A Natural Mother

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This is my baby girl at 7:00 this morning. And me, clad in bathrobe, slippers and bare-ankled, had just driven my son up to the bus stop in 23 degree weather. Afterward, I immediately grabbed my camera so as to catch her expression for posterity. So I’ll remember. See how intently she stares at me? Cute, huh? Or is it something else? Look closer…

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You know what I see? Accusing eyes. That’s because I’m awash with guilt this morning. It clings to me and it’s hard to shake. Guilt. It’s because of how I acted last night. God help me. Let me explain.

I’m not what one would call a natural mother. It just doesn’t come easy to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my children dearly… it just means I’m not as flowy as some women appear to be. I don’t always feel 100% about what I’m doing. For instance, the first week I had Annabelle at home, I panicked around 2:00 a.m. one morning. This after a two hour feeding session and her constant cries. She was a cluster-feeder (if anyone knows that term ). So, because my baby girl continued to cry after a couple of hours, she was obviously still hungry, right? So I kept pressing her into my bosom. But for some odd reason, she kept arching and pulling away. Then I remembered… skin on skin. That’s what she needed! I frantically stripped us down to our waists and tried again. Drink, baby girl! I know you’re hungry! But the arching continued. That’s when I knew. Most assuredly, Annabelle had forgotten how to suck! So I woke my husband. Lo and behold, she quieted in his arms. And 18 pounds later, it turns out she hadn’t forgotten how to suck after all.

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Matthew 26:40

And there are other instances. Too many to name, really. And then there’s last night. God help me! Eight years ago, I went through this with my son. And I handled it badly. VERY BADLY. But this time around, I was going to excel. I was going to not let it get to me. I was going to be flowy… like the other mothers. See, I planned to overcome sleepless nights. I was going to be happy about it. And gentle. Because I’m a mom! It’s my job. And boy, do I want to be a gentle and nurturing creature for my babies.

At first, Annabelle did great. At around 2 months in, we had one week of bliss as she pretty much slept through the night… not waking till 3 or 4 for her first feeding. Oh, happy day! And I did what any mother would do… I bragged about my child to all who would listen. My baby is so good, she sleeps all night! But that’s when things began to change. As time progressed, she began to wake more frequently. Back to two times. And most recently… three, four, five… Who knows anymore. I lose count. Two nights ago, I voiced it to Jason… “Last night was the worst night ever!” That’s because she started waking up at before Midnight! But I was wrong. Because last night was truly the worst night ever! She showed me… she got up at 11:00. She stirred before I even had time to close my eyes.

“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 7:11

This is where the guilt sets in. I let it fly. There was a volcanic eruption from the deep pit of my soul… the most obscene word burst forth. And honestly, it was satisfying. It was the most accurate word for how I felt. And then they came more easily… as the night progressed, more and more obscene words spewed from my mouth leaving a sulfuric stench in the air. I cursed. I lamented. And worse? I felt angry at God. “You could make her sleep!” But the fact is, she didn’t sleep. Not soundly. She awoke so many times… and I handled it terribly.

Last night, I felt justified in my bitter words. I was angry. And weak. And because I was so tired, I felt I deserved to let off a little (a lot) of steam. But now, in the light of day, I simply feel guilt. I don’t want to be like this. I am a mother. I’m Annabelle’s mother. And so, when I peered into her little nut brown eyes this morning, I saw only accusation.

In the light of day, I see things more clearly. And what I see is something amiss…

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Notice anything wrong with this picture? That’s my laundry basket and it’s placed on top of my Bible. And it’s symbolic of what’s taken place in the last four and 1/2 months. See, I had a baby. And busyness set in. And there’s so much to do. And because my schedule is crammed full, some things have taken a back seat. Namely, time with God. I’ve put other stuff first. Like laundry. And so, I suffer. And not only I, but my whole family. For I’m sure my husband felt the abrupt wind of the covers being flung off of me. I’m sure he heard the ugliness I carelessly flung forth as I stomped to the nursery… and deep down, perhaps I wanted him to. Misery loves company, so they say.

