Motherhood is one of the hardest, most challenging callings I have ever experienced. I was born overseas, have lived in four countries, speak two languages fluently, one fairly well and I majored in Arabic in college. I have had my series of challenges and transitions but motherhood takes the whole cake, plate and all!
And some of motherhood’s challenges hit deeper than others. One happened very recently. I have some very treasured items in my house and they are as far away from toddler hands as possible. However, we recently moved across country and one of my treasures wasn’t up high yet. My husband and I were sitting right next to it, working on it when little fingers reached in between us and snapped off a vital part. My reaction was instant. I screamed over and over again,“He broke it! He broke it!” while I sobbed. My husband grabbed our son, who was also screaming now, and then grabbed me and just held us both. I have never been so hysterical in my life. My treasure. Broken. I was devastated.
However, in the midst of my frenzy, a thought kept coming to my mind. “Comfort your baby. Show him that no matter what he has done, you still love him. Comfort your baby.” I wanted nothing to do with my son in those moments. He had broken something so special. But I had to put myself aside and take care of my baby. So, still sobbing, I took my baby from my husband, went into his room and sat in the rocking chair. We calmed down together with my husband’s arms around us. I kept telling my son, “Mama loves you. It’s okay. It’s okay. Mama loves you.” Then, my husband took him and told him “No matter what you do, we will always love you. No matter what.” Honestly, I cried off and on for an hour after my treasure was broken. But I made sure that I took care of my son, gave him lunch, cuddled with him, played with him, read to him and put him down for his nap. However, my heart was still broken over my treasure.
As I was rocking him before his nap, I started thinking about how God felt when humanity broke His Treasure, His Precious and only Son. And how He feels when we keep on breaking His Heart, by rejecting His Son. It made me think about how amazing and awesome His Grace is. No matter what I do, He loves me. No matter what! I break His Treasures and He still welcomes me with open arms, forgives me and loves me as I am, even though He is brokenhearted. I have to do that with my son and it is the hardest calling I have ever had. And my son does not take it easy on me either, as I learn this lesson. But, “by Grace, I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of work, so that I can’t boast. For I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, paraphrase my own). Motherhood is the way that God is choosing to teach me how awesome, all encompassing His Grace really is and I am so grateful to my Gracious, Loving Father for extending me grace.
I’m happy to welcome back my sister-in-law and guest blogger, Joy Kauffman! A former missionary kid, Joy grew up in Swaziland and Fontainebleau, France. She worked as a teacher, preschool director, and programs coordinator for an adoption agency, before becoming a stay at home mom. She and her husband, John live in Florida with their son.
It’s ironic to me that the most brutally honest people on the face of the planet are typically less than three feet tall. They’ll tell you when you stink, what your food really tastes like, and who the weirdest person in the grocery store is. It’s quite terrifying actually. You want to know if that dress really makes you look fat? Ask a preschooler. Not only will they give you an honest answer, they’ll usually throw in a word picture or two: it’s just like a big, soft baby is in your tummy!
And that’s not even the scariest part. Every now and then, in between their frank commentaries on your hairy arms or oddly-shaped moles, they’ll reveal some staggering truth about the way they perceive you as a human being. Sometimes it’s positive, and it feels like sunshine. It makes you stop in your tracks, squeeze them in your arms, and spin around the kitchen. And sometimes it’s painfully negative, and it feels like an arrow aimed at your deepest insecurities.
Please! I want to whisper. Please don’t view me that way.
But the reality is, they are the patrons with a front-row ticket to our lives. They’re so close to the action they get to see things everyone else misses. They don’t just see us when we’re energized and refreshed and ready to face the world. They see us when we’re exhausted and depleted and trying very hard not to say bad words. They see the real us. The weak, and sinful, and broken us.
Worse yet, they imitate us. Believe me, nothing is more agonizing than watching your weaknesses spring to life in the children you love so much.
Please! My heart whispers. Please don’t be like me.
And that sentiment makes me want to cry, because it’s the exact opposite of all I’ve ever hoped to be as a mother. I want to be like Paul who once said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). I want to be a worthy role-model for my daughters; the kind of woman they can pattern their lives after.
And the truth is, I’m not.
And I am.
I’m not the perfect example of biblical womanhood, and there are many traits I pray my children don’t inherit from me. But I am someone my girls can model their lives after, for one reason only. Jesus lives in me. Despite all my imperfections, the God of eternity has made His home in my heart and every day I am standing in His grace (Romans 5:2)! His Truth is changing the way I think. His love is shaping who I become. And His power is shining through my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
That’s what I can model to my children. My true, broken need for Christ. And His powerful, never-failing grace.
If you ask my girls tomorrow if their mom is patient, they’ll probably say “no.” If you ask them what I like to do, they’ll probably say “sleep.” But if you ask those girls if their mom needs Jesus, I promise you, they’ll shout, “Yes!” I cannot be perfect for them. But I can point them to the One who is. And if when they’re grown, they can look back and say, “Our mom sometimes failed, but she always apologized. She knew she needed Jesus, and she sure did love Him,” that’ll be good enough for me.
