Pondering and treasuring the moments of motherhood

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“…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).

It is amazing to me how quickly the last 3 months have passed, and how much my little girl has grown. Because I see her every day, her increase in size is almost imperceptible to me, so I have found it quite surprising when she’s  outgrown outfits or no longer fit neatly in my lap. I remember when I needed a nursing cushion to keep her in the required feeding position; now her body drapes across my lap and I have to use both arms to keep her in place!

I always watch her at night as I nurse her, thinking of the miracle God has created in Grace Melanie Kloosterman…her little hands, her sweet ears, her chubby legs…all of these growing rapidly cell by cell as God continues fashioning her into who He’s made her to be.

As she grows in a physical sense, other aspects of her nature are growing too. She’s developing quite the little personality and it seems she’s going to be a chatty one! She loves to babble away, particularly when others are talking, almost as if trying to add her two cents to the conversation. Yet by far her most heart-warming quality at the moment is her smile…that innocent, delightful, all-gums smile. Even when her little hands are in her mouth, you can tell that she’s smiling by looking at her sweet blue eyes; they almost close and literally sparkle. Such a contagious grin! Not to mention her laugh! When I hear it, I can’t help but join in!

What a joy it is to be her mother.

Amidst all the business of the Christmas season, and the high-paced nature of these early weeks and months of motherhood, I don’t want to miss out on HER. I don’t want to lose sight of Grace in the midst of all the goings-ons of life, because I won’t get these moments with her back.

Last night, as I put her to sleep, I felt quiet, thoughtful and grateful. I felt a deep desire to, like Mary, “treasure up” each stage with my precious girl…to be present in each moment, making memories with this sweet little blessing God has given me.

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Anxious toil and unrealistic expectations

I feel like one lesson I’ve been learning over and over again throughout my pregnancy and now through motherhood is the difference between anxious toil and joyful service. By God’s grace, I am finally starting to relax and unwind because of a change of perspective…a change that could only come from Him.

Over the summer, Alex and I listened to a sermon called “Don’t eat the Bread of Anxious Toil” by John Piper [you can listen to it here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/dont-eat-the-bread-of-anxious-toil]. It was so convicting and encouraging for both of us, and it was based on Psalm 127 (verses 1 and 2 below):

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved [in his] sleep.”

The one point that Piper made that really stuck with me is that God can accomplish more for us while we sleep than we can accomplish for ourselves. So often I eat the bread of anxious toil, laboring in vain to complete my chores, tasks, and to-do lists, all the while laden with guilt for all the things I don’t get around to – from coffee dates with friends to cooking to folding laundry and making the bed.

It has been so freeing to be reminded (again!) that all of my striving and my consumption with “productivity” is just straight-up vanity. Even worse, it reveals the anxious motives of my heart, which means that my days are being driven more by fear than by faith…more by worry (about what is not getting done) than by worship.

As Rachel Jankovic articulates in her book “Fit to Burst”, this anxious cycle I so often find myself in comes down, in many ways, to unrealistic expectations.

“…my expectations were not aware of what my life is actually like. My expectations were ignoring – intentionally too – that…a mountain of laundry had been tamed. My expectations ignored that dinner was served. They pretended not to notice…all the dishes that had been done that day. They turned a blind eye to the baby that was (at that time) growing inside. My expectations were a seriously mean boss.
When you’re a mother and a homemaker, you are your own boss. The days are what you make of them. The tasks that need to get done are put on a list at your discretion…Making a list that you cannot accomplish does not make you a better housewife…

You set the standards for yourself based on some sort of mythical time when children didn’t get dirt under their fingernails. In this life, there is nothing for you but discouragement because, no matter what you do, you cannot conform your performance to your expectations. This would probably manifest in your life most often as you succumb to discontent, discouragement and despair. Or it may manifest itself by making you an absolutely no fun person to be around…Nobody wants to gather around with people who…see you as a task to be checked off.

