The Words Every Child Wants to Hear

I did something foolish last week. I took my children, aged 3 months, two and four to a museum–during Christmas break. Every other child, parent and grandparent apparently thought the museum sounded like an excellent idea as well.

Not good listeners even on a good day, my two littles sprinted in opposite directions, dodging through narrow spaces, behind strollers and slow walkers as if in a race to disappear the fastest. On high alert, I won the game even with a baby snuggled into my chest: not a single child was lost even for a second.

But each child at some point in the day looked up from playing, didn’t see me and began to panic, tears welling up in their eyes, little heads darting side to side, scanning the crowd for mommy. But as soon as they’d start to lose it, I’d creep through the crowd and touch them, “I’m here,” I’d say. “Don’t worry, I’ve been right here all along.” And back to playing they would go.

***

Can I be honest with you? 2016 was a difficult year for me. We moved from Chicago to Colorado early in 2015 and visited 12 churches in 18 months, unable to settle into the right community. I got pregnant with baby number three a year after moving and found myself buried in sadness, exhaustion and despair. Most people know about post-partum depression, but I had never heard of being depressed while pregnant.

The endless 90 degree days of summer beat me down so most afternoons I was grateful for TV to entertain my children. Usually a healthy person and an optimist, I didn’t recognize this woman sprawled out on the bathroom floor next to the pile of tissues or the woman who would jump into a car on a Saturday afternoon just to speed through the canyon alone in an effort to stop the numbness.

So this week as I moved on from my December tradition of mulling over the Christmas story, I wandered with John the Baptist and Jesus back into the wilderness again. In the pre-dawn light of a dried-up Christmas tree, top-loaded with ornaments because my children picked them off one by one (whose great idea was it to put untouchable toys on a tree, anyway?), I pulled the baby close and opened to the book of Luke.

Jesus pushes through the crowds and steps into the water. As he prays, heaven cracks open and an ordinary snow white dove, the Holy Spirit in bodily form, lands on Jesus. A Voice booms from heaven. The words I read next slam into my soul.

At this point in the story, I glance up at my children who have just come in with their bedhead, footy PJ’s, sippy cups of milk and glistening noses. Their 24-minute show has ended and they are shrieking, wanting breakfast. My infant son has finally drifted off to sleep again at my breast as I precariously balance Bible, journal, pen and coffee mug on the edge of the couch. My husband herds the hungry ones into the kitchen and I wink at him, grateful for another five minutes to read. I reread the words.

“You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.”

I remember my children at the museum, terrified they were lost. And I think about myself four months ago, wandering in the fog. Like a small child playing hide-and-seek, I thought that in closing my eyes I couldn’t be seen. I imagine God speaking now, his fire igniting my deadened soul. “You are my beloved daughter, Leslie. In you I am well-pleased.”

God did not say to Jesus, “I am pleased with you because you have a high calling, are perfect or are destined for greatness.” He did not point to His miraculous powers, authoritative words or usefulness to Him. Instead, God tapped His shoulder, saying, “I’m here—the Holy Spirit in the form of a plain old dove. I won’t leave. You are my beloved and I am pleased with you.”

Are there any other words a child would rather hear from her parent?

You are beloved.

I am pleased with you.

God is with me—loving me–even when I feel alone and undeserving. I had a dream once where I was lost in a crowded building. Suddenly a strong hand grasped mine, leading me out and away to safety. Single at the time, I knew I wasn’t just yearning for a lover or companion, I knew that hand belonged to God Himself. Every time I try to run away from God, I find I can’t. He is magnetic, drawing me back, compelling me to face Him once again.

Even when I lose my way, He never loses sight of me. Even as I put my head down, absorbed in menial tasks, hobbies or even guilty pleasures, He sees me. He waits for me to look up and notice His adoring gaze, just as we watch our earthly children at play. And sometimes we don’t look up at all. That’s when he comes to us, and gently gives our shoulder a tap.

As we begin 2017, know these words spoken over Jesus are meant for you, too. If we are children of God, then we are clothed with Christ, gifted with fire and Spirit

You are beloved. You are cherished. You are adored.

As a mama who is often frustrated, ungrateful and annoyed by my role, I also pray these words will set me ablaze with greater love for my children. I pray my kids won’t remember harsh words, minutes squandered hiding behind my phone or less-than-attentive responses, but that one day they’ll be able to say:

“My mom? Oh, she adored me. And she sparkled with life because she belonged to Jesus.”

***

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Words for me, you and our children.

When you’ve lost your wings {a poem}


Severed by scissors,

angled and severe.

Holy hearts, diamonds, circles emerge

as corners are snipped,

possibilities removed.

Paper flutters to the floor;

wings litter the ground like waste.

We gingerly unfold,

creases and bumps smoothed,

loose edges freed.

