He would have left me by now…

… if our marriage was based on how well we keep our vows.

I was thinking the other day about some of the things we promised each other on our wedding day, so I went and looked them up:

I, Blake, before God, family and friends receive you, Jessica, as my wife.

I promise to faithfully love and cherish you, to nurture you spiritually and provide for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, loving you sacrificially as Christ loves the Church.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

 

I, Jessica, before God, family and friends receive you, Blake, as my husband.

I promise to faithfully love and respect you, to strengthen you spiritually and care for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, submitting to you joyfully as the Church submits to Christ.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

Yes, there’s no way either of us have kept those promises perfectly in our marriage.

I still remember when we wrote them together during our engagement –  sitting in that darkened Thai restaurant, hashing out exactly what we wanted our marriage to be about.

It’s hard, when you’re young and idealistic, to know all the twists and turns that you will encounter along the journey of marriage. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because if we knew, would we want to promise these things at all?

If we knew about chronic illnesses that can turn your beloved into a shell of a person for years on end, would we promise to stay with them in sickness and in health?

If we knew about the times when a husband’s requests seem impossible, would we promise to submit to them?

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Maybe someone more cynical would think – why even write vows if you aren’t going to stick to them?

And I wonder if that’s what the many young people who are shunning marriage these days are thinking – that they don’t want to make promises they will just break later. They don’t see the point of “committing”, when they know it is an empty commitment.

 

But there is a bigger story here. Because marriage is not primarily about our faithfulness to our vows or to each other. If that were it marriage would not be such a great story after all.

Humans mess up. We sin against each other, even those we love. We break our promises. We hurt each other.

Don’t misunderstand me here – there is so much great stuff about marriage! There is the friendship, the intimacy, creating a family together, the in-jokes, the warmth and service, and more.

But still… if that was all marriage was, why even write vows? Why commit at all? For the piece of paper? For the rings?

 

No, the bigger story here is about God’s faithfulness to the church He loves. It’s about the deep love of Jesus that lead him to the cross and his resurrection to take his rightful place as Head of the church. It’s about His bride – the Church – enjoying the warmth and protection of that Headship, and the restored relationship between the two.

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This is what drives our commitment to each other. This is what gets us through the rough patches. This is what keeps our eyes on the road – OUR road – instead of glancing at the greener pastures surrounding us. This is what keeps us from building a nice little idol out of our marriage.

The story of marriage is bigger than us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being Needed

I can remember a time in my childhood when Mum was sick enough to need to rest in bed during the day.

I remember my Dad looking after us and saying “You need to stay out of our bedroom – Mummy is sick and she needs to sleep. Come and play.”

And I remember how my little heart felt – that it was unfair that we had to stay away from Mum; that she belonged to us and being unable to access her felt wrong.

Of course, as we grew older, we grew in compassion and saw that she had needs of her own.

Now I’m a Mum myself and I can see the other side of the equation.

Yesterday, for Mother’s Day, I rode my bike over to our church early and had breakfast and coffee by myself from the local cafe.

As I was getting ready to leave, I told the kids that Daddy would be bringing them to church and I would meet them there.

My 3 year old said – in the sweetest, most sorrowful voice imaginable – “But Mummy… I just… love you de most in de whole world.”

I could feel what his little heart was feeling. Why does Mummy have to go away from us? Why can’t I have access to her constantly?


 

Sometimes the “feeling needed” part of being a Mum is so intense.

I can feel it when my daughter follows me into the bathroom. When the baby wriggles to get out of my arms, and then immediately stretches his hands up to me, wanting to be picked up again. When my daughter comes and sits in the kitchen and says, “I just want to do what you’re doing Mummy.”

Whether these moments make me swoon or grind my teeth usually depends on where my head is at. If I’m feeling well organised and refreshed, I see the joy in being needed. But if I’m feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, I just want some space.

It’s actually good to be needed. This means that my kids and I have developed a healthy attachment. But I can’t pour out of an empty vessel.

So I will continue to pour myself out for my kids, and my husband and whoever the Lord chooses. But I will also continue to fill my cup.

First, by spending time with the Lord. And then by spending time on my own.

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Your Child is a Sinner

And they need true grace.