It doesn’t matter what is on the table when the people around it aren’t at peace. It doesn’t matter how clean the house is if bitterness is growing…

[Our children] should see us setting realistic (but maybe difficult) goals and working hard toward them. They should see us being visionaries who are anchored firmly in reality. They should see us steadily plodding, faithfully working on things in a realistic way. They should see us laboring hard to make a beautiful life for them, while not losing sight of THEM in it.” (p. 29-31 Ch. 3 of “Fit to Burst”)

Having read this, and having lived for 1 month and 21 days as a Mommy to my sweet little Gracie, I now have a fresh resolve to set realistic expectations for myself…expectations that are grounded in the reality that is my life.

And what do I want that “reality” to be? I want my home to be peaceful and Christ-centered. I want it to be a joy-filled place where hearts can “sit down” and rest in the presence of an I’ve-already-done-it God. I want our home to be driven by a reliance on the love and grace of Christ, rather than being performance driven.

Yes, I want dresser drawers to be tidy, meals to be prepared, beds to be made, showers to be clean, clothes to be folded and our house to be well-organized. And that’s a good vision for me to have as a homemaker! But these things must not be prioritized at the expense of organized attitudes – hearts set on Christ.

Yes, I want to make a delicious variety of meals for my family that makes their mouths water and their tummies happy. But this must be done in the context of a home where the Bread of Life is the priority. Living a life of love that pleases Him must be central, even if that means having the occasional Kraft Dinner or hot dog meal in order to have time to biblically address the heart issues that may have arisen during the day.

So I have decided to put the bread of anxious toil on the compost heap. With the help of my loving Savior, I’ve let go of my unrealistic expectations and embraced a fresh vision of what my everyday reality should be as a wife, homemaker and mother. I know that it will be a constant fight against my flesh to keep this perspective and maintain the right priorities in my home. But I know even more certainly that the cross of Christ has made it possible for me to return to this place of peace and rest again and again, as I repent and run to Jesus.

Praise God for this indescribable gift! (Phil. 4:6-7)

Gratitude

If you want to have a lasting impact on the world, define yourself with gratitude. Be thankful over the laundry…Be full of gratitude, not only for the cute photo opportunities that will come your way as a mother, but over the accidents and snotty noses and dirty floors. Give thanks for the sticky juice rings on the counter. Give thanks for the milk spill,  for the stomach virus, for the pants that are too tight after that last baby.

Gratitude …transforms. It is such a force that it cannot coexist with selfishness, with discouragement, with discontent…When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life…Gratitude enables us to do our daily work as unto the Lord. It makes the little things that we do every day an offering to God.

~Rachel Jankovic in “Fit to Burst” p. 118-119~

As I read this, my initial reaction is, “Thankful for snotty noses and dirty floors and spills? Thankful for the ‘mess’ of life? Thankful for overdue babies and unrealized expectations? How can I make myself truly feel THANKFUL for these things?” I don’t want to be a mother who is only thankful for the “cute photo opportunities” that present themselves. However, it sometimes seems impossible to haul myself out of my ingratitude or change my mood to one which would be more in line with the life of a Christian. How do I change how I feel when I am ungrateful and dissatisfied?

I think the key is found when Rachel says, “When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life…”

At peace with God’s will for my life.

That’s how I can be thankful for things that seem so unpleasant or undesirable to me: I can stop complaining long enough to realize that the “problems” I face are part of His will for me…that nothing can pass to me that does not first come through His Sovereign hand.

For “all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17)

The One who holds all things together holds my life in His hands. And when I see Him rightly…when I take my eyes off of me and what I want long enough to contemplate what He may want, and the fact that His ways are much higher than mine, I feel peace washing over me…gratitude that I’m not the one in control of everything…and I find myself humbled by the realization that I don’t see the whole picture, but He does.

So today I’m thankful for a baby who’s 3 days past her due date, and weeks past when I wanted her to arrive.

I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about patience and trusting God’s timing.

I’m thankful for the uncomfortable, sleepless nights (that I was initially very grumpy about), realizing how kind the Lord is to use this to prepare me for the first weeks and months of mommyhood.

