Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why is rest such hard work?

Alysia Yates is one of those dearest kinds of people who come into your life for a season. When her husband first became our pastor at our former church, he described her to me as someone with two passions: literature and theology. My type of girl. She’s the mom of four and still manages to make time to write guest posts for the likes of me. This is her second post on Mama:Monk. Here’s her first. Thank you, Alysia!

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to rest, wondering why I find good rest so elusive.  I admit that my physical exhaustion is directly related to the circumstances of my daily life—four small children, a recent move to another state, and a husband who works long hours all take their toll—but I suspect that my lack of rest is deeper than my daily toil, and that I am not alone in not knowing how to cease from striving.  In fact, when I think about all of the people I know and love, I can’t think of anyone who would say they know how to rest well (or especially, who are well-rested).  We live in a culture that is addicted to work and success, and we often inadvertently translate our busyness into proof of our own status or importance.

Just a few days ago I tearfully admitted to my husband John that I feel perpetually spent at the end of every day, that these months of mothering from five or six in the morning till nine at night have worn me thin.  Yet even with such long days I am not able to accomplish what I want.  We have piles of laundry that never go away, unpacked boxes that linger, and rooms still be organized (not to mention decorated!).  Every room in the house could use an uninterrupted day of my attention, but those productive moments never come.  I find myself constantly choosing (rightly, I hope!) to attend to my children instead of my housekeeping, but then I feel overwhelmed by the “to-do” list that never ends.  How does one find rest in the midst of such a whirlwind?

The truth of the matter is that I cannot do it all—that I cannot control my life and make things instantly beautiful and peaceful.  I cannot make my (not so little) babies sleep through the night, nor can I manage my little brood on my own.  I need a whole lot of help and even more grace to see me through, and I need to find my rest in One who is much stronger than I am.  I need to put aside my own expectations of what successful mothering looks like and look to the One who made us all, allowing Him to show me how to get from day to day.

But in order to do this work of rest, I must take the time to stop, even when it means a messy house (or, in my case a messier); I have to come to a physical halt so that I can be spiritually refreshed.  In these quiet still moments I can remember that the world does not rest on my shoulders and I can let loose those stresses which are not mine to carry. Because ultimately all of these gifts that I attempt to steward are just that—gifts—which I want to claim but are better left in God’s hands.

In the midst of my toiling I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11, which I find endlessly comforting: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Jesus offers us an entirely new category of rest, one that goes beyond a good night’s sleep or satisfaction in a job well done.  Jesus offers rest for our souls, a peace beyond understanding.  And His rest is enough to get me through these tired days, enough to give me the hope and strength I need to carry on.  All I have to do is to stop long enough to remember Who is really in control, and to have the courage to embrace the rest He gives.

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In God’s Sweetness (a Thankful Tuesday post)

Yesterday was my first real day home with two kids. I don’t have to do it long. For the rest of the week my husband is working from home and next week my mother-in-law arrives. (And my mother just left this past Saturday after being with us for two weeks.) I have it really good.

But I woke up in fear of what the day would bring. I spent Sunday suffering from mastitis. If you don’t know what that means, don’t bother looking it up. Just know that it’s terrible. I was in bed with a high fever, chills, and massive achiness. Thankfully, I had Wuthering Heights to keep me company when I wasn’t fading in and out of sleep. And I also had my husband at home playing Rocket-Star Wars/Buzz Lightyear in the next room. But I had in the fuzz of my mind a massive fear that I would wake up Monday morning with two babies to care for and the same fever. Miraculously, it was gone. I was weak but able to play Rocket-Star Wars/Buzz Lightyear, make meals, nurse a baby, and shoo my husband to his super important meeting. I even managed to fold some laundry.

When I started this blog, one of my deepest fears was whether or not God could ever be pleased with who I am: the simplicity of my life. I had always wanted to be a woman who rescued orphans and dug wells for the thirsty and sacrificed comfort for the sake of the broken. And instead I found myself a SAHM in the middle of comfortable America, my only suffering being my lack of a washer and dryer. What was I doing for the world? Sure, I believed God loved me, but could he really be proud of me? After all, despite the sacrifices all moms make, it wasn’t hard for me to love my kid. And that’s what I did…All. Day. Long.