A snowflake stretched wide. 

This is nursery artistry. 

Taped to the icy window pane;

winter light 

beams through empty spaces. 

***

Next Post: Book Discussion Questions for Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson


The 37 Week Pep Talk for the (Scared) Waiting Mama


I know you reached this point in your other two pregnancies and struggled with fear and worry, so I thought I’d ward that off with a few reminders.

Hey lady, here we go again.  You’re 37 weeks and feeling like this pregnancy has gone fast, but in slow motion.  I know you reached this point in your other two pregnancies and struggled with fear and worry, so I thought I’d ward that off with a few reminders.
1. Trust your body.
The first time around, you weren’t so sure if you could really trust your body.  You wondered how your labor story would play out and if your body would betray you.  You let others dictate how you should labor and push out your baby.  Though you had an unmedicated birth like you hoped, it was long, harder than you expected and you had some regrets.  The second time around, you were better prepared and trusted that the pain was purposeful.  You knew that slow is not bad, it is just the way God programmed you.  So the next time, you surrendered to your body and allowed it to guide you.  You sang, swayed, slept, soaked in the tub and relaxed.  You did what it took to allow your mind to get in tune with your body.  And after two days of laboring at home, you delivered a healthy baby girl 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital.  I know you can do this again—trust your body.  It knows what it’s doing.
2. Trust (and enjoy) your baby.
This little pink wriggly that they’ll place on your chest is more intuitive than you will ever know.  He already knows you, loves you and respects you.  Listen to him and find ways to be in tune with him—even when your gut goes against “the books.”  God has made YOU his mama—no one else.  He has gifted you with the ability to meet his needs in ways that no one else on earth right now can.  

Instead of “getting through” those first few weeks and months with your new one, focus on enjoying him.  Cuddle him longer than you “should,” tickle your nose with his baby fuzz hair, breathe in his newborn scent, strap him to your body to feel his warmth, nurse him in the middle of the night while you catch up on T.V. shows (without guilt) and cup his frog legs in your hands as his body still wants to be in a ball.  Blink, and he will be running circles in the living room with your other two, so enjoy these precious, fleeting days of infancy while they last.

3. You will be given what you need.
Now that you have other children, you wonder how you will have space in the inner rooms of your heart for more.  Will there be enough love, patience, wisdom, strength and time to stretch around and envelop this new one?  Will you feel the same toward him that you do toward your other lovelies?  This is where Jesus will step in, making His miracles.  Like the widow who hesitated to give up the last of her oil and flour when the prophet Elijah asked for it, you, too, wonder if you will be required to give more than you have.  But you will be shocked to find that “the bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty” (1 Kgs. 17:14).    

You will be given what you need exactly when you need it, so give freely.  Err on the side of generosity. This time of adding a needy soul to an already chaotic and overflowing life will extend you beyond your ability so that you will see your needs and your new one’s needs met in miraculous ways.  Your lack will lead to a demonstration of God’s provision.  Your scarcity is an opportunity for Jesus to lavish His excessive love on you.  Wait and see.  God will make a feast out of your simple offering of flour and oil.

4. This baby does not belong to you.
He has never belonged to you and never really will.  He has been knit, formed, made and molded in your body—but not by you.  The Holy Spirit has been at work for a long time on this little one—you have always carried a part of him inside of your body, just waiting for this egg to be picked for such a time as this.  God knew his name before he even existed and has always known the number of days he ordained for this little one.  Open your clenched hands and place him back on the altar.  This baby is not yours.  The sooner you accept that, the better you all will be.
5. Do not fear.
Before you conceived, you feared it wouldn’t happen.  You were afraid that pink line on your dollar store pregnancy test would never have a partner.  But then throughout this entire pregnancy, you have feared that you would lose the baby.  Now, you fear complications in these final weeks, in labor or that your baby will be born with birth defects that will alter his life and yours.  Fear has stubbornly clutched your skirt hem all along this road.  But here are some words of life that you wrote out for yourself on note cards the first time around.  Let these words empower you as you prepare to give birth.  Submerse yourself in them like the muscle-soothing soak of the weary who takes a bath after training for a marathon.  

