Home, Sweet, Home

DesomondTutuTwo weeks ago, my kids headed off to school. One week later they were back home, sick with the first round of school-bourne illnesses. I got the call from the school nurse around 11:30. My eight-year-old son had a fever—slight—but just enough to send him home. By bedtime, the rest of us were beginning to show signs too. Unfortunately, it was the kind of sickness that was just bad enough to make you miserable but not bad enough to knock you out completely. The kind where you can’t muster enough energy to go about your normal routine but you’ve still got enough energy to bicker and fight. The kind that brings out the worst in you—irritability, whining, helplessness.

And that was just me.

As difficult as last week was, I found that it reminded me of the importance of home. Stripped of the externals–the housekeeping, the pinterest projects, the car pools–the purpose of home became clearer; the fundamental purpose of the home is to teach us how to live in relationship with God and with each other. Every day, as we interact with our spouses, parents, children, aunts, and cousins, we are learning the basics of how to interact with other human beings. So when my family is at our worst; when we are not loving or kind or patient; when we have “one of those” weeks, I remember exactly what I am fighting for.

In philosophy, there is a concept called “moral proximity.” Moral proximity says that we owe our greatest responsibility to those closest to us. So when the Scripture says you are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” it is teaching you both how to love and who to love. You are to love whom ever God has providentially placed in your life. The genius of Home is that it teaches you how to do this by putting you in close (difficult, irritating) quarters with people who are committed to loving you as well.

Because here’s the rub: Loving people close to you, loving your neighbor, is often more difficult than loving those at a distance. It is easier to love those whose quirks you don’t have to live with, whose Legos weren’t left all over the family room floor (again), who don’t take your hard work for granted. Learning to love those close to you means learning to love in the face of frustration. For my children, this means figuring out how to love their siblings who irritate them and learning to love mommy and daddy who tell them to do things they don’t like.

When the young lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable about moral proximity. In it, both the priest and the Levite fail to show true love because they fail to love the person right in front of them. But the opposite is also true. If today, we learn to love our closest neighbor, the people in our own homes, chances are we’ll be able to love another neighbor when we pass him in the road.

Trust me, our family has our share of bickering and meanness. This last week proved it. But every time I find myself refereeing, every time I get overwhelmed by the work, the sheer work of discipline and correction, I think about my kids’ futures. I remember that the boy who dismisses his mother and sister today will likely dismiss his wife some day too. The girl who pouts and whines to get her way will likely grow up to be a woman who manipulates others in her workplace and church.

But.

But children who learn to love today, children who see grace and kindness and peace modeled, children who are expected to offer grace and kindness and peace in return—these children will flourish. They will flourish because by learning to love the people closest to them they will also learn to love their neighbor as themselves. So that when they finally do fly away, when they leave the safety of home for broader society, the world be a better place because of them.

Getting Married for All the Wrong Reasons

My husband and I have been married for 13 years, and we’ve spent 10 of those years in “ministry.” During this time, we’ve seen the most unlikely relationships blossom into beautiful, fruitful marriages; we’ve also witnessed the disintegration of more marriages than I care to think about. And that’s nothing to talk of the pain and confusion we’ve experienced in our own.

It’s no secret that our society struggles with sustaining faithful, happy marriages. And yet, no one wants to go through a divorce; no one enters marriage with the goal of simply exiting it. As a result, there’s a lot of competing advice about what you should do prior to marriage in order to make yours successful. Some folks tell you to wait until you’re “sure” and others advise getting married young. Truthfully, though, I don’t think the problem is when we get married so much as why we get married. A lot of us are getting married for all the wrong reasons.

So, if you’re not married already, here are a few things to consider:

1. Do not get married simply to get married. For some folks, the idea of marriage is more important than the individual they are marrying. Do not marry a woman because you want to be a “husband;” and please, do not marry a man simply because you want to be a “wife.” If you want to “play house,” buy one of these instead.

