I look forward to Mother’s Day. My life brims with beautiful mothers: my own, my mother-in-law, my two sisters, and my sister-in-law. Though my four children never have managed to plan a breakfast in bed, they are not stingy with homemade cards and hugs. When I stirred my youngest awake this morning, she said, before even opening her eyes, “Is today Mother’s Day?” That’s how eager she is to watch me open the brown paper-wrapped craft she brought home yesterday from preschool.
But I remember other Mother’s Days. I remember Sundays when the annual recognition of all the moms in the church congregation brought me nothing but pain. I wanted what they had. Desperately.
Having a mother and being a mother are blessings, which means they open us right up to both great joy and great pain. It seems a fitting thing to remember this week.
I am grateful to my friend and fellow writer Sharon McKeeman for sharing her story of grief and Joy with us.
When I was young, I tucked my dolls into bed safely each night. When I was young, I drew haphazard flowers on construction paper for my mom on Mother’s Day. Life was simple and sweet, and I trusted that it would always remain so.
I didn’t know then that I would hold a son stillborn on his due-date. I didn’t know I would caress his perfect but lifeless body before the nurses took him from me. In those moments, life shattered desolate. I returned home from the hospital to my two young sons, and somehow, we celebrated Thanksgiving a few weeks later. My heart had stopped right in its tracks, but the North Carolina sun kept shining, and the rhythm of ordinary and holidays continued. I offered thanks around our turkey-laden dinner table, and I wrapped presents for my children at Christmas. Grief is a long road, but as the chill of the winter months turned to warm spring, I felt my soul begin to revive. Then one day I woke up, and it was Mother’s Day. How could I survive this?
I was afraid I would come untethered, scared that I might just float away. Shame, despair, and heartache were so very close that day, but miraculously Christ was closer. The One who made me and holds my son, wrapped His arms tight around me and carried me through that day. This didn’t numb the pain, but as my two living children kissed my tear streaked cheeks, I lived the truth that, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NIV) A mother just barely healing from sprinkling her son’s ashes in the sea, I was comforted. I can’t explain it other than I called out to Christ because I didn’t know how else to survive, and He surrounded me. He held me and didn’t let go.
I wish I could say that since then I have tucked my children into bed safe each night. Thankfully a healthy pregnancy followed the loss of my son on his due-date, but I lost another child when his heart stopped beating at sixteen weeks and another when her heart never began to beat. Even though I held three living children, Mother’s Day become a joke, a time to endure. Even as I collected hand drawn cards and red roses, my soul sank. While around me spring was bursting with life, my heart began to feel as dead as my womb. Despair and distrust of my heavenly Father grew until a friend reminded me that a weeping Jesus is always near.
Jesus entered this mess with us. He suffered and wept; He weeps with us still.
I came to rest in that truth.
I held three children, and I mourned three children. My arms were full, and my arms were empty. Through it all my Maker held me. When I was too weak, too consumed by grief, to hold on, God surrounded and carried me.
This spring an unexpected bloom has unfurled. After I held death within my body three times, a pregnancy blossomed into a healthy daughter who is filling my arms and heart. After all these years of mourning, we have named her Joy. Our family holds her close and breathes thanksgiving, but I know this happiness is just a step in our journey. There will be more storms, more barren months. The greatest gift comes in knowing that joy was not found alone in this precious little one, but in discovering that Christ weeps with me, and my Maker holds me so carefully that no tragedy can tear me from His embrace.
For every woman with empty arms and an aching heart in this season, I pray that she will feel a weeping Jesus near and comforting her. I pray that a miraculous joy will well up within, defy earthly pain, and speak heaven straight to her soul.
There is an everlasting spring yet to come, and even as these bodies of dust often fail us, its whispers take root in our hearts.
Sharon is a homeschooling mama to three sons and a daughter. She is a Midwestern girl at heart who now lives with her family on the sunny beaches of Southern California, where they enjoy reading together and playing in the surf. She is an author, educator, speaker, and photographer who shares more of her story as @sharonmckeeman on Instagram and at www.sharonmckeeman.com where you will find her blog, Writing in the Dust, as well as her newsletter, Mourning into Joy, which is filled with encouragement and resources for grieving mamas.
I still remember when I discovered Hilary Yancey’s writing online. She writes the kind of sweet-sharp prose that I love. Hers is the beautifully precise storytelling that hurts a little to read but always in the best possible way. I remember thinking, “I hope she writes a book one day.”
I am so pleased to share the following guest post from Hilary with you. She writes for those who are waiting for help or good news but worry time is running out. She writes for those who wonder why there seems to be no miracle for them.
