Let the little ones come

A few years ago, I found myself sitting in the sanctuary of my church, wearing all black, mourning for the sudden and shocking death of a beloved man in our church family. This man had not only been a dear presence in my life in Birmingham, but had sung next to my daddy in the church choir in my home church in Memphis. His daughter babysat me, and his wife had sat at our table with my mother. It was the deepest blow of an already hard year. 

As people filed in, the room became flooded with familiar faces, friends both new and old.  My childhood piano teacher sat a few seats away from my childhood pastor. A few rows over sat some of my mother’s best friends that had prayed for me since the cradle. But there was one face in the group that I couldn’t name, but, for the life of me, I knew. I peered at her soft, worn face and knew somewhere deep within, “that woman loved me.” I leaned over to my piano teacher and asked the lady’s name. Judy Pepper. Lovely, but a mystery still.  

A later phone call to my mother revealed that this lady had been my Sunday School teacher when I was only three. The catch is, she moved the following year, so I had never seen her since. And yet, when I saw her face, I was struck with the peace and safety I felt in her presence. I felt known, and I felt loved. 

I’ve worked with children for years, but this was a watershed moment for me in my approach to serving the little ones in my life. As a mother of four, the last thing I want to do most days is to be responsible for more children, more instruction, or more uncontainable energy. The Sunday school lesson plans, the songs for children’s choir, the catechism questions often have seemed like more on my plate than I really want to swallow. But that day of brokenness breathed new life into my heart for the little ones around me. 

You see, I don’t have any great wisdom to impart. My Bible knowledge is elementary at best, and too many times I’ve had to answer questions with “just wait- we’re going to cover that next week!” followed by me frantically searching for the answer before the next lesson. From preschool music, to nursery, to Sunday school and catechism, I’ve covered a lot of ground, but out of all these lessons, I don’t care if they remember a thing. There are two things I want the children in my care to take away: Mrs. Lindsey loves Jesus. And Mrs. Lindsey loves me.

I’ve been in the church long enough to know that chances are, I will cross paths with these students even after they’ve moved off to college. I’ll run into them at weddings, spy them across the room at conferences and worship services, and sit down the row from them at funerals. And when they see me then, I hope they remember. Not the lessons, but the love. I hope they feel at home knowing I’m just a few feet away, and that they feel connected to God’s kingdom when they see a familiar face from so many years ago. You see, just like the heart of the Gospel, teaching children is not about religious instruction; it’s about relationship. I love the Bible. I love the Grand Story that we’re all caught up in, but most of all I love the Family and am in awe that I have a seat at the Lord’s table with saints across the ages. It’s that sense of belonging, the knowledge that I have been adopted through grace into a family, that keeps me coming back. The teaching I give and receive is my family history and the creed of my people. And these kids are God’s people- and my people, too.

When He doesn't roar back

I caught her at it again today.  Blonde curls and white little bare feet, standing on the deck in the sprinkling rain and roaring into the forest.  Roaring with all her 4-year-old might, then traipsing back into the house, bottom lip quivering. "He didn't roar back." "Who, baby?" "Aslan. He just won't roar back."

She comes by it honestly.  We named our Wildflower after C.S. Lewis' little heroine, the one who followed Aslan though dark forests and across the sea and up into the heart of heaven itself.  It's been our prayer since her name was first spoken over her that she would fiercely love and chase after the King the way her namesake did.  But today, her precious trust and tender faith were met with silence, and I didn't know what to tell her.

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I lost my Papa last month.  The night he died, I sat and watched old family videos, listening to his booming voice as tears poured down my face.  Christmas morning, family vacations, there he was towering nearby as I played and danced and sang, the same age as my Wildflower is today. His death has felt like a wall crumbling, like a piece of the foundation under my feet breaking away.  It has been the biggest blow in a hard season, a season where I have asked many times "Why isn't He roaring back?"

We want that so much, don't we? We want our fears and anxieties to be met with a strong roar, a conquering and victorious word, a declaration of power.  We want the promise of the not-yet to be the right-now.  We want Thy Kingdom Come, and we want it soon.  

When bad things happen, people tend to question God's power. But for me, the question isn't "Is God sovereign?". I'm too much of a Presbyterian to get hung up on that one. No, no, the haunting question that surfaces in those quiet, lonely moments is "Is He good?" I fall under the delusion that his glory and my joy are at odds, and his power will reign at my expense.  

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We see our little heroine asking often in Prince Caspian "Why hasn't he come yet?" Around every corner, she longs to see him and with every trial and failure, she invokes his name, "But where is Aslan?" She waits for him to stomp the enemy like last time, but, just as her faith begins to falter, she instead wakes to find him dancing in the forest, beckoning her to simply enter his presence.  They walk and she buries her face in his warmth and realizes that his nearness alone is the victory.  He is bigger and grander than ever before, His power more majestic as she becomes more aware of the weakness within herself.

