family

For When You Can't See Past the Dirty Diapers

When I look at my great-grandmother’s photo, I get a little lost in her story. Sonia came to America from Siberia when she was around 15 years old after she married my great-grandfather who was an American soldier.

I absolutely love her story. Truthfully, I don’t know the details as much as I would like, but my crazy imagination sure can fill in the gaps pretty quickly with dramatic ideas of my own.

Sonia and my great-grandfather, Henry and their first three children. My grandmother is on the far left of this photo..

Sonia and my great-grandfather, Henry and their first three children. My grandmother is on the far left of this photo..

One wonders what motivated her to leave her family and native country and move to a completely new country with her new husband. When I look at her round face, framed by her trendy 1920's haircut known as "the bob", and those mischievous dark eyes, I wonder what her personality was like. I look at my own face in the mirror, contemplating my own dark eyes and wonder if she was introverted and shy at 15 years of age like I was. Or was she extroverted and bubbly like my free-spirited 6-year-old? The way she seems to be glancing away from the camera in this photo makes me think she was more like my third daughter who can only pause for a moment before something glittery has her running breathlessly through life again, savoring every moment as only a wild child can. Did she get lost in the stories in her head, or was she a practical, no-nonsense kind of gal? She must have been up for adventure to come so far so young. I like to think that some of my wanderlust is from her.

Sonia and her oldest daughter.

Sonia and her oldest daughter.

Though I don't know her whole story, I know one thing for sure-her life was filled with purpose and directed by the sovereign hand of God. No, she never did great things that made her well-known, but rather she did a lot of small things, like change diapers and soothe fussy babies. The greatest thing she is remembered for is walking faithfully with Jesus. Her children heard the gospel from her lips, mostly in Russian with a smattering of broken English here and there. When my own mother was a little girl, Sonia would read aloud to her from her Russian Bible. Sonia taught her children the truth about God. Sonia’s heart trusted the God she could not see. She trusted Him enough to give up all she knew to follow her husband back to his home and raise her children in a foreign country.

I am inspired when I think of Sonia. Her life reminds me that each of us lives in this time in history, in this place and with these people for a purpose that is greater than we realize. When I think of all the variables that may have kept Sonia from even meeting my great-grandfather, let alone marrying him and moving to America, I am amazed that I am even here. How difficult it must have been to move so far away. When I think about how many obstacles could have completely changed the course of an entire family. My grandmother, mother, sister, I and my four daughters may have never existed, and yet, because of the sovereign hand of God, we do. This is when it strikes me deep in my soul that every one of us is on this planet for a reason. It cannot be by accident.

Me and my oldest daughter almost a decade ago.

Me and my oldest daughter almost a decade ago.

This understanding changes the way I see my day to day. Too often I am overcome by what seems like meaningless, mundane work of laundry and one more story before tucking in little ones at night. But this is why I am here. The path I am walking during my very short time here must be traveled by me. No one else can do what I have been put here to do. To live on this planet with a heart that worships the Father, points others to him, and loves my husband and children in a way that glorifies God-this is why I am here. It isn’t fancy. Like Sonia, I may live a very quiet, unnoticed life, but the way I choose to live it will affect the generations to follow.

When I see the way my children are growing and becoming who God has created them to be, I am humbled by the role I play in raising and discipling them. I see all the ways I am unqualified, but God has chosen me to mother them. I cannot take it lightly. This may be the greatest work of my life. What an honor motherhood is for those of us who are called to it! Too often, I complain. I grow weary in doing good. I forget the legacy of faith that has been built by my ancestral mothers before me, that I am called to pass on to my daughters, and that they will one day pass on to their children.

Isn’t motherhood beautiful? Yes, I know the stretch marks and baggy eyelids are not so lovely, but they give testimony to the hard work to which we have been called. The sacrificing of our bodies and much needed rest for the sake of others.

Sometimes, our purpose requires day in and day out mundane faithfulness that can cause us to feel restless, like we are missing out on something everyone else seems to be a part of. Sometimes, it requires gathering courage we don’t have to step out in faith and move away from all that is familiar, trusting what we cannot see for things that we will never grasp in our lifetime.

Whatever motherhood has been for you, hear me when I say it is not by accident that you are here loving these babies. It is the sovereignty of God that has placed you here, at this time, doing this beautiful work of loving the least of these. Clothing those little naked babes, feeding their hungry bellies, wiping away their sorrow with gentle kisses and reassuring words.

You are beautiful, Mama.

I like to think of Sonia during my most difficult days. This has been a week of just that. The work is overwhelming, the obstacles have loomed large, my skill is lacking, and my heart is weary. But then I look at my great-grandmother’s picture and I wonder…what impact will my faithfulness to this task of mothering have on my great-granddaughter? Will she someday look at pictures of me holding my little ones and wonder about me? Will she be encouraged or ashamed by me? By God’s grace, I hope to live in such a way, that the legacy of my faith will inspire generations I will never meet to live wholeheartedly for Christ as God has created and called them to.

