Abraham and Five Year Plans

Five years ago I sat on a couch staring at my husband across the room. I still own the couch, but it now bears battle wounds of small children, the latest of which is blue marker on its’ arm. That night, the couch was clean and smooth. And our world had just jumped out of its orbit.

There was going to be a baby. Five years ago this weekend we suddenly knew the initial emotions of being parents. We knew the timing was horrible. We had no idea the turmoil that year would hold.

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I was 29. We had just celebrated his 30th birthday. We had walked off the plane from a fantastic vacation in Florida that week. We headed home to our still new-to-us church where we were thriving and to life as we knew it. I was in my last semester of grad school, hoping to be finished with a dead end job I hated by the end of the year. The puzzle pieces seemed to coming together for me. Until that night when it seemed like someone grabbed all the pieces and threw them up into the air to land at random.

For three months I walked around numbly, not knowing why God thought I needed a child, convinced I was being punished for some latent evil or stupidity. Then our pastor resigned. I got mad at God. I usually try to avoid being mad at God because generally it doesn’t do any good and seems like a waste in the end, but I was mad. For two weeks I walked around mad. And then our landlord told us he had sold our house and we had a month to move. Suddenly I had no energy left to be terrified or mad. I knew I had to give up the illusion of control I thought I owned.

I pitied myself. I let every possible emotion eat away at me. I knew ultimately that circumstances were so far out of my control that God had to be in control and that I was in the safest place to be- in His sovereignty, under the shadow of the Almighty. At times though, I would be afraid to take a breath, not knowing what might come next.

For two months a new normal tapped its rhythm. When everything seemed to be settling, I developed preeclampsia. And had a baby eight weeks early. And spent five weeks in a NICU with her.

Five years and two beautiful healthy little girls later, I live in the house that our pastor owned and sold to us. The last five years have been jammed full of joy and dotted with sorrow. There have been births and laughter. There have been deaths and tears. There have been changes and struggles and adjustments.

I read the story of Abraham to my girls. I read about God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. I’m tempted to skip the story. I don’t want to explain to my 4 year old why God would ask a daddy to kill his own son. I don’t want to endure the empathetic thoughts about giving up my children. But I read the story and I answer the inevitable questions as best as I can. But the story has new revelations for me. The picture of sacrifice and rescue that God showed Abraham and Isaac on that mountain is clearer than it has ever been.

As I read and answer, my heart aches, wondering how Abraham could have given up his son, his only son for God. As a parent I writhe at the thought. And then as a child of God, as a recipient of grace, I realize that writhing I feel is how God felt when He sent His only begotten son, Jesus. And paradoxically, He gave up His son to gain me, to gain many sons and daughters.

I cover my little girls with blankets before I go to bed for the night. I look at their perfect sleeping faces and I wonder how I could be so undeservedly blessed. Each night I get to tuck them in is a gift. I wonder how I ever thought I didn’t need their lives in mine.

The only way I could scrape the surface at truly understanding the implications of my own redemption was to become a parent myself. God is brilliant, to give us families, in order for us to understand Him as our Father. He knew that I needed to know and believe that He loved me. He knew I had to feel that ache inside to be startled by the gift He gave.

A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter for an ultrasound. I knew going into the procedure that there was nothing seriously wrong. The doctors had basically told us what the issue was. But there was a part of laying her on that table that felt a little too much like placing her on an altar. What if something deeper was wrong? What do parents feel who know there is something seriously wrong?

I went back to Abraham in my mind. He was called to give up what he loved. He complied. And he still believed that God would provide the sacrifice, whether that provision was Isaac or (ultimately) the ram that ended up in the thicket. And the irony of the whole story is that Abraham was rescued from having to sacrifice his son by God, whose plan was to sacrifice HIS son to rescue the world. In giving up Isaac, both Abraham and Isaac saw the glorious picture of redemption to come. When we give up, we look back at the glorious picture of redemption. There is no sacrifice that we endure that God has not made already. Most often this story of Abraham is taught as a neatly packaged heroic “God comes in as an 11th hour genie and spares Abraham from tragedy” kind of tale. But when God doesn’t prevent sorrow or hardship, what do we have left from this story? We have to know that Abraham “trusted God more than what His eyes could see” (S. Lloyd-Jones) and that regardless of our outcomes, God has still provided His own son as a sacrifice for us. All that we are asked to give up, freedom, youth, time, loved ones, convenience and ease, security, whatever it is, is already under God’s sovereignty. His sacrifice has already provided our escape. Our resurrection is guaranteed and sealed, by an altar shaped like a cross, by an open tomb.

