Why I Must

I wrote last week about foster care.  And one line of that post has haunted me since.

We do what we must.

I know that not everyone is called to become a foster parent.

I don’t think it’s something that I will do for many years.

But, today, I must.

And here’s why—

I must because I cannot stand the idea of these little ones without a safe place, without a home, without mama-love that is unconditional, even if it is not forever.

I must because it is not their fault.  Not ever.  Just as much as anyone else, they deserve to know every single day that they are treasured and adored.

I must because there are no guarantees in life—not even with our “own” kids.  And today matters.  What we do today matters.

I must because, yes, I am sure that my heart will explode if good-byes are in our future (and I’m terrified that my daughter’s heart will explode too).  And yet somehow, in my better moments, I muster the courage to pray for this.  For healing, for deliverance, for restoration.

And in the rest of my moments, I just pray, “Jesus.”  He’s enough.

I must because when I pleaded with Jesus to just be done, to call life with my beautiful, feisty seven-year-old enough, the word was “one thing.  One thing is necessary.”  (Lk. 10:41-42)

The picture was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet.

And so I sit.

In my living room.

In the doctor’s office.

In the cold lobby of a building where the lighting is too harsh, and so is the reality.

Because Jesus is here.

Because, today, I must.

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The marriage sermon and what it has to do with a single girl

The truth is, it’s easy for me to tune out when the sermon is about marriage.

But surely, surely there is something here for me too.

For a long time, sermons like this made me feel “other,” reinforcing the idea that God’s ideal is marriage then babies the old fashioned way.

And that anything else would be his “second” choice.

But here’s the thing.

Ain’t none of us on God’s first choice.

Single, married, divorced, gay, straight, biological parent, adoptive parent, expectant parent, purposely child-free and everybody else.

We’re all born into a broken world.

We’ve all made choices that we regret.

We’re not living in Eden anymore.

And so this morning I make a note that before Jesus launches into discussion of morality, before he calls his disciples to a higher standard in marriage than the old covenant did, he looks around at the large crowd that has followed him.

And he heals them.

This, I believe, is the beauty of Jesus.

Does he speak with power and conviction?  Absolutely.  Does he call his disciples to radical obedience that is hard for the religious among them to swallow?  Indeed.

But this same Jesus looks with compassion on the multitudes.  He sees the brokenness.

Our brokenness.

Of marriages attacked on every side.

Of men and women struggling to break family patterns of unhealthy relationships.

Of the ones rejected, abandoned, cast aside.

Of single girls who are tired of feeling less than.

And he heals them.

He heals us.

Today, I’m thankful that my faith isn’t about first or second or fifty zillionth choices.

It’s not about faking Eden.

It’s about owning the brokenness.  Opening to the healing.

And living in the beautiful mess that is redemption.

I could never

I am a foster parent.

When people learn this, their first reaction is very often, “Wow.  Good for you!  I could never do that.”

I think I know what they mean.

It’s not that they actually couldn’t do it… anyone that is relatively healthy and has a home could be a foster parent.

I think they mean what I mean when I say, “I could never do that.”

About the mama who has more babies in heaven than she does on earth.

And the family grieving the loss of a dream in the face of a hard diagnosis.

And the wife who holds her husband’s hand through his terminal illness.

And the friends, the true friends, who show up even (especially) when there is nothing left to do but just show up.

It’s not that we actually couldn’t do it.

We do what we must.

I think what we really mean when we say, “I could never,” is that you are incredibly brave.

What you are doing matters.

It is hard.  And messy.  And complicated.

It is important.  And redemptive.

And so, today, when someone tells me they could never do what I am doing, I choose not to launch into all of the reasons why they absolutely could be a foster parent.

I choose instead to hear these words of validation.

And to speak them to you—mama, wife, friend.

You are incredibly brave.

What you are doing matters.

It is hard.  And messy.  And complicated.

It is important.  And redemptive.

Go on ahead and rock it.

Easter Saturday

(Originally written about 4 years ago.  Today, I feel the redemption ache of Easter Saturday just as strongly as I ever have.)

For Christians, holy week is all about remembering and celebrating. There’s Maundy Thursday when we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, Good Friday when we remember his trip to Golgotha and the dark day of his death. And then, of course, there’s Easter Sunday when we celebrate the miracle of resurrection. All of this remembering and celebrating is good, but I wonder why we never give a second thought to Saturday. Plain old, ordinary Saturday… that pause, that middle place between what may well be the most terrible day in history and the most triumphant. 

The Bible is almost silent on the events of Saturday. Three of the gospels never mention it at all, and Matthew tells us only that Saturday was the day when Jesus’ grave was reinforced and guarded to avoid a resurrection scam by his desperate followers. I wonder where the disciples were on Saturday… what they were doing and what they were thinking. I imagine that there was a lot of grief, a lot of effort made to go through the motions of normal life. I imagine feelings of disappointment and betrayal (“we thought this guy was the Messiah… where is the kingdom that he promised?”). Maybe there was a twinge of hope flitting about the edge of their consciousness, but I hardly believe this was the prevailing emotion of the day. 

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe we see Saturday a bit differently. We know what’s coming, so the expectation is palpable. The grief is real, the terror is real… but it is not the end. We believe, we know, that death will be swallowed up in victory. But still, Saturday is a waiting time. 

If I’m honest, I have to admit that much of my life is spent living like it’s Saturday. I believe that redemption is possible… that individuals and families and communities and social structures can change. I believe that mercy can triumph over judgment. I believe that grace and healing and deliverance are real and that they are powerful. I pray for these things. I work for them in the ways that I think are best. But I still find myself in the middle place where reality and expectation collide, where life experience and future hope aren’t always woven together as seamlessly as I would like them to be. 

