Diary of a Pregnant Woman: Week 18

I absolutely love my dog! I mean like, I. LOVE. HIM. I have become one of those dog people that other people roll their eyes at, it’s true. The funny thing is, I use to be the eye-roller in the face of (more like peripheral vision) all the other dog lovers. I just couldn’t wrap my head around people who talked to their dogs like children, or dressed them in ‘dog-clothes’ (to be honest, I still don’t understand that), or spent any time considering their ‘comfort’ and ‘feelings’ when it came to sleeping, lounging, car rides, or anything.

I remember as a teenager my parents had a dog, Casey. She was sweet and loving, but nonetheless, a dog. Casey got cancer and I’ll never forget my stepmother driving to and from Cortland a multitude of times for treatment, spending literally, thousand of dollars on a dog! All I could think at the time was, this woman is cuckoo-bananas, it’s a friggin’ dog! Get a grip lady! Never would I have believed in a thousand years that one day I would love the crap out of a 75 pound 8 month old German Shepherd terrorist.

I often think to myself, if I love my dog this much, I can’t even imagine how much I will love this baby growing inside of me when it arrives.

Like all mothers, I desperately want to be the absolute best mom I can be. And I have felt guilty at times over these past several months that I haven’t been able to do more to prepare for the arrival of this little sweet potato inside of me. Work is absolutely kicking my butt with time spent working in the evenings and on the weekends. On top of, we’re still in the process of renovating our what was once a run-down foreclosure in the woods. Day after day I think about all the things I should be doing to prepare: creating a baby registry, researching items for a baby registry, birthing classes, finding a pediatrician, finding childcare, creating a birth plan, exercising, maternity leave paperwork, reading baby pregnancy books, etc. The list is endless, and day after day it leaves me feeling like I am not doing enough to prepare for the arrival of our baby.

But, I had a thought this week that has changed some of my perspective. What if preparing for the arrival of our baby actually has very little to do with all the things I just listed? What if preparing for the arrival of our baby has nothing to do with nursery preparations, gender reveals, or finding the right breast pump for working moms. What if instead, preparing for the birth of my baby means orienting my heart, mind, and affections towards my Creator firstly, and secondly investing my time and energy on nurturing my marriage?

What if preparing for the birth of my baby means acknowledging God, who He is, and what he has done for me in the person and work of Jesus. Allowing my heart and mind to meditate on that daily, and out of that seeing my heart’s affections be changed and transformed. Reminding myself that any success to be gained in motherhood has everything to do with where my strength, patience, and wisdom come from today and every day. Because the truth is, any success to be had, in any of my horizontal relationships (marriage, motherhood, family, friendships, etc.) first needs to start with my vertical relationship with God. So what if one of the best ways for me to prepare for the arrival of this little orange ‘tater is by not forgetting who God is and what that actually means for me and my life on a daily basis.

Secondly, what if preparing for motherhood means focusing my mind and attention on being a good wife. It’s easy in the hub-bub of life to become too busy for our spouses, too busy to put the time and attention into nurturing a marriage. It becomes easy in the midst of conflict to only see one side, your own. To assume you’re right and your spouse is wrong. To make the excuse that you don’t need to be kind with your words, or gentle with your reaction to things, they just need to ‘toughen up buttercup.’ How easy it is to give our spouse only half of our attention, scrolling our phones while also ‘listening’ to them. What if preparing for the arrival of my little one means pushing back on myself in my marriage? Asking myself how am I best loving, encouraging, and honoring my husband this week, this day, this moment. And not just when I am getting what I want out of the relationship, but doing it without conditions, even when I am not getting what I want out of the relationship. What if preparing for my little one’s arrival means speaking to their father with words that build him up instead of tear him down? What if means realizing my own sin and selfishness that gets in the way of the relationship instead of being quick to point out his? What if it means praying regularly for my spouse.

The reality is, my love and affection for God, or lack there of, ultimately drives my beliefs and actions in every area of my life. And I will spend the rest of my life modeling that reality to my child in a multitude of ways. For example, I will either forgive others when they hurt me because I realize that I too am selfish and yet God forgives me over and over again. Or I won’t forgive people when they hurt me because I will have come to believe that I am better than them and they don’t deserve my forgiveness. My beliefs and actions will teach that to my child. Likewise, I will either model for my child what a loving and honoring marriage looks like even when life is hard. Or I will model to them dysfunction and selfishness. Those will become the beliefs and values that I will inadvertently teach my child through my modeling. And because of that, there is no registry item, no baby book, no pediatrician, no birthing plan that can ultimately prepare me for what it really means to be a mother to my child.

