Play with Me, Mama: A Lesson in God-with-us

Luke playing bI’m at the sink doing dishes when my three year-old pleads, “Play with me, mama.” I know it sounds horrible, and I feel like a horrible mother just for saying it, but truth be told, right at that instant, I don’t want to play. I want to muscle through my to-do list. I want the sink tidied up and the food put away. I want to see my face reflecting in the clean counter-top. And I want to be able to step without my feet sticking in the residue of the apple juice my toddler joyously sprinkled from his sippy-cup all over my wood floors. The truth is: I don’t feel like playing.

Later that morning, I’m trying to get the mound of clothes I’ve just dumped on the bed from the dryer folded and put away, when the three year-old comes to ask for my hand in play again. I know there are four more loads to wash, and dry, and fold before the day is done. I know how my pregnant back is already aching. And once again, I find myself shooing him away. I’ll get my work done and play later, I think to myself.

The next time the request comes I’m in the middle of a Bible story. I’m reading to him and the toddler about how God passed over all the bigger, stronger, better looking sons of Jesse. Instead, God chose tiny little David to be the king of Israel. I’m telling him how this king would be the great, great, great…. Grandfather of the King who would come one day to be with us, the One who would be our Emmanuel, moving among us, living among us, in our midst, and at our level–when He interrupts again. “Mama, play with me!”

Finally, I realize it’s not my three year-old interrupting me. It’s God interrupting me through my three year-old. How can I expect this little one to listen, to obey, or even want to hear my instructions unless I’ve first gotten down on his level and entered into his world? He wants my presence amidst blocks, trains, and construction trucks. He wants me hiding in his fort, building a tunnel, busting out the finger-paints and getting my own hands into the glorious mess with him. He doesn’t want a mom who cares for his needs and stands far off (at the kitchen sink or washer). He wants a mom who draws near to him, who finds herself on all fours, lion-growling and staring eye-to-eye in the cave made of blankets.

And the funny thing is, that’s what I want in my God too. I need a God who stoops low. I need a God-with-me. I need a God who crawls into the tight places of my tiny world and makes his home with me.

And when I stop to think about why that God has my heart, about why I bother to listen, or want to obey his commands, it’s because this God came down to my earth and walked these dusty roads we tread. It’s because He carried sorrows like mine, and felt the heaviness of the loads I carry. And it’s because He bothered to pause all of the important work of heaven to be with His people face to face. This is why I listen, love, and obey.

The funny thing is I find a direct relationship between my spiritual health and how ready I am to get down on the floor and play with my little ones. When I’m allowing worry and stress to live heavy in my heart, I don’t feel the lightness of heart of a mother who is ready to play, and tickle and tease. When I’m not trusting God with my tomorrow or even my to-do list, when I’m clenching it so tight in my fist because if I don’t get it done—who will?—that’s when there’s not joy enough in my heart to make them giggle with peak-a-boo or turn the music up and dance with them. A heart that can play is a heart that can rest in Jesus for all that needs to be done.

And so I pray that 51st psalm of David, the one whose descendant would be Emmanuel. Oh Lord, help me put a higher value on a clean heart than on clean clothes and dishes. Oh Lord, renew in me a right spirit—one of trust, and peace, and hope. Cast me not away from your presence, but instead let me revel in the joy of your nearness, of your with-me-ness. And in that joy of your presence, restore to me the joy of my salvation, that very same joy that spills over from this mama’s heart into the lives of her little ones. The joy that comes down to crawl on the carpet with them, vrooming trucks and tickling toes. The joy that lets them know they do not walk this world alone.

 

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The Interrupted Life

baby portrait

It’s almost 9 pm by the time I get my three-year old to bed. I come downstairs wash a few dishes and sit down to face a blank page, praying for some words to encourage you and the fortitude for a finished thought. Finally, some quiet. Finally, some time alone. But almost as soon as I sit down, my 16 month old starts crying. His bed-time is earlier and for some reason he’s woken up.

