Four Precious Stones

Four precious stones. Four. Each one different and full of the things that make them unique. Most who look at them would see the rough edges and deep pits still so clearly drawn in their varying hues. But not me. To me they are pure specimens of beauty and potential.

Each day I carry them to the River’s edge and emmerse them in the lapping waves and He takes over from there. Shaves away at the callouses. Rolls them over and over again in the truth that polishes all the goodness He placed within them long ago. I stand on the shore, watching the glittering and horrifying process of children becoming adults. And at the day’s end, I pick them up and carry them home. Once again, they feel a little smoother in my hand.

When I began this journal four years ago, I named it for the two precious stones that defined my days. And now I find myself writing again, marveling at the change and clawing for the meaning, with four precious stones in my hands.

No doubt the load is heavier. Each day my arms get stronger and my life more weathered by the vocation of mothering small hearts. I have one who rushes into the River each day, eager to meet it and dive beneath the waves to see what treasures the depths hold.

 

 

 

He is my Emerald, full of life and all things new, deeply interested in ideals and causes. It’s through his curiosity that he organizes his world, and he has a strong connection to his Maker already. But sometimes he swims too far. The currents pull him to places I’m not yet ready to rescue him from, and I worry maybe I will lose him in the places where it gets too deep. But those are the places that refine him most, and I cannot hold him back from where the River takes him. I can only be there when he comes up for air.

Over in the shallows my warrior princess wades, splashes, and cartwheels through her own journey. A July Ruby, she is the one where the vibrant summer sun shines with the most passion and brilliance: creative, determined, spirited, imaginative. Her own instincts took her deep into the murky waters of toddlerhood but now she is emerging into clearer pools of youthfulness. The hard work of her little years has paid off, and I am more able to rest as I watch her knowing she will come around to things in her own time as long as I stay vigilant and attentive to the subtle needs of her complex nature. Love her through the rapids.

And then there is the Amethyst, a royal blessing in the midst of winter. He pokes at me with a smile and his warm, sugary disposition lights up my world no matter how awful the chaos he is causing may be. While he is not yet ready to jump full in, the River calls to him already and each day I find it harder to keep him content playing with the waves that lap at his feet on the shore. He is searching for more. Some days he finds it; the perfect tidepool with just enough newness to keep him happy and safe. But some days he goes looking for it on his own and wanders into dangerous waters, places he cannot yet navigate by himself. And so it’s up to me to pull him back and teach him while I stand stranded on the shore, arms full of our newest little stone, a frosted, springtime Diamond. He is too little for the mighty River and all it’s lessons. All he needs right now is the safety of his family and to hear the promises of the Mighty One redeeming his heart one day. He needs the truth sung over him and tenderness to his changing newborn ways.

Four precious stones. Lately the task is daunting, and my life is like a game of Twister, each of my hands and feet bent on top of a different color. Except my children aren’t a game and falling down isn’t an option. I worry about losing track of one while I linger too long with another. I worry about the pounding they endure on the hard days when a storm rolls in and everything rages in the torrents. I worry that I might be too tired to carry us all home at the end of the day.

But when I stare down at their faces I see my own journey looking me square in the eye. While I am quick to notice the changes in my children’s lives, I often overlook the glory that has come in my own: a mind that is sharper, hands that have memorized the mundane tasks of motherhood, a heart more in tune towards the needs of others, a posture more inclined on the things of the Kingdom, and endurance that carries us all farther.

I remind myself of this when the long and demanding day begins. And when the sunset comes, I stoop down to study their four little faces. These tiny hearts in my hands just a little smoother, glowing a little brighter. The mosaic of their lives resembling more of the image He’s making them to be. We lay down to rest from our day and I listen to the story their hearts tell me.

Because through my four precious stones the River is shaping me too.

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Shoulders

A camera swings from over his shoulder, clanging against his hip as he climbs the grueling 400 foot ski jump to get the shot. He runs up, perhaps just a bit slower than the athletes, who trail him by mere minutes. Feet brace against the boards to keep from sliding down with gravity’s pull. Awkward always is his position; arms, legs, and torso wrenched in some contortion while his breath catches up to his pounding heart. Pulling the camera from his side, he brings it up to his eye, squints through the viewfinder, and takes the shot.

