My son turns six today. These get harder to write every year as my children bloom and grow and become more and more precious. As always (for those of you who have read Things I Love About Stephen, Years 1-5) it’s going to be sappy, so prepare thyselves. Here are some things I love about Stephen.
When he was a baby, Peter and I dreamed of him becoming a leader in our family. Our desire was that he would help establish a clear picture of our values—that he would exemplify the loving culture we are trying to create—to any other kids that enter our family, through birth or adoption. He has done this beyond what we expected, and he’s helped make the large family lifestyle not just possible but beautiful. He is a pace-setter for the other kids in love, respect, courage, tenderness, thoughtfulness, and, of course, silliness. It makes my job unfathomably easier.
I love how he’s a brilliant abstract thinker. When I sit and have an adult-level conversation with him, he understands it all. He asks questions if I use a word he doesn't know. He tracks with me. He responds with insights of his own. And my oh my, his insights are rich.
I love how he loves to hear stories about how difficult he was as a baby. I’ll say things like “Baby Piper took such good naps every day, but Fussy Baby? Oh my. Fussy Baby never ever wanted to take naps.” He giggles diabolically at that. He’s proud that he caused me so much trouble.
I love how he questions everything and thinks for himself. For example, we sing a lullaby to the girls that has the lyric “most beautiful girl in the whole wide world,” and Stephen is greatly troubled by that superlative statement. He told me he thinks I should stop singing that song to them because it says something negative about all the other girls in the world.
I love how he prayed for ISIS nearly every single day for probably three years. Now that Boko Haram is more of a pressing threat, he’s switched his focus to praying for them. He cares greatly about the suffering going on in the world, and he cares about hearts most of all. Every single day he prays that people might know Jesus.
I love how he and Piper can play for hours and hours. They build forts in his bunk bed (Stephen is king of the bungee cords), they built forts in a tree outside, they build hotels with Magna-tiles...though I know he longs for a brother, he is so happy and content to play sweetly with his sister.
I love how he deals with drama when playing with his sister is not so sweet. One day he came to me, sighed dramatically, and said, "Well, it seems that our fun has come to an end. Piper is mad at me for some reason. Can we watch Bear Grylls to cheer up my heart?"
I love how he's respectful. When I tell him to do or not do something, nine times out of ten he says “yes, Mommy.” If he doesn’t like or understand what I said, he says “okay, Mommy, but may I ask why?”
I love how applies himself in mountain biking. I'm not a sports person, but you'd better believe I cried when I saw him pedal his bike as hard as he could, cross the finish line in second place, and pant heavily afterwards because he truly pushed himself to do his best.
I love his sharp sense of humor. The hyper behavior and not-funny silliness that mark this age get on my nerves, and regrettably I have shown too little patience when he acts in those ways, but overall the dude is actually funny. Plus sometimes he's just cute, like when he hid a book in his Chewbacca pajamas when I was putting him to bed.
I love how he's competitive. We play UNO almost every night before bed, and he and I are quite evenly matched. Whenever I win, he tries desperately to "get my throne back." When he finally does reclaim his title as victor, he acts rather kingly, demanding things such as "Bring me my wine!"
I love how he talks about his "style." I'll be decluttering his drawers and ask him why he never wears a particular shirt, and he'll say "It's just not my style." I haven't figured out the formula for what his "style" is yet, but he sure seems to know.
I love how he's a hungry, hungry learner. For example, while I was reading him a book about survival skills, he took copious notes in a journal. Since he's not really writing yet, his "notes" were sketches and doodles, but when I asked him what they meant, he pretty much recited the book back to me!
I love how he loves any bit of autonomy I give him. I let him create a playlist on Amazon Music and he bragged about it to his sisters for days. He cooks chili and cranberry sauce by himself and the seasonings are only a little off. He thrives in responsbility and high expectations.
