Slavery and Adoption

Ben Sutherland

I went to the courthouse to witness the adoption of a beautiful, spunky little girl. Her parents swore to love and protect her, and the judge declared that she was no longer “Baby Girl,” but had a new name and a forever family. The girl, sensing something worth celebrating, clapped her little hands, and we all laughed and dabbed our eyes.

Of course, not everyone was at the courthouse for such a happy occasion.

As I waited in the hallway, I watched an officer escort a group of young black men with chains around their ankles. You could hear them coming; the metal clinked against the floor. It was impossible not to look up.

I have no idea what laws those men broke, or whether those laws were fair, or whether the law enforcement was just, but I do know that it looked an awful lot like slavery. Heads down, ankles chained together, being herded like cattle towards their fate.

It was straight out of a history book.

As a white, middle-class woman, I don’t have a lot of experience with the criminal justice system. I don’t know anyone in prison. I’ve never witnessed a trial. But I know the statistics: black men in America have a 1 in 3 chance of going to jail in their lifetime. Which means that 1/3 of black men will, at one point, be in chains just like the ones I saw. Some of them will be bound because they are dangerous to society. Some for petty crimes. Some, like Freddie Gray, will die in their chains.

It’s hard to know what to say in the face of such statistics. As I watched the men walk by me, all I could think was how pervasive the spirit of slavery has become in our world. We stamp it out in one form, and it mutates into another. It uses poverty, corruption, and inequity as its allies. It dehumanizes people, treating their lives as disposable. And yet, it’s so easy to ignore.

If you’re like me, and it doesn’t personally affect you, it’s easy to look the other way when men walk past you in chains. It’s easy to assume they deserved it. It’s easy to forget that they’re human. That, as my friend Monica would say, somebody loved them.

Thank God that in a world where there is slavery, there is also adoption.

After the men disappeared down the hallway, I witnessed what happens when people open their lives and hearts to another. At the adoption, the parents were reminded that their soon-to-be daughter would have all the rights and privileges of their family. She would receive inheritance. She would be entitled to the support of both parents. They would be expected to protect, guide, care for, and love her as if she were their biological child.

Even though it was a legal ceremony, it was truly beautiful to watch.

In the Christian tradition, the opposite of slavery is sonshipThe symbolism of the adoption coming after the chains wasn’t lost on me: I believe in this form of redemption. I believe that the spirit of adoption can overcome that of slavery. That’s what Jesus came for, to make us children of God.

And we, too, can step into this spirit. We can adopt the cause of another, sharing our rights, resources, and privileges with those who need them. We can take responsibility for people who are not biologically related to us, treating them like family.

We can listen to them, cry with them, get angry with them. We can stand with them, looking that evil spirit of slavery in the eyes, and say, No more.

Today, I want to say, as I’ve said before, that black lives matter. The lives of the men I saw matter. Freddie Gray’s life mattered. Whoever they were and whatever they’ve done, their lives are not disposable. They are children of God, and I pray today that His spirit of adoption will overcome this epidemic of slavery-spirit in America.

I pray that we will all walk in the spirit of adoption, valuing all people and loving them as our own.

 


Photo: Ben Sutherland, Creative Commons 

 

Self-Care for Dummies

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A few months ago, if you’d asked me what I like to do for “me time,” I wouldn’t have known what to say. I’ve always been the counseling type, the honorary mama. It’s what I did for fun.

Then I gave birth for real.

Turns out, being a mother is not a hobby. It’s a full-time, high-energy, high-stakes job. And it’s easy to completely lose yourself in it. You look in the mirror, and you see this tired woman with spit up down her shirt, and you have no idea who she is or what she did with the pre-baby you.

Suddenly, “me time” is no longer a luxury. It’s a full-out search party for that elusive “me.”

A couple months into parenthood, my husband and I began establishing our essential, I-have-to-do-this-or-I’ll-go-crazy activities. We were both attempting to work from home, passing our nap-resistant baby back and forth and trying to accomplish something, anything on our off times. For our sanity, we had to prioritize wisely. 

