This week I got to do one of my favorite things. I went to an end-of-year Celebration Brunch at a nearby church and listened as moms shared about their year in Mom to Mom.
It’s that time of year—and I love it! Many Mom to Mom groups use their last meeting of the year to hear from women in the group about how God has met them in this year. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to hear from these moms face-to-face. Sometimes I get emails from moms in groups around the country. But all the time there is a common theme: “God met me here.”
Yesterday I listened as one woman told of how God had changed her this year through Mom to Mom. Changed her marriage. Changed her perspective on what it means to build a Christian home. Helped her prepare for the birth of their first baby. (Yes, she came to Mom to Mom while pregnant with her first child in order to prepare to be a mom!)
Another mom told of how her group kept a prayer journal together. How it had gotten her through this year to keep in touch with prayer requests by email even when she had sick kids and couldn’t make it to Mom to Mom. Another told an amazing story of God’s healing in the life of her precious newborn as she was surrounded by the care and prayers of her group. The baby’s doctor said: “You know I am an atheist. But I have to say this is a miracle.”
Another told of how hard it had been to learn of her child’s multiple food allergies; but God had “arranged” her group so that there were others with similar challenges that could walk alongside her. Yet another told how she had modified her career plans and arranged her schedule to be at Mom to Mom. “Tell your friends ‘You need to arrange your life to be here. It’s that important.’”
There was a common theme summed up by one mom who said, “I’ve come to think of Mom to Mom as ‘the sisterhood of motherhood.’” She was followed by a mom who shared a heart-wrenching story of her miscarriage at 19 weeks. It happened on a Tuesday. And she was at Mom to Mom the next day to be loved and prayed for by women who understood—not only in that day, but through the days and weeks that followed. “It was like a hug from God every Wednesday.”
This group of moms has organized themselves to stay in touch over the summer. They have a Facebook group of 77 families who try to stay connected. They know they need each other. One mom from another MTM group told of a time she was out pushing her twins on a desperation walk at the witching hour against a whipping wind. Another mom drove by, rolled down her window and said, “It will get better.” A message we all need to hear.
So I write this today as a salute to all the moms who come to Mom to Mom, and to all the amazing Titus 2 leaders who faithfully love and serve these moms. We need each other! But we need God even more. A verse keeps coming to me from the Psalmist: “Where can I go to meet with God?” Many places, of course. But thank God that Mom to Mom is one of the best!
When I first heard that Shauna Niequist had a new book coming out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I loved her first book, Cold Tangerines. And her second book, Bittersweet, is even better. I recommend it all the time.
Then someone told me this new book was about cooking, with lots of recipes. Disappointment. I hate to admit this in our “foody” world—but I don’t actually like to cook. And the idea of reading what I pictured as a cookbook with commentary did not make my heart sing.
But then I remembered: This book is by Shauna Niequist. I love her writing. I love her thinking. I love the way she embraces life so passionately, so completely, daring to write honestly about the bitter as much as the sweet. Surely this book is about far more than food alone.
Indeed. Far more. The full title says it well: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table. The book draws you in to not only her kitchen and her table, but her life itself. It is a book about love and fear, joy and pain, pregnancy and infertility, new birth and miscarriage, crazy schedules and quiet moments—life itself.
In a disarming way, Niequist always goes deep. I love the authenticity with which she writes about women’s struggles with shame over their bodies and their homes—and more importantly, her rallying call to overcome these lies in favor of God’s truth about who we are and how we can live in freedom and relationship.
I think my favorite chapter is “Enough.” That may be because I resonate so deeply with her feelings surrounding infertility and miscarriage. The story she tells, about sharing joy in yet another friend’s pregnancy even amidst her own loss, mirrors an experience in my own life—many years ago but never forgotten. In sharing her story, Shauna urges us ever so gently toward contentment with whatever God has for us—or doesn’t.
I love Niequist’s humor. She is a very, very funny writer. And she uses her humor well. It sneaks up on you. As you laugh your way through her hilarious chapter called “Open the Door,” you almost don’t notice how thoroughly she has convinced you about the importance of relationship over pride, and “presence” over perfection.