I had an epiphany this morning. We’ve been talking about running on empty in church, and since this also seems to be the theme of my life, I’ve been paying attention. Yesterday was an extra-long day to top off an extra-long week. As I got the kids ready for pre-school, I could tell they were running on empty. They needed rest. They wanted nothing more than to skip school, wear pajamas all day, and play with me.
And then it struck me. Finding rest as a young family is so challenging because the way each member “rests” is often contradictory. Would I find it restful for the kids to skip preschool and play with me all day? Of course not! If I was an astronaut dying in outer space and I could choose between oxygen and pre-school, I would take the pre-school.
Fast-forward to Saturday morning. What would the kids find restful? A family day at the park. Dumping the entire contents of the playroom on the floor and cleaning it up…never. Playing Octonauts with Dad and Mom for five hours straight. You know what Dad and Mom would find restful? Having one of those talks where you get to finish your entire thought without interruption—what is that called? Oh yes, a conversation. We would like one of those, please. And perhaps a chance to lie in bed and read one of those rectangular objects… Remember when we used to read those things instead of drool on them? We would love to sleep in, or drink a cup of coffee before it gets cold, or do absolutely nothing. Just for an hour.
As if those forms of rest aren’t contradictory enough, we have to throw the baby into the mix. You know what my little sweetheart finds restful? Routine. She loves taking her nap in her bed. She wakes up happy and rested when bedtime is consistent. But guess what? One family trip to the park or date night, and it’s sayonara routine.
I can think of virtually zero activities in which every member of our family would enjoy his or her ideal version of rest at the same time. And that’s a little disappointing. I’ve always had this picture of the perfect Saturday: pancakes, pajamas, laughter. In the picture, we’re all being refreshed together as a family. It’s very Leave It to Beaver.
But maybe it’s time to re-think rest as a young family.
In this season of life, maybe “rest” requires sacrifice. Maybe it means that in order for one person to be refreshed, somebody else has to become a little bit depleted. The baby has to give up her routine so her big sisters can enjoy a family date. The big sisters have to go to pre-school so Mom gets a reprieve. Mom skips sleeping in on Saturday, so Dad can take a break. Dad spends his day-off playing Octonauts for five hours. Maybe rest requires give-and-take. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Maybe it’s simply one more way God sanctifies our families. We may not be united in how we find rest, but as we serve one another, we grow united in love. And we discover that joy doesn’t come solely through rest. It also comes through sacrifice. So the next time you find yourself reading Stuart Little at 6am on Saturday morning, thank God that you’re able to give that hardworking man a chance to sleep in. Thank God that He is using you to refresh your precious children. And remember, Monday morning is coming with coffee…and pre-school.
How can we inspire our daughters to believe that their purity is worth cherishing? Actions speak louder than words. I love this beautiful idea, captured in fictional form by author and blogger Dana Hemminger. Her award-winning short story, published here for the first time, was inspired by an idea she had for her husband and daughter. If you have a daughter, steal this idea! One day, boys will expend countless dollars, hours, and creative energy pursuing her—many of them with impure motives. Beat them to it! It will be worth every penny because you can’t put a price tag on your little girl’s heart.
A Night for Grace
Grace twirled in front of her bedroom mirror in her brand new dress, checked to make sure her hair and make-up were just right, and smiled wide. Tonight was a very special night. She had celebrated her fourteenth birthday a few days prior, and this evening she was going on her very first date with a very special someone. Butterflies of excited anticipation fluttered in her stomach as she grabbed her purse and bag and got ready to head downstairs for her big night. She had been instructed to dress up for dinner but have a change of comfy clothes ready for activities later in the evening. As she descended the staircase, her date was waiting for her at the bottom, dressed in suit and tie, holding a bouquet of red roses and beaming with a huge smile spread across his face. As she reached his side, he bent down, gently kissed her on the cheek, and whispered, “You look beautiful, Princess!”
“Thank you, Daddy,” Grace giggled. “The flowers are gorgeous!”
“I’ll put them in a vase for you, Honey,” her mother said smiling. “And now you two stand together so I can get a picture!”
A few minutes later the pair exited the house and headed for the car. Grace’s dad opened the door for her as she slid in, shutting it gently behind her. “I’ve been looking forward to this evening for a long time,” he said as he put the car in gear and pulled out of the driveway. “Let’s go make some memories!”
Grace let out a gasp of delight about ten minutes later when they pulled into the parking lot of the nicest restaurant in town. Patrons could only dine there if they had made prior reservations. The candlelit tables were set with beautiful linen and fine china. The service staff members were all dressed in their best, ready to wait hand and foot on their customers. Grace had only driven by this high end place but had never dreamed of eating there. “We’re having dinner here?!” she exclaimed.
“Only the best for my princess,” her father replied with a grin.
