Soon

13576827_10100713984985605_422606740353858805_oIf this guy had a tattoo, it would read: ADDICTED TO CUDDLES.

He can’t help it; it’s in his genes. After a wonky day where he missed his morning nap and only had a few snoozes here and there, I put him down for what I thought would be a solid afternoon nap. Forty-five minutes later, “MOMMY!!! MOMMY!!! MOMMY!!!” (Okay, no. He doesn’t say that, but that’s what he means.) When I scooped him up and saw his little red-rimmed eyelids, I knew he needed more sleep, and that he needed a little extra help.

So we wrapped up in our favorite wrap and gently bounced. As I patted and petted and hugged my little bundle, I had this thought:  One day soon, he will be in another woman’s arms when he’s worn down. When the world becomes too much for him now, I am his refuge, but that won’t always be. And then — I’ll admit it — with a brief flash of future jealousy, I wondered how I will cope with only hearing from my sons once a week, or every other week, or less. How does a mother’s heart survive this trauma, knowing another woman has stolen her son?!

Refocus.

Oh, this is how You planned it, Lord. Fashioned in a woman, birthed of a woman, nourished through a woman, nurtured by a woman, destined for a(nother) woman. Oh, let her — this other woman — let her be humble and kind.  Both girls — Bennett’s and Luke’s — let them love You fiercely and love my boys fiercely. Let them let their husbands and help their husbands be good men. Let them be humble and kind and holy and brave and strong.

I breathe in his scent, hear his soft snores.

Thank You for these boys, this royalty worth dying for. Thank You for entrusting me with this high and holy calling. Help me to get them ready, for time is so short.

If I had a tattoo, it would say: SOON.

Soon, no one will be pulling at me or screaming for me.
Soon, no one will call me “Mommy.” (Or “MOMMYYYYYYYY!!!”)
Soon, I won’t have to remind anyone that our hands are for showing love and kindness and so are our words, or that God gave us toys so we can share them.
Soon, my chances will be gone, and I’ll hope what I did was enough.

Soon is a word I use to focus myself.

Today, it was a bittersweet moment as I imagined the future. Knowing it will come so soon, yet determining to savor sweet baby breath. Hoping for faithful daughters-in-law, yet cherishing chubby cheeks, wrists, ankles. Soon, this baby will be a man. But right now, he’s a baby, and there’s so much beautiful ahead of us. This is such a good moment. Keep rocking. Keep praying. God is good.

Yesterday, it was a desperate moment as I despaired the present. A preschooler in the other room needed me while I held an inconsolable infant while I internally counseled this tear-soaked woman on her fourth day of fever and sickness with this one word: SOON. Soon, you will feel better. Soon, the baby will stop screaming. Soon, what the preschooler needs help with, he will be able to do on his own. Soon, your babies won’t need you quite so much, and that will be good, but hard. This moment is also good, but hard. Keep rocking. Keep praying. Keep crying, too; it’s okay to fall apart sometimes.

Soon, Mama. Soon.

 

A Letter to My Belly Baby

I wrote this just two weeks before Luke was born, and it will be the first one in his scrapbook. Working on Bennett’s birthday letter reminded me that I never published Luke’s pre-birth-day letter!

My Luke Bryant,

Here I sit, mere days from finally getting to see your precious face, and I’m filled with hopeful expectation, both for that wonderful moment, and for all the moments the Lord has planned for you. I wonder who you’ll look like, what you’ll love, where you’ll find your joy. As I wonder and imagine the possibilities, my greatest prayer for you is that the ultimate answer for all these things in your life will be Jesus. Whether you have brown eyes or blue, light hair or dark, I want more than anything for people to see the Lord shining through your heart. Whether you love baseball or books, whether you take joy in music or mathematics, may you discover that our King holds the only true key to your heart’s desires. I am so excited to learn about you every day for the rest of my life, and I count it among my greatest privileges to show you how uniquely God created you — every little detail of who you are — to shine for His glory.