There is some popular parenting advice out there these days that claims when small children act out, they aren’t actually being “naughty” or doing anything wrong, they are just trying to come to terms with their place in the world, and perhaps finding some aspect of that challenging.

This parenting advice says that they don’t need discipline, they just need your love and understanding and gentle guidance.

As Christian Mums, we always need to weigh parenting advice carefully against the Bible to see if it is consistent with the gospel, or opposed to the gospel.

The problem with this new parenting advice is that it is based on the philosophy that humans are basically good at heart. And this is a denial of the truth we see in the Bible, that humans are sinful at heart, even from birth.

I definitely agree that children need our love, understanding and gentle guidance, but because they are inherently sinful, those things alone will not cut it. You cannot love a child into being a good person – you are not God.

Sometimes I struggle with this parenting philosophy too. I’m tempted to make excuses for my kids’ sinfulness, blaming it on tiredness, hunger or over-stimulation. Those things certainly make self-control harder (even for me, as an adult!).

But how does God treat me when, in my tiredness, I lash out with harsh words to my husband? Does God say, “Oh, don’t worry about it – you’re only speaking harshly because you’re tired. All you need is a good night sleep.”?

No. He responds with gentle, loving correction. “You are tired right now, and that makes it harder to control yourself. Instead of leaning on yourself for the strength to do the right thing, you should lean on my grace. I have all you need.”

You see, the Bible teaches us that our actions are the overflow of our heart. No one can “make” us shout in anger, if the anger wasn’t already in our hearts. No one can “make” our children snatch a toy in selfishness if the selfishness wasn’t already in their hearts.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” Matthew 15:18

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Sin, at it’s heart, is rebellion against God. To say that our children are inherently sinful means that they are naturally set against God in their hearts, and the actions that spring forth from this rebellion are opposed to what God has set out in his law.

No one, on their own, can stop sinning because it is in our nature. And although I don’t do it perfectly, keeping this in mind has great benefits in my attitude to my children.

  • It means I’m not shocked by their sinfulness. When one of the kids comes out with a tantrum over not getting their way or shouts at me in anger, I don’t think “Where did that come from?!?” I know where it came from – their hearts.
  • I don’t take their bad behaviour personally. I know that they aren’t struggling with sin because of my failure as a parent, but because of their sin nature. I let them own their own behaviour, and then point them to the One who can help them to overcome it.
  • I don’t think I’m better than them. I can relate to them as a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace. And I can say this to them too! “Mummy needs Jesus to help her do the right thing.” Just the other day, my daughter said, “Mummy, maybe you can pray that God would help you not to yell at us today.” It was a real bitter-sweet moment! I might be a little further along the road than them, but we are on the same road.

 

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Comparing Bible translations 🙂


 

My husband and I read something once that said when your spouse apologises to you for doing something wrong, you should resist the urge to respond with “It’s okay.” The reason for this is, saying “it’s okay” is saying that what they did wasn’t really wrong at all. If they actually did something wrong, it’s much better to say, “I forgive you”. This acknowledges that they wronged you and by extending forgiveness, you are both agreeing to leave that wrong behind and move forward in grace. Saying “it’s okay” merely papers over the offence; it doesn’t actually bring you closer to each other.

True grace can only come when sin is looked at and acknowledged, unflinchingly. Making excuses for our kids or explaining away their bad behaviour with external circumstances might make us feel like we are being kind and extending grace, but this is not true grace.

True grace says, “Your heart is hopelessly wicked, but God can change you.”

True grace says, “Sometimes you do the wrong thing, when you know the right thing to do, but I forgive you.”

True grace says, “Come. Meet my Saviour, Jesus – I need Him just as much as you.”

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Stunning sunrise out my kitchen window the other day.

Have Dinner Ready in Only 2 Hours!

A realistic recipe for mothers of small children.