You see, we have a King who does more than roar. We have in Jesus a Savior who sits by the graveside and weeps bitterly with his friends. We have a Master of the Feast who turns common water into the best of wine. We have a Healer who gently touches our open sores and walks among our lepers. We have a Leader who sits with the outcast and broken, and gives them a home and a name. The victory of the cross has sealed us, and one day, there will be the final triumphant shout of victory, and then, dear hearts, will the real roaring begin. 

But until then, this is what I will tell my Wildflower: in those moments when you most want to hear him roar, quiet your heart and listen. Listen closely, little one, and in those moments of rest and waiting, that is when you will hear him; not roaring, but singing.   

You'll hear a song that began before the stardust settled into place, in a voice sweeter and richer than the heavens themselves.  You'll hear a love song with your own name in it, a song of rescue, devotion, sacrifice, and redemption. A song of delight and rejoicing. A song of promise and of hope.

Your job, my little lioness, is not to roar into the darkness, but to enter his presence and sing along. It's the best battle cry I know. 

 

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The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Only Then

If you were to ask my husband and close friends for a handful of adjectives that describe me, I’m pretty sure “idealist” would pop up fairly quickly.  The term “hopeless romantic” is one I’m familiar in hearing.

Part of this comes with having a literary mind and an artist’s soul.  I see the world through a lens of possibility and potential, delighting in beauty where I see it and striving to add where it is lacking.  I do this in my relationships, my surroundings, and my circumstances.  There is always an underlying narrative running like a current in my mind as I watch The Story being woven around and through me.  This current can be life-giving, but sometimes it is absolutely exhausting.

For me, there’s a thin line between idealism and idolatry that I fall across all too often.

This faltering is sneaky too, as it starts with wistful admiration or longing, leads to imitation, and, fairly quickly, desperation.  It can be an Instagram feed, a blog post, a story, a scene or character in a movie, but wherever I start, my imagination leads me to a wondering of mind and a wandering of heart.  “If only I lived in that era...”  “If only we could live off the grid…”  “If only I could simplify our home…” “If only this relationship were restored…”

The thing about “if only’s” is the “then” that silently follows.  Our mouths rarely say it, but our hearts mutter it every time “If only….then I could be happy.”

I’ve learned to recognize the tangible comparisons in my life, like comparing my body or my house to others around me, but this sin is a sneaky worm that burrows deep into even my good longings and makes me yearn for perfection in the present.

I’ve blindly believed that if I just set the right stage (our home), then the actors (my children) will follow their lines perfectly.  That less toys, a simple pantry, and an unhurried day will yield thankful, peaceful hearts.  I’ve yearned for eras of long ago, assuming that without the distraction of technology and the luxury of modern conveniences, a kinder, simpler life could be attained.  But as the ancient truth says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Slander, malice, materialism, and desolation have been around since the fall of man, not the dawn of Facebook.

I want beauty, peace, restoration, fruitful work, and grateful hearts.

In a word, I want Heaven.  I want Zion.  I want perfection, and I want it now. 

At this time of year, a time of fresh beginnings and well-intended resolutions, I need to remember that happiness does not lie in a slimmer waistline, a more organized home, a balanced budget, or anything of my own hands.  These might be worthy efforts, but I must remember that all the deep longings in my heart are an echo of what we lost in Eden and what we will regain in Zion. These things will only be made perfect through the work of Jesus;  what he is doing in me and what he already has done for me.  His efforts are not in vain, and have already sealed the perfection I so greatly long for. I close my eyes and dream about it, and I am again reminded of the then that my heart whispers here.  The then that comes only when I meet him face to face.  Then, I will be happy. And you know what?  This then is true.

Why, I never...

 

Back when I was a perfect parent (before I had children), I had a long list of things I would never do.  Sitting on my lofty perch of idealism, fueled by enough childcare experience to feel knowledgeable about the field of mothering, I was emphatic on several points to which I would not yield.  I would never breastfeed (I nursed all four of mine), would never co-sleep (Somewhere in the middle of night 3 with our first, I caved on this one just for an extra 20 minutes of sleep.  Our bed at night now resembles a snake den of wiggly arms, legs, and torsos. The “snow angel” is the toddler’s favorite sleeping position.), and would CERTAINLY NEVER HOMESCHOOL (We’re in our third year of educational dictatorship…I mean…of our sweet blessed educational journey.)  I even now have a baby who refuses everything but organic formula (which I would have majorly rolled my eyes at years ago).  Somehow, I became accidentally crunchy, except for peanut M&M’s and the necessity of the times that is frozen pizza.  I was especially adamant that I would never put my child on a LEASH.  I mean, who would do that to their kid?  This girl.  Our first was an early walker, quickly turned fearless runner, and with a baby sister 18 months younger, that sucker was a lifesaver. Literally. I encountered the meanest comments and looks, which just served as a humbling reminder of my own ugliness and pride a few short years before. 