His whole day will look like some version of this; chasing the next frame, waiting to jump on the next opportunity. Truth be told, each job follows a similar pattern. Bust tail in this industry, with fierce competition all around, to create an opportunity. Sometimes it pays off; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes he gets caught in bad weather with crummy light and equipment that doesn’t want to work. Other times he’s hauling cases of gear miles thru a busy airport at an ungodly hour, only to find out the flight is delayed. It’s hours on his feet followed by hours of staring at a screen until his eyes are bleary. It’s the disappointment of an estimate falling through or the stress of a paycheck that never got cut. It’s marketing and branding and editing and production and jetlag all the while wondering how many pairs of shoes we’ll have to buy for growing feet next season. It rarely comes easy. And the burden falls on him.

Years ago when I first met him, the only thing on his shoulder was a camera. There it hung, shiny and proud, like a medal of all he had achieved and a promise of where he was going. His work was his life and his life was his work. But now he is wiser. And busier. And more twisted up with knots.

He shoulders bigger burdens now, ones that are not as glamorous as a sleek, black camera. He’s a resting place for my weary head and a rock of fatherly protection for our kids. Our babies have spent many a fussy night draped over Daddy’s shoulder, only to leave him sore and sleepless by morning when he returns to the work again, ready to brace himself for the next opportunity despite the exhaustion we leave him with each day. Every frame he takes is provision for our family; it’s food on the table and a roof overhead.

And so camera still hangs over his shoulders, and it’s more important now than its ever been. But it’s status has changed. And while his photographs may reflect a reasonably successful career, they don’t show what he really does. Because what he does is walk miles and climb mountains and lose sleep for us. So that when he gets home he can chase the toddler and navigate the landscape of parenting big kids and stay up late listening to a wife who is as tired and starved for connection as he is.

It’s easy to see the allure of his job. The cool places he gets to travel to, the fancy gear he sports around, the influence his job carries, and the interesting people he meets. But only a few of us see the sacrifice behind the shot; the things he laid down to be who he is. It’s the sacred vocation of manhood that he humbly, and with honor, embraces. A lesson to his children and a gift to his wife.

Yes, the camera still hangs from his shoulders. But now those same shoulders that carry his camera, they also carry his life. Because really, it’s on his shoulder that we all ride.

Stretch Marks

Purple marks surround my navel. Hidden under layers of clothes they are there, evidence of the burdens I’ve carried. Today my belly is tight again, filled with life that pokes, jabs, and rolls inside me. My midsection has reached the point where it cannot get any bigger without breaking. And so lately I can feel it–new layers of my own skin ripping apart to make room for the little being who lives inside me–the scars of tearing and healing.

It’s funny the place they’ve shown up. This small space around my belly button; the root which once connected me with my own mother. I wonder if there was a time she gazed down at her rounded abdomen and looked at me pushing her belly all out of shape, but loved me anyway, even though I was breaking her apart? Does she ever reflect on the scar that stretches across her body from where the doctors cut her open in order to save my life?

Shortly after my third baby was born someone asked me “did your third just break you? For me it was my second. My second kid just broke me. I just couldn’t do any more after that!” I smiled and laughed, but as I thought about it, I realized that, no, my newest baby hadn’t broken me. Three kids was certainly a lot of work and the transition was hard for our whole family, but my firstborn was really what broke me.

He was the one who interrupted me from myself and caused the break down and decay that comes with being a brand new mom. The sleepless night were the first hurdle. Then it was the fussy, highly-agile baby who walked at 7 months and turned every nap time into World War III. After that came the picky eating and defiant 2’s and 3’s that left me silently screaming at the top of my lungs and pulling my hair out as I doled out yet another bottomless portion of patience and endurance to simply make it through the next hour of coexisting with a toddler. I didn’t realize it then, but breaking–that’s what it was.

With each child I’ve been broken in new ways, each pregnancy leaving a purple scar to show for it’s labor. My belly is a soft, stretched out map of where I’ve been, and in some ways, it foretells where I have yet to go. Some marks have faded to a pale white, as though the years of mothering the child who left it behind has brought a purity to that once stained area of my soul.