Soak in these Truths: 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him” 
(Ps. 28:7).
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” 
(2 Tim. 1:7).
“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God have I put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?” 
(Ps. 56:3-4).
“For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” 
(1 Cor. 14:33).
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” 
(Phil. 4:13).
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the rock eternal” 
(Is. 26:3-4).
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” 
(Is. 43:1-2).
“Be strong and courageous! Do not trouble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” 
(Joshua 1:9).
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord” 
(Ps. 31:24).
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” 
(Ps. 27: 1).
“Peace, I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” 
(Jn. 14:27).
***
You can do this, lady.  Trust God, yourself and your baby.  This is not the first time a woman has given birth and it is certainly not the last.  You are not walking alone, but are held.  Embrace this incredible experience for all its rawness, intensity and mystery.  You’ve got this!

~~~

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I know you reached this point in your other two pregnancies and struggled with fear and worry, so I thought I’d ward that off with a few reminders.

 

What My Pregnant Body is Teaching Me

I just took a personality test and discovered that I am “The Achiever.”

This wasn’t a huge surprise.

I’m the type who decides and actually follows through with goals.  I wanted to be a runner, so I started running daily.  I was determined to learn to cook, so I made a weekly menu and forced my roommates to join me for our home-cooked meal every day for a year.  When I decided to start blogging last year, I jumped in the day before a challenge to write EVERY DAY for 31 days—and I did it.  And when I moved to China and saw that a friend of mine who had been there for a month was already advancing in his language skills, I found a tutor to come over EVERY DAY to help me.  And after five years, I learned to speak, read and write Chinese.

Hello.  I am Leslie Verner and I am an Achiever.

But now this achiever is also a mom.  I have two children with one on the way, and now any figurative race I run is a bit like competing with your legs tied together.  AND you’re blind-folded.  AND you have to run backwards.
So today, my major “achievements” of the day amounted to getting my children dressed, fed a semi-nutritious meal, teeth brushed, curly boy hair tamed with water and wispy girl hair combed into a tiny pony tail.  I’m even proud to admit that not only are my own teeth brushed, but I even washed my hair for the first time in a week and managed to go for a walk.

At the beginning of the summer, I had aspirations of daily Bible time with my kids, running until I was 36 weeks pregnant like I did with my daughter (I made it to 20 weeks this time), visiting a diverse park in my city once a week to strike up friendships with international student families and actually planning activities using Pinterest as a springboard (ha).

What I didn’t take into account was that pregnancy would suck the wind from my self-motivated, driven, over-achieving sails.  I sit here now, sails flapping in the wind, with my kids stuck (screaming) in my boat in the middle of a sea that I can’t navigate us out of.  And I just can’t find the energy to hoist up these sails, make a decision about where to go or even admire the scenery.

But God is beginning to show me that this hugely pregnant body of mine that feels more like a handicap than a blessing is, in fact, swaddled tightly in grace.

Pregnancy is the strong arm that forces the achievers like me to just stop.

Stop doing, achieving, scheming, strategizing and striving and just BE.  Be a mommy.  Be a wife.  Be a beloved daughter of God.  Be served, loved and spoiled.  Be simple.  Cut corners.  Accept foot rubs.  Do less. Sit on benches. Walk slowly. Order take-out. Indulge in pedicures.  Let people carry things. Take elevators. Receive.

Embrace this season of slowness that feels like weakness.  There is strength to be found there.

A year ago I was training for a half marathon, running about 10 miles in a go. I explored the city, ran trails hugging the Rocky Mountains, crossed streams and laughed at prairie dogs that warned one another of my arrival just in time to dive back into their holes, their whistles trailing behind them.  Today, it took me 40 minutes to walk less than two miles, with a brief stop at a bench at the halfway point.  At 36 weeks pregnant, I can’t go fast or far from home.  My feet pound the same steps of the same path and I’m passed by the same retired go-getters who comment that “I’m walking for two” or “Must be any day now, eh?”

But in the slowness and the sameness, I strain to hear that still, small voice that speaks to me as I pass one strong tree after another, standing stately by the stream my path parallels.  The Voice whispers, “She shall be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water that brings forth its fruit in its season.  And its leaf does not wither; and in whatever she does, she prospers.”  And the words, strangely familiar, are the first of many such songs of hope for the weary that I happen to come across in Psalm 1 in the few minutes of quiet I snatch in the mornings.

Firmly planted. Watered. Bearing fruit.

Prospering.

Without even moving?

Like the story that Jesus shares with His disciples about birds not panicking over lack of food or flowers not being frantic about finding clothing, I can sink into the soil here for a little while.  A constantly transplanted seed cannot thrive as well as one that stays firmly planted.  And so God seems to be urging me to remain as I am.  Accept this gift.  Dig deep, be watered and revel in the slow work of God.

“Cease striving and know that I am God.  I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth,” another psalm singer belts out.

My pregnant body is teaching me the beauty of diminishing, distilling my faith into a silent pool to soak in instead of a body of water to forge.

But this changed body is also teaching me about love.

It is only twisted God humor that chose women, who innately struggle more with body image than men, to be the ones to gain weight, be stretched, left with permanent scars and marks like the rotten milk ruts left under the lazy susan of my parent’s kitchen table, charted with purple veins mapping courses to unknown lands, left with too much saggy skin some places and not enough padding in others and a belly button that resembles a Muppet nose when all is said and done.  Good one, God.

