The Forest, the Trees, and a Dirty Barn

This Christmas a startling thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if Mary ever felt like a failure as a mother?”  I mean, just think about it.  An angel comes to tell her that she has found favor with the Lord, and that she is going to carry and birth and raise the Son of God, who is destined to save all mankind.  No pressure, right?

Mary must have believed that God is sovereign.  That He is bigger than us, bigger than our mistakes, bigger than our choices.  But when Mary first felt those pains of labor, did she feel panic?  Was she afraid that she was “ruining” her King’s birth by welcoming Him into the world in a dirty barn?  Did she worry about having enough milk, enough patience, enough time for little Jesus after his siblings were born?  Did she worry that when she left Him behind at that Passover Festival that she had failed God?  Did she ever lose her temper?  Did she ever lose sight of God’s promise through Jesus?

I wonder how Mary felt when she saw her son crucified.

This Lent and Easter season, I have felt a little bit like a failure.  I don’t know if you guys remember how crafty and thoughtful I was about Advent last year, but let’s just say I pinned a few things I made.  I have always loved Christmas, but oh, Easter!  Easter is even more magical to me in so many ways.  I love the season of Lent: it usually narrows and clarifies my focus.  Maundy Thursday is always incredibly moving.  And the new life that bursts through on Easter morning!  To me, Easter is the reason we even celebrate Christmas.

Warren W Willis Camp Cross

 

Well… we have been busy.  It sounds like the most lame thing I could possibly say.  Even though we have been busy with important things—like our adoption paperwork, and fund-raising, and family dates…  I kept pushing off planning for what was really important.  I lost the forest in the trees.  I think of how a certain little child stood before the lion Aslan and couldn’t even articulate his excuses.  What seems so important and immediate in our daily lives just pales when we come into the strength and eternal presence of our Heavenly Father.

And that is who He is.

Today I was feeling regretful about not doing more Easter devotionals myself, and with our kids.  It really hit home when Dan suggested we take our kids to an Easter egg hunt so they would “start getting excited about Easter.”  That should have been my job these last few weeks, right?  Making activities, doing crafts and devotions, probably a countdown (on the kids calendar that still says “March”)?  I want my kids to anticipate Easter with the same tingles that come with Christmas!  To know and love our traditions, to understand the meaning of the day, to take time to stand in awe at the foot of the cross.  This year I feel like I am racing to catch up to the cross before Jesus moves on.

But that thought makes me stop in my tracks.  Jesus didn’t “move on” from the cross to chat with the folks who weren’t “too busy.”  On Easter morning, Jesus sought out His friends.  The ones who fell asleep when He asked them to pray for Him, the ones who denied Him, the ones who were too afraid to be known as his followers, the ones who failed Him.  He pursued them and surprised them.  He ate with them.  He stuck with them.  He reassured them and prepared them, and even left His spirit with them to guide the way.

Warren W Willis Camp Dock

Today I felt God interrupt my thoughts and nudge me, saying “It is about Easter Day, but it is also about Easter every day.”  I will truly never be enough.  I will never be a perfect Christ-follower, or wife, or friend or Mom.  I may have failed with Easter crafts this year.  And it’s a guarantee that I will fail in some way again.  Soon.  One of my best friends and I keep saying the same thing lately- how every decision we make now feels like it will affect our kids eternally.  How do we choose the right orphanage to work with?  Or which kind of school our children should attend?  How can we make sure that they make the right friends?  Will they know they are really loved?  Will they understand God’s love?  Sometimes it’s terrifying to be a parent.  But that’s okay.  God doesn’t need me to be enough.  He is enough.  He has a plan for my children that I cannot even imagine.  And it’s not up to me to fulfill it.

It’s up to me to live every day in the light of Easter.  To be ready for Jesus to surprise me wherever I am, to make time and gather up my children and my courage to come to Him—and tonight, that’s at the foot of the cross.  If I see Mary there, I’ll give her a hug.

love, Natalie

(photos were taken by Graham Foster at Warren W Willis Camp– where I first fell in love with Jesus)

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Surprised by Love

You guys.  Our friends have been trying for years to conceive, and in a whirlwind of God’s timing they decided to officially pursue adoption, complete their home study, and just weeks later they have a daughter!!!  Adoption had always been a part of their plan, but the timing was a complete surprise.  And now I am crying.  Crying because I have two babies, and I know this kind of love…  These friends—they are precious.  They already love this little baby, and the best is yet to come.

The good, the bad.  The beauty, the mess.  You hear about it.  The crying at night, the pacing the hall, the wondering if you are ever going to sleep again.  Or eat again.  Or if you are doing any of it right.  You hear about how fast they grow up.  How sweet they are.  How worth it.  That’s what you hear.  (And you may even hear more than you want to hear.)

And then, one day, she is here.  Your first little baby.  Smaller than you thought, but bigger than your whole world.  How could she have ever not existed?  How have you ever spent a day not holding her close, smelling her sweet baby smell, watching her grow?

And it hits you.  You are surprised by love.  There is nothing she has done to earn it.  There is no way she could merit more, and yet it grows every day.  There is nothing she could do to lose it, and its strength will really be proven in a year or two when she fights you all day, and you still.just.love.her.  And you long for her love.

