I like that word.
When I think of the word good, I like to think happy thoughts.
Good is smiling. It’s warm and colorful. It’s happy endings and Christmas mornings. Good is the thing that makes you smile. It’s the light that drives out darkness – the opposite of evil. Good is just so…good.
But sometimes good doesn’t really look like good.
I sat against the back of the pew at church last week and let myself sink into the plush material a little more than usual. I wanted to make myself small, to maybe shy away from the honesty of the message. I wanted to shield myself from the hardness of Truth – a Truth that reveals God to be good.
Even if good doesn’t look good.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
Luke 1: 46-48; 53
We’re now engulfed in the post-Christmas fall out, and I’m currently sitting at my kitchen table surrounded by a holy mess. There’s an open can of dog food sitting next to me, a dirty coffee cup, three dirty glasses, several napkins, and a huge stack of yet-to-be-mailed Christmas cards.
The table is scratched and scarred, an homage to this life I live. It’s well-worn, three out of the four chairs just a few sits from falling apart completely. We need a new table. We keep saying this over and over.
But there’s something about the scarred table that I love.
If I look to my right I see a kitchen counter piled high with crusty dishes. Just yesterday, I mentioned to Lee as I cleaned the house for the eleventy-frillionth time that had someone told me early on in marriage I would spend the better part of the rest of my life cleaning, I might have been tempted to run far away.
Because motherhood doesn’t always feel good.
With Christmas behind me, I’m reflecting on where we’ve come in the last year. In a very real sense, there’s been so much good for our family this year. Good that actually looks and feels good.
But there’s been heartache, too.
This time last year, my father-in-law was swinging his final punch at cancer. He fought valiantly through Christmas so that he could meet his newest granddaughter, and then it was time to let go.
It didn’t feel good.
The way it all went down when he passed away still doesn’t feel good. Not to me. I will never get over not being there when he took his final breath. It doesn’t feel good.
Likewise, this week is exactly three years since Putin signed into law the ban on American adoptions, an event that has continued to shape and mark me. Three years ago, every hope and dream I had for my family hung in the balance, and as I wade through the darkness of that time, the benefit of hindsight allows me to now claim God’s goodness.
But at the time, I couldn’t see beyond my devastation, disappointment, and doubt.
And so it is that I must continually embrace the hard truth that God alone is good. He is the giver of good things, though my eyes veiled by this earth tend to miss it.
Last week, Lee asked me what I would say to a younger version of myself. What would I tell the fresh-faced, wide-eyed, newly married, twenty-two year old Kelli to prepare her for the journey to come? I had to pause and think through that question. It’s not that easy to answer.
Of course, the obvious first response was, “Dear child – you will have four children, and they will be awesome. You will love them immensely. But you will also spend the better part of the rest of your life cleaning up after them. Prepare yourself.”
But that was a lame answer.
After some thought, I finally gave my halting reply: “I’d tell her that God’s goodness doesn’t hinge upon answered prayer and fulfilled dreams. I’d tell her that God is good because He is God, and that is enough. The heartache to come isn’t a stain on God’s goodness, but is rather an opportunity for you to lean into it.”
As we head into 2016, I pray that each one of you has the opportunity to lean in to God’s goodness; to fully embrace the beauty of who He is, simply because He is God.
May He fill you with good things, and may you all laugh at the days to come.
Happy New Year.
The television droned on in the background as I prepared dinner, my eyes ever trained on the flashing screen. I was taking in the horror against the juxtaposition of my children laughing and dancing in the room next to me. The pictures of death a back drop to the sounds of life.
Like everyone else, I watched in horror at the unfolding of events in Paris on Friday night. I did not, however, feel either shock or surprise. Because evil has been lurking in the periphery for some time, and we’ve allowed it to trickle in to our vicinity.
Oh, what charitable people we long to be, but charitability combined with passivity leads to tragedy.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to extend my hands to the people of this world. I want to open my home to the hurting and the deprived, and I would give all I had to the children whose tears bleed through my computer screen. I am not an unmerciful woman, though for much of my life I’ve been painted as such.
On the contrary, I feel deeply. Mercy and compassion cut to my core. I am not one prone to hold on to anger. These are all strengths passed down to me from my parents, and nourished by God Himself, and for them I’m grateful.
I’d rather bask in the grace of forgiveness and mercy than wallow in the darkness of anger and hurt.
But there’s a measure of protectiveness that settles upon a mother’s soul when her children dance and sing, and the world burns just beyond her borders. I will call out evil for what it is, and I will condemn it, and by God I will support the fight against it. And here’s the kicker:
I am not unmerciful in my condemnation of evil.
In the wake of one more wretched attack, the world has rallied yet again. Only nowadays these rallies take shape via social media. Because what else can we do but voice our horror and our pain, and support the cry for swift retaliation?
And for those of us who cannot fight back, what more can we do but pray?
In the days following the attacks, I’ve seen more than one article calling people out for using the hashtag #prayforparis.
“The world doesn’t need your hashtags!” they cry, and maybe they’re right. Maybe the world doesn’t need my post or my photo layered with blue, white, and red stripes. After all, a hashtag and a filter are nothing more than symbols. They mean nothing in the wake of disaster and death.
