On Turning Three and the Passing of Time

Over this past weekend, my youngest turned three years old. She’s been convincing everyone in her path that she’s B-I-G for a year now, no argument there. Her requests for her special day were a “sparkly” cake and paper dolls. Anything for you, Babe (because she is my baby). And so with butterflies hanging from the ceiling and three candles flickering on her sparkly butterfly cake, we celebrated her growth and the gift of her life.

For me, as the mother, the day held a lot of emotion and reflection. As mothers everywhere do, I reflected on the privilege of carrying and birthing her; for us, right here in our home, in water, just as the sun crested the hill through the window. “Shut the curtains please!” I pleaded moments before my body would be pushing her out, the heat of the sun and the heat of the work too much at the time. As she took her first breath, the light of her life entered our world, forever altering it. The older girls marveled at this new little sister, so brand new, and covered with all that white… what? That first day of her life was a hot late summer day, and I rested in my bed with my baby, the fan on us, the loving gaze of God on us, the miracle of birth a mystery in us yet again. How could that be three years ago?

I reflected on one year ago, how we managed to make it back to South Africa in the middle of the pandemic exploding across the wide world, the day before her second birthday. The US president addressed the nation while we were in the air over the Atlantic, with announcements of borders closing and our seat mates frantic with questions of how to return. “Let us just make it home,” we prayed, boarding our next flight to take us as far south as Africa goes. We landed, hugged our waiting teammates, and deeply worried about that the days after – had we brought COVID with us, to these people dear to us? We marveled at the timing of God, filled with joy and gratitude for being back. How could that be a year ago, bleary eyed and jet-lagged, whipping up a cake in my dear own kitchen finally, for my two-year-old baby?

The passing of time is such a mystery, and like life itself, is tinged with joy and grief, with growth and loss. I am so grateful for my healthy, growing children, and I also miss them as tiny babies, snuggled into me for hours of each day. Time is something I contemplate often; our experience of it in minutes, hours, days, and years it is a construct of our fallen world. Time in God’s kingdom looks far different, “with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “How old will we be in heaven?” my eldest daughter asks me. How do we imagine an eternity absent of time as we know it?

As with much of the rest of life, I find I must open my hands and heart again to God, and trust him with the mysteries beyond my comprehension. May I grieve and celebrate the growing of my babies, all in the same breath? Yes, I may. Life is a miracle, a gift, a mystery, and we feel the fullness of it in our honesty with ourselves and with God. May I be filled with gratitude and marveling at life, and feel its incompleteness in the same moment? Yes, I may. Life is a joy, a light, and experiencing it in this world is not all that we are meant for. Our aching, our melancholy, is a poignant reminder that our experience of life this side of heaven is lacking, these beautiful lives we live are fallen, and are in need of deep redemption. For those of us in Christ, we have the immense privilege of knowing the earthly side of gospel redemption now, and have the glorious hope of full redemption one day.

And in the meantime, this is where you’ll find me, holding my children close and opening my hands again to our Father, day after day, year after year.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Let Them See

A couple of weeks ago, Ben and I got into it – right as I was dishing dinner onto plates. It was that time of day where everyone is a bit tired, emotions run high, my tank is empty, and there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. I can’t even remember now what the argument was about, but it was clearly something we both felt strongly about, and it wasn’t resolving quickly. So we told our children to get started on dinner, we’d be back in a few minutes, and we went back to our room to work it out.

A few minutes turned into 45, and multiple times, a child came back to ask for something. We said, “Mom and Dad are having an argument, we need to work through it, and we’ll join you soon.” We heard them repeat the story to the others, “Mom and Dad are having an argument. They’ll be done soon.” In the end, we completely missed dinner, and our conversation ended memorably with all four children back in our room with us, on our laps, as we discussed American politics and explained the current candidates to our curious children.

Ben and I have plenty of conflicts and arguments; this is one aspect of the work of marriage, to die to self daily, listen well to the other, and seek humility. And we are growing in it. But something I have thought about over the past few years is how we want to model healthy conflict – and in this case, marital conflict – to our children.

We all have different childhood experiences of watching our own parents handle conflict; maybe your parents never fought, and so you were unprepared for dealing well with conflict. Maybe your parents fought loudly, angrily, and it was frightening for you as a child. Maybe your parents fought in front of you, but resolved issues behind closed doors, so you were not able to witness the resolution. Maybe your parents separated because of too much conflict.

