God is Able

We are small, but God is very big. We are so weak, but He is strong. These are some simple yet complex truths God has impressed upon my heart over the course of the past several months as we awaited the arrival of Abel into our family. Since Mother’s day weekend when we received the news of his little life, I have been clinging desperately to these and many other truths about the character and attributes of God.

Ross and I had agreed months before when Isaac was just tiny that we would not pursue adoption any time soon unless we received a phone call from one of our birth mothers that she was pregnant with a sibling of one of our children. We knew there would be no way we could say no, no matter what the timing. When the phone call came relaying precisely that information, Ross hung up the phone, shared it with me, and we simply said to each other, “Yes.” 

And so began the long wait. In typical pregnancies, women have 9 months. I usually have about 24 hours, so several months provided a lot of time for me to pray and ponder. We didn’t know much, only that this baby was Isaac’s (our youngest son) full biological sibling and that the birth mother thought she was due around August 13. To prepare, I washed and folded a few unisex outfits to take to the hospital. I cleaned out the infant car seat and moved Isaac to a bigger one. We moved all three older kids into the same room. And I prayed. Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night wide awake, heart pounding in my chest with this baby on my mind. I couldn’t rub my stomach the way pregnant mothers unconsciously do, making sure he or she was still there and feeling the movements of the unborn child. I couldn’t take prenatal vitamins to try to ensure the baby was getting as much nutrition as possible. But I could storm the gates of heaven on his or her behalf, and so I pleaded with God to keep the baby safe and healthy and growing stronger by the day.

During this time, I was reading a book called “None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and why that’s a good thing)” by Jen Wilkin. Every chapter focuses on a different attribute of God and gives concrete practical application of these theological truths. The chapter on God’s omnipresence soothed my adrenaline-fueled soul. What was many times the hardest part of the wait for me was that I wasn’t there physically with this baby. I couldn’t take the birth mother to prenatal care appointments. I couldn’t watch as the ultrasound technician manipulated her medical instruments so I could hear the heart beat and see the baby’s legs kick. Yet God was more present with the baby than I could ever be, and that mattered most. 

Wilkin says that God’s presence everywhere means that he “can perfectly protect those he loves…For him, no barriers of physical distance have ever existed, no geographical boundaries prevent his influence or rule” (98). This truth humbled me to the core. I realized how in this instance and in so many other aspects of my life, I wanted to play the role of God. I desired to hold a tight grip on my life circumstances and seek a false sense of control instead of holding this baby with an open hand. The God who loved and protected him or her more than I ever could was hemming that baby in, behind and before, laying His hand upon him or her (Ps. 139:5). So I prayed to God and thanked him for His ability to be at all places, at all times, everywhere.

The next chapter that convicted me was about God’s omniscience, that He is “limitless in his knowing” (109). Like many other mothers with small children, I like to keep a schedule and plan for the week ahead. Things run the most smoothly when I can prepare in advance for potential tantrums, situations where we will be without snacks, or other scheduling snafus. In this situation, I was waiting for a profoundly important event and I had no idea when it was going to happen. As deeply as I believed God’s timing was perfect, I struggled with anxiety about all the unknowns. What if we got the phone call in the middle of the night? What would we do for childcare? What if the baby was born with special needs? How could I juggle my other children ages 3 and under while caring for an infant whose needs extended beyond the typical neediness of a baby? Questions swirled in my head, and I just wished I had all the facts. Then Wilkin’s words on the infinite knowledge of God spoke to my circumstances: “Whatever tomorrow holds, we can be certain that its contents will raise as many questions as they will answer. We can trust God to manage the future without our help. It is none of our business” (115). And so again, I humbled myself before God and decided to work on memorizing the following Bible verse: “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 18:30). When anxiety would creep in, I murmured this verse to myself. During long days when the wait seemed unbearable, I taught the verse to my oldest son, Elias. I didn’t know so many things, but I flung myself upon the God who already knew every single detail of this little one’s conception and arrival.

