pro-life, kids, mossketeers
One day about 5 years ago, I had just read an article circulating on Facebook about the horror of abortion, all the gory details included. I was sick and irate. I began to angrily pray and indignantly plead with God to give me an outlet to help these babies. His clear reprimand surprised and convicted me.
 
You are a clanging symbol.
What? I’m trying to help these poor children!
How do you not see? They are ALL my children. The woman who carries the baby is just as much my beloved child as the life inside of her. Where is your love for her?
That was truth in a way I had never considered. If I can speak every language on earth – and even angelic ones – but have no love, I am simply a sounding gong or a clanging symbol (1 Cor 13.1, paraphrased). I am just noise. Annoying, belligerent, self-righteous noise.
Abortion, I believe, is very rarely anyone’s first choice. In my opinion, men and women seek abortion because they lack the necessary resources to sustain that life. Maybe they lack familial support or support from their spouse/lover. Maybe they don’t have the money or any latitude to take time off of work – or high school for that matter. Perhaps the physical demand is something they perceive they can’t endure on their own. Sometimes pregnancy is the result of something they shouldn’t have been doing and they don’t want anyone (or a specific someone) to find out.
After the scales fell off of my eyes that day when God mercifully put me in my place, I spent an entire year and a half trying to figure out what He wanted me to do. It was the best season of prayer, searching, and being in the Bible that I’ve ever had; I knew God was wanting me to hear Him very specifically and very urgently about something He wanted me to DO. That said, it was an entire year and a half before He revealed himself. It all culminated in me taking the looooooong walk to the front of the church for a member of the prayer team to pray over me because I was at a loss for next steps.
Two days later I got an “are you interested?” email from YoungLives and this month marks the beginning of my fourth year with the organization, which to me is the epitome of pro-life. Its introduction to me was a direct answer from God as to what I was searching for. I’m now in close relationship with two teenage mothers who needed resources to help make motherhood work in a practical way. I’d like to think that, since YL and organizations like it exist, some teenage pregnancies don’t end in abortion because young and would-be mothers know there are people out there who will walk with them through parenthood.
As pro-lifers, it seems that we have falsely assumed that our only calling to stand in the gap for life inside the womb is to picket abortion clinics or vote strictly Republican or circulate pro-life propaganda. Just do what you’ve got to do to get the baby born. But then what? If we’ve succeeded in preserving the life, what are we doing to help it thrive? Pro-life isn’t just for babies. It’s all life. Maybe just maybe, there’s something more we can do – something better.
I’ve found a home in YoungLives – a community of like-minded mentors who have now become good friends. Real talk: Often, it is NOT easy to make YL work in my life. It takes a lot of time and energy and shuffling schedules around. It can be frustrating and disappointing – just like parenting my own blood-related children. But I want to be REAL pro-life. I want to see life thrive outside of the womb. And love is woven all throughout this story. The best part? My children see pro-life in action. They see that even old people like moms can still volunteer. They see that sometimes service is a big sacrifice and they see that love is what saves lives. Clanging symbols are just noise. And I bet those clanging symbols think they’re doing the right thing, being all loud and confrontational – I can say that I thought I was doing it right five+ years ago.
Are you wanting something to do? I’d start with immersing yourself in prayer/searching/the Word for specific direction. Options I know are out there: YoungLives, fostering, adopting, volunteering at pregnancy centers, giving to pro-life organizations that are already on the ground providing resources, opening up your home to a pregnant woman or new mom who has no where else to go. I never said it’d be simple or easy. Just letting your people know that you are a safe haven and source of support should there be an unplanned pregnancy within your circle of influence could be the difference between life and a life that’s intentionally ended.
Something to consider: Would your son, daughter, friend, grandchild, niece, neighbor, etc. come to you for help if they found themselves pregnant and terrified? Have you shown the people around you through your love just how pro-life you are?
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Suffering is a universal, shared, human experience. Everyone suffers at different times and to varying degrees – it’s something we can all relate to. Sometimes the pain is so overwhelming and sharp that it leaves us feeling like we can’t move forward with life. Suffering leaves us dazed, scared, weak, depressed, confused. A question that often gets asked in the middle of our trouble, more so when it’s especially poignant: Where is God in this suffering?