This book envelops you. It has you laughing one minute, wiping a tear the next. And yes, though it is about much more than food and cooking, it is full of wonderful cooking tips, entertaining ideas, and scrumptious recipes—some of them the kind that even I would try! OK, I have to admit it: it actually made me want to cook more. I’ve always loved having people in my home, laughing and crying and telling great stories around my table. I’m all about “life around the table.” It’s just the actual cooking process I don’t love. But Shauna managed to inspire even me.
She also includes lots of great tips for various dietary needs—gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, and more. This is a book about feeding the body—yes. But also the soul. It embraces life in the light of the ultimate Bread and Wine of God’s table. The best table, it turns out.
“Grooves of grace.” I first heard that phrase many years ago from a great giant of the faith, Dr. Vernon Grounds.
Dr. Grounds was a man with a brilliant mind and a huge heart. President of Denver Seminary for many years, he is now with the Lord he served so faithfully. I once had the privilege of hearing him speak about daily disciplines that helped him grow in his relationship with God. I remember particularly his time in the Scripture and daily prayers walks. These routines, he said, provided “grooves of grace.”
Recently in my Lenten readings I have been reminded of the importance of daily disciplines in our spiritual formation. And in my daily life, I’ve been reminded loud and clear that I am 100% reliant on my morning time with God to get through each day. As I read God’s Word, pour out my heart to Him, and try—really try—to listen better to His voice, I feel His presence and His peace pouring into these grooves of grace.
These days I actually have time and space for “morning time with God.” But it wasn’t always this way. When my kids were young, they were—as many of you Mom to Mom friends know—some of the world’s earliest risers. My days began as if I’d been catapulted out of bed into a traffic jam of constant noise and activity. So where were the grooves of grace then? Often in a whispered one-sentence prayer before the launch: “Lord, please help me get through this day. I can’t do it without You.” OK, that’s two sentences. But some days I only managed a single word: “Help!” Even that opened up a groove of grace. Sometimes it was a Bible left open in the kitchen, with a passage I needed to focus on amidst the frenzy. Or a verse posted on a bathroom mirror. Or favorite Scripture I could meditate on during a stroller walk. All were grooves of grace.
God’s grace. It’s what we live on—and live in—every moment of our lives. Or at least we should be living on. It’s always there. Abundant. Rich. Free (though not cheap, as Bonhoeffer reminds us). But are we providing the grooves into which God can pour that grace? Sometimes I wonder if the grooves are filling in with other “stuff,” blocking access to God’s grace. Busyness. Fuzzy priorities. Mom-life.
Or, in my case, anxiety. Going through testing and inspections and contingencies amidst the sale of our home is providing plenty of that. But I wonder: Is it clogging up the grooves of grace? What am I opening up more access to: what I’m worrying about or what God says?
How about you? Are you opening up grooves of grace in your life? Some days it may feel like just a trickle. Enough for that day. But sometimes it floods in. You can almost feel it sloshing around. Either way, it’s worth digging out the trench.
Is there anyone else out there who feels as if you’ve been sitting in God’s waiting room for so long that it’s beginning to feel like home? For months you’ve been camping out there, thinking “surely this is only temporary!” OK, so you’ve brought in the coffee pot and a few beloved books. But now, let’s face it: You may as well move in all the furniture. Looks like you’ll be here a while.
That’s how I feel on this February day. 2013 has gotten off to a rough start in a lot of ways. But the house . . . It’s been on the market over ten months now. Approximately 75 showings. It sold. And then it unsold (due to buyers’ personal circumstances). And now the clock is ticking toward the closing on our next home. And we are still waiting. And praying. And praying. And praying. And praying.
I think a lot about God’s sovereignty in the waiting room. I feel like those three young men faced with the fiery furnace in Daniel. They knew what God could do. But they didn’t know what God would do. Either way, He was still God. Either way, they would still worship Him. And only Him.
As I sit here on my bench in the waiting room, God keeps reminding me of words from Andrew Murray which seem to have been written directly to me:
“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here. It is by His will that I am in this place; in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make this trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He intends to bestow. “ And last, say, “In His good time, He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows.” Therefore, say: “I am here 1) by God’s appointment, 2) in His keeping, 3) under His training, 4) for His time.”
