One Word 2016: Return

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2015 was a wild year for me: I gave birth to a beautiful boy, moved to Southern France, and began leading a Discipleship Training School with my husband. We fueled our 12-hour workdays with baby-interrupted sleep and an unspeakable amount of coffee.

RISE was my vision word for the year, and it couldn’t have been more accurate. There was much rising from sleep this year, and even more ‘rising to the occasion’ as I took on two new jobs—motherhood and school leadership—with little training and no idea how difficult each could prove. It was a year of high capacity, and though I’m tired, I also feel more accomplished than I have in a long time.

As the new year begins, it’s time for a new season and a new vision word.

The other day, I sat down to pray about my One Word for 2016. I’ll be doing much of the same work this year, so I expected my word to be another lean-in moment: maybe ‘perseverance’ or ‘discipline.’ To my surprise, God began speaking to me about the sensitive and creative little girl I used to be. He told me He wanted to give me the word RETURN.

I promptly asked Him if I could have the word ‘brave’ instead, because it sounded less scary than revisiting my childhood.

You see, while most people I know reminisce about their carefree childhoods, I had just enough big scary bad things happen to me that they dominate every other memory. It’s hard for me to remember who I was or what life was like before divorce, suicide, spiritual abuse, and chronic illness entered the picture.

Which is, of course, why God wanted me to return. To restore what was lost, and lay down what never should have been carried so long.

My mother tells me about a little girl who used to twirl in her “shimba-shimba” dress, make crafts out of junk, and cry when someone else got hurt. This year, I’d like to get to know that little girl again. I’d like to stop self-protecting so much and start living from a place of vulnerability and free-spiritedness.

Thankfully, I have a wild-hearted, curious little boy to guide me on my way. Being a mama has already retaught me so much about play, and I’m sure that as James begins to walk and explore, we’ll have even more opportunities to see the world afresh together.

As it happens, this year begins with another RETURN as we visit our old home in Kosovo. Our school has both a lecture and an outreach phase, and we were excited to send our students to Prishtina for the latter half. Though we as school leaders don’t spend the full three months with them, we do get the privilege of making a pastoral visit to check in on the students and staff there.

To be honest, I am equal parts delighted and anxious to return. There are so many beautiful people I love in Kosovo, but the place itself harbors difficult memories for me. We’ll be going in the smoggy winter, which I remember as one of the most isolated seasons of my life.

I have immense hope that God will restore that season, but it’s still hard to revisit. As always, my instinct is to burrow and self-protect, rather than let God touch that tender area of my heart. But in the spirit of returning, I’m resolved to go with an open and vulnerable spirit.

And finally, my hope is that this blog will RETURN to regular posting. Though I love my job, I’ve missed writing immensely and am planning to carve out more space for it this season. Stay tuned for more posts on marriage, French living, motherhood, food (maybe even some recipes!) and evolving faith.

Happy New Year, dear friends. May you have a clear vision for the year and the grace to live it out.


What’s your One Word for 2016?


Dear Single Friend

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I got married and had a baby in my early twenties. It wasn’t the life I’d planned. I never scoured wedding blogs or pined after maternity shops. I never meant to be the first of our friend group to start a family. I simply fell in love, and the rest followed naturally.

Meanwhile, you’re still single. I see you going to grad school, traveling the world, getting grown-up jobs. I hear about your parties, your brunches, and the Saturdays you spend alone with your Netflix.  

Our lives are different, but I think yours is lovely, too. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

If you’re beyond a certain age, you probably feel pressure to get married. You’re aware of biological timelines and parental expectations. Your Facebook insists that every single one of your friends is now engaged. And illogical as it is, marriage seems like some kind of personal success milestone. Like, Congrats on not being an unlovable spinster! We always knew you could get a husband if you just put your mind to it! 

Of course, getting married isn’t an achievement. Landing a job is an achievement. Making art is an achievement. Having a good marriage is an achievement. But nobody will celebrate these things with you as much as they should, and for that, I’m sorry.

Single life isn’t less important, but you’re more vulnerable to people telling you it is. Whenever I’m doubting my value, I have a husband to affirm me, and mom friends are the fiercest encouragers I’ve ever met. Plus, everyone tells me I’ve created the miracle of life, so I’m golden. You, on the other hand, have to prove yourself day in and day out. You have to show your boss that you’re not a kid. You have to justify your life choices to your parents. Somedays, you even have to prove to yourself that you’re doing alright.

