You guys, I think it’s spring in Minnesota. It’s been sunny and warm lately, so sometimes I can open the windows… If it snows again, I will cry. I’m still not entirely recovered from the polar vortex of the last winter. Since it’s been so nice, I took Annie outside to inspect the daffodil bulbs I transplanted to the front of the house in September, and then I found $20. (This actually happened.)

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Aaron experienced an unfortunate injury during the installation of our floor which resulted in our second-ever marital ER trip, but he is on the road to recovery and we’re almost done! It’s amazing how much this improvement is boosting my overall mood and outlook on life, and it’s been extremely nice to be excited about how our home looks again. I was not prepared for how discouraging it would be to move from the hard-won glories of our old house to the not-so-glorious interior of this one. I tried a lot of I-have-it-better-than-95%-of-people-everywhere-so-stop-thinking-about-aesthetics mind games during the past year, but when a beautiful home is an option, it’s a good thing and it feels good to be working towards that glory again. Isn’t this a better look than unfinished hardwoods with plywood patches?

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Confession: We broke down and procured an annoying plastic singing toy for the baby, on loan from some friends. We’re hoping it’s temporary, but man… this thing is extremely useful.

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[Finances] I am still mulling over the points from Generosity Begins At Home by David Mathis. Being excessively disciplined about money, mostly out of necessity, for the entire 6.5 years of our marriage has brought some weird baggage to our lives. While frugality is often wise, it can be abused just as much as frivolity. We are the sort of people who err on the side of all things too-responsible, and we’ve had to remind each other that frugality is not the greatest good in life. It’s been nice to have some conversations along these lines:

A simplistic view of money — whether focusing only on its power for good, or merely on its potential for ill — misses the texture of the biblical portrait. How, then, do we move toward getting this balance better in our lives? And in particular, how to we go about using money to magnify our global God while not neglecting or minimizing the temporal needs of those to whom God has entrusted us? ….As tempted as we might be to think that pinching pennies at every point, and then sending our savings to the gospel front lines overseas, is the inescapably Christian practice, there is something to be said for our generosity beginning at home. Which is not to say, indulge your personal comforts, but forgo them for the sake of demonstrating care and concern for your spouse and children.

When it comes to details, I’m the free spirit in our house (Annie may be with me on this, though?) but it works best when I do the taxes, so that’s how we roll. Tim Challies asks Do You Pay Your Taxes Joyfully? And I must say… now that I straightened out Aaron’s work withholdings, we qualify for some fabulous new credits after the birth of a child, and have very little self-employment income, YES, IT MIGHT BOTHER MY CONSTITUTIONAL SENSIBILITIES BUT OVERALL IT IS EXTREMELY JOY-INDUCING TO SEE THOSE GREEN “RETURN” NUMBERS ON MY TURBO TAX STATEMENT. For the first time ever, I think.

[Theology] We have been talking oh-so-much this month about the vital importance of women knowing theology. I have been so pleased to see a few articles on this topic popping up, as I think adequately educating both genders is an area where most churches really fall off the wagon (whether intentionally or not).
Moms Need Theology Too, by Christina Fox. 

While books with practical tips are useful for some things, the hope they provide can be short-lived. In truth, it is in theology, in our study of who God is and what he has done, that gives us the real hope, real wisdom, and real peace that we need in our lives — the kind that lasts. It’s theology — knowing God — that anchors us in the chaos of motherhood.

Three Reasons Women Need Good Theology, by Alyssa Poblete. 

“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.” …Why did he wish to dissuade women from pursuing a better understanding of Scripture? Don’t we believe “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)?

[Infertility] I’m very thankful that in my struggles to have a baby, I was not forced to look down the barrel of Artificial Reproductive Technologies. I’m also very thankful that I knew a lot about the topic before having a baby became a struggle, because I already knew where the boundaries of acceptable intervention would be. Most people don’t think about the ethics of IVF or other procedures until they are sitting in a specialists office, desperate for a child after years of devastating heartbreak. That doctor’s office is not the best place to start making decisions with such significant ethical ramifications. So, I talk about it now because I want other people to look at this topic before they are in a position to maybe utilize it themselves. I think Joy Pullman’s article in The Federalist, Four Questions About the Fertility Industry’s Lack of Oversight, poses some important points for discussion.