They received a warm greeting from the staff as they entered and confirmed their reservations for the evening. As they were led back to their table set by a beautiful bay window, Grace noticed the hanging chandeliers, the lovely flower arrangements, and the small, live orchestra playing softly in the background. She was already feeling like a princess!
“Grace, please order anything you want on the menu. What looks good?” There were so many tempting options, but she finally decided on a savory grilled chicken dish, with creamy mashed potatoes, a generous tossed salad and steaming homemade bread rolls. Her dad ordered a juicy steak just the way he liked it with a delicious assortment of sides as well.
After their order was taken, and they waited for their dinner to arrive, Grace commented “Daddy, this place is beautiful! Thank you so much for bringing me here.”
“It’s my pleasure!” he replied. “Tonight is a special night, and I want you to feel just how valuable you are to me.” They continued their conversation through their delicious dinner talking about Grace’s school, her upcoming music and sports events, her friends, their family and anything else that popped up. They laughed together, shared from the heart, and had a wonderful time. For dessert, they split a piece of decadent chocolate cake.
As they finished their meal and the dishes were cleared from the table, Grace’s father shifted the conversation. “Grace, as I already mentioned, tonight is a very special night. I want you to know that your mom and I are so proud of you! You are growing up to be a beautiful young woman, inside and out. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of taking you on your first date.”
“Daddy, thank you for taking me out tonight. You’ve made me feel so special!”
“You are special, Grace, and that’s what I want to demonstrate to you tonight. I want you to remember that you deserve and should expect to be treated like a lady. You are entering a new season of your life, and I want you to know that your heart and your body are valuable gifts to be saved for the man who will one day commit to making you his wife. We have been praying for him since the day you were born, praying that he will be a man of love, integrity and purity—a man who will respect you and cherish you for life.
Smiling and teary-eyed Grace replied “Daddy, tell me again the story of how you and Mom fell in love.”
“Gladly!” he said smiling. “As you know, we met while we were in college. It seemed we kept running into each other on campus. I recognized that she was a beautiful woman, but at that point I wasn’t on the look-out for a relationship. I was focused on my studies and enjoying my time as a single. She wasn’t looking for a relationship at that time either. However, with each encounter, we found that there was such an ease for conversation, and we really enjoyed each other’s presence. In time, our “chance” encounters became planned encounters as a friendship began to grow. We spent time with groups of friends, but we also took walks around campus, or hung out at the local coffee shop talking about anything and everything. We were quickly becoming the best of friends, and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was falling in love with this amazing woman. After having a serious heart to heart one night, I made a call to her parents the next day, requesting permission to date their daughter.”
“Why did you ask permission, Daddy? Weren’t you both old enough to decide for yourselves?”
“We were, but we wanted to invite our families into our developing relationship. I wanted to honor your mom by honoring her parents who had raised her. If she was to become my partner for life, I knew I would also be joined to her family as well. This is a big reason why we have such a close relationship with your grandparents today!”
“What was it like when you started dating?” Grace asked.
“It was exciting and a bit surreal as well. We had developed such a close friendship, and now we were trying to transition into something even deeper. We made a decision together early on that many people may not understand or even agree with. It wasn’t a decision we had to make; it was a decision we chose to make. We agreed that we would save our first kiss for our wedding day, and if it turned out that we didn’t marry, we could gracefully walk away from the relationship, knowing that we hadn’t given that part of our hearts away.”
“Why did you want to wait to kiss each other? Would it have been wrong to kiss?” Grace inquired.
“No, it wouldn’t have been wrong. For us it wasn’t about right or wrong but about better or best. We felt that the best decision for us was to wait, even for a kiss. We had both been in previous relationships where we had kissed. We knew that kissing awakened physical passion in a greater way, and we knew that we gave a piece of our hearts away with each kiss. We both carried regret and some painful memories from those earlier relationships. We wanted to protect ourselves and each other from further regret, should our relationship not end in marriage. As I said before, your mom is a beautiful woman, and of course I desired her. I also respected her and valued her. Protecting her heart and her purity was very important to me, and she felt the same way. We weren’t keeping something from each other, but saving something for each other when it could be given its full expression in commitment and purity. I knew she was worth the wait!”
“Wasn’t it still really hard to do? Some of my friends have boyfriends and they kiss. They tell me how romantic it is and how good it makes them feel.”
“There were times it was hard, but since we made the decision together, it was much easier than most people would imagine. During the time we dated, we continued to focus mainly on our friendship, not on physical expressions of affection. Even after I proposed to her and we began making our wedding plans we continued to wait. We knew that the closer we came to our wedding day, the greater our desire for each other would become. We were committed to maintaining our virginity for our wedding night, and we didn’t want to add needless temptation in this area. It’s also important to recognize that sometimes physical connection can become a substitute for relational connection. It can make you feel so close to a person. It can make you feel like you really know them; but if there isn’t genuine friendship as a foundation, it can be very misleading. If we had brought greater levels of physical affection into our relationship as we dated, we may have focused more on that than on our friendship. Your mom and I were best friends before we started dating and our friendship only continued to grow; we are still best friends today. Romantic feelings come and go in every relationship, but friendship is enduring.”