I give him a few minutes to see if he won’t settle down and go back to sleep, but he doesn’t. And somehow creative thoughts aren’t flowing freely while I hear my baby’s cries grow more insistent. I check on him, which only upsets him more. I try to rock him and he flails. I opt to put him back in his crib and rub his tummy to see if he won’t settle down. He does and I quietly tip-toe out of the room. But as soon as the door shuts, he’s wailing again. I give him a little while to see if he won’t calm down and go to sleep on his own. But he doesn’t and because this is unusual for him and he’s just recently had an ear infection, I decide to err on the side of some Advil and a bottle. Finally, an hour after it began, he quietly puts himself back to sleep.

By now, it’s 10 pm and I’m running on fumes. The night before, my older son had a night terror. “Stay with me a little while, Mommy” turned into me sleeping on the floor by his bed until he fell back asleep. I woke up cold and stiff around 4 am and snuck back to my own bed only to have the little one wake up before 6 am, ready to go for the day.

So as I settle in to write, somewhere north of 10 pm, after a long day, and the interrupted sleep of the night before, somehow I can’t help but think about interruptions.

Interruptions are a constant part of a parent’s life. We can’t finish a conversation with a spouse, a meal, a bathroom break, a phone conversation, or a night’s sleep without someone melting down, falling, snatching a toy, crying, or needing a diaper change. We can’t even remember how to finish our sentences we’re interrupted so many times. (Here, I’m not talking about the child who is the habitual sentence-interrupter. That’s certainly something we need to work on training them not to do. But rather, I’m focusing on those everyday interruptions that are just a part of having children.)

And sooner or later, we start learning that it’s not in the goal or the plan, but in the interruption where ministry and real life are happening. It’s in the hours when we rock a fussing baby or hold a boy’s hand until the bad dreams recede. It’s in the moment where we must stop everything to discipline or when dinner gets burnt because we take a few minutes to stop and share our child’s joy in the just-finished Play-doh creation.

With each of life’s interruptions, our children are learning about what we value most. Is it them or the finished task? Is it keeping schedule or cultivating closeness? Is it our own comfort or their well-being? They are learning whether we view them as precious souls or as exasperating obstacles to our goals.

I’m not there yet. Too often I sigh or groan or lose my cool when I’m interrupted. I’m a completer, by nature, and leaving things unfinished just kills me. But little by little, God is showing me that when I view the ordinary interruptions as exasperations that I’m really just viewing my children that way. These are my beautiful, prayed-for, longed-for and desired interruptions. These are precious souls whose nurture and care is the main business of my life… my calling.

So God, give us the grace to embrace these interruptions as opportunities, to see them as the moments where we have the chance to show our children how you view them when they knock, plead, or find themselves in need. May we bear with sleep-deprivation, unfinished goals, lost thoughts and conversations, with grace and perspective. And may our children never question their value in our eyes or yours.

 

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 “The Interrupted Life,” check out “Embrace Your Season” and “Not Enough“. Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends. WaitingWonder

Embrace Your Season

beach angel
We’re on a bit of a vacation this week, staying with dear friends on Cape Hatteras. Unfortunately, no one informed the children that mommy was on a bit of a vacation this week. The boys have succeeded in waking one another up the last two days around 5:30 am. And of course, once they are awake, Mommy is awake. I’ll admit I was sorely tempted to be out of sorts about it. But on the first day, as I was getting up with them God lifted up my eyes to notice the glorious sunrise bursting over the Atlantic. I turned on some cartoons for them and sat myself facing the shore.  I comforted myself with the thought, “This is a sunrise I would have missed if I were still sleeping; God wanted me to see this sunrise.”  And I praised Him for it.

