Fireworks

We’ve been on the road for almost three weeks, traversing Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. And since the laundry pile looks like Everest, I’m digging up a little piece I wrote last September when I was just thinking of getting the blog off the ground. Hope you enjoy.

fireworks

Aglow in Wonder

“Boom!” I let my fingers fall toward his face again in a pretend sprinkle of light. Baby boy erupts in cackles and giggles. He pleads, “Fireworks again, Mama! Again!” It’s been over two month since my two year-old saw his first fireworks display, and yet he still begs for this nightly bedtime reenactment.

My hands go up in the air again above his crib, above that sweet face upturned in pure delight. “Boom!” I say with as much gusto as a tired mama can muster, letting the pretend light of my falling fingers cascade on his face again. More squeals and glee. I could do this all night–his face, his laughter: he is the dazzling display I could watch over and over again.

What father or mother does not delight in the joy of his or her child? Jesus put it this way: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

God loves to lavish His good gifts on us. He loves to see us light up as we see the redbud tree ablaze in autumn or a Lenten Rose blooming in defiance of winter. He loves to delight us in the crackle and smoke of a fire or the warmth and strength of a hand clasped round our own. Surely these and so many like them are God’s good gifts for us to enjoy. So much goodness He lavishes upon us. But it all dims in comparison to the very best gift He has to give—the most lavish of all His gifts–His Son. What a radiant light! To contemplate the glory of Christ, the glory of salvation; He dazzles the senses. He lifts our gaze in awe. He illuminates everything around Him.

One Fourth of July, a few years before I was married, I had a small moment of revelation. Sitting under that black canvas of sky, watching beauty splash and stream in vivid hues of cobalt, red, and violet, it suddenly dawned on me to think of the whole scene from a different perspective. On one night a year, millions of faces turn upward: the young, the old, the cynical, the hopeful, the jaded, the weary. For a brief moment, all eyes sparkle with anticipation, faces brim with childlike joy, and small gasps, oohs, and ahs punctuate the silence of held breath. The heavens must certainly have the more glorious display at that moment; the glorious display of both light and the light reflected in our changed countenances; what a sight it must be.

But what does this ephemeral, brief blip in time, whisper? What will change us—not our countenances, but our souls? Not for a moment, but for eternity?

Do you see it? The fireworks even angels bend low to see: the glory of God revealed in salvation (1 Peter 1:12).

Glory is a difficult word to understand. Though we can’t fully understand what God’s glory is, in Scripture it is often revealed to us in part through displays of light. Moses came down from the mountain after meeting with God, his face beaming with radiant light. It was so bright that the Israelites had to put a veil over Moses’ face. The glory of the Lord preceded the Israelites in the wilderness wanderings in a pillar of light. When the disciples saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he radiated with a brightness like nothing they had ever seen before. And the apostle Paul tells us in Second Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:18).

The purity, intensity and brightness of light somehow serve as an illustration of the glory of God. And what does this glory do? It transforms everything around it. And the most stunning of all transformations is salvation. Light splashes across the blackness of a human soul, not just for a moment illuminating it, but for eternity transforming it.

I’m taken back again to my son’s face. Each night he remembers the splendor of light. And as humble as our nightly re-enactment might be, it changes his countenance. He lights up in the light.

What a simple lesson I take from him! Remember. Be delighted. Shine.

Our faces aglow are the Father’s delight.

When All I Have to Give Seems So Small, Part II

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There are seasons of life where it feels like all we have to give is so small. Early motherhood is definitely one of those seasons. Today, I continue my post from yesterday, with a few more historic examples of how God took the “little” his servants had to give and multiplied it to feed the masses.

When all I have to give is my friendship:
Often in this journey of motherhood, when the day is through and I’ve cared for my household about the only thing I have time left to do is connect with the handful of close friends God has blessed me with the privilege of knowing. The friendships re-charge and encourage me spiritually, and I can only hope I do the same for these dear ones. But I’m reminded often that friendship is no meager offering, it too can change the world.

Most people know John Newton only as the author of the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Perhaps some people know about this former slave trader’s own conversion which led him to pen those famous words. But though Newton was a great preacher, author, and reformer as biographer Jonathan Aitken points out perhaps one of his most profound legacies was in the fruit of his spiritual friendships. Newton’s friendship with the beloved English poet William Cowper helped spur on the writing of some of the most beautiful hymns the church has today, not to mention some of the best poems of the English language. Newton helped his friend fight bravely against depression and because he was such a good friend we have works of William Cowper that may never have come to fruition otherwise.

Newton was also a friend to noted reformer William Wilberforce. It was at Newton’s insistence that the newly converted Wilberforce did not abandon his political post, but instead used his passion for God to change the laws of England and ultimately abolish the slave-trade. And it was Newton’s words which helped Wilberforce persevere in a dark hour where it seemed all hope was gone.

Newton’s friendship with a young woman named Hannah More was what led her to faith. She would go on to become the mother of the Sunday School movement, as well as a noted writer, and philanthropist. Newton also met regularly for breakfast with a young man by the name of William Carey, the man we know now as the father of modern missions.