So where is He? Where is God in poverty and starvation? Where is He when a baby dies? Why does He seem silent while abuse takes place or addiction overruns and ruins families? Will He not lift a finger to relieve cancer and chronic illness that drags on for year after miserable year?

The evangelical in me wants to point a finger squarely at Satan; to say that God has nothing to do with suffering but to use it for good. And He does use it for good. But when I look at the way God works in the Bible, I see a God who not just allows suffering to happen, but proactively brings it to our lives to accomplish a certain goal. A King who does sometimes choose to inflict pain to bring about His will. So is God not good?

Jonah refuses God’s request and tries to sail away in hiding. God sends a massive storm. Intense fear is suffered by not only Jonah, but by the other people on the boat who had nothing to do with Jonah’s disobedience. Jonah is thrown overboard to save the ship and is swallowed by a whale. He suffers inside – in dank, dark, disgusting fish guts – for three days, praying for another chance. God grants him this prayer and the Ninevites hear Jonah’s message of God’s love and concern for them; hearts are changed, lives are saved in an eternal way.

Joseph grew up being favored by both his father and by God. His brothers resent and hate him; they sell him into slavery. He is falsely accused, stripped of his rights and his freedom, thrown in jail and forgotten about for many years. He always believed he was destined for greatness and didn’t become bitter or outraged in his suffering. He maintains his hope and people notice. He gets released from prison and promoted to second in command of Egypt. He is reunited with his family. Hearts are changed, lives are saved in an eternal way.

Jesus leaves heaven to come TO the suffering. Like a firefighter running in when everyone else is trying to get out. He didn’t pad himself with luxury or even basic comforts. He looks for people who are physically, emotionally and mentally sick and afflicted. He goes to them with the intent of taking on their burdens, makes them his own, is shamed and ridiculed by those same people – ignored or despised by everyone else. He is beaten, tortured and executed on a cross. Hearts are changed, lives are saved in an eternal way.

sufferingSuffering is everywhere and it’s a part of life. But not in a vague “everything happens for a reason” kind of way where we don’t seek to assume what is happening through the pain. Suffering is exactly the opposite. It is very purposeful, intentional, and anything but vague. God is in the suffering. Right there in the middle. He’s always working for our good, but that does not mean He’s always working for our comfort or relief.

When we are buried in grief and sadness – and let’s not dismiss how deep and dark our pain can be – we feel like what we’re going through is the worst suffering we could encounter. I think this is where we can misunderstand God and His love. What we believe is the worst suffering (death, cancer, affliction, poverty, crisis, etc) is actually not the worst suffering. Separation from God is the worst suffering. Eternal separation.Not whatever is happening here and now, no matter how dark. God can use our suffering here on earth to spare us eternal suffering. And, as we see in the examples above, sometimes our suffering is the medium through which God changes others’ hearts and saves lives.

Think about one of your dark times. When you came out the other end, you were not the same person. In the toughest times, we either bend and break to God’s will and develop an insight and maturity unmatched to that of our former self or we dig our heels in and put up walls. But we do not stay the same. We’ve seen too much; we’ve become aware of our limits and powerlessness in times of our greatest desperation. Hopefully it leads us to a knowledge of our need for a Savior.

If we believe that our earthly suffering, which is surely temporary even if it is long-lived, can bring about relief from eternal suffering, can we manage our pain better in our darkness? Can we glean some hope in knowing that the pain will not last forever? Will we allow our hearts to be necessarily broken and softened or will we become more proud and hardened? Are we willing to suffer for the sake of someone else’s life beyond this earth?

I have borne witness on several occasions to God’s people handling immense and extreme suffering with grace, truth and a light that spreads hope and points to the Lord. All suffering – all things in life – are meant to bring glory to God. When we seek and proclaim God’s glory through suffering or by the testimonies of those who suffer, we are doing what God wants us to with pain. Sometimes, our pain isn’t even about us. Can we still proclaim God’s goodness when intense sorrow enters our lives for the purpose of impacting someone else’s life?

One thing I am convinced of: We must not let each other suffer alone. Every time I see God glorified through life’s pains, I also see God’s people standing alongside those who are suffering. Through prayer and fasting, in bringing meals and incidentals, with time spent and relationships strengthened. And how God is glorified in those acts alone!