—Andrew Murray, quoted in Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow, p. 171
Hmm. God’s appointment. His training. His timing. And words about grace: He will “give me grace in this trial to behave as His child . . . working in me the grace He intends to bestow.” How should His child act in this trial? What does “grace bestowed” look like? Well for starters, not the way I often act: anxious, fearful, pacing, worrying myself and everyone around me to distraction.
So here I am, still in the Waiting Room. Under His training. I have a lot left to learn. But I want to share with you just a few tips I’m learning in my prolonged sit-in. Call it “Things To Do While Waiting”:
- Cry when you need to. God hears our cries.
- Vent when you need to. That’s what friends (and husbands) are for.
- Read the Psalms. A lot. Almost any will do, but good starters are Psalms 42-43, 46, 37, and 34.
- Whine as little as possible. I should say, “Don’t whine.” But I’m just being realistic.
- Follow Oswald Chambers’ advice and “Do the next thing”—whatever that may be.
- Try living Philippians 4:6-7, turning your worries into prayers.
- Remember that you are not alone. God sits with you in the Waiting Room.
- Remember that, despite what may seem evidence to the contrary, God is good—all the time. And loving—all the time. And sovereign—all the time.
- Keep praying. Keep talking to God, even if your voice is barely a whisper.
- Ask Him to help you with trust, which is the bottom line. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Help me, Lord, to learn to trust you more.
This is definitely not a finished list, but just some thoughts from my bench in the Waiting Room. I pray that one or two might help someone else out there in another Waiting Room.
It’s happened again. The Light. Just showing up when and where I least expect it. I’ve written before—in past Christmases, I think—about that “certain slant of light” that sneaks across the nativity set on our mantle on certain early mornings when the sun shines here in Wisconsin.
But this happened in the dark. Just the day before yesterday. I got up and stumbled into the kitchen, before coffee, and it was cold. And dark. Very dark.
And there it was. One single candle on the mantle, just to the right of the Bethlehem gathering, with its bulb lit. The candle next to it (both of them battery run) remained dark. They had, after all, been turned off before we went to bed.
But there it was. Stubborn, persistent, wonderful light. Penetrating the darkness and the cold with the reminder that the Light of Christmas isn’t extinguished after the holiday. It remains—persists, even—right on into the New Year, into the January of our lives.
Startled as I was by the light, I had a sudden flashback. One dark night long ago, early in our marriage, Woody and I were working as short-term missionaries in a very remote area in Northern Kenya. We had just finished dinner with a missionary couple and were leaving to cross a winding dirt road to the little cottage where we slept. As we started out the door, the missionary ran after us with a flashlight: “You’d better take this,” he said.
We resisted: “Oh no, we won’t need it,” we assured him. “There’s moonlight, it’s a short distance, and we know the way.”
“Oh, if I were you I’d take it,” he insisted. “There’s a leopard that likes to hang out around that road at night. But he’s very afraid of the light.”
We took the flashlight.
The memory came back to me as I contemplated that candle. I reflected on the closing days of 2012 and wondered about 2013. There’s been a lot of darkness lately. And 2013 is looking a bit murky just now. You never know what leopards might be lurking around. What did Peter say? Something about lion-like evil that prowls around, seeking to devour? (I Peter 5:8)
But there’s that Light. It’s persistent. Steady. Stubborn, even. John said even the darkness can’t put it out. (John 1:5) So I feel I can wish you—even despite and amidst any darkness in our world, or in your personal world—a Happy New Year.
And don’t forget—Take the Light!
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
And refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”
These words from the Gospel (Matthew 2:18) have haunted me ever since the first unthinkable reports began coming out of Newtown, CT, last Friday. Weeping. Great mourning. Howling grief. What other response could we possibly have to such unimaginable horror and evil?