The truth is that this shell of a body has shared its sacred space with five beautiful souls. Three in my home, one in my belly, and one resting with Jesus. I have had the privilege of cradling life five different times. I’ve experienced the honor that comes with being their mother, the challenge of watching them struggle to live in this world, and the heartache that comes from their pain which I cannot heal or fix or undo.

The marks I bare are not pretty. But they are truth. For me they symbolize something greater and are a constant reminder that new life requires stretching, sometimes beyond what’s comfortable or even possible. Life requires a sacrificial breaking down and dying to one’s own self. The stretching is an act of love. And new life will die without love.

And so today as I waddle about getting kicked in the ribs and endure the discomfort of my skin ripping apart underneath itself, I look at my navel with love. I know that beneath its surface lies a new creation; a world crowned with goodness and beauty. A safe haven, a tiny person wrapped inside the loving embrace of another. And right next to its beating heart is a tree of life; it’s job to provide nourishment to this new little human, who is so close to arriving. My belly is a picture of Eden, and part of me wishes this baby would never have to leave it. It’s a place full of potential, oneness, and bursting at every rounded corner with life and love. Painful and ugly as they might be, my stretch marks are a reminder of the sacrifice which makes it possible. They remind me not just of my own journey, but of the One who’s belly also bears a scar which made returning to Eden possible for me.

Sometimes love is best seen in the shape of a scar.

The Snare of the Snake in the Pro-Life Movement

This image hangs in my kitchen, a gift given to me by my dear sister. It is a picture of the childless Eve, wrapped in the snare of the serpent, and her counterpart, Mary, full of promise and hope for the gaping wound in humanity. Most prominent to me is the connection they share; an ancient sisterhood binding them together. Both capable of bringing forth life while wrestling with the consequence of their opposing choices. A fitting portrayal of the times in which we live.

The buzz about the recent legislation in New York is hard to ignore. Accolades of support. Enraged outbursts of disgust. On and on the endless debate goes, rehashing the same points I’ve heard for 25 years.

While the issue is of critical importance, the actual mechanics of the heated debate have become tiring. Name calling, fruitless fighting, the same old arguments and loopholes. The same disappointing human behavior from both sides.

While I believe human life is human life, my own opinion on the matter is of little importance to this post. Because as much as my pro-life friends hate to admit it, they are losing. Badly.

On the surface, it makes little sense. Pro-life voices rage loudly. They rally, they lobby, and they start impactful organizations to provide alternatives. They propagate social media with the most gut-wrenching videos and testimonies. More and more people speak up. And yet, here we are. The past 50+ years has been nothing but a slippery slope, leading only to more corruption and landing us today smack in the middle of heinous and insidious practices.

But to the astute observer, this is no mystery. As much as we’d like to blame this on spiritual evil attacking our nation, this is not merely the fault evil. No sinister devil with a pitchfork is standing on the front steps of our nation’s capitol, laughing and fighting back. No. This is our own fault. This is us drunk and dozing in the garden while our King sweats blood for us.

Scroll a few swipes past the latest post in any social feed and you’ll find a picture of a flat-bellied woman, thin and tan and “rocking life,” 20lbs down from her pre-pregnancy weight. No wrinkles. No scars. You’ll find an ad for the best vacation spots, the best weekend getaways, the latest fad for making your dresser drawers look more like a high-end luxury store than a place for your worn out socks. There will be some friend who has started a business selling the greatest, most life-changing thing known to man; another who traded in over the weekend for the new model. Someone will be complaining about the “snow day,” as if being at home for a single day with a child is akin to life in prison. It’s all just life as usual. This is the world we live in everyday. Nothing new to see here.

Worse yet, step into a typical American church. Families are separated, sometimes at the door; the children happily dismissed to go off and learn in a place that is less of a nuisance. Listen to the conversations. Couples casually commiserate about how awful it is to never get a date night anymore. And one Dad gently pokes fun at another who finally caved and bought a minivan. Even pastors make jokes from the pulpit about the real drag kids can be. Granted, most of this is in jest. We see it as harmless humor and ignore the undercurrent it is feeding.