May you find Him and love Him and serve Him, so that you bring light to all who know you. That is what your name means. Luke means “light,” so I pray that you find THE Light and shine for Him. Bryant means “strong,” and so I pray that you learn what true strength is and from Whom it comes. He is your Light and your Strength. Look to Him in all things, and He will never forsake you.

As we learn and grow together through the years ahead, this will always be my prayer for you. Please forgive the ways I will fail you — because I know I will, every day — and remember instead what my heart’s desire is for you. Shine your light, and remember that Jesus will give you the strength to do it.

Love,
Mommy

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 5:14-16

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
-Joshua 1:9

Maternity Portraits Eternal Stories-2041.jpg

 

2015: Stripped

I had such high hopes for this year. Having turned a corner from failure to focus, I was ready for new spiritual heights — success, joy, fruitful ministry! January started so beautifully, with a clear, divine call out of my invented chaos and into His silent simplicity, and I was so ready for all that God was going to do in the upcoming year.

Except that I wasn’t ready at all. I had no idea what God meant by calling me to simplicity. The loneliness, the pain, the confusion. Maybe by “silence” I thought “peace and quiet.” So much happened that I entered into a new kind of chaos — a total panic. Frankly, I quickly forgot that He had even called me to simplicity until a friend reminded me, but even then it didn’t ring familiar. Embarrassingly late in the year, I remembered that setting spiritual goals was something I even did. What was it this year? I remembered it was just one word, but what was it? In desperation, I pulled out my Life Box and read January’s entries. In addition to “simplicity,” I also found a recurring theme throughout the first two months of this year: rest.

And then these words disappeared from my writing. Everything happened, and I forgot the very reason for everything. I was suddenly panicking in the waves, not remembering that God had already told me to hold tight to my Anchor as He stirred the emotional and spiritual storm. That that’s all I had to do as He led me to simplicity and rest, to a truer understanding of clinging to Him regardless of the weather.

“He led me.” Ha! He dragged me. I feel like He pulled me deeper and deeper beneath the waves until I finally stopped struggling, reaching that moment when a drowning person finally accepts the inevitable — that he’s powerless to prevent death and a strange peace washes over him.

But that peace came late, late in the year. It came well after I re-read the prophecy on those pages, which left me wondering at God, laughing at myself, and then crying at both of us. Most of the year was a wrestling match with the Almighty, who seemed to be bent on plunging me deeper and deeper until I just couldn’t breathe. Maybe what He wanted to die — what was not of Him — is finally dead. But even the good kind of death never comes easy.

He completely broke my heart. He removed everything from me that I found my identity in. He took relationships. He took away any illusion of my having control over anything. He brought me into deep intercession and then devastated me by saying no. He took Ruthie. He took Baby R. He took Jude. He took all my plans and threw them out. He took away my energy, my productivity, and eventually, the freedom to even walk. (Seriously, I had medical restrictions against it for weeks.)

He wasn’t kidding about rest. He literally made me sit. Alone. In a dirty house I couldn’t clean, with a bored preschooler I couldn’t entertain and an overworked husband I couldn’t help or encourage. I was totally depleted and unable to “do” anything but listen. And of course, I had selective hearing.

He never gave up on me, though, wretch though I am. What a year full of beautiful, messy grace this has been.

There have been seasons of my life when God has been silent — when I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with silence. There are great lessons in those times, too, but that is not what this year has been. This year, I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with His power, His grace, His nearness, and the fact that I just don’t understand everything He’s doing. But He has not been silent. He hasn’t answered all my exact questions, but He has been with me in ways that have brought sudden tears many times. I’ve felt Him, and I’ve heard Him. He’s the only one who’s known the devastation in my heart this year, and He never forsook me or told me it was wrong to grieve. He let me grieve, and kept drawing me in.