Of course, our son was number one. And two and three. His neediness and our head-over-heels love for him demanded it. I didn’t (and don’t) resent our time spent together, and I craved seeing his little face hour after hour.

But it didn’t make me feel like “me.” It made me feel like “mom.”

My essential activities make me feel like myself again. My husband and I were out for a walk when I finally realized what they were. I was exhausted and whiny, and I blurted out, “I just want to write and make pretty food!” The words came from this pure, unfiltered part of me that was too tired to think about what I should do and only wanted to salivate over food blogs.

For a girl who has never made self-care goals in her life, it was a hallelujah moment. “Yes,” I thought, “That is exactly what I want to do!”

I went home, baked a few pies, and felt like a downright champion. 

Easy as that.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. But, despite the fact that I baked fifty cupcakes a week in college—you know, as you do—I didn’t realize until recently that this was effective self-care for me. Because I am a self-care dummy.

Thankfully, motherhood has cured me. Suddenly, I know all sorts of things I like to do. I like to take baths, go for walks, and sit alone at a coffee shop. I love perusing the grocery store and buying whatever produce looks the best. I love dreaming up new culinary challenges. I love writing this blog.

Now that self-care is a necessity for me, I wish I’d been doing it all along. I wish I’d spent time getting to know myself and allowing that woman to do the things she liked. Of course, I’ve baked pies and gone for walks many times in my life, but I never really did them on purpose, and they certainly weren’t a priority.

It’s a classic case of you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I had lots more free time to discover and practice my “me time” before having a baby, but I spent most of it either working myself into the ground or binge watching TV because I was too soul-weary to do anything else. It was an ugly cycle, and it probably could have been avoided with some strategically-placed self-care.

But, hey, you live and you learn. And you start baking pies for the joy of it.

Go forth and self-care, my friends. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Three Generations, One Roof

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I was three months pregnant when I moved back in with my mother. Even though I was twenty-four and married, I felt like a knocked-up teenager running home to mommy. Our living situation was so clearly “not normal” to American culture that it bordered on embarrassing. Eyebrows raise when a twenty-something moves back home after college. Multiply that times a hundred if she brings her husband and unborn child with her.

Initially, Sam and I had planned to stay a few months while we transitioned from Kosovo to France. We’d done this arrangement before, visiting family for a couple months before heading back to our own apartment abroad. But this time, we had no apartment, and my desire to give birth near home meant we’d be staying a lot longer.

We assured my mother that we’d start looking for jobs and our own apartment. Though we were exhausted from working abroad and re-adjusting to American life, we didn’t want to be a burden on her. To my surprise, rather than urge us out of the nest, my mom told us to stay as long as we needed. My family has always been the bootstrap-pulling type, but she knew just how tired we were, and she wanted to see us rest and enjoy being all together again.

My husband is a saint and had no qualms about living with his in-laws. I, on the other hand, had all sorts of reservations. My pride didn’t like the idea of being dependent on my mom, and I still remembered being an eager-to-leave teenager in her home.

But we were poor, I was pregnant (read: unemployable), and I couldn’t bear the thought of forcing my burnt-out husband into the job-search vortex. I agreed to try it for a few months. I cleared out and redecorated my old room, and we began negotiating grocery runs and cooking schedules.

Soon enough, we had a livable rhythm. Though we maintained our privacy, we still ended up doing a lot of life together. We ate together, had movie nights together, and shared everyday details we usually missed while living in different countries. When the baby kicked, everyone hurried over to feel my belly. When I had a craving, my two caretakers were all over it.

Life together was good, but when James came into our world, it became essential. 

After his birth, my mother took the week off work to cook meals, hold him while I showered, and assure me I wasn’t going to break him. When I struggled to nurse him, I cried on her shoulder for days, and she arranged for a lactation consultant to help me. When Sam and I were desperate for sleep, she rocked our little boy in the early morning and sent us back to bed.