Or perhaps rather than a malicious meting out of a curse on our bodies, it is God’s upside-down way He likes to hand out unexpected blessings.  A severe mercy.

Sometimes I like to stand naked in front of the mirror, marveling at this ludicrous body that doesn’t feel like mine.  I tenderly touch the too-tight skin stretched over a tiny human body and soul growing within mine. I’m in awe of this mystery.  But I also fear that my husband will laugh at making love to a body that is so deformed and abnormal—so different from the woman that he married.  And yet all he ever says is exactly what I need to hear:

“You are beautiful.”

“You are the perfect size.”

“Your body is incredible.”

And in those moments I know that I am truly loved.  Not for how fast I am, what a good cook I am, what I can achieve in school, how many languages I am fluent in, how creative of a mom I am, or how unblemished and perfect my feminine body is.

I am loved because I am loved.

Not even loved in spite of being pregnant, but loved even because I am pregnant.  I’m loved just because I’m loved.   And I will be loved even after this baby leaves its forever tattoos behind.

Pregnancy is a gift.  God gives some women the inconvenient, uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing experience of pregnancy to teach us that we can no longer define ourselves by our achievements or by our appearance.  He wants us to be weak so that we will accept help from others.  He wants us to slow down so that we will notice more.  He wants us to be needy so that we will look around for healing and find that He is already feeding, clothing and nurturing us in ways unique to us.  He wants us to cease striving and know that He is God—and that we are not.  And He wants us to change form so that we will know that we were never loved for our bodies to begin with.

And so in these final weeks of pregnancy, though I feel frustrated at being grounded when my over-achieving self wants to be out doing, I will think about those strong trees firmly planted by streams of water, calmly stretching their roots down to the stream.  They do not fear heat or cold, rain or storm, because they are nourished by the Source of everything good.  Just because they are not moving doesn’t mean there isn’t growth happening.  And they know that not only will be they be taken care of, but that they are lavishly loved, adored even.  Just like me.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes {Nest}

" But God is beginning to show me that this hugely pregnant body of mine that feels more like a handicap than a blessing is, in fact, swaddled tightly in grace."

 

The message on the bathroom stall

Scraping Raisins blog post: How God used a grafitti message on a gas station bathroom stall to speak to me.

We pulled into a sleepy country gas station at 3 AM and I groggily trudged into the store, searching for the restroom and shuffling toward a hand-lettered sign that hung askew above the door. We were in the middle of a 13 hour drive through the night from Colorado to Chicago.  

We’ve found that this means of travel is actually perfect for us because the kids sleep the entire way (ideally) and wake up when we arrive at our destination in the morning. There is no time lost in traveling and certainly nothing to miss in the long, flat drive over the lonesome plains of Colorado and Nebraska. The drive is so desolate that many of the exits warn of “no services” or that the next stop will not be for 30 miles. But the stars at night are incredible. 

Entering the bathroom stall, I closed the door and noticed that it was covered in graffiti. Right at eye level, a message jumped out at me. Though I was tired, the profundity of the message struck me enough to read it again and again, memorizing each word. It said:

“You are safe. God is pursuing you with true love. Don’t give up.”

What kind of person writes a message like that on a bathroom stall in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska? And who were they talking to? It felt personal. Intimate. Like a stranger was staring into my soul and speaking a prophetic message to something they saw there.

Being who I am, with all my tendencies to over-spiritualize, of course I read into the message. I felt like God himself had vandalized that stall so that I would see it there in the middle of the night in May 2016 on a long distance drive with two tired babies in my reluctantly acquired minivan. Like He wanted to speak to me personally, but also illuminate a message for friends I have right now who are battling cancer, infertility, miscarriage, depression, disappointment, confusion and feeling forgotten by God.

You are safe.

God is pursuing you with true love.

Don’t give up.

Later in the week, I was on a run and noticed a bird nest high up inside the prism of a street light, straw and sticks poking out of a tiny hole in the glass. The lantern must have provided the heat and light the mama bird needed to nurture her young, but mostly it promised a secure spot away from predators and dangerous weather. I was comforted by the safety of that snugly situated nest, thinking about how we have security in God when we build our nests next to Him. But then it occurred to me that He is more like the mother bird, and we are his tiny, vulnerable, needy babies, completely dependent on Him to keep us safe. He fights for our survival like a mama bird fights for her young.

Familiar words came to mind, like the comfort food of the Bible:

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust Him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection” (Ps. 91: 1-4 NLT).

If you’re like me, these words are soothing, but also seem a bit naïve, because we know that sometimes we and our loved ones are not protected, healed or spared. We are not always safe. But today as I prayed for my hurting friends that seem to have fallen out of safety, I was reminded that though Jesus could have healed and even protected some of His friends from harm, He chose not to. What He did do was enter right into their pain. He sat down with them and wept. He was present with them in their loss in a way no other human being could ever be. His heart broke with the brokenhearted.

This is where the second part of the Nebraska bathroom graffiti message rings true. “He pursues you with true love.” And that is where our security lies. Though we may not always feel safe physically, we can know that He is always searching for and pursuing our hearts with His unfailing love. Even when we give up on Him, He will never give up on us. And sometimes that means chasing us all the way into a dirty gas station bathroom stall in Nebraska just to remind us.

You are safe. God is pursuing you with true love. Don’t give up, my friend. 

