Monday, August 3, 2015

Help with Missional Living for the Mostly At-Home Mom

*This post was originally submitted for a writing contest based on the prompt "I wish my local church knew_______."  Although I wasn't selected as the winner, I still felt like this had relevant information for my own blog!  There isn't much 'I wish my church knew', but I wanted to share something I thought they did a good job of, that other churches might benefit from.  I hope some of you can relate!

When you're mostly at home - can you be missional?
As a stay-at-home mom to three kids under three, opportunities for community involvement can be hard to come by.  It's not that I don't desire to have weekly interactions with local women at library story time, or to make connections as a frequent visitor to the splash park, but simply that our season of life doesn't afford such activities.  To go out with my children (which includes a set of twin toddlers) requires all manner of strollers, bags, confidence and extra helpers.  During this unique time, when I'm largely bound to home or well-known environments, I've wondered how I can spread the gospel and be a meaningful voice for Jesus among unbelievers.  When my most-frequent outings are to the Pediatrician's office and the grocery store pickup lane, who can I witness to?

Recently, our church distributed a helpful resource which listed practical ways to engage people with the gospel.  When I think of 'evangelism', it often conjures up images of awkward street corner conversations, overseas missionaries and long-term relationships with unbelievers in a work environment.  Traditional images of evangelism seem to exclude people who aren't able to get out into the world much; the elderly, young moms, people in rural areas, those with chronic pain or illness and so-on.  So I was thankful when our local church offered such a tangible reminder that we all have ways of being missional in every season.  It gave ideas like:

"Grow a garden and give extra produce to neighbors."
"Walk your dog around the neighborhood regularly, during the same time of day."
"Be a regular (at coffee shops, stores and more)."

For the first time in a long time, some of the suggestions had me thinking, "Hey, I can do that!  I can live missionally!"  It was encouraging for me to consider opportunities to reach out in love right where I'm at, even if it doesn't look like my grand stereotypes.

As I evaluated my lifestyle, I quickly identified everyday situations where I can be more intentional, even in this more challenging and isolating season.  For instance, I estimate that I've been to see my OBGYN forty times or more over the last four years and three pregnancies.  We go to the Pediatrician's office an average of one time per month.  I see the same hairstylist every twelve weeks, and interact with people from my husband's work.  Despite the limitations, we do take family walks in our neighborhood and have reason to stop and talk to those who live near us.  During nap time, I'm able to write and add my voice to the blogosphere, hopefully encouraging women in Christ between diaper changes and laundry loads.  And most of all, I minister to three little unbelievers everyday, living out the gospel in front of them, teaching them who God is and what he is like.  A small practical resource passed along by my local church opened up a whole world of thoughtful possibilities; ways that I do engage with unbelievers, even though it might look different than someone who can be more active in the community.

How churches can help moms make the connection
With the help of my local church leaders, I was able to make the connection between evangelism and my own daily life; something that's been difficult for me in the past.  Many times, churches unintentionally elevate some types of evangelism over others, and make it seem out of reach for people with a more limiting lifestyle.  I've often wondered if being a witness for Christ is something I'll just 'do later' when my children are in school or when I have more natural connections with unbelievers.  But the time to make disciples is now!

Churches can come alongside women like me, and others who might feel isolated, living in a padded bubble of Christians.  We are wanting to do more but might feel like 'sharing the gospel in the community' adds a lot of stressful pressures to our lifestyle.  Just as our church distributed and promoted some helpful resources to get the ball rolling, church leaders can help their congregations by translating the mission of the local church into practical steps for missional living.

Does the church hope to reach an inner city group?  They can explain how to invest in relationships in the context of daily life.  Does the church emphasize inviting new friends on Sunday morning?  Give ideas for how this conversation or invitation might take place.  Be straightforward, and don't assume people are already equipped or know how to forge these relationships.  

True followers of Christ have the desire to share Jesus with others in every season of life, but sometimes, our mental stereotypes don't help us, so we need tangible examples - even for women buried in laundry who can barely find time to frequent the local Target.  Because God has sovereignly placed each of us in our sphere of influence for a reason, we can look around our normal life and find everyday ways to share the love of Christ.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My First Mission Field

When I tread the weathered terrain in my mission field, and sit down to rest, I often notice that the soles of my feet are stained black with dirt.  They walk barefoot over food scraps and particles brought in from the outside, weathered and calloused by the same beaten path.  It's not unusual to find that at the end of a day's work in my mission field, I'm covered in some of that dirt and food myself, not to mention the bodily fluids that stain my best clothes.

