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.

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.


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…)


Of Christmas, distance, and longing December 25, 2009

Filed under: For moms,Holidays,Mary — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 11:58 pm

I ran three miles this afternoon, a yuletide jog in 70 degree weather. I thanked God as I ran since a recent back injury prevented me from running for months.  Still, I wished I were back in the northeast where today it’s ten degrees and snowy. We live in a good place in the southwest; it’s just not our place. We’re “winter wonderland” folks, my husband and me, born and raised in New England and gone for only 18 months now. At our Christmas lunch, surrounded by our kids, and pleased with how our festivities went down this morning with our preschoolers – my husband still looked at me and said: “It would be nice to be with family. It would be nice to be in the northeast.”

I knew how he felt; I felt just the same.  There’s something about Christmas that calls out for family and togetherness. One wants to be among kin: those who are well- and long-known. Anyone who’s spent Christmas far from home knows the fish-out-of-water mindset we felt today. My parents lived overseas for ten years early in their marriage; we spent seven of my first ten Christmases far from grandparents and aunts and cousins. It didn’t bother me; I didn’t know any different. But I bet there were Christmases when my parents felt as I do today. Removed. Foreign.

The reality, though, is that Christmas in its true sense is all about distance and alienation. Think of Mary, far from her Nazareth home, probably longing for her mom or sister as the labor pains set in.  Awash in Bethlehem’s unrecognized faces and removed from the comfort of the familiar.  And embarking, no less, on a woman’s most unfamiliar event: birthing her first child. (more…)


The “friendly beasts” and Jesus’ birth December 23, 2009

Filed under: For moms,Holidays,Mary — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 11:58 pm

Groping around in the recesses of my memory while pondering kid-friendly advent stuff a few weeks back, I remembered a less-popular Christmas carol called “The Friendly Beasts.”  Anyone know it?  Think “Old MacDonald’s Farm,” spruced up a bit in tune, and set in the classic nativity scene.  Nothing could be more perfect for a four- and two-year old at Christmas time… especially when combined with YouTube and visuals.  We all love it (which we ‘d be happy to demonstrate by singing all six verses).

As I sat with my tots on the couch and watched – repeatedly – the animals approach the barn to bring Jesus their gifts of hay, wool, songs, etc, I  considered anew the whole baby-Jesus-born-in-the-stable scenario.  Isn’t it funny that God chose to send his Son into a setting that is comprehensible and endearing to a two-year old?  Basic, rudimentary animals that toddlers delight to identify, and whose sounds they love to mimic.  Identifying barn animals and making their sounds happens pretty early, developmentally speaking – way before colors, for example, at least if my two-year old is an indicator.  So the appeal to barnyard animals is certainly childish in the true sense, and yet it’s also transcendent.  Jesus’ birthplace was humble, yes, but it was also universal in that it was so eminently accessible to the human imaginationHow interesting that Jesus not only tells us that we need to “become like little children” to enter his Kingdom — but demonstrates it so powerfully from his first minute on earth by entering a setting that would be the perfect destination for a preschool field trip.  (more…)


Mary: mother and leader December 9, 2009

Filed under: Bible,Blogging,Culture,Mary,Mothering role — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 4:24 am

Today I’m blogging over at Christinianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership about blogging.  (A little circular, I know.)  I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary this year: about her motherhood “heart pondering” in Lk 2:1;  about the effects her pregnancy with Jesus may have had on her body; about how she may have felt about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth.  Now I’m wondering if Mary, if she were around today, would blog. (The post is called “What Would Mary Blog?”)

I’m wondering this because I look around and see that many of today’s influential women blog; among these women, many are mothers.  Their words have encouraged and inspired thousands of other moms, including me.  Some of these women I even view as virtual mentors, “e-mentors” if you will (like Andrea of Flourishing Mother, Mary of Owl Haven, and Renee of Steppin’ Heavenward, to name a  few). 

But other influential, godly women I’ve loved have stopped blogging [Amy of Clothesline Alley,  Terry of Breathing Grace, Jess of Making Home, temporarily].  Why?  Mainly because the process and platform of blogging can be complicated in many ways.  It can be, among other things, self-focused, controversy-stirring, insecurity-causing, time-sucking.  In short, it can be messy.  And God called these women away.  The blogosphere, as many aspects of today’s techonology, is a source of blessing but also a place to be carefully and prayerfully navigated.  This is something I’ve realized and sought to pray into since the earliest days of heartpondering.

Mary, a fellow mother, was one of the most profoundly influential women leaders the world has ever known – if not the most influential.  And yet, as far as I can tell, she never sought a platform.  She never sought the limelight; she never went after a soapbox.  She led quietly and humbly.  Can we blog in the same godly and servant-oriented way that Mary led?  Can I?

That’s my challenge with each post I pen… and by God’s grace,  I hope to, for as long as He may wish it.


Pregnant Mary, reconsidered August 7, 2009

Filed under: Books,Mary,Pregnancy — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 9:53 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent more of this pregnancy pondering the expectant Mary than either of my previous pregnancies.  One factor is that my son, nearly 4, adores the nativity story and always asks to read it after we finish whatever chapter of the Bible we’re on…  and has taken to asking if his new baby sister will be born into a manger when she arrives.  Quite sweet.  [As an aside, we recently got a copy of the Big Picture Story Bible and I’m loving it, as is he – so much more appropriate to his age and developmental mindset than the others we’ve used.]

Here on the left page is this picture of Mary with an enormous belly wobbling atop a donkey while she’s going into labor…  and then on the right page, she’s reclining on the hard earth next to an animal feeding stall containing her newborn infant son.  Talk about challenging birthing circumstances. (more…)