An Attitude Adjustment

On Sunday Brent Harris delivered a great message on love. He even sang a line of the Beatles.

As he talked about what real love looks like he mentioned that while we can’t control our feelings toward someone, we need to align our attitudes and our actions with what is true. No matter what kind of person we are dealing with, they are loved by God and deserve from us the same grace we were given undeserved from the Father.

That dichotomy began to itch me: feelings vs. attitude. When I was a kid my dad would warn whiney or pouty me to “Fix the attitude.” He would never say, “Fix your feelings,” but he seemed to think I had some control over my perception of the situation. Of course I did because the fear of a spanking was, to me, worth what it took to get over myself in the moment.

Trust me, when she’s teething, the Gremlin has a terrible¬†attitude.

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"Children are brave!"

Yes, I watch The View. Moving on.

I don’t know that I have heard such a clear and honest articulation of childhood. Children are brave. Any mother who has watched her baby take those first trepidatious steps can attest to his fortitude. Determined with his shaky, unreliable feet he fixes his attention, puts his fear behind him and walks. Falls. And invariably, at some point, tries again. Adults don’t usually have that courage. Children are on their own in a big and mysterious world.

I love watching RJ explore. She takes delight in things that to me have lost their luster. This morning she was dancing and laughing at her wire hanger percussion and I was blessed with a peek into Wonder. That is just one of the gifts she gives me daily. Because she is an Explorer. On par with Lewis & Clark, she is discovering a completely unknown land. She has adventures in kitchen hideaways and toilet bowls. She scales mountains of armchairs and pillows. She boldly approaches the Wild Beast with an unreasonable hope that he will, for the first time, enjoy her company as much as she enjoys his. She is a Pioneer. She is charting territory for her future brothers and sisters (and I think she will be a great Expedition Leader).

And one day she will leave. I also love Jamie Lee’s declaration of independence for our children. Our culture is so intent on keeping the young young that so often parents fail to raise adults. And she is so right: if we do our jobs, separation will be mutually beneficial and anticipated. As much as I thoroughly enjoy every second we get to spend with her, RJ is somebody’s wife in the making. She is in her education for motherhood.

I expect to be heartbroken when she moves away and starts her family (or does something else as the Lord wills), but in the best possible way. A shifting paradigm is never a smooth ordeal, but I so look forward to watching her use all we are able to teach her and learn from her as she navigates this life with her own RJ flair. I pray and trust {well, working on the trust} that she will not depart from the Truth. That: my children loving God when they are out of my nest, will be my deepest joy in parenthood.

And I will not shield my brave little ones from this: it will take courage.

Pain in Childbearing

Giving birth is daunting.

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.'” {Genesis 3:16}

It was physically the most exhausting work I have ever endured. It was the most emotionally draining. It was the least pleasurable experience of my life. It was by far the most painful.

Yet here she is. “In pain you shall bring forth children.” In pain you shall bring forth Raychel Joye. For all intents and purposes, God told me well ahead of time that the daughter I so desired would not come to be without suffering.

I suffered. She is worth it.

Every moment of her existence – even the moments in which she is trying my patience – are precious and sacred. I feel grateful. I get worn out sometimes and I was down right depressed when I first entered this paradigm, but not one moment of that child’s life has passed without the blinding reality shining in my face that she is a gift. Somehow I could feel no emotional connection to her whatsoever, yet still know, despite myself, that she deserved nothing less than all I had for her. Even if it wasn’t very much. She deserved the pain I’d endured to bring her here and my sacrifice of love every day following.

Childbirth is scary, but even the hope of a child on the other end of the suffering is just too much to turn away from. Children are a gift. I may not always believe that as fully as I do now. I have heard from some that having multiple children is vastly different than having one and that I may not always want more children, but whether I believe it or not, it’s true. God says it. It’s true. Children are a gift. The precise instant I first saw her justified everything. Even a moment with her is a gift.