For me, perhaps most noticeable of late, is the onslaught of articles entitled something like “Our last baby,” a post which grapples with the sadness and excitement of baby-less life. These writings are the heartbeat of two-faced emotions modern mothers bear–an emptiness at the end of a season. Every post is like the last. A decision is made final as a scalpel cuts away the promise of new life. These women mourn and move on. No big deal. It has to end sometime, right? And oh how the message is so crafty; a cunning beast, isn’t it? Luring a woman into the promise of freedom, only to leave her haunted by the looming shadow of a life that will never be.

Isn’t it so blatantly obvious? In the nobility of our pro-life message, we conveniently overlook our chronic anti-life behavior. While we rage on about the right to life and atrocities committed by women and their doctors, we are happy to sit back and complain about “just getting through the day” with our own kids. Happy to ask the pregnant mom of 3 if this baby was planned; joke with the expecting dad if he knows how to “fix that?” As though pregnancy is a problem. As though a baby is an accident. As though a family is a curse.

It’s true that for some, new life is dangerous or even impossible. But really, most of these conversations are rooted in a value system that views more than a child or two as inconvenient. Expensive, exhausting, limiting. We shamelessly shy away from the truth that growing families require parents to welcome things like maturity, responsibility, determination, and sacrifice.

And so the pro-lifers sit with the rest of the world, fawning over the Super Bowl commercials of disabled children who demonstrate these very traits. We offer a hearty nod of approval to those in the Armed Forces who embody them daily. And then we celebrate the status of the luxury SUV, the dream job, the perfectly decorated house, and the flat abs that comes from an empty womb. From a life free of the growing up, knowing up, and showing up that small humans require. I am guilty of it myself. And thus the losing battle.

Friends, as much as we like to think of ourselves as champions of the pro-life movement, we are culturally programed to distain it. The change will not come in fighting for the rights of the unborn; it will come in elevating the status of new life, period. It will come when a baby–no matter it’s origin or birth order–is no longer seen as a burden, but promise. When women are respected for the scars they bare, not the ones they avoided, sweated off, or removed. Change will come when men embrace their identity as caretakers of new creation and rise to the challenge of cultivating it.

After all, renewal for the sub-human depravity epitomized by situations like New York was always promised to come through a baby. And the outward-spreading, ripple effect of that renewal was promised to come through a family.

As a member of that family I have a choice. I can believe the crafty serpent and choose his definition of freedom. Or I can side with the promised seed of the woman and step into a value system which elevates new life to an extent the world never will. This is a deeply counter-cultural move. Embracing the later worldview will result in deformity; the world won’t recognize me. They’ll only see an image of the One who came before me. The One who exchanged His own life for the very one I’m living today.

“…And the world did not know Him…But to those who did believe, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:10, 12

52 Shabbats

Light flickers from a candle. Aromatic and warm from the oven, I lay the braided bread on the table next to the wine and pomegranate juice, edible ornaments of gold and crimson, reminding me of the royal heritage I am apart of. I finish up the final preparations, and set the dishes on the table. It is a feast; a joyful party to celebrate what awaits.

For a whole year now our Friday nights have looked something like this. I don’t always manage to pull off an amazing meal; some nights have been simple soup or BBQ from the grill. Admittedly, even take-out has graced the table in weeks when a sudden illness has struck without warning. Some nights we fill the chairs with family or friends; other times it’s just me and the kids, four tired faces, sending a picture of our night to a dad traveling far away. There is usually a spill and always a child who makes a mess. But every Friday night we have joined millions across millennia in the longest-held tradition known to mankind: remembering the sabbath.

Shabbat” is the Hebrew word which means “to cease” or “stop.” And for us, it began as a convicting experiment in faith. I had spent so little of my life to understanding this commandment that finds it roots on page 1 of the Bible. (Gen. 2:1-3) And yet, it’s a commandment. (Ex. 20:10) One of the famous ten, but also reiterated numerous times throughout the stories of the Torah, specifically spoken about in the Prophets, and it was a major source of contention in Jesus’ ministry. So if the Bible has so much to say about this event that has been happening weekly since time began, why had I paid it so little attention? Our family embarked on a journey to learn how and why to remember sabbath. And now a year later, what I have learned has been the last thing I expected to take away.