And on July 6, we got the phone call that the baby was coming. To say we were surprised would be an understatement. Ross and I had driven three hours away from home the day before for a short weekend getaway while my in-laws watched our kids. We were across the street from our hotel getting coffee when my phone lit up with the name of our lawyer. Ross went outside to answer it, and when he came back in, he said, “You’d better order these coffees to go.” We raced back to our room and threw our belongings back into our suitcases, checked out, and began our trip back home. At the time of the phone call, our birth mother was 8 cm dilated so we didn’t think there would be any way we’d make it to the hospital in time for the birth. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping that I could be in the room when the baby made his or her entrance. That wasn’t a possibility with any of our other children, so it would be a special gift. Yet I looked at Ross and said, “It’s ok. God’s timing is perfect.” We sang and prayed our way through the trip as I kept my eyes on our phones for any updates from our lawyer. Finally we made it to the hospital parking lot.

As we ran into the building I looked at my watch and saw it turn 1:00 pm on the dot. Meanwhile, Ross was talking on the phone to our lawyer who was telling us where to go. We made our way up to the labor and delivery unit, and I entered the room where our birth mother was waiting for us. At 1:16 pm with Ross praying in the waiting room and me in the hospital room, Abel Philip Hodges graced us with his presence. The first cry of this wonderful, full term baby was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. I shouted, “It’s a boy!” with tears running down my face. 

God’s timing is perfect. He’s never early and never too late. He had it all planned in advance for us to be there with our suitcases filled with overnight clothes and toiletries in order to stay at the hospital for several nights, a minivan containing one clean and prepped infant car seat, and my in-laws taking care of the other children. God knew when he was writing all the days of our lives in his book that Abel would be our fourth child, a perfect book end to the family He has built.

I’ve received a lot of questions about how we will cope with having 4 kids ages 3 and under, one in pull-ups, 3 in diapers. My answer is this: We are small, but God is very big. We are so weak, but He is strong. God’s way is perfect, and He will lead our family through these messy, joy-filled years as we lean upon His ever constant presence and all-surpassing knowledge of the story He’s writing for us. To Him be the glory.

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A Different Kind of Resolution

This quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve has always felt disorienting to me as the busyness of festivities comes to a screeching halt. All the hype of the holidays quickly dies down as the Christmas trees are put back in their boxes in the attics or out to the street on the garbage pile. It is a time for reflection and preparation as a new year is just around the corner and we plan our resolutions. After a season of self-indulgent merriment, we promise to eat and spend less, exercise and give more. We hope for new habits and new adventures. We can put the hard parts of the past year to rest and get a fresh start. Yet in this in-between of Christmas wonder and the last hurrah of New Year’s Eve, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of resolution.

Resolutions are rooted in the fact that we realize something isn’t right with us that needs to be fixed. The world would have us looking for answers with get-rich-quick schemes or weight loss miracle pills. Advertising screams that we can have our best life now with just a few clicks of a button and our credit card information. After all, this can finally be the year when we will reach the pinnacle of being the very best we can be, all the while seeking our own glory. We can be the greatest, the richest, the ones everyone else envies. The answers to our self-deficiencies are found within. Although Christianity’s message agrees that we’re always falling short, the answer isn’t found in a once-a-year resolution on our part that will so quickly be broken once the calendar turns to February. Our best life comes not through self-glorification but humility. We don’t have the ability to fix what’s wrong with us, and we need a Savior to do so.

Considering these contrasting messages, we have to make a decision as we ring in the new year. Will we listen to and comply with the world’s message to renew our resolve for fleeting physical prowess and financial gain or instead consider the crushing weight of our own standards of self-righteousness and turn to Christ instead? Although we constantly fail to keep our commitments, Christ resolved before the foundation of the world in an agreement with the Father to save sinful, promise-breaking people from themselves. He never faltered at this resolution. We break our fasts and fail to keep our vows, yet he set his face like flint all the way to the cross on our behalf (Isaiah 50:7). We leave self-appointed tasks incomplete, yet Christ was able to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30). When we let our resolutions fall by the wayside, we often wait an entire year to pick them back up again once the next January arrives. But we don’t have to wait that long for Jesus. Every single week Christ renews his resolution with us as we hear his Word preached and sit at his table. He’s already saved us, but still he feeds us and tends us, he keeps us and shepherds our souls into eternity. The benefits of his completed resolution for us continue until he returns to take us to himself.

