Motherhood & Spiritual Disciplines

Motherhood & Spiritual DisciplinesThis is how most mornings look around here. Some time between 6:30am and 7am I’m joined by at least one or two kids (this morning all four jumped in bed). I read my Bible between snuggles, baby dolls, blankets, often Legos, breakfast requests (Can I have my Valentine candy? No.), and voices that are not quite morning tones, but still I read and try to journal notes if someone hasn’t already stolen my pen.

There have been seasons I have allowed myself to get really frustrated that this “quiet time” (a phrase that can be so unhelpful) was regularly interrupted by my early morning risers and I struggled to find other times in the day to soak in the Word. I longed for the days when getting up early meant 6am and I could spend a solid 30 minutes to an hour to read and study the Word and pray in silence as it’s “suppose to be.”

Let’s take a detour here. Quiet time? It’s a phrase widely used across AmericanChristendom, coined to describe a spiritual discipline of beginning the day reading the Scriptures and in prayer. It comes with the connotation that this is the ultimate ideal. Before you attend to anything else in your day, you should be in the Word and praying. This is what godly people do if they really love the Lord. You’re giving the Lord your first fruits, filling up for the day, you’ll fail if you don’t, etc. It’s no wonder so many mothers are discouraged, disheartened, and believe they’re failing at the Christian life.

When you’re waking every few hours to nurse, rock a baby back to sleep, clean up accidents or vomit, awakened to a child standing over your bed asking for water/milk/food/a cuddle, it’s no wonder when the morning light starts to peek through they’re not ready for a morning coffee in their favorite arm chair next to a basket with their Bible, prayer journal, personal journal,  and devotional or Bible study. They’re exhausted. Nevermind that the day before they probably spent 16 hours on their feet serving their family in some capacity or another.  The thing they want and need the most–more Jesus–feels so far off in the constant demand of children and running a house. From my experience, it’s not a lack of desire that keeps women from the Word, but exhaustion and a framework of spiritual disciplines that are unhelpful.

The idea of a quiet time is good in and of itself, but the emphasis we place on it, particularly that is must happen first thing in the morning and how often the weight of sanctification is placed on that thirty minutes to an hour of time can be harmful. Strive for time spent in the Word, pray often. Yes, Jesus often went off by himself in the morning to pray and commune with the Lord, but neither of these things must happen in your first hour or two. They should permeate all of our day in different ways.

Detour ended. You may continue.

Motherhood & Spiritual Disciplines

Two things have helped me to just do it anyway, even if the circumstances aren’t my ideal.

First, a pastor’s wife I knew once told me a story about a young mom who prior to having children had long, in-depth, meditative quiet times between 1-2 hours a day and after having kids she tried to keep this discipline. She ended up putting her children in high chairs at the table, giving them snacks and toys, while she tried to have her old quiet time. They would cry and try to get out, clamoring and just being little kids. It left her exasperated. She couldn’t meet the Lord in the Word the same way as she had before, though she tried hard to force it.

I remember the pastor’s wife saying your quiet time is going to change when you have kids. It’s going to look different and that’s okay. Too often we put too much stock in what we think, or have been led to believe, a “quiet time” is suppose to look like and rather than just read the Word we get caught up in all the steps we think we’re suppose to do. Just open up your Bible and read.

Second, I’ve learned the hard way it does me no good to get ridiculously frustrated over things that are really not that important or I can’t control. Spills, messes, poop catastrophes, the crumbs after every single meal, children having needs, interruptions in my plans–and I use to let that stuff rile me up daily, to the point I felt offended that my children were, well, being children. But what good did that do me? It didn’t serve me or them. It did more to break our relationship and cause a greater divide, than endear my heart to them. Essentially, it raised a mom versus the children mentality, setting me up to fight my children rather than to love and serve them well. (And, yes, I still get frustrated and have an occasional bout of “Why me?!” along with “I’m quitting!,” but not nearly with the same regularity. Thank you, Jesus!)

My kids are early risers? So what. I’m not pulling out the Greek as much as I use to? That’s fine. Sometimes I have to reread a passage, because the noise is too loud for me to even know what I read. Other times the baby is bouncing on my lap grabbing the pages of my Bible. I may read a passage and have no idea what it means or how it connects to the bigger picture. If I’m doing a study, I may not get to all the questions I want to or even understand the question if little ones are hanging over me. Sometimes I feel I’ve lost some of my critical thinking brain cells in mothering. That’s okay.

