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.

The giver and the gift: child parable February 23, 2011

Filed under: Behaviors,Holidays — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 2:55 am

I had my birthday earlier this month, and in the days leading up to the auspicious occasion my three-year old daughter was quite attentive to the event. “I’m going to make you a cake for your birthday, Mommy,” she said at least half a dozen times. And: “I’m going to make you a card for your birthday.” As well as, “Mommy, for your birthday I’m going to give you a necklace!”

When the day arrived, she asked her dad to accompany her to our bedroom where she assessed the jewelry arrayed atop my bureau – the earrings and necklaces I’d lately worn and not yet returned to the jewelry box – and made a selection. Then she trooped back downstairs to where I was eating birthday breakfast pancakes and handed me the gift. “Mom, here’s the necklace I’m giving you for your birthday!” she exclaimed. I expressed my pleasure and gratitude and, of course, donned the necklace. My husband and I exchanged a smile; “it’s the thought that counts,” he said.

Indeed. My daughter understood enough to realize that birthdays are about making a person feel special and presenting her with a gift; she was enthusiastic to get in on the action. That the gift she selected for me was something already belonging to me (a Christmas gift from her father to me, years prior) clearly had not occurred to her. Oblivious re-gifting. On subsequent occasions when I’ve worn the necklace she chose, she happily observes: “Mommy, you’re wearing the necklace I gave you for your birthday!”

One thing that has warmed me about this incident, beyond the obvious cuteness of the gesture and dearness of a three-year old’s heart, is the picture it paints of us and God. God gives us everything we have – our money and possessions, our homes, our spouses, our children, the food we eat and clothes we wear – and we give back to him from among these gifts. Often we feel so noble and thoughtful, self-sacrificing even, when we offer these things to him. But in reality, anything we give Him is something he first gave us – whether through prayers of surrender, a tithe, a material donation, or the like. The truth is that it’s impossible for us to give Him something that didn’t start out as His (since, “naked we entered the world and naked we’ll leave it.” )

I loved seeing the illustration so clearly through my daughter’s sweet and enthusiastic present. May I return my Father’s things to Him so happily and so diligently, gifts willingly offered to bring Him delight.


Month in review January 10, 2011

Filed under: Blogging,Holidays,Mary,Materialism and entitlement — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 6:31 am

Over the past month we have…

…Been privileged to spend a week across the country, visiting with my husband’s elderly grandfather during what turned out to be the final month of his life.B He died ten days after we left.  It was a gift, both for my husband and me, to know this man well and for our children to be the focus and delight of his countenance whenever we visited.  In his passing, my husband and I have discussed the gift of connection to the partriarchs of our families, and too we’ve discussed the import of Psalm 39:4: “Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.”  Even to a man of nearly 92 years, life on this earth must feel fleeting.  Thank you, Lord, that Grandpa is with you now.

…Spent our at-home Christmas abed with the stomach flu, which paid a visit to two of the five of us starting on Christmas Eve.  My churning stomach caused me to reflect on Mary and the real events of Jesus’ birth…  The first Christmas was, for her, much more similar to my laid-up and subdued holiday experience than anything that modern America puts on today by way of celebration.  Joy and wonder, yes, but also inconvenience, awkward circumstances she wouldn’t have chosen, and bodily pain.  I thought of Mary as I sat on the bathroom floor, thankful for the reminder to step away from the entitlement mindset that can often pervade the American Christmas experience (my own included) – the notion that the holiday ought to be special and warming and perfect. Mary’s wasn’t.

“While they were (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

…Hosted my beloved sister and her family of four for a week over New Year’s, a few days after the stomach flu had moved on (all but one of us, it turned out).  We are very close, and it’s difficult to be across the country from her – as with my whole family – especially in this season of raising young children.  The week was a joy and also brought many ponderings about the realities and challenges of living far from family, about cousins being with cousins so seldom over the course of a year.  I thought, as I have so many times before, of Paul’s words to his dear brother Timothy: “I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”

A full month, to be sure, and one in which the Lord’s words are as present and relevant as ever. Thank you Jesus for ever walking through this life with us and shining your light upon the paths our feet walk. May we be closer to you in this coming year than we were in the last.