For the record, I think you’re spectacular. You’re strong and brave, and you’re probably making a bigger impact that you think.

I know sometimes it’s hard to be alone. Whether you envy married life or are happily untethered, sometimes you just want to wake up next to someone who loves you. That is truly one of the best parts of being married. My husband has seen the ugliest corners of my heart, and he still wants to spoon with me every day. He still chooses to love me.

It’s not weak or shameful or naive to want that kind of love. I hope you don’t settle for anything less.

The truth is, I want my marriage to be enviable. I want to be so patient and kind and faithful that it makes you want to do those things, too. I believe in marriage. I believe in commitment, in the beauty of two people submitting to one another. I want you to experience the unique kind of stretching that marriage brings, and I want you to feel its comfort and safety, too. I want you to thrive in it, to live out of the knowledge that you’re loved.

Dear friend, if and when the time is right for you to get married, know that I will celebrate with you through the joyful parts and cheer you on through the hard. If and when the time isn’t right, I will celebrate what’s important to you and cheer you on when you feel weary or lonely.

Our friendship is never dependent on your relationship status. Even if I pop out a dozen kids and you remain single into your sixties, we can still have a rich friendship. We can still be curious about and empathetic towards each other’s lives. I want to hear about your promotions, your backpacking trips, and your awkward first dates. I want to tell you about my son’s new tooth and my husband’s music. I want us to meet between conferences and soccer practice, sipping coffee together and supporting one another through the good and hard seasons of life.

Because even in the busyness of life, marriage, and kids, you matter to me. I see you, I love you, and you are always worth my time.

Love,
Liz

 


This post is Part I of The Marriage Letters. Tune in next week for Part II: “Dear Almost Newlyweds,” in which I talk about wedding season and how to start marriage right.  


Photo: Ally Mauro, Creative Commons

 

Ministry for Introverts

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There’s no question that I’m an introvert. Take me to a party, and within two hours I’ll either be doing dishes or making friends with the household cat. I love people, but I can only take so much socialization before I begin to feel exhausted and claustrophobic.

To be honest, I like functioning this way. I like that I’m sensitive and that I know when to step away from the noise of life to process and recharge. I contribute differently than an extrovert, but have just as much to offer.

Or so I like to think. In my field of work, introversion can seem like a disability. Ministry is often a parade of meeting new people, making small talk, and learning to welcome interruptions to your alone time. These are the necessary beginnings of the deeper work of pastoral care, but that doesn’t make me dread them any less. On good days, I strike a balance between the social and contemplative aspects of the job. On bad days, I look for excuses to hide.

I’m often envious of my extroverted colleagues. They’re always buzzing around town, joking with locals and picking up new French phrases. They easily connect with strangers and don’t seem uncomfortable building new relationships. Meanwhile, I can barely convince myself to go buy bread, because there might be talking involved.

When I think of what ministry should be like, I don’t think of my strengths. I believe in serving the community and reaching out to new groups. I believe in praying over people, sharing testimony, and being hospitable to strangers. But if I’m honest with myself, all those things are scary, uncomfortable, and tiring for me.

Some days, I wonder why God sent me here. Surely some extrovert would do a better job. After all, she wouldn’t get tired as fast as me, and she’d spend more of her time engaged with the community. She’d talk more, serve more, and be more cheerful. She’d be closer to the American ideal of ministry than I could ever be.

But, thankfully, she wouldn’t be more like Jesus.

Jesus set the perfect example of ministry, and it wasn’t based on introversion or extroversion. He did as well with crowds as with one-on-one encounters. He often sought solitude, but also welcomed interruptions to it. He was led not by personal preference, but by the Spirit of truth and compassion.

I love the story where Jesus feeds the five thousand. It starts off with him taking a boat to a quiet place, seeking to pray and recharge after long days of ministry. When he gets to shore, he sees that the crowds have followed him there. It’s an introvert’s worst nightmare; I know I’d be plotting my escape strategy. But Matthew says, “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Even when the disciples urge him to send the people away, he tells them to stay and provides a miraculous meal for them.