These things will pass, but don’t wait until they’re gone to develop a spiritual discipline of reading the Word. It’s going to be imperfect and that’s okay. You may not feel warm fuzzies and the fire on the mountain. You’re reading the Word. You’re making a habit. Even if you feel you’re getting nothing out of it, do it. It’s not pointless. You’re laying the brickwork in your own heart that this is where you come to feast. These Words, these pages are the brook, the well to quench your thirst. No broken cisterns here, this is the green pasture of rest. These are the words of life and they are the light of men.

Don’t wait for your ideal circumstance to read the Word regularly. Do it anyways.

There’s so much more to say, but if you’re a mom you probably have a little one calling for you right now. Mine are about ready for lunch. So, meet back here in a day or two? We’ll talk about some practical resources and how to incorporate the Word and prayer into the rhythm of our days.

Don’t lose heart. He is faithful to keep you.

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Lingering Grief of the Named Unspoken

The Named Unspoken: The Lingering Grief of MiscarriageThere are some hurts that never go away.

It’s been nearly eight years since we lost our first baby. It hurts to even say that. Seven years ago, I should’ve been holding a baby in my arms, due a week before Mother’s Day. But my arms were empty.

Miscarriage is a painful and twisted story that never really leaves. Sometimes it hurts so bad I clench my teeth in screams, there have been days where death seemed a better welcome. I know some would say that’s ridiculous and that these children of mine weren’t really babies. They hadn’t breathed yet, right? Were they viable outside the womb?

Or they tell me at least it wasn’t worse than so-and-so, that somehow losing a child at 10 weeks is easier than losing a child at 20 weeks, full-term, etc. It doesn’t feel easier. It feels lonely and painful.

Miscarried babies are easily dismissed in our culture, even among Christians. They’re the not real babies, the practice pregnancies, the ones we don’t talk about because we’re not sure how to make sense of a baby that dies in the womb. It makes the journey even more isolating and heartbreaking.

I’m jealous of those people who’ve gotten to hold their babies as they passed or at least gotten to see their little faces. I didn’t get that. I got “That’s just how things go” along with “Better luck next time” and “It just wasn’t meant to be.” Lonely and painful.

The Named Unsoken: The Lingering Grief of MiscarriageI’m pregnant with my seventh child. With every prenatal appointment, the nurse goes through the list. Blood pressure. Good. Any new meds? No. Same address? Yes. Seventh pregnancy. Yes. The number seems unreal. I have to recount myself, is that right?

I’ve prayed that if I lose this baby, Lord please let it be far enough along I can see their face. Each prenatal appointment is a prayer of “Oh God, please let there be a heartbeat. Please don’t let this baby be dead.” When those ocean tones come through, especially after a lengthy time finding the heartbeat, the praise is “The baby’s not dead!” Morbid, maybe. Reality, yes.

It’s a tormenting, twisted reality. I miss babies I’ve never met. And I feel guilty for missing them. If I had our first and fourth babies I wouldn’t have Joey or Olivia, same with our sixth baby and this current pregnancy. I feel guilt for loving the ones who are here and loving the ones who are not, that by somehow loving one I’m denying or ungrateful for the other. I fear when Joey and Olivia understand the overlap in pregnancies and if they see me cry or sad over these children they’ll think they aren’t wanted or loved. I feel torn between loving the living and the dead.

I’ve struggled to see God answer other’s prayers and see miraclesof what science says should not be. Was sustaining the life inside me so hard? I believe He could do it, why did He choose not to? It would’ve been simple for him. A word, a breath and it would’ve been a different story. Why does this have to be my story three times over?

There’s a story behind each baby and each miscarriage, of the way God carried me even when it was dark and He seemed more than absent. One day I’ll tell those. But for right now, I want to do something I’ve never done. I want to introduce you to our children in heaven by name.

We’ve held their names close for so long. It’s felt too vulnerable to share them at large. Their names are the one thing that marks their existence in a world where they left no evidence. But I love them just the same and I know one day I’ll meet them in glory without a tear on my face. That day…I can hardly imagine the joy of meeting them and seeing the beginning from the end. So be it.

