Watermelons and wistfulness

Watermelons make me wistful. When summer starts to creep in and those green orbs begin appearing in cardboard crates at the Charleston grocery stores, I’m transported to my grandparents’ farm in Indiana. It’s there where I learned the skill of searching for the perfect watermelon. Just ten minutes down the road from my parents’ suburban neighborhood, my grandparents lived in a house with a farm stand and fields of fruits and vegetables in their backyard. This central hub for our huge family get-togethers was where I spent many hours with a crowd of 27 cousins. On more than one occasion when family began to trickle in for a festivity, my grandma, “Mimi,” would lead me right outside their back door to the farm stand to pick out a melon. Together, we’d run our hands across the piles of melons fresh from the dirt, turning them around and looking for the ones with the yellow belly smack dab in the center. We’d spot the dark webbing which signals sweetness and pick one up to make sure it was heavy. Confident that we picked properly, we’d take our prize inside to the kitchen counter and place it on her old wooden cutting board. Mimi would raise the big knife reserved for such rituals and whack it right down the middle as the two pieces cracked open. She’d give me a wink and together we’d share the heart of the melon while no one was watching, giggling that we got to eat the best part.

Last week I had the opportunity to bring my children back to this farm where Mimi still lives. My son is old enough now to experience a glimpse of the good parts of my family’s culture. He marveled at the big blue tractor and the red barn. Just like I did when I was a kid, he spent many of his days during our trip with a cluster of his own cousins who became his playmates. It was a joy to watch him, yet the wistful feelings welled up within me as I realized his everyday life looks very different from my childhood memories. In Charleston, we don’t have the gift of family down the street. On a slow afternoon, we can’t hop in the car to Mimi’s house to eat some fresh watermelon or call on cousins for a play date. Family visits take travel, money, and effort to make them happen, and we only go back to Indiana a few times a year. It’s strange and a bit sad for me to realize that some of my deeply ingrained memories and daily patterns of life as a child are experiences limited only to special occasions for my own children.

The night before we boarded our plane to come back to Charleston, I came to the evening church service with some of that wistfulness whirling around in my head. Then the pastor opened up the Bible to Proverbs 14, and one verse in particular stood out to me: “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” As a parent, I want to raise my children in a home that acts as a refuge. I start to worry sometimes that my kids are missing out when I think about all the ways in which my childhood home went beyond the walls of my own house to the connections I had to my extended family. I tend to lack confidence that I’m giving my children all that they need to thrive. Yet the passage in Proverbs reminds me that far better than any family culture is a faith heritage passed down to the next generation. Elias and Charlotte might not have cousins at their beck and call or a family farmhouse down the road, but they have parents who seek to fear the Lord and a church family who has vowed to help us raise them. I can have confidence that as I seek to fear God and honor Him with my parenting, He is the one providing His refuge for my children through circumstances providentially planned for their good.

We’re safely back in Charleston now, and one of the first things I did upon arrival was to go to the grocery store with my kids. I stood over that watermelon bin while Elias looked on from the cart and Charlotte peered up at me from her carrier. As I turned the melons around and tapped on them, I explained to Elias the secrets of securing the best watermelon. He may grow up as a Southerner, but I’m not letting him or Charlotte leave my house one day without having learned how to pick the perfect melon.

What’s mine is yours

Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I pulled out paper plates and plastic utensils, set out some extra folding chairs around the dinner table, fired up the grill, and hosted three families in our home for hamburgers. We had taken a hiatus from hospitality due to a stressful series of events in our family, and much has changed since we’ve been in the regular routine of inviting people to our house for a meal. This time around, our shared living spaces feel smaller as our kids are taking up more room. The conversations are interrupted much more by attention-seeking toddlers and babies. This season of life means that the food itself can’t
be fussy or formal, and the house is not immaculate. Yet even though hospitality may look different these days, the important parts stay the same. Last week when the kids were put to bed and we’d moved on to dessert, this group of people who barely knew each other at the beginning of the night were friends by the end of it as we shared not just a meal but our lives together.

So many articles and books have been written about hospitality: using the crockpot to make meal prep easier, making sure to have drinks readily available throughout the night, how to strategically set the table to make conversation flow. While those topics can provide helpful tips, let’s not get caught up in the details and forget in the process of planning our parties why we do it in the first place: to invite people not only into our homes but also our hearts. Hospitality begins with more than just an outward display of affection through a dinner, dessert night, or play date. It starts with a heart attitude that says, “What’s mine is yours. Come stay for a while so I can know and love you better.”