[Beauty] I love this computer wallpaper! 

[Reading] 
I’m reading Hannah Anderson‘s book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image. So far it’s the perfect blend of thoughtful, challenging, enjoyable, and (the best part) written in just the right-size increments that I can pick it up knowing I might get interrupted again soon.

[Listening] 

Anonymous 4: Abide With Me
Folk for Kids playlist on Spotify. 
I’m also on the hunt for some podcasts, so let me know if you have any recommendations!


Happy weekend!

[What We’re Up To] 
This has been a fairly out-of-control few weeks. My grandmother recently passed away, so Annie and I spent over a week in Michigan for the funeral, and came  home with wicked colds. I’m still not entirely recovered, probably due to her waking up congested/crabby/hungry 4-6x every night for the past several weeks. We’re surviving, but we’re also wearing our pajamas for several days in a row and the house is a complete disaster. (As in, “it’s a good thing no one is calling CPS on us” dirty.) But! The disarray is also here because we’ve got stuff pulled out all over the place to prepare for installing the new floor in the whole upstairs starting this weekend! Then we’ll use a gift card and go out to eat, because making progress on DIY projects and not having to cook speaks love and romance to me in so many ways. Aaron is a good man and he knows this about me.


Annie is now six months old, so in celebration we presented her with an exciting, but not quite age-appropriate, toy. Max understands it better than she does. (And now that enough time has passed and I’m sure my thoughts on the whole thing are not crazy, or at least they haven’t changed with this much perspective, I may get brave/annoyed enough to share some *non-graphic* thoughts on the “birth culture” in America.)

[Valentine’s Reading]
My all-time favorite treatise on love and finding contentment with the simpler life is The Romance of Domesticity, written by the husband-half of one of my all-time favorite couples.
Despite a few nagging theological differences, I think a series on marriage from a while back at Like Mother, Like Daughter really hit the nail on the head for me. I was very encouraged to know we’re building something of spiritual value in marriage, even before we had kids, and even when building up marriage and each other comes at the expense of other “good” things. Now, this can be taken WAY TOO FAR, and I think the book below provides some balance to that, but there were some encouraging thoughts found here. 

[Books]
I’m reading You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, which can be purchased on their website or downloaded free in PDF format. (I chose the free PDF.) I really appreciate the focus on the Kingdom of God instead of the glorification of marriage, which is what usually oozes out of stuff I read. If I hear one more thing about how the primary key to Christian life is “Building a Marriage-Centered Family” or something like that without this balance, I might scream. (It’s dangerous and idolatrous.) Instead, I’m finding this very refreshing:

You are more than a spouse. If you have been blessed with kids, you are more than a parent. You have a unique role in the Kingdom of God, and he has great works for you to do… For some of you, it isn’t about the “Christian Bubble,” it’s just the plain old idolatry of the family. I want you to seriously ask yourself: Do I spend more time focusing on being a good spouse and parent, or more time focusing on being a godly person?

[Science] 
This excellent Ted Talk asks, “Can You Feed 9,000,000,000 People?” and goes over much of the truth the “organic” crowd misses when they condemn GMO crops. I’d ask any of my friends to thoroughly examine these claims before condemning genetic engineering in crop science.

[Music] 
Mostly classical and nerdy this week…
The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, BMV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

[Fun]
One-Star Book Reviews are just plain fun. As I think about children’s literature, I can’t help but appreciate the kindly reviewer for The Flopsy Bunnies: “The focus on killing baby bunnies and fighting over what to do with their bodies once they were dead, wasn’t very child friendly.” Duly noted.
These New Titles For Children’s Books (Based Entirely On Their Covers) is providing much entertainment here. My favorites? “Whoever Is On That Boat Is About To Be Disemboweled,” and “When The Colorblind Decorate.” Maybe “Midget Girl Adopts Satan’s Puppy,” too.
Unrelated to kids’ reading, Elizabethan Superheros is also worthy of a few chortles.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy weekend!