I love how he still likes to snuggle. When we were reading through the Wingfeather Saga, he and I made an agreement that I would keep reading as long as he would snuggle with me and play with my hair. We ended up reading over an hour most days because this arrangement worked so nicely.
The toughest thing about raising strong-willed children is I feel like I don't have control. His personality, his interests, his fears, even his fashion style, are not up to me. But that's such a good thing, because this boy is so much better than anyone I could've personalized to my liking. He's Stephen, he's brilliant, he's kind, he's my son.
In eleventh grade, I viciously researched and passionately composed an essay on why God doesn’t want Christians to be rich. My beliefs only grew stronger as I got older, and eventually I loved and married a man who hated the pursuit of riches as much as I did, maybe more. He had been raised under the prosperity “gospel” (Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and the like) and had seen its atrocious effects on people he loved, so the stench of wealth reeked to him. We made less than $19k our first year of marriage, and we were so, so happy. We depended on God to provide a vacuum cleaner we needed, and a customer gave us one (that we still use today.) I needed some clothes for the baby, and a neighbor's cousin dropped off a garbage bag full of them at our door. I felt like I was living out the biographies I'd read about people who depended on God. I loved it.
But work started slowing down and we had dreams of more children, so we both knew the income needed to increase a bit. So when a friend asked if Peter could wash her patio, he said "yes!" and with our two-week-old son, we drove to Home Depot and invested $500 on a pressure washer. It was a huge risk for us at the time. Peter's first “rig” was the backseat of our car, his first business cards were printed on perforated paper at our apartment’s clubhouse, and he found work by going door to door asking if anyone needed their driveway cleaned.
Despite the humblest of beginnings, the business grew fast. After three years, he was able to hire employees and walk away from doing the actual pressure washing himself. We bought a big house on a nice chunk of land with a workshop that would accommodate all his mac-daddy rigs. And now, nearly six years into business, at only 27 years old, he has seven employees, owns more trucks and equipment than I can keep track of, he started a second venture to keep busy during slow season, he gave a talk at the pressure washing convention in New Orleans, he has 100 five-star ratings on Google, and business is good. There isn’t really a way to describe what happened other than “prosperity.”
And, besides the first year of his business and until the latter half of 2017, I had been against all of it.
I regret to say that for a solid four years, my husband truly did not have my support. When people told me they were proud of him, I would stiffly thank them but later I would cry. I couldn't let myself say that God "blessed" his business, because material success felt so much like a curse. As he navigated hiring and letting go of employees or as he dealt with frustrating customers, I felt embarrassed and ashamed, even though he was truly doing a great job. Every single day I wished his job was different, and I longed for the good old days when he could clock in and clock out, and together we would manage our tiny paycheck. I hated our house, our stuff, our lives. I felt suffocated by comfort and the future seemed so dreadful—-so unrecognizably far from the selfless, simple life I envisioned—that I would have panic attacks weekly and I legitimately sunk into depression for years. Both of us were so off base with our view of work—Peter was slipping into greed and materialism, and I was full-fledged hateful, controlling, and self-righteous—that our animosities were feeding each other, and our marriage was a total disaster. We were committed to “death do us part” and we still had plenty of repentance, forgiveness, and bright spots as a family, but it was really, really ugly.
Even as my heart began to change, the word "success", when spoken in terms of business, made me want to gag. Why should a Christian think that making money can be viewed as “success” when the love of money is the root of all evil?
Peter and I had a long fireside conversation and I realized just how narrow and undeveloped my theology of work has been. We agreed that there’s a huge gap between entrepreneurial leadership gurus and humble, Christlike men, so we wondered: what is the in-between even supposed to look like? Is it possible to have an in-between? Can you be a successful businessman or woman and a selfless Christian who refuses to waste his or her life? Our navigation of this whole topic has been extremely messy, priorities have been all over the place, and thousands of dollars have been wasted as we figure it out, but for the first time I’m hopeful, excited, and I see our position of “success” as a blessing from God, maybe even a position that others should seek after and feel equipped to do themselves.
