How I Found Joy During Infertility

infertility

I had heard about “infertility” before I got married. But to be honest, I always kind of shrugged it off. I was sure there were people “out there” who couldn’t get pregnant–but I never imagined I would be one of them.

Why, you ask?

Because I come from a very long line of  “fertile” women. I felt sure, if anything…it would be too easy to get pregnant.

That’s why I was so adamant about taking my “pill” each night. And making sure there were no “accidents.”

But after a few years…something changed.

And I wanted to have a baby. 

I remember how excited we were, that first fragile month that I chucked the disc of pills into the garbage can, and for the first time ever, we tried. 

A few weeks later, I took a pregnancy test before work in the morning. I couldn’t wait to announce to my husband as we both got dressed for work, that we were going to have a baby!

I never expected the test to read: negative.

I never expected the next month, and the next month, and the next to be negative, too.

And I never expected those months to turn into years, years full of “negative.” But…they did.

I was completely unprepared for the emotional journey that was “infertility.”

It felt like riding a rollercoaster every month. There was the hope that, “This month could be different!” The anticipation that comes with trying, and wondering if life has formed in you? The waiting to know. And then the dissapointment when your period returns. Again.

To go through this cycle every month, never knowing when, or if, it will end can be tiring.

Infertility wears on you.

It wears on your soul.

Everyone knows that labor hurts. But no one actually tells you that infertility hurts, too.

On the inside.

In this secret place that no one else can see. Like a locked garden.

Like a mystery.

It’s not a labor of the body, it’s a labor of the soul.

You wait and wonder. You cry and pray. You long and hope. And you try…to hold it all together. You try to hold eachother together, as husband and wife.

But sometimes, you start to sort of unravel inside.

Because you desire to be a mom with all your heart. You feel ready. You wish it could just happen the normal way (as it seems to with everyone else.)

You want love-making and baby-making to go hand-in-hand. But then…sometimes it’s not so simple.

I remember it was especially hard those months when I thought I was pregnant, only to find out I wasn’t. Because some months I really did feel different. 

I was more moody, and hungry, and tired. (How many times did I Google “pregnancy symptoms”—in hopes that I was?) But, then, my period would come.

So, it was several years of this wear and tear on my soul, before I realized: I had a choice to make. 

I didn’t even know I had a choice. (Other than to feel bummed out…pretty much all the time.)

I did know that every single month when my period came back. And every single day, in between.

I had a choice between joy and despair. 

Now let me tell you, I did’t read a self-help book to come this. I didn’t even read infertility blogs (if they existed, I didn’t know about them!)

All I did was pray. And read Scripture. And sometimes, the Holy Spirit would speak to me. When I was quiet enough to hear Him.

There were a few key things the Holy Spirit showed me during that time–and these changed me. They changed the way I saw everything.

If you have read my story about my barreness, or my second miracle pregnancy, you know that I didn’t stay barren forever.

Maybe the miracles of my pregnancies drew you to this blog, but I want to tell you about an earlier miracle. Perhaps, the most amazing of all.

This miracle happened in my soul–before I ever got pregnant.

Before I have had a child.

See, when you are barren, you often don’t simply have a barren womb. You also have a barren soul.

And I was truly barren, not just in my womb, but in my soul. I saw my life as this dry, barren wasteland. I saw only what I was lacking. I was thirsty, and I didn’t know how to be quenched.

I was angry and sad. I knew God had the power to heal me–but He wasn’t healing me.

I got to a point where I could “accept” or, “tolerate” the fact that I couldn’t get pregnant. I was able to “grit and bear it.” (And, I actually thought that I was doing pretty well–but I wasn’t.)

Because God didn’t want me to simply “tolerate” the life He was giving me.

He wanted me to embrace it.

He wanted me to enjoy it.

To enjoy Him–in it.

(Because He never left. He was there all along, even in every moment of the infertility.)

For some reason I thought I couldn’t be happy or fulfilled until He gave me a baby.

But He wanted to show me that He was enough–before I ever got a baby. (And, even if He never gave me a baby.)

I was looking for a baby to satisfy what only God could. 

All that time, I was clenching my fists closed in anger at what God had allowed in my life, but He wanted me to open my hands.

He wanted me to surrender my plans to His. My desires to His. And He wanted me to embrace the life and calling He had for me–even if I didn’t understand it at the time.

When someone gives you a gift, you don’t “tolerate” it.

You thank them for it.

And I remember when I realized I needed to thank Him.  For inferitility. (I know how absolutely crazy this sounds.) But I realized that if God had chosen this for me, it must be good, and He must have a purpose in it–even if I couldn’t see it yet.

So, I literally thanked Him for everything I could think of that was “good” about not being pregnant. I thanked Him that I didn’t have to stop excercising, or go through morning sickness, or endure labor and delivery. I thanked Him that I didn’t have to put on baby wieght, or have a flabby stomach, or vericose veins. (Yes, I was vain. But honest, nonetheless.)

The more I thanked God for His plan, and His timing, the more good I saw in it. And the more I was able to truly surrender.

It’s not that I was “giving up.” It’s that I was “giving over.” I was giving it over to God. The only One who could do anything about it.

I literally did not know what God would do.

I didn’t know if I would ever have a baby.

But right there, right in that place, where my arms were empty, and my womb was barren–was the place He wanted me to lift my arms and worship Him.

To say and mean with all my heart, “Even if You don’t give me what I desperately want, You are still enough. You are still everything. And You still have all of my heart.”

And you know what?

Something changed.

Joy came RUSHING back into my life.

My eyes began to stop seeing all the “lack” in my life. And I started to see all the beauty in it.

I began to realize what God had already given me.

And I began to cherish my husband, and my friends. My students, and family. All the ones He had already placed before me, to love. 

I started to stand in the roles He had already placed me in. I embraced my role as a wife, and at my job, and other opportunities I had to serve people. And I started to enjoy them. 