She was there for everything: James’ first bath, first coos, first smiles. She survived jaundice and the struggle to get him back to birthweight. She was both mom and grandma, sending me back to the couch to rest my healing body, while tenderly caring for her new grandson.

We emerged from those hard first six weeks with a happily-nursing, long-stretch-sleeping baby, and I knew I couldn’t have done it without the full-time support of my mom. Instead of feeling embarrassed about living with her, I started telling my friends what a perfect arrangement it was, and how grateful I was to be home.

Of course, I’m not the first to discover the wonders of family living. Many cultures do this on a regular basis, adding on to the home as new generations are born. If they don’t already live there, pregnant women often stay in their parents’ home for birth and postpartum recovery. Alternatively, mothers move into their daughters’ homes for months or even years to help with housework and pass on their wisdom.

By contrast, American culture encourages new mothers to be independent, doing it all on their own and losing that baby weight while they’re at it. It’s a recipe for depression and isolation.

I, for one, am glad I didn’t have to go it alone. I’m grateful that my mother rescued me from the norm of living alone and Googling baby advice. I’m grateful that I wasn’t too stubborn or prideful to receive her support. I may not be a good, self-reliant American—and I may be the butt of those living-in-mom’s-basement jokes—but I am one happy and healthy mama.

Though we’ll soon be moving on to our own apartment in France, I’ll always remember this time as a sweet season: how I was cared for, how my son was so loved he rarely got set down. How we fit three generations under one roof and loved each other the whole way through.

Clothespins and Culture Shock

Christian Schnettelker

I’ve been back in America for six months now—my longest stretch since college—and I have to admit, I’m still not over my reverse culture shock.

A couple months ago, Sam and I thought we were pretty well re-assimilated into Midwestern life, and then we went to an Olive Garden, and there was bacon and cheese on everything, and it was weird. Weird in the excessive way that only America is. We rolled home with heavy bellies and swore to eat nothing but vegetables and rice for a week.

Then, as if we needed to prove our patriotism, we went to a craft store. 

Holy glitter.

Our mission was simple: buy a package of clothespins. I was hardcore nesting before James arrived and was convinced we needed to make a clothesline of pictures over our bed. (Thanks, Pinterest.) When we walked into the store, I expected maybe a few different sizes of clothespins. Maybe some wood and some plastic. Instead, I encountered package after package of clothespins. Not just small, medium, and large, but also jumbo paperweight pins and some so tiny I couldn’t determine any reasonable purpose for them. There were colored clothespins and patterned clothespins and metallic clothespins. Every color of the rainbow. Polkadot. Chevron. Floral.

As we continued browsing, we kept stumbling upon more and more clothespins. They were everywhere. I felt that familiar culture shock creeping up on me, the kind that makes you have a panic attack in the toothpaste aisle of Walmart because there was only one brand in India, and you don’t remember how to choose between twenty. I grabbed a package of plain wooden clothespins and hurried to the checkout.

America may be my homeland, but its culture of choice never ceases to stress me out. Here, you have a thousand different options for every little thing. The choices should make your life easier, but instead, they’re a constant reminder of what you’re missing out on. You know that you could have picked the blue clothespins, and maybe they would have looked better, and it’d be oh-so-easy to go out and get them, too.

It’s an endless cycle, swinging between the instant gratification of one-stop shopping and the let down of buyers’ remorse.

To be honest, I miss this when I’m abroad. I get tired of closet-sized stores and walking miles to find limes (because one grocery store was out and the other was closed for lunch, of course). But when I do come back to the land of warehouse-sized stores, it’s never as satisfying as I’ve imagined. I miss the ordeal of it all. I miss the satisfaction of finally finding everything on my shopping list. I miss the gratitude that inevitably follows. 

Once, in Kosovo, I found a rare packet of cumin, and it was the worse cumin I’d ever tasted, but I treasured that spice and cooked with it anyway. And in India, I pestered a shopkeeper for weeks until his “brother” showed up on a motorcycle cradling a unmarked can full of the coffee beans I’d requested. The coffee was sketchy and terribly acidic, but it didn’t matter. I’d found real, non-instant coffee in the middle-of-nowhere India, and that felt like a win.

