“Did you do your chores? Why are you down here eating breakfast if you haven’t finished your chores? What have I said a million times? Do I need to say every morning exactly what to do….”
This has been my tone for some time now with my children in the morning. I see them pouring cereal or popping bread in the toaster and instead of “Good morning, I love you today” I’m quizzing them on their obedience, ready to send them back to bed.
I have been reading James, and today was when I opened to chapter 4. God had something to say to me before I started my own chores or making toast for myself.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[fn] are at war within you?[fn]” James 4:1
I felt a prick of conviction and God wasted no time in trying to wait on me to figure out what he was using this passage for in my life. My desire for obedience, a clean upstairs and not having the responsibility of reminding my children for instructions took the throne of my heart and was producing quarreling and fighting towards my children.
I began to reflect on why the mornings have been hard for me to look forward to lately. It’s been hard because my misplaced desires request to be the king for the day and instead of taking them captive and holding them up for observation side by side with scripture, I invite them in and join me for my morning coffee and together we fret about how this day will begin once the children wake up. My passions are at war within me. And so, I quarrel and fight with my children.
But, just as Joel 2 promises that God will restore the years the locust have eaten, I trust he promises to restore the few hours of the morning the locust have eaten as well and gives us grace to begin again. He will rescue us and remind us of our calling if we open his word. He will lift our eyes and remove the desires and passions from joining in on our morning coffee and replace them wih himself.
I remember one of the toys in my home was a well-loved doll house that provided hours of entertainment. While I was probably more of a tom-boy who enjoyed modeling after my older brother, I would steal away to play house, pull out the dolls to form little families and get lost in imagination. Arranging little beds, tables, and kitchen supplies, I started my pretend morning with the little babies crying for their mamas, who would come rushing into the little plastic room and with straight, frozen arms to pick up the smiling baby. She would change dirty diapers, make breakfast, give the baby their bath, and clean up every mess throughout the house until it was naptime. Then, the mother would get the baby up, play, cook, and clean until the evening came. Though I was very little, I had some understanding that being a mommy meant sacrifice.
A few years ago I received a phone call about a close family friend who was joyfully growing further along in her pregnancy and had finally reached that long-awaited sonogram to determine the gender. While there was rejoicing over the news of a baby girl, the doctor had further news that required a more private meeting. He carefully delivered the news that she had cancer, and it would be wise to start treatment right away. This treatment would also require to end the life of her baby in order to save her own. My friend would tell the doctors that she would carry her child in her womb as long as possible and start treatment right away after birth. As the child grew in the safety of her womb, so did my friend’s cancer. Eventually, my friend would lay down her very life so that the life of another could begin, and she passed away a little over a year after her baby was born.
How far should our sacrifice go as mothers? And to what end? What if motherhood didn’t go as we planned? Many of us feel like we’re losing ourselves as we help these little souls. We wonder if it’s all worth it.
Any mother will tell you that motherhood did not go 100% as expected. Some families have long-term or terminally ill children, while some have very difficult children who struggle with structure and obedience. Some mothers find themselves in a world of single motherhood. If this life was supposed to be about getting what we planned, I wonder if anyone one would raise children.
Placing hope in the unseen
Motherhood is a calling that requires a tremendous amount of energy with very slow signs of fruit. We are called to pour into these little souls as we seek God, and trust him with the growth in their hearts.
When we see that God is the one who gives life and is the author of each child in our home, we can rest. And each life will go exactly as he planned it to be.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 gives life to the very hard, very costly days of motherhood:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
When we look in the mirror and see the toll that raising children has done on our bodies, youthful energy and self-esteem, the Bible compels us to take a look again, but with new eyes. We must set aside what we can see and take hold of the unseen. Because while our bodies are wasting away, there is a miraculous, eternal inner self that looks more and more like Jesus every day as we abide in him. This inner self, this new creation in Christ, is what we attach all our hope and all our value to, it will never fail us. While our minds and bodies are slowly fading, it’s our inner new creation, powered by the holy spirit, that gives us the strength to bear with another dirty diaper, the sleepless nights, another meal to prepare, the unexpected sickness or hospital stay, and the requests to sit in our laps when we just want to be alone.
Jesus gives us the hope that the sacrifice is worth the cost.