“Any day now, any day…” The words we have been hearing every day for over a month are starting to sound like a broken record. Only it’s not a record that’s broken, it’s my grandma: a vibrant, beautiful, brave, eternal soul suffering a cancer that steals her strength, and will entirely devour her mortal flesh soon. Possibly even before I hit “publish” on this post.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry.
Wendell Berry says there is freedom from worry in considering the animals, who “do not tax their life with forethought of grief.” Aaron calls this poem a modern retelling of Matthew 6: Do not worry about your life, look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies, God will take care of you, and all that.  When fear for what our lives and our children’s lives may become grips us, it is wise to, basically, get some perspective, chillax, and stop thinking about what bad things might happen. My dog doesn’t do much worrying (except for the whereabouts of that blasted tennis ball lost in a snowbank outside the local elementary school), and he is a much happier creature than I. Sometimes it is good to learn from animals and quell anxiety. But I am not an animal, I am a person, and someone I have loved my whole life is dying in long-drawn agony. I have forethought of this grief because I am human, and because I am fallen. I suffer because I know there is pain now, and because there will be a empty spot for my Grandma in the rest of my entire life.

This forethought of grief subconsciously works itself out in my domestic endeavors. I must finish the baby blanket for my new niece, so I steal a few moments to knit a row here and there. Watching the yarn turn in to a blanket is soothing: A long string that would tangle without care can become something lovely, meaningful, and warm. We’ve had a steady stream of freshly-baked bread in the kitchen for weeks and have eaten more homemade pizza in the last month than we had in all of 2014. It is such a simple thing to watch yeast dough rise, sprinkle flour on my counter, feel the springy dough folding under my hands. When you know how this works it doesn’t require much thought, and maybe that’s why I like it right now. My grandma showed me how to do this the first time, and knowing that my family now eats bread because she taught me to bake seems like an everyday testimony to the Resurrection: Life is just a portion of eternity, and death is not, really, a permanent end. She is a soul and her life continues in eternity. And because she spent her life loving and building up others, the beauty of her life does not end with her death, either.

The fact that my day is full of fore-thought-grief doesn’t change the simple routines that close it: Later than we both would like, Aaron comes home. The dog licks and wags his tail, and then sits under the table. Bread dips into soup. The baby passes back and forth between our laps. She keeps reaching for our plates, enjoying the mushed up carrot and bread we offer her. She is kissed, tickled, fed, wiped down from head to toe, diapered, and snugly wrapped for bed. We spent years praying for her before she arrived, and at bedtime we still pray, asking God to give her health, growth, strength, and siblings.

My name is Abigail Rebecca, and I sing my daughter, Anne Rebecca, to sleep:
Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me
Bless Thy little lamb tonight
Through the darkness, be Thou near me
Keep me safe ’til morning light. 

I listen to hear her breathing. She’s congested and sometimes she struggles a bit to inhale. So I hold my breath along with her and wonder if I should just sit on the big chair with her all night. She might sleep better if I hold her upright. Her well-being is more important than my comfort or desire to sleep well tonight.

A full day’s drive away, in a living room I know well, my mother, Katrina Rebecca, leans over her mother, Rebecca Belle, performing duties much like mine. We are both tasked with keeping someone clean, comfortable, and freshly changed, receiving only grunts and moans for direction. She also listens to labored breathing and wonders how to provide the best care. Maybe she sings lullabies, too. But where I pray that my daughter will be healthy and well when I pluck her out of the crib tomorrow, we all hope that maybe Grandma will reach the safety of the eternal light before morning. Is that wrong? How much of this can a person bear?

That question was heavy in the news lately, when a younger woman suffering (in the most appropriate use of that word) from cancer proudly took her own life, in a misplaced effort to take back the control cancer had stolen from her.  Every death is awful and ugly, but I certainly think this must be one of the kinds that tops them all. How much of this can a person bear? How great will the suffering be? How long, oh Lord?