I have no idea when God will allow us to get pregnant again – or if he ever will. But I do know that whatever pain I am to endure, whatever hardship or struggle, the child I get to hold because of it will be, like RJ, worth it. Just like we were worth the immense pain God had to suffer. If I can be nearer to my Father’s heart by withstanding childbirth or legalities or whatever “pain” set before me, I will be able to love my children better for it. I’m not convinced that bringing forth children was pain free even in Eden, but now there is a divine purpose. I don’t think it is merely a punishment. I think we, as women, have the incredible honor of being able to relate to God in a specific and special way. We get to bring forth life and we get to suffer greatly to do so. In his wisdom, God made our curse useful to our now sinful selves. I believe I appreciate this child more because of how hard I worked to get her here (as we appreciate food much more when we have to work for it, a fact I am learning with my gardening man!).

We want another child very much. Nursing is making conception impossible for the time being, but we are already – and have been – excited for the next one. But I won’t lie, the thought of labor frightens me. I remember how difficult it was to endure… But I also remember the miracle that happened when I saw her. How despite the intensity of what had just happened, despite the pain I should have been feeling all over, all I felt was love. Not just as a feeling, as a presence. I was submerged in love. There was absolutely no pain whatsoever. No exhaustion even. No fear. No questions. No doubt. Love. I was full of joy and peace. It was what I imagine Heaven will be like (only, I trust, just a shadow). All of my senses were heightened and focused acutely on my family – Gabe and Raychel. Nothing else was even in the peripheral.

So yeah. In pain I shall bring forth my children. But I’ll take it. If it means I get to relate to God better, appreciate those blessings more, and experience a complete and miraculous renewal I will not only take it, I’ll thank God for it. I’ll embrace the suffering and rejoice in the honor.

Body Image

I stumbled across a support website about women’s bodies recently. Along the same thread of thought that provoked my first post on beauty, I am inspired to think and write about how we view our bodies. Bear with me as I work through my thoughts with a keyboard.

The female body is sensual. God designed men to be inherently attracted to its curves and motion. There is decent reasoning behind some cultures’ decision to cover their women up in loose-fitting garments and probably better reasoning behind the sex industry covering very little. Our creator knew what he was doing when he came up with the template for our bodies. They are meant to be enjoyed {within a marriage} for their aesthetic qualities.
But they are not merely enjoyable. They are quite functional. In fact, some of the nearly universally unattractive parts of our bodies are the most useful. I will not give examples because even the thought of these parts make us grimace; which proves my point. We would die without them, but we very rarely want to look at them. Sorry, now I have you thinking about things over which you could lose your lunch…. Think instead of puppies. Puppies are adorable. 
There are also parts of our bodies that are very attractive and very useful. Breasts for example. They are exploited to cause men to lust and patronize companies of debauchery, but they are also the vehicle for custom-tailored, God intended, life giving nutrients for an innocent, hungry baby. Some of the recent uproar over mothers who nurse in public highlights to me the serious problem we have with over-sexualizing our bodies {particularly the female body since, while it does mean something, women really don’t lose it over the male body in the same way men do over the female counterpart}. There is encouragement in our culture for women to wear whatever they want – to embrace their sexual nature. We get you-go-girls when we wear low cut shirts and short skirts. We are told that men are pigs if they holler at us, even when our outfits leave little to the imagination. It is our feminist right, they say, to dress however we want. Damn the male mind. They must overcome their biology and control themselves. While that is true, it is also foolish to believe that in a world where people feel entitled already, where we are told to “follow our hearts” and adhere to our feelings, men will always control themselves. And that even if they do, that they are not objectifying the woman in their minds, thereby respecting her less in reality. Conversely, if a woman exercises her “right” to nurse her child in public this is considered uncouth, even offensive. People have no problem seeing breasts on display in push-up bras, but to see them used for their actual functional purpose reminds them that breasts are not meant to only be carnally used. It affronts our culture’s theories on existence. We are not put on this planet simply to enjoy ourselves. This is an uncomfortable truth to a culture of Hedonists.
All of this to say that I think we in danger of losing the appreciation for the divinely bestowed beauty that is our bodies. It is sensual, yes, but not exclusively. It is functional, yes, but not ultimately. There are aspects to our physical selves which point to greater truths and parts which help us carry out our commission as humans. As a woman ages and her body begins to betray her life’s work it should be celebrated, not scorned. The line I now have on my stomach is a sweet reminder to me that RJ was in me, that I carried her and that my body gave her life. It is a daily note to myself that she is here because of a sacrifice I was more than willing to make. An honor. The stretch marks that the world tells me are ugly only mark me because of my very heart, my beautiful RJ. Honestly, right now, I don’t want the creams and the ointments to try and make them go away. Whatever the media says, I am proud to be a mother and to carry the tattoos of my mothering. 
7 months pregnant with RJ