I’m thankful for the walks I now take every day in an effort to bring on labor (that at first seemed like such a drag and the last thing I wanted to do) – walks that provide an awesome opportunity to commune with my God in prayer.

I’m thankful for the prepare-in-advance, slow-cooker meals I’ve been able to stack in the freezer for my family…for some additional, unexpected alone time with my husband before our lives change quite dramatically……for the extra time I’ve had to prepare my heart for the journey of motherhood.

And, at the end of the day, I know that I will not always see glimpses of God’s greater purpose in ‘messing up my hair’ …that I won’t always understand why He doesn’t give me things according to MY plan. Yet, I will seek to obey His Word by “giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for [me]” (1 Thess. 5:18), and I know that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam. 15:22)

 

SABBATH: On being quiet, still and at rest.

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.” (Ecc. 4:6)

How right the author of Ecclesiastes was, and how applicable to my life today! So often I find myself longing for a “handful of quietness” in the midst of the toil and striving of my everyday life. However, this desire for quietness before my God is somewhere deep inside, buried under my desire to “be productive” and my inability to say “no” to the plethora of good things I could potentially be involved in. I fly around checking things off my to-do list and, even when I’ve accomplished most of my tasks, I can’t shut off my brain. There’s always something else I could be doing. Someone else who could use my help. Another situation that needs my input (but does is really? Or is that my foolish pride talking?). Another program or activity that would benefit from my contribution (again, did someone say pride??).

Then, on days like today, I discover that I’m utterly spent and on the verge of breaking down if I don’t just…

STOP.

So I stop, more out of necessity than by choice, and take what my sister, Mel, calls “a sabbath” (she has an awesome blog that you can check out: http://www.nearerstill.com/).

Today was the first sabbath I’ve taken in a long time…so much so that I can’t even remember when the last one was! So what is “a sabbath”? It’s a day to spend with God in His word and in prayer…a day of rest and relaxation, where I take a break from all of the everyday responsibilities that clutter my normal days and do the things that I enjoy…the things that make my soul thrive instead of shriveling. 

And before anyone gets up-in-arms about the term “sabbath” and thinks I’m returning to a legalistic adherence to law, let’s have a quick look at Hebrews 4:8-10…

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[b] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

This “sabbath” I speak of is not a legalistic keeping of a “holy day.” After all, Colossians 2:16-17 says:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to … a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The Sabbath that was mandated/commanded in the Old Testament was a shadow of the rest that was to come to the people of God. The substance of that rest is now found in CHRIST! We don’t have to work for our salvation, striving to be “good enough” for God. Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the cross; and it was! He did the work we couldn’t do, so that we can be at peace with Him and find rest in Him. Added to this, we are wrong if we do away with the principle of resting, because God Himself rested from His work. Hebrews clearly tells us that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” So why don’t I take hold of what Jesus made available to me on the cross? Why do I persist with my striving, incessantly busy, teeth-grinding obsession with my to-do lists? Why don’t I build margin into my life that allows me to keep a right perspective, remembering that it’s not what I do that matters so much as what He has done?

You see, one of the biggest problems with my inability to quiet myself and rest is that it skews my view of God. Psalm 46:10 says,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

Here we see the direct link between being still, and knowing that God is God. All my rushing around and being consumed with other things truly becomes an unproductive “striving after wind” because I lose sight of the power and glory of God. He becomes small while everything else in my life looms large before my eyes.

This inability to rest is an even bigger problem for me now that I have a darling baby girl growing inside me. I have read all about the dangers of stress in pregnancy, such as preterm labor and the baby having a low birth weight. Yet I’m also thinking about the other consequences of my stress…the eternal consequences. After all, what I want most for my daughter is for her to know God. I want her to be a little girl at rest…peaceful in the knowledge of her loving God who is sovereign…knowing that she is safe in His hands. But how will she know this? How will she functionally experience this truth if mummy – who is one of the people she is most likely to learn from and imitate – is frazzled and struggling to see Jesus through the forest of commitments and flurry of activity?