In my mission field, people speak poor or very little English.  They can't read the bible, so they rely on me to open it up, speaking it in prose they understand.  I often find myself sharing its truths, only to realize my unreached people aren't really listening to what it says.  Despite their unruly, God fleeing ways, I still must persist to translate the gospel into a language they can understand.

The language they understand, however, usually includes meeting felt needs.  The unreached people I work with are in desperate need of food, drink, shelter and clothing.  Their state in life makes the most basic tasks difficult, so they rely on me to help keep them healthy.  It's the kind of missional love that isn't noted, applauded or reciprocated by those I minister to.

The best of my work in the mission field is done when I pray for the tender souls in my care.  Where I plead with God to give me a heart again for this people group, who are about to wake for the day.

Where is this mission field?
While it might sound similar to the rough terrain of Africa or an orphanage in Haiti - this mission field is right in my own home - in central Iowa.  Opposition to the gospel is about to greet me as it runs down the hall in footie pajamas, pleading for sugary cereal.

As the days go by, I realize that this mission field can seem so obvious that it comes off as unimportant.  It feels like it could never be as great as the outside callings, where I could minister to the "real" poor and destitute.  But as I've meditated over the years about the great commission and those whose hearts God has place in my care, I recognize that the unbelieving children in my own home meet every criteria for the the lowly, despised and rejected that I'm called to minister to.

They have no material means of their own.
They can't read the bible.
They are deaf to spiritual truth.
They are low on society's priority list.
Who will care for these souls?

I will go, Lord.

Many women wake up alongside me in the morning to a mission field inside their four walls that sometimes feels invalid, lacking the "real" poor people that Jesus speaks of.  It is right and good to acknowledge God's call for us to seek and save the lost everywhere - in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country and the world.  We should see those needs and desire to spread the gospel far and wide.  Each person has a unique sphere of influence, through which, they operate as a conduit of grace.  But let us not forget the small and young unbelieving people who God has placed directly in our path.  It is not at their expense that we go out; but that we nurture, love, share and help them pursue Christ as we invite them alongside us into a world of unbelievers.

If you find yourself in this mission field of your own four walls today, I encourage you to go to battle on your knees like the missionary saints in other nations.  I pray that you will fight the battle for the souls through the mundane meeting of needs and unwavering faithfulness of Christ-like love for the poor and needy.  That you will translate the word of God clearly into toddler-ese, helping those nearest to you to treasure and trust the Savior.  Because for mothers, the first mission field of the great commission starts with the little hand latched at your knees - and spreads from there to the ends of the earth.

If this struck a chord, here are some related posts you might like:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Waiting for Baby #4 (A personal reflection)

It's late pregnancy.
I've been through this before, but somehow, the excitement has compounded and the hope set before me seems more real than ever.  In just a few short hours, days or weeks, I'll be holding our fourth son in my arms.  Until then, our family feels just a little incomplete, missing a piece we've known about for 9 months.  

Each story and each labor has been unique, teaching me different lessons and chiseling sin out of my heart in new ways.  With my first, a completely unexpected episode of my water breaking at 36 weeks sent us into a rush to the hospital.  I wasn't emotionally standing guard, thinking I still had a month left of pregnancy with no signs to tell me otherwise.  The sudden labor sent me into a fear spiral, and was more painful than I anticipated, tying my back into knots and continuing without a break.  I faced it with tension and panic, eventually needing the gracious relief that a modern medicine can provide.  But at the end of it, I fell in love with a dark-haired baby who's six pound frame was strong enough to go right home.

With my second labor, I spent 3 1/2 weeks trying to hold off the inevitable.  My uterus had stretched well beyond full-term, and my body struggled to walk around with the weight of two children.  Each step was painful, turning in bed was a test of patience and my back has yet to fully recover.  My contractions threatened as we took low-risk medication to keep those babies in as long as possible, but each day they increased and became stronger, eventually giving way to full-blown active labor.  But this time I was not afraid.  I was not caught off guard, I was eager.  I was ready.  My body was so strained carrying twins, that the prospect of labor and delivery seemed like a light and momentary affliction.  I knew that the risk of needing a c-section was high, and again, medical pain relief would be prudent in case of an emergency.  But when it was time to dull the pain, my strength was still in tact.  I was curious what would have happened with support and relaxation.  But at the end of it, I fell in love with two fragile babies who eventually came home after some feeding and growing.