Two thousand fifteen: a beautiful year. I’m ready (I think) for 2016. I’ve got my listening ears on this time.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

By Hillsong United

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

The City Will Not Be Spared

Stripped.

Worthless.

Misunderstood.

Forgotten.

This is how I am feeling. When you see me and ask how I am, there’s the raw answer. The first is true, or is becoming true, and the other three are lies. I know it. But, it’s how I feel. And the enemy is just so relentless. And loud. And quiet. And ready to pounce.

He’s loving this.

And so is my God. He’s loving it because He brought me here. No, He doesn’t love it when I believe lies, but He loves it when I admit that I am too weak to hear the truth. When I fall on Him and just say, “I can’t.” When I give in and realize that even what I thought were my strengths are actually weaknesses. He’s loving this wilderness season of my life because He’s stripping away the ways that I rely on myself, rest in my own strength, and find my identity in what I think I can do well. He’s loving it because He knows what He’s doing and He sees the end.

I’ve been abiding in a really unexpected passage today from Ezekiel. It’s a prophecy about Jerusalem falling to Babylonian captivity, and how horrible it will be — how God would bring judgment on the city with sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence. Why? Because of idolatry. And yet God tells Ezekiel to be comforted:

“Yet, behold, survivors will be left in it who will be brought out, both sons and daughters. Behold, they are going to come forth to you and you will see their conduct and actions; then you will be comforted for the calamity which I have brought against Jerusalem for everything which I have brought upon it. Then they will comfort you when you see their conduct and actions, for you will know that I have not done in vain whatever I did to it,” declares the Lord God (14:22-23).

The heading in my Bible for this section declares that the city (oh! that beloved city!) will not be spared, and God does not mince words with Ezekiel to that very effect. It will be destroyed. It will buckle under four “severe” judgments (seriously, the original Hebrew word for “severe” is so much more severe than “severe,” so He’s exceptionally serious about this). It sounds hopeless, devastating, rife with horrific pain and loss.

The city will not be spared.

But, Ezekiel, you will have comfort when you see the survivors who will be brought out. The remnant. They will come to you — holy man of God — and not to the “priests” of idols. They will be wholly changed. They will show, by their conduct and actions (CJB “their way of life and how they act”) that they finally know God and serve Him only. He will strip away everything that kept them from Him. And then “you will understand that it was not without good reason that I did what I did” (CJB).

I’m struggling very much right now. God has stripped so much from me that I’ve felt utter chaos in my soul. But what does that reveal? Idolatry. Or, as my pastor said this morning, “a swapping of God’s provision for my own provision.” I didn’t even know that I was doing this, that I was so twisting and misusing His gifts. So, it hurts, but it is not without good reason that He’s doing what He’s doing.

Welcome. I welcome You. Don’t spare what doesn’t honor You. Let this be wholly true of me — strip everything else away:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

— 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Source:	http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1205a/ Author: ESO/S. Brunier

(Special thanks to Debbie Stuart, Bo Dauster, and Jonny Harrison for preaching truth.)

Year Three Birthday Letter

100_4321 Dear Bennett,

What a full and fun year this has been! You’ve grown from speaking just simple sentences that only Daddy and I could understand to having entire conversations with people. I love that you’ll talk to anyone, without reservation, and you’re always so glad to see people you know. You often greet them with the most adorable and excited “Oh, hey!” that just warms everyone’s heart. As your vocabulary has expanded, so has your delight for silly, made-up words! Among your favorites this year have been “goggyx,” “lofkins,” and “exibent,” which all have very flexible meanings. And although your favorite number changes daily, you almost always say “5 and 3” when I ask you how many of anything you want: carrots, hugs, whatever. “Five and three, please!”