 

You will need:

  • 1 packet of hokkien noodles
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cup of mushrooms
  • 1 block of tofu
  • 1/2 a cup of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • A bucket-load of patience

 

Directions:

  1. Get out a box of toys for your kids.
  2. Place the baby on the kitchen floor and open that one drawer of stuff he is allowed to play with.
  3. Get your broccoli and carrots out of the fridge.
  4. Close the spice drawer and redirect baby to all the SHINY HAPPY COLOURS in the drawer he is allowed to access.
  5. Wash your broccoli and carrots.
  6. Start peeling the mushrooms.
  7. Put down the mushroom. Go break up the fight that has erupted between your older two kids because they apparently both want the same single toy. In a box of about 20 toys.
  8. Return to the kitchen. Clean up the pile of mixed spice the baby dumped on the floor while you were out of the kitchen.
  9. Finish peeling mushrooms.
  10. Cut carrots into sticks.
  11. Wait. Stop. Put down the carrots. What’s that smell? Go change the baby’s nappy.
  12. Finish cutting the carrots.
  13. Slice the mushrooms.
  14. Turn on the stove top and heat some oil in a wok.
  15. Pull the baby off the bin and wipe his hands. Don’t forget to check his mouth!
  16. Your kids are getting kind of loud. The kind of loud when they are playing a physical game that started at “fun” but is fast heading down the “fight” end of the scale. Remind them to only keep playing as long as they are both enjoying it.
  17. The oil is starting to smoke! Chuck that garlic in the wok and turn the heat down a bit.
  18. The baby is eating something. You didn’t give him food. Pull foreign object out of baby’s mouth. It actually is food. Give it back to him.
  19. Chop the broccoli into florets and then throw all the veggies in the wok and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  20. Start chopping the tofu into cubes.
  21. There is a thud and a scream from upstairs. Put down the knife and get the ice pack. Comfort the thump-ee, chastise the thump-er, admit defeat and put the TV on.
  22. Re-enter the kitchen, taking care not the step on one of the 50 plastic kitchen utensils that are now covering the floor, especially the upturned cookie cutter – that thing hurts!
  23. Finish chopping the tofu into cubes and throw it into the wok with the veggies.
  24. Pull the baby away from the bin.
  25. Pull the baby away from the bin.
  26. Pull the baby away from the bin and put him in a high chair with some cheese.DSC_0632
  27. Give the veggies and tofu a stir. Pour over the honey and soy sauce, and stir again.
  28. Add the hokkien noodles and stir them through the veggies.
  29. Start serving food into bowls.
  30. Your 5 year old looks over the counter and says “Yuck! I hate that dinner!”
  31. Say, “Well, I hope you enjoy eating air for dinner then!”
  32. a) WARNING: Do not say comment in step 31 out loud! If you did say it out loud, then proceed to step 32b. This will add 10 minutes to your dinner prep time.
    b) Give your 5 year old a hug. Explain that they will not, in fact, be eating air for dinner. Explain why the dinner you made is, in fact, delicious (mmm, honey!). Go look up sarcasm in the dictionary together, because #teachablemoments.
  33. Finish serving up the food.
  34. Get all the children in their chairs.
  35. You are done! Enjoy dinner! (Just kidding – you have 2 minutes to scoff everything in your bowl before the baby screams to get out of the high chair).

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In all seriousness, it’s not often that everything goes wrong like that. And when it does, all I can do really is sigh, and think, “That’s life with kids!”.

I’ve found that chopping the veggies and meat earlier in the day goes a long way to making this time of night go more smoothly.

What do you do to help things run smoothly in the evenings? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

 

Should We Think of Motherhood as a Career?

Whenever I meet new people, the question is inevitably asked: “Do you work?”

I usually answer, with a grin, “Yes, I work a lot, I just don’t get paid.”

Now, there’s no hint of resentment there – the Lord provides for our family abundantly through my husband’s income. But I answer this way because I often think of my role as a mother as my career. This is my job, and I think it’s the best job in the world.

But recently I’ve been quietly self-critiquing this concept of motherhood as career. The way we think and talk about things matters, so I’ve been trying to figure out whether thinking about motherhood as a job does more harm or good – to my relationship with the kids, to my motivation levels and to how others perceive motherhood (especially younger women).