Suffering will happen in your life. What will you do with it? Will your question be, “Where is God in this suffering?” or will you have some degree of expectancy, “Whose heart and life will be changed through this pain?” Because God is certainly at work; we need eyes to see a bigger picture, humility to endure without getting lost in self, and devotion to a God who is always working for our good even with pain in the process.

There’s a line in the story of Jesus’ birth that, since becoming a mother, is always popping into my mind. It’s not one people really stop to pick apart or even contemplate why it’s there. A simple little verse that, written in a day LONG before social media, helps guide my online-sharing practices in this technology age.

mary joseph and the babe

Just in case anyone needed a visual, I give you Joseph, Mary, and a very excited baby Jesus.

A brief synopsis of the story, as well as a couple things we know about Mary: She didn’t come from a well-to-do family. Until of course giving birth to Jesus, she hadn’t done anything notable or newsworthy. She was a teenager, engaged and in love with Joseph, who stuck by her side even when she told him this doozy, “I’m pregnant with God’s baby.” Mary and Joseph travel to their hometown to be counted for a mandatory census. Mary is super pregnant and they must have gotten there kind of late because all the inns and extra rooms are already packed full of people. They finally find an innkeeper who allows them to sleep in his barn with the animals. Baby Jesus is born there and sleeps in a feed trough under the most humble of circumstances.
After he’s born, God sends a star to shine over the barn where his family is staying. Angels visit some nearby shepherds to alert them that their Savior is here. The shepherds start rejoicing and spreading the news, waste no time locating Jesus, and bow to worship him as soon as they arrive. Magi (important, well-known wise men) from afar see the star-beacon and follow it to Bethlehem knowing that it’s a big deal. When they make it to the barn, they shower Jesus with expensive, lavish gifts. There is an electricity in the air as the people of Bethlehem start catching on to what’s happening.
If this were me in present time, how would I have reacted to all the fuss? Especially as a teenager. 
The grown men/strangers bowing down to my infant? Document the ordeal in detail to post on Facebook.
The visits from three distinguished kings, offering gold and expensive oils? Uh, I’d for sure name drop. Snap a quick pic for Insta of my wee babe in the arms of my famous visitors (with the fancy gifts in view).
From being a “nobody” to widespread recognition.  Tweet it out and try and develop a following, leaning in to my new-found fame.
But what Mary did is the part that sticks with me: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Aware of just how special this child and these moments were, she didn’t rush to a news outlet. She pondered them in her heart. I imagine a little half smile on her face as she gets lost in her thoughts.
I know, I know. She didn’t have internet or a cell phone. What would be the olden day equivalent? “She told everyone she met along the road that her kid was kind of a big deal.” Not sure exactly what she would have done if Bethlehem had wifi, but it’s significant to me that this simple line was purposely recorded in the Bible.
I distinctly remember a moment with my firstborn when she was a couple months old where I realized this line would forever serve as a reminder for me. A reminder to save some things just for me. I was breastfeeding her, looking down at the hugest eyes I’d ever seen. It was early in the morning – just before dawn – and the dim light from outside was casting a blue glow throughout the room. She stared at me with her baby blues as she ate. It was serene and wonderful and powerful and a gift. I remember thinking, “Where’s my phone when I need it? The world needs to see how angelic she is. Can I film this without showing any of my…parts…?” followed immediately by a thought that was its exact opposite, “No way. How could I cheapen something so tender and special? What an honor that no one can see this but me. This is a sacred moment meant just for mother and child.”
 
Moms, there aren’t a lot of accolades or awards in our line of work. We don’t get glowing quarterly reviews or raises affirming us of a job well done. In fact, there are lots of daily complaints and criticisms from our little charges. What Mary teaches me is that the sweetest of these moments with my babies are my most valuable rewards. Meant to be treasured and pondered. I’m not suggesting we boycott social media; my parents who live 700 miles away would never go for that! I’m just encouraging you to keep some things just for yourselves, Moms. Your kids are so special and I know that’s why you want to put it out there, but it doesn’t all have to be broadcast. You deserve to keep something untouched, undiscovered, and sacred that you alone can treasure and ponder.
chef tre

Christina and me with Chef Tre Wilcox

Ok, so it wasn’t actually “Chopped” and I was simply one part of a winning team, but the Sprouts Food Challenge at Tre Wilcox’s Cooking Concepts kitchen made me feel pretty awesome. The whole experience fueled this curious, creative part of me that doesn’t get a lot of attention being a full-time parent.