Hilary reminds me that good news unfolds in time. Rarely can we receive it in an instant. Instead, it is, like grace, something that reveals itself slowly. But given time, it will sink its roots down deep into our lives changing, not only our present and our future, but our past as well.
I was all grace-less worry the first six weeks of my son’s life. He was born into the bright steadying lights of the NICU. He was born into weeks of poking, prodding, scoped up and down. His first pictures besides our Instagram snapshots were the flickery black and white of heart and head and kidney ultrasounds.
Two by two, we would go into that ark, my husband and I. Two by two, and no more than that at a time. In the mornings the attending physicians and residents would form a crescent moon standing around his bassinet, and the real moon would take the night watch alongside us.
We are all born into motherhood. The labor is from us, and for us, and so I too was welcomed by bright lights and pulsing blue and red monitors. I too was born into an endless click, click of blood pressure cuffs and kinked IV needles and blanket forts to hide us while we slept.
This birthing birthed in me a worry of keeping it together, of keeping on for him, a worry of being enough. I have known this worry before, but it has a different shape in the helpless hallways of a hospital. I was told by every sign and monitor and nurse who ran past me for the red or yellow alarm that I – the mother, the one they say is everything and has been everything – was not the only person my son needed. I was reminded of this when I had to leave Jack’s bedside or faint from not eating. I was reminded when I tossed and turned in the hotel bed that felt suddenly empty.
It ripped me wide, this birth into hand sanitizer rituals and the required removal of wedding rings, these quiet conference rooms where the patient in bed 34 was the topic of conversation, where my son was the patient in bed 34. In all this worry I lost the thread that binds us back together. I lost the thread of the hem of the robe of Jesus.
I think of the woman and her hemorrhages. I think of myself and the way I seemed to hemorrhage confidence and trust as I walked the same dreaded hallways. Is that how she felt, finally seeing his feet passing her by, walking somewhere else? Why didn’t he stop for me – I’ve been here for years – what other house must he go to? What other miracle is more worthy than mine?
I became, this past year, the woman suffering from hemhorrages. I sat down on the side of the road and day after day I thought Jesus would never walk by, that I would never get the chance to reach out for his robe. I wondered if there was any strength left to do even that. When I was pregnant with my son I used to read him the Jesus Storybook Bible. “‘We don’t have time!’ Jesus’ friends said. But Jesus always had time. He reached out his hands and gently lifted her head. He looked into her eyes and smiled. ‘You believed,’ he said, wiping a tear from her eye, ‘and now you are well.’
Just then, Jairus’ servant rushed up to Jairus. ‘It’s too late,’ he said breathlessly. ‘Your daughter is dead.’ Jesus turned to Jairus. ‘It’s not too late,’ Jesus said. ‘Trust me.’”
There is the place where Jesus is going. And then there is the woman I believe he always waited for along the road. I believe that road wanders through the bright hallways of the hospital, past me, that he always has enough time for me to reach out for his robe.
And now, one year later, I open the book to this page, to this story. I am the woman with her fingers grasping the edge of Jesus and I am the woman receiving grace from him, a grace that pours back over the worrying, the disbelieving, the many days when I walked the hallways in quiet desperation. Even when I thought there was no time – Jesus has always had more than enough. Jesus was waiting, maybe even trusting, that we will stop him and touch the hem of his robe.
Hilary Yancey is mama to Jack, wife to Preston and in the midst of getting a PhD in philosophy from Baylor University. When she isn’t chasing an idea, a busy toddler, or learning the first few steps in her adult beginner ballet class, you can find her writing at her blog the wild love or on Instagram at @hilaryyancey.
We are rounding the bend. We are nearing the end.
These sacred days will soon reach their fulfillment.
With Christmas on the near horizon, I am so pleased to offer you this Advent story from my friend and fellow writer, Bonnie O’Neil.
The memories come flooding back to me, as they do on many a cold, dark December night. Flashes of a night, just like this one, many years ago. I was younger then, bright-eyed, full of hopes and big dreams.
The streets are deserted, save for my husband and me. I hear the click-clack of my soles on the cobblestones and press forward, click-clack, steady on. My feet, I cannot see. All is belly, swollen with the joy of life inside of me.
The wind howls. I wrap my garments tighter around me.
I reach out for his arm to steady me as I go. My feet falter on the uneven stones; his strong arm upholds me. It is just the two of us in this foreign land. There will be no mother by my side as I prepare to deliver my first-born child.