It’s possible to be lavish in our get-togethers yet stingy in our hearts. I’m guessing that’s why the apostle Peter tells us to show hospitality but to do it without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). Why would the exercise of hospitality make us grumble? I can give you some first hand experience in this regard. It’s not always easy to interrupt my family’s flow to host a group of people. It takes time and forethought to schedule and plan a meal, and sometimes I find meal planning on a budget for just my little family to be overwhelming enough. Engaging others takes energy: the exchange between guests doesn’t always come easily, and awkward pauses may fill the gaps between stilted conversation. The house will be inevitably messy at the end of the night, and my current pastimes already include picking up after everyone’s messes. From the perspective of my own self-centered heart, I have grounds to grumble.

Yet with the perspective of Christ at the center, I have every reason to fling open the door of my home and my heart. There’s a reason he said, “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). We can take his word for it because Christ sacrificed immeasurably more than a quiet night watching Netflix when he gave his life by laying it down for us all. And in giving his life, he received a seat at the right hand of God and the privilege of preparing a table for us to sit around on the final day when we will feast together in communion with him and our brothers and sisters. Until that day, we gather together around each other’s tables and enjoy a foretaste of the fellowship that will be ours in full when that day comes. In exchange for inconvenience, we remember our lives are about so much more than just ourselves. The guests who fill our home end up filling our hearts as we make room for them there.

On Sunday, I’m going to see those people we hosted for dinner. This time around, however, I have more to say to them than just “hello.” I’ll ask one of the guys if he got the job for which we stood in a circle at the end of the night and prayed. I’ll have a book recommendation for the girl who asked about a particular topic she wants to research. These acquaintances have become friends as we’ve given some of what’s ours and received so much more in the process.

 

 

 

Identity in ascension

We live in a culture surrounded by a loud, flashy fight for identity. Social media begs the question, “who are you?” and offers a platform to portray yourself. “Try one of these identities on for size,”  all the images seem to shout. “Be a stay-at-home mom and have perfectly planned activities for your children.” “Be a working mom. Show all the things you can juggle.” “Be the person with the smiling face. Have everyone check out your chiseled body, your perfect house.” “Let your anthem be that you’re living the good life. Be the person who can say, ‘I AM at the center of my carefully crafted kingdom.’” This siren call for superficial self-promotion can leave me feeling disoriented and distracted from who defines me: the great I AM, Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” My identity in him is not constantly flaunted or formed by others’ opinions, but safely tucked away in the one who currently lives and reigns over all the chaos of culture.

Last week Thursday was Ascension Day, a designated demarcation in the Christian calendar of holy days that so often passes by unnoticed. Yet it celebrates a crucial aspect of our identity that is otherworldly. We celebrate and remember the Christ who not only came in flesh, died on a cross, was resurrected from the dead, and appeared to witnesses but who has also ascended into heaven and has taken his place at the right hand of God. We are in union with this Christ. As a result, we too have died to our sin and have been raised to new life. Now our very selves, the core of who we are, is hidden with our Savior in flesh and blood as he is in heaven.

Our union with Christ in his ascension may seem theologically cerebral, but it has such important application for our identity as Christians. Two major implications come to mind. First of all, the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ means that we are protected from the onslaught of lies from the culture about what defines us. This myriad of messages attack us from every side, urging us to live for our own glory: to amass as much wealth as possible, wear the best brands, train up tidy children who look and act like ourselves, do whatever it takes to ensure that leisure, comfort, and physical beauty will describe our daily living. To truly win in the eyes of the world, our narcissistic and pleasure-seeking best should take place right at this moment and be on display for all to see. I don’t know about you, but I look a lot like a loser to the world. I’m a medium sized mom who buys my clothes at Target, and my son considers “adventures to Aldi” a thrilling activity. My evenings are not spent out on a yacht sipping wine but reading a book and drinking tea. You can find me most days dealing with toddler tantrums and teething. The kids and I spend a lot of time in the backyard, and they play in a small plastic pool. What you see on the outside is what you get, and it’s really not all that impressive. Yet Christ, my life and my true identity, is currently hidden from view of the world. I’ve already won in him even though you may not see it, and he is my validation. My triumph doesn’t take place in eye-catching Instagram stories or Facebook posts. My worth has already been proven by Christ, and my victory is in heaven. I am currently awaiting the day until who I am will be fully revealed as I see Christ face to face, not just as in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until that time, Christ in his person is protecting and keeping my identity.

A second aspect of the ascension that matters for us is the fact that our focus should remain not on the transient things of this world, but on what will last. In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” What should take up the most of our time, energy, and affections are not fleeting fashion trends, perfect bodies, or making life seem like a constant vacation. Those things amount to very little in the grand scheme of God’s story. Instead, our gaze and thereby our priorities experience a seismic shift to heaven, to the throne of Christ. Our life in flesh and blood is seated there, and we want him to tell us who we are and where we are going. With Christ taking up the most space in our hearts, we get to spend our lives here seeking what does and will matter: Christ’s glory and serving His kingdom instead of our own pleasure and ease.