This story is making it's own new way.  Again, I am experiencing the false starts of labor signs.  With other modern women, I'm googling "pre labor symptoms" and snooping in forums from years past, looking for clues that my time is near (or far).  The frustration of not knowing floods my brain, the fact that I can't control the timing stretches my faith.  I'm tossed and turned, wanting this child to come at the perfect time while also succumbing to impatience.  And yet, I know that (Lord willing), at the end of this I'm going to fall in love all over again - with our fourth son, who will soon be sleeping on my chest in a quiet hospital room.

Pregnancy brain and the murky reality of hormones are no help when it comes to sorting out wrong feelings from truth.  Just the other day, my oldest child ran in a pretend race in our community and I literally had to gulp hard to keep from bawling.  I couldn't handle his age, his strength, his independence - and mostly I just felt proud.  For a moment, everything in my soul cried out, "This is so worth it.  Nurturing a life - a person - contributing to their growth in every way..."  And my heart beat strong for these babies that God has gifted me.  I'm so undeserving at the chance to raise up these boys into men.

But in the midst of these mixed up thoughts, the ebb and flow of frustration and intense love, here are some observations:
  • We were built to anticipate the coming labor pains.  Everything in us cries out for a baby to be born, just as creation cries out for it's final redemption.  It is right and good to look for the signs, hoping and praying it's finally time.  Because eventually the baby will come - as will our Lord and Savior.  
  • We should prepare for the pain ahead.  Our instincts have us practicing birth relaxation techniques, breathing, talking to friends, taking classes and reading too many articles online.  We want to know what to expect, and we want to face it with as much grace as we can find.  And as Christians, it's healthy to stand guard, to be watchful and to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming persecution.  There is pain before new birth - both for women and for God's elect.
  • We can eagerly focus on the hope set before us.  The promise of holding a new life is overwhelmingly joyful - and at some point, most of us want the trials because the end result is coming and it's better than our current state.  At some point in pregnancy, we transition from wanting this baby to just stay put (because life seems pretty comfortable) to wanting that baby in our loving arms.  As Christians we need to make this shift as we mature, eventually viewing the coming of Jesus as a better state - the most wonderful thing we could hope for, and worth any painful cost.
This thing my body is doing and is about to do is a gift.  I get to participate in the great story of life-giving, life-bearing, life-bringing just as God does.  I get to reflect His image and live out a small picture of his greater plan as I wait, long for, anticipate and prepare.  I get to practice trusting His timing in the small things so I can believe His goodness with the big things.  As God himself knows, being a life-giver is costly and it isn't without pain and sacrifice...but it's worth it.

So as I wait for #4, this is my prayer - that I would glorify the Father and find more wonder in the story of redemption in this birth experience than I have in the past.  That I would let each desire for birthing pains poke at my greater desire for all things to be made new.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The things I used to judge moms for, and what I know now

Once a young woman with stars in my eyes, I kept mental lists of the things I wasn't going to do when I became a mom.  From the superficial and external to the deep and complex - I had it all mentally figured out.  Now with 3 kids going on 4, I'm slightly the wiser (and much more convinced that I know very little about being a mom).

Here are some of the things I used to judge moms for, and here's what I know now...

What I thought then:  My van will never have crushed snacks on the floor and toys everywhere.
What I know now:  Going places with lots of little kids requires bags, toys, snacks, cups, clothes, and more.  Somewhere during those travels (either around town or across state lines) these items drop, fall, or are thrown on the floor.  While moms would like for it to be a priority to remove each and every one of those items littering the van, it's hard enough to get each child out when you arrive back at your home.  You're potentially pulling out people with complicated coats who are hungry, crabby, tired, or haven't napped.  The main goal is getting everyone inside and having their needs met.  So sometimes, the crackers on the carpet just aren't a priority!  A clean van is nice, but some mess here and there is just part of having a family.