If you’re like me, and you’ve sat over a sink full of dishes, or baskets full of laundry, or floors that are covered in filth again, we know it can be very discouraging. We love our children, but high needs of little ones can sometimes feel like more than we can handle. Not to mention the enemy who loves to prowl around just behind us as we pick up toys and old milk cups and whispers, “Don’t you remember all the bigger dreams you had than this? Dreams where you’d at least be out of your pajamas everyday?”
Hopefully when we hear that voice, we can sit down amongst the noise and remember this truth about Jesus in Philippians 2:5-9
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
There are many of us mothers out there with talent, potential, creativity and dreams. These gifts can be so valuable and should not be dismissed. But God teaches us something here in Philippians that very much applies to us when we wonder if our gifts are being wasted when all we do is change diapers and cook endless meals. Jesus himself had the highest status, the most glorious home, a perfect view, a loving communion, adoration, praise, and he set it aside and humbled himself as a man to sacrifice his life for his children. What an honor for us as we get to reflect this to our children. Jesus knew the sacrifice of leaving his place in Heaven was a heavy cost, and he can help us walk through the cost of our own motherhood too.
I wonder if this verse we discussed above from 2 Corinthians came to mind when my friend received her cancer diagnosis while pregnant. Though her time in motherhood on earth was short, her sacrifice had eternal implications. On the outside she was being told that her body was wasting away, and she looked to the inner self, empowered by Christ, and placed her hope in what she couldn’t see. All mothers who belong to Christ will one day get to look him in the eyes, and he will say “Well done, good and faithful servant”, and we will rest.
I wrote this 3 years ago when we all got the flu at the same time. Well, here we are again, and 4 out of 5 kiddos are puking. I needed this reminder yesterday as my shaky hand gripped my third cup of coffee and my puffy eyes looked out on the masses who were falling around me, left and right. This was familiar to me…
The Family Flu is About God
I opened my eyes and blinked a few times. Was she really awake? Was I just hearing her cry in my dream? Am I still asleep? I was stuck in the mommy fog: when you’re wondering which land you’re in, the sleep one or the awake one. The monitor crackled and gave its normal feedback, then I heard it loud and clear. “Mommy, mommy? Mommmiiieeee!”
After trying to rock Adley back to sleep, I finally brought her into our bed. She nuzzled up to me and I smiled. I was sleepy but I always like any alone time I can get with one of the kids, especially if I can sleep at the same time. But then came the gagging.
“Oh it’s okay sweetie,” I said as I sat up.
Gag, gag, I could hear the liquid making its way up.
“Alright, alright, alright,” I always say this gently to the kids when I don’t want them to see me panic on the inside.
After wiping off a few places. I laid back down and Adley was ready to close her eyes and sleep.
Then I heard another monitor.
Little Ernie couldn’t go back to sleep, I brought him in on the couch in our room. I kissed him and began to walk back to bed and then I heard the gagging.
“Ernie? Sweetie, are you okay?”
Up came the chunks. Twice, actually. My poor boy is only 3, throwing up is so confusing and terrifying. I still feel this way and I’m 28. I cleaned him up, laid him down and told him that mommy cries when she throws up too.
When my husband woke up with the flu also, items were soaked in puke, and our washer stopped working, I had to take a second. I locked myself in the bathroom to see if God had something to say at this point.
I felt like Moses before a burning bush, called The Flu, and God was telling me to take on the task of caring for his sick people in my house. By myself. And I was saying “oh, I can’t do that.”
“I will be with you.” I remembered he told Moses.
“But, I didn’t sleep last night. The washer doesn’t work. There will be more puke. I can’t do this!” I walked out of the bathroom with about as much faith as Moses started out with.
I really felt this was all about me. Of course this would happen to a mom, I had thought, caged in by the sickness around her and bouncing around from person to person, changing her clothes after getting thrown up on and tossing them in the “we will wash these when the washer works” pile, and trying to entertain the other kids that are healthy and going stir crazy.
I was acting like I had been dealt a bad hand, like my life was a game of cards and this week was just not my week. But God is gracious as always, and revealed to me what flu week is all about.
And I can tell you, that whole week brought more vomit, the virus finally took over me too, but God was with me.
The Lord brought us very low in weakness to show us that he’s the one who cares for our family. He’s the one who brings the sickness and he’s the one who allows it to leave. He brings it in the middle of the night or at nap time. He can allow sickness to stay for a week or 24 hours.