Inhaling the cold December air, I exhale the promise of all things new and wonderful. My warm breath hangs in the air, luminous against the cold dark night, and I sigh with relief that the child lies safe and warm inside me tonight.
Mystery, all is mystery and wonder. It is just days, hours perhaps, before I step into the vast unknown and begin the mysterious journey of motherhood. All is wonder. What will this child become? What kind of mother will I grow to be? There is much to ponder; there will be much to treasure in my heart.
I don’t think I fully appreciated Mary and her journey of faith until I was expecting a child of my own. All is Nativity in December, so when you are awaiting your own Christmas baby, I suppose it is natural to stop and reflect on the wonder not just of the incarnation of the Christ child, but also of the faith of the young woman who said yes to becoming His mother.
She was a teenager; I was 30. But that doesn’t mean I knew any more than she did about babies. In fact, she probably knew more! Her cobblestones graced the streets of Bethlehem, far from her Nazareth home; my stones lined the streets of medieval Paris, where my husband and I were living, farther still from any family or close friends. I can feel her aloneness.
There is no fighting the loss of control. It is too late for that now. I sense her acceptance of “what is”.
Her story was, of course, far more faith-stretching than mine. By faith, she accepted that the impossible would become possible as the Son of God became incarnate within her very womb. By faith, she accepted a life of ridicule and judgment as all manner of false conclusions were drawn about her. By faith, she accepted that her child’s life was truly in her heavenly Father’s hands.
No matter how old we are or how long we have been trying to walk by faith, we all still have times when we feel like Mary. Alone. Vulnerable. Insignificant. Unqualified to accomplish a small thing, let alone a big thing. And how like our God to come in those moments and ask the big thing of us.
To say yes to God often involves saying no to myself. No to my in-the-moment need for retribution or recognition. To choose the Mary way is to choose the self-emptying way. It requires nothing less than the intentional surrendering of my will so that I may hear the voice of the Father calling to me.
It is the daily invitation to echo the cry of the God-Man, not my will but yours be done.
To embrace the mystery of Christmas is to accept the mystery of the unknown. It is to throw off the burden of needing control and easy answers and choosing instead to entrust our lives to God’s loving hands. It is to choose a life of outrageous faith amidst a world that says it will only believe once it truly understands. It is to declare with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”
In this Advent season, we can all be carriers of the Christ child. We choose every day whom we will serve – the Lord and others, or ourselves. May we, like Mary, choose the mystery of a faith-filled life.
Bonnie O’Neil is a gifted writer, speaker, and Bible teacher. She lives in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, on the edge of bucolic Chester County, and is the mother of three mostly-raised children. She is passionate about helping others experience the God of love, finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, filling her senses with beauty, and exploring all things France.
I am a mother well-acquainted with the fears and anxieties of raising a son with a potentially life-threatening medical condition, and Bonnie’s wisdom, born of hard experience, has become a special gift to me. I can say of her what she has written here about Mary: “By faith, she accepted that her child’s life was truly in her heavenly Father’s hands.” With Bonnie’s encouragement, I am doing the same.
Already a consistent blogger, Bonnie has plans to begin writing out the lessons she has learned during her years of raising a medically vulnerable child. I encourage you to sign up here to receive those upcoming blog posts by email.
Officially, summer is still days away, but we are already knee deep in it.
The sprinkler is making its rainbow arc for Elsa and her two-year-old cousin. Even the big cousins have stained their t-shirts with grape-juice popsicles, and we are shifting our Friday-night, homemade pizza from the oven to the grill.
Everything is a little hotter, a little louder, a little messier. Everyone is a little happier, a little more relaxed, and a little more likely to lose their temper.
We’re still waiting for the last day of school and the longest day of the year, but summer has already arrived.
I feel incredibly grateful and more than a little nervous about the coming months. My kids will all tell you that their mother is not at her best when the air is humid and the house is crowded and the children are singing, “I’m bored.” Because, like afternoon storm clouds, time can hang a little heavy in the summer.
I am grateful for these words from Abby Perry. She is a writer who lives with her family in my Texas hometown, and she knows summer heat. She also knows that time is a gift and every season reveals the One who first established its rhythm.
by Abby Perry
Two little boys found their way into my bed this morning, snuggles turned to wrestling each time one felt the other had greater access to me than he did. They are Owen and Gabriel, whose birthdays at the end of summer will turn them 4 and 2. Their dad is out of the country for two weeks on a mission trip. We have Backyard Bible Club each evening this week.
Summer has begun.
