Slow Down: What Our Longings Tell Us

Boys newborn beauSo in the past few weeks at my house, we’ve had a two year old fracture a bone in his foot, pink eye, an ear infection, a twisted ankle, fevers, nausea, more pink eye, sore throats, and congestion. I’m thinking of putting yellow caution tape outside and posting the word “Quarantine” on our doorpost. Undoubtedly, it has been a very strange and eventful sick ward. These are not the days that you look back on with nostalgia. These are the days you pray to get through. But I do know the days—or perhaps, more aptly put, the moments—where we just wish, somehow, we could slow down time.

Recently, my two year old has been coming and cuddling up next to me, looking up at me and saying in his still babyish voice, “I love you, mom.” The simple sincerity in his statement, the turn of his chin as he looks up at me, his dimples, his bed-head, his sticky fingers: could I just somehow bottle it all and uncork it on another day when I need to hear, see, and feel it again?

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These are the moments where, yes, we wish time would slow down, as Nicole Nordeman has put words to in this wildly popular music video:

Such moments come to all of us, parents or not. They are the moments when you are laying in the grass on a perfect September Sunday looking up at the light shafting through the trees, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, the lightness of the breeze, and then closing your eyes with a deep, settled sense of peace.

One of my moments, I’ll never forget, came when I was 17 years old and was spending a summer in Cuzco, Peru. Each morning I would climb up to the flat rooftop of the guest-house where I was staying and have some time reading my Bible. I’d watch the sun as it eased its way over the Andes, and somehow, I felt free enough to just sing and worship God there, alone on that rooftop. I remember one morning being so caught up in the beauty of the sunrise and of the truth of the words I was singing about God, that I just praised and wept and held my hands up in worship. Still, to this day, when I think of the tenderness of my love for God–the youth of our romance–I think of that morning on a roof, 11,500 feet above sea level, soaring over the cares of the world.

But while we’ve all known moments we wish could last, something else in us seems to bristle at the over-sentimentalism that people sometimes use to airbrush the reality around such moments. A friend of mine posted a picture of her two children, all smiles, embracing one another. She captioned it, “A split-second of genuine affection before they went back to clobbering each other.” Another friend posted a picture of her and her daughter smiling two dazzling smiles against a picture-perfect backdrop of blooming flowers. Then she shared how moments before and after that photo she and her daughter had been quarrelling to the point of tears. A lightening glimpse of peace surrounded by an afternoon of thunderous heartache.

Recently, I was reading a friend’s words of how tired she is of having people tell her to “Enjoy every moment!” with her little one. It seems as if every time she goes out, someone says to her, “They grow up too fast,” or “Savor it!” or some such comment. She’s frustrated with all the saccharine that is attached to life with young children. I can feel the tension between these two points of view. As I was thinking about what she said, I saw her words echoed in a recent blog post. I found myself in agreement about the pressure that all the “Cherish this!” sentiments can put on a young mother who is in the thick of sleepless nights and sweeping crushed Cheerios off the floor and round 3 of the stomach flu. We shouldn’t feel like we have to enjoy every moment. And the blog author’s main take-away is a very good reminder to remember that the whole point of all our -parenting is that they grow up. That’s not a tragedy—that’s the God-ordained trajectory.

But as my husband and I talked it over, I couldn’t help thinking that there is something particularly fleeting about these little years. There is a reason why this refrain of “Enjoy it,” is so oft-repeated. Why people can hardly help saying it. Our little guys are changing so fast. The rate of their growth, both physical and mental, will never be matched again. The children I had just a few short months ago are so different from the ones they are today. Everyone who is telling you to enjoy it, the ballads which long for it to slow down, they are all trying to express a truth that is buried in our hearts. Here it is:

We are meant for eternity.

Okay, you say, that was a leap. But hear me out. There is something in us which just wants these special days to last for always, right? That is why we annoy our children with pictures and videos, why we relive these moments in our memories, why we wish so hard, sometimes, for the moments to slow down. We are living within time, but God has “set eternity in the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We long for something of that “eternal now” because God placed that longing within us. As singer/songwriter Michael Card puts it, we are built for eternity, but “stranded in time.”

If we have those moments, where just for that fleeting second, everything is right and perfect and good and we want it to last, don’t berate yourself for that desire. Remember that desire is evidence that you were designed to live eternally in a world that is not blighted with sin, but where everything is right, where your heart is tuned to praise God, where everything that is good and true and beautiful lasts and leads you to praise your Maker. You were made for that.

So next time you have one of those moments, don’t hoard it as if that memory were the end-all and be-all of human existence. The point isn’t about the sweetness of your child, the beauty of that sunrise, or whatever else you wish could last. It is that these good and perfect gifts point us toward a perfect and good Giver who built us to long for timelessness because we were made for eternity with Him. Let the look back lead you to look forward in expectation. You were made for something beautiful-and that beautiful moment is there to whet your appetite for something even better.

Fearfully, Wonderfully Snowed In: God in the Blizzard

snowfallAs a Florida girl living in Virginia, right in the bullseye of Jonas, I keep looking out my window utterly amazed. The snow is up to the roof of my children’s playhouse. I see the little chimney of it poking out with a pile of snow on top, a little frozen smoke puff. I know friends further north have seen more, but for this girl, this is the most snow I’ve seen in my entire life. And I keep having two simultaneous thoughts: how beautiful and how terrifying. As these thoughts keep colliding in my mind, I can’t help but think that all this snow has something to teach us.