As Matthew continues to document his ministry, the pattern remains: Jesus withdraws, people find him, and he has compassion on them. As an introvert, this is both encouraging and challenging to me, and I suspect it would be the same for my extroverted friends (for opposite reasons). I’m encouraged that withdrawing isn’t a bad thing. If Jesus thought solitude was worth pursuing, there must be deep value in it. On the flip side, I’m challenged by the notion that I must be willing to be interrupted, even in my need for quiet.

No one ever promised me that ministry would be easy. I’m not surprised by the fact that my comfort zone needs to be expanded, and I’m learning to be more bold and open with people. But I’m also learning that there’s a place for my introversion. It’s my natural circuit breaker, telling me when I need to sit quietly with God and reconnect with his heart.

Apart from Him, any ministry I do is futile. But with Him, even my weaknesses become strengths.

 


Photo: State Library Victoria Collections, Creative Commons

 

Having It All

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Like most women, becoming a mother was a huge turning point in my life. I suddenly had to reassess everything I wanted and decide if and how I could do it with a baby. Did I want to be a stay-at-home mom? Did I want to work? Would we hire a babysitter for date nights and adult get-togethers with friends? Would I still pursue my personal callings? Of course, being me, I decided I wanted it all—motherhood, career, relationships, purpose—and I wanted it all at once.

Thankfully, I was offered a job that allowed me to do just that.

While most women have to choose between staying home or going back to work, I get to have it all, taking work home and bringing baby to the office. My job description here at YWAM Bridges of Life includes leading a Discipleship Training School, making desserts for the base cafe, and taking part in daily worship and community work. James tags along for all of this, sitting on my lap during meetings, nursing while I type one-handed emails, and napping in the baby carrier while I walk to the store.

As sweet as this situation is, it doesn’t come without complications.

Balance is forever an issue in our household, as we struggle to draw lines between work and family time. I oscillate between mom guilt and career guilt, convinced I’m neglecting my child or failing to live up to my personal potential. And even when everything goes smoothly (which it never does with a small child), my days often feel like a long-distance sprint. I fall into bed exhausted, just barely closing my eyes before it starts all over again.

In the good and the bad, having it all is teaching me one invaluable lesson: you have to say “no” to a lot of good things to say “yes” to the best things. 

Like most Americans, I’m tempted to take a “more is more” approach to work and family life. More jobs, more relationships, more activities, more responsibility…until my body or mind gives out. This weekend, it was my body. After taking on way more cooking jobs than I should have, I got a wicked case of food poisoning. Despite sleeping next to a bucket all weekend, I actually found myself enjoying the rest and quiet time with my family.

Helpful tip: when food poisoning is a reprieve, you’re doing too much.

As I slowly eased back into work, I finally began drawing some healthy boundaries, admitting to myself and others what I could really handle. I spent more time simply playing with my son, rather than distracting him while I tried to catch up on work. I rested and had quiet times, something that rarely makes it onto my schedule.

As my priorities here become clearer, I’ve decided to say no to everything but those essentials. It goes against every grain in my work-driven body to do so, but the more I narrow my “yeses,” the more joyful and light having it all becomes.

I’m still figuring it out and fighting the urge to have it all and more more more, but that joy has become an essential marker for me. When joy leaves the building, I know it’s time to bring out the “no” card again, paring back until life comes back in balance.

Today, my balance is this: a baby on my hip, a pie in my oven, and a smile on my lips, knowing that even as I strive to have it all, I don’t have to do it all…at least not today.

 

The View From Here

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As I type, I can see cliffs and gardens out the window: Southern France in all her glory, bathed in blue skies and sunshine. We arrived here last week, and it’s still sinking in that this is our home now. I never imagined living somewhere so beautiful.

A year ago, we were living in Kosovo, and I had just found out that I was pregnant. I remember feeling weak and afraid, looking out the window at the dusty minarets and the swarms of blackbirds. I couldn’t picture where we would live as a family, but I knew it wasn’t there. It had been a hard year for me, and I was ready to move on, start fresh somewhere new.

Fresh is a good way to describe this place. The air is warm and dry, and everything grows here. There are cherries at the market now, and later this season we’ll have olives, grapes, and figs. A river runs through the village with waters are so clear you can see every little pebble on the bottom. Flowers bloom wild on its banks.

