Monday, August 22, 2011

Beyond Broken

Broken. We hear this word a lot in Christian circles (and I have certainly used it many times myself) to describe the general state of humanity. But as I was thinking about this word recently, I wondered if perhaps it is too mild. It almost feels as though it has become a cutesy Christianese way of saying, “Yeah, we all have a few flaws.” And the truth is, the state of our souls without Christ is far beyond having a flaw or two. There are parts within us that are completely shattered, pieces of us that are in an unrecognizable state of disrepair.

And we so often try to put ourselves back together, perhaps because we don’t realize the depth of brokenness we are dealing with– or, conversely, perhaps because we do realize and we desperately want to hide it or fix it. But we can’t do it, and I think many times we end up turning to addiction, coping mechanisms, and self-medication in an attempt to repair with our own hands something that is far beyond our ability to repair.

And through it all, God loves us. At church we sing a song that says, “You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same.” God sees so clearly the shattered, broken, ugly mess– and he loves us. He wants us to give it all to him, and he wants us to see his mark on our hearts and souls, to see that we are his beloved. He may not repair us the way we hope he will. Faith in God is not merely a means of self-improvement or another coping mechanism. Some of us will always struggle with those messed-up parts of ourselves. The difference is, we are not defined by them. We are new creations, defined by God and the love and grace he gives us. We are redeemed.

I have been praying that other people will see God reflected in me. And yet the most interesting thing has been happening– I’ve noticed that I am seeing God reflected in others. When I look at a person, even their most shattered parts, I see someone who is precious in God’s sight, someone he created, someone he loves and cherishes. He sees the depths of their hearts too, and he loves them the same. It’s a lot harder to react to people with judgment and negativity when I realize that.

I feel as though God is giving me a new sense of compassion for people, allowing me to get a glimpse of others through his eyes. In fact, I wonder if this is a necessary prerequisite to people seeing God’s love and grace reflected in me. After all, how accurately can I show the love and grace of God to others if I do not first see them through the compassionate eyes with which God sees them?
We are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
Washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores.
So come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief,
And fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach,
Come on and sew us together.

-Listener, “Wooden Heart”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


In the past few years, it seems that so many more Christians have been talking about grace.  And that is wonderful and beautiful.  Yet my heart breaks when I see how little we treat others with that same grace we have been given.  The attitudes toward people we disagree with– sometimes mockery and derision, and sometimes even outright disgust and cruelty.  The way we talk about people behind their backs– or even to their faces, while patting ourselves on the back for being willing to “tell it like it is.”  The way we respond when our children act like children, immature and in need of guidance.

So little grace seasons our everyday interactions.  So little patience, so little kindness, so little understanding.  I imagine it must break God’s heart that the very people who should most understand and live out grace often fail to reflect grace in our daily lives.

Please don’t think I’m sitting around pointing fingers.  I see these very same tendencies and failures in myself, and it bothers me deeply.  I want so much to be more consistently Christlike in my responses.  I want God’s grace and patience to be reflected in me.

I wonder sometimes, if we (myself included!) habitually– even proudly– live our lives interacting with others in ways that do not reflect God’s grace… do we truly understand and embrace the grace of God and its significance?

My prayer is that grace will take hold in Christians’ hearts– and in my own heart– in such a way that we cannot withhold it from others.  I pray that we would recognize the times we are not reflecting God’s grace and that we will be humble and repentant.  I pray that God will awaken something within us all that makes us deeply desire to be more like him.  I pray that God will give us the eyes to see others the way he sees them, and that grace will pour forth.

I pray that the words of Saint Patrick will ring true in my own life, and in the lives of others who have been changed by God’s grace:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Recently, my attention has been called again and again to the fact that I struggle with discontentment.  In fact, discontentment is at the root of so many of the battles I fight repeatedly.  In one way or another, I regularly find myself thinking, “If I could just have that/do that/get to that place in my life… then things would be better and I would be happier.”

Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not that I’m miserable.  I am just… discontent with wherever I am at any given time.  It may be good enough, but I am always looking for the next thing, for something more, for something that will complete me.

I’ve believed the lie that so many people believe, that where I am in life right now isn’t enough.  The message is all over the place in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Figure out what you want next, figure out what’s going to make you happy, and then make it happen.  Your contentment lies in your hands.
I am beginning to believe that isn’t quite true, at least not in the way I have been tempted to believe.  My contentment may indeed lie in my hands– to the point that I am willing to surrender my own chasing after contentment and instead give it to God.

I asked myself this question: Would I really be more content deep down if I had more money, nicer stuff, a bigger house, my dream job, if I could go back to school, if my kids would outgrow whatever developmental stages they’re in and the challenges that come with them?  And my answer was, no, probably not.  Because I’d still be looking to external factors for my sense of contentment.  Life is unpredictable.  Money and jobs can be lost, houses and possessions can be destroyed, circumstances can change with little to no warning, and new frustrations come with each of a child’s developmental stages.  The grass really isn’t greener on the other side.  (I read a quote once that said the grass looks greener on the other side because there’s a lot of manure there.)  Looking to external circumstances for my sense of contentment is unwise.

Paul talks about learning to be content in every situation– but how?  I know it has to do with finding your contentment in God, but that seems to be much easier said than done.  When we are struggling to make ends meet, when the air conditioning is broken during a hot summer, when we’re about to be a family of five in a two-bedroom house, when my dreams of going back to school and developing a career seem so very far away, when my oldest is moody and argumentative, when my youngest climbs everything in sight and has emotional meltdowns over being given the “wrong” cup… how do I ensure that my contentment stays secure because it rests in God?

It’s easy to say that I should base my contentment in God alone, but in the midst of the stress and struggles of everyday life, it seems very difficult.  How do you do this?  How do you get to the place where you can truly say you are content in every situation?

Friday, August 12, 2011


In my last post, I said that I realized I have placed a higher value on serving and ministering to others than on serving and ministering to the little children God has put directly in my care.  But why have I done this?  Why have I so strongly resisted the idea that mothering is an actual long-term calling for me?  Here are four reasons that I’ve identified.

A Feeling of Inadequacy

For one thing, I feel terribly inadequate.  I’ve assumed that when God calls me to do something, everything will just fall into place.  The right doors will open, the wrong ones will close, and it will all come very naturally to me.  If mothering is truly what I am called to do for the foreseeable future, then I have to question these assumptions a little.  Certainly the right doors have opened and the wrong ones have closed– but most of the time, I don’t feel like mothering comes naturally to me.  I often lack patience and self-discipline, and I am definitely not the picture of the “stereotypical” stay-at-home mom.  But suppose God is using my role as a parent to help me grow into the person he wants me to be and to accept myself for the unique person he has created me to be?

It Doesn’t “Complete” Me

I’ve also assumed that when I am called to do something, then even on the challenging days, the joy and fulfillment I get from it will keep me going.  But I’ve found that I don’t feel as enamored with motherhood as I’ve assumed I “should” if it’s indeed my calling.  To be completely honest, generally mothering does not bring me the personal fulfillment or sense of completion that I thought it would.  That isn’t why I’m doing it.  I do it out of a self-sacrificing kind of love, a love that says, “This is incredibly difficult and exhausting sometimes, but it is worth it.“  And I ask myself, suppose self-sacrificing love is a better reason for me to do something than simply getting joy and fulfillment from it?

Identity Crisis

I have worried that accepting a role of full-time mothering will result in me becoming consumed by it.  And I do not want my identity to be wrapped up in parenting, partially because I fear becoming uninteresting and irrelevant to many of the people in my life.  But the truth is, I shouldn’t find my identity in parenting, a career, or any other role– my identity should be rooted in God alone.  I am reminded of Paul.  He did some pretty amazing things and reached so many people– yet he did not find his identity or sense of joy in anything but God.  So often I find myself looking to everything but God for a sense of identity, purpose, joy, and fulfillment.  The truth is, I know myself well enough to know that even if I achieved my wildest dreams, they still wouldn’t give me what I’ve been looking for; only God can do that.  If he is truly my source for those things, then I will not end up becoming defined by one particular aspect of my life.