Another guilty pleasure turned humbling moment: the People of Walmart website.  I used to peruse the archives, cackling and snorting with superior glee as I clicked through the wardrobe malfunctions, hair travesties, and social faux pas.  Until one fateful day when I was making a quick run to Wally World myself, with my first child in tow.  I was extremely pregnant with our second, and as I hoisted my son on my hip and hauled it through the parking lot, I became increasingly aware of how cold it was outside.  I soldiered on until the looks and scoffs of those making the trek with me caused me to look down.  Good people, my yoga pants were riding mid-derrière and my maternity t-shirt had hiked it up to my ribs, leaving my stretched, burgeoning belly out for public display.  I have never returned to my former snickering at the People of Walmart in full confidence that I am now, most assuredly, on the website. 

But besides these humorous humiliations and general eating of my words, there are many other things I never thought I was capable of.  Ugly-yelling at my kids.  Cold-shouldering my husband. Throwing things across the room in frustration. Dark thoughts and secret desires.  The necessity of anti-depressants just to cope with life (thanks, post-partum depression.)  What this has revealed is not just my naivety and pride, but a deep lack of understanding of just how sinful I am, and just how much I need Jesus.  I hold a degree from Big-Girl-Panties University, but no amount of soldiering on and pushing forward can compensate for how much I need Grace.  There is no Pinterest project or parenting philosophy that covers the fact that I need the momently guidance of the Spirit, the life-giving instruction of Scripture, the loving chastisement of the Father, and the all-encompassing Grace of Jesus.  I could never live abundantly without them, and that’s a statement I feel confident I will never retract. 

Life Abundantly

 

Bringing forth life is a long, arduous process.  The months of growing and swelling, stretching and aching.  The preparation, the learning, the books, the classes.  All leading to that one moment in which time stands still and all the pain and planning show their purpose: life.

Perhaps you feel like that.  Perhaps you are in a place where you feel you are laboring in vain, with nothing to deliver.  Perhaps you feel stuck, barren, or frightened by what you have inside you.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I first fell in love with this verse (John 10:10) when I was expecting our Firefly.  Each of our children have a verse picked out based upon the meaning of their names, and this passage had captured my heart on her behalf.  After all, her name means life.  Over the following years, my heart has been unpacking this verse and all that it means and how it manifests in the lives of those who are in Christ.

Just a few short years before, I had been walking in the most pitiable darkness.  I was angry, disillusioned, and bitter.  I know now that I was in the painful part of breaking and becoming.  That’s why doubt no longer worries me.  Doubt shows the sign of a fight.  Doubt shows that you’re engaged.  The Lord will wrestle with us in our deserts and is bigger than even our biggest fears and arguments.

I’ve heard the Gospel my whole life.  I’ve been steeped in Scripture and washed in the water from infancy, but the darkness of my own heart and the darkness around me had left me viewing the Bible as a standard I could never achieve, a list I could never accomplish, and a set-up for all the hypocrisy I saw around me.  I vacillated between legalism, slamming those around me for their lack of adherence, or license, taking advantage of the promise of forgiveness.  I knew of Grace, but had no concept of how it could truly be manifested in my own life.

In those early years of marriage and motherhood, the Lord was faithful to water the hard soil of my heart and used his people, his church, his word, and his Spirit to coax light from my darkness and breathe life into my aching bones. 

 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I began looking at the thieves I had welcomed into my heart.  The untruths I believed, the shadows I chased after, and the consumption with my own glory.

You see, I believed that God’s glory and my joy were mutually exclusive.  One led to the loss of another.  But no, dear ones, His heart is for you.  His commandments are not burdensome and are a delight.

We have an amazing backyard.  Wild violets, gracious trees, and a dry creek decorate the terrain.  Songbirds and owls, fireflies, and chattering squirrels flit through the leaves.  There’s a playhouse, tire swing, a picnic table, a swing set, and a large hill to zoom down on bikes.  There are wildflowers to pick, muscadines, and crabapples, all within a copious acre.  But the most delightful thing is the fence.  

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You see, beyond our yard, there’s a steep ravine that drops into a creek.  There’s unkempt land full of broken glass, tossed bottles, snakes, and boards with exposed, rusty nails.  There are several wild dogs that roam the neighborhood, and the ever present threat of cars wielded by the distracted and careless.

The fence is our love for our children.  Much like the Father’s love for us.  And we are free to dance, play, and love as much as we possibly can in that space.  Within his Word is everything necessary for the Good Life, and I have known such joy by dancing in it.