The Named Unspoken: The Lingering Grief of Miscarriage

Addison Justice ∫ September 2007

The Lord is righteous in all his ways  and kind in all his works. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.Psalm 145: 17, 19

Jordan Ebenezer ∫ December 2011

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;  the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:16-17

Riley Glory ∫ July 2014

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. Psalm 3:3,5

* * * * * *

I’m going to be bold here for just a minute. I know miscarriage, stillbirths, and infant loss are more common than most imagine. I know this is a painful time of year to remember babies we didn’t get to hold, children we had to bury.

If you’re willing, and I know it’s hard, will you share the names of those you’re longing for? They may not have been long for this world, but they are still our beloved children and, even in this, you are not alone.

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Songs for Life

Songs for LifeIt’s been so long since I’ve sat down to write, to truly type out words of the heart. I’m aching for it, but pregnancy exhaustion and the depths there are to delve hold me back. Soon, I think. I hope.

There are words waiting.

When words are absent and slow, let the poets, the songwriters, the Truth proclaimers speak for us. For me, that happens in song.

I have playlists for everything—seasons, birthdays, getting dressed, parties, moods. This one I originally named Mother Artist, which makes sense to me in my life, but…they really apply to everyone.

I’m not a fan of most mainstream Christian music (including worship music), on the whole I don’t feel it gives an honest portrayal of life, especially when you consider how wide the spectrum of a life of faith is. Here you’ll find some of my favorite songs for life, for when life is a struggle, depression and sorrow loom, for love, for all those bits and pieces of life that don’t always fit into a neat category. 

And, of course, I had to include some of my favorite lyrics.

You’ll find a lot of repeats from Sara Groves, Christa Wells, Andrew Peterson, and JJ Heller. These are artists I love who write and sing the struggles and joys of life, loss, apathy, depression, thanks, love, redemption, and identity in a beautifully truthful way. I’ve said it before, but Sara Groves has done more for my theology than probably any one author or theologian.

You can find the playlist on Spotify: Songs for Life.

Just click shuffle and you’ll be set.

Songs for Life

10553633_10152188421137190_2649990657033543279_nFor When the Darkness Will Not Lift & It’s Difficult to Breathe

  • Maybe There’s a Loving God, Sara Groves, “Maybe this was made for me, For lying on my back in the middle of a field, Maybe that’s a selfish thought, Or maybe there’s a loving God”
  • It’s Going To Be Alright, Sara Groves
  • It Might Be Hope, Sara Groves
  • Peace, Peace, Sara Groves, “Peace, peace, it’s hard to find, Trouble comes like a wrecking ball to your peace of mind”
  • This Thing Is Not Going to Break You, Christa Wells
  • Who You Are, JJ Heller, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who You are. You have a Father’s heart and a love that’s wild and You know what it’s like to lose, yeah, you know what it’s like to lose a child” 
  • A Thousand Things, Christa Wells, But in the midst of the most exquisite pain  you’re drawn into a peace that you cannot explain and the praises you sing of a sovereign God reach the girl whose last hope is gone she never thought there was purpose in anything here now the seed has been planted and it’s taking root there”
     (This song’s not on Spotify, but it’s one of my all-time favorites.)
  • How Emptiness Sings, Christa Wells, “Sister carries her loneliness,In a hidden hollow inside her chest, And sometimes all that she wants is an end, To the long, long night, But ooh her bow is on the strings, And the tune resonates in the open space to show us how emptiness sings, Glory to God, Glory to God! In fullness of wisdom, He writes my story into his song, My life for the glory of God.” (Also, not on Spotify. But so, so good.)
  • Even Though, More Than Rubies (Christa Wells/Nicole Witt), “Even though we lose it all, we’ll not be lost, Behold this love of God has ransomed us, He’s ransomed us”
  • You’ll Find Your Way, Andrew Peterson, “And I know you’ll be scared when you take up that cross, And I know it’ll hurt, ’cause I know what it cost, And I love you so much and it’s so hard to watch, But you’re gonna grow up and you’re gonna get lost, Just go back, go back, Go back to the ancient paths, Lash your heart to the ancient mast, And hold on boy, whatever you do, to the hope that’s taken ahold of you”  This is my prayer for my children.