Since then, I’ve been a slow transition of my heart and mind. It’s not that I never knew God loved me, it’s simply that I’ve begun to believe it. I believe that when I practice the most mundane exercises of motherhood, I am living in God’s sweetness. I no longer hold fast to a version of God that has a Wall of Fame with his best and brightest smiling in frames. Instead, I rest in the reality that God adores me because I’m his, not because of what I contribute to his cause. Lord knows, even if I’d chosen an entirely different path, none of my striving could have landed me a spot on that Wall.

So, as I went about my Monday, wiping baby Brooksie’s butt while August stood on a chair beside the changing table and laughed about poop, while I sat on the floor nursing while pretending to be Mater (the tow truck from the Cars movie), while I read stories and told August for the 18th time that it’s so sweet to kiss your brother but you have to be gentle with his head, I felt something new. It was God’s pleasure. God was being kind to me, not because I’ve earned a great place in the Kingdom of Awesomeness, but because I haven’t.

There’s a verse in Zechariah (chapter 4, verse 10) that asks the question: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” I first discovered that question six years ago, when I was straight out of my MFA program and working as an administrator at a construction company. It was not the job I’d dreamed of doing. (My dream was to somehow have my poems discovered and to become a great poet who could then afford to build a lot of wells around the world.) So, I’d tell myself that I could find joy in filing work orders, organizing plans, and making phone calls to subcontractors who called me “girl.”

And though that passage dwelled with me in that season, I feel more and more like it’s settling into my core. Yesterday was a day of the smallest of things: the survival of two children, their nourishment, their snuggles, the building of a foundation of love in their lives. Who despises that?

If I’m honest, I can say there have been days that I’ve despised myself because it seemed I couldn’t do more than those simple things. But yesterday was not one of those days. It was sweet and generous and full.

And that’s worth a Thankful Tuesday post.

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Treasure

Last night in a haze of fever (Sunday was a rough day), I lay on the couch reading August a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. It was a retelling of Jesus’ Parable of the Hidden Treasure.

After Jesus compares God’s Kingdom to a great treasure worth selling all you own to pursue, Sally Loyd-Jones reminds us that God also gave everything he had (his son) to pursue his treasure (us). I read those words to August and whispered, “You are God’s treasure!”

He ran from me to his dad across the room: “I’m a treasure, Daddy!” And then to our newborn sleeping near me on the couch. “T-Rexy is a treasure, Daddy!” (Yes, we can’t seem to stop calling him by his dinosaur name.) “This sweet baby is a treasure!” Of course, then he leaned in on baby Brooks’ stomach and kissed his face too hard and made the poor thing cry. But it was beautiful all the same.

 

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Bless Thou to me my rest

The great thing about the first few weeks after delivering a child is that no one in the world expects anything of you. In fact, people are shocked if they see you out. No one in line at Starbucks wants to be told that your kid is 5 days old. It makes them uncomfortable. (Even if you explain that you have to buy a latte in order to get your parking validated because there were no spots at the pediatrician’s lot. Don’t judge me!)

There’s also the whole thing with your body being in total upheaval. Your stomach is an empty, organless land (at least it feels that way when you sink your fist into the gobs of skin). And your body actually tells you if you do too much. More bleeding = bad job resting, Mama.

I love that. I’m absolutely thankful that my mother is here and doesn’t expect me to do much besides feed my baby and snuggle his big brother. Because yesterday, I tried to skip my afternoon nap and ended up feeling a little pathetic by 5 pm, my mom insisted I lie down today. I’m obeying because I have only a few more days to be pampered before she goes home. And I’m going to be grateful and healed up before she leaves.

As I reread through parts of Esther de Waals’ The Celtic Way of Prayer yesterday, I was reminded of an ancient Celtic prayer that I couldn’t help but love the first time I read it:

 

Bless to me, O God,
The earth beneath my foot,
Bless to me, O God,
The path whereon I go;
Bless to me, O God,
The thing of my desire,
Thou Evermore of evermore.
Bless Thou to me my rest.

Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my mind,
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my love;
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my hope;
O Thou King of kings
Bless thou to me mine eye! (91)

 

“Bless Thou to me my rest.” Since I first read those words a few months ago, my mind can’t move past that line when I read this prayer. It seems to me that it takes a lot of courage to ask God to bless the rest we take, the space we make for rest in our lives, so that Sabbath can be real and nourishing.

Our culture despises rest. It wants us to feel guilty about it. It wants us to judge our lives and our productivity by our lack of it. “I’m really busy” is our societal form of “I’m really important; I matter.”

We should be in constant struggle to live counter-culturally in this sense: to believe in rest and cling to it. I’m not usually winning in that struggle. But, there are moments when I am forced into authentic and beautiful rest. When I can sit and read and nurse my baby and accept help and take naps.

So, in this Lenten season, wherever each of us in our seasons of life, wouldn’t it be beautiful if we prayed that God would bless to us our rest? Whatever and however that happens…

 

 

 

 

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Molly chooses the “bright side”: A Thankful Tuesday guest post

Molly Strader Hunt is one of my very favorite people in the whole world. I spent an entire year of my twenties singing the three karaoke songs we owned (in our post-college apartment) to her every night. (We didn’t have many friends that year.) She is charming, passionate and one of the funniest women I’ve ever known. Who better to write our guest Thankful Tuesday post this week?

Thank you, Molly!

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Here is the truth, I have never enjoyed Thankful Tuesday.  Micha introduced me to this notion in college and it just never clicked with me.  I am a cynic at heart.  I like to refer to myself as a “realist,” one that has a unique gift to see situations for what and how they truly are.  Yet, if I am honest, I know that I inherited my Memaw’s glass half-empty outlook and often walk a fine line between being a realist and Debbie Downer.  When asked to be a guest for the Thankful Tuesday post on Mama:Monk I was sitting on the couch drowning in self-pity and snot because my mother just stopped by and my house was really dirty (really dirty) and my husband was leaving for another seven day mission trip for his job as the campus minister to the small, Baptist university we graduated from, but never left.  My children, four and two years old, were fighting again and I could hear objects crashing to the floor in the back room.  The baby in my belly, 34 weeks along, was kicking me so hard that I almost yelled, “Stop it!” Which, of course, only brought on guilt and more tears.  How could I possibly be thankful today?  So I began typing, trying to choose the “bright side,” if you will.

My mother lives two miles away and can be on my doorstep before I finish dialing her number.  Something I cherish more than I could or would ever admit.  Even if she stops in unannounced, I am thankful.

My husband is the campus minister at a University that commences on May 14th.  My due date is May 5th and this means I will have my husband’s undivided attention until summer plans pick up on June 13th.   He will have freedom to arrive late to the office and leave early and I promise to soak in every minute of his help and be thankful.

My children, Miles and Lucy, are only 20 months apart and this has created a close bond that is often overwhelming to me.  They are best friends, worst enemies, and wonderful playmates.  They are now happily sharing a room so that I can give the new baby her own space.  I am thankful for their gracious hearts.

I am having a third child in less than 7 weeks and feel great. In fact, I jumped rope today.  Thirty-four weeks pregnant and I still got it! (I also peed my pants.)

Although my son’s September birthday misses the cut off to start Kindergarten next year, I am thankful for one year with all of my children at home.  This will consist of a very intelligent and easily bored four-year-old in need of stimulation, a three-year-old who is sassy and headstrong, and an infant who will need to nurse and cry throughout the day.  BUT, my children will get to bond at home for one year all together.  I realize this will probably not happen again in their lifetime and I am thankful for this experience, even if I cry every day.

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It’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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Why I’m going to Africa (aka: Why my family cannot be my whole world)

Friends, thank you for all of the notes and wishes this past week as we welcomed baby Brooks to our family. I am exhausted and happy and full of thankfulness. I’m also not in my most creative state. So I’ve asked my friend Amanda Fleming Kolman to guest post for us today. This past summer, Amanda wrote one of Mama:Monk’s most-read posts of all time about her family and their experience with adoption. (If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend.) She blogs at A Time to Dance.

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Yesterday, I spent a good bit of my day crying off and on.  And, thanks to my husband’s bright idea of giving up tea for Lent (English Breakfast with two sugars and heavy cream, thank you very much) I had nothing with which to drown my sorrows.

