For Such a Time as This

I had a really rattling experience the other day and I’ve been trying to decide if it’s worth sharing because it’s so layered and nuanced. I’m going to go ahead and share it with the caveat that I don’t have the answers, y’all. I don’t usually share too much political or potentially political stuff on this platform but I want to share this story because it’s important. I need to start by saying that I don’t expect you to agree with all of my feelings about this situation, but I ask that you disagree with charity. Also, this is going to be a real long post, so hang on to your butts.


So the other day I was driving my eldest to piano lessons and I had all the kids in the car. We were traveling down a street and I looked over and noticed that there was a man kneeling on the ground about a block ahead of me. As I got closer I saw that he was a large black man on his knees on the sidewalk just sobbing. Like, absolutely wrecked, entire body shaking, full on sobbing.

Y’all, it was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. And I couldn’t just leave him there. But also, I had all my children in the car which always makes me nervous any time I’m tempted to interact with strangers on the road because you just never know. So I wasn’t 100% comfortable with stopping, but I was 1000% not comfortable leaving him.

So I turned around and tried to get back to him, but the streets in that area are all wacko and weird about where you can turn so it took me a minute and I ended up only being able to turn left and approach him from the turn lane. I rolled down my window and called to him, “Sir, are you ok? Do you need help?” and he just looked up at me and didn’t reply. I was pretty certain that he had been drinking since he was swaying a lot and was uncommunicative. I couldn’t stay in the turn lane much longer so I tried to turn around again all the while desperately wracking my brain to figure out who to call.

Normally, I’d just call the police, but that felt all wrong. (This is where you might disagree with me and that’s ok.) As far as I could tell, this man was committing no criminal activity (aside from possible public intoxication), he wasn’t causing a disturbance, hurting anything or anyone, and I just really feel like if you’re in a place in your life when you’re drunk and sobbing on the sidewalk, the last thing you need is a ticket for being drunk and sobbing on the sidewalk.

And honestly, I think that the police in that part of town would probably have been incredibly helpful. However with the current climate in our country, I just didn’t really want to risk things escalating when this situation didn’t necessarily warrant police assistance. I have never felt so stuck, so unable to find a solution, or so helpless. I was crying and praying and circling back to pull over again when I saw that someone else beat me to it.

I pulled up to a stop sign and looked over to see that there was now an older white man holding the black man in a deep, deep hug.

While I was turning around, this older white couple (who could’ve been poster models for the “Boomer” generation) got out of their car and approached this wounded black man on the sidewalk, picked him up, and held him. And it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time.

To be clear I’m not sharing this to say, “hooray for white people coming in and saving the day for this poor black man.” This isn’t one of those situations where you get extra credit for doing what you’re supposed to do in the first place. However, in a world where a lot of what we see is the ugly and the nasty, it was really wonderful to see humanity show up in a positive way. It was such a blessing to me to see such opposite sorts of people be so vulnerable with each other and it showed me a new layer of my own privilege and prejudices.

The entire thing left me feeling shaken and upset that I felt unable to help this man. That morning before all this happened I had made an Instagram post about how everyone at home was crabby and I was girding my loins by wearing a shirt that says “Perhaps you were made for such a time as this,” and my Stella Maris medal. If you’re not familiar, the shirt references the book of Esther and Our Lady Stella Maris is the Star of the Sea, symbolically guiding and pointing our ships to Christ through the storms of life.

Later, after piano lessons, I got a message from my friend, Meredith, who wanted to share with me a piece that she wrote for her church newsletter. In it she talks about the very scripture in Esther that my shirt references. I’m going to just go ahead and share Meredith’s piece with you because it is just so good and I can’t bear to choose just one quote.