In town, ancient stone houses nest one against another. Cats lounge on their sunny windowsills, framed by oh-so-French blue shutters and red geraniums. Neighbors say bonjour with the kind of gusto you only hear in small villages. Their eyes crinkle at the sight of my baby.

I love it here.

I’m sure culture shock and language frustration will hit me soon enough, but for now, I’m thankful and awed. Every time Sam and I walk over the bridge, I look out over the river and tell him, I can’t believe this is our life.

I always thought I was built for hard places. I thought I’d live among the poor and the war-torn. I thought my hair would always smell like lignite coal. I cannot stress enough how much this beauty and abundance has surprised me. 

I wish I could go back a year ago, tell that scared pregnant girl that things were about to get really good. I wish I could tell her that the view from her window was about to change drastically. That it would go from a sooty Soviet-style nursing home to a lush garden. That she would start her mornings with her little boy on her hip, opening the blue shutters together and breathing in the fresh air.

I’m not into the prosperity gospel. I’m a firm believer in the value of suffering—perhaps even a little too much for my own good. But I do want to say, as I look out my window, that God gives good gifts to his children. He is not lacking in beauty or resources. He loves a good surprise, loves to give exactly what will bring refreshment to our hearts.

If we hadn’t have learned to follow him into the suffering, we probably wouldn’t have followed him here, and we would have missed out on so much.

But here we are, and it is beautiful.

 

Back to Expat Life

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This weekend, we’ll be packing bags, praying away sickness, and preparing to move to the other side of the world. We’ve been in America almost an entire year, and it’s been an amazing time of reconnecting with family, friends, and churches we love. But France is calling, and it’s time to venture back out into the great unknown of expat life.

Back to a life with no dishwashers, no dryers, and no Walmart.

Back to lost-in-translation moments, conversations made entirely of hand gestures, and fixing your shower head with a spoon because attempting communication with your landlord would be more exhausting somehow (true story).

Back to figuring out every little thing as if it’s the first time you’ve done it: navigating foreign health care, buying cell phone minutes at the post office, and remembering whether or not it’s your job to weigh the fruit at the grocery store.

Back to a life spent leaning on the kindness of others.

Back to appreciating the simple things and celebrating the small victories.

Back to small portions, tiny coffees, and real croissants.

Back to recognizing my weaknesses: how language-learning has never come easy to me, how I’m never as mentally tough as I think I am, and how quickly I retreat to my expat bubble when the going gets tough.

Back to a life that forces me to give up control and trust in the goodness of God.

Back to the kind of hard that binds people together, that has made my marriage strong.

Back to a life I pray my son will love as much as I do.

Back to being brave together.

Even though we’ve done this before, it doesn’t really get easier. Hopefully we’re smarter this time or better-packed or less starry-eyed about what lies ahead, but the real work is just beginning. And it’s here, in the earliest stages, where our French is still atrocious and our address has yet to be determined, that I ask you to pray for us. 

Pray that we go out with the radiant face of God shining upon us. Pray that we have traveling mercies, a forgiving stint of jet lag, and the fortitude to embrace this new life. Pray that we will see, even now, how this will all be worth it. How we will tell these stories for the rest of our lives.

Thank you, dear readers. After we get settled, I’m sure I’ll have some stories for you.

À bientôt,
Liz


Photo: Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons

 

How To Survive a Culture War

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Having lived abroad the last few years, my friend group has become incredibly diverse. Though social media often acts as an echo chamber, my newsfeed remains evenly balanced between conservative and liberal, religious and secular. I usually enjoy this diversity, but when current events trigger another round of cultural warfare, I cringe as they dig their heels in and shout.

I have my own opinions on hot-button issues, but I’m also curious enough to continue reading all the statuses, blogs, and manifestos that get thrown around with each new battle. Sometimes I learn something new. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been bludgeoned by an internet troll. Always, I see two sides fearful of what will happen if the other “wins” and willing to do anything to make sure they don’t.

I understand the impulse to fight for what you believe in, but I have a hard time navigating the nastiness that often accompanies it. As I look to my political right and left, I don’t see faceless enemies. I see friends, family members, and peers. I see people I long to understand and get along with.