It Isn’t Glamorous 

This article also helped me understand myself a little better.  I do tend to think that the more “normal” the task I’ve been given, the less “spiritual” it must be. And so I elevate other things that sound more radical or glamorous above the importance of what I have been called to do day in and day out– because let’s face it, sometimes the “mundane and ordinary” don’t feel “holy and beautiful.” But that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

Have you ever resisted something that you feel called to do?  Why?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Value of Mothering

Have you ever noticed that our modern society tends to undervalue mothering?  Culture often overlooks the value of choosing to stay home with one’s children.  In fact, discussing the value of mothering is wandering into dangerous territory; even if words are chosen very, very carefully, the mere suggestion that full-time mothering is valuable and important can be misunderstood as being judgmental toward women who’ve made different choices.

Even in Christian culture, mothering is undervalued at times.  For example, we applaud those who make sacrifices to minister overseas, work with orphans or the impoverished, or other outreach/ministry.  And those things are indeed wonderful, admirable, and Christlike!  But, generally speaking, I have seen much less appreciation for women who make sacrifices in order to raise their children on a full-time basis– yet this is also admirable and Christlike.

I, too, have struggled to value my own role as a mother.  But the truth is, I have an opportunity to minister to my children.  As a parent, I am called to teach them about God and to love, comfort, guide, and disciple them in a way that reflects God’s heart toward us all.  That is a truly amazing thing– yet I have realized that I have valued it so little.  Even in the menial, repetitive tasks (doing laundry, washing dishes, sweeping floors, changing diapers), I am being given an opportunity to serve my family.  And yet I’ve found myself feeling as though that kind of ministry and service isn’t “good enough.”

I’ve spent so much time thinking that once the kids are in school, I can move on to my “real” calling, helping other people.  I hope to encourage people in their relationships with God, their children, and others.  This has been really important to me, and that isn’t a bad thing.  But suppose the only people I ever impact in a major way are my three children.  Would that be enough for me?  That is a “real” calling, too.

And I’ve recently realized a sobering truth: I have often valued loving, serving, and ministering to other people above loving, serving, and ministering to the little children God has put directly in my care.


Monday, August 8, 2011

What's So New About The New Plan?

On the surface, the “new plan” probably doesn’t look new at all.  Actually, to the casual observer, it looks pretty much identical to what I’ve been doing for about six years now: being a stay-at-home mom.  But on the inside, it feels very different because it’s not just about my external choices; it’s about a shift in the internal processes and decisions that are leading to those choices.

Committing myself to the idea of being a full-time mom for the foreseeable future is scary in a lot of ways.  You see, for several years now, I have put a lot of time and emotional energy into planning my next steps.  I’ve been focused on what I perceive as being the next “big thing” in my life.  And when my plans get interrupted, I may decide to shelve them for a year or so, but I always know I’m coming back to them soon enough.

But this is different.  Now I am feeling strongly led to let these plans go for the foreseeable future and to invest my time and emotional energy into what I feel I’m being called to do right now.
On one hand, this does take away some of the pressure I’ve put on myself– no more worrying about starting school before my GRE scores expire, getting applications in, or figuring out how to juggle young children and a master’s degree.

On the other hand, to be perfectly honest, I feel disappointed and lost.  I love school; in fact, school is one of the few things in life that I feel comes naturally to me.  I’ve really looked forward to sitting in classrooms, listening to lectures, taking notes, reading, and learning new things.  It sounds a little like heaven to me.  And that’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve told myself that surely going back to school must be part of God’s plan for me; after all, doesn’t God use the things we are good at and love doing?  Plus, it was part of his plan for me when I was a teen parent, so why wouldn’t it be now?