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It is my hope to expound here on what the dance looks like in my life.  It involves making peace with who I was created to be (not who I wish I was), what I was given to steward (not what I wish I had).  It means freedom from the opinions of others.  It means permission to chase the passions in my own heart.  It means recognizing and delighting in the good things that fill my own backyard, from the silly to the sublime.  It means recognizing the thieves for what they are and turning them over to the Shepherd. 

It means freedom.  It means delight.  It means abundance. 

Care to dance with me?

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Let the circle be unbroken

 

I’ve carried this ache with me as long as I can remember.  It’s one that’s kept me up at night and has left me feeling desolate and alone more times than I can name. 

It’s the feeling of being “outside.”

I felt this in elementary school- I preferred the company of those older than me to that of my peers.

I felt this in middle school- I wasn’t thin enough or athletic enough like the other girls.

I felt this in high school- I viewed the world through a much different lens, and constantly felt like I was on the outside looking in on my peer group, desperately wanting to be inside but not knowing how to get there.

And I feel this way even now. 

It’s not anything that’s been said or done to me that causes me to feel this, rather it’s an assessment I make and then disqualify myself.

And I have truly thought I’m alone in this.

That’s when I woke up- when I heard a voice telling me “you’re the only one.” 

That was my frog in boiling water moment.

Because the enemy loves nothing more than to get us isolated and alone.  Lone sheep make easy prey.

So, I did what any good 21st century woman would do.  I polled Facebook with this simple, but loaded question:

“Do you feel like you are "inside" or "outside" a social circle you operate in? This can include church body, moms' group, co-workers, etc. If the answer is "outside", what disqualifies you?”

The responses were staggering, both in their content and in their authors.  Those I was sure were “in” felt very much like outsiders.  And most bewildering of all, their reasons were all different.

“Everyone seems to have a much better spiritual life than me.  I don’t say prayers as eloquently as them.”

“Everyone around me is married and has kids, and I’m not.”

“I feel like having kids keeps me from being as active or engaged as everyone else.”

“I'm an introvert and kind of hate meeting new people and especially shut down in a large group. Making new friends has never been my strong suit.”

“I’m an extrovert, and people assume that because I’m friendly and talkative, I have friends. But I really don’t.”

“I feel outside because I work outside the home.”

“I feel outside because I stay at home and feel isolated.”

“Everyone seems to have all this extra money to go and do things, and we’re barely scraping by.”

“I feel too grown up for those my age, but I’m so much younger than my peer group.”

“Everyone belongs to the same fitness club and seems to always be doing things together.”

“Everyone else has known each other for so long that it’s hard to break in.”

“My ideology is so different.”

“I feel self-conscious about my appearance.”

“I have trauma in my story, and I’m afraid people won’t know what to do with it.”

Wanna know the saddest part of all of this?  Ninety percent of the responses were about church. Let me rephrase that: the majority of God’s people in our culture disqualify themselves or feel disqualified from true fellowship in the body of Christ.”

Dear sisters, may it never be so.  Allow me to let you in on a little secret: everyone feels on the outside.

Wanna hear something even more mind boggling? THERE IS NO CIRCLE.

Hear that?  There is no.such.thing. as an inner circle.

We’ve bit the bait and are drowning on our own hooks.  And sadly, the things that we feel disqualified by, we become either defensive about or we shame ourselves over.

Sweet sister, you have been bought by the blood of Jesus.  You are inside.

Yes, you. All of you.  Your doubt, your insecurities, your discrepancies.  Your excess and your lack.  Your words and your silence.  You are fully bought, redeemed, and welcomed.

Sadly, it is our very efforts to try to fit “in” that make other feel “out.”  We latch on to our commonalities and parade them, not minding that someone else is looking on feeling further and further away with each “me too!”

What if, instead of trying to fit into small man-made pseudo circles, we focused on building His.  What if, instead of asserting our belonging, we grabbed the other sheep around us and pulled them into the fold?  What if we rested in the fact that we are his, therefore we are loved, and spread that love to those around us? What if we stopped looking inside and started looking around?

It would change the church.  And it would change the world.

What if in the halls of the church, we acknowledged each other’s character instead of characteristics?

Characteristics are the work of our hands or things that are unchangeable about us.

 Character is evidence of God’s work in your life.

Instead of “Look at you!  You look amazing!  How much weight have you lost?” let’s say “I saw how you handled that conflict with your kids and I was really impressed by your gentleness.”

 Rather than “Those are the cutest jeans, where did you get them?” let’s ask “What has happened in your week that has been encouraging?”

Forgo the typical “Oh my goodness, my kids go to that school too, let’s get together!” and try “I’m so thrilled that our kids get to learn from the same amazing teacher!  How can we work together to love and pray for her this year?”

Now there is nothing wrong with noticing and mentioning the surface things in our lives, but let’s not stop there.  Shallow waters don’t fit many swimmers.  Let’s move into the deeps where there’s room for everyone.

Let’s call out and recognize what brings us all into the same circle: the love and work of God in our lives.

