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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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

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.

The Window

Baby-sized shrieks of excitement fill the otherwise quiet room. His hands clap together while a big-belly giggle gurgles up out of his soul and sugars the air between us. Our eyes meet in mutual glee. His in anticipation of my next move; mine in full delight of being in this moment with him.

Right now, my tiniest stone is in a rare window of time. He is fully mobile now, active and busy. Sure on his feet, he regularly bursts forth in a toddley run, splashing through space to keep up with his brother and sister. He climbs stairs as if they are mountains, seeking the summit with every step. And he descends them carefully, slowing evaluating the steep drop as he lowers himself down the slope. Ducking and dodging, rolling and pushing, he navigates obstacles in his way. The garden hose is his ocean; the sandbox his glittering shores. A daily ride in the wagon puts him at the helm of the vessel that takes him into the unknown, and the backyard swing is his ticket to soar into the blue, like the birds who fascinate his curious mind.

The whole world is his playground, and he subdues it with great pride. He brings his rule and reign, like a little king, learning how the environment around him responds to his plans. My arms can no longer contain his abundant nature–the purpose knit into his makeup–to take hold of this very good place. In this window, I watch his babyhood fade more each day, and notice the promise of childhood coming into view.

But when he wanders near danger–a low-hanging branch, desirable to him–I am still able to pull him back. For the most part, we have not yet arrived at the days of kicking and screaming in a tantrum; the days of rebellion, shame, and hiding. He hears the sound of my voice; he notices the goodness I offer him instead, and he is content with my definition of right and wrong. Of danger and safety. Of good and evil.

It is a window we all pass through. A place in time where we no longer cling to our mothers like an extension of their bodies. Somehow we recognize our own individual identities as separate people capable of responding to our whims and environments as we please. But it is also a place in time where we have no knowledge of evil at all; no knowledge of the sin crouching at our doors. What a small, small window it is.

The beauty of the window is the view that it frames. Lush, inviting, dripping with goodness. A kingdom-garden for us, ready and brimming with possibility.

And the tragedy of the window is that we are unconscious to it. Unaware of our own innocence, unable to remember the day in which we played at the threshold of Eden.

Looking into the window, we see ourselves. Children captivated by a taste of our full, perfected humanity with no knowledge of the heinous system we will willingly become participants in. And looking through the window, we glimpse the future. Outlined by the walls of this life, these windows let in just enough light to brighten the darkness. A single pane of glass separating us from the fullness that awaits.

In watching my beloved son pass through this precious season of life, I find myself inching closer and closer to the window in my own life. Gazing longingly at the view it frames. Pressing my hand upon the crystalized glass. Lifting it open, bit by bit, letting in the breeze and myself dance with the wind. The Ruach–the Spirit–from just beyond, breathing into me the life I am made to live.

The Hours and the Miles

We’re in a season of miles

that stretch across our hearts.

Pulling us together

across the wide, wide sky.

 

And we’re in a season of hours

that don’t want to end.

Some would take a break,

we’ve got to take the work.

 

You’ve been gone so long.

I know you’re tired of the flights

and the calls.

The job keeps you up way too late.

Day turns to night and it starts all again.

The haul never gets any shorter.

Work you love, void without me.

 

And I’ve been home so long.

I’m tired of their fights

and these walls

This job gets me up way too soon.

Night turns to day and they need me again.

The trenches and frontline of motherhood.

A 24/7 shift, for weeks without you.

 

I can’t talk right now. And you’ll be asleep by my tomorrow.

How do two stay one when the sun on my face

has already passed over you?

 

I know this is how it goes.

And I know it’s what we chose.

I know there will be a day

we sit at the beach and watch the waves

play at their toes.

But today is not that day, and you are far from home.

And I am here, alone.

 

But these miles we walk aren’t in vain.

The time you spend away

will come back to us one day.

And I am here with them.

Investing my every breath so they will grow up

and do the same.

 

But these miles are vast and these hours are long.

And tonight the lump in my throat won’t leave me alone.

 

So call me when you get to where you’re going.

Maybe we can talk a little while.

Or at least until the baby cries.

Or we both cave to the lull of needed sleep.

Shoes

Clumsily she struts around in my shoes, a pair of black high heels that I rarely ware, dug out of the back of my closet. Her smile is wide as she announces that the fashion show has begun. Dragging her feet through the carpet to the mirror, she admires her look, then falls, laughing as she makes her way back to the closet for another pair.

This behavior–playing fashion show–is new to us. I have vivid memories of doing the same thing as a little girl, but her older brother never played games like this. And so watching her fascination with my shoes is fascinating to me.

They are far too big for her little growing feet. Not to mention uncomfortable and hard to walk in. They don’t fit her yet, and if I expected her to wear them, she would surely fall and injure herself. The time for filling shoes like this has not come for her.

She loves to play with them though. There is something about pretending to be grown up that draws her back each time, trying out a new pair. Seeing how she looks; how she feels.

Curiously she has never put on her Dad’s shoes. Though we share a closet, our shoes lined up neatly next to each other’s, she always plays with mine.

As she plays I begin to notice how much she is watching me. She is not pretending to be a grown-up; she’s pretending to be me.

An image of me–not an exact replica–but in her own mind, I am the closest thing to a grown up girl she will ever experience until she becomes one herself. I am her definition of a woman. I am the mirror she looks to to glimpse her future. How funny that she has taught me so much about being a mother and yet I am the very person she will learn to be a mother from.

The weight of it all hit me while she pranced around in my shoes. My beautiful girl. My precious daughter. I have the power to raise her to amazing heights as a daughter of the King, and also the power to damage her perceptions of real womanhood beyond recognition. It is a weighty, exhilarating, and scary moment when you realize all your daughter wants is to grow up to be you.

That day is not far off. One day she will no longer be a child, and I can only I hope she sees herself as I see her now. Fearless, mighty, brave, tender, observant, creative, curious, and above all else craving the deepest affection and the most outlandish love. I know that I will let her down, as all mothers do. And when I do I hope and pray with all my heart that she will run to the One who will never let her go, who can tend her heart in ways no human ever can.

Yes, I know I will let her down. But oh how I never want to.