So, here’s Meredith:

Esther was living in tumultuous times – the Jews were in danger, rulers were corrupt, everything felt risky, and she, a single individual who felt very unqualified, chose to be brave and stand on the foundation of her faith.  I’m sure in that moment, when she went to stand before the king, she felt like I often do – stomach in knots, shaking hands, and that nagging feeling that none of her efforts would make a difference, anyway.  But for those of us who are sitting here in the summer of 2020, we look back and we know: it made all the difference in the world.

“For such a time as this.”  What relevant words!  Throughout the ages, the saints of God have been standing on his promises, declaring the truth, standing up for justice and mercy, and proclaiming the gospel to the next generation.  They did it in the book Acts, as the early church spread like wildfire.  They did it during the early years of this country, as they helped each other to freedom on the Underground Railroad and did not give up hope.  They did it during World War II, hiding Jewish families in their homes and risking their lives for what was right rather than what was easy.  They did it in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis, as they cared for the sick despite the sacrifices involved.  And they did it in all the times between, in the uneventful years, when wars were ceased and times were calm, as they pointed to Jesus in the everyday living.  

It has struck me recently that we are the saints chosen for “such a time as this.”  We are part of this enduring story that started with those early Christians and has passed along down generations of families.  We’ve had our faults and our failures, but the truth of the gospel has remained steadfast, and throughout wars, famines, disease, and unrest, the saints of God have stood firm on his Word and proclaimed the truth that we have hope and that all will one day be made new.

And here we are. We are living in a time of sickness, political unrest, and racial disparity. We are holding the torch – we are carrying the baton in this moment of history.  How will we, like Esther, stand firm, despite our shaking hands and nagging doubts?  For me, I will tell my children about the good God that I serve.  I will encourage others.  I will not stop standing on the truth that I know brings healing.  

One day, my great-great grandchildren will look back at this time, and it will seem like vague history – that’s ok. But I hope that these great-great grandchildren will be carrying the torch of faith with them as they face whatever trials they are facing.  I hope that my choice to stand firm on the promises of God will be the link in the chain that makes all the difference.

Meredith Priset

Guys, I don’t know the right answer to heal our broken country. I have a hunch that it’s a billion little answers that are nuanced and complicated but equally rooted in the Truth of love. I am never going to be a political mover and shaker. I will never be a lobbyist or a pundit. Just like Esther, Meredith, and so many before me, I most certainly am going to be unsure and hesitant about my role and will most likely feel ineffective and helpless again and again just like I did the other day.

But I am clinging close to the truth that we are building a cathedral. Each small act of justice, every whispered prayer, all of the tough conversations with children, the letters written to law makers, each and every interaction of love between strangers is more brick and mortar building us all up to heaven.

We were made for such a time as this, to bear witness to the Light. And when we see Light shining in the darkness, it is our responsibility to illuminate it further and to keep laying more foundation like all those who have come before us, one brick at a time.


“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household fo God, built upon the foundations fo the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 2:19-22

Healing

In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.

In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.

I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.

My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.

They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.

Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB

Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same (emphasis mine).

I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.

I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”

But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.

I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.

I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.

I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.

Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.

Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.

Lamentations 2:18-19

Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.

Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:

When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Matthew 8:16-17

He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.

We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.

Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.

Here is the prayer of my heart:

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.

Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.

Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.

Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.

Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.

Amen

Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. they attacked me on my day of distress, but the Lord was my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.

Psalm 18: 17-20
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing is my all time favorite hymn. I sung it to all of my babies and still sing it when they (or I) need a little extra comforting. The entire song is just so good, but my particular favorite phrase is in the second verse: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Many sermons have been preached on the meaning of the word “Ebenezer” so I won’t try to do it justice here, but it comes from 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Israelites are about to do battle against the Philistines, things were looking bad and the Israelites beg Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8) and so Samuel offers prayer and sacrifice to the Lord. In turn, God “thunders loudly” which throws the Philistines into confusion, allowing the Israelites to have the upper hand and win the day. And then here comes the Ebenezer:

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.”