See, in two weeks I will leave my family, my tall-drink-of-water husband and my three little girls, for 12 days and travel across the Atlantic to Tanzania, where I get to help put on the first ever Young Life Africa Women’s Leadership Summit.  First, let me just tell you that, even though my tea is English, I have never gone anywhere.  Anywhere.  I should probably be embarrassed by that, but it’s just the circumstances of my life.  High school to college.  College to marriage.  Marriage to kids.  And never any time or money for a big trip.  So, this is it. The first stamp on my passport will say Tanzania, Africa. And, most of the time, I am crazy with excitement!

But, yesterday I was sad. Because even though I know that God wants me on this trip, there is a voice in my head, one that gets louder the closer we get to leaving, saying. “Is it really okay for me to leave my family, to ask them to sacrifice for 12 days, for a trip that, let’s face it, is going to be really fun for me and could totally go on without me?”

I know the truth. So, I keep repeating to myself the reasons why I’m going.  The ones that are easy to clarify, like how much I love and believe in the ministry of Young Life and their commitment to reaching teenagers all over the world with the gospel.  Or the uniqueness of this chance to rub elbows with and serve and learn from these African women who are making a difference in their communities.  Or the fact that I am raising THREE lovely girls which means that empowering and encouraging women should be a high priority for me.  Or how much I wanna be a mom who speaks from experience when she tells her kids to go on adventures and take risks.

Then, there are the reasons that are harder to explain. The ones that feel tender and fragile when I say them out loud.  It feels like God is doing a new thing in me.  He has been whispering to me about Africa for the last year in little ways, like through my out-of-nowhere tears every time a missionary at church brings back pictures from Kenya. And through my gorgeous African daughter whose face lit up when I told her that there are places in this world where almost everyone is brown, like her.  And, this isn’t so whispery, but he also seems to be speaking to me in her wild need to drum in perfect rhythm on everything she sees. “Af-ri-ca—Af-ri-ca—Af-ri-ca.”  I have this sense that God is about to blow open the doors of my small worldview for his purposes.

I keep reminding myself of all of those things.  But, in my cozy bed at night, all I can think about is the fact that, at some point during those 12 days, my kids are gonna miss me, and they’ll be sad. And it’ll be my fault.

On March 28th, I’ll be on a plane, though.  Because my heart nearly beat out of my chest last year when this trip was first mentioned.  And I had the weirdest experience where the sensible part of me had no control and it watched in astonishment as my heart stood me right up, marched me to my friend in charge of the trip, and totally told her I wanted to go.  So, I’m going to serve but also because God has something there for me, too.  And I wanna know what that is.

Sometimes, the overwhelming task of caring for and guiding my own little women can make women in distant lands just seem…well…distant. But God has called me to both.  And my family cannot be my whole world.  They need to know it and I need to know it.  And I can’t always protect my kids from sacrifice.  If I do, they’ll grow up and be people who love only when it’s convenient. So instead, I’m adding them to the list of reasons why I’m going.  I’m going for them.  I’m going so they know someday that it’s okay to go.  So they know that when God stirs in your heart, you can trust him with the details back home.  I’m going so they know that the world is much bigger than we think and that there are women all over, in all kinds of circumstances, who are passionate about following Jesus and who sacrifice so much more than we do to do so. I’m going to show them that mommies can still have adventures.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a thing or two as I have tried to teach my little girls about what it means to be feminine.  And so I know that when I go, I don’t have to pretend I’m not sad or scared.  I get to feel it all deeply and let it add a richness to my experience.  And I get to show my girls that the strength of a woman is in the softness of her heart, which sometimes leads her to curl up and read books with her sleepy little girl, and sometimes leads her to take off and fly to Africa.

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T-Rexy Is Here!

Hey, Mama:Monk fans. This is Jason (Micha’s brother).

She and husband are currently enjoying the blissful aftermath of the birth of little T-Rexy, who entered the world this morning at 8:40 am in San Francisco.

He weighed 8 lbs, 6 oz and is 20.5 inches long. His real name is Brooks Andrew.

Everyone is happy and healthy.

Thanks for reading, praying, and thinking about Mama:Monk. I expect she’ll be back here soon, but will probably need a few days off. Feel free to leave your best wishes here, if you’d like.

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