The world weeps with Rachel. Our hearts are broken. Our prayers are continual. Our arms are extended. Mothers all over the country—and the world—feel it at a deep, visceral level. I know people who left work on Friday, sick with the news. A friend left our neighborhood Christmas party, bought low by the day’s events. Every mother—and grandmother—I know wanted to rush to school instantly and flee with her child. We see the faces and hear the names—and they are our own children.
Weeping with Rachel. And for all our children who grow up in a world in which such things can happen. In Newtown, Connecticut. Or Syria. Or Congo. As Nicholas Wolterstorff observes in his memorable book Lament for a Son, it’s the only appropriate response to such raw grief and loss: “Come and sit with me on my mourning bench.”
“Weep with those who weep,” the Scriptures tell us (Romans 12:15 NKJV). And that’s just what our Lord did. He wept with friends at the death of their brother (See John 11). He wept over the city of Jerusalem and the devastation that was to come (Luke 19:41-44).
But here’s the really amazing thing: He chose to come into a weeping world. A world in which violence under Roman rule was the norm. A world in which a wicked king could order the death of all babies two years old and under in a quiet, unsuspecting village. A world in which God Himself could be nailed to a cross.
Emmanuel. God with us. “The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23) He came into a wicked, broken, weeping world—and He wept with us. He chose to do that. He still does.
But He did much more. He gave His very life that sin and death might be defeated. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. That He came. That He lived. That He died. That He rose again, defeating sin and death and opening the gates to eternal life. That He Who became God with us, who brought God to us, will one day bring us to God. To eternity in a place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4)
Now that’s something to celebrate—even in a weeping Christmas.
It occurred to me recently that the answer to almost every question in my life right now is: “I don’t know.” With Woody’s recent retirement, we have made plans to move “back home” to New England. We are in the process of purchasing a condo under construction in the Boston area.
But from there on it’s all questions. When will we move? I don’t know. It depends on selling our current home. When will the house sell? I don’t know. What will it be like to move “back home”? Is it even possible to do that? Or was novelist Thomas Wolfe right when he famously proclaimed “You Can’t Go Home Again”? I don’t know. What about that biopsy you’ve been putting off? When will you get that done? I don’t know. It depends on getting a major insurance mess straightened out. How long will that take? I don’t know. And what about the results…? Well, you’re getting the picture.
I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one living in I-don’t-know-ville. Tons of people I know and love are living there, too. Will the never-ending international adoption saga never end? When will we meet these children? WILL we ever meet these children? When will my prodigal come home? WILL he/she come home? Will this court case ever get resolved and justice—and mercy—prevail? Will the doctors ever figure out what’s wrong? Will the money last till the end of the month? To name just a few questions in my prayers for those I love.
It seems to be an Advent season of I-don’t–know. Which brings to mind the fact that there were a lot of I-don’t-know people at that first Christmas. Joseph and Mary must have had plenty of unanswered questions on that road to Bethlehem. And when they had to flee to Egypt. And a thousand other times in the parenting of Jesus. What was God up to in allowing life for His son to look like this? And the shepherds and the wisemen: What does this amazing birth mean? And Simeon and Anna in the years they waited to meet Him: “How long, O Lord, how long?”
But they did know one thing, and it’s the central truth of Christmas: God is now with us! “And they will call Him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in I-don’t-know-ville. It makes me nervous. I am, after all, half-German, firstborn, and off the charts on the Myers Briggs J-scale. I like answers better than questions. But maybe there’s something to be learned here from those first Christmas people. And more importantly, from the God who invaded their world.
Amidst all the unanswered questions of our lives, there is one Big Answer. What we don’t know, He does. What we can’t control, He can. Wherever our future takes us, He is there already. It’s something BIG to celebrate in Advent. A cause for great joy—yes, Joy! Even in this Advent season of I-don’t-know.
I just returned from the North Central Hearts at Home conference in Rochester, Minnesota. Loved it! What could be better? 2750 moms. Great speakers. A hilarious improv comedy team. The opportunity to speak to hundreds of moms in workshop sessions—and to speak with many face to face at our Mom to Mom table. A chance to see my sweet husband “working” the table and telling lots of moms about what Mom to Mom meant to husbands—a first. Thank you, Woody!