We live in Texas, where it has been unseasonably rainy recently; the scorching weather holding off just a few weeks more than usual. But today, it is in full force. 90 degrees before noon and I am remembering what it was like to work long, hot summers at camp in East Texas, what it feels like when my legs stick to the chair at an outdoor wedding, what our air conditioning bill will soon be.
A husband out of the country, two little boys so dependent, so rosy cheeked in the sun. Gabriel, the youngest, has a neuro-genetic disorder that results in the need to wear braces everyday, his pudgy legs covered just below the knee to his toes. Owen asks to go to the pool and I fight immediate overwhelm, wondering how I will make it work with Gabriel’s schedule since he is only supposed to be out of his braces for an hour of each 24.
It can be hard for me to believe that the summer is a time for flourishing.
“Can’t I just take this season off?” I wonder. “Go quiet, hibernate a bit?”
I internally answer my own questions before I’ve even finished asking them. It is not hibernation that I’m truly craving, it’s rest. It is soul quiet, whether my hands are busy or calm. It’s certainty that I am thriving in my place, that I am where I should be, that I am contributing and not merely letting the days pass me by. What I crave is the confidence that I am redeeming the time given to me, with all of its caveats and demands, expectations and interruptions. What I crave is not something I can find by looking into myself, or by gazing at my calendar. It is not something I can conjure up through scheduled breaks, nor hard work, nor abounding family time, though each of those endeavors have great merit.
I wonder if you’re craving the same?
What we crave is something only to be found by looking upward. There is treasure we search for that is only discovered when we seek an orientation to the True North, when we remind ourselves of our position and protection under a good and sovereign God.
I glance at the Liturgical Calendar sitting near the sink and am reminded that it is the season of Ordinary Time. It is the season for ministry and discipleship, the season for hands to the plow and eyes fixed upward and forward, the glory of God and the service of others ever before me. The calendar reminds me that though I do not wake up each morning convinced of God’s sovereignty over time, nor go to bed each night certain of His goodness, His grace abounds all the more and sets a cadence for my days. He makes my paths straight, allowing me to be oriented to him, to set my pace by Him, to move my feet in rhythm with Him.
As we seek to live well in the summer months, through work and play, labor and rest, may we find ourselves certain of the infinite One who is not limited by the finite restraints we live within on this earth. May we exchange the complaints of the hurried heart for the gratitude of the surrendered soul, confident and joyful in each commitment we make, resolute when we need to say, “no.” May we carve out space for long evenings on the porch, kids making up games late into the night and falling into their beds with that outdoors induced exhaustion that produces the sweetest sleep. May we find opportunities to serve and to seek the peace and prosperity of our communities, our hands and feet guiding our eyes away from ourselves. And in it all, may we remember our desire to flourish and to see others do the same comes from the Giver of all good gifts, and that time, in all of its wildness and wonder, is one of them.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor’s wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts – one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Twitter & Instagram @abbyjperry | Facebook Page: Abby Perry
My friend Erika Morrison is an unconventional soul. But hers isn’t the sort of uniqueness to make the rest of us feel dull.
Rather, she has that special knack for helping everyone around her to wake up and be more themselves.
Her new book Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul is out today. I am so pleased to host Erika in this space as she tells us more about it.
The cardinals make it look so easy. The honeybees make it look so easy. The catfish and the black crow, the dairy cow and the cactus plant, all make being created appear effortless. They arise from the earth, do their beautiful, exclusive thing and die having fulfilled their fate.
None of nature seems to struggle to know who they are or what to do with themselves.
But humanity is the exception to nature’s rule because we’re individualized within our breed. We’re told by our mamas and mentors that–like snowflakes–no two of us are the same and that we each have a special purpose and part to play within the great Body of God.
(If your mama never told you this, consider yourself informed: YOU–your original cells and skin-print, guts and ingenuity–will never ever incarnate again. Do you believe it?)
So we struggle and seek and bald our knees asking variations of discovery-type questions (Who am I? Why am I here?) and if we’re semi-smart and moderately equipped we pay attention just enough to wake up piecemeal over years to the knowledge of our vital, indigenous selves.
And yet . . . even for all our wrestling and wondering, there are certain, abundant factors stacked against our waking up. We feel and fight the low ceiling of manmade definitions, systems and institutions; we fight status quo, culture conformity, herd mentalities and more often than not,
The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out of all our other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather. ~Frederick Buechner
So, let me ask you. Do you know something–anything–of your true, original, shimmering self?
I don’t mean: Coffee Drinker, Jesus Lover, Crossfitter, Writer, Wife, Mama. Those are your interests and investments.
I do mean: Who are you undressed and naked of the things that tell you who you are?
Who are you before you became a Jesus lover or mother or husband?