I no longer saw myself as a victim of infertility. But instead, as a daughter of God who was chosen and set-apart for His unique purpose for me. Maybe God has some wild plan for us, I could never even imagine? Maybe He will send us oversees? Maybe there is some child waiting in an orphanage that is our baby to adopt? Maybe something is coming around the corner–we never expected?

I didn’t know what it was. But I clung to the Scripture, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” (Psalm 138:8)

One day, as I was about to leave work, I felt God speak to me, in the form of a song. (I know, it sounds strange.) I didn’t hear the music, just the lyrics. But I remember writing them down on pink sticky notes that were on my desk. And this is what I heard,

“There’s Someone living inside you,

Though not a child tucked inside your womb,

But it’s my Holy Spirit, who conquered Jesus’ tomb.

He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive,

Hear Him roar?

And you’re alive, you’re alive,

More than ever before.”

My heart burned, and I went home and crashed down at my piano and stuck all the sticky notes to it. But as I began to play and sing, all I could hear, was Him singing them to me. And I say this with tears,

Something broke in me. 

In that moment, hot tears rolled down my cheeks, and I was undone.

He was living in me. 

I was no longer barren.

He was alive in me, so I was alive. 

Sure, nothing changed in my womb–but my spirit came to life that day. His Spirit came to life in me.

And the presence of God surrounded me there. And He showed me that He was living in me. 

Therefore, I was alive. 

That was the day, I literally crossed from “barren to beautiful.”

I no longer saw the barreness in my life, all I could see was His beauty. And the beauty He had filled my life with.

God came, and took away my barreness.

And I had joy again. I could breathe again. And laugh again.

But most of all, live again.

Yes, I was still infertile.

But I was His. And He would not let me go.

Yes, I was still not pregnant. 

But I was exactly where He wanted me to be. And He would fulfill His beautiful purpose for me.

Yes, I still wanted to have a baby. 

But I knew He would satisfy me. Whether or not, I had a baby. And if He wanted to give me a baby, He would do it, in His time, and in His way.

Dear Barren or Infertile One,

If God has led you here, He wants to take your barreness away.

I don’t know what He will do in your physical womb. But I know what He will do in your soul, if you ask Him. 

And I believe He is about to birth something in you, more beautiful than you could ever, possibly imagine.

Maybe it’s not that you need to “pull up your bootstraps” and have more faith that you will get pregnant. 

Dear One, He already sees you and knows you. He already hears your cries. He sees your faith, and He sees where you lack faith, too. But He will fulfill His purpose for you.

He will. 

And instead of pulling up your bootstraps of faith…maybe it’s time to take off your boots. Kick them off.

And run barefoot with Him for a while.

Surrender. 

Knowing, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” (Psalm 138:8)

Because He has an adventure waiting for you on the other side of your fears. And it’s wild, and free, and full of Him.

Chase Him, and He will take you where you never dared to go. And show you things you didn’t dream possible.

And one day, you will be running with Him, and suddenly realize you have crossed, from barren to beautiful.

And you will never go back. 

The Zombie Mommy In The Mirror

scared woman
Last night, when I saw my reflection in the mirror, it actually startled me. My daughter was simply brushing her teeth, and I was helping her steer her toothbrush into her mouth and away from the nasty drain (where she likes to put it). And when I glanced up into the mirror, I jumped. Because this woman with black mascara and eye-liner drooped about half an inch lower than where it should be, and looking much like a zombie, was staring back at me. “Whoa!” I exclaimed, and quickly grabbed a tissue and wiped off the melting mascara that had somehow turned me Zombie Mommy by night fall.

To be honest, I was kind of surprised I hadn’t scared anyone else in the house with my horrifying looks. You’d think as I was coaxing my two year old daughter, with my arms wide out to, “Come here!” she would have shrieked with panic and hidden under her bed or something.

But she didn’t.

You see, before I saw “Zombie Mommy” in the mirror that night, we were actually having a lot of fun. And I was doing something I don’t do nearly enough–I was playing with her. Not like, “Oh, that’s cute honey,” while I distractedly went through my facebook newsfeed. But I actually put my phone and iPad away, and was fully hers. We were in the living room playing what she was calling “the boat game.” (One of my childhood favorites.) It’s where you take the couch cushions and make them a giant raft on the floor, and then the big storm comes, and you save each other from the sharks, and rescue each other from drowning in the “water,” and you scream the whole time. (I highly recommend it.)

And while this was going on, and we were shrieking and saving each other and rolling around on the floor–I had no idea my hair was a wreck and my eyeliner had smeared below my eyes, and that I looked like a zombie. I just knew I was having fun, and so was she, and in that moment, that’s all that mattered.

The great thing about being Zombie Mommy is that before you look in the mirror and see a zombie staring back at you, you are usually having a fantastic time.

I fully agree with John Piper who says, “The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness.” (pg. 33, Don’t Waste Your Life) You wouldn’t take someone to the Alps and lock them in a room full of mirrors. Because the greatest joy doesn’t come from seeing how great you look, it comes from gazing on a majesty that is greater, and more powerful, and more glorious than yours.

toddler play

And in motherhood there is something greater than the Alps right in your living room. There is this glory right in front of you, staring back in the eyes of a little boy or girl who very much bears the image of God.  And His glory.

But sometimes we miss it.

I wish I could say I don’t care what I look like. But I still do. And while I’ve come a long way from the girl who used to check her make-up during 8th grade Social Studies class, and reapply my lip glass and Champagne eyeshadow (anyone else?) during study hall–I still care very much about that girl in the mirror. And she sometimes the girl in the mirror takes me away from the little girl in the room that is waiting for me, and longing for me, and crying for me to come and play ” the boat game.”

Though I don’t want to totally “let myself go,” I have to say, sometimes I really admire Zombie Mommy. Because, there is a reason she looks like a zombie, and no matter how “ugly” she looks, there is usually a very beautiful reason behind it.