1 Samuel 7:12

I love that this tiny little snippet of scripture finds its way into my favorite song, because it’s so remarkable, right? Samuel takes the time to build a monument to God, a physical reminder that in that specific place, God showed His faithfulness to the Israelites. He did not leave them abandoned. He heard them and He rescued them. Moving forward, they could look back at that place, see the huge rock that Samuel placed there, even touch it with their hands and remember that particular instance of God’s presence and grace.

If you look for them, these Ebenezers are all over scripture. There are many monuments built to glorify God and the Psalms particularly serve as reminders. Skimming through, we can hear the voices saying, “Remember when God was faithful to us? Remember when he showed up? Remember that specific time He answered our prayers?”

I often tell my doula clients (and friends, and kids, and myself, and anyone who will listen) that in times of trouble, anxiety, or worry, it is imperative that we remember what’s true. Part of that is remembering who we are. It is imperative that we, like the Israelites, have a strong sense of identity. It is so important that we really own and take on the knowledge that we are the chosen children of God, beloved before all creation, created in His image, out of love, for love. The other part of remembering truth is that we must remember who He is. We need to revisit our own Ebenezers.

When I take the time to look back, to recount God’s work in my life, like the Israelites, it is clear that I have been rescued over and over and over again. God has constantly met me in my loneliness and my uncertainty and given me sure footing. He has redeemed countless desperate situations and dismal mistakes, and revealed Himself to me in undeniable ways. He has been present, a comforter and faithful guide. He has met me in my sorrow, my misunderstanding, my frustration, and my fear. He has steadily loved me for my entire life, slowly revealing Himself to me in a myriad of quiet little ways, gently leading my heart to His.

I know without doubt, that God will redeem our present suffering, that He is working it all for the good of the world and the glory of His name. In this moment, we are like Martha and Mary, wrecked because our brother is dying and wondering why the Lord isn’t moving in the ways we expect Him to move. But I truly believe that, just like Martha and Mary, we will see God’s glory in much bigger ways than we could ever imagine. Tombs will be emptied, we will be pulled out of our graves; new life is coming.

If we take the time to revisit our own Ebenezers we’ll find hope to keep moving forward on to the next battle, hope to sustain us in the war to come. Soon this present suffering will become for us a new Ebenezer, a place where we will erect an even bigger monument, continuing to point heavenward, saying, “Remember that time? Remember God’s grace?”

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.

Valentine’s is for Vendettas

Some of you around here may remember that Vin and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, per se. It’s not that we don’t like things like love and flowers and romance. We just like the mob more. Therefore, we like to celebrate the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Our favorite way to celebrate is by watching mob movies.

 

So, in honor of the most romantic day of the year, here are our favorites. If you happen to be as twisted and warped as we are, this is the perfect way to in the romantic spirit! If not, ignore this post and come back Friday.

 

1.) The Godfather (Part I and II, never III)

 

Any list of mob movies is obligated to include The Godfather and I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that it’s one of my favorites series. I fell in love with Michael Corleone in college. When I took a film history class for my minor, we watched Part I and II. On a big screen. In one sitting. It was intense.

I’m not lying when I tell you that when we all stumbled out of that theater and into the blinding afternoon sun, every person in class was incredibly paranoid. We walked across the quad as though someone had a hit out on us. It’s an obsession that led me to perform a scene from Part II for my film acting final (which I aced, thankyouverymuch) and endlessly quote the movie to this day. These movies are perfect for a Valentine’s celebration because they’re super-romantic (Italy, duh).

 

 

2.) Mystic River

 

 

Okay, so this one is a favorite, but promise me you won’t watch it if you’re feeling especially sensitive. There’s some heavy stuff in this movie. Heavy stuff like child abuse and parents dealing with the death of their child. Heavy.

But, guys. Sean Penn is the best crier of all time. Plus you get fantastic performances by Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. This is seriously one of the best and most interesting explorations of guilt, innocence, criminal motivation, and the evolution of friendship. This is definitely a good pick if you’re down for a serious time.