The modern euthanasia movement proclaims they advocate for “death with dignity.” They are wrong. In the English language, dignity means having a high sense of propriety, of self-respect, and appreciating the gravity of an occasion or situation. So dignity is not found in control or comfort, but in respect for what is given, and appreciating all that it can become when handled rightly. A strand of yarn knit into a blanket. A scoop of flour kneaded into a loaf of bread. A cancer diagnosis faced and fought until the end. Even in profound suffering, dignity is not about valuing personal comfort above what is right. Dignity does not eschew the pain and embarrassments fraught in the process of dying. Instead, it loudly proclaims that all life is a gift and that suffering, no matter how great, does not diminish an iota of it’s value and beauty.
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Becca Niemi holding Annie Hummel, five weeks. September 2014.

Cancer will soon take enough to kill this woman. It would not make her death more dignified to take even more from her before then. Instead, the most dignified thing to do is to sink in to this grief, both before and after she dies, and honor a life conducted well in health and in illness. Though grief does tax, the right kind of grief can only clarify and increase the blessing of knowing a beautiful woman who personified dignity, demonstrating in the most tangible way possible that weakness and dishonor in death only magnify the glory and power of the Resurrection.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. …Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15. 
 —
Rebecca Niemi died at home on January 27, 2015, during the writing of this blog post. Her obituary can be read here, and the audio of her January 31 funeral service is here.

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reading round-up returns!

books, christianity, DIY, grief, life, weekend

[What We’re Up To]
This week started with Aaron home for the MLK holiday, so we painted the ceilings in the entire upstairs of the house, and then spent a huge (for us) amount of money purchasing new flooring for the main floor. We’re cutting off the bottom of our door casings to prepare for the installation, and Max is extremely helpful in his supervisory role.
photo 1Aaron is working even more than he did during his PhD, which makes for very rough days and sloooow progress on the DIY front, but when we actually can work on a project, it’s a great way to spend time together and (bonus) have a better-looking house.

We also had a noteworthy birthday for Aaron — the big 30! — celebrated with his favorite dessert, Guinness Cake. I had forgotten he didn’t like icing on it, so now I am left with an entire bowl of homemade frosting in the fridge. Forget the “Whole30 Food Challenge” so many people are doing in January… I’m just trying not to gain a Whole 30 Pounds lick-by-lick off the spatula.

[Surfing the Web] 
Mommy-Blogs: There’s a big thing I wondered about how motherhood would change me: would I start enjoying “Mommy Blogs”? After five months, the answer is still NO.  I know now that wasn’t  that I couldn’t read them because I was so sad about not having a baby myself… It was just that, beyond the fact of my own desires to have a baby, I still thought reading regular things about other people’s kids were kind of boring. Every so often I’ll find an article or post that resonates, like They Should’ve Warned Me, which beautifully mirrors my own experiences with a baby, but I still skip posts about “basic updates on pregnancy and child growth/development.”  I do really, really like kids, I just don’t find it particularly noteworthy or entertaining that some stranger’s five month old can roll over. (I, of course, gush over Annie’s milestones to my mother on a near-daily basis.) I also have problems with monetized mommy blogs, which usually make me feel like the child’s privacy has been violated, and I don’t see the point of making money because you took pictures of your kids eating spaghetti or something like that. Hannah Anderson’s article on “Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere” communicates some of my previously unarticulated frustrations about how often legalism flourishes in that setting, with a noted lack of sound theology and critical thinking in most cases.
Life and Death: I thought we would have some family funerals this year, and three weeks in to 2015, I’m on pins and needles expecting to hear of our second family loss. I’m still chewing through some of the thoughts on A Far Green Country: Looking Past Uncertainty Towards Eternity. And This post about how life is like a pregnancy and death is a birth is just… profound.
Christianity and Education: No matter where formal education takes place in our family, the curriculum will include a strong emphasis on formal logic and the creeds and catechism of historical Christianity. Here are 7 Reasons to Teach our Children Church History from an evangelical perspective. And this article about the theological differences in the Christology of orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is, in my opinion, a fabulous illustration about the necessity of critical thinking and a thorough understanding about whether a difference is “denominational” or “ultimate.” How many people would read the statements about Jesus from the Mormon perspective and think they were consistent with evangelical teaching?

