands, caressing the silky soft hairs on his head, marveling at every little feature on his red, puffy and oh-so-adorable newborn face, breathing in the smell of freshly washed baby, and listening to that sweet sound of a nursing infant. Again and again, the Bible affirms that children are a blessing from the Lord. Again and again, my son Shepherd has proven that to be true. I know without any doubt that Landon Joseph Sweers will do the same.

shep_newbornThis picture of Shepherd and me is one of my most precious treasures. I have a hard time seeing  a whole lot of beauty in pictures of myself, but this picture is different. I have never looked or felt more beautiful in my whole life than in that moment as I held my first born son and pondered the magnitude of his life and the sheer goodness of the God who ordained every second of it before one of them came to be. This picture reflects so many of the hopes, dreams, and expectations I had of that sweet child and of motherhood in general. While it captures but one single moment in time, it continues to tell the story of a young woman who fell madly in love with a seven pound, fourteen ounce little boy who forever changed her life for the better. Way better. To think that I get to experience that all over again in just a matter of days – it nearly takes my breath away.

There is, however, one thing weighing heavily on this joy-filled heart of mine – one thing that has made this pregnancy very different from my first. This time around I know something about motherhood that I didn’t quite grasp the first time: I know it’s going to be really, really hard.

The young woman in that picture honestly didn’t have a clue. She had read and re-read Babywise, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Shepherding a Child’s Heart (to name a few!). She was convinced she’d have her baby on a perfect “feed-wake-sleep” schedule and would be sleeping through the night in a matter of weeks. She wholeheartedly believed that breastfeeding would be the easiest, most natural, rewarding experience of her life. She envisioned happily rocking her always-smiling baby multiple times a day while singing her favorite hymns and reading Scripture – the perfect little “mommy and me” worship service! She would, of course, always have make-up on, be dressed in real clothes (i.e., pants that have a zipper and aren’t made of flannel), and exude the well-rested radiance of a successful  “Babywise” mom.

HA! To say none of that happened would be a severe understatement.

Yep, clueless . . . utterly clueless. But not this time . . .

This time I know how brutal the sleep deprivation will be.

This time I know
that however willing my husband is to help in the wee hours of the morning, I am the only one with “working” breasts.

This time I know that even if I could be the “perfect” Babywise mom, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever have a “perfect” Babywise baby.

This time I know that that postpartum depression is a life-altering reality, that it affects somewhere around 15% of women who have babies, and that I happen to be one of them.

This time I know the strain caring for an infant will have on my marriage, the loneliness/isolation (both real and perceived) I will experience, and the enhanced body image issues I will deal with.

This time I know about  the financial stress coming our way, the challenge of making sure my four-year-old doesn’t feel lost in the chaos, and the paralyzing effects of trying and often failing to manage an overwhelming list of day-to-day demands (to be completed in the VERY short time between feedings).

This time I know the sting of having to say “no” again and again to opportunities to stand on a platform and teach the Bible as I try to convince myself that the ministry I do inside my home is far more important and rewarding. (I really do believe that, but sometimes having to push the “pause” button on my passion is just plain agonizing.)

Yes, this time I know that sometimes “better” – even way better –  is also way “harder.” Sometimes great blessings demand great sacrifices. Sometimes the sweetest fountains of joy are mixed with bitter providence. Sometimes the most tangible expressions of God’s goodness make us painfully aware of our desperate need for His grace. Sometimes the most priceless gifts come to us in really complicated packages.

So what do we do when we know that “way better” is also going to be “way harder?” What do we do when the immense joy we feel is threatened by the things we fear? What do we do when the beauty of the blessing starts to get hidden behind the reality of the cost?

We saturate ourselves in truth from God’s Word until we are fully convinced that no matter how hard “harder” might get, God’s grace is indeed sufficient  (2 Cor. 12:9). . .that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) . . .that our times – even the hard times – are in His hands (Ps. 31:15). . .that in Christ, we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37) . . . that He who did not spare His own Son will most certainly provide for every single need (Rom. 8:32). . .that we can cast every care on Him because He really, truly does care for us (1 Peter 5:7). . . that because Jesus is enough, so are we (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2) . [Insert a thousand other promises here!]