When all I have to give is the fire in my belly that won’t go out:
I love reading the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe that devoted Christian wife and mother of 6, whose writing career really began because she needed to put bread on the table in a time when her husband’s earnings were not enough. And despite the necessity of earning money from her writing, there was a fire in her belly that would not go out. Profoundly disturbed by the injustices she had glimpsed, her writings returned again and again to the themes of abolition. After the death of her infant son, sympathy at the loss of slaves torn from their children took her writing to a new level of emotional power. Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed the course of American History and was the reason, Stowe became known as the little lady that started the big war.

She writes:

“I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.”

Stowe had given God her affections, and He had made her lover of the things that He loved and reviler of the things He despised. She gave Him control of her heart and He turned her heart for the oppressed. God gave her a way to care for the needs of her household AND speak out for the oppressed. What began as a simple story published periodically in a magazine became a way God changed the lives of untold numbers.

What’s your all I have to give?
While our worlds, especially as mothers of young children may seem small and shrunken in, it doesn’t necessarily mean our influence is likewise small. Putting a priority on our husbands and our children is certainly no small thing. When between nap-schedules and potty-training, we find it’s hard to even get out of the house our prayers can still reach the edges of the earth and help eternity to break into the hearts of those for whom God burdens us to pray. When all we have time for is nurturing a handful of friendships, let us not despise how God can use that spiritual life-on-life sharpening. When all we have is a fire in our bellies for the oppressed and downtrodden that won’t leave us alone when the children are napping and the dishes pile up in the sink, sometimes even in our “shrunken in” world God makes a way for us to snap the chains of the oppressed.

Don’t let the “accomplishments” of these men and women of the faith make you feel small. Many of them didn’t think they had much to give either. Their reach didn’t seem to go much farther than our own. And yet, God used them in profound ways.

So what’s your “all I have to give”? Give it to Him in faith. And let Him multiply it to feed the masses.

 

Have you enjoyed this post? Make sure you check out Part I and if you aren’t subscribed to receive these posts to your inbox, consider signing up here. You’ll also want to check out my latest book, Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting. It would make a fabulous gift to any expecting mom you know. As you can see, God has burdened my heart to encourage young moms. Won’t you help spread the encouragement by sharing this post or giving a copy of my book to a young mom you know.

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When All I Have to Give Seems So Small, Part I

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Early motherhood is an especially intense season of life. Often professional degrees seem to sit idle as we wipe bottoms and noses, count piggy toes, and muddle through sleep-deprived nights on caffeine and a prayer. And yet there’s so often both internal and external pressure that we should do more, give more, and be more.

But deep down, we know there’s not any more of us to give. We know that this is a season of life where our worlds seem shrunken in, and supporting those in our immediate care is not only our high and holy calling, but often all we can do.

As I was meditating on this, God brought to mind several historic examples of people who gave what little they had and how God multiplied it. These examples remind me how Jesus takes the two fish and the five loaves and feeds the multitudes, and how he will take my “all I have to give” and bless it.

When all I have to give is love for the man God gave me:
Katharina Von Bora was the infamous nun who ran away (or rolled away rather in a barrel of herring) and ended up marrying reformer Martin Luther. The former celibate priest wrote, “There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage.” Katie desired to free Luther up so that he could serve as God had called him. So in addition to caring for their 6 children and the 4 orphans who came under their roof, she did all she could to manage the affairs of the house. Luther called her “the morning star of Wittenberg” since she rose before dawn to care for the livestock, garden, and children.

But while running the affairs of the house was certainly a heavy load, Katie also stood by her man in another important way, as a strong spiritual ally. When Luther was facing a particularly deep period of depression, she greeted him at the door one evening wearing the traditional all-black of mourning attire. Confused, Luther asked her, “Who is dead?” She responded, “Don’t you know, God is dead?” Like the prophets of old, Katie paraded a visual message before her husband and showed him the practical atheism at the root of his current despair. Luther got the message loud and clear and saw the ludicrousness of his own attitude. Katie had been a good theologian to the theologian.

God took Katie’s desire to serve her husband and home—the “all she had to give”—and multiplied many times over. Only in eternity will we know the true weight of her impact on Luther and the generations which followed.

When all I have to give is love for the children under my care:
While Charles and John Wesley are in the Who’s Who of modern Christianity, many of us have never even heard of Susanna Wesley, their mother. And yet, it was this woman who had such a profound influence shaping the great revivalist preachers and fathers of modern Methodism.

Home-life wasn’t easy for Susanna. After a minor dispute, her husband disappeared for over a year. And his poor management of the family’s finances also landed him in jail twice. During one of these separations, Susanna wrote to her husband about how God had led her to spend individual time loving their children well. She writes:

“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, and yet as a mother … I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”

It was during these special one-on-one times where Susanna instilled the spiritual habit of self-examination, by asking thoughtful questions regarding the state of each child’s soul, and his or her goals and progress toward them. Susanna went to great lengths to shepherd the hearts of the children God had given her and the repercussions of her priorities are still felt today.