[People I Actually Know]
From my friend Hannah — What They Should Tell You When You Are Dating. (my alternative title: The Things People Who Believe In Courtship Forget About What It Takes To Sustain A Relationship For Your Entire Life. Other alternative title, if I had written it: Why I Will Encourage My Daughter To Date At Least A Few People Before She Gets Married.)

[Books] 
A chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible and a complete read-through of the Pout-Pout Fish are daily occurrences. I love it.
I’m discussing Desiring God’s compilation “Mom Enough” with some friends, and enjoying a more balanced look at motherhood in light of the gospel than is promoted in most Christian arenas. You can download a PDF for free!
I’m working through What’s Best Next by Matt Perman — definitely not aimed at stay-home-moms, which means it doesn’t always feel immediately applicable, but very useful thoughts on the gospel and productivity.

[Music]
We sing lots from Andrew Peterson’s Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, and we’ve been enjoying the original Fantasia on Netflix during the day. (That might count as watching? Annie definitely watches the screen. But it’s just classical music and fine art rolled in to one, right? So it’s like baby education multi-tasking?)

[Fun]
Here’s a look at ordinary (some gross, like the foot of a fly) things under a microscope.

Happy Weekend, friends!

 

Go: God’s Grace in Moving

christianity, grief, homemaking, life, moving
“Oh, we’ve been here a little over a year,”  I told a new friend.
The words flew out of my mouth and shocked me. A year? It’s been more than a year since I said goodbye to all my piano kids and locked the door of that dear little house on the hill? Since visiting my favorite grocery stores and restaurants? Since I sat in church, choking back tears hearing Psalm 33, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord“? I can remember those details like they were yesterday. But that means everything since then has been squeezed into a year: immediately knowing we picked the right doctor, and seeing that tiny heartbeat – Annie! – on his office’s ultrasound screen; transforming this house Aaron picked out into a home; sharing a rich life with new friends here; having Annie here and starting life with her. Has it really only been a year?
go

Some people don’t ever really move, living in or near their hometown for most of their life. I never expected to be one of those people, which has been handy while Aaron’s academic career takes us on a slow tour of the midwest. It’s been a wild ride, but we started gearing up for this when we were dating and discussing the future. Aaron and I kept track of how many times we noticed God sending, calling, or taking people away from their families or homes in scriptures. The examples are numerous: Adam and Eve leaving the garden, Noah creating a new home after the flood, Abraham’s journey to the promised land, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, exiled nations, Mary and Joseph, the apostles, etc. Based on these patterns,  we determined to look first at what we thought God wanted us to do before considering what might keep us close to our families. For better or worse, the Lord seems to have taken us up on that commitment.

It was exciting to discuss this as star-crossed lovers with dreams of adventure and children and California, but real life hits like a freight train: Besides no babies and no California, we discovered that moving is often (rightly) considered one of the most stressful life experiences a person can go through. You could discuss this in clinical terms –  most of the “experts” rate it right up there with a serious illness or a divorce in the amount of stress it creates. It usually means every detail of your life changes, for better or worse. But when you go through it yourself, it isn’t clinical at all. It’s personal. It’s a transition into shocking unfamiliarity in all aspects of life, and ripping up those roots of home is a profound loss no matter how well you prepare for it.

Is it easy to look only at the hardships of moving? Yes. They are numerous. But if I have to move again (and, spoiler alert, I would not be shocked if it happens twice again in the future) I don’t want to look back on a few years with several moves as “a season of hardship.” Life is hard enough as it is. I want to be able to focus on the gifts that come with moving, because they are there, and I don’t want to miss those blessings.

Moving means sacrificing close relationships. After growing up in one place, then spending four years in college, and six years in Iowa, I know a lot of fabulous individuals. It’s  not possible to maintain the intimacy of as many friendships as I would like. But I built those friendships because I found wonderful people where I lived, which will happen again wherever I am, and I can’t imagine what a loss it would be to have missed out on knowing any of them, even though I had to trade proximity of old friends to meet the new ones. Moving also means that I am overflowing with relationships, and at 28 I already know and love more friends than some people have in a lifetime. 