Here are some reasons that I now think Peter’s business is a good thing:
-His business supports twenty people when we include his employees' spouses and children. Because of this business, people who needed to get out of terrible or nonexistent jobs have been provided for. Because of this business I’m able to stay home and focus on loving and raising world-changers. We have four of them now, and I don’t think it’s prideful to say that no one can do my job as well as I can.
-His business frees his employees to worship God and give generously. Because of this business, there are eight fewer people who have to worry about working on Sunday or about making such tiny paychecks that they can’t give to others.
-His business makes many connections in our area and his knowledge and experience are a help to other business owners. They need to know someone who can say, “I’m successful, but that’s not ultimate to me. Also, here are some tips for sealing pavers or fixing a broken nozzle.” For once, they can meet a guy who is “networking” because he cares about other people, not because he’s trying to get something out of them. That’s pretty much unheard of, and it’s refreshing to them.
-His business sets us up for extremely generous giving in the long-term. This is a huge point of difficulty for me—especially considering that the poisonous prosperity gospel tells you that God wants you to be rich so you can give more—but I’m seeing that there’s such a thing as “seasons.” We need to give consistently and generously, but there’s also a place for investing so you can give more. There’s the parable of the guy who wasted his life building storehouses for all his stuff, but there’s also the parable of the guy who was given little but multiplied it greatly, to the pleasure of his boss...to the pleasure of God.
-The fragility of wealth should serve not only as a warning, but it should lead us in worship. Peter’s business is successful today. Something could happen tomorrow and we could lose it all. BUT the fact that there is success at all reminds us of God’s sovereignty. He owns everything and does what He wants. The ability to work is from Him (Deuteronomy 8:18.)
-There is rich theology in taking something small and making it grow into something beautiful, like a mustard seed that grows into a tree. It’s God who said “be fruitful and multiply.” There’s biblical language of that all over the place. If I can only see a pressure washing business as something good and beautiful, I can see my husband at the helm of it as an agent of good.
I'm so grateful God has been liberating me from so much closed-mindedness and from a terrible theology of work.
I'm grateful Peter stuck with me even when I pulled against him instead of strengthening him. I'm grateful to live in America, where entrepreneurship can thrive (even though the amount we're taxed is absolutely stupid.)
I'm grateful for awesome employees, and I'm grateful we live in a town where plenty of people have given this young guy a chance.
I'm grateful for Peter's Pressure Washing, and I would love to see more Christians owning successful businesses---yes, I used that "s" word---without compromising their passion for Jesus and making Him known in the world.
After taking more than a year-long break from Facebook and Instagram, I recently returned to Instagram. I was a little startled by how abruptly some strange habits and thought patterns returned. Whether to my benefit or detriment, Instagram causes some phenomena that don't happen naturally. I don't know if most people struggle with these, but---in case you are also re-evaluating your social media usage---I wanted to share some observations after going a year without, both positive and negative.
Suddenly I wanted to catch up on what my acquaintances have been up to. Have I seen them since middle school? Maybe once or twice. Will I see them again? Probably not. But now that I downloaded an app I'm almost urgently interested in their welfare! Stalking someone on social media is so alluring for the same reason that gossip is so alluring: we gain access to knowledge that doesn't naturally belong to us. We haven't invested in the friendship or necessarily disclosed anything about ourselves to this person, but now all of a sudden we can scroll far down the list and see what her college major was and how many boyfriends she had last year.
I became more body-conscious. Most people who post pictures of themselves on Instagram are photogenic and, well, thin. Looking in the mirror after spending a couple weeks back on Instagram, I felt less attractive than "everybody else" than I usually do; I'm typically content in that department. In the real world, most people around me also have muffin tops, meh clothing, and forgettable hair, and it really doesn't matter. Instagram shows us the most aesthetically pleasing pictures of the batch taken by image-conscious people in their most stylish clothes, on their best hair days, who get praised by the masses for the way they look. I'm not skinny-shaming or fat-shaming anyone here and I'm not even talking about Insta models (I don't follow those.) I was just a little bummed that my self-confidence in my appearance faded so quickly by comparing myself to a skewed sampling of the population.