And this shift in my perspective leaves a gaping hole where obsessively planning my future once was.  I feel directionless.  Parenthood has a much less clearly defined path than graduate school!

Besides that, I worry about becoming irrelevant.  The truth is, if I don’t make it back to school in the next few years (while my husband is finishing his pre-med degree), it is likely that I won’t be going back until he’s finished with medical school.  That could change, but right now, I feel very strongly that while he is in medical school, I need to be focused on our family.  But when I did the math, I realized that if this is indeed the case, my bachelor’s degree could be fifteen to twenty years old by the time I go back to school, and I’ll have no work experience.  That is kind of terrifying.  Meanwhile, so many people around me are getting their master’s degrees, working on their doctorates, or building their careers.  I feel as though my relevancy is slipping away, and I worry that my view of myself as an intelligent and educated person may slip away with it.  While the people around me move ahead with their educations and careers, I am pregnant, nursing babies, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes.

And this all makes me realize just how little I have valued my role as a mother.  I have the head knowledge that it’s valuable, but my heart is struggling to catch up.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Either way, somewhere along the way, I’ve become blinded to the value of what I do.  And that is what I will talk about in my next post– the value of motherhood that I have so often overlooked.

Friday, August 5, 2011

God Keeps Changing My Plans

Let’s continue with my story. After graduating from college in 2005, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom. But in early 2008, my oldest son was a few months away from beginning kindergarten, and I was getting restless. I knew I wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree, so I took the GRE and applied to two programs that interested me– one in counseling and the other in social work. I was accepted into both programs. But during the time between applying and being accepted, something happened to change my plans: I found out I was pregnant with our second child.

We hadn’t been planning to have more children. Our oldest had experienced some special needs, and we were afraid of having the same challenges with any future children. But in March of 2008, there I was with another life-altering positive pregnancy test– and not just one test this time, but three. I wanted to be absolutely sure!

Upon discovering I was pregnant, I knew I would not be going back to school just yet. As much as I wanted to pursue my education, I felt sure that what I was supposed to do at that point was continue being a full-time mom. So my back-to-school plans were put on hold.

Let’s skip ahead to January of this year. My younger son had recently turned two, and I was becoming restless again. As I began dreaming about finally starting a master’s program this fall, my plans came to an abrupt halt– this time in the form of a few lightly positive pregnancy tests followed by what appears to have been a very early miscarriage.* By my calculations, I was only around 5 weeks pregnant. It rocked my world; my focus shifted away from my education plans as I came to terms with the unexpected pregnancy and loss. After that, I decided to change my birth control methods in hopes of never having to experience something like that again. I began faithfully taking a birth control pill and we started serious discussions about more permanent measures. And again I began dreaming of school, only by then it was too late to apply for the fall, so I set my sights on the spring of 2012.

You already know what’s coming, I’m sure. A positive pregnancy test– and on April Fools Day, of all days! I just had to laugh at that point. It seemed to be clear that my path for the time being was supposed to involve mothering. Once again, my other plans were put on hold. (You may wonder why I wouldn’t just go ahead with my education plans while also welcoming a new baby into our lives; after all, I did it when I was eighteen. Why not do it again? I’ll get to that, but in a later post.)

It’s easy to understand why God would have changed my plans when I was seventeen. The things I wanted to do then were clearly not what I should have been doing. But time and time again, it feels as though he’s changed my much more innocuous plans as well. The truth is, I have had a dream since I became a mother at the age of eighteen, a desire I truly believe was placed there by God– to work with young and/or new moms, educating them about things like pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, child development, and so on. And the graduate programs that have gotten my attention are ones that would help prepare me for that very thing. Yet each time I move in that direction, God very clearly says, “No, not right now,” and reaffirms my current role as a mom. Many times I have wondered if perhaps working with young moms is something I am called to do later in my life, but right now I am simply called to motherhood.

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this idea that perhaps my calling for right now is to be “just” a mom. And that is what I’ll talk about next time.

