The Gift of Babies

The Gift of Babies

Babies: adorable, sweet, cuddly, who can resist them?  Well, I thought I could.  Before I got married, I had a conversation with a friend, stating that if for some reason, I couldn’t have a child, I would not try to change that ability through medical means.   If I wasn’t a mom, oh well, I had no great longing and desire to be a mother.

Then I had my first child, and a switch was turned on inside me.  All my latent maternal instincts sprang into being.  This child had to be the most fabulous baby on the face of the earth.  My heart was flooded with love, tenderness and emotion.  I had never felt such devotion before in my life.  I would look with pity on mothers who had older children, as they did not have a baby any longer.

I wondered when I was pregnant with my second child, how I would ever love my second child as much as my first.  Yet, when I held our second child, once again, overwhelming love came over me.  I think I was experiencing what God does with His children—limitless love.  Sometimes, I think some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about how much God loves me, is when I see how much I love my children.

I think God uses babies to remind me of His love. Have you ever noticed how a happy, smiling baby can effect others? They seem to bring joy and laughter into each social occasion they are in, be it a funeral, a wedding, or a family gathering. Babies comfort.

My granddaughter was born 11 months after my son died.  She brought and still brings immense comfort to me and my family.   From the beginning, she would snuggle into me when I would rock her.  As she grew older, she would pat my back, as I patted hers.  I sensed God’s presence when I was holding her, as if she could hear Him whisper in her ear, “Be kind to your Nana, she needs special love right now.”

Babies remind me that there is a God, and He creates and designs life.  Each baby is a miracle, an absolute miracle.  There is a verse in the Bible that says, “…You have knitted me in my mother’s womb….  I am fearfully and wonderfully made….”   Psalm 139: 13, 14.  I love the visual image this presents of God, crafting each child, putting into each child the things He wants them to have—not just their physical attributes, but their special talents and gifts. 

Babies also bring—ok, I’m going to go there—guilt.  This could be the reason I did not initially want to be a mom. I knew instinctively that I would fail and feel guilty.  I wanted to avoid those feelings.  I wanted to avoid these thoughts and questions:  Am I doing enough?  Should I go back to work?  Should I stay at home?  Should I nurse, or bottle-feed?  Should we homeschool or send our children to private school or public school? How should we discipline?  Etc., etc., etc.

 The decisions are countless, and unending. The practical decisions frame the moral decisions of choosing to pay attention to each child, being consistent , choosing to follow through on an assignment or a consequence, remaining patient and kind, acting out love in all the ways that are significant to that child.

Here’s the thing– I have failed many times as a mother.   I have failed in what I have done, and what I haven’t done, in what I have said and what I haven’t said, in what I have thought and what I haven’t thought. 

 Here’s the good news–Jesus has died for all the ways I have failed.   Jesus has died for all the ways you have failed.  He gives us Forgiveness. He gives us the courage to begin again.

 Jesus has given us His Word to guide us in raising our children.  The Bible is full of wisdom, (All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16).   

God loves our babies more than we do.  He loves us, more than anyone else does.  Maybe that’s why we love babies so much, because babies remind us of who God is:  The Creator, the Designer, the Giver of every good gift, the Giver of Forgiveness, the Giver of Love, and the Giver of the Gift of Babies!!

So be Encouraged!!

The Gift of the Beach House

This summer we made our yearly voyage to the “Beach House.”  My husband is from the East Coast and when we had our first child, my mother-in-law started actively looking for a vacation home that would comfortably fit her family, with room to grow.  She ended up finding a gem of a house on the Beach with a pool.  We have been going there for 26 years.

It has been a place where memories have been made, traditions started, and laughter abounds.  It has been a gift of love from my mother-in-law and father-in-law, (my father-in-law has passed), to their children and grandchildren and now– great grandchildren. 

I think my mother-in-law had a vision for what this house could be for her family, but mostly I think it was where she wanted to express her love for us all—for giving us a place to come and be together and play together.  This year when we went, my mother-in-law was not able to join us, instead we visited her in her Senior living apartment.  Every time we visited her, she would ask us, “Are you swimming in the pool? Are you having a good time?  How is the Beach House?”   I felt like she was really asking us, “Do you know how much I love you.  I made this place for you all.  I decorated it and maintained it for you all.  Do you know how much I love you?”