During a family flu, his goodness and mercy are still following us all the days of our life. Our flesh is failing during sickness, but He is our strength and our portion forever, and that is what helps us get up and clean off our sick child. The Lord being our strength, trusting his care in allowing the flu, gives us the hope to make it through a very long day. And when another member of the family announces that their tummy hurts, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ will be your strength to run them to the toilet in time, or not in time. And the hope of Heaven where sin and sickness will one day be no more, will help you get through the moments of mopping the floors, or scrubbing the carpets .
As the season of much sickness sticks with us and invades our homes, remember Who allows the sickness and that he’s the strength and hope for those who trust in His Son.
Sometimes as mothers we experience the brokenness of the world in very unique ways. God calls us to many things with our children that do not get much in return. We spend evenings catching up on house cleaning, only to have children wake up and drag their toys and paper through the house. We change our babies diaper and it’s dirty again the second we get the last strap on. Toddlers fight us and refuse to give us rest. We care for the ones who get the stomach flu, and once they are healthy, we start throwing up. We bathe them regularly when we haven’t had a decent shower in days. We search for their shirts and pants while we still feel stuck in our pajamas and yesterday’s makeup.
The calling comes with tools that are also affected by the fall; ovens that burn our pizzas, refrigerators that give out the day after grocery day, showers that run out of hot water, sinks that leak and spill out into the kitchen, yesterday’s dinner that hardens and sticks to the plates, vacuums that putter out when our floor is filthy. We could go on forever couldn’t we? In all this work that’s mixed with difficulties, maybe you’ve said similar to what I’ve said before: I just feel like half of a person.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a little humor to take the edge off of motherhood right? We compare ourselves to zombies, the schizophrenic Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, the wrinkly old witch from Snow White, it can be funny. Motherhood is funny sometimes. But when it comes to the thought of fullness, there’s a hidden lie behind the feeling of being half of a person. It’s a humorous line, but it’s one that the Enemy pockets for later use. It’s fuel he can use when we’re at our lowest. Well, am I even whole? He strokes us to think. And we spiral from this point as we sit there, with our children running around the living room. Where do we run to?
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
Dear Mothers, in Christ we are whole. We have been brought to fullness. We must remind ourselves of this truth. When our kids aren’t responding to us, and we’ve lost the keys for the 36th time this week and we’re late again, we are whole. When we have started our drive to the store and we realize our shirt is inside out and the baby is screaming in the back seat, we are whole. When we have struggled with anger all day and we stand in the kitchen at 6pm clueless of what to make for dinner, we are whole.
Jesus does not bring you to fullness in him only to temporarily make you feel like half a person while you’re in the trenches of motherhood. No, his fullness is for your mothering too. We are his, we are alive in him. We are experiencing the fullness of Christ even in our child’s tenth tantrum of the day. We are a person with a soul that is healed and made whole, even when we’ve gotten all the cereal bowls ready and there’s no milk left, or coffee, and we still need a shower.
Raise your mugs of lukewarm coffee with me and embrace the fullness of Christ in whatever trenches we walk through with Him today.
It was the quickest decision I’d ever made in a grocery aisle. My husband, Ernie, saw me answer my phone as he carted around our ten month old son and tried to figure out who I was talking to.
“Yes. Y…yes. Okay, 8 months?” I darted my eyes towards Ernie, who was still curious. “When will we need to be ready? Okay, so tomorrow.” Ernie quickly rolled towards me, feeling complete freedom to interrupt with, “So, who is this?”
The next morning we picked up our daughter from a children’s group home. Can I just describe her to you for a moment? She was like a ripe, juicy, chubby baby, just waiting to be squeezed to pieces. She had the most perfect, milk chocolate skin, and wispy curls just trying to push through on top of her head, though just the very top. She reached for Ernie like he was the love of her life she’d been waiting for, and just melted into his strong, safe arms. She was absolutely changed after that first hug from a father who wanted to love her forever.
We fed her sweet potatoes and sang to her, tried to get our son and her to be her new best friend. We took her to the park and rocked her to sleep at night. She was enjoying every bit of affection we could give.
I got another phone call. This little girl had a brother and he needed a placement as soon as possible too. They’d been separated a week and a half prior to her joining our home. We prayed for wisdom and walked into another group home, we picked up a giggly, grinning little boy who had a head full of curls, and the same perfect, milk chocolate skin. He walked with me to the car and we had his sister waiting outside. I can’t describe to you what it was like for them to reunite, but what I can say is, though her brother had a significant speech delay, his eyes sang “I found you” and he touched her shoulder. It was beautiful to be able to bring them together.