My thoughts and prayers this week have revolved around the simple truth that the seeds I plant today will be the harvest that I reap tomorrow. In my preparation and pursuit to be the best mother I can, I must plant good seeds today in both my spiritual life and my marriage. And then pray and ask God that those seeds grown into an abundant harvest for my little one to benefit from.

There’s no place like ‘the hood’

I’ve been instructed on more than one occasion not to take to the streets of my neighborhood alone, especially at night. This reminder has been bellowed at me by friends, neighbors and police officers. Aside from violence, poverty, prostitution and drugs, we apparently have a rather high robbery rate (different from burglary…but we have that too). I often tell myself to stop going out for runs at night, while lacing up my sneakers, sticking in my earbuds and making my way towards the front door.

I go through the same internal dialogue every time.

Conscience: ‘You’re doing it again.’

Me: ‘I know. This is the last time though. I promise. Don’t worry about it.’

Conscience: ‘You realize, this is how every 11’ O’Clock Evening News story starts, right?’

Me: ‘Yeah, yeah. But I’ll be running. And I’m fast. Like Flash. So, they’d have to catch me. Besides, everyone knows the only people who run in the hood are people being chased by cops. It’s all good.’

Conscience: (Shaking her head in disapproval)You’re a stupid, stubborn girl. And I have zero sympathy for what may happen.

Me: ‘Stupid…stubborn…zero sympathy. Got it! Chat when I get back. Gotta go.’

And then I’m off, out the door…Not before I set the house alarm though, of course.

I just can’t help it. As much as I’m told and as often as I tell myself, there’s just something that happens to me when the sun reaches down, pulling the Earth over top of her like a blanket–giving way to darkness. Like a moth, my feet are drawn to the street-lit pavement and beat up sidewalks.

Here’s the thing. I know that my neighborhood is ‘bad’. I don’t need to be told. I know it because of the parade of cop cars that come in and out as if some sort of invisible revolving door exists, giving them direct access, at all times. I know it because of the gun shots, cat-calls, and verbal threats I’ve heard on my street alone. Or because of the stories of this person or that person having been jumped, held up; or because of the amount of times my car has been keyed (AND hit and run), a friend’s has been broken into, or tires of neighbors’ have been slashed.

And if all that wasn’t enough (as if one needed more ‘evidence’), perhaps then it’s because my next door neighbor was shot a few weeks ago. Thankfully he survived but apparently some ‘unidentified’ person thought it profitable to ‘bust a cap in his knee’ as a warning, of sorts…

There’s something that has always fascinated me though. The evening hours, especially when the weather is warm, transforms my neighborhood. As I run along streets, dodging trash, broken up concrete that go by name of ‘sidewalk’, and glancing every so often over my shoulder to keep my wits about me, with my music loud enough to be heard but soft enough to notice an approaching intruder–the ‘darkness’ of my neighborhood ‘lights up’ at night. Exposing things that go unnoticed during the day.

Weary, tattered men and women can be seen setting up ‘homes’ against buildings and underpasses.

A young couple can be found shamelessly ‘duking’ it out under a bridge where their screams and threats echo back violence.

Multi-colored lights on storefront windows open their eyes for the first time, revealing a sort of Red Light District–where advertisements serenade passerby’s with choruses of hypnotizing lullabies made up of liquor warehouses, topless dancers, and Adult entertainment.

Sirens, in close proximity, scream out forewarning cries at lonely-evening wanderers. Their message: “Be warned all you who enter here.”

A wasteland of abandoned houses transformed into modern-day sanctuaries, holding the shrines of sex, drugs, and violence for nightly pilgrimages.

A woman in cut off shorts, with naked legs held up high by black stilettos can be spotted leaning against the brick siding of local ‘club’, while breathing in deep a cigaret that loosely hangs from her mouth as not to disturb the red lipstick that fills it in. Waiting there as a ‘secret’ invitation to knowledgeable men…

A man, in dingy jeans and disheveled hair is found under the overhang of a building nervously pacing. Incomprehensible mumbles flow from his mouth to the Voices who ceaselessly intrude his thoughts. Uninvited, they are now his only friends. His vacant eyes look through me as I pass by, as if the reality of my presence is nonexistent. His only reality are the Voices.

I’ve had moments in my late-night runs where these pictures overwhelmed me to the point of slowing down my pace and not for the need to catch my breath. Instead, for the need to fully absorb the condition around me. It’s in these moments that I am reminded of the condition in which I live, in which we all live: Brokenness.

I think we often spend our lives trying to ignore the existence of brokenness, in either our own lives or the lives of others, mostly because we don’t know how to deal with it. It makes us feel uncomfortable, awkward, out of control. We don’t know what to say to someone who’s been broken by life’s circumstance. We don’t know how to act in the midst of our own brokenness due to life’s circumstance.
So, we pretend it isn’t there by never addressing it, in our selves or others. We cover up our own brokenness with temporary life-Novocain’s like busyness, alcohol, television, surfacey relationships, good works, religiosity, contrived ‘hallelujahs’. And we cover up the brokenness of the hurting people around us by labeling their brokenness as ‘sin’ or ‘weakness’, downplaying its severity but mostly by ignoring its existence and pain.