We have to TRUST that we will eventually look back and see the words “WORTH IT” written across every single sacrifice – every stretch mark, every stressful feeding, every sleepless night, every emotional tidal wave, every diaper change, every frustrating attempt at potty training, every date night that never happened, every mess, every doctor visit, every forfeited ministry opportunity, every financial sacrifice, and every hour spent watching kid shows.

All of it  . . . absolutely, totally, completely  WORTH IT!

Why? Because all of it . . . every single ounce of “hard” . . . . is sovereignly fashioned by God to draw us closer to Himself.

I know I’m not the only one who is on the verge of a better but harder season of life, deeply thankful for what God has so lavishly provided but also very much aware – and sometimes afraid – of what it’s going to cost. It doesn’t have to be motherhood. It could be a new job, a move, a relationship, a new ministry endeavor, or a whole slew of other changes. Whatever “hard” we might face, we can do what comes so naturally to most of us and choose to dwell on the price tag. Or, we can choose to focus on the gift.

Better yet, we can fix our eyes on the Giver – the all-sufficient, all-wise, all-powerful, sovereign, gracious, loving, sustaining, merciful . . .  Giver. We can wholeheartedly trust that the words of Deuteronomy 31:8 are as true for us as they were for Joshua and the Israelites as they faced a promising yet challenging future: “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

This time I know things I didn’t know before. I know that my life is about to get way better. I also know that it is also about to get way harder. But more than anything, I know that my God is about to prove Himself to be way stronger.

Stronger than every sleepless night. Stronger than every crushing wave of sadness. Stronger than every lonely day. Stronger than every guilt-inducing failure.  Stronger than every “I’m just not cut out for this” moment.

The young woman in that picture was clueless, but thankfully she didn’t stay that way. She still doesn’t feel like she knows a whole lot about motherhood. She does, however, know one thing very, very well: Through the highest highs and lowest lows, her God has been and will forever be perfectly faithful.

It is upon that glorious truth that she hereby chooses to rest her anxious, almost-a-mom-of-two heart.

 

 

When God Withholds

IMG_1672As a mom I have become a master at killing time, particularly those 3-4 hours in between nap time and bed time. For me, those are the hours that drag on forever. That’s the part of my day when I am most likely to end up putting myself in time out. It’s also the part of my day when I am most likely to raid the chocolate chip stash in the back of the freezer. (I’m way too healthy to buy candy, but I always have a secret stash of “ingredients.”)

So for the sake of my sanity and my waistline, it’s best that Shep and I go somewhere in the afternoons. And what better place to kill some time than Super Target? It is perhaps the one place on the planet where mother and child can experience equal amounts of happiness. Shep knows the drill: Starbucks, women’s shoes and accessories, then toys.  It’s a classic “win, win” scenario.

The other day we were in the toy section. I gave Shepherd 15 minutes to look around, told him that we were NOT buying anything, and clarified the consequence if he threw a fit. About 5 minutes in, he spotted a truck he really liked. It was a great truck. It was only a few dollars. He really, really wanted it. I had the ability to buy it. More importantly, I wanted to buy it. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to grant his wish. I wanted to hear his sweet little voice say, “Mommy, you’re the best!”

So I stood there in the toy section incredibly conflicted – torn between the desire to give him what he wanted (the truck) and the desire to give him what he needed (a lesson in restraint).

As we walked out of the store that day (truck-less), it struck me that God never has that experience with His children. He is never conflicted. He never struggles to choose between what He wants to give us and what He knows is best for us. He never ever thinks to Himself, “Man, I really would like to give her ________________, but I probably shouldn’t.” He is utterly incapable of prioritizing our wants over our needs.  He absolutely cannot desire lesser things for us. Here’s why:

1)      He is sovereign.