Grace paused for a moment, considering what her dad just shared before asking, “What was it like when you finally kissed?”
Smiling, he replied, “It was one of the most incredible moments of my life! When your mom entered the church sanctuary, she took my breath away. She was the most beautiful bride I could have ever imagined. I could hardly focus on the wedding ceremony; I was so captivated by her! When the time came for us to seal our marriage with a kiss, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Our first kiss was one of the most beautiful, memorable moments of my life. It’s a memory I will always cherish. I know your friends have told you about how special it is when they kiss their boyfriends, but special moments now can become painful memories in the future if those relationships don’t last. Every time you kiss, you offer a piece of your heart. It’s important that the one you give this precious gift to is one who can be trusted with your heart, not someone just using you for their own momentary pleasure.”
Grace was silent again as she let her father’s words sink in.
“Grace, please understand that I am not telling you what you have to do. You will be responsible to make your own choices in this area. However, I do want to encourage you to make decisions that will benefit you and your future husband and protect you from needless pain. You may decide to approach the area of dating differently than your mom and I did, and you have the freedom to make that choice. Whatever you choose to do in time, I just want you to remember that your purity is a gift, and only you can choose who will open it. I know that you’ve committed before to saving your virginity for your marriage, and that commitment is a priceless one. We just celebrated your birthday, but there’s one more gift that was saved especially for tonight!” With that, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small velvet box, and gently handed it to his daughter.
“What’s this?” Grace asked with surprise and delight in her eyes.
Grace carefully opened the small box and gasped. Inside was a beautiful white gold ring with a heart at the center outlined in delicate emerald stones—her birthstone. “Daddy! It’s gorgeous!” she exclaimed.
Smiling, he gently removed the ring and slipped it on her left ring finger. “Grace, this is your purity ring. It is a representation of your commitment to God, yourself, and your future husband to save your virginity for your marriage bed. One day it will be replaced by a wedding ring from the man who will commit to you and cherish you for life. Your mom also received a purity ring as a teenager. She presented it to me as a gift on our wedding night. I cherish that ring and what it represents to this day.”
“Daddy, I don’t know what to say,” Grace replied as she gazed at the sparkling ring on her finger. “This means so much to me! I will wear it every day.”
Grace’s dad looked at his daughter affectionately and said, “Honey, I am so very proud of you! You are such a treasure to me, and you will be a treasure to your husband someday… But that day is still a ways off, and we’re not done with our date! What do you say we get changed, and I challenge you to a game of miniature golf?!”
“Absolutely,” Grace responded, “but you know that I can beat you!”
“We’ll see when we get there!”
An hour later Grace jumped up and down excitedly yelling, “Go, go, go!…Yes! I got a hole in one!”
“Okay,” her dad conceded. “You beat me on that one, but we still have half the course to go. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!” He pulled her into a side hug and planted a kiss on her forehead before heading to the next hole.
Giggling, Grace looked down again at her beautiful new ring, shimmering as the emeralds caught the light. “Yes,” she thought, “I do want to save myself for a man who will cherish me, a man who honors me and values my purity, a man who I can trust with my heart…a man just like Daddy!”
The first time a kind stranger peeked at my newborn baby and gushed, “Oh honey, treasure every second!” I almost burst into tears. Not because I was so touched, but because I was sotired. We were standing at the entrance to the mall–me, my baby, and my Shamu-sized postpartum belly–all three of us staring at this sweet lady with her abounding supply of freedom.
I wanted to say, “I’ll try! I’ll try to treasure every second, and you try to treasure every second of the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep you’re going to get tonight. And treasure every second you’re going to roam this mall in total freedom, buying clothes that will fit your skinny waist, and shirts that aren’t breastfeeding accessible. And while you’re at it, treasure all the discretionary time you’ll have in the next decade while I watch Dora, and take temperatures, and settle fights, and pretend to be a human jungle gym, and birth more babies, and clean puke off my clothes.”
Instead I just smiled and waddled off–me, baby, and Shamu. That was round one for me. My very first baby. And boy, was the learning curve steep.
Two weeks ago I gave birth to baby number three. My third gorgeous little daughter. She arrived three weeks early, in such a massive hurry that despite having two previous c-sections, I delivered her naturally with no drugs (and a whole lot of screaming!) It was the first time I experienced a baby being laid on my chest the moment she was born. Later, the midwife told me she would never forget the look on my face. It wasn’t pretty or serene (Clint snapped a picture, so I know!) It was a look of complete shock. Somewhere in the midst of all the pain and hysteria, I had completely forgotten I would get a baby out of this ordeal. My mom (who thought this one might be a boy, despite the ultrasound’s verdict) asked me later if it registered that she really was a girl. I told her that in that moment I wouldn’t have cared if she was a monkey. I held my little baby as they stitched me up, and I never felt more comforted in all my life. I didn’t examine her, or talk to her, or try to nurse her…I just abided with her, quietly knowing that she and I together had done something extraordinary. We each went on a journey–scary and unknown–and we met in the middle.