As we prepare to move to a small village in France, I find myself once again grateful for tiny shops, limited inventories, and random store hours. I’m glad that my son will learn to be happy with fewer options. I’m glad he’ll have to be patient as we hunt things down. Of course, he could learn these things in America—and I admire lots of families who practice minimalism and gratitude—but it’s much harder when there are a thousand choices at every turn.

These days, I don’t want choices. I want to sit on the French bakery steps with my son, waiting for the owner to return from her coffee break, dreaming about the macaroons inside.

I want to see his face when his patience pays off and he takes that first delicious bite.

 


 Photo: Christian Schnettelker, Creative Commons 

Resurrection for Mamas

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Today is Easter Sunday. Today, Jesus rips out of the grave in a wham-bam display of divine power and love. It’s a day for big God gestures, the way men pull out all the stops to propose to their future wives. And the church, like a surprised bride, jumps up and down, says, Yes.

But today, I’m staying home. Somewhere between planning car arrangements and thinking about how many people would try to touch my baby’s hands, I decided not to go to church. I simply wasn’t up for it. The big-gesture, big-response event sounded exhausting.

Today, I don’t just want Jesus of the Easter resurrection. I want Jesus of the everyday resurrection. I want the Jesus who is continuously making all things new, who holds it all together.

Because I need eternal salvation, but I also need to be saved from the laundry.

I need someone to push the reset button on my spirit when I’m frustrated by frequent nursing and nap refusal. I need someone to speak encouragement to my heart, to assure me that I’m doing some things right. I need everyday miracles: sleep and coffee and baby smiles.

I need resurrection for mamas, which looks like showering, leaving the house, or finally getting 6 hours of sleep. Church and Bible study might have to wait a few more weeks. Today, give me the little things that make a mama feel human again. 

A few months ago, I would have balked at this small theology. I would have rolled my eyes at another mommy blogger talking about her laundry. I would have gone back to reading about liberation theology or something. I would have looked for the big-gesture God.

But then I became a mom, and my world collapsed into a profound smallness.

Now, I spend all day in the same small room, with the same small boy, doing the same small tasks. My theology has grown legs and begun walking around, because what I believe about God determines how I will treat my family. I need good theology—even when it seems small—to be patient and joyful with my son, no matter how sleepless or monotonous the day has been.

My eyes are on Jesus of the everyday resurrection, because I need him to do this job well. I need his small kindnesses. I need his gentle voice. I need his example of sacrifice, and his assurance that when I pour out everything, there’ll still be enough.

He is the one who keeps this mama going, who brings her back to life over and over again.

Today, I’m thankful for the empty grave, but I’m even more thankful that Jesus, after rising from the dead, showed up at his disciples’ work with breakfast (John 21:12). Because this is the kind of God a mama needs. Not the big-gesture God, but the everyday lover, who brings us coffee just because.

This Jesus gives me hope and guidance, comfort and strength.

Hallelujah, He is risen. And this mama is alive.

Birth, Faith, and Feeling It All

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On February 3, we welcomed James Robert Steere into our family. He was himself from the very first moment: wide-eyed, curious, expressive. Six weeks later, we’re still getting to know him and finding joy in his little personality. We’re exhausted, of course, and I’ve been too hands-full to blog, but life is also incredibly sweet with James now in it.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth and how that winter morning changed everything for me. I knew early on in my pregnancy that I wanted a natural birth. I was well-read on the benefits of unmedicated labor for both mom and baby, but there was also a part of me that simply wanted to be present for the process, even if it meant experiencing pain.

Looking back, I’m so thankful I chose to feel it.

I’ve heard so many horror stories about childbirth, but after experiencing it myself, I have a hard time even using the word “pain” to describe it. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely uncomfortable, intense, and even scary at times, but it wasn’t the same as everyday pain. It followed a different logic, releasing as I surrendered to it, guiding me towards the best positions and pushes to bring my baby into the world.