And to the mom who looks like a zombie tonight–you are exactly where you need to be. Every time you nurse your baby, or change a diaper, or fall asleep in the glider–you are being a living and breathing example of love. And while you don’t need to feel guilty if you do find time to primp, you don’t need to feel bad about the times you don’t. Because those times you don’t, and you are blissfully unaware that your mascara is down to your cheek bones and your hair looks like Medusa–are actually some of your most shining moments, in your kids eyes. They won’t remember if you had your make up on, or your hair was straightened, or if it was in a giant messy bun–but they will remember that you made them feel loved. They will remember the time you rolled around on the floor and played “the boat game,” or any game at all. They will remember your laughter, they will remember your joy, and the way your eyes shone when you looked into theirs. And they will remember always, your arms open out wide to embrace them, and hold them close.

And as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t make you a zombie. It actually makes you quite beautiful.

 

All I See Are Blooms

image

She’s supposed to be sleeping, but instead, I hear her across the hall. She’s laying in her bed, telling her “knock knock” joke to her stuffed horse. And chattering softly to herself, to her stuffed animals. And to any angels who may be listening in.

I’m sitting on the bed, typing, just to let my soul breathe for a second. Just to inhale this moment. Just to breathe in His grace. And all the love He’s lavished right here in this place. Just to pause for a moment and look around at all He has given me.

Our room is messy, with the clothes we decided not to wear tonight still scattered on the bed, the dresser drawers are pulled out unevenly of the furniture that doesn’t match. Our curtains are ones that I picked up at a yard sale in June.

And I feel like a queen. Not because of anything I’ve done, or accomplished, but because of how great a thing I’ve been given. Because what I have is so good.

And I don’t always see it. The treasure that is my life. The treasure that is my husband, that is my daughter. The treasure that is my God.

But tonight, for these couple minutes of quiet, the blinders are off my eyes. I can see.

And what I see, is so good. Many people who are more successful, more wealthy, more “whatever” could look on me, and see failure. But I don’t care at all what others might see.

I care what He sees. And I care that He sees me, seeing Him. All of Him, and only Him as the One who has blessed me beyond all I could ever ask, or hope, or imagine.

And all of the best things, are coming with me to the next life. All of the best things aren’t the ones that thieves can break in and steal, or moths and rust can destroy. Because Jesus said, that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And my soul is free tonight. For once, even if just for it a little. I can fly. The thing I’ve dreamed of doing all my life.

And if Peter Pan was right about one thing—it was the happy thoughts.

That happy thoughts make you fly.

It’s easy to be weighed down by all the evil, all the horror. I can think even now of the terrible news I read on news feeds tonight. And it’s so easy to let my eyes grow dark with the darkness. To let my heart grow heavy with the sins of the world, and it’s aching groans.

I’ve always had a bent toward sorrow, toward grief. Almost like grief would keep me sober. Grief would keep me ready for anything. It would protect my heart from being naïve. And so, I only listened to sad music, I identified with it. It seemed most real to me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been more captivated by sorrow, than by joy.

Until now.

Because I feel God wants to open the floodgates of joy. Because joy is more powerful than anyone thinks it is.

Joy is the heartbeat of the other world we were all made for. The world to which we are all waiting, and longing to go. The one where all of our treasures are.

In the movie, “Luther,” there is a monk who says, “All my life, I have lived in a world that has hated evil, more than it’s loved good.”

A world that has hated evil, more than it has loved good.

I know I am guilty as charged. Perhaps many other Christians are as guilty as me. It’s just that the bad things are so…bad. Sometimes I don’t realize that the good things are so…good. Or that the good things are all…from God.

I remember one night several months ago, there was such outrage on Facebook, about a very broken man who was trying to become a woman. And there were photos of him, and there was anger, and perversity, and nasty comments going back and forth. And my heart felt so heavy, over our world, over the confusion, over it all.

But just then, as I was feeling so discouraged, an email from the other side of the world popped up in my inbox that said, “Xavier was born!” He is my nephew, born to my missionary sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Niger, Africa. And when I saw his face, his little tiny newborn face, in the photo attachment—I just cried happy tears because, he was so beautiful. And the news was so good.

He was my happy thought.

And in the week to come, I kept thinking of his little face. I kept feeling I could fly. Just because of him. The joy he was. The evidence of “good.” Of God.

And I began to learn that however large those dark clouds hang, they are not bigger than the light that bursts through these good and perfect gifts from God.
Last spring, I was weeding my flower bed and I felt sure I heard the Lord speak to me. Not in an audible voice, but in my mind. But He said, in an Irish accent, (and I know how crazy this makes me sound) but He said, “Do you hate weeds more than you love flowers?”

And right away, I knew exactly what He meant. “Do you hate weeds, more than you love flowers?”

Do you hate the bad, more than you love the good?

Do the weeds invoke more anger and irritation in you, than the joy of these blooming flowers?

Do you mourn the losses, more than you celebrate the victories?

In this life, there are always going to be weeds. There are always going to be flaws, there are always going to bad things, and people that are not perfect. There are always going to be problems, and trials, and evil. There will always be weeds.

But there will always be flowers, too.

And when I look out on my life, on other’s lives—am I going to see the weeds, or the flowers? And am I going to hate the weeds, more than I love the flowers?

I think God likes flowers. And maybe that’s why He hasn’t “rototilled” us all to pieces by now.

He’s more gracious than I can comprehend. And sometimes, when I read about King David’s life, all I can see is this lying, adulterous, deceitful man, enslaved to sexual addiction, and lust.

All I see are a whole bunch of nasty weeds.

But that isn’t what God sees. God notoriously calls David, “A man after My own heart.” A man who passionately worshipped, and cried out to God from his bed, and who sang with his whole being, and knew his own brokenness, and God’s own goodness and mercy, and trusted in it, all the days of his life. That’s what God sees. The flowers. The beautiful, glorious flowers.

And I want to see how God sees. In my own life, and in other people’s lives. Because I think He sees and appreciates and rejoices in beauty more than anyone thinks He does. And when we join Him in this—we feel His pleasure.

Oh, I want to feel His pleasure!