This time, if a kindly stranger tells me to treasure every second, I think I will burst into tears. Not because of my lost figure or freedom, but because I so ardently understand that the seconds truly are numbered. They are grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, never to be returned. That’s the funny thing about motherhood. You start off with so little on your plate, and it feels like you’re absolutely drowning. And yet the more you add, the more joyful it becomes. Because somewhere in between adding more babies, and more diapers, and more laundry, you also add more perspective. You realize there are worse things than a long night, and challenges really do pass, and tiny toes don’t stay tiny forever. You know cribs turn into beds, and strollers turn into bikes, and the chubby cheeks making fish faces today will be wearing your makeup tomorrow.
And so, in these past two weeks, as I treasure every second, one verse keeps coming to my mind: “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen 24: 67). Is it busy and hectic and messy having three children? Of course it is! Have I gone to bed at 8pm every night this week? Yes I have! But this time around, the baby isn’t the exhausting, overwhelming part. In the midst of all the scheduling, and carpooling, and cleaning, the baby is my Rebekah. She is the comfort in the chaos.
I love this blog for many honorable reasons. But I also love it for one selfish reason. It’s mine. All mine. I never realized what a commodity that could be until I became a mom. In the beginning, I was only asked to give up little things–time, sleep, my waistline. And then they started crawling and I surrendered a little more–tidiness, order, all of the keys on my laptop (which, FYI, can actually be popped right off.) Then one day I blinked and there they were–chattering away a mile a minute, going to pre-school, making friends, getting their feelings hurt, asking big questions, challenging my authority, drawing me pictures, jumping in bed to kiss my very pregnant belly and perhaps ride it like a cowgirl… And I realized there wasn’t a square inch of my personhood they hadn’t entirely and eternally invaded.
I love them with these dry, un-manicured hands that wash their dishes and scrub their faces and brush their hair and tie their shoes. I love them with these swollen ankles that race around town taking them places. I love them with this horrifyingly out-of-tune voice that sings them to sleep, and lays down the law, and tells them stories about when I was a little girl. I love them with this face that will probably wrinkle up like a prune by the time I’m 45 because it’s so used to smooching small cheeks and making silly faces. I love them with the eyes that always know where they are, the ears that hear their cries even when daddy is snoring, and the mind that remembers Tuesday is Johnny Appleseed day and we must wear red to school. I love them with the soul that begs God for their salvation, and I love them with the heart I have lifted out of my chest and tucked away in theirs.
Truly, I love this lot of mine. And yet, at the very same time, there are days when I go to a coffee shop and see college girls writing papers and giggling about boys, and I remember what it was like to have a mind that was completely my own. To be consumed with nobody else’s problems. To think about nobody else’s needs. To dream dreams just for me, and pursue ambitions just because I could. I remember what it was like to have things that were mine.
This blog is one tiny corner of my world that’s all mine. It’s the place where I remember that there’s more to me than grocery lists and Windex spray. And for one or two hours, when I sit down in this virtual world, I don’t think about the crusty broccoli under the table or the mismatched socks in the hamper. Instead of looking outward, I look inward. I think about the woman who picks up the broccoli and sorts through the socks. I think about how she feels, what she needs, who she is. It would be so easy for me to lose her. In the mayhem of everyday life, it would be easy to go through the motions and then collapse in front of the TV. To grow completely out of touch with the woman inside the mom. To shush her, ignore her, numb her…until one day she bursts into tears at the dinner table and everybody wonders why.
That’s one of the reasons I write. Because I need to stay in touch with that woman. I need to know how she’s doing. I need to speak the gospel over her heart and life. Otherwise, she won’t make it. Sure, she’ll still flip pancakes and drive carpools, but underneath it all her heart will grow hard and her spirit cynical.
With all that being said, I’m posting today because in the next few weeks my life is going to get crazy. In the midst of holiday hoopla and an exciting new job for my husband (hooray!), we are going to meet our third little daughter in just two weeks! Yes, yes (to the kind onlookers in the grocery store), my hands are going to be very full…but so is my heart. And as my home gets louder, this blog is going to get quieter. For the next few months I will miss you, and the way the woman inside of this mom gets to connect with the woman inside of you.
But believe me, even in this crazy season, whenever I get the chance I will still slip away and find time to check up on the woman underneath the nursing tops and smudged mascara. I will find the time to speak gospel truth over her. And I hope that sometime this Christmas, you too will be able to slip away, mix up some hot chocolate, and spend time with the woman inside of you, and with the God who loves her so very much. Merry Christmas!
Of all the Mommy-War debates, I can think of few that are as emotionally charged as the war over vaccines. Does that make me want to avoid the topic? Only like a nuclear missile! Unfortunately, (like a nuclear missile) that also makes this topic so important. My goal is not to re-hash the hundreds of arguments for or against vaccines. Rather, my goal is to answer a simple question: As Christian mothers, how should we approach this sensitive and volatile topic personally, among friends and strangers, and in our social media testimony?