The sensations of labor didn’t just happen to me, they taught me how to do the work of birth. It was like climbing a mountain: exhausting and gut-twisting, but also challenging and purposeful. Each pain coaxed me to take another step, dig in just a little more. When I did, my body would relax, and I knew I was that much closer to the final payoff.

When James came out, he looked straight at me, and it was the most surreal, transcendent moment of my life. As I held his tiny body to my chest, I knew exactly what it took to bring him there. I had felt every turn of his body inside mine, to the final push. I’ve never felt prouder of what my body could do.

I’ve always loved Brene Brown‘s metaphor that faith is more like a midwife than an epidural:

I wanted faith to work like an epidural; to numb the pain of vulnerability. As it turned out, my faith ended up being more like a midwife – a nurturing partner who leans into the discomfort with me and whispers “push” and “breathe.”  

Having gone the midwife route, I can attest that labor and faith are the same this way: the discomfort is useful. It leads you, step by aching step, to the mountaintop experience. When you finally drop the cross you’ve carried to the top, the lightness is ever so sweet.

In our culture, it’s become increasingly easy to numb ourselves or try to avoid discomfort, be it physical, relational, or spiritual. But more often than not, this leads to other problems, or simply delays the pain. One of the reasons I chose not to have an epidural is that it often lengthens labor and increases the mother’s chances of having major tears or a c-section. The intensity of labor is lessened, but postpartum recovery is far more difficult.

In the same way, when we numb ourselves to relational or spiritual pain, we ignore the signals that say, “Hey, something needs to change here!” and let the problem drag on. Instead of growing, we wallow in the half-felt pain for longer than necessary.

But faith—that bold midwife—whispers to us: You can do this. 

And the women who’ve gone before say: If I can, you can. 

And we all lean in a little bit more. And we all push and breathe, believing the end will come. We remember that it’s good to feel, that pain can teach us and guide us in ways that comfort never could. We remember that we were built to do incredible, difficult things.

And then, miraculously, something new—or someone new—is born.

I Don’t Always Love The Bible

Jona Park

I read a lot of Christian blogs, from conservative evangelicals to liberal charismatics, and the one thing they all agree on is how much they love the Bible. They talk about it all the time—how important, how beautiful this book is to them. Sometimes it’s downright gushy.

Confession: Rarely do I have romantic feelings towards my Bible. Sometimes, I even dislike it. 

Raised in the Lutheran tradition of sola scriptura, I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life reading, memorizing, and listening to teachings about the Bible. I know this book better than any other. But some days, I just can’t bring myself to open it.

If the other bloggers knew my reading habits, I’d surely be kicked out of the club. I read a tweet the other day that essentially said “if you don’t read your Bible, I don’t have much use for you.” Because loving the Bible is like a secret password: without it, no one will let you in the clubhouse, let alone listen to you.

It’s not that I don’t believe the Bible is important. Like most Christians, I believe it’s the inspired word of God, living and active for thousands of years. I believe it has the power to change lives, and could tell about a lot of ways that it’s changed mine.

But reading it hurts sometimes.

Reading it reminds me of abusive teachers, hurtful theologies, and guilt-led ministries. Reading it reminds me of the countless leaders who’ve used the text to convince followers that God “clearly says” they’re right. Reading it reminds me that American Christianity is often deeply flawed and alienating.

Some passages have become like land mines to me: I can barely tiptoe over them without triggering memories of the words being used for condemnation. A woman must be silent. The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.

I have always held a deep belief that God loves me, that He sees me, that He wants to include me in His restorative plan for the world. It is only the Bible and its terrible misuse that has ever made me doubt this in the slightest. It is only the harshness of my fellow believers, armed with verses and ready to thump, that has ever made me feel unwelcome before the throne of God.

The Bible describes itself as a sword, but it was never meant to be used to take each other down. It was always meant to be a destroyer of our own pride, our own selfishness. It convicts, but that conviction brings freedom, not shame.