I started caring, quantitatively, what other people think of me. Unless you're living in Black Mirror's Nosedive episode, people don't evaluate your worth quite so publicly. You don't have a number of followers to quantify how many people are interested in what you have to say. Your shared opinions aren't evaluated by likes. So, in the real world, I'm just trying to communicate with others in the best way I can. On social media, it's difficult not to bend my posts toward what's been well-received in the past. It's harder to be "myself" when I know what parts of "myself" people seem to like more than others.
My inner dialogue increased. I felt more self-aware, introspective, and special/interesting...all in unhealthy ways. It took about six months after quitting social media before I finally stopped crafting captions in my mind, but those habits had no trouble returning when I began posting on Instagram again. Something changes in the way I live when occasionally an experience will produce the thought, "That would be a good post!" And now, with Instagram Stories, there's the added complexity of "Is this worth an actual post or should this just be a lighthearted temporary thing?"
So those are the downsides. But I think I'm going to keep Instagram around. Here's why.
I love being connected with some of the people I don't naturally see often. There are some people (like Lana, Steph, and Rebecca) who I've met only once yet deeply longed to be best friends with, but most of them live in other states. And some people (like Diana, Lauren, and Alex) are dear friends who have moved far away, and though we've been texting pictures of our kids to each other, it's so great being able to see more frequent updates. That's a really beautiful thing about social media: we're able to maintain relationships with people we really do care about.
I am genuinely encouraged by some of the things I see on there. Joy is contagious, and there are some people that I am just seriously happy for. Instagram, unlike Facebook, is generally upbeat and positive. The comments are set up for giving compliments, not for debates. So seeing smile after smile of people that I love and respect, I am happy for them. I'm so grateful that my hard-working friend finally got her Master's or that my friend with photography skills landed a dream job in NYC. I'm so grateful that a woman I know who was struggling with infertility is now expecting her second child. I'm so grateful that another woman I know who was struggling with infertility is speaking openly about how she can still have joy in her pain. Some beautiful truths and stories are being documented on Instagram, and it's a great place where I can "rejoice with those who rejoice."
Instagram Stories are plain ol' fun. I don't think the feeling of walking side-by-side in life with someone via Stories is as dangerously artificial as I thought it would be; it's merely fueling my love for people I already love. (And if people annoy me with their posts, I just unfollow them! Easy.)
Will Smith's instagram is so funny! And he has dropped some major wisdom-bombs when he's being serious. He definitely makes positive contributions to society by his presence on social media. Which brings me to my last point:
The fact of the matter is, people my age live on social media, and I really care about being a blessing to people my age. I don't like how social media leads millennials to to think about marriage, parenting, and---most importantly---Jesus, so if I can paint a different, more attractive picture of those things by having a presence on social media, I certainly want to do that. I want to communicate to the world that I think for myself but I also believe the Bible is completely true. I want to exemplify that a fun-loving 25-year-old can also have four kids and a committed marriage. If a fellow free spirit finds it hard to believe that a life with limitations can be a happy one, I would like to show them with living proof!
Also, though re-entering instagram was initially addicting (I severely lack self-control), a life of scrolling on feeds has lost its charms. I'm pretty convinced that real-life experiences with real people are better. I know that wanderlust is empty and that traveling to cool-looking places isn't going to fulfill me. I know that, for the sake of my mental health and emotional stability, I need to be off the screen more, and I need to stop comparing myself to others. (After all, according to TIME magazine last year, Instagram is the worst social media for mental health.) So hopefully now I can enjoy and use all the beneficial aspects of social media without being ruled by them as I have in the past. And, if not, I can always delete the app for another year or so and try again later.