When I set out to answer this question, I started by asking myself why the vaccination debate is so heated. I think there are three predominant factors. First, it involves personal heartache. Many (if not the majority of) mothers who choose not to vaccinate have what they would call a “vaccine-injured child.” They truly believe vaccinations have had adverse effects on their child. In some cases, the conditions their children face are extreme, lifelong, and even deadly. Whether or not vaccines are to blame for these conditions, the point is these moms (who are not stupid, nor short on research) truly believe they are. My children are vaccinated, and I have not experienced adverse side effects. However, I can imagine how outraged, confused, and afraid I would feel if I thought my kids were suffering because a doctor told me to do something that I believed hurt them.
But unfortunately, this issue is also emotionally charged because it has communal implications. Whether or not you believe in “herd immunity,” our society still functions in support of it. In other words, our government and medical professionals believe immunizations are in the best interest of society at large. That’s why you’re still asked to present an immunization record at kindergarten Open House. It’s why doctors talk about mutations of previously eradicated diseases emerging as the anti-vaccination movement grows. Whether or not you agree, you can understand why vaccinating parents find this scary. Ironically, it’s the exact same fear non-vaccinating parents feel–the fear that something poses a threat to our children.
The final reason I think the debate is so heated is because it’s a high stakes issue. I’ve seen articles and videos that claim infants have died from adverse reactions to vaccinations. On the flip side, I’ve talked to doctors who claim they’ve seen infants and children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Any way you look at it, fear, suffering, and the desire to protect our children are the primary emotions driving the war over vaccines. Our fleshly instinct is to respond to these emotions with all manner of ungodliness. Both sides are guilty. For brevity sake, let me summarize some of the sentiments I’ve heard and/or read:
Pride / Condescension
“I love my babies too much to put such-and-such chemicals into them.”
“I love my babies too much to put them at risk for preventable diseases.”
“I hope your kids end up injured by a vaccine so you change your tune!”
“I hope your kids catch a disease and die!”
“Parents who vaccinate are un-researched, blind followers.”
“Parents who don’t vaccinate ought to be jailed for child abuse.”
“This isn’t about your children. I’m not thinking about your children at all! This is about my children.”
“I don’t care what your story is, if your kid isn’t vaccinated, keep him away from my kid!”
The problem isn’t that we have an opinion on this issue. It’s not even that our opinion is bound to differ with someone else’s. The problem lies in how much we value our opinion. Biblically, I believe Christian moms are free to stand on either side of the debate. I don’t believe there is anything inherently sinful about vaccinating or not vaccinating your children, so long as you are submitted to God and motivated by love for Him and your kids. But, it is sinful to elevate this issue above Christ.
Before you assume you’re not guilty of this, here are some hard questions I’ve had to ask myself: Does thinking (or reading) about this issue ever evoke feelings of hatred or judgment within me? Has it ever made me wish suffering on someone else? Do my words and lifestyle reflect that I’m more passionate about this topic than I am about the gospel? Does it consume my thoughts and/or control my emotions? When others think of me, is this issue one of the first things they think of?
Yes, this is a high stakes issue. But when it comes to how we interact with it, there is something even greater at stake: our testimony to a watching world. Vaccinations impact this life, but our testimony for Christ impacts eternity. How foolish we would be to sacrifice something of eternal value for the sake of an earthly cause! Am I saying it’s wrong to share your opinion on vaccinations? Of course not. But if you value your opinion to the point that it causes you to sin against others (in thought, word, or action), then for you this issue has become an idol. In essence, you are more devoted to it than you are to the mandates of Christ.
Let me be the first to admit, I’m on the guilty side of this reality. This issue has stirred arrogance, judgment, and anxiety in my heart and mind. The only way I’m “de-throning” it in my life, is by fighting fear with the true, biblical antidote. The fact is, the solution for fear and suffering has never been found in “winning” the external war. You can’t get rid of the turmoil in your heart by converting the world, one tweet at a time, toward or against vaccinations. The only true antidote is faith. If we truly believe that all the days ordained for our children are written in God’s book (Psalm 139:16), that He alone is the author of their lives, wiser than any parent and stronger than any threat, I believe it would change the way we approach this debate.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the mom who hopes other kids suffer because their mother doesn’t agree with me. I don’t want to be the mom who turns unbelievers off to the gospel because of my testimony over a spiritually gray issue. Like the Psalmist, I want to be the kind of mom who says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom (or what) shall I be afraid?” The kind of mom whose heart, passion, and legacy cries out: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:1, 4). Only then, will I be able to take a stance on this issue with love, humility, freedom, and peace.