~~~

Related Post: When We Fear {for Velvet Ashes}

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Scraping Raisins blog post: How God used a grafitti message on a gas station bathroom stall to speak to me.

3 Things Helping Me Right Now as a Mother

3 Things Helping Me Right Now as a Mother

I lived ALONE in China for five years. So how can it be that now just schlepping my two kids to the grocery store less than a mile from my house feels like an adventurous and arduous task? Motherhood has been a joyful and unexpected gift, but as a person who had kids in her mid-thirties, the adjustment has been a jarring one. But in the past few weeks, one new habit and two new ideas have brought a bit of clarity and hope to my life as a mother in this season with little ones when it can be hard to remember who you are, much less find Jesus in the fog.

1. Get off the porch

We live at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and I recently jogged past a house with a porch just steps from a mountain view. What a shame they can’t see the mountains, I thought. Were they to walk just ten feet from their house, they would have a spectacular view of the sun spraying the rugged mountains with pink light.

As I thought about missing my long pre-kid mornings spent with the Lord, I felt like there was a message in that for me—“Just get off the porch, Leslie. I’m right there waiting for you. All you need to do is show up.”

As a result, I’ve been trying to set aside 20 minutes every morning to read one day of the One Year Bible and a very short devotional. I’m trying not to categorize this time as a “quiet time” or “Bible study,” but instead see it as simply as spending time with Jesus. Sitting at His feet. Laying my tired head on His chest. Asking for His help and gathering my manna for the day. Yes, it sometimes means hiding in another room while my children scream from their rooms (they have plenty of toys to keep them busy), but even in the noise, God seems to be whispering loud enough for me to hear.

I still struggle with allowing myself lower expectations during this season, but God reminds me that if I just get off that porch and walk a few steps, He will meet me.

2. Wash the Feet

Honestly, there are some aspects of motherhood that I kind of abhor. What makes up my list of detestable chores? Sweeping the floor after EVERY blessed meal, changing poopy diapers, rinsing out cloth diapers (ugh, but worth it?), getting kids into bed when you’re dead tired yourself, cooking food that most likely won’t get eaten and dealing with Laundry Mountain.

But as I sought God this week, I read the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ disgusting feet and then telling everyone to follow suit (John 13). And certain aspects of my life as a mother to little ones became blindingly illuminated—and surprisingly elevated.

Do I see these mundane tasks as service to my King? Would I grumble as much if it were Jesus Himself asking me to do them? (As He is, in fact, doing.)

Somehow viewing these jobs as service to Jesus brings me more joy than thinking about doing them simply for my children. We don’t have the practice of foot washing as a norm in our culture, so perhaps if Jesus spoke to us today, He would instead be commanding us to change diapers, pick up paper towels off the church bathroom floor or make that toy truck “talk” for the one hundredth time today. What does “foot washing” look like for you?

3. Serve the Least of These

Another story that has hit me hard recently is when Jesus tells the disciples that when they treat what most people would consider to be “the least of these” with love, respect and compassion, they are serving Christ Himself. This story usually conjures images of soup kitchens, homeless shelters and slums, but this week as I thought about “the least of these” in my life, what came to mind were my two darling, frustrating little tow heads.

Don’t judge, but my oldest child is not potty trained and cannot dress himself. He and my daughter are completely dependent on my husband and me to meet their every need. Weak, helpless and vulnerable, our children are “the least of these.” 
 
So as I think of them in this way, how does that change the way I go about caring for them on a daily basis? Do I see Jesus in their tiny hands, chubby knees and wispy hair? As I get up for the third time in the night to get my son his water or straighten out his blankets? Because Jesus says that as I serve the least of these, I am, in fact, serving Him (Mat. 25:40).

~~~

I miss hour-long quiet times in the stillness of dawn, my dirtiest tasks being to clean the bathroom whenever I felt like it and the days of serving others on my own terms. But that is not motherhood (nor is it being a Jesus-follower). So for now, I’m thankful that Jesus blesses my small efforts at holiness and for the reminders of His presence in the faces of the little people I am privileged to serve. Because as I serve them, I am serving Jesus Himself. 