That means that He is in absolute control over all things. He does whatever He pleases. There is not a single event in the entire universe that can occur outside of His domain.  The same is true of the small, ordinary events of your life. The Bible is replete with references to this amazing attribute:

The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. (Ps. 33:11)

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand. (Prov. 19:21)

There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the LORD. (Prov. 21:30)

Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him. (Ps. 115:3)

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Is. 46:9-10)

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Dan. 4:35)

 [He] works all things after the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11)

Is God is in complete control over which “trucks” you get to take home and which ones you have to leave in the store? In other words, does He have absolute dominion over how and when and where the desires of your heart are fulfilled? Does He get to decide what’s best for you? YES – because He is sovereign.

2)      His wisdom is perfect.

Even the wisest among us are plagued with limited knowledge. We all know what it’s like to stress over an important decision, wondering if we’re are doing the right thing. We make our pro and con lists, seek wise counsel, get as much information as we can, and then do the best with what we know. Oftentimes, what we know is sorely insufficient. If you’ve never experienced that, you will when you become a parent!

God doesn’t have that problem – ever. He knows everything – past, present, and future. He can see what no human eye can see and understand what no human mind can understand. He never has to consult a source outside of Himself. As Jerry Bridges puts it in his book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, “His wisdom is intuitive, infinite, and infallible.” Again Scripture makes this ever so clear:

With Him are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding. (Job 12:13)

His understanding has no limit. (Ps. 147:5)

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Is. 40:28)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Is. 55:8,9)

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. (Dan. 2:20)

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Rom. 11:33)

So not only does God have the power and authority to arrange your life, He has the wisdom to arrange it well. Perfectly, in fact. Because God is sovereign, He ultimately gets what He wants and because He is wise, He always wants what is best. He cannot desire something for you that is not in keeping with His perfect understanding of you, your life, your future, and (most importantly) your role in His overall redemptive plan.   

3)      He loves you.

Because He loves you He cares about you and delights in doing you good:

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Ps. 84:11)

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. (Ps. 86:5)

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps. 103:2-5)

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matt 10:29-31)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35, 37)

There’s something incredibly sweet in knowing that I belong to a God who not only knows what’s best for me, but sincerely desires what’s best for me. He cannot want lesser things for His children. His perfect, unfailing, abiding, immeasurable love won’t allow it.

I don’t know about you, but I need to know that. As I wait for God to answer the cry of my heart in a very specific area of my life, I need to know He’s not conflicted. I need to know He is ordering my steps with an unwavering commitment to my good, which is ultimately for His glory. I need to know that when He says “no” He never regrets it or second guesses Himself. I need to know that He’s not the wimpy dad who gives in when His daughter throws a hissy fit. I need to know He loves me too much to give me want I want at the expense of what I need.  I need to know He wants much, much more for me than I want for myself.

So in those moments of doubt . . . when my unfulfilled longing threatens to undo me . . . when I am at a complete loss to understand what God is doing – I throw myself on the solid rock of who He is.

Upon that rock His sovereignty assures me of His absolute control, His wisdom assures me of His perfect guidance, and His love assures me of His faithful provision.

Together, they remind me that every “truck” withheld is both an act of divine grace and an oh-so-precious opportunity to deepen my trust in the One who holds my life.

Behind every bitter providence lies the promise of a better future. The very nature of your God guarantees it.

How to Fight Fear {and actually win this time}

Fight FearThere we were, sitting on my family room couch. Nothing was too exceptional about the meeting other than the fact that we were both empty-handed. No steaming hot mugs of anything, which is pretty much unheard of in this house.  I have long believed that talking should always involve coffee drinking. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said anything worth repeating without a full-bodied dark roast in hand.

But that night, we had both reached our coffee limit and decided to practice some self-control. I had actually reached mine by noon – one of those days.

She was there to seek counsel about a dating relationship she was in. You know when things are starting to get serious with someone and you’re one big ball of conflicting emotions? That’s where she was and she knew the best course of action was to talk it over with someone completely outside the situation. As she talked one thing became very clear – the relationship was a bad idea and she knew it before she ever even walked into my house.

So why were we there? Why were we discussing the relationship? Why were we having the coffee-less conversation about the various strengths and weaknesses (mainly weaknesses) of a guy that was so obviously not the right fit for her?

The answer came in the form of a question she asked about halfway through the conversation: “What if nobody else ever wants to marry me?”