Tug of war. That’s what comes to mind when I think of this question. On one end of the rope, I see this narcissistic, household-consumed version of myself who dreams about Pottery Barn bedding and pre-school drama to the neglect of all the people beyond the four walls of my home. On the other end of the rope, I see this frazzled, crazy version of myself delivering homemade casseroles to every sick family in church while my own kids eat microwavable corn dogs in front of the TV.
How do we find balance? I always assumed I just needed to find the “middle of the rope.” Which is a very vague way of saying, “just try harder to be, well…balanced.” If you could see my schedule now, I think it would look fairly balanced on the outside. I serve in two different ministries at church, which helped me say “no” to serving in a third ministry outside of church. We spend a few evenings a week with others, and a few at home by ourselves. But the truth is, this isn’t really an outward question. It’s not a logical, “what does your schedule look like?” kind of question. It’s an emotional and spiritual question, often laden with guilt, presuppositions, and preferences. A heart question. And as we all know, our schedule can look ship-shape while our heart is in turmoil.
On Sunday night I dropped my kids off at our church nursery so I could serve at a youth event. It was a whiny, reluctant drop-off because “What?! So-and-so-friend isn’t here tonight?!” Being the godly mom that I am, I promised them each a cupcake when the event was over, and said good-bye. As the youth band played I thought about…my kids. And my kids, and my kids, and my kids. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I want to be present here tonight. I want to serve these high school students. Help me recognize that I’m called to more than just my family.” And as His peace washed over me, a new thought occurred. Maybe ministering inside and outside the home aren’t on two different ends of a rope. Maybe, in God’s perfect design, they actually work together to make us better at both.
Think about it like this: how do we become the kind of women who have the character and wisdom to shepherd those outside our home? By first being faithful inside our home. A reader once referred me to an article in which a married blogger was reluctant to have children because she didn’t want to shortchange her ministry. The blogger explained that when she got married, she felt like she took a “back seat” to her husband in ministry. The last thing she wanted was to have children and be rendered entirely invisible at their church. The blogger’s conclusion was to abandon gender roles, whereby she and her husband could do all things interchangeably.
The reader who referred me to this article was understandably confused by it. “Is this the right perspective?” she asked me. In my opinion, no. It’s not. I can say that with confidence because the Bible flips this perspective upside-down. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul instructs, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
Clearly, God is passionate about the home. So passionate, in fact, that one of the chief ways he wants women to minister to other women is by training them to be faithful in the home! How can we fulfill this mandate if we’re never home learning these lessons ourselves? In this way, our home isn’t an obstacle to ministry, it’s a platform and training ground for it.
On the flip side, I also believe that as we embrace God’s calling to serve those outside our home, we become better wives and mothers to those within the home! Think about it like this: what message are we sending our children if we’re constantly consumed with them? More importantly, is it a biblical one? Growing up, my mom imparted many lessons to me without ever saying a word. As she counseled sobbing women on the sofa, I learned that she was more than just my mom, and that there were things that were more important than playing tea party with me right now! I learned that there was great suffering in the world, and one of the ways we could love Jesus was by loving others.
So how do we find balance? I think it begins with that popular word we all love so much…submission. If you resent the way your family limits your freedom in ministry, you need to submit to the biblical truth that God has called you to serve your family, trusting that as you obey Him, He will groom you to more effectively minister to others. If you idolize your family to the neglect of the rest of the body of Christ, you need to submit to the biblical truth that the best way to love your family is to make Jesus primary, trusting that in doing this, you will be a better wife and mom. Either way, the answer lies in submitting our own preferences and personal agendas to Christ.
Here are a few practical questions I’ve been stewing over as I check my own heart:
Do I regularly meet my husband and children’s needs for love, attention, and affirmation? If they were honest, what would they say?
Is the way that I manage our household a blessing or a burden to my family?
Does it concern me when I hear that others are suffering? Does my prayer life reflect this concern? Do my actions?
Am I open and sensitive to God leading me to serve others, or am I quick to assume “I’ve got my hands full”?
Is there an area outside my home where I have felt burdened to serve God, but have not obeyed? Is there an area outside my home where my husband has challenged me to serve God, but I have been unwilling to even consider it?
Has my husband, or a spiritual mentor, ever suggested I may be over-committed in ministry, to the detriment of my family or my own well-being?
Why am I motivated to serve my family and others? Am I motivated by love for Christ, or love for myself?
Clearly God has called us to both the home and those outside of it. That can only mean these two mandates are not at odds with one another, but rather, working together to make us the women he wants us to be. Forget tug of war. Instead, picture a bicycle with two pedals pumping in unison. One propels the other forward, and vice versa. It’s the only way the bike can balance.
When one of my crafty MIL’s friends visited last week, she left us a surprise: all the materials necessary to make our own paper bag scrapbooks. Say what? My thoughts exactly. As someone who abandoned old-fashioned scrapbooking the moment I discovered Shutterfly, I never imagined turning a lunch bag into a keepsake. But my five-year-old was enchanted. Every day, from dawn ’til dusk (and once at 4am in the morning), she asked if we could make her paper bag scrapbook. So, we did. Turns out, we love this kid-friendly craft! It’s simple enough to finish in a few hours, and full of customizable options (paper, photos, stickers…) that will leave your little one with an extra-special keepsake.