It didn’t take long before our daughter, whom we later named her T, and our son, whom we later named J, showed significant challenges. The road before us looked a lot longer as a few years later, and challenges rose rapidly. As the mother, especially, I quickly felt deeply inadequate and began to fear the battles that would come. Tantrums would explode that I couldn’t explain, distant and cold eyes would not be able to look into mine, hands and feet would become physically combative where I’d have to find a safe place for them. And I clearly felt my own anger rise like never before and wanted to keep them safe even from my own words. What was (still is) going on?
What is happening when you cannot help your daughter who is pushing away and her eyes tell us she’s currently away from you emotionally? What do we do when we physically cannot control our son who has suddenly been struck with anger and he cannot come back to a calm and peaceful state?
What is going on when your child’s sibling accidentally brush against their shoulder and in the blink of an eye your child is hissing at everyone in the family and throwing punches at anyone who might come near?
For the children from difficult places that come to our homes, it’s likely they have never experienced the goodness of a mother or father reaching for them when they were crying out as a newborn, or immediately soothed after a big fall. It’s possible they’ve never felt the comfort of an outside person bringing them down to a level of peace.
Parents are like external emotional control panels. Babies do not yet know how to feel comforted and safe on their own. They need to be picked up when fearful or hungry and have someone bring their emotions back down as they hear “Shhh,” or “I’m here, it’s okay”. Babies cry, parents arrive. They cry out again, parents give the same care. The cycle happens so many times for a child that they understand some idea of regulation and trust that they will be cared for. It’s their beginning experiences of a God who says, “I am with you and I will never forsake you.” Perhaps these children can hear the gospel one day and understand in a unique way because their parents showed them a small picture of God in their early days. And we have the same opportunity for the children from difficult places.
The children who have come to us are asking us to show them a God who will never forsake them. They need this, not just in words, but in our healthy touch, our immediate arrival upon cries, our endless amount of reminders of our love for them, our willingness to start over no matter how many tantrums or time they take from us.
Whether their experience was fearful neglect, horrific abuse, or anything in between, the effects on these children is clear. Life for them had to be an “all about me” perspective. When you see your caregivers on auto-pilot most of the time, then yes, it had to be “how to take care of me”.
Now they are in your home. You know they have been brought to safety, but they don’t know that yet. As you teach them to not take their anger out on your children, or break the T.V, remember they are in an immense need of healing that is beyond a few lectures or consistent time-outs. You’ve been called into redeeming work. Your child does not know they are made in the image of a good and faithful God, who saw them in their need. They do not know about the joy of being God’s workmanship; that our hands, and words and feet have purpose that they haven’t ever imagined before. Ellie Holcomb, one of my favorite artists, sings a beautiful line that makes me think of the hope I have for my children, “I need a rescue, I need a reckoning, from all the things I’ve done and have been done to me.” And the cross is that rescue and reckoning for what have been done to these little image bearers.
I can see it in my son’s eyes sometimes when we talk about God creating us, he has some pain there that he still does not understand or cannot communicate. We, perhaps, have a journey to walk with him still as he considers what it means to be an image bearer when he was knitted into a womb that he wouldn’t stay forever connected with. Thanks be to God, he has a rescuer and one who has, at the cross, reckoned what’s been done, and that rescuer is also his true Father who will never leave him or forsake him.
I will be spending some more weeks on this topic as I’m smack dab in the middle of crying out for wisdom for my children; how to love them and how to be tool used by God for healing when there’s also my sin that is so evident. If you’re walking through this like me, I hope you feel encouraged that you are not alone!
Today I plan on getting my four year old up on the counter with me to learn how to make cupcakes. We will haul out the butter and flour, she will sneak bites of the batter when I’m not looking. I’ll be teaching her to do this on Haddon’s birthday because not too many years from now I’ll ask her to make the cupcakes we learned together so mommy can go visit his grave and remember him. But that will be later down the road, today we celebrate 6 years of having him as their brother and our son. Six years of treasured conversation about heaven and what it would be like to be before Jesus, and how neat that someone so connected to us sees him face to face. Our kids have had many years now of seeing mommy and daddy aching to see their brother, yet full of hope, and beginning to understand how getting to live in both of those realities only comes from knowing Jesus. Our kids have a very special connection to the future hope of the resurrection, and so do Ernie and I. I long to see him, but I know I’m one year closer. We will have eternity to embrace one another over and over again, and that embrace will also be when Jesus finally (oh, finally!) wipes away every tear from my eyes.