My husband has a younger sister.  She brought her, (at the time), future husband to this house, to meet the family.  I, of course, interrogated him, as was my right as the older sibling.  He passed with flying colors.  At their rehearsal dinner, I told his mother that I had long prayed for whoever my sister-in-law would marry, and her son was a shining example of God answering beyond what we could think or ask. (His mother dragged me to the front of the room to share that statement with the 100+ guests that were at the rehearsal dinner.)   

Over time, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law brought their children to the beach house, and the beach house became a place where the cousins could play together and build friendships.  So even though we lived in the mid-west and they lived on the east coast, we had this shared place and experience to come together.

Our family has so many shared memories:  playing Categories and Marco Polo at the pool.  Dancing in the yard, building sandcastles at the beach, catching hermit crabs in the ocean, looking for shells on the beach, eating lobster and fish, going for ice cream at our favorite places, going to the corner store, (when it still existed) for a treat, having birthday parties, eating pizza on the jetties while we watched the giant sand castle, (we spent all day building), washed away by the tide. Being together, just being together.  

All these shared experiences remind us that we are loved.  We belong.  What a gift we have had to share in these experiences together—because my mother-in-law wanted to have a place where her family could come together, year after year.

I hope you have a place like this.  It may just be a tent; the place doesn’t really matter, it is all about family coming together to make memories, to share love and laughter.   When I was growing up— my parents took us camping, or we went to our Uncle Chuck’s cabin or to my Grandparents’ cabin.  We had places for our family to gather together and “be” together.

All these things were a way to spend quality time with one another, away from the bustle and hustle of life.    In many ways, our homes can be those places as well– a place of comfort and solace to come home to after a long day at work or school.   When I go back to my family home, (which my mother still lives in and maintains beautifully), I draw a sigh of relief, my soul recognizes the love and nurturing I still receive when I walk through those doors.

If I’m honest, part of being together, does involve conflict, conflict between siblings, cousins, between parent and child.  Conflict is not easy, ever.  Forgiveness is not easy, ever.  But the verse, “Keep fervent in your love for one another because, love covers a multitude of sins” I Peter 4:8, is true.  It is because we love each other, that we choose to overlook the offenses, and forgive them, not dwell on them. 

You may think, “you don’t know my family”, they are unforgivable.  You are right—I don’t know your family.  But I do know mine.  They are so fabulous, but they are also so flawed.  I don’t know a perfect person on this earth.  We all want to be loved, we all want to love, we all want to be significant.  Families can be the vehicle that God uses to reassure us – yes, you are loved, yes, you belong, yes, we want you, yes, you are significant to us.  Families can be a vessel which God uses to show His nature.   Families can also be used, to show us that no matter how great a family is or is not, they cannot fill the void we have in our hearts. Only the infinite God can fill the infinite hole we all have in our hearts.  (This thought of us having an infinite void that only an infinite God could fill, did not originate with me, but with a scientist named Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662)

 Moms, your role of expressing love to your children, of creating a place from which they can draw comfort, will help them in ways you cannot even imagine.  Your role of showing them the God who can really love them completely and totally—is immeasurable!!  You are needed Moms, you are so, so important!!  (Dads are needed too!! ) But this blog is to encourage Moms–especially my moms, that they are appreciated and so, so loved!!

So Be Encouraged!!

The Gift of Grace

When I brought my firstborn home from the hospital, I taped a poster next to the changing table that had visual instructions of how to change a diaper, how to give a bath, how to take care of the umbilical cord.  For the next few weeks, every single time I had to do one of those things I would study that poster as if it held the secrets of the universe.

When my first born was a few months old, he stubbed his toe, jumping in a jumping chair.  I bawled my eyes out.  I was devastated with his little injury.

Forward 21 years—I was preparing to teach a class, (for a homeschool co-op), my husband was home from work, and Sean, our sixteen-year-old was leaving to go for a bike ride.  Sean wanted to be a bike racer, and frequently went on training bike rides. 

My husband is a first responder and firefighter and wears a pager.  We heard the pager go off about 15 minutes after Sean left for his training ride, stating that a bicyclist had been hit by a vehicle.  My husband knew it was where Sean was planning on riding, so he shot out of his chair, and was out the door, yelling, “Try to contact Sean on his cell phone.”   I called and called, sent message, after message.  Then I got a call from my husband. 