 

 

3.) The Departed

 

Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve been obsessed with him since forever and he’s fantastic in this one.  Also, there’s Matt Damon, who is, well, Matt Damon. They play guys working undercover for the state police and Irish mob, respectively.  There’s a great story line here that involves both men fraternizing with the enemy, forging relationships they know they’ll have to betray, and the question of whether they’ll be able to betray them when the time comes.

There’s also Jack Nicholson as the mob boss. He generally creeps me out, but that’s absolutely perfect for his role in this film. I just love the idea that you never really know who’s on who’s side in this movie. Definitely a tense movie, which is what you want on Valentine’s, right?

 

4.) Gangs of New York

 

 

Don’t tell Michael Coreleone, but this one might be my favorite. I know I said they were all favorites, but this one is more favorite. As Vin says, this is more your average blue collar, working man’s mob movie. I believe his direct statement was, “When I watch The Godfather I feel like I’ve got to put on a shirt and tie.” So, I guess if you’re wanting your Valentine’s affair to be a classy one, go Godfather. If you’d like to keep things more casual, then Gangs of New York is for you.

So, we’ve got kind of a similar story line as The Departed, in that there’s Leonardo DiCaprio playing a guy trying to infiltrate the mob. This time he’s in Civil War era New York trying to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Bill the Butcher (best name everrrr and played by Daniel Day Lewis). This movie has it all. The juxtaposition of a personal vendetta and the climatically violent war over control of the Five Points in New York is just wonderful.

The gang names are phenomenal, too. I mean, how can you go wrong with the Natives vs the Dead Rabbits vs the Bowery Boys? You can’t, especially when the gangs include guys named Happy Jack Mulraney, Priest Vallon, and Hell Cat Maggie. The cast is excellent; DiCaprio and Day-Lewis are joined by Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, and on and on. The weak link, if there is one, is the inclusion of Cameron Diaz who isn’t my favorite actress. She’s decent enough and I guess you have to have some sort of a love interest…and since this is for Valentine’s Day, I’ll let it slide. Plus, there are top hats. Lots and lots of top hats and fantastic plaid pants. Overall, this is one of my favorite movies ever, so go watch it.

 

 

If you’ve already made plans for Valentine’s, I seriously suggest you scrap them. I mean, who wants hand holding and roses when you can have the severed heads of horses, knife fights, and blood baths? Not this girl, that’s fo’ sho’.

 

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Some New Year’s Wisdom

Well, we’re almost an entire week into the new year and it still hasn’t lost that “new year” feeling of reflection and self-evaluation for me. I wrote a few days ago about all the things I want to accomplish this year and received a beautiful comment from one of my dear readers who has been down this road of young motherhood before. Here’s what she wrote:

 

“I could have written the same list when I was a mother of three little children. My guess is that you won’t achieve all of them this year.

The good news is that I have finally accomplished some of them, and I just needed to retire to be able to say that. Many of the things you wish to do and be are limited by one thing: TIME. Juggling three babies is more than a full time job. When you add work, home, church, spouse, and all the other things that eat up our time, little time is left for art, literature, writing, baking, and 5Ks.

Now that I no longer have to drag my sorry self out of bed at 6:00 am and be gone for nine hours, I find that I pretty much have time to do whatever I want. I sew a lot, cook delicious and healthy meals, and our house is cleaner than it ever was before. Our lives are very satisfying. We are near to Cameron and her wonderful family, and are able to help them out in numerous ways.

Once, when our three were young, an older friend visited me when I had been home bound with sick children for an endless period. They had all had chicken pox, not at the same time but one after the other after the other. My friend told me something that took me years to realize the truth: “Mimi, one day you will know that these are the best days of your life.” In retrospect, those were wonderful times. And I worried too much about things that didn’t really matter to fully enjoy the richness of my life.