1422462_10152212924402190_6924853881215478006_nFor When You’re Ready to Wake Up & Fight…for Life, for Joy, for Purpose

  • Wake Me Up, Aloe Blacc, “Feeling my way through the darkness, Guided by a beating heart, I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start”
  • Just Showed Up for My Own Life, Sara Groves, “I was in love with an idea, Preoccupied with how a life should appear, Spending my time at the surface repairing the holes in the shiny veneer, There are so many ways to hide, There are so many ways not to feel, There are so many ways to deny what is real”
  • Eyes on the Prize, Sara Groves
  • Painting Pictures of Egypt, Sara Groves
  • Redemption, JJ Heller, “Someday we will remember how to fly and we will rise like embers burning bright, everything broken will be whole again” (this is what I wear on my wrist)
  • Set Free, More Than Rubies (Christa Wells/Nicole Witt)
  • Keep Breathing, Ingrid Michaelson
  • Run, Delta Rae
  • Dog Days Are Over, Florence + The Machine
  • Learning to Love Again, Mat Kearney, “‘Cause that was the real you running through the fields of gold wide open, Standing in places no picture contains,That was the real you, windows down, we could smell the mint fields crying”

10570505_10152212925102190_4366846145370972846_nFor When You Need to be Reminded You Actually Like that Guy You Married

  • Dancing in the Minefields, Andrew Peterson, “We bear the light of the Son of Man, so there’s nothing left to fear, So I’ll walk with you through the Shadowlands until the shadows disappear”
  • Home, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes
  • Different Kinds of Happy, Sara Groves
  • Boat Song, JJ Heller
  • Wherever Is Your Heart, Brandi Carlile, “Wherever is your heart, I call home” 

For When You Need Grace for Yourself

  • Thy Mercy, My God, Sandra McCracken, “Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own, And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son; All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine, Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine.”
  • Control, JJ Heller
  • The Broken Beautiful, Ellie Holcomb

10268662_10152607539867190_3343918001854171576_nFor When You Need to Be Reminded of Truth & Beauty

  • Something Beautiful, NeedtoBreathe
  • Don’t You Want to Thank Someone, Andrew Peterson, “Don’t you ever wonder why, In spite of all that’s wrong here, There’s still so much that goes so right, Beauty Abounds”
  • Add to the Beauty, Sara Groves, “And I want to add to the beauty, To tell a better story, Shine with the light, That’s burning up inside”
  • When the Saints, Sara Groves, “And when I’m weary and overwrought, With so many battles left unfought, I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard, I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars, And when the Saints go marching in, I want to be one of them”
  • Feed Your Soul, Christa Wells
  • Shine Your Light On Me, Andrew Peterson
  • Sparrow, Audrey Assad

10437560_10152596173737190_1415132247035116072_nFor When You Need to Come Into Your Own

  • I’m Gonna Fly, Amy Grant
  • Shine, Christa Wells, “He shines his light through a prism, We give back what we’re given to color this world”
  • Brave, Sara Bareilles
  • Sooner or Later, Michael Tolcher
  • Loved, JJ Heller, “Do you keep your thoughts inside your head? Will you regret the things you never said? You have a voice, You have to use it, You have a choice”
  • Fool With a Fancy Guitar, Andrew Peterson

For When You Need to Raise Your Eyes to a Higher Purpose

  • Kingdom Comes, Sara Groves
  • Love Is Still a Worthy Cause, Sara Groves
  • Planting Trees, Andrew Peterson, “So many years from now, long after we are gone, these trees will spread their branches out and bless the dawn”
  • You are the Sun, Sara Groves
  • Visible Invisible, More Than Rubies, “The broken wait for healing, the orphans long for home, the slaves all cry for freedom, There is hope, There is hope. We are the visible invisible, We are the flesh and bone of Your redeeming love”
  • We Will All Be Changed, Seryn