I write this after a week that did not feel all that glorious or glamorous. My son was loudly and consistently acting his age (two years old), and my insomnia kept me from the sleep I desire. I don’t have anything tangible to show for last week other than a perpetually dirty floor and a never-ending basket of laundry. But I’m taking Paul’s exhortation to heart, that who I am is defined by so much more than what the world would say I’m lacking, as I serve Christ in the little things. I’m choosing to take time in the mundane yet meaningful moments to enjoy the life God has given me as I anticipate the day I meet my true significance and am embraced by his nail scarred hands.

Church in person

I’m going to share a secret. My Sundays, labeled the “day of rest” for the Christian community, are not all that restful for me as a mom. Well, at least from a physical standpoint. Gone are the days of leisurely Sunday afternoons with quiet reading and naps, long walks, and stimulating conversation sandwiched between services. Lord’s days these days can often feel like a long race to the finish line of getting all the kids in bed at the end of a day, letting out a sigh of relief that we made it through the stuffing of children into nice clothes, the shuffling back and forth to church. And yet after suffering the leper-like qualities of quarantine due to some nasty illness, we missed two weeks of church, and I can honestly say that my soul was not any more rested. All I wanted was a Sunday filled with that busy back and forth of our typical routine. Why? Because even with the lack of napping and long, lazy days, Sundays with God’s people in His house do more for my soul than Sundays spent on my own terms.

I think there’s a common misconception that fulfilling the duties of a Sunday are just as easily accomplished by spending an hour or less watching an online sermon, checking it off the list and moving on to other more “restful” activities. Yet the main point of the Lord’s day is that it is a gift, not a duty, and the benefits involved are so much more rich when experienced in person. God meant for us to come together, rubbing shoulders with our brothers and sisters, shaking hands and giving hugs, sitting together under the preaching of His Word, and eating bread and drinking wine at His table as we celebrate Christ’s finished work for us and begin a new week in light of all He has done. In between all the trips to the nursery to feed babies or change diapers, my soul needs the bodily experience of being part of the church, taking my place in the pew and worshiping God in His presence. I taste with my mouth and see with my eyes that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

In Hebrews 10:24-25, the author says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We can tend to think that it doesn’t matter from Sunday to Sunday whether we show up and take our place next to our church family members, that they won’t miss us this week. Yet even just sitting and taking up space is an encouragement to the people around you. Together we are saying, “Yes, I’m with you in this.” Though everyone else may be out at the beach or eating brunch, we’re here to remember and reflect on the Gospel, to be reoriented to the reality of who we are and whose we are.

So this coming Sunday, from morning till evening, our family will show up at church. I’ll run after our son as he attempts to grab six cookies from the refreshment table and stuff them in his mouth. I’ll leave the morning service during the offertory to feed my daughter her bottle. Yet I’ll be with my brothers and sisters in person, and together we will hear the good news of what Christ has done and respond in prayer and praise. And at the end of the day, after my husband and I have tucked the kids in bed, my body will be very tired, but my soul will be rested.

Ode to Joy

We could have said no. “It’s too soon,” we could have said. We wouldn’t have had to pull out all the baby clothes and bottles, all the items we had discreetly tucked away in corners of closets to try to push aside reminders of what we had lost. At a time of deep grief and sadness, we were tired. Our souls were spent. We worried we didn’t have enough energy, enough room left in our wrung-out hearts to go down this path again.

If we had said no, we wouldn’t have had to go from baby to baby to baby, all in a row without any breaks. We could have opted out of the familiar routine of late night feedings, constant diaper changing, and juggling of two children’s needs. Life would have been less complicated. Less busy. More quiet. We could have said no.

But instead we said yes. Out came the infant seat once again. Splashes of pink amidst all the blue. Taking deep breaths. Waiting for you, saying “we will.” And all of a sudden, there you were, laying in our living room and looking up at us. Beautiful bird baby with piercing blue eyes, porcelain skin, and a mess of thick, black hair. We said yes to a Cupid-bow lipped bundle of joy with a smile that bursts forth from your face. To a toothy grin and giggle that makes us all adore you. We said yes to a new sibling for our son, to a built-in best friend to build forts with, a baby sister to fiercely protect. And in saying yes, our wrung-out hearts are slowly filling to the brim with awe and wonder for the joy that is you.

Today is your day. The day we stand before the powers that be, and say, “we do” to being your parents, to teaching and guiding you, guarding and loving you. We’ll put on our Sunday best. Family will fly on an airplane just to be part of this special day. Today you’ll officially become a member of our family and carry our last name. But not to fear: it’s already official in the deepest parts of us that you belong.