Something has to change. Not only for my sanity, but for the sake of the little life that God has graciously blessed me with.

So I started today knowing that I needed a day of rest, but unsure of how to “shut off” and finding it to be an EFFORT to just relax and do nothing. I was feeling much like Job when he said:

My inward parts are in turmoil and never still (Job 30:27)…I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest… (Job 3:26)

Yet we have hope in a God who, by his power, stilled the sea (Job 26:12), and that same God has stilled and quieted me today.

So for those of you who, like me, have days when stillness seems miles away, take comfort in the words of God:

Fear not… let not your hands grow weak.17 The Lord your God is in your midst,  a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

The Words of our God are true. He is able to do what we can’t do. So…

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not…” (Ps. 37:7)

“In returning/repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Is. 30:15)

 

The Frailty of Life

I wrote this blog on March 30th, 2013, at 6:48 a.m. as I was sitting in the Toronto airport waiting for my flight to Barbados to start boarding. I can’t believe I’m only now getting around to posting it! In any case, here it is!
I love it and I hate it when I’m faced with the frailty of life.
I hate it in my flesh…the part of me that likes things to be stable and predictable…the part of me that likes to feel “in control.”
Today, in just over an hour, I will get into a metal structure and ascend thousands of feet into the air, defying all laws of gravity. I will have no control over that plane and that reality reminds me that this life truly is a vapor…it can be here one minute, gone the next.
With regard to my health, I’m doing everything I can to avoid sickness and remain healthy in this pregnancy so that the baby will be healthy. An example of this is the fact that I cancelled all babysitting engagements to reduce my exposure to kids once I discovered that I’m not immune to Parvo19 (slapped-cheek disease), which is particularly dangerous to unborn children before the 20th week of pregnancy is reached. I’ve done everything in my power to ensure that I don’t get this illness. Yet, as I looked at my little nephew’s sick self last night (we live with him) and his little red cheeks, I realized that all of my vigilance can only go so far.
I have no idea if my nephew has Parvo19 (he probably doesn’t, in all likelihood), or whether or not I’ve been exposed to this virus through some other means (there are no really visible symptoms when the virus is contagious).
But the one thing I do know is that:
“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and never see decay. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish…man…does not endure…”
(Psalm 49: 7-9, 10a, 12 NIV)
The human, fleshly part of my heart hates this…hates that I can’t prolong my baby’s life or my own for that matter…that I have no control over whether or not I catch Parvo19 or whether or not my baby will have health complications…that I cannot MAKE my life or my baby’s life endure.
Yet Psalm 49 does not end there. Verse 13-14 says:
“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves…they are destined for the grave.”
And I begin to see why I fear the reality of death sometimes…it’s because I’m trusting in myself and seeing death as “the end.”
So now I come to the reason why I LOVE being faced with the frailty of life, and why it’s sometimes exactly what I need: because it makes me TRUST JESUS.
It’s true that no man or woman can redeem, prolong or provide a ransom for my life (or that of my baby)…but Jesus has! Hebrews 9:15 says that Jesus died as a ransom to set us free from our sins! No human payment could ever be enough, but Jesus paid it all!!!
My hope on this Easter weekend is not that I can somehow control every outward influence or preserve my life and the lives of those I love. My hope is in a crucified and risen Savior who conquered sin and death so I no longer have to live enslaved by fear of death.
Psalm 49:15 articulates so perfectly this hope I find when I trust in Jesus rather than myself:
“God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.”
And so I rest in this truth, and the reality that NOTHING (not even death!) can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8).

Truth in a Dream: Christ must be proclaimed as the Saviour of sinners

So it’s been a while since I’ve had a spiritual dream…a dream that I’ve known was from the Lord. Last night He gave me one, and I woke up with such joy and excitement, refreshed by what He showed me. I’ve been pondering the dream all day and here is my attempt to briefly describe it, and explain it’s significance.