~~~~~~

What does “foot washing” look like to you?  

What is helping you find Jesus in the fog of motherhood right now?

~~~~~~ 

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Linking up with Grace & Truth

In the past few weeks, one new habit and two new ideas have brought a bit of clarity and hope to my life as a mother in this season with little ones when it can be hard to remember who you are, much less find Jesus in the fog.

Skinny Dipping and Lazarus

Skinny Dipping and Lazarus~ for Addie Zierman's #NightDriving synchroblog


In the darkness

~~~

My first experience skinny dipping was at a summer camp in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina the summer before my senior year of high school.  Two girls and I snuck out of our cabins after lights out and giggled and tripped along the path into the woods.  We eventually found our rebel river destination, peeled off our cutoff jean shorts and thrift store T-shirts and stepped into the cool water.  Easing into the water, we made an unfortunate discovery: the water was too shallow.  We sat there hugging our knees and gazing up at the stars until small fish noses started tapping our thighs and eventually prodded us back out of the water into the silky black night.

Through that entire experience, the flashlights stayed resolutely “off,” because the beams would have not only exposed our nakedness, but other creatures that might have been lurking behind trees and on rotten logs.  The darkness felt safe.  The light, exposing.

~~~

My roommates had gone to bed and I decided to stay up and finish watching a romantic movie.  I was twenty-four and teaching middle school in Chicago.  Two of my three best friends were nearing engagement and I was always struggling with one crush or another on guys that didn’t know I existed.  As I watched that movie about two teenagers falling in love, a well within me seemed to break and I sobbed uncontrollably.  What if I’m never loved like that? 

~~~

At twenty-six, I had believed he was “the one.”  Truly believed it as if the words had been spoken audibly to me by God Himself.  That’s how much faith I had put in this boy in spite of it all.  I offered my whole heart, and one year later, the boy handed it back.  I don’t want it, he seemed to say.  (But really it was something along the lines of “I prayed and it isn’t God’s will…”).  Confusion, grief and doubt polluted my soul. 

But then Lazarus.  The story of Jesus allowing his friend Lazarus to die and then raising him from the dead was in my morning reading.  And then in a small group meeting that night.  A message for me.  It all seemed so purposeless and cruel.  Why allow Lazarus to die when you plan all along to raise him to life again? 

And yet when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was dead, he cried.  Though he knew the end of the story, he wept right there with them.

~~~

This morning my children miraculously slept in past 6:30 am, so I shuffled around in the kitchen, contemplating waking them up with the coffee grinder, when I noticed the pink lines through the blinds.  Pulling them open, the brilliant sun burst through the clouds, piercing the sky with an almost unnatural light and color. 

I threw open the back porch door, grabbed my phone and trudged through six inches of snow in my slippered-feet to capture this moment in time.  With a phone camera.  Not surprisingly, the phone image was pathetic in comparison to the original.  Sighing, I turned back inside, leaving my drenched slippers on the door mat and warming my toes by the hidden heating vent by the floor of the kitchen sink.  As I made coffee, I glanced back outside, waiting for the sun to overtake the sky.  Instead, it had disappeared almost entirely behind the clouds.  A wasted sunrise after so much potential.

Much like a dead King Jesus coming back to life only to disappear again.  So promising, so hopeful, so much cause for jubilation and delight.  Finally!  But then, like the sun, he was gone.  What a disappointment.

Until.

Until the day He reemerges from the clouds to take over the entire sky.  The day the sky breaks into song and even the darkest clouds are used as a backdrop for the most exquisite sight we’ve ever seen.

But for now, He weeps with us.  He skinny dips with us.  He shrugs away our guilt and shame.  And He holds our hearts gently after they have been mistreated and rejected. 

Until that day.

~~~~~~

Skinny Dipping and Lazarus~ for Addie Zierman's #NightDriving synchroblog

This is for Addie Zierman’s #NightDriving synchroblog celebrating the release of her new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark using the prompt: “It was dark when ________ you wouldn’t believe what I saw in the light.” 

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The Well is Deep {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}

On Thursdays this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers.  I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer.  These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people.  Subscribe in the upper right corner so that you don’t miss a post.  If you’re new to the series, find all the posts here.  Come meet me in the comments–I’d love to read your thoughts on writing.

Happy writing!
Leslie

The Well is Deep {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}~ Where are you finding your water?  In the well of self or the well that is full of Living Water that will never dry up?

 

I recently picked up my small faux-leather Oswald Chambers devotional again and, like a painting that seems to be gazing at you wherever you are standing, it always has a message for me.