My prayer for you today is that you will have eyes to see beyond the dirty diapers and piles of laundry for a moment. May you catch a glimpse of the bigger picture that is being painted through your life by the Master Artist's all-knowing hand. I pray that realizing your steps on this earth are established by God would encourage your heart, regardless of the obstacles you are facing. May you live with unwavering hope, that even if no one else knows your name, your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would hear of your faithfulness to God and praise Him for His goodness that is everlasting!

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.

 Psalms 37:23-26

 

Words, Words and Yet More Words

When I write, I edit the words on the paper very carefully, checking and re-checking for misplaced prepositions and misspelled synonyms. I read it over and over until my eyes are blurry and my head hurts, desperately trying to recall my high-school English lessons. I’m sure grammar Nazis-wait, I don’t like that term, let’s say…grammar connoisseurs-are now looking closely at this piece for my mistakes. You’ll find them, I promise. I’m pretty loose with commas. I’m so anxious about making mistakes with the black and white words of this page. These words will be released into the unknown of the online blog world for everyone to see. This feels terrifying. However, I can always go in and edit again later once it’s published, thankfully.

Not so with my out-loud words. There is no spell check or editor for the words that come out of my mouth. I don’t check and re-check my words before I say them. No one approves my statements before they come out of my mouth. I’m not reciting from a teleprompter. However, I’m rarely anxious about the words that are doing a swan dive off of my tongue into the air, even though I know they will never be able to crawl back into my mouth once they are out.

I wish it weren’t this way. I wish I thought more about what I was saying before I threw it out there. I wish I would hold my words until I found the right ones that will be most helpful to the people I love so much. Instead, I tend to say whatever pops into my head. Most of the time it is frustrated instruction for my children or words of anger aimed at my husband.

This happened as recently as last night as my husband and I argued on the phone about a scheduling conflict. I have control issues when it comes to our schedule. Over-scheduling makes me panic. As I started to feel threatened by an out-of-control schedule, words flew out of my mouth like kamikaze pilots on a mission with no hope of returning, and declared war on my bewildered husband. I sent rescue words in the form of an apology, and he was forgiving, but of course the damage to his heart was already done. Isn’t it always this way?

Do you ever do this? Am I alone in this verbal pit of despair? Hugs for you my fellow wordy friends.

Our only hope is to cling to the holy words of Scripture. The words that come out of our mouths are a reflection of what we have been putting in our hearts. What we are filling our minds and hearts with will be evident when we open our mouths. What does it matter how many good works we are doing or how faithful in church attendance we are when we are big meanies with our words. Author Kristen Welch says it this way in her book Rhinestone Jesus:

“Since the family is God’s means of telling His story, our goal is to build a strong family. One key aspect is having respect for each other. It doesn’t say much about me if I excel at loving others…yet I’m mad at my daughter…and verbally abuse her.”

The strength of our family and the mission of the gospel are affected deeply by the graciousness of our words to each other (…all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another - John 13:35). I think this is true of every family member, but especially so with Mom. We sometimes fail to remember how much weight our words carry with the hearts of our family until it is too late and their spirits are crushed under our harshness. Oh dear.

Jesus was painfully straightforward about this when he said to the Pharisees:

How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.   Matthew 12:34-37

Ouch. The things we say testify to the submission of our hearts to the Father. That is terrifying when I think back to some of the careless things I’ve said. Many of my words have not given evidence to the work of Christ on my behalf and I am ashamed of that.

Proverbs has a plethora of things to say about the words we speak. Here are just a few:

There is one whose rash words are life sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  12:18

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. 16:24

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. 17:27-28

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. 18:21

It would seem that our words say a lot about our mental, physical and emotional health as well as the spiritual. Our words can bring healing to the wounds caused by life, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. However, they can also bring pain, foolishness and even death. And our words are almost always tied to our ability to manage our anger. James 1:19-20 has been a life verse for me that my own daughters have spoken to me in moments when my spirit is not so cool:

…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

That means my offended and unrighteous anger, while it may cause enough fear to produce temporary compliance, does not bring about the righteous instruction of God that will bring true change in my children’s hearts. The effect only lasts as long as I am angry, and tempts my children to obey only as long as it doesn’t make me angry. This results in very inconsistent obedience on their part and unfaithful discipline on my part. But, when I speak the truth of God’s Word with mercy and grace instead, it creates space for the work of Christ in their hearts - and mine. This produces the joyful change that is needed far more than my sinful, self-righteous anger does.

I know these things. I know these verses. You may know the words of God too, but until we hide them in our hearts, we will continue to sin against God and our families with our words. (Psalm 119:11)

The struggle is that there is a wonderful feeling of control and power when we get our words off our chest, and it is addictive. For just a moment, we’ve said our piece and we feel relieved…but only for a moment. Then shame usually sets in and we will spend days regretting our words and trying to undo the damage to no avail. I fear this will be an ongoing battle for the rest of my life.

My prayer for us today is the very words of God, penned by a wordy fella named David.

Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  Psalm 19:12-14

Amen.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16