I know that many women have much more severe scars – cesarean scars, extra and wrinkly skin on their stomachs, darker stretch marks – that cause them to feel less than beautiful. I will not insult these women by telling them to get over their insecurities. These are deeply rooted, constantly affirmed feelings that are sometimes impossible to control. I will however encourage them by saying this: you are magnificent. You are stunning. The ways your body changed as a result of being a woman are noble to the highest degree. You are no martyr and you are no victim. You are the life-giving, insanely strong, passionately loving Woman that your family needs to exist. Your body is a vessel of Christ. You selflessly contribute yourself to bring life into the world. Your children are here because you kept them safe in your womb. Your body is being used by our Creator to create! Do not get caught up in it’s wonders, but do relish in what God is able to do with the body you find vastly imperfect.

I hope that the Lord will grant me a contentedness with my body as I {if he allows} give birth to more children and get older. I will not pretend to be somehow “above” the insecurities and the discouragement. For now I’m grateful for the revelation and the peace he’s giving me. I pray that this leaves you with a lighter burden in some way or at least a new perspective to consider. 

A Double-Take

“Beauty is fleeting,” they say. And to some extent that is true. People become less and less attractive as they age; liver spots, sagging skin, wiry gray hair, calluses… Not the most appealing things in the world. But on another level, truly beautiful people only shine brighter with age.

My mother was voted “class flirt” (sorry mom!). She was that girl in school; everybody loved her and she was pretty to boot. The kind of girl the rest of us think “not fair!” about. She is getting older, as is naturally expected, and some of the things that got her onto the most popular list back then are gone now. What remains, however, is her heart. She is generous, optimistic, compassionate, joyful and hard working. The things that make her a true beauty queen have become more enhanced since she was a girl. Now people call her beautiful all the time and while they are also complimenting her appearance they are mostly exalting her remarkable heart. 
Now that I have a daughter the subject of beauty seems to keep coming up (God?). I want her to know that the standards of beauty set by our culture are shallow and vain. They lead only to pride, destruction and an empty end. I have known people who set a very high value on their physical appearance. I have yet to see anyone follow that path to happiness or, more importantly, to God’s glory. I want Raychel to learn how to be deeply beautiful and how to consider God’s approval over anyone else’s (even ours). The pressure for girls to be pretty, to be skinny, to be up to date with their style is sickening. I don’t want RJ to feel inadequate because she doesn’t have certain things or feel “homely” because her face is not covered beneath powders and creams. 
I want her to know all this, but do I know all this? If my gorgeous little girl sees Mommy stand in front of the mirror and put on make up every day is that telling her that I can look directly at the face God gave me and find ways to make it better, that His provision was insufficient? Will I send the message that my vanity is acceptable as long as I do not wear low cut shirts and tight jeans? Will I relay to her the same insecurities I feel about my own appearance? Lord, teach me to give her truth.
I’m not against taking care of our bodies… God gave them to us to use and part of getting the most out of them is good hygiene and maintenance. I even think that He gave us inherently beautiful things in regards to our physical selves. Our hair, for example, is often very beautiful. Without dyes or styling it still shines and flows and glimmers in the sun. Our eyes are usually stunning – filled with color and depth, shaped by lashes that not only protect, but enhance their aesthetic appeal. Our skin can be very pretty in and of itself; creamy, tanned, rosy. I do not believe that God is against beautiful people. We are part of His creation and He creates masterpieces.
But somehow we have chosen to exploit these things. We raise the importance of physical beauty to a severely unhealthy extreme. Like so many things we have perverted, I think beauty is a gift from our Creator, meant to be enjoyed in measure not indulged in gluttony.
I’m not sure what this means for me and RJ. At this point I don’t think I am convicted that all make-up and all pretty clothes are bad. I still think that there are appropriate times for all of it. But I think I am starting to feel a nagging in my spirit that my focus is distorted. I have cared far too much about how people see me on the outside and not enough how God perceives my heart. I’m still working through all of this and plan to write more on it later. 
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” -Proverbs 31:30
“Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4

I would hate for her to ever think that she needed to cover this precious face in make-up to be beautiful.