But as I said, in the light of day… I see. And I don’t like what I see. For I don’t want to be that woman. I want to be flowy. A natural mother. And in order to do that, I have to make time for God. I have to put Him first again. And when I do, He will sustain me. He will help me. Because He has the power to help me soothe my baby girl on a sleepless night when I have no clue as to why she’s waking ten times. Because truth is, His grace is sufficient for me…

Funny thing about this blog. I started it because I wanted to encourage people. I wanted to help others stand. But today, it appears I’m the one who needs help in standing. This tired mama needs a bit of encouragement – and prayers – and not just for my sake, but for my family’s sake. Lord help me… if I can’t have rest, the act of sleeping, may I at least have rest in Thee. For Your grace is sufficient for me.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

I close with Annabelle’s picture. Check out that face. Oh, it’s true I was covered with guilt this morning. And it may be I saw only accusation in her eyes first thing. However, just moments after I perceived condemnation, she graced me with a smile. It reaches her eyes. And you know… it’s a reflection of His eyes… Him smiling down on me. Grace for me.

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The Visitation

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…and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”              Luke 19:44

How do you know when it’s time to leave your tomb? How do you know when it’s time to leave the past behind and move forward into your destiny… to embrace a new thing that God’s calling you to? I imagine that answer is different for us all, as God speaks to each one individually. But for me, it was after I recognized the time of my visitation. This is when I knew the time for walking forward drew near.

I consider January 31, 2014 as the day that God came down to meet with me. This was the time of my visitation for He entered my bedroom and met me right where I was. And there was a finality to what He said… “It is finished.” And so, I let go of my past. Finally. I gave up the struggle and accepted reality. Because I realized with certainty that I cannot save myself, which is what I had been trying to do for so long. And I could not rehash my past one more day, expecting God’s wrath to rain down for deeds done long ago. So that day, I just stopped. Everything. I realized the futility in trying to ward off God’s anger by being a good girl. Because in truth, I can never be good enough. Furthermore, His anger was satisfied by the work of the cross, which was completed long ago. And so, on January 31, 2014, I surrendered. I embraced the fact that I am a forgiven woman. That’s the day the old faded away, and the new shimmered on the horizon. That was the day of my visitation.

 “Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:20

In January, I came head to head with my past. I decided the time had come for me to really deal with two abortions I had when I was younger. Once and for all. And so, I turned to the familiar pages of Jeremiah because the weeping prophet’s words always seemed to speak directly to me about what I had done. But on the 31st, I saw something new. It was the above verse that caused an abrupt intake of air. Because when I let those words fall fresh, I heard Him. He confirmed everything I had doubted, for He said I’m really His. He said His heart yearned for me. Furthermore, He told me, “I have great compassion for you.” And it was there in that one word, compassion, that I recognized my visitation.

I had two abortions when I was younger. But because I buried that time in the sand and ignored my stuff for so long, it was always there with me. This fed into my fears. Especially when I had my own child. I was so scared for him… that I’d lose him. And then, I had two miscarriages. And in my skewed opinion of God, always working to gain His approval, I wondered if those miscarriages were punishment. I even wondered… two for two. Abortion + abortion = miscarriage + miscarriage. But on January 31, 2014, God couldn’t make it any more clear that I was forgiven. The past was dead and gone. Bear with me…

Jeremiah 31:20 moved me in such a way that I felt compelled to look up compassion in the Strong’s concordance. And it didn’t surprise me to find the word is interchangeable with mercy, as shown by the first picture below. In the second picture, you get an idea of just how many times mercy/compassion is used in Scripture. But it’s that last picture that brings a smile to my face even now. There you see Jeremiah 31:20. And in over 270 entries in the Bible, this is the only time you see it twice. 7355+7355. Double mercy. Compassion squared. I will surely have mercy upon him. But God was talking to me in January. He was extending mercy to me. Mercy + mercy. And that day I really dealt with my abortion + abortion. Because He told me I am forgiven + forgiven. Over and done with for He had mercy + mercy on me. Like He said, “It is finished.” It is finished.