Moving challenges our finances and possessions. Since we have never had any moving expenses covered – but maybe someday they will be!? – this has made significant impact on our budgets and spending in less-than-enjoyable ways. At the same time, moving has forced us into more brutal decluttering and less collecting, which cultivates a more sane life in other ways. Some people are naturally anti-junk and easily cut out extraneous material, but Aaron and I are both the sort of people that need that forced upon us. Moving has also loosed the grip on our bank accounts and our stuff.

Maybe the biggest grace in moving is understanding more firmly that nowhere on earth was ever meant to be my permanent home. Not a beautiful lighthouse on Lake Michigan, proud college halls liberally educating under magnolia trees, familiar couches jammed with siblings, small town charms in Iowa, or a neighborhood full of fast friends in Minnesota. Learning to love these temporary homes and embrace everything that comes with them is a great picture of Jesus’ sacrifice to come from eternity into time, to give himself away for people in a place he would stay only a while, and leave only through suffering. The whole Christian life reflects this in the continuing process of being oriented towards permanency in the midst of what is passing away. 2 Corinthians states this quite plainly: … the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. I think that becomes more tangible when it’s experienced in the process of moving and resettling.
Oh God, our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Be thou our guide while life shall last
And our eternal home.
-Isaac Watts
All of this being said, I do not anticipate moving during this calendar year – for which I am extremely grateful.

a year afresh

celebrating, christianity, coffee, life

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” – G.K. Chesterton

Living far away from family means most of my major holidays are spent running around to see loved ones, sleeping on different beds, living out of suitcases, and coming home exhausted (a 24-hour round-trip with a baby and a dog will do that) to a house that was left in a rush. When returning, there is much to catch up on — mail to sort, clothes to put away (is this shirt clean? Did I wear it? Should I wash it anyway because it was folded right next to these pants that are certainly not clean?), groceries to buy, leftover errands to run, and the gargantuan task of loving so many people in different places while settling back in to life here, where we are. With all that in mind, I told Aaron we had to reclaim some semblance of celebrating the holidays for ourselves and get in the groove of our own personal traditions. Since skipping extended family celebrations every year is not practical or desirable, this year we decided to try celebrating the real 12-days-of-Christmas, which starts on Christmas day and ends on January 6. This has extended our celebrating after a winter holiday season that included two trips back to Michigan. Back in Minnesota we’ve been drinking eggnog coffee, singing carols, and turning on the Christmas tree lights with gusto around here this week. It’s been good. 

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(This is not our house and certainly not how I imagined Max looking — ha!)

 

Every year I pick a phrase or stanza from a Christmas carol for our cards, and this year it was “the weary world rejoices,” from O Holy Night. There was much weariness in 2014 – moving, pregnancy, a new baby, an insanely demanding job for Aaron, many long road trips – but much rejoicing. I only think of the joy, really, but the hints of weariness are present in all things. And honestly, 2015 may have plenty of reason for weariness as well. Aaron is still gone almost all the time, we will probably need to replace some vehicles, we may have any number of family funerals, and we could open ourselves up to the possibility of weariness (or…. heartbreak…..) as Annie grows and we start thinking about more children. Who knows how God will work this year to give us new souls, new eyes, new backbones, new selves? We certainly don’t. And that’s mostly the point. So the words of St Paul to the Galatians are very timely:

Let us not grow weary in doing good, in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. – Galatians 6:9

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The end of Christmas mostly means I have to take down our tree today, so I’m enjoying one last day of “real” Christmas carols and preparing for a new year — with many unknowns and responsibilities, but much joy, I’m sure. (And with a new computer that doesn’t take 10 minutes to start, hopefully it will include more writing, too. Thanks for hanging in there, friends!)

undisguised blessings

christianity, life, parenting, pregnancy

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me one of my miscarriages was a “blessing in disguise” …I would have a lot more money than I do now.