Before we left home, I was looking at a stack of books on my counter and thinking about bringing them along and then just laughed about it aloud to my husband. “What’s the likelihood of reading a book on the beach with a toddler and a 3 year old running around?” I asked him. He shrugged and said, “About as likely as me taking a nap on the beach while you read.” We laughed and I brought them anyway, if only because that’s what I do: I bring books places. Today, I didn’t read and my husband didn’t nap on the beach, but we made one mighty fine sand city—I called it Minas Tirith after The Lord of the Rings. We shoveled and the boys buried our toes in sand. I jumped the baby in the icy cold crash of the surf, and flipped not a page, nor closed an eyelid. And this afternoon as I snuggled up next to my three year-old, him sleeping soundly after being kissed by the sun and lullabied by the waves, I praised God for this season.

There was a season of my life where I slept in on weekends and vacations. There was a season of life where books were devoured seaside and naps in the sun were a possibility. This is not that season. This is the season of early wake-ups, of sand on the beach blanket and in our hair and everywhere else because toddlers don’t know any better. This is the season of little boy laughter and giggles and yes, mighty tantrums too. And it’s a season of my life I longed for more than naps and books and sleeping in late on vacation. It was a season I was willing to sacrifice to know. And now I don’t want to miss this season longing for another one. I don’t want to grumble through it. I want to enjoy it. I want to be thankful in it and savor it in all its messy glory.

One day there will be time for books on the seashore and naps, once more, but there won’t be sand-castles, and baby squeals; there won’t be sandy-wet baby footprints on the tile or a boy angel snuggled up next to me on my pillow—his breathing coming soft and steady as the waves.

All seasons are a gift. All are to be cherished. All we need to do is lift our eyes to the break of light we would have missed otherwise. All we need to do is open our ears to the sounds only this season can offer us. With eyes wide open and ears a-tune to the moment, we’re right where God wants us: present and thankful in the now.

Wherever you are today, embrace your season. Open wide your eyes, turn your head to hear the sounds of how God is loving you in the midst of your now. And give Him thanks, right where you are. You will never have this moment again to give to Him in praise.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider ordering a copy of my new book Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting for yourself or a friend. It makes a perfect gift for an expectant mom you know.

Waiting in Wonder Book Launch Excerpt 3 and a Nikon Coolpix L810 Digital Camera Giveaway

Nikon Coolpix L810 Waiting in Wonder Release

So today my three year-old asked me a few different times if he could talk to the baby in my tummy and give the baby a kiss. My heart just melted. He’s so much more aware this pregnancy than last time when he was the size of my little guy (15 mos). And it’s really cool watching him be such a good big brother! Though I didn’t have a camera on me at the moment (I’m so bad at taking pictures, folks, really) I did snap that little moment in my mind and tuck it in my heart.

It’s always tempting in our lives to be so caught up in the future that we miss the present. I know I’m guilty of that. And that’s what today’s excerpt from Waiting in Wonder:Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting is about. I think no matter what stage of life we’re in, single, married, expecting, nearing retirement… that’s a lesson we all need to learn and relearn. Take a look:

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Did you catch that last part? So live this day as if God gave it to you for a purpose–because He did! (Click to tweet!) Think about that some today, okay?

Meanwhile, tying in today’s excerpt and that thing that mommy’s (besides me) do best–take pictures–I want to offer you a chance today to win a Nikon Coolpix L810 Digital Camera, (est. val $280). According to the reviews, this is a snap-and-shoot camera that let’s you take professional quality photos. It also has video recording capability which is perfect for that first smile, first roll, first bite of sweet potato, first steps–all those firsts of baby’s first year. Of course, like all these giveaways you don’t need to be an expectant mama to enter or win–and yep, you can even enter if you have a Y chromosome :-)! All I ask is that you help me spread the word about Waiting in Wonder in any way you can! And of course, while no purchase is necessary to enter or win, it really won’t break my heart if you buy a book, or two, or ten… (You are always going to know someone you could give one of these books to as a gift.)

And now, the giveaway!

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Thanks for helping me spread the word about Waiting in Wonder and reading along. If you haven’t yet entered the iPad giveaway and the $200 Spafinder.com gift card giveaway, it’s not too late. Don’t miss it. And don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss more great giveaways coming up next week.

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