For When You Need to Know This is Not the End

  • Be OK, Ingrid Michaelson
  • Kingdom Come, JJ Heller, “Life is but a dream at best, Morning’s coming soon, Kingdom come will bring us rest, All will be made new”
  • The Reckoning (How Long), Andrew Peterson, “And I know you hear the cries of every soul tonight, You see the teardrops as they roll tonight, Down the faces of saints, Who grow weary and faint in your fields […] I believe You will come
    Your justice be done, but how long?”
  • After the Last Tear Falls, Andrew Peterson, “We’ll see how the tears that have fallen, Were caught in the palms Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all, And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales”

For When You Need to Know You’re Loved

  • You Cannot Lose My Love, Sara Groves
  • Everybody, Ingrid Michaelson
  • The Pretty & The Plain, JJ Heller, “I know you came for the pretty and the plain, I hear you calling out my name. I know you came for the sinner and the saint, and I will never be the same”
  • Being Loved, Christa Wells, ” ‘Cause being loved is a hard thing to take, We are born unclothed, As we came, we will go, From the first we are known”

For When You Just Need to Get Up & Dance

  • Shut Up & Dance, Walk the Moon
  • Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey
  • Hey, Soul Sister, Train
  • Just the Way You Are, Bruno Mars
  • Hey Mama, Mat Kearney
  • She Got the Honey, Mat Kearney

My current favorite playlist is Midsummer Night, just be warned it’s full of bluegrass, folk, and indie goodness. If you’re in a season of sorrow, Songs for the Brokenhearted is a playlist I put together last summer after our third miscarriage. I wanted music that would allow me to grieve, but still point me to Jesus.

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Perfect {scattered & pixelated} Peace

There are blocks and puzzle pieces scattered across the bare floor. A ball and a few cheerios keep them company. It’s so easy to see the pieces of our lives scattered, messy, waiting for someone to come along and pull us back together.

I string up the blinds and light welcomes itself into the room. The window screen reminds me how often my pictures look pixelated, grainy. When I edit I use the Tranquil effect, blurring pixels into an ethereal glow. It doesn’t pass me that I use Tranquil to quiet the fuzziness of my everyday life.

I’m learning to stop calling it mundane.

In the process, in the living of the picture, it feels broken, smudged, scattered—not as it should be. It lacks the feel of hope…of life, I desire. The image of peace and tranquility I strain for isn’t crushed cheerios and fallen wooden towers.

But then—the pixelated grain blurs to shine in time and there, in that moment of raising blinds, peering through meshed screen, this is peace.

There is no perfect life, no perfect home, no idealized reality.

But there is perfect peace.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,  because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:8

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A Love for Real Life

Real love, like real life, has no boundaries.I set the vase on the shelf. Light pours through the window dancing off the rosebuds.

They look so pretty sitting there.

I look down.

The remnants of an early morning wake-up and Bible bookmarks. I’m tempted to move them. They’ll soil the picture of perfect.

The thought comes to me,

Real love, like real life, has no boundaries.

This real love gift is part of my real life: flowers, saline solution, receipts, and all. There aren’t walls to erect that’ll keep the messy out. It’s all part of my life…this love.

We have stains and drop popcorn on the floor. We leave the bathroom door open and talk about things that’d embarrass. Circles darken our eyes and we wake-up with morning breath. We get frustrated, lose tempers, and can’t hear each other over the noise the kids are making.

We steal kisses in scattered, scrambled moments. We laugh and hold those heart connecting moments in seconds instead of hours. Often I laugh at the romantic notions I had in those early days. Oh, they’re nice, but they don’t last.

To be romantic, love had to fit a certain picture: clean, reliable with a hint of spontaneity, filled with flowers and songs strummed and long walks under the stars.

That was before kids and pain, bills and deadlines, the hard places and the just getting by…before the in-between became real life back when I still held love as that wedding day photo in a gilded frame.

But this—

this love is better. It’s real. All of it. And it’s ours for the taking.

Real love is more than a perfect picture.

Real love doesn’t give up when life get dirty. Real love clings to Christ’s promises when life feels lifeless. Real love wipes sweat and vomit. Real love bears under the weight of lost jobs and new jobs. Real love holds you when you feel unlovable.

It isn’t pristine. It may be little smudged around the edges, but it’s hardy and tough. It’ll last long after the perfect picture fades.

 

 

**Edited from the archives.**

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