Welcome to the stories of God’s faithfulness from our grief in losing our first son, Haddon. He was born at 33 weeks, and lived for 40 hours with an unknown virus.
I have saved all the writings from our early days in how God truly showed us the sweetness of His Son Jesus, in the middle of deep sorrow. I hope these words encourage you, some of these days filled with tears over my keyboard are the most precious days of my life.
I don’t make it to Haddon’s grave often; and it’s because I’m busy with good things from the Lord. I did, however, go a couple months ago. The loss felt deeper and the sorrow came as I stood over his gravestone that read: Jesus lives and so shall I, when he returns with Him I’ll rise.
I longed for Jesus to return that day and raise this boy of mine so I could embrace him once more. I know a day is coming when my arms will wrap around him and Jesus will wipe away the final tears from my eyes.
I stood over his grave and felt the affection for him as his mother in a deeper way. The Lord is teaching me and growing me in how to mother my children, which gives me more joy and new desires to love them and care for them, and for me this extends to Haddon, some how. I felt deeper love for him and longed to care for him once again.
The waiting feels harder
Ernie and I were ready for the return of Jesus when we rested Haddon in his grave. The New Heavens and New Earth felt so near to us; and really, they still are. Life is a vapor and eternity will never end. But four years here has started to feel long. I don’t want to be 70 years old and visiting his grave, with a mind that will surely forget all the details of my sweet time with him. I want Christ to return soon, so this grief is only but a few short years. We believe God’s plans are good for us, but the waiting has become difficult.
God is working in us and our joy is increasing and at the same time our sorrow remains. The truths from this passage are a clear picture of what our hearts feel:
[We live as] sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. 2 Corinthians 6:10
We are sad today, and we will be sad tomorrow. The sorrow we carry will be with us as long as we live. Do you feel this too? But the promise for Christians is that we will never have to carry sorrow without the hope of Christ. Jesus suffered and was crushed so that our earthly sorrow does not have to crush us. He allows deep waters and waves of grief but they will not drown us. We may be 70 years old, our eyes wasting away from grief as we stand over the graves of our sons and daughters, or wading through waters of other deep sorrows that threaten to steal our hope.
We can rejoice in our sorrow. We can’t rejoice on our own (I have cried the ugly cries, have you?). The Spirit will lift our eyes to thank God that this loss is not where our hope dies , and that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the steady heartbeat of our sad but hopeful hearts. The Christian hope continues living because it’s root is a living Savior.
Sorrow and hope, these are what our days are made of in our family. We miss our boy, yet God has not withheld goodness from us. We will walk through our years with the hope of Christ while we wait for the day that sorrows will be no more.
Happy 4th birthday to my precious son Haddon Brooks Blanco.
I wouldn’t for a second trade your joy with Christ for a cake mix and birthday candles today, but I do miss you and my heart aches to see you.
I am sitting in the quiet of my living room as little ones sleep. This pregnancy has led me to eating lunch around 10:15 rather than noon. So as I unashamedly finish off a plate of spaghetti by mid morning, I sit here thinking about this new little one that has continued to grow inside me.
The gift of children has been quite the journey for us. For two and a half years God has lifted my eyes to trust him as he tells me that his ‘word is upright and all his work is done in faithfulness’ Psalm 33:4, a life giving verse for me in the midst of a trial that wanted to suck the life out of me.
As we first kissed our firstborn and buried him into the ground in the same week, the Lord stood guard over my heart from the hungry sins of bitterness, anger, and hopelessness who were always tempting me in my hours of sorrow. But The Lord stood in my sorrow, loudly declaring for me that if he did not spare his own son for my sin how could he also not provide me all things?
Since then, every pregnancy has been a step of faith onto a path to which the final destination is not visible. We cannot strain our eyes and squint hard enough to make sure we see a baby down the road that will survive after birth. What we can see is the Lord’s faithfulness to us before, where there’s no straining or squinting for our eyes to see. God has shown Ernie and I the power of remembering what He has done.
So I lay here, feeling the kicks of a little girl squirming inside me and I pray that she continues to kick and move and jump for 15 more weeks. I want her to live. I want to watch her grow and watch our son care for his younger sister. I do not want to place her in the ground. But my hope is not in a living child. My hope is that God emptied his anger and wrath on his son. He showed his son no mercy so that he could freely give mercy to me. In light of this hope, I can walk in faith with bearing or not bearing children, raising them or burying them.