I’m not sure what the point of this rambling is, except that some day, when you finally have time and peace to do and be what you want, you won’t have three precious little people in your care. So don’t give up trying to reach those goals, but don’t kick yourself if you do not. And remember that these are the best days of your life.”

 

Oh, yes, yes, yes. This encapsulates everything I feel about a new year. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and the planning of a fresh start for 2014. Many of us get wrapped up in change, caught up in an attempt to “fix” everything we’re screwing up and begin January like a chicken with it’s head lobbed, off rushing around trying to become the “perfect” person we want to be but not really getting anywhere.

 

Change is good. Wanting to be a better version of ourselves is good. Planning good things and renewing good habits for the future are good. But, as my friend Lauren says, New Year’s Day is really just another cold, snowy day like the one before it. The entire year should be focused on refocusing, so to speak. There’s a very fine line we tread between self-improvement and self-loathing. It’s easy to get wound up about all the things we’ll do in the new year as a way to make up for the things we lack, the things we didn’t do, the flaws we see in ourselves.

 

 

But these are the best years of our lives.

 

 

This is the best. The lack of pants, the garbage bags, the dirty floor…these are all the best.

 

I just started reading The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, a study on Mary. Houselander makes the point that our human nature (soul and body) is material which God uses to assert His purpose in us; that we are individually shaped and created not only by the things we’ve experienced, but also the lives and experiences of each of our individual ancestors. We were planned from the very beginning and God used thousands of people over hundreds of years to specifically create us. 

 

And this stood out to me this morning as I contemplated the new year, the plans I’ve made, and the wisdom Mimi shared:

 

“Each one can…look honestly at the material from which he is made, and ask the Holy Spirit to let It show him the way Christ wills to show Himself in his life….There is, however, one big thing we can do with God’s help, that is, we can trust God’s plan, we can put aside any quibbling or bitterness about ourselves and what we are. We can accept and seize upon the fact that what we are at this moment, young or old, strong or weak, mild or passionate, beautiful or ugly, clever or stupid, is planned to be like that. Whatever we are gives form to the emptiness in us which can only be filled by God and which God is even now waiting to fill.”

 

So this year, like every year, I hope for balance. I hope that I can learn self-improvement and self-love. I hope I’ll have the courage to pursue all the dreams I have for my future and the joy that can only come from loving what I’ve been given, just as it’s been given to me.

 

Don’t give up trying to reach those goals, but don’t kick yourself if you do not. And remember that these are the best days of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week, y’all!

Natural Childbirth Series: Reading Recommendations

To continue our series on natural childbirth, I thought I’d share some reading/viewing recommendations that I’ve found to be useful. My list is not long. Heck, I don’t know if it really even qualifies as a list.

 

But here’s the deal: This is a biiiig topic and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the veritable cornucopia of options out there. It is also easy to become overwhelmed by bloggers who use phrases like “veritable cornucopia”…so, sorry. Anyway, I’m going to list a few things that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in preparing for a natural childbirth and then I’d like to open the comments up to other (probably more experienced and better read) mamas and daddies to share their suggestions.

 

Please note that these are books that I have found to be extremely helpful as your average, every day person. I am not a medical professional, blah, blah, blah, consult a physician, yada, blargh…

 

So, here goes!

 

1.) In my opinion,  the Bradley Method is pretty much the gospel of natural childbirth. You can take the actual classes, but we’ve never been able to afford them and honestly, Husband Coached Childbirth has been our go-to book time and time again.

 

 

This was the first book on the subject we picked up when we found out we were expecting Maggie and it’s so great. I really appreciate the premise that childbirth should be an experience shared with a partner, that it builds the relationship between man and woman, rather than causes a rift, as seen in the movies.

 

I also like it that Bradley’s ideas are derived from observing how “perspiring mammals” behave during labor. As someone who has seen many a house cat deliver kittens, it totally gelled with me. The entire book does a great job of giving practical examples and great comparisons (there’s the metaphor of labor being like climbing a mountain, for example) that make the whole process easier to understand. Basically, it’s my fave.

