Lessons from the Little Bear

Dusky blue shadows hang in the space between us. The last rays of the sun have gone to sleep, and twilight looms, a lazy, late-summer night. We sit in the quiet, just looking at each other. I hum a lullaby over you and study all your sweet features. Soft, dark hair combed over to the side of your white forehead, roll poly arms, a blocky face with a perfect little, round nose and pointed chin. Your eyes stare back at mine, as if you’re begging me to tell you the story.

Because there’s a story in you, Little Bear. Did you know that? We all have one. It’s yours–beautiful and rich with all the light that makes you human. I may not know just quite how it goes yet, but it’s there inside you, waiting to be read.

Rocking back and forth in the familiar chair I hold you in my arms. What a sweet lump you are. Soft, warm, with that baby smell I would exchange oxygen for if I could. I try to decide what I love most about you, but hopelessly give up because there is just too much goodness in you to choose.

Goodness. Your story starts with that, Little Bear. So much goodness. Very goodness, in fact. And that is the best part.

Snuggling you, breathing you in, kissing your forehead and hold your hand…it’s intoxicating because it’s full of so much goodness. Your little life unmarred by the world, full of potential and creative power. And even though you don’t know it yet, all you have ever known is love. Perhaps that is the best part; the wholesome and unattached love with which you see me. Love and joy simply because I am your momma. Simply because you love my face. My voice. My fingers intertwined with yours.

Sitting here in the shadows of the night, you stare at the tired woman who carried you in aches and bore you in quite a labor, and somehow you just know to delight in me because you came from me. With you, I don’t have to pretend away my feelings. Don’t have to deny my own desires or hopes or wishes. I can feel my needs because you can’t reject me. You can’t unlove me.

Yes, your story starts with goodness. The shadows, aches, pains, and weariness are all apart of the process. Nothing in life is perfect. But you, Little Bear, you are a glimpse of the perfect human. The one who lives to love and be loved. The one I hope to someday become.

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

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.

Of Fevers and Rocking Chairs

I sit again. This rocking chair. It is not the first time I have spent all night in it. It probably won’t be the last. A little lump dozes restlessly against my arms. He is burning up, cheeks ablaze as he lays there trying to get comfortable. Holding him here my own arms ache. My neck is stiff and my shoulders are tense. He is heavy. Actually, this is heavy. This whole thing.

I gently try to lay him in his own bed only to be met with crying. Standing there alongside the chewed up rails feels familiar. How many times have I done this? Patted the back of a sad little thing in footie pajamas? Through the fleece I can feel the heat of the fever and the rapid beat of his heart. And despite my aching back and sleep-deprived eyelids, I pick up him again. We walk. We sway. We doze sitting up. We do this all night long.

Soon morning will arrive but we are still a ways from that. There is a relief in knowing that the dark is almost over. Light has a way of bringing hope, even if nothing has changed. We are both exhausted. The feeling is familiar…almost rehersed. My feet know the path to his crib, well worn through the dark hours to tend a crying baby. My arms cradle him just so with the bouncy rhythm he has known since his days as a newborn. This feeling of exhaustion is startling not because it is so real, but because it is so old. As though it’s been there since the beginning. And I realize it is the same feeling I began the whole journey with.

The labor does not stop. The contractions pass and the baby arrives. But the labor goes on. It is real work.

I find it strange that nearly seven years have elapsed since I first became a mom, and yet I still do not fully see how it had shaped me. It has made me stronger and more patient. It has certainly pulled to light selfishness I never knew I had and a level of determination unmatched by my pre-child days. But most days, I don’t really know where this is going. My days are too full of the work. Three children in three different stages with three different personalities, all needing me in different ways. Like labor I just focus on getting through it. I breathe. I pray. I deal with each moment as it comes like a wave. And like labor I know at the end there will be a beautiful person, unique and ready for the world. And I know I will love them beyond belief and forget all the work it took to get them here. It will all be worth it in the end.

So I go back to rocking my baby. Soothing his fever, pacing the halls, praying for sleep or morning to come. Either would be fine.

A Vision for my Valentine

He rises in the early hours of the morning. Toes touch the cold floor, back creaking upward after a long night. He breathes, bracing himself for the day, surveying his battlefield. Planning the strategy. Calculating his moves. No one prepared him for this. No one gave him the plans, the skills, the basic training. He learned this part by committing. By investing his heart into uncomfortable places.

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