And remember that NOTHING- “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” disqualifies us from the love God gives his children.

Dear ones, we are family, not because of what we are, but whose we are.  And that circle?  It won’t change or fade.  The lines aren’t nebulous or arbitrary. 

This is the circle of eternity, and you are in.

 

 

 

Sight

Belief is not agreement on a set of facts.  

It is sight to the blind, light to the dark.  

It is color, music, and a dance of the soul.  

Redemption is not a ticket out of suffering.  

It is belonging and becoming, 

breaking, growing, receiving, and giving.  

Worship is not a set of songs and a fancy dress.  

It is a posture of the soul, a cupping and tasting  

of holy things and deep, good magic.  

Belief is breathing, washing, dying, and living.  

It is tasting and seeing that the Lord is good,  

And hungering forever after.  

 

 

Life-giving books about death

Death. It's a topic few want to talk about, but one that nobody can avoid. Especially with children.  

I know I've often shied away from the harsh reality of it with my own little ones. "No, sweetness. The bee isn't dead, he's just sleeping." But this approach is dishonest and leaves our children unprepared for when reality undeniable and unescapably hits close to home.  

Last year, when my children were 5,4, and nearly two, my cousin passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She was a fixture in our home, often at our table for dinner, and never missing a single birthday or event. She was at our home one day and discovered in her apartment 2 days later. It was like having the wind knocked out of us and our children, particularly our oldest, who had no tools to cope. We were in crisis mode for several months, but thankfully through the wisdom of our family and church family, the guidance of the Spirit, and the healing passage of time, our children, and we as their parents, have walked away with a deeper hope in the Gospel and a less frantic view of loss. 

The sweetest gift we received in those early days was the gift of vocabulary. We decided immediately to use the word "broken" to describe how death happens. We told the children that Syndee's body broke, and that she went to Heaven where Jesus made her whole again, but that she had to stay there. We were careful to avoid words like "sick" and sleeping" as these would lead to greater anxiety for our children later. "I'm sick...am I going to die?" "If I go to sleep...will I not wake up?"  Later, as we have prepared the children to say good-bye to several of their great-grandparents, we've avoided the use of the word "old" as that's a very relative term to children. We've told them that as time goes on, your body breaks from the inside to where it doesn't work anymore. Your body can break from the inside (illness or age) or the outside (injury). 

Another disservice we do to our children is telling them that death is a natural part of life. It's anything but. It was never meant to be this way.  We were created for eternity and the curse of sin wrecked that. Telling children that death is supposed to happen is more bewildering than it is comforting, and it robs us of our need for hope and denies our yearning for redemption. Sit with them in their sorrow and acknowledge that this was not how it was meant to be- that death was never part of God's original plan, and then point them to the hope of the Gospel. 

We had the recent privilege of celebrating the life of a dear Saint in her final days.  Mrs. Barbara was a radiant source of light and life in our church. Her bright wardrobe, cackling laugh, and sparkling countenance brightened up the room. A broken collarbone led to the discovery of stage four cancer, and the time left was short. In true Babara fashion, she asked for a homecoming party, and boy did the church show up. What a gift it was, for us and for our children, to hug this sweet sister one last time and watch as she looked forward to heaven with hope. Reunion with her husband and loved ones.  Freedom from sin and sickness. Meeting her Jesus face to face. It was one of the sweetest celebrations I've ever been to, and a gift for our children to witness the peace and bravery that comes with hope. 

 photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

photo courtesy of Amy Henry Photography

 

Broken things are meant to be mended. Hallelujah that they are.  

With these things in mind, there are two resources I would highly recommend having on hand for when (not if) your children encounter the reality of death, whether it be a grandparent, church member, friend, or family.   (Both books are available on Amazon.)

Someone I love died 

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In the wake of our loss last year, I polled Facebook for suggestions on books that dealt with death, appropriate for preschool age. Our children's minister suggested this one, which I immediately bought. I checked the other suggestions out from the library, and although helpful, this one was the best in addressing death in terms of the Fall and in light of the Gospel. There are excellent spaces for children to write and process their own thoughts, as well as prose and Scripture. 

 

Voyage to the Star Kingdom 

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Ya'll, I ugly-cried my way through this book the first time I read it. (And still can't get through it without choking up at least twice. Or three times.) Written for a family facing grim diagnoses for two of their daughters, this gorgeously illustrated book drips with hope.  First of all, it reminds us that we are not alone- that the Lord will send his people to surround and uphold us, and that he gives his Spirit to comfort us. It is a beautiful reminder of his love and care even in dark providence, and gives a beautiful picture of the hope that is ours in Jesus. 

 

Remember, dear friends, that in light of this topic, we have not been given a spirit of fear. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have been given life abundantly. Go and live and don't let fear steal your joy. Remember you are not alone (and neither are your children!) and that after the last tear falls, there is love. 