The carnage in the streets is not revived by mere symbols. And yet…
There is power to be found behind a symbol, if we’re willing to follow through. Will I simply post #prayforparis, or will I drop to my knees and pray for Paris? Will I pray for this world, and for the people who are grappling for security and safety in a land the explodes around them?
It feels so monumental, praying for the world. Dear God, I pray for the world?
What does that even mean?
No, I must pray for them by name. I have to pray for the city of Paris, that life, and laughter, and beauty, and love return to the weeping streets. I will also pray that God would comfort the hearts of His people.
And I can move on – each country has a name, and that name is not lost on the God who formed the land. I believe this. I believe in all the good things of this world – in the beauty of laughter and dancing, of friendships, travel, family, children, and above all things, I believe in love.
And I also believe that evil will always be lurking in the shadows, waiting to snuff out those beautiful gifts. Because evil cannot stand the light, and all those things bring light. Evil hates light – that is why it’s evil. It can only exist in the dark places.
So get up, world! Let not evil darken the doors of our hearts! Let not the darkness snuff out the beauty of laughter and love. Evil may look like it’s winning, but it cannot claim victory because light won’t be chased away. I know this for a fact.
As I set dinner on the table, my nine-year-old danced out and looked at the television. She froze as the images pushed into her youthful consciousness.
“What happened?” she asked. I explained as best I could while muting the TV. She looked up at me, bright blue eyes swimming with compassion.
“We should pray for them,” she whispered.
So we did. And we will.
Love wins. Light wins. Prayer wins.
The baby’s cries pierced through the walls for the third night in a row. Just when we hit a stride in her sleeping patterns, she enters a new growth spurt and the nighttime feedings start again.
I’m weary. So weary.
I stumbled to her room and lifted her from her bed. Her warm, doughy cheek pressed into my neck, and the moment was everything I could hope it would be, except for the fact that it was two in the morning.
Yawning, I stuck the bottle in her waiting mouth and leaned my head back, mind running through the laundry list of things that needed to be done once the sun made her way high up into the sky.
So much. There’s so much to do. On any given day, I’m not sure how it is I manage to accomplish all the tasks in front of me. And for all that I manage to get done, it seems I forget half as much. I’m forever a step behind in life.
I stumbled back to bed and fell onto my pillow, and before I knew it the alarm jarred me, yet again, from my slumber. I had work to do, but first.
I’m trying to dig into my Bible before I open my computer. I’m not always good at it. Some days, the pull of work is just too strong. But on this morning, I pulled out my Bible and started reading. I landed in Proverbs and flipped to Proverbs 31.
This passage of scripture both inspires and baffles me. How does she do it, this Proverbs 31 woman? I know that this wasn’t the picture of a single woman, but rather the composite of a woman. But still. I’m forever dropping the ball, and I don’t even have to sew my children’s clothes from woolen materials!
But on this morning it hit me. As I read through this passage for the hundredth (thousandth? millionth?) time, my mind wandered back to the Maasai women in Tanzania. I thought of the hut built by a woman’s hand, and the village of women who birth the babies and raise the children, kill and prepare the food. What strength they possessed.
Then my mind drifted to the stories of the German women who picked up shovels and rebuilt their cities after the war. And the women of America who entered the factories and kept the country running while our men fought.
I thought of the Ukrainian girls and women sent to slave labor camps, forced to build artillery for the enemy.
And then I thought of my own mom, faithfully raising and loving two children. I thought of her bringing in her sister’s kids because that’s what family does, even when it’s hard. I thought of the way she flew half way across the world to stay with my children for eight days so that I could have an adventure.
Photo by Tammy Labuda: TammyLabudaPhotography.com
And I read Proverbs 31 again with hot tears dripping from my eyes because it finally hit me.
Proverbs 31 isn’t the story of one woman, nor is it a composite of all the things I should be.
Proverbs 31 is the story of women – of womanhood. It is everything that we are, the collective whole of us. It is the strength that God knit into the very fiber of a woman’s heart.
This is the strength that carries a woman through back breaking labor, through childbirth and child rearing, through midnight feedings, never ending schedules, and days that stretch into nights with little or no opportunity to rest.
This is the strength that gets a mother through the year-long deployment of her soldier husband. It’s the strength that allows a woman to get up each morning and dig her heels into all that life has to offer – the good and the bad.
Proverbs 31 isn’t the unattainable goal of womanhood. Oh, no.
Proverbs 31 is a celebration of all that God has made us to be.
Sweet friend, are you weary tonight? Do you feel like you’re failing at every turn? Does life feel like it’s just a little too much?
Take heart, dear friend. He has knit into you a strength that cannot be explained. It can only be lived, one step, one day at a time.
You, dear woman, are stronger than you think.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”
Proverbs 31: 25-26
She marched out onto the floor and stood at attention, and I was in awe.
I don’t know why my daughter’s confidence still shocks me, but it does every time. When she steps onto the mat, she is so sure of herself. Though she’s nervous, and she doesn’t always execute every move perfectly, she possesses a confidence in her abilities that seems so beyond her eight years.