Simple kids’ crafts at Christmas December 22, 2010

Filed under: Holidays — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 6:24 am

I entered Michaels’ craft store for the first time last fall, and it was overwhelming. Previously I liked to claim that I was afraid of Michaels, and afraid of all things crafty.  I’m not a crafty person. I bake; I scrapbook a bit in the most basic, non-fluffy of ways; I know how to knit. That’s the extent of it.

But I decided I better get over it last fall when I realized how much my kids – then 4 and 2 – enjoyed cutting, coloring, and glueing… And I figured, how hard can it be anyway? To pull off elaborate and Martha Stewart-esque crafts might be hard, but to do basic projects my kids could enjoy surely is not. And I was right. It’s not that hard; doesn’t have to require that much prep from me; and is a delight to my children. (more…)


Praise for simple birthdays December 4, 2010

Filed under: Culture,Holidays,Materialism and entitlement — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:39 am

Advent is upon us, and at our house we’re ankle-deep in nativity books, open-the-door calendars, garlands, and gingerbread house planning.  But I’ve had a post in my head for weeks about birthday celebrations, and before I get into Christmas topics I thought I’d throw this one out there.

The thing that pushed me over the edge was this November post by Molly Piper about her son’s sixth birthday party. [If you haven’t checked out Molly’s blog, you should.  The daughter-in-law of John Piper, she’s a gifted writer herself and especially powerful on topics of grief and grieving since her daughter’s stillbirth in 2007.]  Molly wrote:

“We do birthdays pretty simply. I don’t kill myself over a cake. I let the kid pick what they want to eat, and so it’s usually a simple menu (this year it was mac & cheese with hot dogs in it). I don’t do favor bags. I let my mother-in-law host it at her house (!). We invite a couple families we’re close with, and that’s it. Voila! Kid birthday party! I didn’t grow up with a birthday “party” every year. We had one every few years, and that was good! I don’t personally think that kids should get used to a huge party every year. I know it’s their special day, but making it special with family is sufficient, in my opinion.” (more…)


Of earthquakes, fear, and Mary April 5, 2010

Filed under: Bible,Fear,For moms,Holidays,Mary — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:26 am

It’s Easter, and we had an earthquake here this afternoon – a tremor so subtle that it we weren’t sure at first that that’s what it was.  We all just felt a touch dizzy, standing on the sidewalk, and then my husband realized that the cars were shaking a little.  Nothing too unusual for southern California.  Easter afternoon, though.  Could there be a more fitting time for an earthquake?  When the life finally ebbed out of Jesus, hanging on the cross on the first Good Friday, “the earth shook;” then again on the third day, there was a “violent earthquake (when) an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”  So the quake today was really fitting.

An earthquake can be a pretty scary thing; I’m sure if I’d been present for one the first Easter quakes – much more dramatic than our little rumble today – I’d have been petrified.  The soldiers standing guard at the tomb clearly were, as they evidently fainted.  Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene, also present at the time, must have been terrified too, because the angel’s first words to them were: “Do not be afraid.”  Whether their fear stemmed primarily from the earthquake, the angel, or the absence of Jesus’ body in the tomb – who can say?  All three rolled together, no doubt. (more…)


The 4-year old theologian April 1, 2010

Filed under: Bible,Books,Culture,Holidays — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 5:01 am

As we approach Easter and spend a good bit of time each day talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, our four-year old son has had some pretty deep questions about God. For example:

“Mommy, why are there two Gods?  Jesus and also the God up in heaven?”

“What do you mean, that the men who killed Jesus were wrong?  You mean grown-ups do wrong thing too?”

“What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? Why did He have to die for them?”

So this week we’ve been having conversations about the triune nature of God, the evil inherent in all human hearts (adults as much as kids!), and the atonement for sins.  Not quite in those words… but still, pretty heavy stuff for a four-year old. (more…)