In order to maintain these friendships and my own sanity on social media, I’ve adopted a few mantras to carry me through the war:

I Don’t Have To Have An Opinion.

We live in the age of over-sharing. Spend a few minutes on social media, and you’ll suddenly know what your coworker had for breakfast and what your high school classmate thinks about global warming. It’s easy to feel like you have to have an opinion on everything…and that it’s your job to share it. But here’s a freeing thought: it isn’t. Sure, there are issues that need a voice, but you cannot and should not take on everything. Better to choose a few key issues and really know your stuff than subject your peers to a bunch of half-formed, crowdsourced opinions on every little thing.

I Don’t Have To Be Right.

One of my favorite phrases in the English language is “I don’t know.” It protects me from being the Great Knowledge-Keeper of Everything and allows me to learn from other people who are really interesting and smarter than me. Being right is, quite frankly, boring. Sometimes even lonely. Being curious about other people’s opinions and experiences is a far greater adventure, and you generally make friends along the way. Even if you have really strong convictions, try not to let rightness be the end-all of your encounters with others. Ask questions, listen, and grow.

Some Things Are Worth Fighting For

Whenever I’m tempted to react to a culture war, I stop myself and ask why it matters. Is someone being hurt? If so, what can I do about it? With culture wars, there’s often a lot at stake. That’s why they get so brutal. But it’s important to channel that passion and indignation in the right direction. For example, if you’re pro-life, consider spending your time and money supporting pregnant women, low-income mothers, and adoption programs. Advocacy is important, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg with most issues. If it’s worth arguing about online, it’s worth fighting for in real life too.

It’s Okay To Unfollow

As I said earlier, I read a diverse group of statuses, blogs, and rants. I like to remain open-minded and learn new things, but even I get angry sometimes. Even I find myself disliking people because of their uber-political social media personas. Even I press the “unfollow” button sometimes—and I think that’s healthy. Knowing your boundaries is key to good relationships, and sometimes that means bowing out of a comment thread or unfollowing a Twitter feed. If you wouldn’t spend all day talking about it in real life, you probably don’t need to read your friend’s every political status online.

When In Doubt, Choose Empathy

It’s hard to empathize with someone who seems to be the antithesis of everything you stand for. But that’s what culture wars force us to do: either demonize the other or try to understand where they’re coming from. When I empathize with people who are very different from me, I often discover that we want the same thing: freedom. We just have different ways of articulating it or different ideas of what it should look like in society. Ultimately, these differences are good—they challenge us and bring balance to our world. But if we constantly live in fear of “the other side,” we’ll never reap the benefits of diversity.

At the end of the day, a little bit of grace goes a long way in these cultural battles. If we can put down our guard, shelf our pride, know our limits, and ward off fear, we have a much better chance of surviving the war with relationships intact.

 


Photo: Grigory Kravchenko, Creative Commons

 

Long-Gone American Dream

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This week, my Facebook was inundated with friends in graduation robes, proudly adding letters to the ends of their names. They will go on to become professors, doctors, pastors, and artists. They’ll be successful, and I hope they’ll be happy too.

As I look into their smiling faces, I can’t help but think that I could have been them. In fact, I would have been them, had God not intervened in my life plans. But here I am, far from the professional world, rocking a baby and fundraising my salary.

I’ve walked so far away from the American dream, I probably won’t ever get it back. 

My future holds no white picket fences, no suburban comforts. If I do get back into the normal workforce, I’ll never earn as much as if I’d stayed the course. I don’t regret opting out, but it’s sobering to know that I’ve likely passed the point of no return.

I’m a mom with an arts degree, a sparse resume, and a track record of working for free. The last time I had a semi-normal job, I got paid in food and tent space. And that was four years ago.

During my senior year of college, my options for post-grad life seemed endless. I had job interviews lined up. I was considering graduate school. I knew which volunteer programs would look best on a future resume. But I ended up walking away from all of these. Instead, I chose to enroll in an intensive discipleship school. I believed God was calling me to take some time out of my busy life to focus on Him and learn to be a better part of His church.

I thought it would only take six months, but it ended up becoming my whole life.