blessings in disguise

 

***

A few months before Annie was born, I carefully watched the unfolding news about that Christian doctor in the Sudan who was imprisoned on false charges of religious conversion. She was also pregnant, and a little younger even than I was. I just “knew” she was having a girl, too, and I immediately sensed a fellowship with her. I thought about how uncomfortable she must be, facing the rest of her pregnancy in shackles, with an order for torture and execution to come after delivering her baby. I hoped she could still believe that God would take care of her. I wondered if I would be brave enough to obey in the same circumstances. Knowing that Annie was growing strong in safety, I felt more blessed than I ever expected to, and I was so humbled to have the luxuries of safety, freedom, and good health care during this miraculous pregnancy. When I saw pictures of her holding her daughter and visiting Pope Francis in Italy after escaping Africa, I wept. About that same time, we read that Christians in Syria were crucified as martyrs. (It’s hard to type that out.)

On the way to the hospital for Annie’s birth, Aaron had several powerful sneezing fits and hoped aloud that she would be blessed with not inheriting his seasonal allergies. When she was born, we heard her (very cute-sounding) sneeze over and over. He was especially nervous… Turns out it’s normal, since babies are a bit waterlogged at first; we don’t know about seasonal allergies yet. But we noticed those sneezes, and tears sprung to my eyes every time I responded, “God bless you, baby Anne. God bless you.” It wasn’t just me being polite — this was a prayer. I wanted God to take care of her, to give her good things, to keep his hand upon her. I meant it.

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A few hours after Annie was born, after a nap and several hours of nonstop eating, I laid her on the bed next to me and marveled at how perfect she was. I think my sense of awe, relief, and gratefulness may have been a taste of how that Sudanese doctor felt when she landed safely in Italy. I noted that Annie’s small feet were shaped just like Aaron’s, which was no surprise to my ribcage, and she had the sweetest fringe of soft brown hair hanging over a tiny roll of chubbiness around the back of her neck. That same day I heard rumors of Christian children in Iraq (a country already fraught with emotion for us) being beheaded by more of those violent radical persecutors who had been in Syria. I’m sure moms in the middle east think their children’s hacked-off necks were particularly adorable, too.

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I can look at my life and say I am blessed because I have this hardworking husband. Because I have a house – with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fenced-in yard, and a refrigerator so full of food that I lose track of things and end up throwing some of it away. Because I have this daughter – who came to life where babies before her did not, who is healthy and robust and vibrant and sleeps almost all night. Because we are managing without a full-time income from me, so I spend the majority of my days caring for my child, walking my dog, running the home. But that’s pretty prosperity-gospel-ish. My friends who are single, or renting, or living off the generosity of others, or childless, or balancing work and parenthood are also very, very blessed.  I was blessed –that is, receiving undeserved gifts from God– before this, when I did not have a baby. And there is blessing in challenging babies, awkward-looking babies, non-sleeping babies, or babies who won’t latch on to nurse… and there is profound blessing in babies who develop differently. So we misuse the word blessing when we think it only references things we want to call “good.”

In fact, scripture gives us an entire paradigm shift about a blessed life. God doesn’t really mention the specifics of my circumstances in the description of blessing. Instead he says, “Blessed are you…
…when you are poor in spirit.
…when you mourn.
…when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  (Matthew 5) And this is not the sort of “persecution” wherein you petition the local library to keep objectionable content off the lowest shelves and then have an awkward moment seeing your opponents at the store later. It’s the sort where you give birth in a dirty prison because your brother-in-law called for your death while you were pregnant with his niece. It’s the sort where you race your kids up a mountain without enough food or water because you’re being pursued by people who will chop off their heads. It’s the sort where you get beaten up and nailed to a cross and die in agony. This is what God calls “the blessed life.”

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Now, if I had a dollar for every time someone talked about my daughter and asked, “isn’t she just such a blessing?” I would also have more money. The answer is yes, she is… but that barely scratches the surface of what a blessing even means.

The same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him.  (Romans 10:12) 

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