For Ben and I, we want to model not only healthy conflict – as in, handling our arguments in a way that still respects the other – but also healthy conflict resolution. We want our kids to see us apologizing to and forgiving each other, embracing each other, laughing together, our relationship completely restored. We want them to know that even though we may get angry at times, we still love each other, and we always will.

Just as we work hard in our home at restoring sibling relationships when there’s been discord, and restoring child-parent relationships when there’s been disrespect, so too we work hard at modeling restored marriage relationship. Because this is a picture of the gospel – working out right before our eyes, again and again. Just as in Christ, we are forgiven our many sins and brought into restored relationship with him, so too our human relationships – the conflict and the restoration – is a picture of his redemptive work.

So I’m pondering lately, how do we do this better? We want our children to see both the hard of conflict and the beautiful of restoration, because it’s a picture of life in Christ. And that – life in Christ – is the life we want them to see.

Minimalism is Not the Gospel

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

To say minimalism is trending would be an understatement. It seems to crop up weekly in conversations. I see articles on the regular:

“25 Reasons You Might be a Minimalist”

“Goodbye things, hello minimalism: Can living with less make you happier?”

“Don’t Just Declutter. De-own.”

I appreciate minimalism. I enjoy purging excess stuff and keeping our home functioning simply. I’ve been told we are “so minimalist” (as a compliment, I think) and I am inspired to keep our material possessions on the fewer side. Currently, on my refrigerator I have hanging a “30 Day Declutter Challenge” which I mean to complete (but have only checked off one).

While the concept may be good, the rumblings of what minimalism can do for you, for me, of what minimalism can deliver to our lives, make me uneasy. From my dabbling in this trendy movement, I’m convinced that we ought be careful of a way of life which promises what it can never actually deliver. After all, minimalism is not the gospel.

A Few Potential Pitfalls

Don’t be convinced your minimalistic lifestyle means you have beaten materialism. Minimalism is not the opposite of materialism. Materialism is defined as “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.” Just because you may have fewer material possessions does not mean that you are less attached to them.

Rather, consider your heart. Do you love the fewer clothes you have? Are you deeply attached to the few books you decided to keep in the recent purge? Do you love your home for the way it looks, rather than the way God provided it for your family, as a place to grow together and extend hospitality? You can still value your material possessions as more important than spiritual things, even in having fewer of them.

So while we’re busy critiquing our parents’ generation for huge homes, stocked attics and overstuffed garages, we need to take an honest look at our own lives and ask: is our minimalism simply materialism in a new dress?

Don’t expect minimalism to bring you joy. The KonMarie method has received worldwide fame, notably with the suggestion to ask of each item you own, “does this spark joy?” From the first time I heard this, there was unrest in my heart. Not because material things don’t bring me moments of fleeting joy, but because we are espousing a philosophy that leans into our already very human temptation to take our eyes off of the true Source of joy and onto the gifts instead.

J.I. Packer has said of Ecclesiastes that the right foundation for everyday joy [to be distinct from our eternal joy in the gospel] is “in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy in everyday activities and relationships” [read further here]. I would rather be looking at my daughters to find a spark of joy, or in my husband’s love, or in nature, or in fulfilling work, and celebrating these good gifts from God in my life, not in that shirt I wore yesterday or the ornate vase I collected from Taiwan. God has given a very material world to enjoy, but let’s be careful to worship the giver and not the gift.

“…human beings flourish and are truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything that is true, good, and beautiful. As to all created things, they too ought to be loved. But the only way to properly love them and fully and truly enjoy them is to love and enjoy them “in God”.”

Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith

Don’t let your minimalism hinder your hospitality and love for others. At the very root of some forms of minimalism is simply selfishness. I want to feel free in my home, I want to clean less, I want my home to spark joy, I like the look of x, y, and z. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought, “I should get rid of those kiddy kitchen toys” and yet, why? Because, I don’t like the look of them. But my kids, and a host of other kids, greatly enjoy these toys, and play with them daily. Who would I be serving to get rid of them? Fortunately in my life, I am daily reminded that there are others of whom I need to think, and serve with love, than myself.