So I’m going to love the good, more than I hate the evil. I’m going to love the flowers, more than I hate the weeds.

Because flowers are beautiful.

Last night, I fell asleep to my husband playing his guitar and singing in the other room. And there was no sweeter sound in all the world. I just lay in our bed and soak in his voice like the most soothing lullaby I’ve ever heard.

I forget the miracle he is sometimes. I forget the mystery of the way we met. I forget how precious he is. I forget the softness of his voice.

And just to lay and listen, as tears form in my eyes, and love him all the more—just because he’s mine. Just because I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Just because God gave him to me, as a gift. A good and perfect gift. Not because he is perfect, but because He is from God, and that makes him perfect for me.

Right now, Selah is sleeping across the hall. But tonight, when I put her down, I lay with her in her bed and as we lay in the dark, she held my face in her hands and smiled wide at me, looking at me like she was a proud grandma. With her hands still on my cheeks, I said, “Hey Selah, did you know that I always wanted to have a little girl named Selah?” And she just giggled. And after a few minutes I said, “Hey Selah, what do you think is in heaven?” And she said, “Toys.”

And we both laughed with the blankets pulled up to our chins.

She’s two, and the youngest miracle I know. And I don’t know what heaven holds, but when I hear her laugh, when I hear my husband sing, I feel heaven breaking through.

I feel the treasure they are. I feel my heart move into that place where no one can steal my joy away. And I see flowers breaking through the dirt.

And I love flowers because they are beautiful. Even with the weeds, they are beautiful.

And tonight, all I see are blooms.

A Morning Prayer: “Conform Me To Jesus”

morning sun chair

I’m going to let you inside for a moment. My journal. Just for this. Because I started praying something last week, and it started to change me. It started to set me free and open up joy in me. And I want to share it with you–so that you can be free. And so that you can have joy. And so that you can be full of Jesus.

When I was little, Jesus was just this little flannel-graph cartoon. He was a name I heard a lot. I saw pictures and porcelain figures of Him as a little baby at Christmas time and always wondered what He really looked like.

But that little cartoon version of Jesus you see in the little kid’s Bibles—is so false. It may be good for toddlers, but as you get older and the weight of sin and gravity of world begin to pull on you. You need more than a cartoon to save you.

And it took me about twenty-five years to stop thinking of Him that way. Like that little cartoon face with a white tunic and a blue sash. And to start actually thinking of Him as a person. Who thinks. Who breathes. Who crushes snakes under His heels. Who laughs. Who cries with loud sobs. (Hebrews 5:7)

But this Person, in the last three years, has meant more to me, has become more real to me than He ever has. And it’s not because I’m so “spiritual.” Or I have enlightened understanding. It’s not because I’ve really mastered the spiritual disciplines or pull myself up by my bootstraps each morning. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s because I’m beginning to see my desperate need for Him.

See, for a while I thought I was strong. But trusting in my strength never brought me closer to Jesus, it only propelled me further and further away. And it only made my heart grow colder. (Much like the Pharisees.) But lately, what has brought me nearest to Jesus is my own realization of how very weak I am. It’s not about “trying harder,” it’s about complete and total surrender. It’s instead about praying, “God, have mercy on me. I’m a sinner.” And it’s been about the surrendering of my will, my methods, my dreams, my control. Or the illusion of it. It’s about letting Him carry the burden for me, morning by morning. It’s about wanting Him to come as He is, and not just who I want Him to be.

If you’re reading this and still feel like you have that “hollow” Jesus in your head. I’m going to pray for you. Because He is more than capable to show Himself–in a way that is real. And in a way that is close. And in such a way that will just make you weep and long for Him. And in a way that makes you feel like your insides are on fire and you could run a thousand miles and scale a hundred walls. And in such a way where you might burst out into singing or laughing hysterically. Even in public…Because suddenly you see Him everywhere, and you can feel Him seeing you. All of you. And loving all of you at the same time. And this gives you strength and joy and peace. Even when you shouldn’t have it–by the world’s standards.

And morning by morning He waits. He waits to explode into the atmosphere at my simple invitation. He rushes in, at my first cry. But He waits for it. He waits for me to want Him.

And on a day last weak, after much battling for joy the days prior–the Holy Spirit led me in a simple prayer: Conform me to Jesus. And it may be one of the most powerful things I have ever prayed.

Scripture tells us that it is God’s will to conform us to Jesus. Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” We ask God for a lot of decision-making wisdom of where to live, who to marry, what to study, what to buy…and He leads us each in a thousand different ways. But the bottom line is, whatever He says, and wherever He leads us, the goal is the same: that we will be conformed to the image of His Son. Jesus Christ.

For some, this is a great path of pain and heartache, for others it’s filled with sweet symphonies of joy. And for many a big mix of both. But God determines that, and He determines what is best for us, by steering us in the way that will most conform us to Jesus. And He does this, (Vs. 28 says) “for the good of those who love Him, and have been called according to His purpose.” So He does this for our greatest good, and our greatest joy, and His greatest glory–all at once. Because being conformed to Jesus Christ is exactly what we all desperately need. Every day. We all need to be violently rescued from ourselves, from our flesh, from our selfish ambition, from our pride, and dependency on ourselves. Those things all lead to death and the grave and kill our spirit–no matter how pretty they look on the outside.

Instead what we need, is to be like Jesus. And I know how cliche that sounds. I’ve heard it my whole life–but when I understand who Jesus really is, and what He is really like–it doesn’t sound cliche anymore. It sounds like being parched and dying of thirst, with my throat burning and then being led to the only stream in the world, from which the purest, and coldest water flows, and lapping it up like a thirsty dog.

I began writing this prayer out in my journal one morning, and as I prayed it, I felt such intimacy with Christ. I felt loneliness flee away from me, as I invited Him in. And gave God full permission to conform my heart, my will, my desires to His. I’ve been praying this every day since, because it changes the way I see everything. I hope it does the same for you.

journal

Conform Me To Jesus Prayer:

God,

What I really need, as I open up Your Word to seek You, is really just for You to conform me to Jesus.