2. Do not get married because you don’t know what else to do with yourself. Back in the day, we called it “senioritis”—that mysterious illness that descends late in college and leads to the unexpected pairings of those not already invested in a serious relationship.  Now, I realize that trends change; fewer and fewer folks are getting married right after college. But the phenomenon still exists. Folks reach a point in life where they’re not entirely sure of the next step so, in lieu of patience, they commit themselves to the most demanding and significant decision Of. Their. Entire. Lives.

3. Do not get married because it’s expected. Maybe it’s pressure from family or a church culture that idolizes marriage. Maybe it’s the notion that says once you begin a serious relationship, you can’t leave it. In a day when weddings are a $161 billion industry; when planning one takes upwards to a year; when deposits are signed, reservations made, and announcements sent months in advance, it takes a lot of maturity to walk away from a troubled relationship before walking down the aisle. It’s also exactly the kind of maturity you’ll need once you do.

4. Do not get married simply because you’re “in love.”  By “love” I mean that complicated feeling of attraction and desire that may or may not be based in reality. While I’d never encourage someone to marry without it, attraction alone is not enough because attraction can be rooted in a whole host of factors, including the fact that someone doesn’t challenge us or push us outside our comfort zone. The truth is that we tend to “love” people who “love” us regardless of whether we’re good for each other or not.

5. Do NOT get married to fix something in your own character.  Over the years, I’ve discovered that this is by far the worst possible (and I mean, the very worst possible) reason to get married. Maybe you’re a man struggling with sexual temptation and you believe that marrying a “good” girl will somehow solve it, that somehow her purity will make you pure. Or maybe you’re a woman desperate for affirmation so you marry the first man who gives you a second glance. Here’s the problem: you take your issues with you into marriage. Simply changing your relationship status will not solve them; another person cannot solve them. Only Jesus can. And while He may choose to do it in marriage, He doesn’t need marriage to make you holy.

If you’re like me, you might have gotten married for some, if not all, of the wrong reasons. Thankfully, God is bigger than our mistakes and His grace is kinder than our failures. He’ll use your marriage for good. Because here’s the thing: ultimately, marriage isn’t only about us. It’s about something much bigger. Marriage is one way that God is reconciling the world to himself. It is one way he is making “every sad thing come untrue.”

So why should you get married?

You should get married if God leads you to someone with whom you can make this world a better place–a better place than you could alone.

It’ll be someone who shares your goals and values. It will be someone who complements your weaknesses and who already exhibits maturity and faithfulness. It will be someone who’ll work side-by-side with you to cultivate your place in this world and nurture the generations to come. And it will be someone you can trust to grow old with you. Because, when it comes to marriage, there’s a rumor that the best is yet to be.

 

 

Hard Labor

If you hang around the mommy blogosphere at all, you’re probably familiar with the “mommy missive”–posts written to encourage women who find themselves in the daily grind of washing dishes and wiping bottoms and wondering if this is all there is to life. As a mom, I’ve benefited from such posts; I’ve also written my fair share of them. But on this Labor Day 2014, I’m wondering about something. I wonder if in our efforts to encourage moms, we’re missing an opportunity to turn their eyes to the bigger picture.

Don’t get me wrong. Motherhood is a tiring, thankless job. I’ve spent the last 10 years doing it and for 7 of those years, I didn’t know what 8 hrs of sleep felt like. I rarely had time to think, let alone read, write, or pray. I often wondered whether what I was doing was worth it, and secretly vowed to get my hands on whoever drew all those pretty pictures of mothers sweetly rocking their children to sleep. At least for me, the “domestic life” wasn’t a quiet, civilized experience. The minute I became a mother, I became a lion tamer. I was the one doing the domesticating.

Still, I wonder if in our encouragement to mothers, we might have developed a touch of socio-economic myopia. In our attempts to support each other, have we ignored other types of difficult work? Have we so hallowed this calling that we’ve failed to remember that many, many people work quiet, thankless, exhausting jobs? Many, many people struggle through their days wondering if they’re going to make it. And many, many people feel like failures.