I started learning this lesson after Cortland was born 3 years ago. I had 3-year-old Harper and a newborn. I was a full time stay at home mom. Admittedly, a little bit of a hermit hiding out indoors from, you know, germs and anything else that would threaten our infant’s life. I was seriously lacking some sort of creative expression. Around Christmas, I decided to make a set of Advent lesson cards and activities for our family to do together. Not only did the family thoroughly enjoy the daily activities, but I realized I had been seriously neglecting a part of me that needs to be alive and well. That said, I’ve been cognizant to make sure I keep some sort of creative outlet open. It makes for a happier life.

cooking concepts, chef tre wilcox, chopped

Our team with Chef Tre Wilcox of Cooking Concepts at the Sprouts Food Challenge.

That said, my night out at Cooking Concepts was sort of like the pinnacle of creative expression. Sprouts hosted the outing and supplied a wide array of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, as well all kinds of high-quality meats and seafood – not to mention a pantry full of odds and ends. We numbered off randomly into teams and were given the task of creating two different dishes, each using these four required ingredients: black beans, marinara, matzo crackers and balsamic vinegar. We were given 40 minutes to make a game plan and execute. It was a blast. If you live anywhere in the Dallas area, get your spouse or a group of friends together and check out Cooking Concepts.

After the competition, we were treated to a delicious meal made by Chef Wilcox and his team. While we dined on salmon, steak, and perfectly prepared comfort food side dishes, a dietitian from Sprouts enlightened us on summer cooking trends and ways to keep ourselves and our kids hydrated during the hot, Texas summer months. Isn’t Sprouts just the best? They’re a regular grocery stop for our family.

Listen, just because you’re a grown up or a parent or have a real job that pays the bills doesn’t mean that you have to stifle the creative spark you have. Find something that ignites it and then invest yourself. Music, art, cooking, dancing, writing – whatever it is. You’ll find yourself alive again in ways that you thought were only meant for childhood and simpler times.

I don’t like asking for favors. Even small ones. For example: asking a neighbor to get our mail when we’re out of town. Getting the mail is a super easy job. The required amount of activity, deductive reasoning skill and manual labor is quite trivial, but I profusely apologize like I’ve just asked Senora Aurora (next door neighbor) to be the surrogate mother of our next child (that analogy is strictly to illustrate a point! Plus she’s definitely past child-bearing years). Then, when we return and I walk next door to retrieve the collected mail, I am sure to bring four different quick breads, fresh out of the oven, to thank her for the major inconvenience I caused her.

Now, when neighbors ask me to collect their mail? Really, truly no big deal. It is zero percent a hassle. In fact, it’s sometimes nice to have a reason to take a little stroll down the street. I’ve tried to internalize the fact that (hopefully!) my neighbors really, truly feel just as unbothered by little favors as I do so that I can not be afraid to become real friends with them. Because real friendship is built through real life and not just niceties, right? And when I humble myself to be put in a position of debt to my neighbor or friend or family member, usually I am rewarded by their willingness to be equally as vulnerable. Just ask my super awesome neighbor Becky. She fed and watered Frankie the rabbit every day and (in the pouring rain) checked in our chickens multiple times while we were gone over Thanksgiving. She’s one of the sweetest, easy-to-be-friends-with women I know. Now get this. She’s 9 months pregnant. I know. I can see you all shaking your heads. What monster asks their dear neighbor who’s about to pop a baby out to feed their livestock for a week? ME. I’m that monster. I owe her big time and at least 10 quick breads.