 

 

2.) When we were expecting Lily, I knew I really, really wanted to deliver without medications and interventions. I picked up a copy of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah J. Buckley, M.D. and really enjoyed it.

 

 

This book does a great job of balancing scientific research with real-life stories that have a lot of heart. You’ll get the bare-bones facts about the effects and risks of medications and interventions during pregnancy and labor as well as Buckley’s birthing experiences with her own children. I liked that the research was very approachable and that it’s easy to tell that the author is incredibly passionate about the subject.

 

I will say that this book tends to be more on the “hippie” side of things, for lack of a better descriptor. Buckley endorses lotus births, for example, something that I don’t disagree with at all, but also won’t be attempting any time soon. But that’s just me.

 

 

3.) Also, you should totally watch The Business of Being Born, a documentary executive-produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein.

 

 

Guys, this is really just so eye-opening and great. And it made me have all kinds of respect for Ricki Lake that I didn’t have before. She’s kind of a beast. Also, there’s a sequel and a new movie set to come out soon about breastfeeding. Awesome and awesome-er.

 

 

4.) I’m also anxiously awaiting my copy of Ina’ May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, CPM.

 

 

I’ve got it on hold from the library, so hopefully I’ll get it soon-ish so I can report back. I’ve heard good things!

 

 

 

So, what about you? Have any go-to books that you’d recommend for someone considering natural childbirth? Let us hear about them in the comments!

Natural Childbirth: A Series

So, I’ve got birthing on the brain and I wanted to start a dialogue with on natural childbirth. I’ve been having a conversation with a friend who is preparing for a natural (unmedicated) delivery after having previously given birth under induction, etc. What’s really struck us, and what I’ll be focusing on in this first post, is the initial negativity that most people have regarding natural childbirth.

 

As Everett’s arrival gets closer, I find myself gearing up for one of the most transformative and soul-satisfying experiences a person can  have. I can’t begin to tell you how totally psyched I am. Seriously, can’t wait.

 

 

Mama, Daddy, and Ev at the Bean in Chicago.

 

 

And I know I’m not in the majority here. I’ve been blessed to find some really great online communities of people who are as excited as I am, but more often than not, when I’m out and about in the “real world” and the subject comes up, I’m greeted with emotions of horror, put-downs, negativity, or self-depreciating comments.

 

Why is that? Why is it that our culture is so incredibly negative regarding the “earth-shattering” idea delivering babies without drugs? I believe that, ultimately, it all boils down to fear, ignorance, and intimidation.

 

Unfortunately we’ve got a long history of negative imagery deeply embedded in our minds. Think about every movie you’ve seen in which a woman is depicted giving birth (natural or otherwise). What happens?

 

Looks pleasant, doesn’t it?

 

There’s always a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. People panic, run for hot water. We find out that Prissy “don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies, Miss Scarlett,” and then Prissy gets the biz slapped out of her. Hateful words are shrieked across sterile hospital rooms. The doctor bumbles around and the hysterical mother usually casts blame on the father, as in, “YOU did THIS to MEEE!!!”  I cannot recall one instance in which birth is depicted as a peaceful experience. I’m sure one exists, I just don’t know where.

 

Now, I get it. “Knocked Up” just isn’t as funny without all the scrambling and the chaos. And it’s genuinely hilarious to think of Bill Cosby’s wife literally pulling his lower lip over his head. But if these are the only images of childbirth that are out there, I mean really getting out there to a large audience of young women, what message are they receiving about the miracle of bringing a new life into this world?

 

And the blaming of the father? The screaming of condemnation that he is solely responsible for the allegedly horrible situation in which the mother finds herself? What does that say about our culture’s view of sex and responsibility and the gift of children?