The snow has made a new world out there. Everything is pristine, blanketed in purity. The trees are bedecked as brides. The limbs shimmer with powdered diamonds. Even the wind is in on the party, tossing sparkling confetti on the festal firs. As far as the eye can see there is the blinding brilliance of white. And just as when a bride enters the room, there is that reverent hush of a world watching in stillness and in awe.

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And yet even as I stand back admiring this lovely world, there is another part of me that is afraid. The snow is so high; it’ll be days before we carve our way out. It is so soft and comes so lightly and yet it has the power to smother, to break, to bend, to bury. Even our toughest machines get caught in its drifts. Even our might is no match for this light beauty, should it continue to fall from heaven.

And as I feel the weight of wonder, I’m moved to remember a God who is simultaneously all-loving, all-good, all-beautiful and yet all-powerful, almighty, a force with which no man can reckon. Love the Lord. Fear the Lord. The burning brilliance of holiness is both something which compels our eyes and causes us to fall on our faces.

Like the awesome Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia, we might wonder with Lucy, is this lion safe? “’Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This world blanketed in white is a reminder of both aspects of our good and mighty God.

So what are we to do with this beautiful and yet fearful God? Like the snow, we better be prepared. For those well prepared, the snow holds no terror. But for those who have shirked its power, there is fear. God is good; but God is also coming and He is a mighty, beautiful force with which to be reckoned.

So how do we prepare for His coming? By confessing that we are utterly unprepared. By falling at the feet of this terrifying, beautiful God and pleading for His mercy. Repentance: I am undone by your holiness, Oh God. Belief: You alone can save me.

And here’s the wonder, He has and He does. God has turned that whole crushing weight of His wrath on His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. He was smothered, crushed, buried, that I might not be. The weight of this heavy load fell on Jesus that I might only feel the light cloak of righteousness on my shoulders. Oh weighty wonder. Oh heavy lightness! Let me remember both as I stare out my frosted window.

 

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Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

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I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

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I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

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The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

Parenting with an Eye to the Harvest

Harvest Parenting

It won’t be long now before we wake to a nip in the air. Soon enough days will be upon us again where maples blaze like Horeb’s fire, birches melt into gold, and redbuds bear their garnets and purples with royal dignity.

I’ll admit to you that I’ve already marked my calendar for apple-picking. I’ll admit that I get uncommonly giddy at the jeweled tones of root vegetables, of pumpkins popping color from every neighbor’s front step, and the perfect blue of a cloudless fall sky. But though I’m a lover of all things fall, when I examine myself closely I must also confess that I often largely miss one of the harvest season’s chief lessons.

Somehow in my world where dirt only gets under my fingernails when I’m cruising construction trucks out back with the boys, I miss the whispered truths known so intimately by those who stay attuned to the earth’s rhythms. I miss this law that is fundamental to the way God created the world–the law the farmer knows so keenly: we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).

In a world where I can plop down my credit card and receive the fruit of the sweat of another man’s brow, it’s easy to take for granted the patience, the foresight, the diligence, and the perseverance of the one who follows life from seed to sapling, from first fruits to final harvest. My character hasn’t been shaped by the long arc of expectation and toil. And I know I’m the poorer for it.

I’ve been thinking about this law of sowing and reaping a lot lately, especially as it relates to raising children. When I look out to the horizon, to that cusp of time where my children will change oh-so-gradually and yet oh-so-quickly into adults, (the way the sunset is both gradual and yet quick) I can’t help but think about this present moment. I can see that glimpse of the kind of men I want my boys to become: passionate for God, secure in Him and in who He has made them to be, wise, bold, and true to their word. I can see that glimpse and yet be so careless as to the numbered days between now and then.

I’m used to immediate results, the waxed perfection and uniformity of the produce aisle, and the fruit devoid of the sweat it took to taste it.

But the good news is, I can come to the Lord of the Harvest knowing my ignorance, my impatience, my lack of discipline, my short-sightedness—in short, knowing all the weaknesses I bring as a parent–and pray. I pray for my children and for that eventual day where all that my husband and I have sown into their young lives bears or fails to bear fruit.

I can come asking for that which I do not have: I can ask for the patience to persevere through many fallow days. I can plead for the foresight of the one who surveys the field, who studies the curves of the land and the composition of the soil and who carefully calculates what and when and how to plant. I can petition the Lord for faithfulness and diligence in the daily care of tender saplings. And I can groan for the grace it will take to trust that He is ultimately the Lord of it all, the one who enables the plant to grow, who provides the rain, and who ordains whether or not that tree bears fruit. I can come in my weakness, expecting His grace, wisdom and mercy.

And so I come knocking on Heaven’s door these days, for the strength to be the kind of person I want them to become and to love, and live, and parent each and every day with an eye to the harvest.

 

 

For our further meditation: Matthew 9:37-38, I Corinthians 3:7, Galatians 6:7

For our personal reflection:
One of our goals as Christian parents is to raise children who walk in relationship with Christ, depending on Him, finding their joy in Him, listening to and leaning on His words. How are you doing in modeling this? Is there a joy your children see in you—a joy they know that comes from walking closely with Christ?

 

Like what you’re reading? Click the “subscribe” button to your right to get these posts delivered to your inbox. Want to read more from me? Grab a copy of my devotional for expectant mothers for yourself or as a gift (Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting). Not your cup of tea? Check out my chronicle of a most unlikely story of forgiveness: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda

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