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January 31, 2014 was one of the biggest days of my life. For it was the time of my visitation. God came down… to me. And He spoke to me through the words of a prophet named Jeremiah. And today, I’m not surprised to learn that his name can mean Yahweh Loosens [the womb]. For so much of my past was tied to my own womb. But that day, the past lost its grip on me. And unwarranted fears regarding my own womb were loosened. I was released as I released my past. It continues to grow dimmer in my sight. The future gleams brighter. For today I know… I am forgiven.

There’s a story in the 7th chapter of Luke that’s so stirring. It’s about another woman who recognized the time of her visitation. She, too, recognized the mercy God extended to her through Jesus. But the truth is, until January, I always identified with the “bad guy” of the story more so than I did with her. But now, the table’s turned. See, there was a Pharisee who held a dinner party and Jesus was a guest. And this woman entered and wept over Jesus’ feet. She washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. She kissed them as she anointed them with oil. The Pharisee’s thoughts? Who does she think she is, and if Jesus were really who He said He was, then He would know what kind of woman she was. The Pharisee thought Jesus should shun her. But Jesus had something to say…

Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he said, “say it.” “A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him. Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:40-48

For so long, I was a picture of this Pharisee. Because I had been working for forgiveness. And I worked hard (in my own eyes) to be righteous. And so, blinded to my own depravity, I didn’t realize my need for a Savior. Because I thought I was pretty good. And since the bar was set so high for myself, I held it just as high for others. No one ever measured up, including me. And so there I was, a hard, bitter woman who lacked forgiveness in every sense of the way. I hadn’t received it, nor did I have any to dispense. Because just like I worked for it, I expected everyone else to, as well. And so busy was I at work, that I just couldn’t see the truth. I once was blind, but now I see, but it took years for me to begin to see. And that happened only as I lay in stillness, saturating myself with His word. And is was in the tomb of my bedroom where I finally saw the truth. Because I saw Him. And He saw me. And it was then that I knew my need. I needed Jesus. And when I comprehended my need, He was right there to meet me. Just where I was. He came down to my bedroom. It was the time of my visitation.

All this writing… all these blogs… this has been part of my journey. All of this the Lord has made me understand in writing, the work of His plans, by His hand upon me. Thousands of words have helped me understand my own journey. My own transformation. And the forgiveness I’ve received. And so, my past fades as the future becomes bright. Destiny calls out, for she who is forgiven much loves much. And this is the new thing I’ve been seeking. As I leave my tomb behind, God calls me to walk forward into the next leg of the journey, which is love. And as I walk in the love and mercy He’s lavished upon me, I will love much along the way. For this is what happens with a forgiven woman. It’s what happens when she recognizes the time of her visitation.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79

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More than mercy

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Matthew 9:13

A year ago, I was so impassioned by Micah 6:8 that I felt compelled to write a book about it. At that time, I didn’t remember having read it before. But that I did, as evidenced by my own handwriting from August 30, 2010. However, I was using a different version of the Bible then. In 2010, I wrote down: He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God. And this sounds somewhat different than the version that I’m most familiar with, which says to love mercy. It was not long ago that I discovered the difference, and was prompted to dig deeper. Because through the book of Hosea, I see there’s more to mercy than meets the eye. I see that mercy goes beyond kindness and goodness and forgiveness. And the book of Hosea paints the picture for us.

God’s chosen people were the Israelites, and He spoke to them through His prophets. Throughout the years, God’s people left Him again and again. They turned their back on Him over and over, and every time God had mercy on them. God loyally loved His chosen people. However, they definitely suffered the consequences of their actions more than one time. God spoke to Hosea, and told him to marry a harlot. And so Hosea took Gomer as his wife and had children. I find it fascinating that God told Hosea to name his daughter Lo-Ruhamah (means No Mercy) and his second son Lo-Ammi (Not My People). This was judgment from the Judge. God was saying that He will no longer have mercy on His chosen people… and furthermore, they were not His people and He would not be their God.

