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.

Creativity: The Heart’s Cry of Hope

artist at work

It’s the end of a long day and the floor is strewn with toys. I’ve wrangled the boys to bed and have come downstairs troubled. I’m mulling over the display of attitude I saw in my two-year old, who has learned to sigh loudly when he’s frustrated with my commands, something which he learned from the four year-old, who learned it from me when I’m irritated and frustrated with them. It’s unsightly and unsettling to see my own ugly behavior walking around in front of me.

A phone call interrupts my self-reproaching monologue: a friend is calling to inquire about one of our family members who found out last week he is facing cancer. We talk of the unknowns in hushed tones and more aches and anxieties fill my mind, as well as a quiet confidence that the Lord is up to some goodness in the midst of all this hardness.

I’m sure my little life is not much different than yours: daily drudgeries, frustrations, sinful patterns—our own and those of others. On top of the mundane drip of these daily fatigues, there are the cold harsh realities of sickness, and brokenness, of bitterness and even mortality. And all these wear us thin and threaten to starve our souls.

As I hang up the phone, worn down from all of this life I’m living, tired from my day’s work, I find myself with this strange and almost overwhelming urge to go and make something. And I’m being quite literal when I say I’m overcome with a desire to get out my easel, canvas and acrylics and paint. Something or perhaps more aptly, Someone, is drawing me to splash some loveliness around, to soak in the brightness of color, to create something of beauty, and symmetry. I’m beckoned by the thought of standing back from my finished work and feeling that flash of satisfaction, that “It-is-good” moment.

And this overwhelming urge to create simply does not compute with how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a non-sequitir of sorts. Why have I gone from the hardships of the day to a desire to make something new? And all I can figure out is that somewhere deep inside of us, all this brokenness and frustration and hardship calls out for a bit of beauty and grace. We long for a little plot of land, some small piece of territory where shalom—a sense of wholeness and rightness and goodness—can abound. I think God made us this way. And I think creation is not only good therapy, but somehow an act of defiant hope.

When we carve out a space in the midst of our overwhelming, broken-down world, to create something, we raise our fists to the chaos and declare that it does not have the final say. Beauty, wholeness, and order exist. They have existed eternally with God, and while they may or may not become a reality in our hearts and homes today, they will most definitely exist in the world to come. “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creation may look different for you: maybe it is gardening, woodworking, building a website, sewing, coaching, decorating, cooking, strumming, inventing, or photographing. Maybe you share it with others; maybe you don’t yet. But whatever it is, it is not merely a passive act, but an active one of creating order from chaos, of bringing something of goodness out from the nothingness.

Maybe you say you are not a creative person. I say false. All of us are made in the image of God and we all like Him are born with some desire to participate in creation and cultivation. The manifestations of that creative impulse will look very different in our lives but the God-given urge is the same.

If you’ve been stifling that creative urge, calling it frivolous, or numbing it in more passive acts of pinning, liking, and channel-surfing, don’t shortchange yourself. There’s an important place for enjoying the work of others. But that’s not all you’re made for. God has made you in His creative image also. You are more than a spectator.

Maybe you’re worried that what you have to offer somehow won’t be good enough. Do yourself a favor. Turn off the critic. Give yourself permission to be a learner and to make mistakes. God doesn’t want your perfection. He wants your participation. He wants you to rally your soul in bold hope by participating in some small act of creation.

 

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Parenting: This. Is. Hard.

LUKE JAMES 1MOTwo months ago, our sweet baby boy decided to make his debut a month early. A slow leak of amniotic fluid meant a heightened risk of infection for baby and me, so much to my dismay, the nurses hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin one Wednesday night in early October and induced a labor I wasn’t expecting that day or for nearly another month. (I told them that it wasn’t a give-birth kind of night—more of a movie-and-popcorn kind of night, but they disagreed and hooked me up anyway.) Thankfully, our sweet boy is a fighter, and he came out kicking and screaming. One short NICU stay later, and a few jaundiced trips back and forth to the hospital, we had our precious James Valor home with us for good.

Since then we’ve been slowly getting accustomed to life with a 3.5 year old, nearly 2 year old, and newborn. Did I mention all three of them are boys? Energetic, sometimes mischievous, hard-of-hearing boys…yes, that’s the kind we have. They are also sweet, adorable, can’t-help-but-kiss-their-precious-little-cheeks kind of boys. That kind. I love them to pieces, despite the fact that the two oldest are currently keeping each other awake upstairs rather than napping. I’m choosing to ignore this so I can write a word or two to you because God has put something on my heart to say. And here it is: this isn’t easy.

I know you know it, but sometimes I think we as parents tend to think that we are the only ones who feel this way, that perhaps somehow everyone but us has it together, that perhaps other people’s children are innately better-behaved, or other parents are just better than us at balancing it all. Well, I want to say that it just isn’t so. Sure, some of us are better organized. Some of us have more experience with little children. But none of us get a free pass. Everyone who is privileged enough to be a parent has the incredibly hard task of raising a little one from complete dependence to independence. Every one of us is given a child whose heart is bent away from God and towards selfishness. And all of us must pray and parent diligently to turn their hearts toward Him.

So in case you’ve seen me on a good day, when my hair is combed and make-up is actually on; in case, you’ve assumed that because my children sometimes can be super-sweet that I’m one of those have-it-all-together kind of moms, well, just in case you thought that about me or some other mom you know, then let me set the record straight. Parenting is hard. It’s hard for me and hard for all of us.

Here’s where I feel like I’m supposed to offer you some great pick-me-up, some biblical principle that makes what I’ve just said all better. I don’t know that I can. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that the love I have for these little guys is bigger than the frustration I feel on a daily basis. I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me even in my weakness, even on the hardest of days. And I want you to know that too. But I don’t want any of that to eclipse what I’ve just said. This isn’t easy.

And if you don’t hear it or feel it from anyone else, I want you to know dear, sleep-deprived friend; I want you to know dear, when-will-he-ever-potty-train-wondering mommy; I want you to know sweet sister in the can-I-throw-one-of-those-tantrums-too trenches that I hear ya, I feel ya, and I understand. This. Is. Hard. I’m right there with you and so is God. (He has some pretty obstinate children also. At least that’s what I hear.)

 

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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?

 

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