Did you catch those first two words? If not, go back and read the question again.

WHAT . . .

IF . . .

Powerful words.

Powerful enough to make an intelligent, Bible believing, Jesus loving woman run headlong into a potentially life-altering relationship with a guy whose life bears little to no fruit of godliness.

Terrifying.

Our “what ifs” are that powerful because they express some of our deepest fears – fears of the unknown. They stem from that nagging sense deep inside of us that the future is only what WE make it . . . that the uncertainties of life must be forced to submit to our own wills and desires . . . that no matter what, we must retain control.

Here’s the problem. Each and every day we are reminded that regardless of how much control we think we have over our own destinies, life happens.

Cancer happens.

Infertility happens.

Widowhood happens.

Job loss happens.

Miscarriage happens.

Foreclosure happens.

Marital infidelity happens.

Singleness (for WAY longer than you expected) happens.

Depression happens.

A gunman walking into an elementary school and shooting 20 precious children – that happens too. God help us.

Each and every tragedy that plays out before our eyes is a little seed that – if allowed to take root – will inevitably grow into a potentially paralyzing “what if?”

What if I get cancer?

What if I never get pregnant?

What if my husband dies?

What I lose my job?

What if I lose this baby too?

What if the bank takes our house?

What if my husband cheats?

What if I never get married?

What if this depression never goes away?

What if my child never comes home?

 

What are your “what ifs?”

More importantly, what do you do with them?

 

You basically have two options: First, you can try to overcome them by taking matters into your own hands, carefully manipulating and controlling your circumstances so that they fit your plans for your life. For instance, you can deal with the health related “what ifs” by making clean eating and exercising your family’s savior and lord. You can deal with the “what ifs” related to your children by being the overprotective, helicopter parent. You can deal with the “with ifs” related to having a baby by obsessing over that fertility calendar so much that getting pregnant becomes your full time job.

The problems with this first option should be obvious. First and foremost, most of our control is just an illusion. No matter how hard we try, life simply doesn’t fit into our carefully organized charts and graphs – and we know it. (Which is why the unknown can be so scary!)

Go with this option and you will end up fearful AND controlling – a miserable combination, if there ever was one.

So here’s our second option: We can turn our “what ifs?” into “even ifs.” Here’s what I mean by that . . .

“What if I never get married . . . ?” becomes, “Even if I never get married, my life still matters, I have a significant part to play in God’s kingdom, and God is going to meet every need that I have.”

“What if I never get pregnant . . . ?” becomes, “Even if another month passes without conceiving, God (not me, my husband, or the fertility specialist!) is the author of life, His timing is perfect, He knows how deeply I desire to be a mom, and He is able to make a way where there seems to be no way.”

“What if my child gets caught up in sin . . . ?” becomes, “Even if my child makes horrible choices, his/her life is in the hands of a sovereign God who loves him/her infinitely more than I ever could and is in the business of restoring sinful, broken people to a right relationship with Himself.”

“What if my husband loses his job?” becomes, “Even if my husband loses his job, God will supply all our needs according to His riches and glory.”

 

“What if” statements are based on speculation; “even if” statements are based on truth.

“What if” statements focus our eyes on the unknown; “even if” statements focus our eyes on the Lord.

“What if” statements fuel our fears; “even if” statements fuel our faith.

We can face the unknown with a bunch of terrifying questions, or we can face it with a storehouse of comforting truths – rock solid facts about who God is and what He has promised to do for us as His dearly loved children.

For every “what if” that haunts the hallways of our minds, there’s a fear-crushing “even if” in the pages of our Bibles. We just have to train ourselves to go there.

 

So what will it be? Upon what will you base your life –

Question marks or periods?

Speculation or truth?

Control or trust?

Fear or peace?

“Let your station in life change, and your property be gone; let your whole life be shaken, and you become weak and sickly; then everything flee away – there is one place where change cannot put his finger; there is one name on which mutability can never be written; there is one heart which can never alter; that heart is God’s – that name is Love.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Even if, sweet sister . . . .even if . . .

 

 

 

 

 

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