God’s people were being punished for spiritual adultery. Despite His rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, they soon forgot Him when they reached the promised land. They adapted to the surrounding peoples’ ways and accepted false gods as their own. And God called them harlots. He uses Hosea and Gomer to depict His own relationship with His chosen people. See, Gomer was not faithful to Hosea. But God told him to go again and love her, the woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery… just like the children of Israel, who looked to other gods. This is called idolatry… and God called His people harlots. But the good news is God promised to restore Israel. The good news is God told Hosea to go and retrieve Gomer, even after she took lovers. The good news is Hosea was faithful to Gomer, even though she wasn’t faithful to him. And that’s exactly how it works today. We’re unfaithful to God again and again, but He remains faithful to us. Because He loves us. And we have a promise:

“And it shall be, in that day,” says the LORD, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master…’ “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.” “And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!'” Hosea chapter 2

Yes, God desires mercy. He longs to be merciful to us, and He wants for us to have mercy on others. But it’s our faithfulness that God desires. Because whether we realize it or not, He’s husband to us: “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:4-5. See, I have not been faithful to God. I did the same thing His chosen people of long ago did. He brought me into my promised land in the fall of 2010, but I soon forgot Him. For nearly a year, I barely thought about Him as I took other lovers in the form of work, busyness, idleness and play. But in His mercy and through His faithfulness, He brought me back to Him. And from the summer of 2011 until now, I have been seeking Him. And yet, He’s bringing all this to the forefront of my mind. And so I have to ask myself anew, “Am I being faithful to Him? Or have a taken a new lover?” And the truth is, I have been seduced. Because writing consumes me. I burn with passion to write about Him… and yet, it pulls me away from Him. It’s apparent that I no longer am in love with Him, my husband who is my Maker, but rather I’m obsessed with my newest love, which is writing.

A funny thing… after God revived my heart during the summer of 2011, I wanted to pay tribute to Him. It was then that the coals of desire began to smolder deep inside… I began to burn with a need to write. And so, I wrote out my testimony and entitled it, “From darkness to light, that they may know.” I wanted that book to be a standing stone for God, a memorial and testament to His greatness. I wanted my family to see how He brought me from darkness to light, and brought me into my personal promised land. I wanted them to know that the LORD God is real and active and right here among us. I wanted them to know that God is faithful to answer prayer. My intentions at first were noble and true. But then the lure of status seduced me. I entertained another lover who distracted me from God. Once again, unfaithful. The funniest thing is the title. I’ve since changed it, because quite clearly darkness did not dispel upon my return home. If anything, it intensified. Because 1 Peter 2:9 references darkness and light, it was included in the manuscript. However, now it’s the verse immediately following that captures my eye:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10.

This is a follow up to Hosea and his children of harlotry, Lo-Ruhamah (No Mercy) and his second son Lo-Ammi (Not My People)! There’s an everlasting promise here. See, because of His Son, Jesus Christ, we have become the people of God. Because of Jesus, we have obtained mercy. And although we turn our back on Him again and again, He remains ever merciful. He remains ever faithful to us, even when we’re not! But nevertheless, He desires our mercy, not sacrifice. Nevertheless, He desires our faithfulness.

How then, can we, the people of God, deny Him the one thing asks? Lord, may we, Your people, remain faithful to You… as You ask us to. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.

Miles from Mercy

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Last Spring, this verse knocked me over. I thought “How simple God’s will is.” I thought, “I can do this!” And so, I thought I would write a book to share with everyone the simplicity of God’s commands to us. And write I did, churning out a manuscript called, “My Heart Sings,” completely inspired by this one verse. Here lately, I keep thinking about that book. Because I know something today that I didn’t know then. You see, at the time I wrote “My Heart Sings,” I didn’t have a clue as to what I was writing about! I thought I was wisely proclaiming to everyone else what they should be doing. I didn’t know then that through the writing, God was telling me what I should not be doing. Perhaps, “The Pharisee in Me,” would have more aptly captured the essence of the book. And today, I have to laugh about that. Because I was so incredibly blind. The perfect picture of a Pharisee in that I couldn’t see my own faults. Such a hypocrite in that I was trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye without first taking the plank out of my own. Matthew 7:5.