Hopefully that helps if you're navigating all this! :)
Whelp. My due date came and went. A week ago.
I can't even drive anymore. My belly protrudes so far outward that it touches the steering wheel unless I scoot back my seat...but then my feet can’t safely reach the pedals!
When strangers look at me, they say "Wow, you must be close to having this baby," and I respond, "Yeah, I was due last week." Then they nervously back up a little, as if my water is going to break right that instant and get all over them! Even my brother didn't want to go on a walk with me for fear of that very thing happening to him. That's fine. Fear me, people.
I'll sit in a squat to help my kids put their shoes on, then lose my balance and literally topple over, not unlike a tipped cow. My kids are pretty tired of my big belly, even though they haven't seemed to figure out that my lap doesn't have room for all of them right now. Every day they yell to the baby, "Come out!" and "Get born so you can play with me!", innocently forgetting that newborns can't really do anything and that they won't be able to carry her around on their bikes like they keep saying they will.
My "hobbies" seem to currently consist of drinking water and going to the bathroom. All. Day. Long. My poor bladder has, like, 2 oz capacity right now since my organs have such little room.
My hand-eye coordination has never been good, but nowadays I seem to drop something every day, and it feels like nothing in my cabinets even matches anymore because I've broken so many things.
The other day I found myself on Cheesecake Factory's website, opening up their digital menu, and looking at pictures of cake. Just sitting there at my computer, looking at dessert. I even printed out and laminated a card that contains pictures of Krispy Kreme's donut-making operation to help distract me from the pain while I'm in labor. "Trust the process," it says.
I've had insomnia for 1-4 hours nearly every single night for so many months that I don't even know what it's like to sleep through the night or function at full capacity anymore. Will I ever get my kids' names right on the first try? Has my mind always felt like a paper shredder? (And, of course, the reality of sleepless newborn life will not answer these questions for me anytime soon.)
I've eaten so many boxes of plain Cheerios to stave off nausea that I find them in my clothes when I'm going to bed.
I'm not one to obsess over my appearance or body image, but I'm at the point where I'm alarmed about the sheer quantity of skin I have right now...we're talking a square footage that I can't even comprehend. I've even dreamt about oceans and oceans of skin, my skin, nightmarishly piling on top of each other, limitless. Right now it seems that no amount of fabric can cover all of this stomach anymore, and I've gotten used to my belly peeking out of the bottom of my shirts every day. (I just can't bring myself to be that homeschool mom who always wears a dress.) Also, leggings count as pants right now. Sorry. They have to. I keep promising myself that after this pregnancy, I'm going to go vegan or something and work out for two hours a day. Maybe after I do that, my stretch marks will fade and my mid-section won't still look like I've been clawed by a bear?
I've already given my husband some fiery feminist rants about how it's not fair that he gets to go mountain biking whenever he wants, and that if I was freed up twelve hours a week to exercise after I have the baby, I would look like a body-builder supermodel too. I've told him that I am not going to go through another pregnancy during the summer in Florida, and next time he can join me if he wants but I am not staying here. I burst into tears and started sobbing about how he thinks everything is my fault when he merely told me he couldn't find his favorite jacket. Once, he started to eat an Oreo truffle I had been hiding in the fridge, and I attacked him with such a not-playful ferociousness that he offered to give it back. I saw genuine fear in his eyes in that moment. Later he asked my permission to eat another one, and I---this time in a much kinder frame of mind---welcomed him to do so, but he couldn't bring himself to eat it. I think he was still a little scared. He is one of the strongest and most assertive people I know (and I love that about him), but he has answered my craziness with patience consistently since he's learned a lot about his wife when she's like this.
And, going through this process four times in five years, I've learned a lot too.
I've learned that seasons exist. God built me with limitations, and He designed the season of pregnancy and newborn life to be a particularly limiting one. But this forced slowness of pace is one of the best things that could happen to me, and no amount of productivity could manufacture the beautiful ways He causes me to grow when I feel so constrained or useless. Let me explain.