I’ve been trying to write two to three posts a week and so far I haven’t run out of things to say.  And yet I’m finding that the problem isn’t always what I say, but where I find my inspiration.  In our humanistic society, we are made out to be the source of our own lives.  We are meant to be self-sustaining and self-focused.  The theme of life is that if we do not find happiness within ourselves, then we are out of luck.  So I think our first instinct as writers sculpted by society is to dig into ourselves to find truth.

As a Jesus follower, I would tell you that I don’t agree with this, but as a car with wheels out of alignment eventually begins to swerve off the road, so, too, can I find myself in the ditch as I align with society’s message instead of with my Master Teacher’s. 

And so Ozzy’s words on February 27 bore holes in me:

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep.  Where can you get this living water?” (John 4:11)

The well is deep–and even a great deal deeper than the Samaritan woman knew…Jesus doesn’t bring anything up from the wells of human nature–He brings them down from above…The impoverishment is in us, not Him…We struggle to reach the bottom of our own well, trying to get water for ourselves…The well of your incompleteness runs deep, but make the effort to look away from yourself and look toward Him.”

Where are you finding your water?  In the well of self or the well that is full of Living Water that will never dry up?

As a writer who is also a believer in the creator and sustainer of life, I long for my words to originate from the Source of all life and not merely from myself.  I want to draw from that well.  And it is encouraging to know that as long as I am drawing my words from the Living Water, the source of my words will never dry up.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you will get neither.”
~C.S. Lewis
 
~~~~~~


Do you ever have this struggle? 

How do you practically stay connected to the source of Living Water as you pursue your calling as a writer?  (I’m still working on this one, so I’d love to hear your practical solutions!)


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The Well is Deep {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}~ Where are you finding your water?  In the well of self or the well that is full of Living Water that will never dry up?

Motherhood & the Big Picture

The kids and I spent last weekend at my parents’ house in Grand Lake, Colorado, with my brother, sister-in-law, and their four children, aged 8 to 13, who were visiting from Georgia. My son was born exactly ten years to the day after my eldest niece. As I watched these older kids, I marveled at their independence, in disbelief that my children will one day be old enough to put on their own shoes, much less play the clarinet or read The Lord of the Rings to themselves before bed at night.

Lately, I am too close to my story to see the big picture.
I can’t seem to force myself to take steps back to accept that I am in one chapter and that this chapter does not equal the whole of my story. My kids will not always be 18 months and three and a half years old.


A couple years ago, my parents moved from Florida to the middle of the Rocky Mountains after a summer volunteering as rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park. They moved from sea level to over 8,000 ft. elevation and traded their swimming pool and flip flops for snowshoes and hiking boots.  They now live on 20 acres, which are covered in pine trees with mountain views from all angles, live 15 miles from a grocery store and always include a trip to Target and Costco when they come to visit us in the “big” city. They are in a new season, a new chapter. They are in the season of The Widening, while we are in The Narrowing. They spent about 27 years with children at home. And now? They are still living life.

I’m reading the book, Looming Transitions, by Amy Young, and though it is written for those going abroad and coming home from living overseas, I’m finding many parallels to my transition into motherhood. She writes:

“This transition will not become of the sum of your life…It’s natural for people to mark things in terms of before or after events: graduation, marriage, a certain job, a baby, a painful breakup, a big move, or a serious health issue. But those events don’t become the story. They become a page in the story or possibly the beginning of a new chapter. They join a plot larger than the transition each one creates. Part of staying fertile, then, involves reminding yourself of of the bigger picture–the bigger story–that came before and will live on after it” (pg. 37).

“You will outlive this season,” she says (which my husband and I have repeated to ourselves about ten times since I read it to him the other night) (pg. 47).

To put things in perspective, if my husband and I live to be 85 and only have two kids, this is the percentage of my life I will have spent doing each of the following (rounding up):

Being in school: 24%
Being single: 36%
Living in China: 6%
Being pregnant: 2%
Having a three-year-old: 2%
Having children at home: 24%
Being married: 64% (and that’s after getting married “late”!)

When I am running up a long hill, I sometimes choose a landmark a short distance away and just try and run to that, then immediately pick another one and run to that until I am all the way up the hill. In motherhood, sometimes keeping the short view helps us to keep running. But in the end, God-willing, our story lives not only beyond this time at home with little ones, but way beyond that. And if we live a long life, mothering tiny ones is certainly a short chapter in a long story.

We will outlive this season. 

As I drove the three hours back home from Grand Lake this weekend, my kids mercifully slept and I drove without music, drinking in the silence. As I navigated Berthoud Pass, a 20 minute winding up and down along stunning mountain vistas, a sense of awe came over me. It was the same feeling that has swallowed me as I’ve stood at the edge of the ocean, run in a crowd of 40,000 in a race in Chicago, and sat at the ridge of the blown-off top of Mt. St. Helens, recognizing the speck below me as a helicopter circling the cavern.

I felt small.