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

Superstar neighbor Miss Becky

My mom and my dad. In my 32 years, I have already drawn out SO many favors from them. Before I ever really realized how much I was taking and even now when I do realize it. When it comes to their willingness to give or extend favor to me, the supply never seems to dry up. Although I know how generous they’ve been with me through my life, I am still never afraid to ask for help. They may be the only two people on this earth whose well of favor I’m not afraid to keep drawing from. Even with my husband Matt, I sometimes still think in terms like this when there’s something I want to ask of him: Ok, when was the last time he went out to play basketball with his friends because there’s a Noonday party I want to go to with my friends. It’s like we think that kindness and generosity are measurable units that we can trade, stockpile, or deplete. And that very well could be true with most humans because many of us are keeping score. NOT GOD. My eyes well up just resting on that truth because He gives and gives and gives generously to all without finding fault.

I stop and pray every time I see a prayer request come through Facebook. This afternoon, there were several prayer requests in a row for major health concerns. By the third or fourth prayer request, I found myself forgetting that God is not keeping score of how many favors I’ve asked of Him. Praying like this: God, I know I’ve just asked for three other miracles, so…well…okay yeah, since I’m overloading You, I’ll be back to pray for this tomorrow when the favor-meter has been recharged. His favor, his love for us, his desire to do good in our lives does not dry up. You can’t ask too many times for too many favors. He can do all that and infinitely more. If I believe (and I do) that He gladly receives my request of Him to heal three people in a row, then why not ask healing for the fourth? I take my own insecurities and misguided conclusions about myself and other people, then I apply them to a God who is just not like me. Praise you, Lord!

I hope I can mature to a place with my people, and surely with my God, where kindness, good, generosity, neighborliness, love, and favor is so abundant in our lives that it passes freely between us, no tabs kept. I pray that we can desire those things with so much fervor that our communities are not so fragmented, fractured, and broken. Thank you to all of you who, like my parents, have let me take more than I have given back without being offended; when you do that, God’s likeness is tangible and precious in your living, breathing example of endless favor.

Matt and I used to watch Storage Wars every once and awhile. I was struck by how much stuff is packed into those units. Then how many units are on any one storage facility’s property. Then how many storage facilities there are per city, per state, per country, you get the idea. So much stuff. I don’t rent a storage unit but, for all intent and purpose, that’s exactly what our garage is. I’m sure I don’t know half of what’s in there at this point. Boxes that sit untouched for literally years. We recently opened a letter from one of our Compassion kids and read that she sleeps in a hammock in their hut with dirt floors. I thought about what it would be like to try and explain the concept of storage units to little Napthali. The imagined conversation was embarrassing and convicting.

When Christ taught us how to pray he included, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Then of course there’s the Israelites wandering in the desert, eating manna from heaven. Such an interesting story. God commanded them to gather only what they needed for that day, no more. If anyone gathered more than they needed, it would rot by morning. Was God teaching Israel how to need Him? Do we EVER purposely try to need Him? To depend solely on His mercies. To look heavenward and pray that the bread will keep falling. Needing God is really something we only do when we feel we have no other choice. What if I actively pursued being needy with God?

For the Israelites then or for me now, what would that kind of dependency do for my relationship with the Provider? It would keep me from settling too deep into my comfort. It would keep me healthy – just the right amount of full. It would keep me humble for sure. And keep me honest. Keep me from rotting. If I could keep my spirit right, I might even not complain too much about eating the same meal every day for 40 years straight.

I’m finding that I’m in a season of life where I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, so to speak. Too much going on. I know I’m over-doing it because I’m routinely forgetting things, being irritable with my kids, feeling like I’m a step behind, and being resentful about some of the things I’ve committed to. It made me think that perhaps I’ve taken too much manna in my scheduling and when manna is taken in excess, it spoils and sours.

Embracing our need to need God seems to be the goal. Train ourselves to run full speed at life more abundantly in Christ and not even worry about a plan B. We’re America and we believe that being needy is not becoming on us. Actually, while I’m at it, let’s broaden that sweeping generalization to include all of mankind. So we collect things and pad our existence with comfort. Probably it’s our natural instinct…we don’t like to impose on others. Burden them with our pains, be it physical, emotional, spiritual. We like favors owed, a variety of resources at our disposal, and good back-up plans. We value self-sufficiency, promote independence, and applaud individual successes.