Holding

He did it. He met a big goal, something that stretched him past comfort, and his reward was getting to watch Star Wars. The real, grown-up one, laser guns and light sabers in all their glory.  

As he walked out to the car from school, I rolled down the windows and blasted the opening theme loud enough to wake the dead. He cracked a smile, but it didn't reach his eyes.  

"I hurt my elbow at school today." He held up his arm, brandishing a bandaid.  

"I'm sorry, bud. What happened?" 

He recounted the events- nothing more than rough n' tumble boy play, then he paused.  

"They laughed at me. All the other boys, and my best friend. They laughed when I fell." 

Hot, silent tears rolled down his face, and my mama heart shattered into a thousand pieces.  

I've known this day was coming. We've made it six years, which is a gracious plenty in light of the world we live in. Today wasn't just about embarrassment and a scraped arm. It marks the end of an era, an era in which he's walked through the world genuinely believing that everyone in the world is kind. That all those around him are with him and for him.  

I could have turned around and marched in, demanding an explanation from the teacher. I could have texted the other mama and demanded an apology. Goodness knows I've seen those scenes play out over my years as a teacher and a mama. 

But I didn't.  

I pulled him into my arms and wiped the bitter tears away. We talked about compassion and forgiveness.  About using words to build others up. I told him that what he felt was called betrayal. He perked his head up. "Like Jesus? Jesus was betrayed, too."

This afternoon, he's been careful. He's been quick to apologize to his sisters in moments of unkindness. He's been kind in his responses to hard requests.  I know this is not a permanent change, but it's been evidence of a slight shift in his heart towards empathy. 

We live in a culture that refuses consequences, that pushes against anything unpleasant, and refuses to sit through pain or endure suffering. We are quick to exact our pound of flesh, not minding the drops of blood it takes to get it.   We fight our children's battles and all they ever learn is that they are victims entitled to restitution. Yet vengeance and a demand for justice will never breed compassion or love. 

As hard as it was to watch him hurt and hear him wrestle with his feelings, I could not be more proud of how he took that pain and used it towards mercy. And, for love, that he knew he had a High Priest that sympathized in his sufferings. 

There are times when our children will need us to stand up and step in. There are times they will need our protection and advocacy. But there are also times to let them experience the brokenness of this world and run to the arms of their Savior who promises he will make all broken things new again.

So while today might have been the closing of an era, it's the dawn of a new one in which I pray the gospel will be richer and deeper in his life.   

Holding back sometimes means holding out hope. 

 

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On Turning 30

I sat on the couch, crying.  I was lonely, confused, heartbroken, and afraid.  I was 17, with no real friends, recently dumped, unsure about college and all the winding, obscure paths that lay before me.  “This is supposed to be the best time of my life,” I choked out as my daddy sat by my side.  My sweet daddy cracked a smile, a smile that seemed to know something I didn’t.  “I sure hope not,” he replied.  “How sad it would be if the best was over by the time you’re 20.  You’ve got so much ahead of you.  The best of your life is yet to come, sweetheart.”

That moment has never left me, and has been fresh in my mind as I reflect upon my 20s.  And you know what?  My daddy was absolutely right. 

The last 10 years have been a whirlwind for sure.  I married my best friend, earned a degree, and made lifelong friends,.  We’ve owned two houses and have welcomed 4 dreams-come-true into this world.  I’ve worked in daycares, churches, taught lessons, and have sung on international television.  But all of these things don’t hold a candle to the greatest experience.

I’ve been held.

I went through a dark period of doubt about halfway through college.  I wasn’t sure if God was good, and certainly not convinced that his plans were best.  But over the last decade, I’ve come to see that His glory and my joy are the same, and that even the darkest moments have held great promises.  We’ve walked through depression, loss, unemployment, and betrayal.  We’ve celebrated a happy marriage, healthy children, an amazing church family, and faithful provisions.  And in all of these mountains and valleys, the radiant light of God’s goodness has remained consistent. He has been faithful to work in our lives, and he has been gracious to work on me.

We hear talk of the day we meet our Maker face to face, that there will be a reckoning of sorts, and that all of our sins will be laid bare before us.  But the Bible also says that in Christ, our sins are as far away from us as the east is from the west.  I’ve long tried to reconcile this in my mind, and one day while scrolling through pictures, I began to wonder what it was in us that made us love “before and after” shots so much.  It struck me that perhaps that’s what we’ll see when we meet our Father.  Maybe He will show us the path that we were on- filled with despair, ugliness, regret, and sin.  But I’m hopeful that He will then spin us around to the work of art we’ve become.  We’ll be able to trace the lines of his mercy over the canvas, linger over the brushstrokes of suffering that brought great refinement, and revel over how those worst moments were crafted into beautiful shapes. 