Not the smallness I wrote about last week in the sense of purpose, but a sense of physical smallness that envelops you as you realize that this life, this world, really isn’t about you at all. You are a single pine needle on a tree in a vast forest, a speck of sand among billions on the beach. You are a part of a story much larger than yourself. And your story is a story within a story within a story.

Our children will become men and women–adults with lives of their own. We, like my parents, may move across the country or world and start new adventures. God will teach us new knowledge, increase our faith and loosen our tongues to praise Him as He walks beside us each day, fueling us from within. We are privileged to be a part of the larger story of His creation and redemption of the world and can know Him and love Him forever.

And our stories will surprise us more than we know.

This week, some memories from seven years ago appeared on Facebook, almost one year to the day before my husband and I met and started dating. The first was of Adam in the show, Twelfth Night, and another one was of me with friends in Thailand. He was acting and I was traveling the world.

Oh, how life has changed. Sometimes that feels like someone else’s life. But I’m starting to realize that it was a chapter, just as being a mother to little ones is a chapter.

And God-willing, there will even be chapters after that.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)


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Related post:  Life is Not Seasonal


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Thursday Thoughts for Writers~ Christian Art

On Thursdays this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers.  I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer.  These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people.  Check back each week or subscribe for new posts.  Please introduce yourself in the comments–I’d love to meet you and hear about your thoughts on writing.

Happy writing!
Leslie

Christian Art {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}~  What differentiates Christian art from secular art?  Should the sole purpose of our art be to preach, evangelize, or disciple?  And why does Christian art sometimes seem inferior to secular art?

[Disclaimer:  This is a huge topic that I am skimming the surface of right now.  For the purpose of this essay, I am thinking of writing when I talk about “art.”]
 
If you are a follower of Christ and you are also an artist, the art that you do, whether overtly or not, is Christian art.  When I was a college freshman still living in my black and white world, I felt bowled over by heresy when my Christian professors started throwing around the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth.”  And yet in time I saw the wisdom in that statement.  All art, no matter who created it, has an element of imago dei in it, because every person is created in the image of God.

But what differentiates Christian art from secular art?  Should the sole purpose of our art be to preach, evangelize, or disciple?  And why does Christian art sometimes seem inferior to secular art?

Christian art has the aroma of Christ about it.  Just as we can blindly identify the fragrance of a rose, the art of a Christ follower will have the essence of the eternal, an underlying hope in the almost, but not yet.

Sometimes we don’t know the exact purpose of our art, we only know that we are being obedient. In Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle puts it this way:  “The artist, like Mary, is free to say No.  When a shoddy novel is published the writer is rejecting the obedient response, taking the easy way out.  But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening.  And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand” (p. 22).

Creating Christian art is about trusting that God may be prompting us to something beyond ourselves and we may never know how He plans to use it.  It could even be purely for His own pleasure and nothing else.

God gave very detailed instructions for the construction and decoration of His Tabernacle that some might consider to be extravagant.  What did it matter that the clothing of the priests be embroidered with gold, blue, purple and scarlet thread (Exodus 39)?  But those who had the joy of creating this art were the ones who were willing to listen and had enough courage to be obedient to the work God was calling them to do.

So why does it seem like Christan art is sometimes inferior to secular art? Is it possible that the Christian is not listening well or not willing to take risks?  Or perhaps they’re focusing more on the art than on God?

Sometimes I wonder if God surrounded us with trees so that we wouldn’t forget a few simple lessons in life:  1) stay rooted, 2) keep growing, and 3) bear fruit.

Christian Art {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}~ What differentiates Christian art from secular art?  Should the sole purpose of our art be to preach, evangelize, or disciple?  And why does Christian art sometimes seem inferior to secular art?

As we create, we’re to stay rooted in Christ, not our art.  When we face criticism or self-doubt, being rooted in Him will keep us anchored.  Our branches stretch high and wide, growing daily as we reach our roots into more of Him, listening for His voice and prompting.  And the fruit that we produce as a result of listening and walking in the Spirit will reflect the type of tree that we are–one that is rooted in Christ and devoted entirely to Him.  

The result is that anything that we create is an echo of the One we are getting our nourishment, strength and motivation from.  Our art is already Christian when it is a natural outpouring of our love for Christ, whether directly or indirectly.


Related Scriptures:
Colossians 3:23
Isaiah 37:31
Galatians 5:16-26

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Do you ever feel like Christian art is inferior to secular art?  Why do you think that is?

~~~~~~



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Christian Art {Thursday Thoughts for Writers}~  What differentiates Christian art from secular art?  Should the sole purpose of our art be to preach, evangelize, or disciple?  And why does Christian art sometimes seem inferior to secular art?