As I wait for this baby, I have had to keep a very clear schedule. I look at the week on my planner and, aside from our weekly church gatherings and my midwife appointments, I have no plans. Right now I only have one more item on my to-do list...how often does any woman only have one thing left on her to-do list?
So I've had time to do things I don't normally do. I walked around a state park for a few hours and spent prolonged time sitting on a bench and looking at a river. Last weekend, the kids and I finished reading an amazing 1,477-page fantasy series, and we only started it two months ago. I watched a movie with my husband without trying to multi-task during it. I wrote letters to loved ones. In those middle-of-the-night bouts of insomnia, I've had time to sit with my Bible and journal, and pray and read and soak without feeling rushed. Though my mind currently feels a little sub-par when it comes to processing speed, I actually feel like I've had time to focus.
Being in a season of forced slowness has permitted me to see that so many things that I think are a waste of time are merely a submissive acknowledgement that I am a human being, dependent on God and full of all kinds of humbling limits. I think some of my favorite heroes from church history might've set a bad example in this way. It's quite possible that they spent themselves too much, to the detriment of their respective ministries. Even George Muller, Hudson Taylor, and Amy Carmichael---all of whom I so deeply respect---may have had gaps in their theology that led them to believe that God needed them to expend themselves more than they needed to take care of the bodies that He gave them. God, of course, has never needed anyone. I just read in the book of Numbers about a guy who was put to death because he picked up sticks on the Sabbath. The rules have changed since then, of course, but the underlying truth remains that God wants our lives to have a serious awareness of our frailty and need for times of rest.
I'm encouraged to look to the example of Jesus, who found it necessary to spend 30 years doing nothing particularly remarkable. He took the time to retreat from the crowds and pray even when they were demanding Him. He took a nap on a boat when the disciples wished He didn't. He cooked food and He ate. He didn't choose to invest all His time in the lives of crowds but primarily in twelve people, most closely only three. I certainly shouldn't deny my limitations any more than Christ did.
There's no doubt that the hour is urgent. I don't want to waste even one moment of my life. But I'm beginning to suspect that oftentimes, the very thing that causes our growth to be accelerated is when we slow down. It's that familiar backwardness of God's economy! A prime example was when Jesus highlighted that Martha's zipping around the house in service was so less pleasing to Him than her sister Mary's posture of sitting in lingering worship.
Yesterday morning I woke suddenly with a scripture replaying over and over in my head: "Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!" I think God brought Psalm 128:1 to mind because I had gone to bed feeling restless, and I needed to wake up knowing that it's good to walk in His ways. Not zoom, not fly, but walk, slowly yet consistently, like His disciples literally walked with Him from town to town. There will be a time when my days are full of neighbors and soup kitchens and hospitality and going to bed exhausted from good and hard work. But right now it appears that God has brought me into a season full of naps and rest and quietness and a little bit more scarcity. Embracing those seasons can be more difficult than participating in the busier ones. But as I aim to "walk in His ways," I need to be aware of my weak humanity and the need to function at the kind of pace that God sets for me. The two great commandments---love God, love neighbor---don't have quantifiable expectations or time limits, at least not that I know of. The Bible seems to communicate that it's better to walk slowly with Christ than to run in circles for Christ.
So, as I continue to wait on my body and not-yet-born baby to put me into labor---and both parties are frustratingly silent about their plans---I can take comfort knowing that ultimately, of course, it is God who has decided to slow my pace, and His timing is exactly what He intends for it to be. Yes, I'll drink the prune juice and eat the raw pineapple and get labor-inducing interventions as needed, but I can also embrace each day of not really having an agenda, trusting that the growth that comes from the inactivity is enough to prepare me for times when I'm able to do much more. As Jesus reminds us in John 15, I must abide in Him, because apart from Him I can do nothing. Hopefully this can encourage you as well!