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The benefits of viewing motherhood as a career:

  • It helps me to spend my time during the day more wisely and productively. In fact, just recently, I confided in my husband that I felt one of the main reasons I was feeling so overwhelmed was that I was spending too much of my time on social media during the day, which meant that the important things weren’t getting done. In order to change this, I proposed that I implement a “work hours” policy, where I don’t use social media during specific hours of the day, and I asked his advice on what these hours should be (because, let’s face it, mothers often have demands on our time for all of our waking hours – and even some of the sleeping ones). He said 9-5 would be reasonable, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do since then – thinking of myself as being “at work” from 9-5, and not allow myself to slack off from the job.
  • It leads me to be more serious and intentional about motherhood. I make plans and I try to take advantage of the teachable moments with my kids. I realise that I am “it”, and I’m not waiting around for someone else to come and teach them all the stuff they need to successfully get to adulthood. This is the “thing” I do with my time, so I need to do it well. I guess the opposite of this would be if I just saw my kids as people who happen to be in my life now, and each moment passes by accidentally, with much thought or consideration. Or worse, if I just viewed motherhood as something to get through or something that is a hindrance to my “real life”. Thinking of motherhood as my career leaves no doubt in my mind about where my efforts should be directed.
  • It helps me to feel more valuable and appreciated for my contribution. If we can think and speak about motherhood in the language of career, it helps us to feel like we are doing something worthwhile with our time. Sometimes I have referred to my husband as the Chief Executive Officer of our family, and myself as the Chief Operations Officer.

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The drawbacks of viewing motherhood as a career:

  • The flip side of that last point is that this view of motherhood as a “job” or “work” comes from a capitalist system where people are valued based on their economic contribution to society. So there is a pressure on Stay at Home Mums to justify their existence in economic terms, or else risk being labelled a “drain on society” (as this recent OECD study said). When we talk about motherhood as a career, we are playing into this kind of thinking that people are only as important as the money they make (or save) and what they “do” for a living. This thinking is contrary to the Christian perspective, which says that people are valuable because they are image-bearers of God, not because of anything they do.
  • Another problem is that viewing motherhood in terms of a job often leads to a focus on fairness, rather than the service and selflessness that should characterise the Christian woman’s life. Let’s face it – there is so much about motherhood that is unfair. We often don’t get to go to the toilet alone or when we want to. We share our meals, or eat them cold. We have less time to devote to our own interests. And on it goes… Looking at it purely through an investment/return paradigm, we might be tempted to grow bitter about how much we “give up” for our kids, compared to how little we get back (at least in the short term). We can also be tempted to compare our “work day” with our husbands and think about how much longer and demanding our hours are (depending on what he does, of course – my husband has informed me that he too is frequently unable to go to the toilet when he wants to and often has to work through his lunch break!). Constantly thinking about whether something is “fair” or not is a sure fire way to lead to resentment or stinginess. Because even if things are fair, by your approximation, needing to vigilantly watch out for fairness will mean even what you do give is tightly meted out, being careful not to give or do too much, lest you tip the scales into “unfairness”.
  • When I think of my role as mother as my career, it can lead me to measure my success or failure based on things like how much I get done or whether I complete my to-do list. I’ve fallen into this trap before – going from elation when I get lots done to despair and overwhelm when I don’t. But then I realised that much of the work of motherhood is not measurable with pen and paper (or even Excel spreadsheets!). How do you quantify an hour spent in the sunshine, rolling around in the grass with three little munchkins? Even a note added to my list and checked off after the event – “play with kids” – seems hopelessly inadequate at capturing all that was achieved in that hour – the smiles shared, the fleeting embraces, the close examining of the leaves, the time spent watching a beetle, the discussion about why God made the trees. Some of my best “mum days” have been absolute failures according to my to-do list!

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How should we think of motherhood?

As I’ve thought through the points above, it’s become clear to me that I need to stop thinking of and referring to motherhood as my career.

Sure, I should take it seriously and be intentional about it, but I think using the language of jobs and career does more damage here than good.

So how does the Bible view mothers and motherhood?

 

Motherhood is fruitfulness:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” Genesis 1:28

 

Motherhood is hard:

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16

 

Motherhood is a position of honour:

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

 

The happiness of a mother is caught up in the character of her children:

A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” Proverbs 10:1

The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
    he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
    let her who bore you rejoice.” Proverbs 23:24-25

 

The mother/child relationship is secondary to the Christian’s love for Jesus:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37

 

Mothers are gentle and caring:

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7

 

Motherhood is ministry:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6: 6-7

 

Motherhood is a conduit of love:

 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…” Titus 2:3-4

 

“Mother” is not my job title.