I expected to enjoy rest. I envisioned a busy Friday of rushing about, finishing my usual work before Saturday, planning a great meal that would provide leftovers, and then waking on Saturday to a relaxing, slow-paced day off. I expected Saturdays to be refreshing family time, to learn to let go of the things that are so mundane, and just rest in the Lord. In my own mind, this is what I wanted to learn; what I wanted shabbat to be for us. But this isn’t what happened. (And at first, I thought I was doing it wrong!) Of course, it’s nice enough to have the mundane chores done. There is a relaxing freedom in just picking something fun to do without worrying about the leftover work from the week I failed to finish. A break is nice. Important, even.

Rest may be what I intended to seek, but rest is not what I found. Instead, something much greater penetrated our home; something far beyond my own Americanized, religious idea of a “day of rest.”

Sabbath–the ceasing of creating–created something within us: watchful preparation and eager anticipation. To get all the ordinary done in six days takes careful planning. It takes an attention to every hour I have in the days leading up to Friday evening. In order to be ready, I must work diligently to accomplish the tasks before me. To plan each day carefully, seeing that not only our physical work is done but that the spiritual work is being tended to as well. That the climate of my home is Edenistic; that those who step across my threshold–be it that of my home or my heart–are cared for, welcomed, and nourished. In preparing for shabbat each week, we have mindfully practiced preparing our hearts for the Kingdom.

Completing the physical work serves as the symbol; it points to the greater reality I have as a follower of Jesus: preparing the Way for my King.

And in this preparation, I find that my heart has grown restless for this return. In our efforts to get things done before Friday evening, we begin to long for Friday evening. We anticipate the closeness it brings within our home; the way it unites us. We look forward to breaking the warm bread and clinking glasses of wine, and what this reminds us of. Who it reminds us of. Eagerly, we anticipate the time in which we will be in our ultimate family, around the most lavish of all tables, celebrating goodness and and resting in truth.

Shabbat is not merely a day of rest; it is a unique marker of both an ending and a beginning. When we usher in shabbat on Friday evenings, we are kindling the light–the life (John 1: 4)–that comes from the beauty of pronouncing our six days of work very good.  It is both the finale of goodness and the prelude to renewal.

By seeking to honor the sabbath, I have been given the most beautiful reminder of what the sabbath represents. It is not simply a day off; it is a pattern of divine footprints given to us in order that we may image our Creator in creating good in His world and our souls through the creative power of the Spirit and His Word (Gen. 1: 2-3), and when the work is done, entering a time of ultimate renewal and restoration. This is our family heritage. The Sabbath is the Gospel; it is made for us (Mark 2:27). To teach us to live in the Kingdom; to remind us of our real Family, and to bring us to the place where work and rest collide: supreme delight in the very good.

If you hold back your foot on Shabbat, from pursuing your own interests on my Holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight; Adonai’s holy day, worth honoring, then honor it…I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob. Is. 58:13-14

Focus: The Prequel

Focus is a gradual thing.

Obtained only by careful study of detail. Are the edges crisp? Are the points of interest clear and defined? What is sharp? Or perhaps more importantly, what is not?

Focus is a gradual thing.

In my own photography I’ve often been drawn to the blur. This beautiful manage of color. Shapes, patterns, lines and movement all in a weightless space. A place where all distraction of what is ceases to be. And instead I am free to explore possibility.

The problem comes in finding the balance. Because when the focus is too soft, it’s all mush. Fog. Density of murk that leads us nowhere.

And so often lately I find myself lost in the fog of life. A place where all I long for is clarity. Something sharp. Something clear. Something obvious that I can hold onto. Because curveballs come flying at me. Massive spheres of momentum that smash into a million little pieces when they hit the target, leaving me in a million pieces too. Someday soon I will write more. I will share the brokenness that is my existence right now.

But as I stare at the million pieces of myself, I find I miss focus. I miss the sharpness that once defined the edges and boundaries of my life. They melted away and left me leeching out like a puddle. Seeping, weeping, rippling in stagnancy, waiting to dry up in the sun that never wants to come out.