As a new year begins, I do have a few things I’d like to work on by the grace of God, but most of all I want to seek to know this Jesus even better, to love and serve him more, and cling every day of 2018 to the resolutions he made and completed on my behalf.

Singing the Christmas Season in Minor Chords

Tis the season of bright and shiny, loud and busy, exuberant and merry. As we prepare for Christmas, there’s a reason to sing “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a time to ring all the bells, deck every hall in red, green, and gold, and sing at the top of our lungs all those Christmas songs written in major chords. We rejoice in the historical truth that Christ Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us. The gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 finally came to fruition as the Savior of the world was born in human flesh to crush the head of the serpent. We can rejoice! Yet the older I get and the more life I live in this broken world, the more thankful I am that every Christmas season brings not only the triumphant proclamation in major chords, but also the yearning, waiting songs found in the minor chords.

We have so many reasons to rejoice this Christmas as we consider the Savior’s birth. He came! He came as a child King to rescue us from our sins. He lived a blameless life in place of our fumbling, failing attempts at personal, perpetual, and perfect holiness. He died on a cross to pay our debt and defeated death by rising from the grave. Even now he sits at God’s right hand, reigning and ruling over all his and our enemies. Yet here on earth those enemies still feel so near, breathing down the back of our necks. Our sins still so constantly cling to us even as we seek to shake them off by the Spirit. Our hearts are filled with awe and wonder, yet they are divided as we find ourselves worshipping gifts instead of the Giver. Our own bodies and the bodies of our loved ones are touched and pressed down by disease, disfunction, and death. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, and so we sigh and moan and groan for a Savior who will come again to break this terrible curse once and for all.

The Old Testament Israelites to the New Testament Jews were also in a state of waiting until the time Christ came on the scene. Every son born into a Jewish family came with a question mark: could this be him? They longed for the promised Messiah to come and rescue them from the tyranny of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Romans. They were often living in exile in a foreign land and wanted to get back to being God’s people in the designated kingdom he had for them. Things weren’t supposed to be this way. The words of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” fit the words of their prayers, pleading for God to “ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile.” They waited and wondered about when Christ would come to fulfill God’s promises.

This “how long, O Lord?” aspect of Christmas is not hard to remember for those of you in dim and dark seasons, you who are struggling and blinking against the brightness of the holidays. Christmas cheer doesn’t seem to fit with the sadness in your heart as you look with longing at the lack of stockings hanging from your mantle, as you fight with family members, and feel the utter depths of loneliness. To you I say: there’s room for longing and lack at Christmas. The true spirit of Christmas can include the prayer: “Jesus, we thank you for coming, but please come again quickly.” Like the Old Testament Israelites, you can long for rescue and final redemption from the brokenness of this world. You can entreat the Savior to “dispel the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” Keep singing and praying those songs in minor chords. Christ hears them. He came once and he will come again to answer every one of those prayers for his return. Until that time, he gives grace upon grace as you wait.

For those of you who are in a season where a lot of your days feel merry and bright: rejoice in God’s blessings. Sing those major chords with gusto and gladness, but don’t let the glitter and glitz of this season make you forget we haven’t yet arrived. You too need to sing the minor chords of this verse: “O come, thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.” In your heart of hearts, you know deep down that no amount of shiny wrapping paper can hide this world’s blemishes, the flaws and cracks in your heart, and the separation in your relationships. Christ is coming back again, and we sing our Christmas hymns in anticipation of that final day when we will shout our “Joy to the World” as he makes all things new “far as the curse is found.”

*I’ve been reflecting a lot on the concept of waiting because of a little gem of a book I just finished reading: “Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams are Delayed” by Betsy Childs Howard. I encourage you to read it if you are struggling with a season of unfulfilled longing for a spouse or a child, for a prodigal son to come home, or simply for the suffering of this life to end.