Unfortunately, this isn’t our typical public experience of the Bible, and that can trickle down into our private moments with the Word.

I often fantasize about living far outside Christian culture and being able to read the Bible without any preconceived ideas about what it means. Or living in the time before the printing press, when the gospel was spread by word of mouth and the nature of God had to be experienced firsthand.

Because the truth is, I’d really love to love the Bible. 

I’d love to be like those bloggers, who swear up and down that the Bible is their favorite book. I’d like to believe that they aren’t just trying to gain enough Christian street cred to be heard, but that they really and truly see something hopeful in this text.

I have these little glimmers of it: a verse grabs my heart, a theme stirs my spirit. The words leap off the page and do something real in me. My mind changes. My actions change. My relationships change. And I feel beloved, included in the family of God.

It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s been enough to keep me coming back to that book, gingerly opening the pages, flinching a little at those land mine passages, but reading anyway.

It’s been enough to remind me that God doesn’t hold my reading habits over my head, threatening to boot me out of the club. He listens to me whether or not I’ve been disciplined in my quiet times, whether or not I’m doctrinally sound. And he whispers back: I’m glad you’re here.

 


Photo: Jona Park, Creative Commons 

Life is Hard, Marriage is Easy

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After two and a half years of marriage, the phrase my husband and I return to again and again is this: “Life is hard, marriage is easy.”

I am painfully aware that this isn’t true for everyone. I know plenty of people with hard marriages, people who struggle to keep their relationships happy and healthy. But for us, marriage has been a pleasant surprise—not nearly as difficult as everyone warned us it would be, and a whole lot more joyful than we expected. 

Sometimes I think we just got lucky. I’m certain I married up, and Sam swears the same. Our personalities are fairly compatible, our work allows us to spend a lot of time together, and our families get along wonderfully.

But when I look at what we’ve gone through in the past two years—transitioning cultures, living under the poverty line, and dealing with high-stress mission work in Eastern Europe—it’s an absolute miracle that our relationship didn’t crumble under the “life is hard” weight. No amount of dumb luck could combat that kind of life. We had to be doing something right.

Sam and I have been talking it over lately, and here’s what we think makes our marriage easy.

 

We Both Lead and Submit

Sam and I are passionate egalitarians: we believe leadership is merited by gifting and God’s call rather than gender. So, in our marriage, there is no one leader and no pre-assigned roles. In most areas, we co-lead. In others, we default to whoever is more gifted or feels called to take the reigns. While this might appear chaotic to more traditional couples, we enjoy the dance of it all, and the steps come naturally. I love seeing Sam shine in his strengths, and he rests easy as I cover his weaknesses.

We also practice mutual submission, and believe that the best way to lead is to be the first to submit. We’re constantly preferring each other, rather than fighting to get our own way, and we deeply trust one another to meet our needs without having to demand anything (though we definitely ask for what we want, which is a healthy habit unto itself). This can be a difficult cycle to start, especially if you have trust issues, but I assure you that it’s worth the vulnerability. With time, it only gets better.

We Do Hard Things Together

I know I just said that the “life is hard” bit could have tanked our marriage, and that’s still true, but it also forced us to band together. In any good story, the heroes aren’t very heroic until they have a mutual enemy to vanquish. For us, that enemy looked like culture shock, financial anxiety, and exhaustion as we struggled to make a life in Kosovo. We absolutely had to love each other, or neither of us was going to survive.

Sam and I never bicker. Never. Because bickering expends energy, and we quickly got in the habit of ignoring small slights in favor of dealing with much bigger problems. When I hear most American couples fight, I hear a lot of boredom. If you find yourselves arguing over what carpet to get, you probably need to challenge yourselves a little more. There’s plenty of hard in the world, and your relationship deserves a better story than redecorating.