But yet I know that too much focus and life has no softness. No beauty. No cushion for interpretation or space for energy to flow.

And then there is no man’s land. A place between sharpness and blur where nothing makes sense. Shapes are too obvious to interpret and too chaotic to make any sense of. Too much. Too fast. Too close to reality but without anything real to grasp. And so we get stuck. We stop in the wild race of it and rack our brains in a search for sense. In search for meaning. Empty handed, we come up with nothing.

But I believe in the rest of the story. I believe that someday all that is unexplained will be made clear. And right now I’m just waiting for someday. The focus is shifting. Progressing, retreating, finding the balance between chaos and clarity.

And that space is beautiful. While I may not see things exactly as they are, I am able to perceive what it could be. I am able to name it. To call it as I see it. And appreciate that something simple might be miraculous if I can just find the right focus.

 

Author’s Note: This post is a prequel to three other posts I published over the course of a year detailing my story of depression and the healing process. I wrote this post years ago, and it has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages, mostly because at the time I wrote it, I was so confused and lost I felt the writing was too unfocused to share. As I worked through these issues, three posts evolved, which I have linked to above. But this post–this is the rest of the story. This is the beginning of my expression of pain, and also the conclusion I never realized I was writing. As I write this note years later and from a place of thriving emotional, mental, and spiritual health, I see now how raw and beautiful this piece is, and I share it now in hopes that someone out there who is drowning in the fogginess of their own sorrows will find encouragement and peace as they wait for the miracles that are yet to come.

The Summer of Motherhood

The air is temperate and warm. Ripe fruit hangs from wild vines. The tops of carrots and onions emerge from below; lettuces, chards, and fresh green thick and tall from recent rain. Lush life hovers. Swarms. Laughs at me. The garden that was once a barren patch of frozen dirt has come into its own. Little seedlings once overwhelmed by a space too large for them now stretch to the sky, reaching beyond the boundaries of the fence, trespassing into the world beyond.

And so the summer of motherhood. That time in which growth is rapid, life is full, and everything is–finally–producing fruit. Rewarding. Generous. Rich. The hovering I did for so long in the early years has finally paid off, producing individuals full of promise. I no longer have to hover. I no longer have to run out at the threat of every storm or cold night to shelter fragile life. They are stronger now and the season less threatening. But the work is still real.

Each one reaches maturity in its own time. Efficient though it might be, children are not a product of a commercial farm. They are not well-suited to bulk, artificial methods of stimulation. They are the heirlooms. The beautiful, unique gifts with personalities and characteristics not found elsewhere. Some simply need more time or different weather or better soil or a little extra attention to reach their fullness.

I have learned so many lessons from this season. The sun is good for growing plants, but too much heat scorches, leaving them wilted from an energy they are not ready to bear. Diligently I monitor their water, careful to provide a drink when it’s needed without rotting their roots. Without drowning their spirits in a flood of my own worry. And some hot days I wait. The leaves may droop but the promise of rain is coming. And rain can give them what I never can. A gentle pouring out of blessing from above, nourishment from a source far greater than me. It may be a thirsty afternoon, but the refreshment coming to them is worth the wait. Worth the character building and reliance upon something outside of themselves.

Sometimes the fruit they bear is beautiful. A picturesque result from the labor of parenting. And sometimes it’s misshapen, despite my best efforts, a form of expression all their own. Loveliness in its own rite. And then there is the heavy-bearer. The one that is so fierce in its growth with fruit so vigorous it requires my support. A stake to lean against. A hand to hold as it matures to fullness. And then there is the spoiled fruit. Those times in which life caught up to me and something went unattended for too long. And there it lays on the ground. All potential lost, a casualty of an imperfect gardener.

The summer of motherhood is a season of amazing joy. The work is intense, keeping up with such a rapid pace, but the reward is incredible. Bounty in full color, overwhelming the small space from which it came. My hands are full of grit and dirt, my brow dripping from the effort of the season but the beauty growing in my home is stunning. The promise of a sweet harvest coming into view.