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We need to come up short and be startled by the grace of God. It is too easy to say the words “grace, sacrifice, death and resurrection, and to not understand what pain our salvation cost God.

Five years ago I had no idea how much God loved me. It may sound silly to say, but I had no idea how He could use what I viewed as a series of mistakes and misfortunes as an altar where, like Abraham, I had to offer up what I most treasured in order to understand the sacrifice of Christ.

When we give up what we most want, we can clearly see the glory and love of our Father.


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What I Hate About Motherhood

There is a part of motherhood that I love and a part that I still struggle to accept. And sometimes those parts make a Venn diagram in my head. (Yes, I just used a term from a math book, call the news hotline) I try to make sense of these blended areas of existence, mainly  to stay sane and positive.

I love my children as human beings, naturally. They are cute (usually) and funny (mostly) and they add color and happiness to my life, like herbs I didn’t know were missing from soup. I also love the part of motherhood that has made me run to God and hold on tightly to everything I know about His goodness and love from the first instant of motherhood that blinked on a screen as a line to my now normal everyday life full of amazement that I actually have children, frustrations, decisions, questions and answers, and my own fears for their future.

I hate the collective mommyness of motherhood. I dread the automatic categorization of “moms” who are obviously only interested in things like diapers and the color of spit up and preschool crafts and transforming our housework into kingdom work by swallowing a spoonful of sugar and singing bippity boppity boo. There is a homogony to mothers that is both comforting and repulsive.

Humans love commonality and community and yet we value our personal uniqueness. In being a part of the masses, I am learning to admire God’s skill in making a pattern of image bearers so like one another, all in need of a Savior, and completely different from even their closest human friends.

The other frustrating part of motherhood for me, (or of domesticness in general,) is repetitive nature of trying to maintain dominion over a constantly falling apart domain. Now, I do not mean to say that things like dishes and cleaning and laundry are not meaningful. Of course they have a purpose and without them our world would hygienically struggle a bit. Here is an example of what I mean. I cleaned for six hours one day last week. I scrubbed floors and organized toys and dusted in between making meals and snacks and changing diapers and answering questions and playing evil queens and pirates, and taking a toddler off my Swiffer mop and dismantling her from the top of the piano and so on. It was slow progress and hard to see results. But during naptime, I felt satisfied, despite my lack of a shower that day.

Then naptime ended. Within two hours, there was a scene of destruction in my house that would rival a natural disaster. And everything I had done was undone. The floor was still clean, but it wasn’t noticeable. Wait, floor, what floor? The floor was a carpet of books. The carefully removed dust was floating back again. And new meals had to be made, messing up the shining granite countertops. Crumbs went jumping onto the freshly scrubbed floor. Bedtime meant that I could relive my day all over again, doing the same activities, still without a shower, because clearly I had enjoyed the day so much.

I repeat my work over and over and over.  A little at a time, slowly working toward an elusive goal that is never really met. I fix and disintegration appears. I create and natural causes (humans) destroy or consume. And I find it frustrating not to see progress and results.

But, there are a few ways to look at this.

Isn’t God’s work repetitive? I know it only took Him seven days to create the world, but His work did not end there. Is He not constantly making a fallen world, continually falling apart, stay together? By Him and through Him, we consist. And are we who believe not being saved, daily? Redemption happened once, but is constantly upheld by continual mercy. Forgiveness does not end, but repeats over and over, for all time.

Everyone is labeled in categories and everyone encounters repetition. You need not be a mother to feel the tension. A pastor, a laborer, a teacher, a business executive understands the same ideas.

My work is done. My work is demolished. My world is neatly tied up in brown paper packages. My world is unraveled with a snip of string. And at the same time, I am undone and I am made whole. I am one of many image bearers and I am a unique image bearer. I participate in the groan of creation and yet I will be made new and see the reward of redemption.

Repetition can seem endlessly futile. Or it can be the foundation on which all meaning and originality is built. We find our individuality in God, our Creator, our Heart’s true desire, rather than in our repetitive work. We reflect the constant nature of God through our repetition. In this dance of perfect and imperfect, of blessed yet needy, we pave paths toward the shining light of creativity, reflecting God, unchanging and eternal in the dawn of each fresh day.