All of those are not bad things in themselves. Even with Israel, their sin was not simply having the extra manna. It was the disobedience in gathering more than God told them they could. It seems that we tend to really believe we need the extra manna. To save for a rainy day. Or we just want it because stockpiling feels a little like insurance. We hope we don’t need to use it, but it feels nice to have it there. So how can I resist the excess? Honestly, I don’t know that I’m spiritually mature enough at this point to really answer that. But logic tells me to start with the places where I hoard. That’s different for everyone – those spots could be literal or figurative. Clean it all out, man. Cut stuff out. Get rid of it. Give it away. Free ourselves. Travel lightly through this life. Stop rotting from the inside. And then fill those spaces back up with my need to need God and God alone. Let Him be enough for me and trust that the Spirit does indeed fill all my empty voids, real or imagined.

I’ll start with my schedule: taking on only what’s healthy for me. Some superwomen might be out there doing my life times ten, but I just want to be happy and content while I go about my business, you know? I’m going to take some time to figure out where my limits are and practice the art of saying No. Material things, emotional baggage, social engagements, activities and affiliations, cold hard cash…where do you take on too much instead of letting Christ be enough? Oh, and my garage? I won’t consider that place a war zone until I cannot make my way from one end to the other…

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I shot it tonight and just think she's so stinkin' cute! I had to share.

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I shot it tonight and just think she’s so stinkin’ cute! I had to share.

Just one more...

Just one more…

Why stop now? People seem to like this format. Since my blog as of late has turned into a diary of sorts with which I confess the most selfish parts of me, let’s rip off another band-aid, shall we?

I’ve set out to really work on changing something about my character. It’s a fundamental flaw of mine – something so deeply embedded into my way of thinking that I only realize I’m doing it every once in a while. Maybe you struggle with this, as well, even if just in your subconsciousness. Here it is: I, for most of my life, only begrudgingly celebrate the successes of others. Sometimes I have a hard time even acknowledging when someone I know and/or love does something great. The center of this problem is my struggle with pride, which you can read about here.

Why do I do this? Honestly, I think the reason is that I misguidedly believe that if I acknowledge or celebrate the success or talent of someone else, it somehow diminishes my own talent or success. Which is ridiculous. But, for me, it really sometimes feels like admitting defeat if someone else’s garden is producing more fruit than mine. Or a friend’s photography or craft or baking business is really taking off and those things are really still just hobbies for me. Or – get this – someone I love and/or admire offers me insightful, intelligent, spiritual advice that I hadn’t come to on my own. Those are all real life examples of things I’ve not wanted to celebrate in other people because I have this problem where I think I need to be better. Man, that hurts me to say out loud.

The reason this is heartbreaking is because, often, what I’m really rejecting is a God-given gift, ability, or trait that someone is choosing to use for His glory! How could my response be anything but celebratory? Does it somehow make me MORE successful or talented to ignore the achievements of others? Of course not! And I really, really want my love for Christ and for others to be so great that a win for my friends really feels like a win for me, too. I want my people to know that I’m rooting for them and I really want to be a source of encouragement for people who are using their gifts!

I will say, there are some gifts people have that I have no problem giving a Standing O for. Singing is one of them. I am NOT a good singer. Not at all. I try and I dream and I pray for an angelic voice but, well, that request remains a prayer list staple… My sister is an incredibly talented singer. Since I know I’m not competitive in the singing race, it’s easy for me to give her praise and not feel a pang of jealousy. She’s better than me and that’s all there is to it. In fact, I cry happy tears when she sings because her talent is so wrapped up in the heart of God that I can hear him through her voice. Sometimes awesome graffiti makes me cry. Sometimes it’s a youtube video of a world class ballerina or a street drummer in New York. I can’t do any of those things well and they are using their gifts so beautifully that I am awestruck and grateful to the God who made them and gave them such talent.

But from now on, I want to be someone who applauds my “competition” instead of toeing the line with jealousy at their achievement. That said, I’m going to start calling out my friends and family for the things they do that are grand, be it a delishly prepared apple pie or the gentlest, most thoughtful encouragement, or a blow-my-mind expert parenting move. I want to celebrate you people because you are worth celebrating. You are inspiring and smart and beautiful and all kinds of talented. Thank you for embracing your gifts and sharing them with me!