Before purging all the extra plates from your kitchen, consider: do you have adequate space for extending hospitality? Is your space warm and inviting, a place that people will want to gather? Far and above any desires for a sparse kitchen ought to be our willingness and ability to host others well, to extend our homes and lives and invite others in. [Read here for convicting thoughts on Christian hospitality].

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. Here are a few reasons why Christians ought to consider living more simply:

  • to better set our hearts on things above, and not on earthly things [Col. 3:2]
  • to better love our neighbors [Mark 12:31]
  • to seek to live more generously [1 Tim. 6:17-19]
  • to offer meaningful hospitality [Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:8-9]

If these are the reasons for your pursuit of minimalism, to live a life more pleasing to Christ, then by all means, it is a worthy pursuit.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have good and clothing, we will be content with that.”

1 Timothy 6:6-8

And he said to them, “Take care, be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:15

originally published on June 27, 2018

Enjoy Every Minute

Enjoy every minute.

Three little words. Words that elicit a rushing force of guilt like no others for this mama. In that early morning hour, hour after hour, when my arm is falling asleep because I’ve been laying on that side nursing my babe yet again and my eyes are drooping and the clock indicates only a few more precious hours of opportune sleep exist before the upcoming day.

In that normal morning hour when I rise to sounds of three little people who need me more than anyone has ever needed me before, and I feel like I have very little of worth to give.

In that breakfast time when my toddler refuses one more bite of her favorite oatmeal as a test of will and I must be consistent so she knows she can learn that love is not about just giving her what she wants, and so we sit and wait, for one of us to give in.

In that mid-morning hour when I think my baby needs a nap but she cries because she thinks not and I wonder how my motherly intuition can fail me so many times. I think maybe I never had that motherly intuition after all.

During that late morning walk when we have just had the most fun at the park and my toddler helps to push the stroller and runs gleefully in front of me, so free and independent and stumbles only like a human who has walked just a year does. I watch her independence falter, her glee fall to pieces, and her tears stream as she runs to me with her little button nose scraped and we are both broken.  

In that glorious naptime hour that is so anticipated and needed when both babies are meant to be sleeping but neither one is and I feel panic rising and my breath is short and I need space, time, quiet, peace and it doesn’t happen.

In that famous witching hour when I want to greet my husband into our peaceful home with smiles and kisses and something besides yoga pants but the kids are grumpy and I am grumpy and we all just need him as soon as he walks through the door. And we get a pizza for dinner.

It’s the hardest in that hour when I put my babies to bed for the night with stories and songs and lots of cuddling and tucking in. I failed this day, again, like I do every day. I failed to enjoy every minute. I will look back on this day in two years, ten years, thirty years and regret that I failed deeply at this and I cannot do anything now to fix it. This thought eats me alive and makes it hard for me to sleep those few hours and clouds my days with these three sweet gifts from God.

So I stopped trying.

And instead, I began to focus on truth, found in God’s Word. Nowhere, fortunately, does God command us to “enjoy every moment.” Rather, he commands us to be faithful. In 1 Samuel 24, as the prophet Samuel gives his farewell address to Israel, he recounts all that God had done for Israel since their slavery in Egypt, and instructs them to serve the Lord: “only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” [24]. What has the Lord done for you? Called you to himself? Forgiven your sin? Given Christ to you as your righteousness? Consider these things.

What does faithfulness look like, for you, in your season?

This current season may be one where the Lord is working hard on your sanctification – praise him for that! For “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” [Heb. 12:10-11].

For me, faithfulness looks like this: embracing this season with little ones, full of hard and long days, thanking God for these children and the great responsibility of loving them; hourly checking my attitude, that it is not resentful or self-serving, but asking God to help me in my constant small sacrifices, to do so cheerfully; to with my words and actions point my children back to God, modeling for them what it means to “love God and enjoy him forever”; daily leaning into Christ’s sacrifice for me, accepting that God’s forgiveness covers all my sin, resting in his perfect love; seeking to honor God in all the dish-washing, diaper-changing, peace-making. It does not look like: enjoying all those hard moments, and dwelling in a place of guilt when I don’t. God would have us find our full enjoyment in him, not in our circumstances.  But through our enjoyment of him, we can, with gratitude, live faithfully, whatever our circumstances.

For very good reason, this verse has been a favorite lately:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” [Lam. 3:22-23]

Even when we fail to be faithful, he never does.

Praise God!

originally published on April 15, 2017