You’ve grown up a lot this year in other ways, too. On your last birthday, you still wore diapers and slept in a baby bed, but now you’re potty trained and sleeping in a big-boy bed. What!? You’re so big! You even aced your first year IMG_0955of home school — which you loved — and you finished your first swimming class. And even though you cried the first few times I dropped you off, you grew to love BSF more than anything in the world (with Urban Air running a close second). You have even declared Tuesday your favorite day because you get to go to BSF. Now we’re just waiting for it to start again in… wait, when does it start? Yep, you already know — September! B-S-F!!! B-S-F!!!

As exciting as all of these things have been, my favorite thing about this year has been watching you grow in your sensitivity to people and in interceding for them. You treat others with such a gentle and caring spirit that can only be a gift from God. And although there are many examples of your heart for prayer, the biggest this year has been for your “Ms. Chantatel” as she fought against cancer. You have undoubtedly been one of her most faithful intercessors, and you have driven me to me prayer many times for her and for many other people in times of deep need, even though we had no way of knowing they needed our prayers so badly. There is no explanation for that other than you responding to the Holy Spirit, and I am humbled by your sensitivity to Him. My prayer for you is that you nurture this gift and keep listening for God to lead you deeper into His presence. He is growing your heart to be like His, and I am so blessed to be your mommy! Don’t ever forget that you’re my favorite Bobo. Happy birthday!

 

Love,

Mommy

What is Courage?

This morning, my not-yet-three-year-old son went completely underwater *on purpose* for the first time. After two weeks of IMG_0955swimming lessons and countless “tries” that included only dipping down to mid-ear, he agreed with his swim teacher that on the last day of lessons, he’d do it. That day was today, and he spent five minutes with me trying. He kept getting a little deeper and a little deeper, and then he finally did it! Do you know what I said to him when he came back up? “That was SO brave!”

But was it? Based on a lot of public opinions I’ve seen on the topic of bravery over the last few months, I’m wondering if I may have used the wrong word.  Not all people who do scary-to-them things are recognized as brave. So, what exactly is bravery? How do we define courage, and why?

I think so many Christians — not wrongly — wrap up their definitions of courage and bravery with a sense of obedience to God, regardless of the cost. Trusting that God will fight for you; honoring Him when everyone else opposes you. This is very Biblical. The first verse I thought of regarding courage was “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and very courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 — probably a conglomeration of different versions). And there are very many others along the same lines. It has become natural to many of us to interpret courage from a spiritual standpoint, but does that therefore exclude people who don’t believe the same as us? Or align with our morals and values? If what they stand for is not Biblical, can they ever be truly brave in actually standing for it?

Publicly changing your gender doesn’t quite seem to fit the Conservative Christian mold, and generally, Conservative Christians (including famous, leader-types) are being awfully snippy and rude about how some are recognizing this act as an act of bravery. But is that really fair? (Or loving?)

19006598825_f67d5615ec_oCaitlyn Jenner is being compared to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc., as though their courageous acts negate hers. True, the former Olympian didn’t put her life on the line for anyone else. Or did she?

Have you noticed how she’s been vilified, ridiculed, mocked, and virtually spat upon since she (while still a “he”) went public in an interview with Diane Sawyer? She knew that would happen, yet she still did it. She intentionally went public. Was it for her own publicity? Maybe a little bit; she is a celebrity after all. But did you listen to her speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage? I did — you can watch it on YouTube. Here are some of the things she had to say:

  • People are dying. Literally — today, yesterday, tomorrow. People are killing themselves and being killed because of gender identity issues. They’re being bullied, harassed, abused. Every day. Someone needs to help.
  • With the spotlight comes responsibility. Speaking to a room full of athletes and celebrities, she reminded them that how they conduct themselves matters.
  • Accept people. People are going to be different. Accept them anyway.
  • Trans people deserve respect. And the inevitable byproduct of respecting them is having compassion for them.

Really great, Biblical points, by the way. MY point is that she’s not doing it just for herself. Caitlyn Jenner put herself out there intending to help other people. Regardless of whether we agree with her beliefs, values, or methods, the fact remains that she is willfully positioning herself to be ripped apart by Christians in an effort to help the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared — the ones we’re tragically not that great at loving — in a way she thinks will give them hope. Knowing the inevitable backlash, she still moved forward with others’ pain as a major motivator.