You will need:
3 small paper bags
ribbons (to bind your book)
scissors, glue (or double-sided tape)
scrapbook and/or construction paper
any other scrapbook embellishments
1. Fold your paper bags in half. Open them and punch two holes down the middle crease. Thread three strands of ribbon through the holes and tie in a bow on the outside of the scrapbook.
2. Decorate each page of your scrapbook any way you please. My daughter loved picking which pictures went first, and what paper and embellishments went with them.
3. Use the pages with the top portion of the paper bag as “pockets.” We filled some with photos, and others with hand-drawn pictures.
4. Other pages will include the bottom portion of the paper bag (the rectangular part that makes it stand upright). You can either glue this part shut, or use it as a little flap to include captions, small stickers, or “surprise!” photos.
In the end, your final product will look something like this:
When Dana Hemminger asked me to review her new book about raising a child with Down Syndrome, I readily agreed. Knowing Dana’s blog, I knew the book would bless me. But to be honest, I was motivated for one other reason: sheer curiosity.
In 1987, Emily Perl Kingsley coined an analogy to describe the experience of raising a child with disabilities. In the analogy, pregnancy is like planning a trip to Italy. Parents eagerly pack and dream and make preparations with Italy in mind, only to deliver their baby and realize the “plane” has landed in Holland. Naturally they’re shocked, grieved, and confused. Nothing is as expected. But eventually, as they learn to adapt, they realize Holland is beautiful in its own way. Dana borrows this analogy for the title of her book, Reflections from Holland.
The Shameful Truth Here’s what we moms who have only been to Italy don’t like to admit: Holland scares us. We’re curious about it because, on some level, we fear that a journey there might destroy us. Much of that fear is due to the fact that Holland is entirely unknown territory. But these past few weeks, that changed for me. When I sat down with Dana’s book, I thought she was going to teach me about raising a child with Down Syndrome from a biblical perspective. And she did. But she did so much more than just that. Dana invited me onto the plane with her. She let me climb inside her heart and journey to Holland, beginning from the very moment her pregnancy test was positive.
As a result, reading Dana’s book felt like reading her diary, and I found myself unable to put it down. The lessons weren’t grouped in clever phrases or listed in simple steps. Instead they were woven into her life. Shimmering on the surface of her tears. Rising from the ashes of her prayers. They were everywhere. In the big moments when Benjamin endured open-heart surgery at two months old, and when his parents (and I!) cried as he finally took his first steps at nearly four years old. And the lessons were in the small moments, when Dana opened a Christmas card with “perfect” pictures of a friend’s baby, or listened to her 8-month-old daughter say “Mama” before her 4-year-old son had ever said it.
What Everyone Should Know about Raising a Child with Special Needs (or Why You Need to Read This Book!) Of all the things I learned from this book, 3 things especially stand out:
Ignorance is hurtful. Before reading Reflections from Holland, I had no idea how many medical challenges Down Syndrome can present, including hearing and vision loss, heart problems, seizures and more. I knew it caused developmental delays, but I underestimated those as well. By the time I had journeyed with the Hemmingers in and out of hospitals, through multiple forms of therapy, and heard their desperate prayers for their son, I, too, felt the sting of insensitive comments like: “Just wait until he does learn to crawl; you’ll be wishing he didn’t!”
In one of my favorite chapters, entitled “Help that Hurts,” Dana gives several examples of ignorant comments like this, and graciously explains why they are hurtful. I was so grateful for this knowledge. In my opinion, it is invaluable. As the church, one of our greatest callings is to minister to people in their suffering. But sometimes we have no idea how to do that, because the form of suffering is so foreign to us. Educating ourselves is crucial in becoming equipped to love others as Jesus does.
Everyone will face disappointment in parenting. This book is about so much more than Down Syndrome. The reality is, we are all going to face disappointment in parenting, whether or not God calls us to Holland. This book is about experiencing God in the face of that disappointment. It’s about laying our plans and our dreams on the altar, and delighting ourselves in God’s will for our life, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s not what we had in mind.
Hope in Christ withstands every storm. In other words, you can do more than survive Holland; you can thrive in it. When it came to parenting Benjamin, almost nothing went according to Dana’s plan, from the smallest details of the delivery to the greatest challenges presented by Down Syndrome. For some people, this would justify lifelong resentment and bitterness. But there was one crucial key to Dana’s ability to thrive in Holland–she made Jesus her treasure. She chose to treasure Christ more than milestones, or expectations, or appearances. And in so doing, she found great comfort, overflowing promise, and abundant reasons to rejoice.
This is a book well worth every mom’s time. Initially, when I sat down to write this review, I was going to say that by the time you close the last page, you will feel like Dana is a close friend. But perhaps it’s more fitting to say, by the time you close the last page, you will wish you had a friend like her.