* For clarification, no, I am absolutely not saying that I think God “caused” my miscarriage. I don’t think that at all. Some things just happen. It is part of my story, however, so I included it here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seventeen and Pregnant

In my last post, I talked a bit about feeling that God is calling me to do something that isn’t quite what I have been expecting or planning. I have a lot to say about this– so much, in fact, that it will probably take me several posts to address it all. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I think an important place to start is to share a bit of my story. So let’s go back to about ten years ago.

When I was seventeen years old, I was full of pride and rebellion. I had just begun my final year of high school, I was succeeding in things that were important to me, and I felt overly confident in myself. At the same time, I was planning my great escape from everything that had been my life up to this point; my faith was dwindling away, and I couldn’t wait to graduate, move out of my parents’ house, start college, and embark on a whole new life– a life that would include experimenting with some of the temptations I had so far resisted.

A few months later, the positive pregnancy test I held in my shaky hands changed everything.

By Christmas break, I had moved out of my parents’ house under very different circumstances than those I had planned; I was pregnant, newly married, and not quite eighteen years old yet. As I began the second half of my senior year, my attitude was quite different from the one I’d had just a few months prior. The pride and rebellion were gone. I just wanted to go unnoticed, under the radar, keep my head down, and get done with school without attracting too much attention to myself.

My lifelong dreams of going to college now seemed nearly impossible. How would I pay for college? Would I even be able to succeed as a student while also being a parent? I saw no way of making it happen. And then I happened to hear another student talking about re-taking his ACT in hopes of getting a high enough score to get a full-tuition scholarship. Further investigation revealed that this was in fact a possibility… at the school I had sworn I would never attend: the local Christian university. Still, it was my only glimmer of hope, and my ACT scores so far were only one point away from being high enough for the scholarship. So I arranged to take the ACT one last time– this time, pregnant, sick, exhausted, and knowing that my dreams rode on this test.

Weeks later, my results arrived in the mail. I’d gotten the extra point I needed. I could get the full-tuition scholarship for my first year; additionally, as long as my GPA remained above a 3.7, I would continue receiving the scholarship throughout my time in college.

I graduated from high school 7 months pregnant, and my son was born in early August. And I began school that fall under entirely different circumstances than I had expected: married, a new mother, and going to a Christian university.

Fast forward to today: my oldest son is turning nine this week, in December my husband and I will welcome our third child and celebrate our ten-year anniversary, and my faith is stronger and more authentic than I ever would have thought possible.

Sometimes it’s easy to see how (and why) God changes your ill-conceived plans. I have no doubt that the path my life ended up taking ten years ago was part of God’s plan for me (and a much better plan than the one I’d had for myself).

But sometimes it’s harder to understand why God puts a stop to certain plans, ones that seem good and worthwhile. That is something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately as some of my plans have come to a halt over and over during the past few years. But that is for the next post…

Monday, August 1, 2011


Right now, I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m grappling with all sorts of thoughts and realizations– good things, I think, but ideas that are going to require me to examine and question some of my assumptions and priorities.

Four people from scripture keep coming to my mind as I think through all these things.

David, who was anointed king and then remained “just” a shepherd for some time afterward.
Jonah, who so deeply did not want to do what God called him to do that he literally ran in the opposite direction.

Peter, who was told by Jesus what his path would look like, and all he could say was, “But what about John? What is he supposed to do?”

Paul, who found his sense of joy, identity, and purpose not in his day-to-day life or even his calling, but in God alone.

I’m full of thoughts about what I think God may be calling me to do right now. Like David, what I am called to do in the future may not be the thing I am meant to chase after now. Like Jonah, I am so often tempted to run in the other direction. Like Peter, rather than staying focused on my own path, I am all too likely to look at and wonder about other people’s paths. And unlike Paul, too often I look for joy, identity, and satisfaction everywhere but God.

That is all I have for now. There is more– so much more– beneath the surface, but I simply cannot get to it all in one day.