You may not have a baby yet.  I have many friends who are just longing.  Waiting and longing.  And already loving.  They are not parents yet, but they already have parent love overflowing their hearts.  They are learning about this unmerited, blind love in an aching way.  And I pray with faith that it will bring so much fruit someday soon.  This relentless love.

And what is even more amazing than your love for your child—the only thing more amazing—is that this love, this good, good love we are growing into and learning and beginning to know… This love is like the love God has for us.

The Psalms tell about God’s love for us when we were knitted together in our mother’s womb.  He plans for us, pursues us, longs for us, and goes before us to show us the way to Him.  He knows when we sit and when we rise.  And wherever we go, He searches us and knows us.  He forgives us, and He does not stop loving us.

I am surprised by it every day.  In small moments.  After a lengthy at-the-top-of-his-lungs-on-the-floor tantrum (caused by me not stirring the pot the right way while cooking dinner), I just still love my little boy.  And I wonder what God thinks when I am disappointed by my plans not going the way I wanted them to go.  When they are amazed at the gift I give them, it makes me so happy, and I think of how God delights when we delight in His creation.  I am surprised when I wake up for the 3rd time by 3 a.m. to comfort a teething baby, and I still love to cuddle him.  And I thank God for the ways He comforts me.  I am surprised by love when I have an overwhelming, exhausting, defeating day of parenting, and I then miss my children after I put them to bed.  And I wonder if God has been missing me that day.  When they ask “Why?”  Why can’t they have that thing they want so much.  When they do that thing—the thing we have warned them about that they know could hurt them, and then they are hurt.  In those moments I am a parent, and I am just a child.  Desperately loved by my Father; desperately needing His love.

It is the best thing about parenting by far.  It isn’t something special that I am doing or am particularly skilled at.  It is just something God grows in us.  Our love for our children is a glimpse of His love for us.

And it is surprising me again.  When we started earnestly discussing adoption, Dan and I both had honest fears.  Fears about how adopting would affect our family, our children, our marriage.  When we committed to adopt a child, we committed to loving our child no matter what.  And over those years—since those very first conversations Dan and I had about whether we might ever consider adopting a child—God has been growing love in our hearts for a child.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when my perspective changed from “adopting a child” to “bringing home my baby…”  It just did.  I have a longing.  A love.  I don’t even know how it started, or how big it will get.  How strenuously it will be tested, or how long it will take to be returned.  But I know it is there.  Inexplicable.  Impractical.  Unexpected.  I love a child I have not yet met.  One of my babies isn’t home in my arms.  I can’t even describe how unsettling that feeling is.  But I will not stop loving you, Little One.  No matter where you are, or how long it takes to bring you here.  No matter what you do, or if you ever love me back.  I already love you.  I can’t wait to surprise you with our love.

Star of Wonder

I have been a bit too busy lately.  Part of the busy is the necessary grocery shopping, cleaning, etc.  Part of the busy has to do with vital, but less straight-forward tasks like making decisions about Aubrey’s education/school and working on adoption stuff.  The last part of the busy is fun stuff that I love to do, but stay up way too late doing (more on that fun stuff in another post soon).

When I feel too busy, I try to drop things off my list, but I looked over the list today, and most of it actually needs to get done.  I will never rest if I wait until I check off everything on the list.  I must discipline myself to rest in Jesus while I “do.”  Or take a break from doing, and spend time resting at the feet of the Lord.  And really prepare my heart for Advent.

Dan and I haven’t missed the coincidence in preparing our adoption paperwork during Advent time.  It has been a special time for us, and we feel like we are connecting with Advent in a new way this year.  The longing, the anticipation is almost palpable.

Tonight as I was praying, asking Jesus to slow me down, and help me be more still and more present, an image came to mind…

Dan took this photo right after Thatcher was born.  If ever there is a time when the world stops turning, when time of day, and to-do’s mean nothing, it is after a child enters your life.  I look at myself here, and I see complete peace.  A glimpse of heaven on earth, a gift of the image of God in my arms.

What must Mary have felt that night Jesus was born?  The very Image of God in her arms?  The Gift of salvation for all mankind resting on her chest?  The Bible tells us she treasured these moments in her heart.  I wonder how often she looked back on those treasured moments as time passed…  Did she think on them when she was tending to her children, cooking dinner for her family, and keeping the home in order?  Did God gently remind her of the first Christmas when she worried?  Surely she clung to those precious memories when Jesus hung on the cross, and her baby boy gave up his life for the world.

When I think about preparing for a baby, I think about “nesting.” Getting everything in the home and nursery ready, safe, and cute.  The weeks leading up to Thatcher’s due date, I literally wanted to put Dan, Aubrey, and my home on lockdown.  No one was leaving until I went to the hospital.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.  Of course, that wasn’t what happened, but my hormones were telling me that it should.  Mary was doing the exact opposite as Jesus’s due date approached.  She was leaving everyone and everything familiar.  With only what could be carried by a donkey.  She put her faith in God, and allowed Joseph to lead her to Bethlehem.

My favorite Christmas image is the star.  I love that God actually put a star in the sky above Jesus.  It is a symbol of searching for, and finding new life.  It just occurred to me tonight that Mary didn’t have a star to follow.  She wasn’t watching the sky to show her where to go.  She was just trusting.  And that most wonderful and mysterious night, a star shone in the sky because a baby was cradled in her arms… The Bright and Morning Star.