Conform me to His Heart.

His tender mercy.
His hell-binding compassion.

His argument-bucking grace.

The way He NEVER falls for Satan’s schemes, or tricks, or offenses. Not once.

Conform me to His Wisdom.

Conform me to His TRUST in the Father. The way He held the Father’s Word higher than any other. Even as Satan breathed out threats against him. Even as people persecuted Him.

Conform me to His power to “throw down” arguments, instead of trying to “win” them.

Conform me to His discernment and patience.

Conform me to His Love. 

His love that “suffers long and is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

That is not “irritable or resentful.” (13:5)

That “believes the best.” (13:7)

That “always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres.” (13:13) Always, always, always. The love that always wins. A love so true and powerful that it can do more than wisdom, it can do even more than faith. A love that can move mountains, loose strongholds, and cover over a multitude of sins.

Oh God, I can read and study and pray. I can evaluate my heart and interrogate others.

But without love, the love of Jesus–it is nothing.

Clanging gongs and cymbals.

I can read long, I can read short. I can wax poetic, or write for hours trying to find it. Trying to find You.

But if I don’t walk away from this time with my heart a little more conformed to Jesus…

What is the point?

I would be better off a pagan.

It would be better for me not to know Your grace, or to have tasted Your salvation—than to have tasted it, and turned and used as as some sort of ruler to measure others and cast judgement.

So conform me to Jesus.

Conform me to His Joy.

To the “joy set before Him.” Joy that enabled Him to endure shame. Joy that the Father would always come through. Joy that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. Joy that the victory was sure. And that one day sin and darkness and perversity will be blotted out from the earth forever. And that sorrow and sighing will be no more.

Conform me to His joy. His humility. His pleasure in getting low. In the way He came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28)

Because whatever happens today, whether my worst nightmare, or greatest pleasure. You have ordained it to conform me to Jesus. Whether my family, and friends, and spouse are pleasant and easy to love, or stubborn, arrogant, and rude–conform me to Jesus.

Whether things go my way, or absolutely nothing goes my way–conform me to Jesus. Whether my body thrives with energy, or dies away with disease–conform me to Jesus.

Because this world, and my family, and my friends, and my spouse desperately need more of Him, not more of me. So let my will, my ambitions be crucified again this morning, so that I may be rendered dead, and Christ can live in me. (Galatians 2:20) And so that I can know You. So that I can glorify You, by enjoying You forever.

I need You to break into the atmosphere this morning. Conform me to You. That there may be less of me, and more of You. More of your joy, your peace, your wisdom, your mercy and compassion. More of your power, and more of your purity. And all the things I’m not–You are. So conform me to You. The One whom I live and long for.

Why Our Kids Need Us To Make More Messes 

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It was just the two of us last weekend. While “Daddy” was seven hours away, camping and climbing in the mountains, my two-year-old daughter and I stayed home with the mountains of laundry in the living room. On Saturday night, we were having a rather lame evening and were both feeling a little restless and bored and irritated with one another,  when suddenly: I had an idea. (It was what I like to call a “Fun Mommy” idea. You know, one of those ideas that matches the impulsiveness of a 13-year-old boy.) The moment I thought of it, I blurted it right out, “Hey! I know! Let’s set up the tent, and have a camp-out in your bedroom!”  

Yay!! Yay!!! Yay!!” My daughter Selah cheered and jumped up and down. And then…I immediately regretted that decision. 

I suddenly envisioned the huge mess it was going to make. The pain of setting it up, and tearing it down. Not to mention the stiff back I’d have in the morning. 

“Wait,” I kept asking her, trying to undo what I’d just done,  “Are you SURE you want to sleep in the tent tonight?” (I don’t know why I thought she might change her mind, because the more I asked her if she was “sure,” the more excited she got, and the higher she jumped up and down.)

We were definitely setting up the tent. 

After I set it up, (and almost took out her eye with one of the tent poles, and nearly smashed the light on her ceiling while dodging her eye), I spread a few blankets and pillows in the tent and went to the kitchen to finish the dishes. And when I came back…every single stuffed animal and toy my daughter owns was in the tent. I mean we were at “FULL OCCUPANCY.” Her toy box was totally bare.  


“Come in Mama! Come in Mama!” she screamed. My jaw dropped. My eyebrows raised. “Wow,” I kept repeating, “Wow.” I didn’t know how to react. But then I saw her face…smiling with such intensity over what she had done. Convinced I would join in her pleasure.

And something just came over me. Maybe I do have the impulsiveness of a teenage boy, but I jumped in like it was the ball-pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And as I lay there, looking quite like Gulliver surrounded by the little village people, she squealed with delight. And then I did something I don’t often do: I actually played with her. I gave her stuffed animals names and characters and voices. I don’t often take the time to think up dialogue between a Cabbage Patch doll and a plush fox—but that night I did. And I think if she smiled any wider, her face would have cracked open.

And that’s when I realized: she loves this. 

She would not rather be doing anything in the world right now, than playing with me. Than burying me in toys. Than listening to me make stuffed animals talk. Because this is her world.

And she wants me to enter it.

She wants me on her level. To see the world the way she does. With excitement, and wonder, and possibility. But I’m 28 and she’s 2. And we don’t enjoy the same things. We don’t see the world the same way.

And she can’t understand why I like to sit still and read a book. Or type on the computer. Or clean the house. We enjoy totally different things. It’s like, my language is different than hers right now. And she can’t learn mine. I have to learn hers. I have to know how to speak to her. Because that’s the only way she will hear me. 

And right now, as much as I want to believe it, she doesn’t actually feel loved by a clean house. (I do.) She doesn’t feel happier when I’m tossing all her toys in the correct bins. (I do.) She wants the dogpile. And she wants the mess—if it means that I come with it.

I’m sure there are plenty of mom’s out there that can manage it differently, but for me and my house, I cannot show my daughter love right now unless a huge mess is involved. 

