A Harvest of Joy from the Hardest of Days

landon_fussySeptember was a landmark month for me.  On September 1st, after a nearly two year break, I stood in front of a group of women, opened my Bible, and taught again.

I’ve started a lot of Bible studies, but this one has been the sweetest by far. The mad rush to keep my boys alive AND get my lesson done in time, a dining room table perpetually covered with notes and commentaries and coffee cups, the sheer exhaustion of 4:30 a.m. study sessions – it’s all been so very satisfying. I’m just really, truly grateful. More so than I’ve ever been. I seem to have stumbled upon a wellspring of joy-in-ministry unlike anything I’ve known before. Teaching Bible study has always made me happy, but this time I’m simply overwhelmed in the best way imaginable.

I keep asking myself why it’s so different. If anything, I expected this one to be the hardest. I expected to lack enthusiasm, creativity, and desire.  I thought for sure the struggle of the last couple years would cast an unwelcomed shadow on my sincere attempt to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Don’t get me wrong, not once did I doubt that God would be faithful to do His part in transforming hearts through the power of His word. I just figured that instead of working through me, He’d have to work around me this time.

Trials come in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes the bottom completely falls out: a spouse loses a job, a loved one is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, a rebellious child begins to self-destruct, a husband cheats, a beloved family home goes into foreclosure. . . these are “big” trials. They are the kind we can’t image being able to endure until that moment when we find ourselves smack in the middle of one and realize that God’s grace really is sufficient.

But more often than not, the trials we face aren’t the bottom-falling-out “big” kind. They are the never-letting-up “little” kind. By themselves, these kinds of trials aren’t all that hard to deal with. But have you ever noticed that they rarely ever happen by themselves?

IMG_0242About a year and a half ago my sweet Landon was born. The birth of a child automatically brings about a whole slew of seemingly never-letting-up “small” trials: sleep deprivation, crazy hormone fluctuations, nursing challenges, body image issues, and the paralyzing stress of a perpetually unfinished “to do” list. And that’s if you have a perfectly healthy, happy baby. God didn’t see fit to give us one of those.

I’ve spent a year and a half trying to keep a generally unhappy, sickly child from driving us all crazy. After tubes, an adenoidectomy (which did nothing), a bronchoscopy (he has an artery compressing his trachea and surgery scheduled in November, but that’s  another story), and a sedated MRI of his chest and sinuses doctors finally concluded that our incredibly adorable “Mr. Grumpy Pants” has basically had a sinus infection for most of his life. Some kids take a daily vitamin. Ours takes a daily dose of penicillin.

Turns out spending several months consoling a child who rarely feels good can be pretty depressing. It can make you feel isolated and lonely and sad. It can make you feel trapped and suffocated by your own life. It can make you wonder if you’re cut out for this while painfully exposing your most profound insecurities as a mother. “Why am I the only mom who isn’t loving this?” Comparison. Perceived failure. Guilt. Frustration. Anger. Depression. All woven in and out of this incredibly blessed life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the whole world.

landon_fussy_2In many ways life shrinks when a baby comes along, and even more so if that baby is harder than average. I wish I could say that I embraced the “shrinking” with acceptance and joy. That’s not quite how it went down. But I’m getting there. And I’m realizing once again that it’s in the shrinking that we experience the most growth. If I want Jesus to increase in my life, I have to decrease. (Jn. 3:30) There’s simply no other way. I’m not so sure “decreasing” is something we can do all by ourselves no matter how much we think we want it. In my experience, pride inevitably wins out. But God graciously fights for our whole hearts, for our complete surrender, for our sincere self-giving. He graciously labors for our humility. That’s what motherhood has been for me – a knock-down-drag-out with my incredibly selfish heart. And we wonder why it’s so hard…

Needless to say, right now my life is not the ideal “setting” for a Bible teacher to do her thing. BUT….I’m finding out that it’s the perfect setting for God to do His. Turns out those little trials, all strung together and woven throughout my everyday life in the last year or so have forever altered the fabric of my heart. This thing we call “motherhood” – with all of its small, everyday “never-letting-up” challenges – has proven to be the most profound and sacred pathway to an ever deepening dependence on the Lord. It’s ruined me . . . in the best way imaginable.

In the book of James we are commanded to rejoice in the various trials we face because they test our faith and in doing so produce the invaluable qualities of endurance and spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). While I would have loved to spend the last couple of years enjoying a happy baby, writing blog posts, and pouring God’s Word into the lives of women, I am fully aware that not a single millisecond of this stuck-at-home-with-a-fussy-kid season has been a waste. James 1:4 is coming alive right before my very eyes . . . on the canvas of my own heart! The somber grey hues of this challenging season have only served to enhance the stunning brilliance of His grace. As any artist knows, depth cannot be achieved without some darkness.

From a ministry standpoint, nothing has really changed. I’m teaching at the same church to a lot of the same women. This study isn’t any different. But I am.

That’s why it’s sweeter. That’s why it’s so much more fun. Through this incredibly challenging season of motherhood, God has shrunk my pride and in turn enlarged my capacity for joy. He’s fought hard for that which I didn’t even know I was missing. I’m confident He’s doing the same thing for you!

So today let’s choose to thank God for the bitter-sweet providence of faith refined in those really hard seasons of motherhood. We may be overworked, overwhelmed, overtired, or just plain OVER IT.  But because He is good and gracious and oh-so-faithful, the hardest of days can and will produce a harvest of joy. “Oh Lord . . . we wait in expectation” (Ps. 5:3).

If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

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Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

For My Mom

Not all beautiful baby girls are born into beautiful families.Some are born into brokenness.

Some are born into poverty.

Some are placed into hands that are well meaning, but ill-equipped. Some are entrusted to hearts that want to love, but can’t.

Some are brought into houses too ravaged by sin and selfishness to ever really be homes.

Not every beautiful baby girl gets handed a beautiful life.

Some have to reach out and take hold of it for themselves . . . some have to choose a different path . . . some have to cultivate a new family tree . . . some have to really believe that all their yesterdays do not predetermine their tomorrows . . . some have to utterly forsake failure and run hard after freedom . . . some have to resolve to stop the sin cycle in its tracks and birth a whole new generation that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.

My mom was one of those baby girls.

And today I want to say thank you . . .

  • Thank you for saying “yes” to Jesus, not just the day you asked Him to be your Lord and Savior, but every single day since then as well.
  • Thank you for choosing forgiveness and, in turn, choosing to love with a whole heart.
  • Thank you for choosing to learn what your mom wasn’t able to teach you.
  • Thank you for making our house a home . . . a haven . . . a refuge . . . a little taste of heaven on earth.
  • Thank you for loving and serving my dad so faithfully.
  • Thank you for adopting my brother – a long, hard, OH-SO-WORTH-IT act of faith that continues to reward us all.
  • Thank you for making all of our special days so very special. Every tradition we have, you created. It thrills my heart to carry them on.
  • Thank you for allowing Jesus to bear your burdens and tend to your wounds so that your children never had to.
  • Thank you for loving God’s Word. Obviously, it was contagious.
  • Thank you for proving that in Christ dysfunction is a choice and for never allowing it in our home.
  • Most of all, thank you for showing me that the gospel doesn’t just have the power to transform individuals – It has the power to transform generations.

Not all baby girls are born into beautiful families, but I was. By God’s grace and the faithfulness of a woman who chose to walk a different path, I was.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you mom.

I love you so very, very much.

My mom holding my boy.

My mom holding my boy.

 

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