A large part of her determined attitude is simply what she was programmed with at birth. From the day she arrived, she has been strong willed, stubborn, and brave. As a toddler, just barely able to walk, I’d find her in all manner of places and positions.
I’d walk into the kitchen and find her on top of the counter, no chair in sight, and she’d smile like, “Look at this awesome thing I did.”
I’d look out the kitchen window and see her sitting on top of the basketball goal…nine feet in the air…over asphalt…and she’d stare at me like, “Yeah? What of it?”
This is who she is, this daughter of mine. She’s gifted and brave. But she’s also a little girl, and so vulnerable to being swept up in the tide of a world that waits to tell her she isn’t good enough – that she should be better, prettier, faster, stronger, and smarter if she wants to be noticed.
In this fast paced world, we as parents have a monumental task ahead of us. How do we raise confident children in a society that is buzzing around us at lightening speed? Even more specifically, how do we raise confident young women in a world that values beauty over brains – a world that says a woman’s worth only travels as far as her accomplishments take her?
Raising confident girls requires so much more than simply telling them to “Reach for the stars.” We should tread carefully when we tell our daughters that they can do anything they want with a little hard work and perseverance.
Too much of that message and we’re bound to set them up for some disappointment.
I want my girls to walk confidently toward their passions and to work diligently within their skill sets. I want them to step on the mats of life and not think about the chatter around them, because there will be chatter. In a world that is constantly moving, constantly changing, always telling them they aren’t enough, I long for them to know that their worth is far more valuable than what they see in the mirror.
My goal is not to raise girls who think they can do whatever they set their mind to. It would be unfair to set them up for that kind of failure.
Instead, I want my girls to know that they can accomplish whatever it is the Lord has purposed for them to do.
I want them to walk confidently in the path that the Lord lays before them, and to embrace each challenge as a gift. And more than anything, I want them to chase after God. I want them to pursue Him, and as they do so if it leads them to a high powered position in the corporate world, then that’s wonderful.
If it leads them to become stay at home moms, that’s wonderful. If it leads them to the mission field, to the sports arena, to the classroom, to fame or to obscurity – that’s wonderful.
My message to my girls will always be, “Seek the Lord above all things.” Beyond that, I will point them in the direction of their natural bent and pray that the Lord grant them the success that He has purposed for them. Raising a confident girl isn’t about telling her she can do whatever she sets her mind to do. There’s no Jiminey Cricket standing by waiting to grant her heart’s desire with the wish of a star.
I don’t want my girls to have confidence in their abilities – I want them to have confidence in the Lord.
This is my prayer, and as I pray, I will forever be on the sidelines cheering them on, marveling at their talents, and praising God that I get to be their mom.
Six weeks ago, we welcomed our fourth child into our family. It’s been a whirlwind month and a half as we’ve adjusted to having a baby in the house once again. I forgot how much work small babies are. Mother’s amnesia is a real thing, and it is the only reason that the human race is still alive, because bringing a baby into this world is insanely difficult.
I was actually surprised how fully and completely I had forgotten that.
Annika has brought a lot of joy to our home. She has filled a void in our family, and given us a sense of being whole. Perhaps not complete, as I will never completely close the door on adoption as an option for expanding our family. I just can’t say we would never do it, but for now I can say that I feel whole, whereas a year ago at this time I did not.
When we found out we were pregnant, I began to pray that the Lord would reveal his mercy and grace to us through this child. My heart was still in a place of tenderness after the terminated adoption, and I laid a fervent prayer before Him each morning as I fought through morning sickness, through discomfort, and through the insane heat of the summer months.
“Reveal your mercy through this baby.”
As Lee and I batted around name ideas, I continually returned to “Annika.” Every time I said it out loud, I felt a swell of joy move through me, and when we found out we were having a girl, I just knew that was supposed to be her name. Once we’d settled on the first name, we moved to the middle name and I suggested such options as “Hope,” “Grace,” and “Joy.”
None of those felt right, though, and we ultimately decided we wanted to honor Lee’s grandmother by giving Annika her name. Annika Rachel immediately felt right, and we were able to pray for her by name.
And still I prayed for mercy and grace as the Lord continued to heal my heart.
Shortly before Annika’s birth, I decided to look up her name to see what it means. I probably should have done that first, but I didn’t. I just loved the sound of the name. I didn’t even think to look up the meaning in the early months.
It didn’t matter, because the Lord in His goodness gave us the name we needed most for this daughter of ours. The name Annika means “Gracious, Full of Grace, Mercy.”
There is not doubt in my mind that this child was meant to join our family for such a time as this. Her arrival has brought the sweetness of God’s grace and mercy into our lives, and each night as I feed her in the quiet dark, I pray that the Lord will reveal His grace and mercy to others through her.
We are tired these days. Life is crazy, and somedays (most days?) I am entirely overwhelmed with it all.
But I’m covered under the banner of mercy and grace, and each time I pick her up, I’m reminded that God is so very good.
He is Gracious.
Full of Grace.
And I am thankful.