**The idea for a post incorporating the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has been swimming around in my head for weeks, and I haven’t found the time to write it. Just this morning, one of my favorite podcasts, “The White Horse Inn,” posted its newest episode on this very hymn. It expounds on the theology of this hymn as part of its new series on the meaning of Christmas. My post contains some of the themes they highlighted, and I highly recommend giving it a listen!

Picking Locks, Pickle Juice, and Patience

Mama said there will be days like this. Thursday was one of those days. Thursdays start bright and early for me as my husband leaves for Bible study before the kids are awake. I get up as he gets out the door for some quiet moments before attending to bottles and breakfasts and backpacks. My goal is to get everyone diapered, dressed, fed, and ready to go so I can be out the door at 8:50 am to take my oldest son to preschool. The morning had already been off to a rough start with spilled oatmeal, tantrums, and an assembly line of poopy diapers that pushed me back from reaching my desired goal. In an attempt to make things easier, I put my oldest son in his room to play with toys while I cleaned up some of the mess and took the stinky diapers outside. As soon as I got everyone else ready, I breathed a sigh of relief and went back upstairs to get Elias. The door wouldn’t budge. He had locked himself inside his room.

After gently asking him to please unlock the door and hearing some cackles and then a “NO!,” I sighed and started to jam anything I could find inside the pinhole to turn the lock. Meanwhile my infant son was in the room next door in his pack and play, crying because he was ready for a nap. My daughter was downstairs in the pack and play, crying and wondering why everyone had deserted her. I was on my knees, staring into the abyss of the door’s pinhole. I posted on social media for help. Now the 2-year-old prisoner started to get a bit frustrated with my lack of McGyver skills. “Get me out, Mommy!,” he screamed. I called my mom. I called my husband, who ended up driving all the way home to attempt to help me. After a FaceTime call with his brother for further instruction, my husband finally popped the lock and my son ran out with a big grin, yelling, “You did it!”

My husband took my 2-year-old son to school, I got my infant son down for a nap, and my daughter happily played next to my feet in the kitchen while once again, I went back to the rest of the breakfast mess. After the storm of the morning, the calm was returning. I turned to face the sink and wash an oatmeal-encrusted dish while humming “When Peace Like a River” when I heard a loud pop. As I turned around, I saw Charlotte looking up at me with a mischievous smile. She had pulled the Costco-sized jar of pickles down from the pantry shelf and was happily splashing in pickles, spices, and brine that was starting to seep under the oven and refrigerator door and slowly make its way across the kitchen floor. “Here we go again,” I mumbled. I swooped down to wash off the vinegary but happy baby and stick her in the confines of her pack and play.

There I was, back on my knees. Picking up pickles. Sopping up brine. And it hit me. Motherhood has brought me to my knees, both literally and figuratively, more than any other occupation God has given me in my life. Not only am I on my knees on any given day spot cleaning under the table and reaching under the couch or crib to find my child’s toys he lost, but God has also driven me to my knees in a posture of humility time after time as I am forced to die to self and serve these children. Who knew cleaning up pickle juice could lead to such an epiphany? In that moment, I knew God put me exactly where I needed to be, realizing my desperate need of his grace in order to handle the morning’s activities with an attitude of patience.

This morning’s devotional from “New Morning Mercies” (September 23) by Paul David Tripp rang true for me in light of Thursday’s events. He says that God “doesn’t teach us a lesson just once. He comes to us in situation after situation, each controlled by his sovereign grace, each designed to be a tool of transformation, and he works on the same things again and again.” God knows my tendency to get easily frustrated, to turn to self-sufficiency, and to want things to go my way. I’m more like my own two-year-old son than I like to admit. Yet lovingly, consistently, and patiently, my Father gives me daily opportunities to grow and change. He promises that he who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). The process is not easy and I don’t like it, but it’s for my good. My prayer is that I can reflect this same patient attitude toward my own children and the things they are learning.

For now, the kitchen floor is relatively clean once again and doesn’t smell like pickle brine. There’s a lock on the pantry door, and the lock on Elias’s door knob is temporarily duct taped until we can find a time to reverse the knob. All is calm, and I’m sitting in a chair as I type. Yet I’m sure God will bring me to my knees once again.