In my dream, I was sitting at a table full of church leaders. They were all discussing ways of “improving church” and making it “more attractive” to outsiders, particularly youth. I have no idea why I was at the table, because I was not contributing to the discussion…just listening. One pastor stated that he felt it was important to make sure the services were “exciting” and that people were “fired up” in order to appeal to unbelievers. Another pastor wanted someone to just give him “6 steps to a healthy church.” Overall, the general consensus among the pastors was that a more charismatic, exciting, signs-and-wonders-focussed church would be guaranteed to bring about the desired spiritual growth in their congregations. After all, that’s what people want, is it not? …the excitement of a really emotional, out-of-this-world, supernatural experience, right?

As I sat at the table, I was overcome with the love of God for these men and their congregations. They genuinely wanted what was best for those they were leading. They wanted to know God. And they wanted others to know Him.

Suddenly, one of the pastors turned, looked at me, and said to his peers, “Well, Bec and her husband have experience with this…they’ve seen young people coming to Christ…their church is alive and full of joy…there are people of all ages, and young people want to go to their church….they must be doing something right. Let’s ask them!”

Suddenly all eyes were fixed on me. And, as they waited expectantly, I began to weep with the weight of the response God had given me for these men…not a sad weight, but a glorious weight.

As I opened my mouth, I felt what the disciples must have felt when they experienced Jesus’ words to them for the first time, “…it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:20).   

Here is what I said (to the best of my recollection):    

“Jesus will be glorified in your churches when He is proclaimed as the Saviour of sinners.   

 

I can’t give you ‘6 steps to success’ or tell you what we’ve been ‘doing right’ because it’s not about us. We’re a bunch of imperfect people who have put our faith in a perfect Saviour and, as we hold Him out to others, they are putting their faith in Him too. ”       

I then shared with them the following verses from Luke 10:17-20,    

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

So these 72 disciples experienced some pretty exciting stuff. They had power over demons, and Jesus told them they would have power over the enemy, and nothing would hurt them! Talk about supernatural, exciting and out-of-this-world, right? Yet Jesus brings them back to the heart of their faith and the source of their rejoicing: that their names are written in heaven. How are our names written in heaven? How do broken, sinful people stand in the presence of a blameless, holy God and be considered worthy? 2 Cor. 5:20-21 puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Isn’t that glorious? Our joy and the most exciting thing ever, the reason we rejoice, is because Jesus Christ takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. Jesus saves sinners and gives us true, satisfying life forever in Him.

All that Jesus accomplished on the cross must be the foundation, the centre and the focus of the church. Yes, it’s nice to have a sweet worship band and I’m sure the new people do enjoy the coffee that’s offered at the front door, but at the end of the day, what are we holding out to people? Are we offering them excitement for excitement’s sake? Are we making false promises of a life free from suffering if only they will come to Jesus? Are we providing a setting that facilitates emotional hype and a form of spirituality that is rooted in little more than fleeting human feelings? Yes, Jesus does heal. Yes, Jesus gives awesome spiritual experiences to His children. Yes, we must strive for excellence in our worship and other areas of ministry. But this is not what we ultimately pursue or what we make central.

Speaking of His death on the cross, Christ said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” What draws people to Jesus is not our programs or our performances, our formulas or our spiritual excitement…it’s the glory of the gospel: a sinless, crucified and risen Lord.   

I’ve seen lives changed by this truth. I’ve seen those who were once dead in their sin come alive in Jesus…those who were bound as captives set free, like prisoners released from darkness. I am one of those captives-set-free…one of those lives-made-new.

So I say again what I said to those pastors in my dream: Jesus will be glorified in our churches when He is proclaimed as the Saviour of sinners.

This really is enough. Jesus really is enough. His gospel really is the “good news” people need, and we don’t need to “amp it up” to make it more appealing.

From now through all of eternity, Jesus will be primarily known, not as Healer or Provider or Ruler or Teacher, etc. (although He is all these things and MORE!), but as “the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). I pray that our churches would be places where Christ is worshiped as the Saviour of sinners…places where the glory of His gospel is held out with unwavering faith in His ability to make His enemies His friends.

He has done it. He can do it. He will do it.