I made no intentional vow of poverty, but my life took a surprisingly monastic turn from that point on. I found myself in service roles, doing work that was “rewarding,” but not literally, you know…rewarding. Instead of a wedding registry, my husband and I asked for the funds to volunteer abroad. We moved to Eastern Europe and worked in schools, churches, and missions organizations. We produced free articles, blogs, and music. We committed ourselves to doing whatever God asked of us, trusting that He would provide the means for us to do it.

After a couple years, we became parents—the ultimate unpaid volunteer gig. Now we’re working with the organization that started it all: we’re leading a discipleship school just like the one I attended after college, and we’re fundraising our way through it.  

Of course, plenty of our friends are just as poor as we are. Piles of college debt and a rough economy haven’t made the American dream easy on our generation. But while many of our friends are beginning to settle down—buying houses, adopting pets—we’re still running in the opposite direction.

When given the choice between financial security and Jesus, we can’t help but choose Jesus. Even when it seems impossible or scary or irresponsible. Even when it means going through another embarrassing round of asking people for money. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering why we don’t just get real jobs.

Life with God is simply better. I got a taste of it with that school, and now I can’t stop.

Every once in a while, I look over my shoulder at my could-have-been American dream. I imagine myself in a cap and gown or in a cubicle wearing business casual. I scroll through home design boards on Pinterest. But I know now that it wouldn’t have satisfied my heart.

Following God looks different for everyone, but for me, it meant abandoning that life and trust-falling into His arms. In the process, I discovered how how warm and inviting His embrace could be. I saw His generosity, His attention to every little detail, and how He fulfilled dreams I didn’t even know I had.

I watched as He made this impossible life possible for me.

It may not be the American dream, and it may be scary some days, but this life is also good. Now that I’m here, I wouldn’t give up this baby-rocking, blog-writing, missional life for all the white picket fences in the world.

 


Photo: Luftphilia, Creative Commons

More Than Sweetness

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When our visas came in the mail, I laughed. I look like a double agent in this picture, I told my husband. Nobody mess with this girl.

We both knew the real story: standing before the French consulate cameras, I was nursing my son. That white stripe on the right side—that’s my nursing cover. Underneath, I’m holding a boy who’s getting heavier by the day. And I’m feeding him, as I’ve practiced every few hours since he was born.

I’m used to my son being an extension of my body, pressing his face against my skin and curling his long legs around my torso. When the visa process required fingerprints and a photo, I stood up, baby and all, and did what needed to be done. Because I’m a mom, and that’s what we do.

It wasn’t until I got my visa in the mail that I saw how fierce I looked doing it.

As Mother’s Day rolled around, I realized why that fierceness surprised me. The day was inundated with flowers, cupcakes, and images of nurturing mothers. Now that I am one, it struck me as strange that this has become our cultural story of motherhood: all sweetness and quiet martyrdom, no grit or wildness.

Because any mama will tell you, it’s not just rainbows and butterflies and kissing scraped knees like a bandaid commercial. It’s blood, sweat, tears, and all sorts of other bodily fluids.

It takes more than sweetness to do this work.

It takes strength. All the stock photos of nursing mothers look so docile, but let my visa photo be a testament: there’s nothing weak about breastfeeding. My son and I endured weeks of difficult, painful nursing before we got it right, and even now I regularly feed him until my arm goes numb. It takes endurance to nourish a baby, not to mention the physical strain of growing, birthing, carrying, and one day running after him. Motherhood should be an Olympic sport.

It takes calculation. I’m not a numbers person, but at any given moment I could tell you when my son last ate, how long he nursed, and when he’s going to be hungry again. If we have a scheduled event, I plan for it all day long, coaxing him into an eating/sleeping pattern that’ll mean a happy, well-fed baby during that time. It’s futile, of course, because babies change schedules like they change diapers. But I do the math anyway.

It takes research. Just today, I’ve poured over reviews of teethers, researched what sunscreens are safe for infants, and read the latest advice from my favorite breastfeeding website. Some parts of motherhood are instinctual, but for everything else (and that’s plenty), there’s Google and an army of mothers who’ve gone before. For my sanity and my son’s wellbeing, I pursue all the wisdom I can get.

It takes intelligence. Having a baby is like learning a new language. You decode their noises, expressions, and gestures, trying to figure out what they need. And as soon as you figure it out, the dialect changes. But you’re so crazy in love with your little puzzle of a baby that you solve it again and again. I could recognize my son’s cry in a room full of babies, not just because we’re biologically attached, but because I’ve made myself an expert on him.