Laughter

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

Our family started the evening of July 15 with plans to attend a graduation party and a birthday dinner. God had other plans. When we pulled up to the party of a sweet girl from our church, we noticed Elias’s adoption lawyer walking into the house. Jokingly, I said to my husband, “If he offers us a baby, let’s say yes.” Although this comment may seem kind of crazy, it didn’t come out of nowhere. Despite the adoption-related twists and turns of the past two and a half years, Ross and I had engaged in several conversations over the past few weeks about the future of our family. We came to an agreement in the end that we had the financial ability and the desire to do just one more adoption with Glenn, coming full circle. Of course, we were thinking this would all happen a few years down the road when we had all our ducks in a row and our other kids out of diapers. When we walked in the house and said hello to Glenn, we reminisced about the last time Glenn had seen Elias on his adoption day. Then Glenn looked at both of us and said very casually, “You know, I have a birth mother due in two weeks if you’re interested. I’m showing her different options for adoptive families on Wednesday.” Ross and I laughed. And then we paused. And then Ross said, “Well, we’d have to think about it. We’ll let you know.”

Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill;
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

On the way home from the graduation party, Ross and I talked it out. We eased into the oh-so familiar territory of making such a life-altering decision. How could we do it? Are we ready for this? Are we crazy to even be entertaining thoughts of another baby? Yet something about this situation nudged us to not say “no.” We continued to talk about it all the way up until our babysitter came to watch the kids so we could leave for a birthday dinner. We were silent on the way over, but once we pulled into the parking lot, Ross said, “I’m just going to give Glenn a call to ask a few more questions about the situation.” He picked up the cell phone, and as we sat with the car turned on to keep the air conditioning flowing in and blocking the muggy Charleston air, he called and got a hold of Glenn right away. It was a brief conversation, and it ended with Ross saying, “Ok, well, we will pray about it and let you know.”

We walked into the restaurant to our group of friends and began to enjoy conversation. An hour later, Ross checked his phone and he had three calls from Glenn and a voicemail. He went outside without announcing where he was going. I was turned to face the other ladies at the table, so I didn’t even notice he had left. All of a sudden, he came back and said, “Can you come outside please?” We walked out and he said, “That was Glenn. The baby he told us about is coming tonight, and the mother wants Glenn to choose the family. Glenn wants to choose us, and we have to make a decision right now.” We laughed, and then we paused, and then we said “yes” to each other at the same time. Apparently, not long after Glenn had gotten off the phone with us, the birth mother called and said she was in labor. She didn’t have time to look at potential families, and a decision needed to be made right then and there. So on a humid, warm night standing on the sidewalk off of Coleman Boulevard, we said yes to this baby.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercies and shall break in blessings on your head.

Saturday night was a long night of tossing and turning as we waited for an update. Ross and I always laugh with each of our babies because we know what’s about to come with an infant in the house, so you’d think we’d enjoy our last uninterrupted night of sleep. At one point in the dark, I asked Ross, “Are you scared?” He said, “Yes.” “Do you think we’re making the wrong decision?” I asked. “No,” he said, “just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision.” We continued to toss and turn and pray. Eventually I got up at 4 in the morning and started to walk the dark streets of my neighborhood. These early morning walks have been a habit many times for me in the past two and a half years. Before the arrival of each baby into our home, I walked in silence and waited and prayed. Finally light came on July 16, and with it the sweet news: “It’s a boy. He’s healthy. All looks good. Come meet him today.”

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

The road of adoption is always risky. The potential of getting your heart ripped out of your chest by a birth mother changing her mind or a baby leaving your arms because of a contestation is real. Yet this time, the addition of another son just feels like a big grin from God. A smiling face. A laughing love-offering from the God who likes to give good gifts to his children. This sweet, olive-skinned boy sleeping next to me as I write this is named Isaac, meaning laughter, because we’re laughing at God’s plans for us which are far beyond anything we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

When we were waiting in our hospital room for the papers to be signed, Glenn, Ross and I had the opportunity to share about some of the bittersweet moments of our lives, the losses we’ve all experienced which are common to any and all people living in a world marred by sin. Ross and I still miss our child who left us. She’ll never be far from our hearts and our prayers. Yet, the human heart has the capacity to both grieve and laugh, to let go and receive. There is a time for everything and a purpose for everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3).