Someone once said to me, “We’re all broken. We often just don’t get close enough to one another to see it.” I agree. And yet, sadly, there are those who can’t seem to identify their own brokenness, nor possess the ability to engage in the brokenness of others. I would proclaim that these are the first signs of their own fragmentation.

Brokenness hits some of us earlier in life than others. I don’t know why this is the case. God is the grand-weaver of all things, only he knows. Take me for an example, and those who share a similar story. I was born into brokenness (I’m not referring to our sinful nature, although that is the first contact every human has with brokenness and should not be overlooked). I was born into a family that was already broken apart by separation and divorce when I came into being. I entered life, fresh out of a ‘broken gate’. Then there were other manifestations of brokenness to follow in my family growing up. And just when things in my adult life seemed to be being ‘made new’, a new wave of brokenness swept over me that has left its scar.

In the past several years my eyes have been reawakened to the brokenness of life. I’m reminded of it because of its existence in my own life and in the lives of those most dear to me. It has come in many forms: death, disease, violence, divorce, betrayal, abandonment, poverty, mental illness, etc.

It’s been said that you’re in one of three stages in life at all times: just coming out of suffering, just about to enter suffering, or within the throes of suffering.

Those of you, whom God has spared, up to this point with minimal suffering and circumstantial brokenness–whose families are intact, sober and filled with safety and love–thank Him, and thank Him regularly. But also, hold on to those blessings with a loose grip. Remember the words of Job, “He gives and takes away…The words of King Solomon, “He who makes the straight paths makes the crooked paths.” And the words of Jesus himself, “In this life you will have many troubles.” Brokenness is a promise in life.

I don’t say any of this to promote disillusionment or to propagate pessimism and cynicism. I say it to keep us sober, and fearless. To give us a healthy and realistic worldview. And to challenge us to stop running from it. Its existence is inevitable my friend. Embrace it. Engage with it. Not just within yourself but within others.

Living here, in my neighborhood, forces me on a daily basis to come in contact with life’s brokenness. There isn’t a day that goes by here that you can’t help but notice it, in its many forms: poverty, violence, homelessness, racism, abuse, prostitution, etc. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why I live here, why I don’t just move already?! Honestly, there’s something about being face to face with brokenness that makes me feel safe. I know that sounds counterintuitive. Crazy even.

But here’s the thing; the reality of my environment keeps me desperately clinging to my Rescuer, Jesus. It reminds me of what I have been and am currently being saved from. It reminds me of the beasts and brokenness that live within me, and that left to my own self-rule what utter destruction awaits me.

When I look into the eyes of Latoya, a homeless woman, or the couple at ‘war’ under the bridge, the man who argues violently with the voices in his head, or the beautiful prostitute who uses her body as a source of income, instead of a source of beauty to be revered, the only thing the separates me from them is grace. And it’s not that I have a grace that is not available to them, because it is. They just have yet to hear of it. And it’s not that I am no longer broken and they are. I am broken, very much so, but not alone and most of all, not without hope.

Keeping ourselves in the pathways of brokenness reminds us of our true condition and our absolute need of rescue. It keeps us clinging to the God-man Jesus. It keeps us desperately praying like the Psalmist,

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1).

We must remember, the protective covering of his shadow doesn’t keep us from life’s storms and brokenness; instead, it gives us a safe shelter in the midst of it.

There are times where I have literally stopped my late-night run in mid-stride, closed my eyes, and breathed in deep the brokenness of my environment. I do it as reminder to myself that brokenness is reality, and the appearance of things any other way is an illusion. And to ignore my own brokenness or the brokenness of others is to lie. And there’s nothing to be feared because there is a hope that exists far beyond our circumstantial shatterings. It is the promise that one day, perhaps not in this life, but one day He will make all things new.

What do Jesus and a Pub Have in Common?

Ever try to hear God speak to you?

It’s like sitting across the table from your best friend at a pub, while the local garage-band behind you plays so violently that you can feel the base reverberate in your chest. In a desperate move to hear what she’s saying, you position yourself in such a way that your upper body leans forward as much as possible, while your lower body wraps itself around the legs of the stool so tightly that you’ve suddenly become the human version of one of those scientific balance tools.

In a last ditch effort to hear what she’s saying, you earnestly thrust your head forward as far as it will go.  The speed at which her mouth moves and the crease down the center of her forehead tells you that what she’s saying is of significance, chief importance even, critical in fact.