We Practice Gratitude

This is another habit we picked up in Kosovo. When life got tough, we forced each other to list things we were grateful for, and eventually it became second nature. Now, we thank each other for everything: cooking, laundry, sex, communication, thoughtfulness, protectiveness. And it’s not some phony show we put on—we are really and truly grateful for all these things.

Besides general respect and faithfulness, nothing in our relationship is an obligation. Everything is the cherry on top. Everything gets treated as special. This is another bonus of not having assigned gender roles. I get thanked for cooking as much as Sam does. He gets thanked for going to the bank. Even though we gravitate towards certain roles, we’re never expected to stay in them forever, and we’re appreciated wherever we are.

We Buck American Culture

As I read through Christmas cards last month, I couldn’t help but notice how often people used the word “busy” to describe their year. Americans love this word, almost as much as they love keeping busy, but I see it as an epidemic. I know far too many people who rarely see their spouse, all because they want to do everything all the time.

Working hard and challenging yourself is great, but it’s not worth sacrificing your marriage. Sam and I are constantly saying “no” to things because we want to stay home and do nothing together. There’s nothing really efficient about relationships, and I’m learning to love that. In this season, we’re on furlough, living with family, and working minimal hours. We could have chosen to work more, make more money, and be less dependent, but we decided to seize the opportunity to live slowly and focus on relationships instead. It’s been so healthy for both of us, and our marriage has never been sweeter.

 

What makes your marriage wonderful? I love hearing how people love each other well, and I’m still learning about this marriage thing. Tell me all about it.

One Word 2015: Rise

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If you followed my previous blog, you may remember my One Word post from last year. After a difficult season, I chose RECLAIM as my vision word for 2014, and it turned out to be more than fitting. Since writing that post, I’ve reclaimed my health, creativity, and identity. I left behind oppressive systems and theologies, and I walked into a new understanding of God’s last-will-be-first kingdom. Everything blossomed again.

This year, with all kinds of exciting opportunities on the horizon, I’m finding it easier to choose a vision word and expect good things to come of it. My One Word for 2015 is RISEI love its various definitions: To move upward, to increase, to get up from sleep, to return from death, to exert oneself to meet a challenge. 

Pregnancy often wakes me up in the wee hours of the morning, and it was during one of these bouts of insomnia that the word came to me. I’m going to be doing a lot of rising this year: rising in the middle of the night to nurse a newborn, rising in the early hours to prepare for work, rising when all I want to do is sleep one more hour. I’m not naturally a morning person, but some of my best seasons have been the ones when I’ve been forced to rise and shine. A little coffee and fresh morning air, and I usually end up not only productive, but actually happy in the early hours.

I’m looking forward to mornings this year, especially since they’ll come with a sweet face and that soft newborn smell. I’m looking forward to the ways God will meet me in those tender hours, and how I’ll learn to appreciate the small and slow things in life. I’m expectant that His mercies truly will be new every morning.

I also love the idea of “rising to the occasion.” A few weeks ago, the leaders of the mission base my husband and I will be working with in France asked us to co-lead a Discipleship Training School—meaning we’d be in charge of staff, students, and curriculum for the whole six-month intensive. I was absolutely floored by the offer. Having spent the last few years in an extremely patriarchal country, it’s been a long time since I’ve been allowed to lead anything, let alone asked. But it has been a desire of my heart to walk into a more pastoral role, with my equally-gifted husband at my side.

The only problem with the offer is that we’ll have recently had a baby and very recently moved continents. Of course, these factors didn’t stop us from giddily saying yes, but they will make the whole endeavor more difficult. Fortunately, I love a good challenge. I love that the base leaders knew exactly what a wild scenario it would be for us and still thought we were the ones of the job. I love being asked to step up and do more than I could ever have imagined as a new mother in a new country.

Finally, as I think about rising this year, I can’t help but think of Maya Angelou’s iconic poem, “Still I Rise.” With all the terrible news and racial tension of the last few months, I am hopeful this year not only for my own ability to rise, but also for the rising of minorities and the oppressed everywhere. I’m looking forward to a year of learning how to be a better ally and affect positive changes for these communities. My prayer for the year is best summed up in Maya’s own words, “Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise.”