When My Biggest Messes Become Her Best Memories

My daughter loves tea-parties, and painting, and “helping” me cook. (Yikes!) She likes giant forts, and tents in her room, and going to the beach so that she’s covered from head to toe in sand by the time we leave. (Including every crack and crevice.) But these are moments we will look back and remember.

So, sometimes, what will mean a big mess for me to clean up, will mean a big memory for her someday.

When I was growing up, I’m sure my mother did a great job with our house…but quite frankly, I don’t remember. And when I think back to my happiest memories with my mom, or during my childhood, none of them involve anything “clean” or “tidy.” In fact, quite the opposite.

So maybe I need to stop. I need to stop trying to make it look a two-year old DOESN’T live in my house. Because she most certainly DOES. And so do all her toys.

And I need to stop avoiding fun activities, just because they are going to be messy. I need to embrace the messy activities, because those are the ones she’s going to remember and enjoy.

I’m not saying we don’t ever need to clean our houses…because we do. But, I know for me, it just somehow takes over. The desire for cleanliness, and order. I only have one child, but sometimes I feel like I have two. And my house is like this spoiled “firstborn.” I spoil her and fuss over her, and drop everything to make sure she’s “happy” (or organized.)

Meanwhile, my daughter begs for my attention. And I keep sending her away, because I feel I need to tend to my “firstborn.” I say, “Go play with your toys.” “Go to your room.” “Go read your books.”

Meanwhile, she waits.

And sometimes I forget that: I didn’t quit my job so I could stay home and take care of my precious house. 

I quit my job so I could stay home and take care of my precious child. 

She matters. What I do with her here every day–it matters. What I whisper in her ears as she falls asleep, the songs I sing to soothe her cries, all my made up lullabies. They matter. What she remembers about me, the way I made her feel—all matter so very much. Because my house could be bulldozed next week. But my daughter, will live for eternity. And the imprints I leave on her soul matter forever.

There are moments no one sees when I’m alone with her—but God sees them. And she sees them, and feels them all. And they all shape her and who she is becoming. I want to be a good “steward” of my house, but I want to be a better “steward” of this little girl. Who will grow up to be a woman, who will have her own thoughts and questions about God, who will have to choose between wanting a treasure that can be seen and praised by men, or hidden away in heaven with God. Who will have to choose someday between her house and her child. She will live in a world who cares only about outward appearances, and cares nothing for inward ones.

My daughter needs me. She needs to me to look her in the face, she needs my arms around her, and sometimes she just needs me to lay with her and be totally enefficent. And sometimes, she needs me to make a big mess with her—just to feel my love.

That night I slept in the tent on her bedroom floor, we did make a huge mess. And my back was sore the next day. But as we lay in the dark with the glow of Pillow Pets and flashlights and giggled and kissed and held each other close–a memory was made.

Someday she won’t be two anymore. She will be seventeen. And I will need to learn her language all over again. And when that day comes, she will need to know: I’m not afraid of her messes. And showing her my love might look different then. I doubt she’ll want a camp-out on her bedroom floor. I might even have to sleep outside her bedroom door, until she’s willing to open it. I might have to lay on her bed and listen to her music, long enough to learn all the lyrics. I might need to sit with her in her messy room, and listen to her cry. I might need to pull her close and tell her I made a lot of messes growing up, too.

But she was never one of them.

And I don’t see her just as this “mess-maker.” But as this beautiful “memory.” I will need to show her, whether she’s two or a teenager, that Love makes messes. And Love stays to clean up messes.

Some will spend their whole lives trying to avoid messes. But as for me and my house…we’re choosing to make messes. To love making messes. Messes so big, you can’t help but remember them.

When Your “Easter Best” Looks Pretty Bad

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I didn’t give my daughter an Easter basket this year. Instead, I gave her a waste-basket. Why? Because late last night, she woke up puking. Our night was filled with trips to the bathroom, loads of laundry and cleaning up puke.

Not the Easter I had imagined this year. Her pretty turquoise dress hung on her doorknob in the dark as she and I lay in her bed. I pulled her against my chest and took in the scent of throw up in her hair as we drifted off to sleep together.

This morning, as we lay tangled together on top of sheets and towels, she began to stir. My eyes fluttered open and I helped cover her again with blankets and stroked her face to help her fall back asleep. My heart ached for my poor two-year-old who would not get to wear her pretty dress today, or have any candy, or see any cousins or grandparents. But as we lie there together, my eyes met her big blue ones, and she smiled at me, the blankets half covering her face. Then she said in a groggy, tiny voice, “This is so fun.” I smiled wide at her.

This is so fun.

I’m sometimes taken aback by her innocence. How she lives without expectations or demands. How she finds joy in the most unlikely of places. And calls me into it.

Our morning was spent at home together. All of our big plans, flushed down the toilet. With the puke. Instead of a big Easter brunch at my mom’s, we feasted on Saltines and Pedialyte. Instead of getting all gussied up in our Easter best, I stayed in my sweats, and she in her footie-pajamas. Instead of attending a nice church service, we laid on the couch wrapped in a cocoon of blankets and watched cartoons.

And we looked…just terrible. She had a fro in the back that wasn’t going to calm down easily. Along with the dried puke. As I took her to the tub, and began to fill it with hot soapy water, I was halted by a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And…wow.

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Need I say more?

Yikes.

Tonight, as I scroll through the news feeds of everyone in their Easter best, I realize how bad we look here at our house. In Easter’s past, we have tried to look pretty, and hopefully next year’s Easter, we will look slightly better than we do right now.

But if not, it’s okay. Because as I sit here, with a wild bun on my head and no make-up. I’m reminded that Easter is not about how good we look. It’s about how good our God looks. It’s about Christ.

It’s not about making much of ourselves. It’s about making much of Him. It’s not about gazing at ourselves in the mirror. It’s about gazing at Him. If our Easter best looks pretty bad, it doesn’t really matter at all. Not even a little bit.