To call motherhood my career would only diminish what it is that I do.

It goes beyond the 9-5 and it is more than any list of tasks I can achieve.

It’s who I am. It’s why I was put on this earth. It is my calling and my passion and my joy to raise these little ones to know and love Jesus.

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If I Could Stop Time

There are certain things that highlight, for me, the swift passing of time.

The changing colours of the leaves is one of them. And each child’s birthday is another.

And so now that my youngest child is one and the leaves are bright reds, yellows and oranges all around us, I can’t help but think about how fast the days and years roll over.

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Sometimes I just want to stop time in it’s place and check I’m doing everything I can be… being the best mother I can, the best wife I can, the best friend I can. It feels like time moves too fast to properly handle everything, and that if I could somehow stop it, then maybe I’d have a chance to get it all right.

Or some moments seem so perfect, I wish I could stay there for longer. Like when my two little boys are rolling around on the bed, “wrestling” and shrieking together. Or when my daughter sits for half an hour at her dressing table, carefully colouring in a picture. Or the chilled air of a perfect, quiet morning.

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What I’m learning is that while I can’t stop time (or rewind it and redo it), I can make sure that I’m pouring my best into each moment I’m given.

Not worry about what’s coming, just handle what is right in front of me in the best way possible.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

Sometimes that means leaving the dishes for another time so I can read a pile of books with my kids. And sometimes it means telling the kids we’ll read books later because I really do need to wash the dishes.

Sometimes that means giving up my “lunch break” during nap time to get through a stack of paperwork. And sometimes it means leaving the paperwork for another day because I need to go lie on the grass and look at the sky.

Sometimes that means getting up at 6am and spending time in prayer with the Lord, while the house is still quiet. And sometimes it means turning off the alarm and thanking God for just a little bit more sleep, after being up all night with a baby.

There is a time for everything.

This can be hard to discern sometimes. When is it time to clean the house, and when is it time to let go of our standards?

I often quote to myself James 1:5 when I’m struggling with my priorities:

 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

God has all the wisdom we need about how to give our best self to any particular moment. He knows what we ought to be doing, and He will gladly guide us if we just ask him.

 

One day I won’t have babies any more. One day I won’t have toddlers any more. One day I won’t have little kids, or big kids or teenagers any more.

I will have adult children and the work of “raising” will be done.

For now, I want to fully take in each moment… do the work needed, love with all my heart and point to Jesus with my every word and action.

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I’ll leave you with the words of Sara Groves, “This Cup”:

How many hours have I spent
Watching this shining tv
Living adventure in proxy
In another person’s dream
How many miles have I traveled
Looking at far away lights
Listening for trains in the distance
In some brilliant other life?

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy

So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy

What if my whole world falls apart?
What if my life could be different?
What if I sat right here and took you in
Without the fear and loved you whole
Without the flight and didn’t try to pass

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This beautiful reality
Is better than fear or fantasy
Is better than fear or fantasy
Is better than fear or fantasy

Red – an Easter poem

I wrote this poem in 2008 at our church’s Tenebrae service as I reflected on the Bible readings about what Jesus endured on the cross and what that meant for me. I hope it is a blessing to you as you reflect on these things this Easter.


 

Red was the blood

that flowed

through his veins –

flesh and bone,

God and Spirit.

 

Red was the blood

that dripped from

his head – droplets

of anguish and

anticipated agony.

 

Red was the blood

that splattered ‘cross

his back after

endless lashings.

 

Red was the blood

that trickled down

his face,

past eyes that

saw the world

and loved.

 

Red was the blood

that poured from his side,

punctuating the torment and

darkening the sky.

 

Red was the blood

that spilled from hands and feet

as, with Life’s

last breath,

they pushed and strained

for air.

 

Red was the blood

on the hands

of soldiers –

naïve at first but

beginning to see

the one who hung

dead.

 

Red is the blood

that covers me

from head to toe,

painting beauty and holiness

with strokes of white.

 

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