May that rising be a reality in our world, in our neighborhoods and churches. May we rise together in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, which restores and unifies all things.

As I learned with my year of reclaiming, God has a lot more in mind for my word than I do, and I’m excited to see what he’ll bring to the table this year. Come next January, I’m sure rise will have a whole new meaning for me.

Do you have a vision word for 2015? Check out the One Word 365 website for ideas, or simply ask God to reveal a word for you, as I’ve always done. Then tell me about it! I love hearing your hopes and dreams for the coming year.

 

The Joy of the Unplanned

Jon Page

In a gas station bathroom in Kosovo, I finally said what I’d suspected for weeks: I think I’m pregnant. It was the strangest confessional, with my friend in one stall and me holding back nausea in the other. She gasped at the words and came out beaming at me.

Weeks before, she and I had been talking about birth control. She was planning a wedding and felt a little stuck when it came to her reproductive options. There seemed to be two basic paths: either avoid pregnancy like the plague or have babies right away. I told her how I’d felt roped into the same binary, and how I hadn’t wanted to do either. I didn’t feel comfortable taking hormones on a regular basis, and I wanted to let God give us a child in his timing, but I also didn’t really want to get pregnant right away.

While most people I knew were either desperately trying or not trying to have children, I felt a strong desire to leave it unplanned. I was conscious of the fact that we didn’t ultimately have control over when we’d have children—fertility isn’t a given, and even the most faithful birth control methods fail sometimes—and I wanted to embrace that reality and God’s sovereignty in it.

So we decided to take a middle path. Sam and I prayed about it, and we felt peace about leaving room for error, knowing that our lives could drastically change at any moment, but trusting that it would be the right moment.

We had almost two years of being happily childless, and then the moment came. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying, but ultimately, it felt right.

My friend understood this perfectly—she knew it was a gift, planned or not—and she celebrated the possibility of life inside me. But once we officially confirmed the pregnancy and started telling others, I was shocked by how many asked, Was it planned? with wide, fearful eyes. 

First of all, as a public service announcement, let me tell you that this is not an appropriate question. A woman’s birth control choice is never your business, and asking whether or not a pregnancy was planned is essentially the same as asking what pills she’s taking. So please, just don’t.

But this question was also troublesome to me because I felt like there was no easy way to explain that unplanned didn’t mean unwanted or accidental. It quickly became apparent to me that in middle-class American culture, there was an expectation that reproduction be carefully controlled, that children always be planned and only after careful consideration of finances and life goals. Anything else was reckless, perhaps even a mistake.

But this was no accident. It was a deliberate surrender of control to a God who gives good gifts.

Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, and one of my favorite heroes of faith. In the Christmas story, the angel doesn’t ask her if she wants to get pregnant, he tells her that she will give birth. Remarkably, Mary seems okay with this, even though it means she’ll be risking everything. She has this profound spirit of obedience to God, which had to have been established long before the angel showed up on her doorstep. She isn’t afraid of surrendering control—she trusts that it’s a gift.

I admire Mary because she had a yes in her spirit even before she knew what would be asked of her. I suspect this is why God chose to do something incredible through her: she’d already decided to give him control, no matter what.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should run off and get pregnant to prove their faith, but I think there’s a lot we can learn from Mary’s example. While our culture teaches control and security, Mary’s story reminds us that there is joy and profound possibility in the unplanned. Instead of fear or anxiety, she embraces the unknown with a peaceful heart, and it ends up bringing the salvation of the world.

I don’t have such lofty expectations for my own pregnancy, but I do identify with her joy and hope that God is doing a new thing on the earth. And I share in her excitement that I get to carry it.

I don’t know what my life will look like after I give birth, and I don’t know who this child will grow up to be, but I do know that all the curveballs God has sent my way have turned out to be the most beautiful detours, and I expect no less of this one.

 


Photo: Jon Page, Creative Commons