What matters today, and every day, is that, Christ looks good. Because He is good. And He is alive. And He is here.   And He is so much bigger than Easter. Because He really did destroy the powers of darkness, and triumphed over them, making a spectacle of them. And He did pour out His blood, He did make a way, for us to obtain salvation. Even in our ugliness. Even in our wickedness. And whether in pretty Easter dresses, or rags…He came to those who were far off, and called them close. And called them His children. He rescued us from eternal death.

So He can’t just be hard-boiled and decorated the way we want. Because there’s a live chick in that egg.

And He’s alive. And He’s going to crack the sky when He comes back. And His name is Jesus.

And He is beautiful. And holy. And mighty. And He made a way for the ones covered in puke. And sin. He washes us. He restores us. And He clothes us in robes of righteousness. For His name sake.

“So, I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about You. It’s all about You, Jesus.” –Heart of Worship

Like I said, our Easter best is lookin’ pretty bad this year. But it doesn’t matter. Because He is alive. And He is looking more radiant and beautiful than ever.

A Prayer for the Longing Heart

 

Show me your Glory. I want to long for you like a young lover. I want to chase you and find you. I want to hunger and thirst. To long. I want to climb, and hide away. I want you to show me the heights of the land. And the depths of the sea. Oh God, I want to know your love.

And make it known.

I want to be one with you. And not distant. I want to be fully exposed to you. I don’t want to be numb the rest of my life. I don’t want to be pushed here and there with the culture–or the the trends of social media and news feeds. I need a firm place to stand.

What do you want to speak?

What do you want me to hear?

There is steadiness in you. You hold me right here, as the waves buffet. 

Everyone screams. Everyone calls out. The waves are wild. The wind is strong. We’re not pretending. The storm is real. 

And so are you. 

You stand out there and walk on the waves. You defy gravity. The storm we all fear–you walk with simplicity over. 

And you call me to trust. And you call me out, 

to you.

Infertility: Where Is God When You Can’t Get Pregnant?

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We all know that labor hurts. But what most people don’t know is: infertility hurts too. It’s not the loud, screaming kind of pain. It’s long, and slow, and quiet. It’s a different kind of labor altogether. A labor of the soul.

It happens when you toss another negative pregnancy test in the trash can and sit on your bathroom floor and cry.

It happens when you lay in your bed at night, and your husband holds you as you stare into the darkness, while silent tears fall into your pillow.

It happens when you sit at a baby shower and hear all the “Ooh’s” and “Aah’s” over every little, tiny gift, and wonder if you will ever have any little, tiny gifts of your own to open?

It happens when you look in the mirror at your flat stomach, and put your hand over it, and pray for life to grow. And try to imagine what it would look like, what it would feel like, if it did?

It happens when you see teenagers pushing strollers past your house. And when the minivan full of children opens it’s doors. And when a friend says they had another “oopsies” pregnancy. And you wonder: Why is this so easy for everyone else? Except us?

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This Ugly House

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My house has problems. Does yours? First of all, I have the ugliest linoleum kitchen floor. Ever. Sometimes I feel the need to apologize to guests when they walk in. It’s yellow and brown, and looks a lot like the geometric pattern of throw up. Maybe it was all the rage in the 60’s, but today it’s retro-horror. Even the most vintage-loving hipsters out there would find it ugly. I’m pretty sure the floor’s design came straight out of one of those optical illusion books I read as a kid. So, if you happen to drop your Cheerios, don’t even bother looking for them. They are lost. To hunt for them is dizzying. You won’t find them again until you feel something crush under your feet.

Go ahead, say it: first world problem. (But just for the record, when my brother-in-law, who lives in Africa, sent pictures of their new missionary compound, I couldn’t help but notice: even their floor was nicer than ours.) Just sayin.

We are renting this house, so we don’t have the freedom to change things. And while I love the location, there are some things I would love to fix about this place. Like, there’s no dishwasher. And old siding. The bathroom is somewhat decrepit. It needs repainted. And there’s definitely something funky going on with the shower tiles. And it’s tiny. (So tiny that when my daughter is on her potty chair and I’m on the toilet at the same time, our knees almost touch. That’s fun.)

But lately, we’ve had a bigger, less trivial problem: our doors freeze shut. (As in, we can’t get out of the house frozen shut.)

We realized last Monday morning when my husband tried to leave for work—and then he couldn’t. That was the day he jumped out the bedroom window in his dress clothes, and proceeded to kick the front door open Chuck Norris style. That was the day I stood there in my pajamas, head-over-heels (or slippers) in love, as my very own ninja-warrior saved the day and drove off to work.

That was a week ago. Since then, he’s acted out this little kung-fu scenario every day. And it’s not so funny any more. It’s plain annoying.

Finally, it happened to me. Selah and I were about to leave for Target to buy her some Mini-Mouse underwear, when I realized we were stuck. The door re-froze from my husband’s morning escapade, and we couldn’t get out.

Immediately, “Survival Mommy” sprung into action: I threw my weight into the door. Nothing happened. I tried kicking it. Nothing happened. I went to the bedroom window and tried to open it. Nothing happened. Then, I started to panic. “What are we going to do Selah!?” I kept asking her over and over again. And she just stood there all bundled in her coat, looking up at me like a little marshmallow. I had to do something.

That’s when I opted for my default weapon of choice: the blow dryer.

There I was, for about 45 minutes blow drying the door frame. And as the ice began to melt and I stood with a puddle of water forming around my feet, I kept picturing that little tag on the blow dryer. You know that one that has a red “X” over the blow dryer in the bathtub? And then I started thinking about what my obituary would say, “Mother dies of blow dryer electrocution. She was that stupid folks.” (Do you ever do that? Start writing your own obituary in your head when you’re doing something dangerous?) My next feat was chipping at the ice around the doorframe with a hammer, a screwdriver and…a grilling fork. (It was a real low point for me.) But I was determined. We were getting out of the house. We were going to Target. We were buying Mini-Mouse underwear. I would break a window if I had to.