And, yeah, please pray the baby is born ASAP. Feel free to ask that my stretch marks go away too 😉
I absolutely love going on walks, and at this point in pregnancy (39 weeks) it’s kind of the only exercise my majorly-protruding body can do. Since we moved to this house three years ago, I had to say farewell to my beloved strolls, as the nearest sidewalk is dangerously close to a busy road, and my walking buddies are three little people who are still learning to obey. I hate feeling limited like that. Earlier this week, I drove 20 minutes to my Mom’s house just so I could briskly walk around her subdivision. I loved seeing her, but the inefficiency of driving so I could walk was painful.
Then one evening, we were all playing in the yard and I was pouting about my lack of exercise, so my husband advised me to “walk around the house.” So I did many, many laps around the house. The next morning, with my husband gone and the kids needing supervision, I directed them to play near the (unlit) fire pit in our backyard, and I decided to walk around them. And I did. A lot. (I recorded it on strava and my tiny, tiny route looks hilarious. The kids and even the cat looked at me like I was a crazy person.)
And it felt great.
Why did it take me so long to figure out that I wasn’t helpless in my desires for exercise just because the typical options (gym/workout video/sidewalk) weren’t available to me right now?
It’s because I, like most people, am a glutton for needlessly placing limits on myself.
Feeling trapped is easier than finding solutions.
Just because I haven’t seen it done means I think it can’t be done.
And that’s a sad place to be.
My husband talks a lot about the difference between settlers and pioneers. (He has an crush on the 1800's.) Being a pioneer was terrifying and hard because, well, the trail wasn’t paved yet. There weren’t books available on what to expect. Parents and grandparents, in all their wisdom and value, couldn’t speak into the particular experience of making their homes in the mysterious western frontier. Instead, the pioneers had to be befriend and rely on people who didn't trust them or speak their language. (And, regrettably, our government and many of the pioneers dealt with the native Americans in terrible and inexcusable ways.)
There were so many unknowns, so many obstacles for which the pioneers could not prepare themselves, so much inevitable failure and pain. The settlers who came in after them were valuable to society too—they were society!—but were it not for the curiosity, boldness, and grit of the pioneers, it’s safe to say the East Coast would be a lot more crowded, and some of the planet’s most breathtaking natural wonders (and most useful natural resources) would remain unknown to the rest of the world.
My husband is of the pioneering sort. I remember feeling so limited when we considered his skills and applied for a ton of jobs, but we couldn’t find anything that fit him. However, with God’s gracious leading, he eventually took a big risk and started a business. He went door to door looking for customers. He sought counsel from other pressure washers and business owners, but there were a lot of solutions he had to figure out on his own...and now he’s the guy that other people are going to for advice. He's thriving in this role. Even a couple weeks ago, he showed me a chemical sprayer apparatus and told me that he completely improvised it. This contraption he made—that works brilliantly—is the only one out there...for now. He’s a pioneer.
I don’t know anyone my age with this many kids and I don’t hear any of my friends talking about how they walk in circles in their backyard to get exercise. But that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong, or that everybody else is wrong. Every person on the planet regular encounters issues of varying significance that no one has taught us how to deal with. This is the first time being a human for all of us. The curtain went up, we were pushed onstage, the show has started, and our lives are being lived, whether we've ever felt ready for it or not. We can choose to despair at our cluelessness or lack of ideal environment. Or we can choose to be excited that we've been thrown onto a Conestoga wagon that’s headed west, and we will need to figure out how to do things that we haven’t seen done before.
If you read this and feel inspired to "find your inner strength" and take on a Me Versus The World mentality, that's not what I'm trying to advocate here. I'm not saying all conventional ideas are bad. I'm not saying the world has nothing to show us. Instead, I'm saying that in humility we can look at our situations and think "I can't handle this on my own. I do not yet know how I am equipped to deal with this. But, for my own sake and those who come after me, I will try." We can acknowledge how stupid it is to not seek God for wisdom (given that, well, He knows and controls all things) and we can find the Sacagaweas in our lives who can show us the way.