“It’s Sean.  Take the girls to Gail’s and meet me at the hospital.”  I called my friend, Gail and took the girls to her house.   I tried to reach our son who was with his track team.   I met my husband at the hospital and was told that Sean would be medevacked to Hurley in Flint.  I held Sean’s hand as they wheeled the stretcher to the helicopter.  I could have sworn, Sean was squeezing my hand as hard as I was squeezing his.  I kept repeating to Sean, “It’s Mom, I’m here with you, I’m here with you.”

My husband and I drove down to Flint from Mt. Pleasant.  As we did so, I called my mom who lived only 20 minutes away from Flint, asking her to go to the hospital, and to call my sister and brother-in-law who lived in Grand Blanc and ask them to go to the hospital as it would take us at least an hour and a half to get there.

During this entire time, a calmness descended upon me.  I was completely calm and at peace and an amazing strength descended upon me.  The calmness stayed as my friend Leah called and asked Rich if we  wanted her to drive the kids down, (by this time we had gotten a hold of our son with the track team and he was home), and without thinking, I just said— “yes, bring the kids down, have them prepared to spend the night, and yes, bring clothes for us.”  Then I told her where to find our necessities.  I was making decisions without wavering, without even thinking, again, it was as if Someone else was talking and walking through me. 

 Our eldest son and wife came from Monroe.  Family members started arriving.  Friends started to arrive.   Through it all, I remained by Sean’s side, thinking in my mind—I need to be with him as much as I possibly can, I might never get to be with him on this earth again.  I continually sang to him and touched him. 

People were wailing when we were told the news that Sean was brain dead.  I was calm.   I remained calm during the planning of the events—donating Sean’s organs, planning the visitation and memorial service.   I remained calm when I spoke at the memorial service.  I spoke, my husband spoke, and our children spoke—we were all calm.  When I look at the video—(a friend of ours took it and posted it on YouTube,—so people who weren’t able to get to the service could see the service),  I see again the Hand of God at work, there is no other way to explain the power and peace emanating from us.

This past year, I was describing this experience to some friends.  We were all talking about a time when we were brave, and I said, this was my time, but it wasn’t my braveness, as I felt like I was literally being picked up and carried.

 Sean went to a few local youth groups, and a youth pastor came to the hospital with his dad, who was the senior pastor, to pray with us.  The youth pastor did a sermon this past year that a friend sent me— in it he talked about how he would hope to respond the way I did if he were ever in a similar crisis.  When I heard him, I thought—but that wasn’t really me—that was God, carrying me.

I’ve had people tell me how strong I am.  I usually just nod my head.  Inside, I think, no, I’m not strong— I have been beset by anxiety and fear, that is God carrying me.

I remember reading the book, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom.  She was in a Nazi Concentration Camp.  She relayed a conversation she had with her father, when she was very young, wondering how she would be able to endure if she ever had to go through a difficult time.  Her dad told her that when they rode the train, he held onto her ticket until she needed it, then he gave it to her.  He said, that’s what God does with His grace.  He gives it to us when we need it, at the time we need it.

I have experienced this.  God gave me His grace, just when I really needed it.  He gave me His strength at the time I needed it. 

I sit here writing this, crying, feeling such pain.  I’ve been here before.  I’ll be here again—in a state of utter pain.  It still hurts to remember the events of that week. 

However, when I remember, I remember being in that state of grace, where I was wrapped in the presence of God, the One who has promised to never leave.  Hebrews 13:5   He now holds my Sean, and death does not hold Sean.  Our Lord has overcome death and sin.  1 Corinthians 15:57

I am encouraged when I remember these things. I am encouraged, knowing that when I need His grace, He will be there, He will show up.  He has promised this grace to us.  He has said, “….My Grace is sufficient for you….”  2 Corinthians 12:9   I am here to say, “Yes, during the worst times of your life—His Grace is enough.  He is enough.”   So—Be Encouraged!!

Love –God’s Gift

Tomorrow is my husband and my 30th wedding anniversary.  I remember the first time I saw my husband.  We were both on staff with Cru, (a Christian ministry), working with college students in Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Staff were taking college students down to Florida for a conference being held over Spring Break and we were riding on Greyhound Buses.  My roommate pointed out the new staff guy in Wisconsin from our bus window.  Rich was standing out in the parking lot talking to some other staff.  He was tall, athletic looking, with dark curly hair, and I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen.  I was not looking so lovely, in my sweats, with my hair pulled back in a ponytail, and my thick round glasses on.  (I had decided to forgo my contacts and attractive clothes for comfort.  I was not looking for a husband or a boyfriend, finally happy with my single status at the ripe young age of 27.)

