Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Holy Week musings on birth and death April 20, 2011

Filed under: Holidays,Mary,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:01 am

Our daughter was born last week, a brave and beautiful girl who made an unplanned earlier-than-expected home appearance into her father’s arms. It was in many ways a beautiful experience – surprisingly so, given the stress of the situation, and the paramedics rushing in within five minutes of her birth. The Lord was with us, and His brushstrokes of beauty painted the event for us in ways we couldn’t have guessed.

The birth reminded me of Mary’s – who one imagines ( as I’ve written about before) may have thought to herself as labor progressed: “Really, God? This is where this we’re going to be doing this, this stable? Not quite what I envisioned.” Did she have anyone with her more experienced at delivering the baby than Joseph, I wonder? Was he the one to tie off the cord, like my husband did?   Poor Joseph… his first “intimate” experience with his wife being of this ilk. Uncharted, bloody, a bit frightening. And yet, as our own experience last week testified, God must have made it beautiful.

The timing of our baby’s birth stands in odd contrast to Holy Week this week, and the anticipation of Easter. We celebrate the new life God has brought to our household, just as God’s people prepare to remember the willing death of Jesus on our behalf. Our Father brought a new life into our family, just at the time we commemorate the life our Savior willingly laid down for us… And was resurrected into new life, paving the way for our own rebirths. Experiences of birth and death again come together for us this week, co-mingling, as we so often see in the mysterious life of faith.

A favorite poem of mine is T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” and its theme and words fit my musings and have been ringing in my ears this week. It’s about the wise men on their journey to visit Jesus at the time of his birth, and yet everything about their journey speaks to them about death – His death and, in a way, their own. “Were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly; we had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death but thought they were different; this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us; like Death, our death.”

As we praise God for our sweet new girl, we praise Him too that He’s Lord of life and death – one not more than the other. He’s sovereign over both, and both fit mysteriously yet perfectly into His plan.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Kids, conscience, and the forgiveness of Christ April 12, 2011

Filed under: Communication and speech,Correction,Prayer,The heart,Training — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 9:02 pm

Our 5-year old seems to have begun a new phase: the apparent growth of his conscience. In recent weeks he’s become uncharacteristically concerned about his misbehavior, even to the point of self-condemnation. It’s nothing we’ve ever seen in him before.

Example: he and his 3-year old sister squabble over a toy. He grabs for it, yells at her, and pushes her roughly. I intervene and correct him, and – when he throws himself on the floor in protest over the unfairness of it all – send him to his room for a minute to cool off. When I meet him there he is near tears: “I’m always doing wrong things. I do the most wrong things of anyone in the world!”

The first few times he expressed these types of feelings, I told him that we all do wrong things, explained temptation, and said one key is to pray to God for strength to do something different just as he’s about to sin. “God’s the one who gives us the strength not to do wrong things; He helps us and gives us self-control,” I told him. He accepted this; we prayed together. Similar scenes of him coming undone over his wrong actions occurred. Typically during the misbehavior phase he’d be defiant and naughty; it wasn’t till afterwards that he’d morosely express his sense that he was a boy filled with wrong-doing. (more…)


Mysterious transitions: childbirth and death April 4, 2011

Filed under: Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:25 am

I’m in the final few weeks of my pregnancy, and my energy and motivation levels are unusually low. Typically writing is an outlet I seek and an energizer for me, but “typical” hasn’t been the order of things for the past couple months.

A  topic I’ve found myself ruminating a bit about, and this is going to sound morbid at first so bear with me, are the parallels between childbirth and death. You might think I mean that bringing a child into the world represents a ‘death-to-self’ event because the moment your infant enters the world, her needs supersede your own and thus a spirit of selfless servanthood takes over. You die to self in promoting your new baby’s life. That’s true, but that’s not it.

What I’ve been reflecting on is how strange it is that, on the eve of bearing my fourth child, the whole thing still seems so surreal. I mean, I’ve been through labor and delivery three times now, I know how childbirth works, and I generally know what to expect. But still, I can’t fully get my head around the fact that sometime in the next few weeks, a brand new human being is going to emerge from my body. That it will happen at a time and in a way over which I have basically no control. That once the process has begun, there will be no turning back until it’s complete. And that once it’s done, a brand new reality sets in – my life will never be the same again. Things will be wholly, irreversibly, wonderfully different for me and my family than they are today. Even though my infant daughter moves bulbously in my enormous belly right now as I type, it still seems bizarre to me. I know what will soon happen, and yet I somehow also can’t fathom it.

In what other arenas in life do we run into such strange and mysterious circumstances? Few that I can think of; probably fewer in our modern era than in prior generations. The one event that seems equally strange and mysterious – more so, really – is death. An event that I know is coming, and yet one I really know nothing really about (far less, even, than I know about the circumstances of my baby’s birth).  In death I will move from one state to another; it is apt – like labor – to be an uncomfortable and taxing process. The possibility of fear and dread are present in death as they can be in childbirth – though neither fear nor dread need be present in childbirth or death.

And what will meet us on the other side? For the follower of Jesus, we know that the moments following our earthly deaths will be wonderful and glorious. We know intellectually that the moment we encounter our God face to face and enter His presence, every other wonderful moment in our lives will pale in comparison. We can believe this; be empowered and invigorated by it; live confident and Spririt-filled lives knowing that here on earth “we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (in heaven). (Heb 13:14)  But what does that really mean; what does it look like? What will it feel like? We have no idea till we’re actually undergoing it.

So for me, giving birth to a child is akin, in some shadow-like sense, to leaving earth and entering heaven. It’s embracing a wild and unfathomable mystery, an event completely orchestrated by God, a transition in which I’m ushered by my ever-present, sovereign, loving God from one reality into another. I’m a passenger on His train, moving where and how He takes me on a journey beyond my control. May I give myself, wholly and trustingly, to Him and His perfect care, in this transition as in that one, whenever His timing directs. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”