Today I look on that verse and am amazed to see that I have not fulfilled one portion of it. The verse that so moved me somehow failed to move me beyond my present state. I was unable to fulfill the most basic of requirements, and today I know why. Because I am a Pharisee… the worst sort of scoundrel that Jesus gave warning to throughout the New Testament. The Pharisee lacked mercy and judged everyone. And it was to them that Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:13. And now I realize He’s telling me the same thing: “go and learn what this means…” Because this particular verse jumped off the page at me not that long ago. And I believe it had everything to do with Micah 6:8… see, I thought myself to be somewhat of an expert at doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I thought I had that verse down pat. But what I’m learning about myself lately is that I’m nowhere near mercy. In fact, I’m miles from mercy with so far to go. And I believe learning what Jesus told me to learn is the whole key to conquering my pharisaical nature. Mercy is the key that will unlock the bars of my prison called pharisaicalness.

I know what happened. I know how I became a Pharisee. See, I didn’t become a child of God until I was 24 years old. And I was pretty worldly by that time, accepting of pretty much everything. By that time, I had quite a past… a past better forgotten than remembered. And so, when I finally met my future husband, I somewhat settled down (so to speak). It was just me and him, and I didn’t go out and do all those things I once did. And so, by the time I realized I needed Jesus, I had forgotten much of who I really was. See, I was good by the time I came to Jesus. At least from a worldly point of view. And so, I asked Jesus to save me from my sins – but vaguely. Because my specific sins were better left behind… I never dwelt on them. And so, there I was a 24 year old baby Christian. But I never really knew how much of a sinner I truly was. Because by the time I came to Jesus, my past was buried and left behind.

Over time, I came to where I really wanted God. I needed Him. And so I began to seek Him through His word. I began to acquire the knowledge of God. Hosea 6:6 actually says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Well, there it is… knowledge. This is part of what tripped me up. Because if you add all this acquired knowledge to never really feeling bad about who you were, well, there’s the answer. Knowledge + a false sense of who you really are = Pharisee. At least this is how the equation worked in my life. And there I was, feeling good about myself to begin with and piling on all that knowledge, well, naturally I became puffed up and prideful. Naturally, I became judgmental. And naturally, I became self-righteous. Because the truth is, I never fully realized His righteousness.

Do you know what I think, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” really means? I believe that through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God provided us with the ultimate act of mercy. He had mercy on His creation in sending us His Son. And He longs to be merciful to us today… but we need to realize what He did. Because when we don’t understand how bad of a sinner we really are, it diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. When we neglect coming to the cross all the way, we tend to start sacrificing over time. We sacrifice by way of obligatory giving, obligatory prayers and obligatory works… because deep down we still feel we have something to atone for. We begin to work for God, and offer up unacceptable sacrifices hoping to atone for something we never brought to the cross to begin with. In fact, we never fully obtained the mercy of Jesus because we never fully realized our sin. How could we know what Jesus really did for us when we never thought we were that bad? How could we fully accept His free gift of mercy and grace, when we didn’t realize we were in dire need of it in the first place?

This is what I’ve been grappling with this past year. Basically, I’m trying to learn what Jesus meant in saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And since I have been on this journey towards mercy for a while now, I was taken aback recently when I found myself back at “Pharisee.” Honestly, I was surprised to see how easily those old ways slipped right back in. And so I have to ask myself a tough question… today, do I know what I really am? Because until I know what I really am, there’s no way I can understand what Jesus really did. And until I fully understand what Jesus did, for me – a sinner – there’s no way I can come to understand what Jesus means when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Because He is mercy.

As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” I’ll find myself miles from mercy. As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” there’s no way I can fully obtain His mercy. And without receiving it, I’ll have none to offer. And as long as I’m stuck at “works,” trying to pay off a debt there’s no way I can repay, then I haven’t fully understood the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. And as long as I’m working off my debt, not comprehending that Jesus already paid it in full, then I’ll continue to expect others to do the same… working off a debt I’ve accrued in my head… a debt that they in no way can repay. And naturally, when someone falls short of my expectations, I deem them a sinner. I judge them and point my finger, holding them accountable. I want them to work for my forgiveness… like I’m working for mine… completely forgetting that Jesus already came to do just that… forgive sinners.

And so it goes, I try to remove the speck from the sinners eye without first removing the plank from my own. And thus, I find myself miles from mercy, with so far to go.