Isn’t that ironic? What love she’s showing, and what judgment and ugliness we’re throwing back at her.

I would definitely call her courageous.

 

Discipline and Selfishness

Recently, I read a very good blog post about busy moms in the trenches of baby-/toddler-/preschooler-rearing and how we need The Church. I loved it, even though avoiding church out of exhaustion isn’t a particular struggle of mine. Still, a certain Scripture stood out from the article:

…make my [the apostle Paul’s] joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

~Philippians 2:2-4

The application in the above-referenced blog was to parenting, and how even though we may miss out on sermons or worshiping because of a fussy baby or a defiant toddler or preschooler, we need to refocus and consider our children’s needs as more important than our own. Bingo. I loved that. I “liked” it. And then I set about making breakfast.

Bennett (my nearly-three-year-old) was busy playing cars, waiting for breakfast to be ready. I communicated that he would play until breakfast was ready, which would be in just about five minutes. I gave him a two-minute warning. And finally, I let him know it was time to come to the table. OH THE HORROR!!! Flailing limbs, much wailing and gnashing of teeth, “BUT I’M NOT DONE PLAYING CARS!!!!!” Waaah waaah, whine, whine, scream.

I had a truly textbook response. It was a proud mom moment. I calmly and sweetly said to him, “Oh, my. Is that how we talk to Mom? Let’s try standing up, using your Big Boy Voice, and telling me what you need to tell me.”

It couldn’t have worked better — he promptly stood up, wiped his eyes, and stuffed down his whimpers as he c8471029060_40cabca059_oalmly asked, “Can I play cars for one more minute, please?” VICTORY! Glory hallelujah and amen. I said that he *could* have one more minute, and “thank you for your respectful attitude. In one more minute you will come to the table and eat breakfast with Mama. Yes ma’am?”

“Yes ma’am!”

One minute came and went, and it was a total train wreck from there. I won’t give you a play-by-play, but it ended with my removing him from his spot at the table, walking him to the living room, and having a discussion face-to-face, which was reinforced on his backside, and then leading him in repentance, prayer, and hugs.

The whole thing took so long (it always does; thanks Tedd Tripp!), that my eggs and muffin were ice-freaking-cold when we finally got back to the table. It would have been so much easier to just let him play with his dang cars until he decided he was done, and then let HIM eat cold breakfast alone.

As I sat down (after reheating my food), I remembered Paul’s words. Here’s a VERY amplified “paraphrase,” courtesy of yours truly:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind with the Lord. Remember His mandate on parents and children — you *must* take the time and effort to discipline, as obedience to authority is at the heart of serving God. How can you obey God if you never learned to obey your parents? Maintain the same love — God disciplines those He loves. Unite in spirit with His Spirit, and be intent on one purpose: shepherding and disciple-making. Do nothing from selfishness (like wanting to eat a hot breakfast in peace) or empty conceit (like worrying about what other people will think), but with humility of mind regard your child as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the long-term, eternal interests of your child. It may seem like this is about breakfast and cars, but this is an important battle in the fierce war that is being waged for his soul. 

That’s some pretty fancy “exegesis,” isn’t it? Even so, the principles remain the same, even if Paul wasn’t really talking about parenting, eggs, or Hot Wheels.

Whenever I choose not to deal with misbehavior or defiance, I am putting my own needs above my son’s. Whether it’s my need to spend my next several minutes doing such-and-such pressing thing, or my need to avoid judgment in public, or my need to just not expend the energy right now, whenever I fail to discipline swiftly and appropriately, I am putting myself before my son. I’m choosing my own comfort and desires over the spiritual well-being of my son.

So, what?

So, this is my new go-to Scripture when I am reluctant to respond the way I should — “Angela, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Amen. (And Lord, help me.)