And I think that this is ok. Is it important to linger at the cross and experience the depth of darkness that Good Friday brings? I think so. Is it important to linger at the empty tomb and revel in the miracle of Easter Sunday? Absolutely. But I think that the pause in between is important too. If we want to take our faith seriously, I think we must learn how to live well on Saturday. 

When Childhood Needs a Little More Magic

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This article has been blowing up my newsfeed lately.  Apparently it resonates with a lot of parents, and if I had had come to motherhood differently, I may have “liked” it myself and moved on.  But, alas, my journey to being a mom came via the road less travelled, and I feel compelled to lend a different voice to the discussion.

Childhood is supposed to be magical.  Ok.  Pinterest makes people crazy.  Yep.  But leaving aside the 22% of American children living under the poverty line (often more concerned with survival than magic) things are not always as they seem.

I spent a good chunk of time after becoming a mom trying to convince myself that parenting is parenting is parenting.

It’s not.

Some of us are parenting children who have lived both too much and not enough in their short years.

Some of us are parenting children who must learn unlearn unhealthy independence to learn dependence to learn healthy independence.

Some of us are parenting children who battle physiological impulses that make emotional regulation hard and, in some moments, actually impossible.

Some of us are grieving the days and months and years we lost with our children and endeavoring mightily to make up for lost time.

Some of us are parenting children who need a little (or a lot) more magic in their lives.

And so…

What looks like babying might be building secure attachment.

What looks like micromanagement might be creating situations where a child can interact successfully.

What looks like extravagance might be creating a family story that runs deeper than blood.

What looks like spoiling might be a visual promise that there will never again be too little.

What looks like manufacturing magic might be learning that it is ok to be a kid.

My point is not that we should all obsess over Pinterest, overschedule our kids and give them lots of toys.

My point is precisely that because our kids are different, we should not ALL do anything.

Except maybe smile.

And tell that other mama that she’s doing a good job too.

Are we asking the wrong question?

I am a firm believer that God is big enough to handle all of our questions.  All of our doubts.  All of our emotions.

And that any kind of communication with God is better than no communication.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  I’ve heard a lot of sermons, read a lot of books.

And the truth is, when bad things happen to good people (though I know all the “right” things to say) the question that always bubbles to the surface is why.

Why, God?

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples happened upon a blind man, a beggar.

Why?  The disciples asked.

Why is this man blind?  Or, maybe, why is he mooching off those of us with real jobs?  Did he sin?  Was it his parents?

Their why was demanding, accusatory.

They were looking for a cause.

Jesus was less concerned with the cause (though he made a point to let his disciples know that it was neither the man’s sin nor his parents’).

Jesus answered the why question with an eye toward purpose.

Why is this man blind?  So that the work of God may be displayed in his life.

Cause is they why of the past.  The why that can’t be changed.  The why of chromosomal abnormalities, of horrible wasting diseases, of innocence lost, of senseless tragedy.

Purpose is the why of the present and the future.  The why with restorative power.

Why?  So that God’s work can be displayed.

Through miraculous, sudden healing.

Or through learning to live without it.

The most beautiful people I know are not the ones who refuse to ask.

The ones who pretend that everything is ok.

No.

The most beautiful people I know are the brave ones.  The broken ones.  The real ones.  The ones who question and feel and press into the why seeking purpose.

The most beautiful ones, along with our blind man, are the ones who emerge from the trial with hard-earned stories of grace and faithfulness.

3 Parenting Books I’m Glad I Read (and a bonus!)

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Since I’ve become a mom, I’ve read just about every parenting book I can get my hands on.  Most of them are forgettable.  A few, I’ve yelled at because they are just plain wrong.  But here are three parenting books that I’m glad I read:

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

With specific strategies for helping kids integrate their left (logical) and right (emotional) brains and their “upstairs” (rational thinking) and “downstairs” (fight, flight, freeze) brains, this book had me hooked from the start.  The authors go on to suggest ways to help kids process memories (even traumatic ones) into the stories of their lives, to help them see the many parts of their personality, and to develop empathy by looking at things from someone else’s perspective.  In addition to the information for parents, there are pages with little comic strips that you can share with your kids.  I shared the pages on “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain with my daughter (age 7), and she grasped the concept immediately.  If nothing else, this gives us a common vocabulary to use when talking about behavior—and she loved the idea of me sharing something that I learned in my “grown up” book with her.  Definitely worth a read (especially for parents of kids who have experienced early trauma).

Nutureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

This one is not at all parent-specific, and I would have read and appreciated it as a teacher (and a lover of sociological research—aka a dork!) before I became a mom.  Nurtureshock basically challenges the traditional understanding of “what’s good for kids.”  With chapters on praise (too much), sleep (too little), talking about race (way too little—at least for white parents), gifted programs (too many), and play (too little) among other topics, this book just about covers it all.  It will definitely give you something to think about.

Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest

I thought this might be a book about whittling toys for your kids and extreme couponing (ain’t nobody got time for that!).  Instead, it’s a quick read that gives modern mamas permission to do what works for your family.  It’s all about getting rid of things that you don’t need (expectations, obligations and possessions) to make room for the ones that you love.  After reading this, I tried out the authors’ suggestion of making a “More and Less List.”  It’s a simple way to start thinking about saving time, energy and money for the things that matter.

And, as promised, here’s my bonus recommendation:
Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster

Y’all know I love Richard Foster, right?!  In this book, Foster goes through models of simplicity in the Old Testament, the New Testament and Christian tradition before laying out some suggestions for how to embrace simplicity today.  Not a parenting book in the traditional sense of the word (though I have struggled with the weight of “too much” more as a mom than ever before), this one is the best of the bunch… a must-read, people, a must-read!

What parenting books (traditional or otherwise) are you glad you’ve read?