But thankfully, by the grace of God (and perhaps some angelic intervention), the door finally opened. Which meant, we made it out of the house without breaking any bones or windows. And, I didn’t even get electrocuted in the process.

Hallelujah.

Now, this may not come as a surprise, but I’ve really been falling out of love with my house lately. I’m constantly noticing every little, and big, need for improvement. I’m constantly pointing out some new problem or failure. I’m constantly house hunting online, or browsing Pinterest to pin ideas for my dream house someday. Or, I’m researching how to spruce up a rental. How to utilize small spaces. How to make everything look nicer, and better than it does right now.

I was down on my hands and knees today, washing my kitchen floor from all the mud and ice that’s been tracked in. And as the warm water mixed with the clean scent of Murphy Oil Soap, and I scrubbed, I began to think about all the places I’ve lived. Places smaller than this, uglier than this. Places three times the size, and much more beautiful than this. But you know what I’m finally realizing? It doesn’t really matter. Our house. What it looks like. Because it’s not the house that makes me happy. It’s the people that live in it.

The more I scrubbed, the more clearly I could see it:

My kitchen floor is ugly, but the little feet that patter across it somehow make it beautiful. The feet that dance upon it, turn it into sacred ground. And the little girl who lays on it in front of the stove, makes it fade altogether in the background with her beauty.

My house is small, but it forces me to be closer to the man that I love. The man that jumps out of windows for me, and kicks in doors. The man who comes home at the end of the day and fills this place with music.

We get stuck inside sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck with anyone else on earth. We lose power, the heat goes out, but I wouldn’t want to be under blankets with anyone else.

It is bitterly cold here, but the neighbors next door begin to make it feel a little warmer. The other young moms down the road remind that spring will come. That we will take walks again. That things do grow here. When we let out our roots into one another’s lives.

This house has it’s problems, but this is exactly where God wants us to be right now. And though there are some ugly parts, this is a place where the Spirit of God dwells. This is a place where we love Him. Where we worship Him. Where we enjoy Him. This is a place where He speaks to us. And that suddenly makes this place holy. And sacred.

We could have the most beautiful house in the world. We could make the pages of the Ikea catalogue materialize all around us. We could Pinterest our way into some kind of paradise. But unless God is here, unless God is filling this place, it is just an empty space.

So God, come, come fill up this house once again with Your presence. Come dwell here with us. Because wherever we live, I want to make my home in You. And I want You to come make Your home in me. (John 14:23) Let us turn our eyes upon You. And look full in Your wonderful face. So the things on earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of Your glory and grace. 

I’m not saying I won’t still drool as I look through Pinterest, or that I won’t dream as I walk through Lowe’s. I will still really admire the beautiful houses of my friends. But as long as God has us here, I will love this ugly house. Because it’s the people that live here, that make it beautiful. And the God who dwells here, who makes it holy.

Singing In The Dark: Worship When It Hurts

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I left work early that day, my world was spinning. My heart was in anguish, feeling as if it would burst at any moment. And once I arrived home, I was completely undone. Weeping. It seemed like suddenly all the light had gone out of the world. Out of my world.

Sin and death.

Like two arrows shot straight into my heart. Within one hour that morning.

First arrow, Sin. I was cut deeply by sin, the sin of someone I loved.

Second arrow, Death. A dear friend had passed away, leaving her husband, and three kids. Alone.

Sin and death. All at once, I could feel their power. Taste the bitter. And that night as it grew dark outside, it grew dark inside…me. It felt that night like Satan won.

Like he would always win.

Crushed and broken, I sat at the old piano, with no words, watching the neat black and white keys blur with my tears.

                                                            God, why?

Have you ever had one of these moments? When your world suddenly flickers black?

When tears run dry, and strength wears thin,

No hope of going on again,

When hands are fragile, thin, and weak,

No words are left to even speak?

There are nights in this life that are simply dark.

When I was a little girl, I was afraid to go upstairs in our house because…it was dark. So my mom taught me to sing. To sing in the dark.

I’d run upstairs belting out Jesus, Loves Me and flipping on light switches as I’d go…and Mom was right. It did make me feel better. Braver.

And there at the piano, that night, in the dark and death and despair, I somehow remembered. To do it again.

To sing.

The words were choked out, and awkward.

But true.

A song we sing at church, “You Are Good,” a lively, up-beat song—but that night it came out very slow. My voice cracked with pain. Stopping every few words, choked with the weight of it.

I sing, because You are good

I dance, because You are good

I shout, because You are good

You are good to me

 

And in my darkest night,

You shine as bright as day

Your love amazes me

But as I worshipped in my weakness and pain, something incredible happened. The Light began to appear. Like a soft candle in a dark room, growing steadily brighter. Jesus Christ, the Light of the whole world. In whom, there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

I tremble as I write this, but it is true: God is worthy of our worship—even when the darkness comes. And before it leaves. And often, our worship of Him is the very thing that leads us out of the darkness. We take our eyes off our pain, hardship, questions, conflicts, confusion, and put them on Jesus. We do the very thing we were born to do: worship our God.

Singing is powerful. Worship is warfare between darkness and light. It’s not just emotional. It’s not about the “warm fuzzy feeling” that music can induce. We feel better when we sing because the Light of the World actually enters into the room. He enlightens the darkness. He takes us by the hand. He makes us brave.

Whatever your situation, however dark, or grim; however complicated your relationships, or frustrated your efforts—invite the Light into it. Invite Jesus to come into the picture. He will.

The Day is drawing near, when He will stand again on the earth. With a sword upon His side. You with your own eyes will see him. (Job 19:27) And ‘He will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelations 21:4) He Himself will bind up and heal every wound. Every wound. And for every tear of pain, will flow ten thousand tears of joy. For He is making everything new.

And we will sing a new song that day,

“Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?” For Death has been swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:55, 54b)

So,

Sing, Daughter of Zion.

Sing, because of Your God.

Sing,

Even in the dark.

For your Light is coming.

Soon.