I’m concerned that we might be losing the ability to imagine other people’s difficulties because we’ve become so consumed with our own. I can say this because I’ve done it myself. The other day I realized that while I’ve been very careful to teach my children to thank God for their daily bread, I haven’t been as careful to teach them to thank Him for the people He used to provide it.

Think about this: In order for most of us to serve our family something as basic as green beans, they must first be

  1.  planted and tended by a farmer who was in the field long before his children were awake;
  2.  picked by a migrant worker far from his native home and culture;
  3.  processed in a plant by a minimum wage employee;
  4.  transported to the store by a trucker who spends days and weeks away from home;
  5.  (who stopped to buy fuel from a gas station attendant working the graveyard shift);
  6.  stocked by a man trying to support his family while he works his way through school;
  7.  sold by a single mom working as a cashier;
  8. and bagged by a retiree who mistakenly thought his retirement plan would be enough to get by.

Being a mom is challenging. And yet, how often do we, the very people who should have the most empathy for those doing quiet, thankless work, pass by these same people without a moment’s thought because we’re absorbed with our own angst. If motherhood has taught us anything, it is how to work faithfully behind the scenes–to find God in the moments when no one else sees, to work for an audience of One, and to embrace the calling, whether it’s laundry or processing green beans, as from His hand. So motherhood also teaches us to be the first to celebrate those who work faithfully at their own callings, no matter what they may be.

Because, in the end, this is how any of us find peace and stability in our work. We find peace and stability by embracing it because God has given it to us–not because our work is more (or less) important or more (or less) difficult than anyone else’s. And when we do embrace our work as from God, we accept the challenges that are unique to it, working for the joy of the calling—His calling. And ultimately we continue in our work the same way that everyone else does: by His grace and by believing that He rewards quiet, faithful service.

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Today’s post was adapted from the archives and was originally posted on 08.18 12

Beautiful in His Time

132Just a few minutes ago, I sent all three of my kids off to school together. Yes, my baby officially packed up his book bag and shipped out to Kindergarten. And while this does nothing to change the fact that I am still (and will always be) their mother, it does signal a change of season for me. At least for this year, between the hours of 8:00-2:15, I will not be accompanied by the constant presence of someone under four feet tall. This has not happened in ten years.

Truthfully, though,  I’m not exactly sure what to do with myself.

One thing I do hope to do is catch up on some quiet space. For the last decade, I haven’t been able to give myself to prayer or Bible study without half-listening in the background for “Mommy, I need….” This isn’t problem–life naturally cycles through different stages–and I’ve learned to I take great comfort in what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once told a group of medical students who complained that they didn’t have time for prayer and Bible Study:

I am a doctor. I have been where you are. You have time for what you want to do. I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.

But now, I am officially no longer a mother of preschool-aged children. (*sniff*) And that means learning to steward my time in different ways. In fact, I won’t be surprised if it’s as much a learning curve for me as kindergarten will be for my son.

Still, I want to say something to all you mothers who do have preschool-aged children: Stay strong in your love. Love these little ones and these little years because they slip by more quickly than you can imagine. Your life is very full right now. So full that you can hardly see the road ahead over all the sippy cups and diaper bags and potty charts. But this too will come to an end, and when it does, you will be thankful for these years.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be plenty of “could’ves, would’ves, and should’ves.”  These are the natural result of caring as much as you do. But when it is time, when you start giving away the baby paraphernalia, it will be okay. It will be okay because you know that something–Someone–greater than you has been directing these seasons. And just like you’re ready for autumn after the joys of summer; and just like you can’t wait for the first winter’s snow fall, you will be ready for the next season. You’ll be ready for it because You know the faithfulness of the God who brings it.

So embrace the time at hand, whether that means sending little ones off to their first day of kindergarten or sending them off college. Embrace the time at hand because you know it comes from His hand. Because when you know this, you will be free to live fully in it, hallowing it as a sacred gift. You will be free to look to the past with joy and look on into the future with hope–the hope that the One who created time makes it all so very, very beautiful in His time.