The best taste I’ve had of this so far was upon visiting my husband’s childhood church when we were newlyweds.  I had slipped out to use the ladies’ room and encountered a group of young teenagers.  I immediately identified with them.  I saw myself in their awkwardness, in-betweenness, and general discomfort with themselves.  I ached in remembering my own loneliness and self-loathing.  As they herded out, I made my way to the mirror and gasped.  There before me stood a woman.  Those awkward lumps had become shapely curves, the acne had disappeared and left fair skin, and in my eyes was a confidence that I knew without a doubt that I was loved.  Years had passed, and without my even noticing, I had been molded and changed.  Shaped into what I had been becoming all along.

So it is with great joy and anticipation that I approach this next decade of life.  Lord willing, I hope to have many more moments of joy and laughter.  I pray I can grow in love with my husband, delight in my children, walk with my dearest friends, and serve with His People.  I know there will be terrible storms and unforeseen heartaches.  I know I will see more and more the depths of my sinfulness and the greatness of his mercy.  But I know that in all of this, he who began the good work in me will be faithful to complete it.  And when his work in each of us is done, we’ll all stand back and gasp at the sight.

Adventures in Post Partum Depression

I shared this post on Facebook a year ago today, and it resonated with many people.  This story is about my experience after delivering our third child in the Spring of 2013.  Thanks to modern medicine and support, I'm thankful to say that I've not repeated this experience with our most recent addition.


I come from a line of strong, determined women. The ladies I grew up around, and those who had passed that I heard stories of, were makers and do-ers. Crafters, mothers, nurses, midwives, volunteers. But one thing we are not is complainers. Morning sickness? Go on with your day and keep a bucket handy. Common Cold? Here’s a cough drop and some hot tea. Carpool is in one hour. We don’t do tired. I don’t mean to sound like my forerunners were cold. Anything but- very gracious about the plights of others, doting and concerned, but when it comes to handling your own ailments, you just suck it up and deal. You can ask for a pain pill after surgery, but do it bravely and with a smile on your face. So you can imagine, since I graduated from the life school of Big Girl Panties University, that post-partum depression came as a great shock to my system.


My first two pregnancies were flawless. When we welcomed our first, a bursting-ball of energy little boy, I remember crying a lot, but they were happy tears. I was overwhelmed by the sudden wash of emotions: unparalleled joy, fresh anxieties, happiness, anticipation, hope, exhaustion. But overall everything was bright. When our little firefly, a calm gentle little girl, arrived 18 months later, she added a touch of elegance and softness to our home. I remember being overjoyed by her arrival and over all felt such peace and warmth. Adding her was almost effortless. Was it any surprise that we would be eager to add another? When our 2nd was 18 months old, we decided to add another seat at the table. The first trimester was typical- mild morning sickness and tiredness, but came with a new experience: panic attacks. I remember having my first panic attack when I was 8 weeks pregnant. The chest pains sent me to the ER. After tests that showed nothing, they sent me home with no further explanation. I didn’t figure out until later that what had happened to me was a physical manifestation of anxiety.

As the pregnancy progressed, my mood declined. I chalked it up to fatigue from chasing two toddlers with a growing belly. The red lights didn’t really go off until after our Wildflower arrived. We welcomed our new little light, a girl, on a sunny April morning. She was pink and perfect, and despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t muster up much happiness. I swallowed the guilt and just hoped that the feelings would come. This was only beginning. I slowly started slipping into this mire of hateful and scary emotions. Every single instance of the day triggered in me a fight or flight response. The simple request of “Mommy, can I have some goldfish?” sent me either screaming, crying, or hiding under my sheets. I grieve over the way I treated our children in those months- their mommy was replaced by this snatching, screaming, wild-eyed ogre and every day I pray that they don’t remember.

 Our Wildflower at 3 days old

Our Wildflower at 3 days old

The best way I have found to describe those moments is that I felt like I was no longer in the driver’s seat. I felt like I was sitting in the passenger seat, watching some alternative version of me driving the emotions. The real me sat in the passenger seat asking “What’s going on? It’s just goldfish! What’s the big deal?” but the driver always steered to panic. I experienced crippling panic attacks almost daily. I couldn’t breathe. I kept thinking “I can do this!” Everyone told us that adding the third baby was the hardest, and I quickly dusted off my Big Girl Panties diploma and soldiered on. Except I was marching into darker and darker territory. Pretty soon I started thinking that my children and my husband would be better off without me. I never got to the “planning stage” but I remember thinking that if I didn’t wake up in the morning, everyone would probably just be better off.