You don't need to become a conspiracy theorist to question cultural norms on a big or small scale. Whether you're choosing an alternative method of education, inviting homeless people to your wedding, or eating a cupcake more efficiently, you're looking at your current situation and saying "Status quo won't work here. I need to find the better way." Remember, limitations can be the very tools that help us discover and create beauty.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's a new day, and I need to walk some more miles around my fire pit.
Approaching the birth of my fourth child, I am certainly excited, but I'm definitely feeling nervous, even a bit panicky. This happens every time I'm about to welcome a new child to the family and hit the "reset" button on my stability once again. I thought I would've been more prepared for it, that I would have my act together a little more. But no, I'm being given a huge privilege and responsibility, and I'm still a hot mess. You can probably relate. Maybe you're about to enter a scary new job or you've been given the care of an elderly person when your plate is already full. Maybe you have no idea how you're going to make it through this upcoming season of life.
When we're thinking this way, here's something we can tell ourselves:
An Open Letter to My Despairing Self
Thank you for taking the time to make that list of all the ways that you're ill-equipped for the job you're about to undertake. I don't disagree with it, and I'm sure there are hardships and weaknesses that you've forgotten or haven't thought of yet. It's true that you don't have enough time, that you don't have enough hands, and that you aren't enough. It's quite possible that you'll always feel tired, needy, and maybe a little helpless.
But there are some major things you have failed to remember.
One is that you're getting stronger. Think about the other times you've been overwhelmed by your lot. With each new responsibility you've been given, you felt like you couldn't handle it, but now look! If even one of those is relieved for a time, it feels like you can do anything! Is it because your responsibilities are getting easier? No! It's because you, dear Self, are getting stronger!
Difficulty is not the worst thing that can happen to you, Self! Neediness and insufficiency are not the most destructive feelings you can have. In fact, biblically and historically speaking, pride is the worst thing that can happen to you. The very very worst.
Being faced with your weakness, over and over again, with every instance of short-fused blast of frustration or every poorly-timed breakdown into tears, you are being reminded of your humanity. Yet every new day, every tiny speck of progress that you don't even notice, you are being reminded that you are being held. That you are growing. That you are investing. That you are becoming.
Look at your journals; remember your past. Cries of fear and despair have been spewing from your mind and mouth for years. In fact, cries of fear and despair have been rising up to God since, what, Adam and Eve? But from the very beginning, He has covered His people's nakedness and cared for them. God's faithfulness continues from generation to generation, for thousands and thousands of years. The tender love and mercy that flavor the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is flavoring your story as well.
Self, you will survive this next season. The God who kept Gladys Aylward going as she led a hundred young orphans on a 27-day journey to safety through the China mountains is going to keep you going as well. The God who gave otherworldly confidence to Perpetua as she was torn by beasts then killed by sword as crowds watched and cheered will certainly help you too. The God who strengthened Richard Wurmbrand as he suffered in prison for many years---three of which were in solitary confinement---will be your strength too. They were sustained through their fears, and you will be too.
So you can take quite seriously God's command to not fear. Maybe one day God will call you to that kind of extreme situation, and you will have to trust that He will give you grace in that moment too. But till then, take heart that He is building faith in you. You might envision yourself to be much more self-sufficient ten years from now, but that is a faulty goal. Assuming you continue to grow in wisdom and strength, you will only become more and more aware of your weakness and neediness.
But that awareness, Lord willing, will cause your self-estimation to shrink, and your view of God---and thus your joy, lightheartedness, and yes, confidence---to expand and define you.
Dear Self, as you enter this season---or any season---you must remember Who is holding you, Who has held you, and Who has held every single one of His people for thousands and thousands of years without ever breaking His promise to one of them. Trust Him. Look upward.
And enjoy your new season. Receive it as a gift.
"If you are sufficient for your task, it's too small." -John Piper
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today