It takes persistence. More than anything, motherhood takes a fierce, stubborn persistence. When my son was born, the mama bear in me came out full force, making me intensely protective and relentlessly devoted. Nothing could keep me from caring for him the way I wanted to—no setbacks, no exhaustion, and certainly not other people’s opinions.

Motherhood hasn’t softened me, it’s made fierce, smart, confident, and strong.  It’s sharpened my skills more than any university and challenged me more than any job. Though our culture may paint it as one-dimensional, as we often do with feminine roles, we mamas know that motherhood is a complex beast. When the world gives us flowers and cupcakes, we know that we could have earned six figures with all the work we’ve done.

When the world sees a sweet mother quietly nursing her son, we see the fire in her eyes.

 

Raising a Jonathan

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I grew up with all women, and it was pretty much like you’d expect it to be. We had long, complex relational talks. We went on sassy road trips while everyone was on their period. We fixed our own appliances. We didn’t really miss having men around.

Then I gave birth to a beautiful son.

Nothing could have prepared me for him. Motherhood, in any form, is daunting. Raising a boy when all you know is women is terrifying.  When I imagined motherhood, I saw myself championing my children in a world where they would be underdogs. That’s what my mother did for us, teaching my sister and me not to let any man tell us what we couldn’t do.

It never occurred to me that I might have one of those men under my care someday.

Unless the world changes drastically in the next eighteen years, my son will grow up to have more privilege than me. He’ll be welcomed into church leadership positions where I am not. He’ll make $1 to my 77 cents. He’ll see himself represented positively in media and politics. He won’t have to worry about sexual harassment, body shame, or fear of violation. He may not have an easy life, but gender and race won’t be obstacles for him.

My son doesn’t need the scrappy lessons of my childhood. He needs to learn how to handle his privilege.

On one hand, I’m grateful that he won’t face as much adversity. On the other, I know how hard it can be to recognize and steward your privilege. When you don’t have to deal with race or gender issues on a daily basis, it’s easy to become a myopic jerk about them. I’m white, straight, and able-bodied, and it’s taken me almost 26 years to erase the blind spots that those advantages have afforded me. And I’m certainly not done yet. Every day, I’m learning how to lay down my privilege or use it to benefit someone with less.

My husband and I often talk about “being a Jonathan,” a reference to the Biblical story of Jonathan and David. The two are unlikely friends: one is the son of the king and the other has been anointed by God to be the future king. Jonathan, the legal heir to the throne, has every reason to work against David and protect his own privilege. Instead, he constantly defends him and gives him his royal robe, armor, and sword. Jonathan lays down his right to the throne in favor of seeing David’s potential realized, and it changes history. David becomes the greatest king of Israel and sets the stage for the arrival of Jesus.

I love this story: one man uses his status to serve, aligning himself with God’s plan to uplift the underdog, and salvation comes to the world. It’s exactly what I want to teach my son.

I want my little boy to know that he can share his privilege. I want him to learn how to listen without interrupting. How to help without condescending. How to differentiate between what he’s earned and what he’s been born into. How to level the playing field for women and minorities, to give them a fair shot at success.

I want him to raise up the Davids of this world—the would-be kings and queens, the ones God loves and for whom He has great plans. I want him to value serving others over protecting his own self-interest. I want him to know that this is the ultimate form of leadership.

Having a son is scary to me, because I know how much is at stake. I could teach a hundred daughters how to scrap their way through a world that isn’t fair, but that wouldn’t be enough to change the system. Men, white people, straight people, and able-bodied people have to get on board to make the world a more equitable place.

Take, for example, the issue of rape. We can teach our daughters a bunch of ineffective ways to avoid it, or we can teach our sons not to rape. We can remove “boys will be boys” attitudes and teach them instead about consent and respect. If taking advantage of women became unacceptable, we’d see a lot better statistics than what we have today.

My son has been born with the power to change the status quo, and I pray he’ll use it.

I pray he’ll look to the story of Jonathan and to his own father, who loves to serve and advocate for the underprivileged. I pray that my mothering will show him the way, encourage him along, and help him realize a world that I can only dream of. I pray that the Kingdom of God will come through him.