Who are you without your church, your hobbies, your performances and projects?
I’m not talking about your confidence in saying, “I am a child of God,” either.
What I am asking a quarter-dozen different ways is this: within the framework of being a child of God, what part of God do you represent? Do you know where you begin and where you end? Do you know the here-to-here of your uniqueness? Do you know, as John Duns Scotus puts it, your unusual, individual “thisness”?
I can’t resolve this question for you, I can only ask you if you’re interested. (Are you interested?)
I can only tell you that it is a good and right investment to spend the energy and time to learn who you are with nothing barnacled to your body, to learn what it is you bleed.
Because you were enough on the day of your birth when you came to us stripped and slippery and squeezing absolutely nothing but your God-given glow. And who you were on that born-day is also who you are now, but since you’ve been living on this planet long enough to learn how to read this article, then it follows that you’ve also lived here long enough to collect a few layers of horsefeathers and hogwash.
So, yet again, I’m inquiring: What is it that you see before the full-length bathroom mirror after you’ve divested of clothes and masks and hats and accessories and roles and beliefs and missions and persuaders and pressures– until you’re down to just your peeled nature, minus all the add-ons mixed in with your molecules?
Do you see somebody who was made with passion, on purpose, in earnest; fearfully and wonderfully, by a Maker with a brow bent in the center, two careful hands, a stitching kit and divine kiss?
Can you catch between your fingers even the tiniest fragment of self-knowledge, roll it around and put a word to it?
Your identity is a living organism and literally wishes to unfurl and spread from your center and who will care and who will lecture if you wander around a little bit every day to look for the unique shine of your own soul?
One of the central endeavors of the human experience is to consciously discover the intimacies of who we already are. As in: life is not about building an alternate name for ourselves; it’s about discovering the name we already have.
Will you, _______, rise from your own sacred ash?
Because the rest of us cannot afford to lose the length of your limbs or the cadence of your light or the rhythm of your ideas or the harmony of your creative force. The way you sway and smile, the awkward this and that and the other thing you do.
These are the days for opening our two clumsy hands before the wideness of life and the allure of a God who stops and starts our hearts. These are the days for rubbing our two imperfect sticks together so we can kindle another feeble, holy light from the deep within–each of us alone and also for each other.
There is no resolution to this quest; the only destination is the process. But I hope there’s a small spark here that will leave you wanting, that will leave you with a blue-fire lined in your spine, that will inspire a cellular, metamorphic process in you; an odyssey of the soul unique to you and your individual history, organisms, and experiences.
There is maybe a fine line between being lethargic about learning ourselves and not being self-obsessive and with that tension in mind, how do we begin (or continue) the process of unearthing and remembering the truth of our intrinsic selves?
Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul was written because sometimes we all need a little hand-holding and butt-nudging in our process; someone or something to come alongside us while we pick up our threads of soul discovery and travel from one dot and tittle to the next.
We are the Kingdom people and learning your own fingerprint is something of what it means for the Kingdom to come in response to an earth which groans forth it’s rolling desire for the great interlocking circle of contribution to reveal the luminous and loving Body of Christ and slowly, seriously–like it’s our destiny–set the world to rights.
Kingdom come. Which is to say: YOU, [be]come and carve your glorious, powerful, heaven-appointed meaning into the sides of rocks and communities and cities and skies.
Without being formulaic and without offering one-size-fits-all “how-to” steps, Bandersnatch is support material for your soul odyssey; a kind of field guide designed to come alongside the moment of your unfurling.
Come with me? And I will go with you and if you’re interested, you can order wherever books or ebooks are sold.
Or, if you’d like to read the first three chapters and just see if Bandersnatch is something for such a time as the hour you’re in, click HERE.
All my love,
Visiting from Ann Voskamp’s place today? I am glad you are here. My name is Christie Purifoy, and I live in a Pennsylvania farmhouse with my husband, four kids, thirteen chickens, two cats, and rather too many woodchucks. I am always watching for beauty, wonder, and mystery, and I write dispatches from the golden hour. Welcome to Maplehurst.
What a pleasure it is to have my words and images hosted today by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience. This is the first in her new photographic blog series “Unwrapping Summer.”
I’ve never considered myself a photographer, but I have come home to such a beautiful place. Next to such beauty, words feel inadequate. My photographs always feel inadequate, and yet, together? Well, sometimes, words and photos together help me crawl just a little bit closer to the source of everything good. Everything beautiful.
I hope you’ll join me over at Ann’s place to unwrap the great gift, always beautiful but not always easy to receive, of summer at Maplehurst.