We could have said no. But we’re so glad we said yes.

Proverbs 16:9

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Mother’s Day Musings

It’s Mother’s Day this coming weekend, and this Sunday brings a holiday that has hit me differently in each season of life. When I was younger, it was always an opportunity to gather around the table over a delicious meal to celebrate my own mother, who more than likely made all the food. During my years of struggle with infertility, it was a lonely, sore reminder of the longing for a label I didn’t have. And now after only just a few short years of being a mother, I think of this day in light of the many things I am tangibly learning now that I’ve joined the mom’s club. Here’s just a few.

Being a mom is such a gift. I often tell my husband that I’m glad we had to work so hard to get our kids because it makes us appreciate them more. In the quiet(er) moments, when I see my son happily playing with his trucks on the floor next to my daughter who is currently learning how to roll her way around the entire house, I’m blown away with awe and gratitude. Although I didn’t go through nine months of pregnancy, I went through many aching months of waiting for children. I plodded through my own kind of labor: paperwork, policies, plenty of sleepless nights, promoting ourselves through a portfolio, pushing forward to the arrival of our children. Just like a pregnant mother, I waited and waited until that amazing moment when I held my babies in my arms for the first time and all the previous pain faded away. I don’t want to forget the privilege of being a parent.

Yet being a mom is more than just a gift. It’s an enormous responsibility to steward the lives and hearts of our children. Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” The older I get, the more I go back to the things my wise mother has taught me over the years. Just as my own mother’s teaching helped form and fashion who I am today as a person, so I too have the role of leading and guiding my little ones in the way they should go. For now, that mostly involves holding a spoon correctly and not sitting on siblings. But one day it will involve much bigger, weightier issues. I’ve got a lot of teaching opportunities ahead of me, and I don’t want to take those lightly.

Finally, although it’s a gift and a high calling to be a mom to my kids, they aren’t really “mine” in the end. They belong to God. I tend to forget this sometimes. As a parent, I want to control and create my children in my own image, and I’m disappointed when they don’t do what I want them to do or act how I think they should act. But that’s why I’m thankful that I’m not their ultimate parent. I can only point them to the One who gave them to me in the first place. This Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating His faithful Fatherly hand guiding me to be a faithful mother.

P.S. We are STILL not out of the woods. Well, we’re back home now but arrived just in time for my husband to develop a horrible stomach bug. That’s why I only had time for some musings as opposed to a lengthy post.

Out of the Woods

We’re not out of the woods yet. This past week my family took a trip to one of our favorite spots, a house in the woods overlooking the “mountains” of upstate South Carolina. And yes, we live in the low country, so foothills look like mountains to us. As I mentioned last week, life has been emotionally exhausting in recent months. Ross and I were eagerly anticipating a week of rest and relaxation. No deadlines to meet. No early mornings. No late night meetings. Lots of walking, reading, playing outside, and sleeping. What we have been given instead is a husband with a sinus infection that keeps him up all night coughing, a toddler with a stomach bug and the throw ups, and a baby with tummy issues and diaper changes at least once every hour. I’ll spare you the details.

So here we sit in the woods, and I laugh at God’s timing. Surprisingly, it’s much easier for me to trust God with the really big, earth shattering events of life. The minor annoyances and irritations, however, often have me wrestling with my own ideas of what I think is best. At times like these, I’m reminded of the Israelites. God had brought them through immense hardship, delivering them from the oppression of slavery to the Egyptians. He had caused waters to be parted so they could cross on dry land and sent a cloud to guide them where they should go. He gave them manna from heaven to eat. There was no way the Israelites could doubt God was taking care of them. And yet as soon as the earth shattering events of deliverance were over and they were stuck traveling in the wilderness, their everyday mindset of gratitude and trust in God’s plan ceased. Numbers 11 talks about them grumbling against His daily provisions, lamenting over the leeks and melons they got to eat while they were in chains.

I tend to be just like them. It’s at times like these that I like to pause and reflect on all the ways God has been faithful to me. I’ve never been literally enslaved to a harsh task master, but God delivered me from the bondage of my own sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. I haven’t seen God part the waters of a sea, but I’ve seen Him make a financial way for me to move from Chicago, Illinois to Escondido, California to attend seminary. God hasn’t rained down manna for me to eat, but I’ve never lacked more than enough daily bread. He’s always been faithful to me and He always will be. He provides daily grace not only for those earth shattering events but also the monotonous moments of endless diaper changing and cleaning up messes.

We’re in the woods with no knowledge yet of when we’ll get out. Yet this time, I’m clinging to the truth that God’s plan is best. He knows just what we need, whether that be rest and relaxation or nursing family members back to health. Either way, we still get to enjoy the beauty of the woods.