Before I continue, here are a few things you should know about me. I’m an optimist to the core, an extrovert, a great lover of people and especially children. There is not a melancholy bone in my body. I’m one of the most flexible people you’ll ever meet and I often thrive in chaos and unexpected situations. I’m also a deep lover of Jesus, firm believer in the power of prayer, and active member of a fantastic church. So you can imagine that my world felt like it had been flipped upside down. I remember praying and praying for help, asking to be relieved of the rage inside. I assumed it was unconfessed sin or worry or something else spiritual. I read my Bible and cried out often to be “fixed.” When nothing happened, I came to the darkest place of all. I felt like I had been abandoned and that God didn’t care. I remember lying on the bed during prayer and story time with the children, completely unengaged and just wishing it would be over. I remember nursing my baby and wishing the warm-fuzzies would come.

 A happy moment with my Firefly

A happy moment with my Firefly

 


One day I opened up in Sunday school about the anxiety I was feeling. We have a great church and the response was positive and encouraging. They prayed for me and checked on me. I still thought my issues were rooted in spiritual or emotional disconnect and rested in the thought that my problems, with a little extra support, would soon be solved. The spiral continued. Finally, my dear sweet husband approached me. I will never forget that moment. After a tense dinner that ended in screaming and tears, he quietly tiptoed into our room and sat down on our bed where I was hiding under the sheets. He put his hand on my head and slowly stoked my hair. “I think you need to call the doctor. This isn’t your fault.” I was eight weeks postpartum at this point. He had started noticing the trend that I would call him about the same time every day begging him to come home. When I started saying things like “I’m afraid to be alone” he perked up. I would have these horrible daydream flashes in my mind and was terrified. He started reading and quickly figured out that I was textbook for PPD.

The night before my doctor's appointment, I sat at the computer, kicking myself at the thought of getting on anti-depressants. Despite all the science screaming in my face, despite the simple explanation of serotonin deficiency from pregnancy, I still couldn’t get over it. I logged into Facebook, and in God’s sweet mercy, I read the most encouraging post. A friend had posted something in our church group about her Zoloft prescription running out, and the responses were hilarious. Within 10 minutes I read from 4 women in my Sunday school class that they too were on the drug, and shockingly, ok with it. No stigma, no apologies. I went into my doctor's appointment with a little less dread. When I tearfully told my OB what was going on, she placed her hand on my knee, looked in my eyes and said, “It’s going to be ok.” and whipped out her prescription pad. Zoloft. 50mg once daily. I slunk to the pharmacy and filled it.

The first night, I felt like my brain had been hijacked. My thoughts raced and I couldn’t sleep. The second day, I had a headache all day and felt mildly dizzy (thankfully this was a weekend). The third day, I felt like someone who had been drowning getting that first life-saving gasp of air. For the first time in 3 months I was myself again. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror, staring into my eyes that had gone from the color of a stormy sky to a calm lake. I felt clear. I felt happy. I looked at my baby and couldn’t wait to hold her. “You’re back” my husband sweetly whispered later, joy and relief in his face. And I was. I tickled, I snuggled, I chased. I was calm and collected. Exhausted, but deep down content. The way it was before. Still, I couldn’t shake the stigma. I still tried to make it into something that was my fault that I could fix on my own. I was talking to a dear friend at church when she gave me the exact words I needed. She asked, “Well, did the medicine fix it?” “Yes. Immediately.” “Well there’s your answer,” she said. “If it had been a spiritual problem, no pill in the world could have fixed it.”


Now hear me on this. I believe God is sovereign and capable. But I also believe He designed our bodies to work a certain way. Certain chemicals, organs, and processes. And I truly believe medicine to be a merciful gift from His hand to help and heal. And indeed it did.
So why am I sharing this? This is not a commercial for prescription drugs. Although the medicine ultimately fixed the problem, it was the openness and attentiveness of those around me that saved me. It hurts to think of where I would have ended up or what could have happened to our precious children if I had been left to spiral further. The care of my husband, the attentiveness of my parents, and the openness of those in my circle were the catalysts to getting the help I needed. Our Wildflower is now approaching her second birthday, and I’m having the time of my life. There are hard days (how could there not be?), but the voices of deep shame and hopeless despair have long been quiet.


This was a huge, humbling, learning experience for me. It has taught me compassion in an area that I honestly turned a blind eye to. I never thought it would happen to me. But you can’t “Big Girl Panties” mental illness. There is no “suck it up and deal” when you feel like life as you know it is over. If you are one who has been down this dark road, know you are not alone, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. For those who haven’t, keep your ears sharp and your heart open. It’s often hard to tell where the darkness comes from- broken relationship, broken spirit, or broken body. As believers, we often attribute struggle to spiritual conflict, but we must remember that we were made body and soul, and both have been wrecked by the Fall. Thankfully, He gives us himself, He gives us each other, and He gives us the means to physical relief. Take heart, there is great hope all around.
 

  Picture from November 2013. Snuggling with my Firefly and Wildflower on a beautiful Fall day.

Picture from November 2013. Snuggling with my Firefly and Wildflower on a beautiful Fall day.