 

Besides a boatload of cultural misconceptions surrounding childbirth, I think the main thing to combat is the simple fact that the average Joe has no idea how the female body works, much less how it works specifically in childbirth. Blame public schools, cultural stigmas, shyness, over-protective parents, whatever, but let’s face it we just don’t know our bodies.

 

 

Pretty much sums it up…

 

 

For many years I considered myself fairly well-informed on the female anatomy. It wasn’t until I took a Natural Family Planning class that I realized how little I really did know. Later, when we were expecting Maggie, we researched and learned even more, and I felt like I was an informed parent-to-be; I felt like I knew enough.

 

But it wasn’t enough. Not enough for me to trust my initial instinct to wait for labor to begin on its own. Not enough for me not to be tempted by the alleged ease and quick pace and “routine-ness” of an induction. Not enough for me to avoid being in labor for eighteen hours. You can never know enough.  When I became pregnant with Lily, I hit the books hard and never looked back. I was intensely more satisfied with my second labor experience and I credit that to my continued pursuit of knowledge. Never stop learning. Never.

 

Ultimately, guys, we’re mammals. We need to understand that the female body was gorgeously created to give life. Childbirth is intuitive for the body, but not the mind. We have to re-introduce ourselves to our bodies and get to know them intimately to get the best results.

 

I understand that medications can be helpful and that they can make things a zilliondy times better for us in the right situation, under specific circumstances, but I will never be comfortable with the idea of medicating the body when medication isn’t required. It is counter-intuitive to chemically change the dynamics of a machine that is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Period.

 

I know that natural childbirth is intimidating. It hurts. A lot. Is it the most horrendous pain of all time that no one alive can live through? Not even close. And the way I look at it is that, based on the research that’s out there, a drug-free delivery is the best option for my babies, so why wouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice of myself for them? Labor is not forever. It is completely doable. People climb mountains and run marathons. Childbirth is no different. It’s a physical challenge to the absolute extreme that will take you to the edge and back…and that’s why it is so incredibly rewarding.

 

 

 

 

I think a lot of women don’t choose natural childbirth because they’ve been told they can’t do it, by society, by other women, by themselves. I’ve literally had people tell me that I’m crazy for wanting to deliver naturally. I’ve been told, “Don’t be a hero, take the drugs.”

 

I’ve often wondered what makes women so negative about the birth choices of other women.   It may be that they don’t understand the desire. It may be that they don’t feel capable and, when met with someone who wants to try, they feel threatened.

 

Maybe they’ve met one too many of those “militant” people. You know, the kind who use their lifestyle choices -which are fine in principle- as weapons to make you feel like absolute garbage.

“I don’t eat that I’m vegan.”

My child wouldn’t know about that…We’re a screen-free family.”

“I delivered my baby on top of Mount Kilimanjaro with only a                                  Sherpa to attend me.”

 

 

Regardless of the cause, I think it’s a shame that women aren’t more empowering of one another, specifically in regards to childbirth. While I’m as pro-natural childbirth as they get, I will never condemn another woman for the choices she makes in delivery. Every woman, every pregnancy, every delivery is unique. I am not the one who walks that road. I only take my own and I don’t think that belittling someone based on their childbirth choices helps anyone.

 

But I do want people to learn. I do want people to give natural a chance. Most importantly, I want to foster a community of women that is encouraging and uplifting. I want my stories and your stories to be an encouragement to others who may be considering natural childbirth, but never though they could do it.

 

Because self-doubt is the biggest enemy. So many women who initially want natural births cave under the negativity, they believe the lie that says they aren’t capable, and they give up before they’ve even begun. And it’s a shame, because you really can do it if you want to. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I’m not even really all that professional in general, so I’d suggest that you get out there and decide what you think for yourself. And then come back here and tell me about it, ’cause I want to know what you think! This series is meant to provide my personal opinions and to foster dialogue, so chime in and consult a trained medical professional if need be. But definitely chime in! 🙂