If only you could hear her though.

Finally, after straining with everything in you to discern what she’s saying, you resign yourself to the idea that at this point, you’d be happy just to catch a few words. Forget the whole story; in fact, you’re not even asking to hear half the story anymore. Just…one…measly….simple…word…

If only.

Ever try to feel God’s presence?

It’s like coming into the house from a snow storm. Every thing about the house tells you that warmth is all around you–the raging fire, steamy cups of cocoa, the oversized fleece blanket that you have engulfed yourself in. Yet, nothing seems to make a difference. So you take it upon yourself because you’ll do anything to feel warmth.

You rub your hands together fiercely…nothing.
You place them close to your mouth, hoping the heat of your breath does the trick…nothing. You run them under hot water because you’ve seen the effect it has on ice.  Instead, you find yourself feeling betrayed as the hot water gives the sensation of a thousand pins poking at your hands. Contrary to being wrapped in warmth from all sides, your frozen limbs object to this fact because they only feel one thing.

Numbness.

Why is God so difficult to hear? His presence at times so hard to feel? Have you ever noticed that about him? You desire nothing more than to hear his voice, to feel that his presence is with you. You’ve even told Him so; in fact, you’ve screamed it at him at night lying alone in bed, strangling your sheets in clenched fists, while his silence is deafening and your tears are inconsolable.

Through grinding teeth you find yourself praying like the Psalmist,

“O Lord, hear me as I pray; 

pay attention to my groaning” (Psalm 5:1).

“All night I flood my bed with weeping, 

drenching it with my tears” (Psalm 6:6).

“To you O LORD, I call;

…do not be deaf to me, 

For if You are silent to me, 

I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1).

It’s at this very moment that you find yourself feeling spiritually weary. And not because you’ve strayed from God but because your Spirit-man is exhausted from searching for him, tiresome of straining to hear His voice.

Here’s the thing, dear friend. In life, like C.S. Lewis says, “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” The reason? Because the anxieties and cares of this world can so easily strangle the truth, disfiguring it so much until we no longer recognize it as such, and inadvertently exchange the truth of the Good News for the lies our human reason tells us when God goes silent.

Allow me to remind your lies (and mine) of the truth in the face of God’s silence.

God has abandoned me.–“He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

God doesn’t love me.–“Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…” (Romans 8:35).

God’s not listening to me.–“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ear towards their cry” (Psalm 34:15).

This situation requires only my reasoning not faith.–“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

He’s taking too long to answer me.–”Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

He doesn’t care about this situation.–”Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

God’s not good, he can’t be trusted.–“Those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

He’ll never answer me.–“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

It may feel like he’s not listening…keep praying.

It may feel like he’s slow in answering…keep praying.

It may feel like he doesn’t care…keep praying.

It may feel like you’ll never hear his voice…keep praying.

James tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask for it from the One who gives it generously. We have to believe that he WILL give it and see his “delay” in speaking back to us as an opportunity. James says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Even his ‘delay’ is producing something in you. Of course you can’t see it because it’s eternal. An eternal glory that far outweighs anything.

I implore you, wait patiently for Him. No matter what it feels like, no matter how silent he seems, and no matter for how long. You must remind yourself that in his silence He has not left you, He has not turned a deaf ear to your prayer.

And here’s how we can stand in absolute assurance of this fact. It’s found in the picture of Jesus on the cross and in his last words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  You see, Jesus actually did experience the loss of his Father’s presence. But, he experienced it so that you and I would never have to. The glorious message of the Good News is that Christ’s death on the cross does more than just save our souls from eternal separation from our Creator-God; it ensures that in this life He will never leave us or forsake us. His Spirit is always with us and that nothing can separate us from his Love.

If you find yourself today, like me, in a place where you’re fervently praying, asking God for his wisdom in a particular season of your life–Do not lose heart. He hears you. Wait patiently for him.

Let me end by saying this. If you’ve gotten to the end of this and feel that this post isn’t for you. If you feel that hearing God’s voice and feeling His presence really isn’t an issue or concern of yours. If you find yourself completely disconnected to what I’m saying then I want to challenge you with one of two things.

One: You’re being disingenuous. And, perhaps you’re committed more to the appearance of looking religious than living genuine faith.

Or.

Two: You don’t struggle with hearing God’s voice in your life because you’ve never asked Him for his opinion on a matter.

In either case, I challenge you to dismount yourself from the high-horse of Self-worship and get down face level with the God-man Jesus, who while awaiting his death in the garden of Gethsemane “…prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood “ (Luke 22:44). 

This God-man wants to speak to us, to tell us something, to direct our steps. What a marvelous thought…In the meantime, let our prayer be, God grant us the mercy to remain steadfast in waiting.