I always come home from such weekends with my head—and heart—full of stories. Yes, lots of smiling moms and funny stories and good laughs. But also stories of hard places—very very hard places. Stories of struggling kids and gasping marriages and leukemia and hospice and moms (yes, even moms) making bad decisions to leave families for old flames or imagined love.
Maybe that’s why the pilgrims on my dining room table are so important to me this week, this week before Thanksgiving. The pilgrims belonged to Woody’s mom. They were always on her dining room table. Thanksgiving was Mom Anderson’s holiday. Most years we traveled to spend it with her, especially in the years after Dad Anderson died.
Which brings me to what the pilgrims most remind me about. It’s Psalm 34. And it takes me back to one Fall many years ago when Woody’s dad was in the hospital for 9 weeks, dying by inches of a rare and never-diagnosed blood disease at the age of 52. Every day, Mom drove from her home in the suburbs into Chicago to sit by his hospital bed all day long. And nearly every day they read together a paraphrase of Psalm 34. This paraphrase was read at Dad’s funeral. That Christmas, we commissioned an artist friend to do a beautiful calligraphy of Psalm 34 which hung in Mom’s living room till she died. Years later, the same paraphrase was read at her funeral—the day before Thanksgiving.
“I feel at times as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!” That’s how the paraphrase starts. An unlikely place to begin when you’re sitting by a hospital bed. Or worrying about a sick child. Or how you’ll make the money stretch to the end of the month. An unlikely Thanksgiving Psalm. But a good one. A psalm for all seasons of life. For all those twists and turns . . .
So I share it with you as my Thanksgiving Hymn this year. I hope it can be yours, too.
I’m currently preparing to speak on “Top Ten Messages You Want Your Kids To Get” (at the Hearts at Home conference in Rochester, MN). And I’ve been reminded that it’s been a long time since I shared any book recommendations. I’ve been reading some good things, especially on the topic of communicating with your kids. Here are three new favorites:
Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Son, by Vicki Courtney: As the mother of two sons, I really wish I’d had this book long ago. I love the clarity and intentionality with which Vicki and her husband approached key messages they wanted to give their sons. The book is straightforward, realistic, and immensely practical. But most of all, I love the author’s emphasis on the heart. Relationships always triumph over rules, even while boundaries must be clearly communicated and enforced. The focus throughout is capsulized in the last chapter: “Godliness over Goodness.” With sons, as with God, it’s always the heart that matters.
Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter, by Vicki Courtney: If Vicki’s book about sons goes to the heart, this goes even a few levels deeper. Wonderfully transparent, it is written from the heart of one who’s been there in the harder places where girls today find themselves, and is willing to help others learn from her experience. The five chapter titles (the recommended conversations) reveal how “on target” the content is:
- “You Are More Than the Sum of Your Parts”
- “Don’t Be in Such a Hurry To Grow Up”
- “Sex Is Great and Worth the Wait”
- “It’s OK To Dream about Marriage and Motherhood”
- “Girls Gone Wild Are a Dime a Dozen—Dare To Be Virtuous.”
Of course, these conversations, as well as those with sons, are not individual one-time talks, but ongoing communication. Some conversations are much harder than others. But Vicki will help you find the words, the courage, and the grace to have even the hardest ones.
Six Ways To Keep the “Little” in Your Girl, by Dannah Gresh: Doesn’t the title grab you? What a needed word for our culture! This little book is a great complement to Courtney’s (above) by offering specific strategies for connecting with your daughter in ways that count, and will help you guide your daughter, age-appropriately, from her tweens to her teens. I love the author’s emphasis on listening well instead of doing all the talking. She even gives very specific guidelines about how to do that (“Listening So She’ll Talk,” p. 60). Gresh also provides practical helps for dealing with multi-media in our plugged-in world. But perhaps my favorite is the illustrated guide to “Truth or Bare Fashion Tests” (pp. 110-112), which will help you teach you daughter modesty, pro-actively and preemptively.
All three of these books are great one-chapter-at-a-time “snatch books” which work for busy moms because they can sit on your bedside table or accompany you to waiting rooms or on carpool runs to read just a little here or there when you have time. And believe me, they are worth your time!