When all I have to give are my prayers:
Before St. Augustine ever wrote The Confessions or City of God, his loving mother, Monica, prayed, fasted and wept bitterly over the waywardness of her son. In a well-known episode, a priest reportedly comforted the distraught mother with the words, “the child of such tears shall never perish.” After nearly two decades of her faithfulness, St. Augustine turned to God.

 

Encouraged by this post? Read: When All I Have to Give Seems So Small, Part II. In it, we look at how God used friendship and a mom’s need to put bread on the table to change the world. And if you haven’t yet subscribed to get these posts to your inbox, you can right here

Embrace the High Calling of Parenthood

Embrace the CallHere’s the secret truth, (and there’s not a parent that doesn’t wish it): I wish parenting was easy. I wish it didn’t require so much of me, or rather that there was more left of me after the day was done. I wish that my children were angelic, obedient, and always eager to please. I wish my stubborn streak had skipped a generation. I wish that I knew what I was doing. I wish that formulas worked, or at least that what worked for one child would work for the next, or even what worked for my parents, or my best friends, would work for us also. But it doesn’t work that way—not even close.

On the hard days, this parenting journey is enough to leave me in tears. On the good days, I feel quietly unsettled that I don’t know how to repeat the same result for another golden day. And more frightening than either of these two kinds of days, are the myriad more where I just don’t care.

And I think it’s this secret truth, and perhaps even a secret belief that it should be easy that keeps us irritated, resentful, and weary when the days are hard. We somehow think parenting shouldn’t require this much of us. That it shouldn’t demand our all. We somehow secretly believe that we’re doing something wrong if our children don’t come out of the womb respectful, courteous, and pliant. We somehow believe the formulas should work if only we could find the right one.

But God didn’t make parenting or children this way. He made this job of mothering and fathering into perhaps the most demanding calling we will ever know. We aren’t raising automatons. We’re raising born tyrants. And we’re doing all that we can to shepherd their hearts to God, so that somehow He might transform them into loving servant leaders. Given that I’m a reformed tyrant myself, is it any wonder that I still wistfully long for this whole parenting gig to run smoothly so that I could just have a little more time for me or get through my to-do list?

But this isn’t about me, it’s about them. It’s about a million and one daily opportunities to teach, correct, train, model, plead, pray, and show forth His ways in situations as mundane as the snatched toy, the disrespectful attitude, the slowness to do right, and the stubbornness to turn from folly.

We’re raising a child from utter helplessness to not just responsible adulthood (which is hard enough in itself), but hopefully to passionate Christ-centered living. This requires everyday, life-on-life discipleship and it demands everything of us.

But too often, my mindset is reactive, not proactive. Too often, my mindset is one that expects this journey to be easy and so resents it when it is hard.

Every calling worth pursuing is rigorous. I’ve never met an accomplished musician who didn’t put in grueling hours of work in the mind-numbing minutiae. I’ve never met a doctor who somehow skipped right through residency and long-hours of studying to an encyclopedic knowledge of their patients’ needs. I’ve never met an athlete who is unacquainted with sacrifice, pain, and self-discipline. And yet somehow, we think that this high and holy calling of caring, nurturing, and shepherding an eternal soul is something that would not demand our all.

The truth is the more I embrace parenthood as a high and holy calling that demands everything of me the less I will grow resentful, frustrated and weary when it does. The more I believe the eternal significance of even my most mundane moments, the less likely I am to despise or shrug my way through them. When I greet my day believing my work is noble, I’m less likely to treat the precious persons entrusted to my care like burdens. When I see my work as opportunity after opportunity for instilling character and teaching repentance and faith, the less likely I will be to view such opportunities, and even my children as interruptions.

The most pervasive thing which I will leave behind to my children is my attitude toward them and toward this calling. It will permeate all their memories, even the ones that on paper should look flawless. One day they will not remember the day at the waterpark or the long-saved-for vacation; they will remember how they felt when they were with me. Did they feel the daily drip of my despondency over my mundane role or did they feel joy in my presence because I knew deep down my part mattered and their time under my care had eternal value? Did they feel I was constantly frustrated and annoyed with them for simply being children in need of training or that I was encouraged by the opportunities I was given to raise them up in the truth? Did they sense me trying to control their every move out of fear or feel the grace of one who deeply believes that God is in ultimate control? Whether or not they remember the waterpark or the beach vacation, they will remember my attitude toward them and it will color who they become.

I pray to God for the grace to embrace this all-demanding work that’s been given to me with joy, purpose, and trust. Because it matters not just for them, but for me. I can muddle through the years of parenting, resenting every hard thing along the way or face those same challenges as one who lives expecting them, embracing them, and believing they are the true path to molding their character and my own. May God grant us grace and mercy; how desperately all who would take up the call of mother and father will need it.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider subscribing to get these posts to your inbox and also check out my book for expectant moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a perfect gift for any expecting mom you know. You can read an excerpt of the book here. And find out what writers like Ann Voskamp are saying about the book. Or if you’d like to read similar posts to  this, check out “The Interrupted Life,” “Embrace Your Season” and “Not Enough“. Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends. 

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