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

As I write this part of our family’s story, my heart is burdened for those in the time of loss and letting go of dreams, babies, expectations, and ideas of what they thought life would look like. The times when laughter does not come easily and tears seem to constantly flow. To you, I say, “You’re not alone.” Although this chapter of our story is a sweet one, it comes after a very bitter one. I don’t know why God works the way that He does, but I do know this: He never stops working. When it seems like He’s sitting back and taking a break, when you think He’s not hearing your prayers or cries, He’s there. God is actively putting together every detail of your life to show forth His glorious love and kindness, even when it comes through pain and heartache. I pray for you today, that you would know His love and believe in the depths of your soul that He’s not forgotten you, that though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

*A big thank you goes to William Cowper who wrote the hymn “God moves in a mysterious way.” These words have been a balm to my soul for many years.

Hope for humid seasons

We’ve reached that part of summer in Charleston when the humidity lies so heavily that we all start to move slowly and sweat through our clothes just to take a plodding walk to the mailbox. Sometimes the daily Christian life has its own seasons of what feels like nothing more than a slow and sluggish crawl. We continue to fall into the same sinful patterns over and over again. The lies of the world, the lures of Satan, and the lusts of our flesh press in on us like a hot blanket of humidity. We grow tired and weary. Looking to ourselves, we only despair at the lack of progress we seem to be making as we inch along in our sanctification. Hope is hard to find here, but we could use some. Poet Emily Dickinson described hope as “the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul.” No offense to Emily, but hope as a flitting fowl doesn’t seem like much hope at all. She claimed this bird of hope sings a serenade through every gale and storm, yet a tiny bird is easily blown off her perch, feathers and all, when a big gust comes.

Hope needs a heftier analogy than a bird, and the book of Hebrews has one that can carry us along in the seemingly hopeless situations of life. The author describes hope as an anchor for the soul, one that is “firm and secure” or “sure and steadfast,” depending on your translation (6:19). The author of Hebrews wrote to a group of Christians who were tempted to turn back from the message that they’d heard, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, when taking the journey of godliness felt too difficult to sustain at a persevering pace. It’s been a hard trip for them filled with trials and persecution, and the temptation is to begin to “drift away” from the truth (2:1), to neglect to hang on to their “original confidence firm to the end” (3:14). Yet the author desires his readers, including us, to “have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish” (6:11-12). So how does our anchor give us hope?

This anchor of hope keeps us right where we need to be not only during the winter gusts of trials but also those slow summer stretches of daily life when the wrong perspective could cause us to drift unknowingly farther and farther away from our resting place. Gentle, distracting breezes of excessive leisure and lack of time spent in God’s Word and in prayer seem like a respite. The reality is that they rock us toward the shore of self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency, leaving us confused about how far we’ve gotten off track. Yet the anchor described in Hebrews keeps us from getting swept away by waves of discouragement because we are weighted down and staying fixed by the promises found in Christ. He will not let us go. In fact, the first twelve chapters of Hebrews argue that there’s no better place to be anchored than in him. He’s superior than any of the competition because he sympathizes with us in our moments of malaise (4:15). When we’re too tired to hold on to the rope, he is the one in the heavens living to make intercession for us, to pray for us, and bring us the strength we need to stay put despite setbacks (7:25). Christ is the “better hope…through which we draw near to God” because he himself has experienced the oppressive heat of the everyday struggles of this world, yet he did so without sinning (7:19). Because he made it through this life perfectly and is seated at the right hand of God, he’s qualified to be the anchor we need in order not to veer off course.

Sometimes humid summers in Charleston and spiritual seasons of seemingly slow movement give us “drooping hands” and “weak knees” (12:12). But let’s lift those drooping hands, strengthen those weak knees, and remember the hope we have as we are anchored in Christ. By his intercession, he promises to “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (13:21). How’s that for some hope?

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.