Rich ended up riding on our bus, and sitting in the seat right next to me, (I’m still not sure how that happened).  We talked for the entire 24-hour trip.  We had so much in common; we shared about our families, our college experiences, friends we had in common.  One of the weirdest things that we discussed is that when I graduated from college, I got a job in Columbus, OH.  Rich was finishing his degree at Ohio State University.  We went to the same church for a while, had many of the same friends, babysat for the same family, remember being at certain places at the same time—and we never once met each other or remember seeing or even hearing about each other.  It’s as if God blinded our eyes to one another.  It was not time yet for us to meet.

I remember thinking after that bus trip, “this guy is going to be one of my best friends”.  I felt so comfortable with him, like I had come home.  Rich told me later, that he knew from that bus ride, that he was going to marry me.

Forward to the night before our wedding—I stayed up until 3 a.m. talking with my friend who was one of my bridesmaids, trying to decide if I was really going to go through with the wedding.  There was a storm outside, thunder and lighting and rain—weather truly suitable to the turmoil I was feeling inside.  Could I do this?  Could I really commit my life to this man?  The fear I was experiencing was palpable.  Finally, I went to sleep, and the next morning, I woke up to sunny skies and a feeling of absolute joy and peace exploding within my heart.  God was giving me reassurance that this man was for me, and He would be with me, every step of the way.

I realize now that the reason I was so fearful about making a commitment to one man for the rest of my life, was because I was terrified about letting one person see who I really was and seeing another person for who they were.  I was nervous about the soul intimacy of marriage.  Marriage is about becoming one with another person, which in my mind meant becoming vulnerable to that person, while that person became vulnerable to me.

I did not want to do this– to be vulnerable is to open oneself to being hurt.  I had been hurt in the past and was not eager to be hurt at that level again, at the same time I did not want to hurt Rich.

Before Rich and I got engaged, I prayed and asked God, “Do you want me to marry Rich?”  God answered me, “This man needs to be loved.”  I knew God was telling me that if I married Rich, I was not to hold anything back.

The Holy Spirit has been my faithful teacher.  Nudging me to apologize when I’ve been wrong.  Spurring me on to act out love—even when I do not feel love.  Giving me the courage to be vulnerable, and share who I really am, even when I am filled with fear.  Giving me the faith and patience to accept my husband, realizing it is God’s role to transform my husband in His timing, just as it is God’s role to transform me.

In addition to all these things, God has brought other brothers and sisters in Christ into our lives to help us along the way.  There are times in our lives that I don’t know how we would have endured without this help.  Particularly after our son, Sean died.

I must be honest and say that while at times the Body of Christ has been amazing, it has also been disappointing.   The Body is made up of people, and people—the people to whom we are married, or the people with whom we go to church are not perfect – not by a long shot.  (I include myself as part of the “People”).

Therefore, I have come to glory in what Jesus has done on the cross in dying for us amazing and many times broken people. 

Jesus’s death on the cross is the perfect expression of love.  He sees us for who we really are, and He loves us anyway.  He demonstrated that love by dying for us, so we could belong to Him, and be with Him, forever.

In the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle”, there is a scene where the woman in it describes a scene from another movie—a classic, called “An Affair to Remember:.  In, “An Affair to Remember”, the heroine is in an accident and is paralyzed, and the hero finds her, (after searching for her for a long time), and finds out she is paralyzed, and they embrace and he cries, “I wish it had been me, not you”.  (I always, always cry during this part, as it hits that part of me that recognizes true sacrificial unconditional love—the longing within each human heart.)

This is the love that God has for each of us.  He sees us for who we truly are and loves us unconditionally.  He loves us sacrificially.  So even when others disappoint, God does not.  (Sometimes, that does not “feel” like the truth – but it is the truth, even when it does not “feel” like it.  Our feelings can lie to us, but God and His love letter to us—The Bible—never lie).

It has helped me to remember how forgiven I am, when I need to forgive my husband.  Mostly, it helps to remember how loved I am.  I have been loved with an everlasting love.  You have been loved with an everlasting love.   This love will never fail.  This love will never, ever leave.  Hebrews 13:5

                      So Be Encouraged!!