What I thought then:  I'm never going to "let myself go" and wear junky clothes / no makeup everyday.
What I know now:  When you've been up several times in the night with young kids, you might need to sleep until they wake up.  As soon as kids wake up, your best opportunity to shower has probably passed.  It's possible to squeeze it in later in the day, but it's going to require other hard sacrifices.  Immediate needs have to be met, like feeding kids breakfast, changing diapers, and getting everyone settled into the daily routine.  Getting ready is on your list, but it keeps getting pushed back and back and back because people keep needing you unexpectedly.  When you do finally shower, the precious 10-15 minutes it takes to dry and style your hair probably needs to be exchanged for dinner prep or switching out a load of laundry.  And once your nice sweaters are permanently stained or torn for the 4th or 5th time, you stop wearing nice clothes around your young children altogether.  There is still a place for personal grooming and looking attractive to your spouse (which is of high importance), but it's much more challenging than I ever expected!

What I thought then:  I'm not going to let my kids watch TV.
What I know now:  TV is not evil in and of itself.  It needs to be moderated and shouldn't ever take the place of intentional mothering.  There are shows that are not appropriate for a young child to watch, and as a parent, it's so important to protect what our children see until they are mature enough to evaluate content for themselves.  However, there are also a lot of shows and movies out there that have a decent message.  They aren't going to scar a child for life, and they might even bring some brightness to everyone's day.  TV shows can provide a good opportunity for mom to have some needed time with God, or catch up on a few chores to make the rest of the day run more smoothly.  TV shows can give a chance for mom to shower (see above) and can help everyone cope during times of morning sickness or other illness in the house.  I used to think the decision to let my kids watch shows was straightforward, but now I see that there are a lot of factors to weigh and it's not the difference between a good mom and bad mom.

What I thought then:  I'm not going to become a hermit who stays home with kids all day long.
What I know now:  Getting kids out of the house (especially multiple young children) is logistically challenging and physically exhausting.  There are numerous factors to consider such as; is everyone healthy?  Are we going to miss a nap?  Has everyone eaten?  How will we get around once we get to our location?  How much help am I going to need?  What is the likelihood that someone is going to run away or have a meltdown?  Sometimes the answers to these questions aren't deal breakers, but they need to be carefully understood and weighed, and sometimes, the benefits of getting out of the house don't outweigh the difficulties.  Not to mention, most kids thrive on routine.  Sometimes moms want to just be at home and have a smooth or normal day as a family.  The more children we have, the more I understand why many moms go through a bit of a hermit season until their kids get a little older.  It's important to get out and do things, but it's not the only important thing.

What I thought then:  I'm not going to have sick kids all the time.
What I know now:  I used to see moms of many children and wonder, "Why are they always missing things because of sickness?  Do they have a really germ-infested house?  What is the deal?  I don't like that moms are inconsistent and hard to count on."  *sigh*  Even the most clean-freak moms who wash hands and use sanitizer and stay out of public places get sick kids.  And guess what, if you have multiple children who are under the age of 5 in one house, it's almost inevitable that what one has, they will all get.  And it doesn't always happen at the same time!  Sometimes an illness will take weeks to hit each child, and each time that mom needs to wait it out until her child is better before she comes into the world with them.  Bystanders might think this is annoying, but I promise you that it bothers the mom even more.  She WANTS to be consistent.  She WANTS to uphold her playdates and adult commitments.  She doesn't intentionally avoid you because she would rather be taking care of a child who is throwing up or has a fever.  The doctor's office isn't her favorite place.  Any mom would tell you that if it was in their power, they wouldn't ever have a sick child!

What I thought then:  I'm not going to have a messy and cluttered house.
What I know now:  Mom's are trying to pick up after miniature mess factories.  Literally, for every item that is put away, a child takes a new thing out.  For every pair of pants that is washed, a new one is stained.  Each time a dish is rinsed, another one is eaten off of.  Even if you are 100% on top of your game, well-rested, and in good spirits - this is a tough job.  So add any other family or physical stress to that and a person can imagine how quickly a house can become messy and cluttered.  Not to excuse it, but it's much more challenging than I expected, and it's something that you can spend your whole day on without making much noticeable progress.

Honestly, this list could go on and on (sadly, this is just a small sampling of my judgements)...but it's really just a reflection of what some women say and think before they become a mom themselves.  These are the things that can make women dread and avoid motherhood.  Because from the outside, it looks like a bunch of women who are haggard, tired, and struggling to do their job well.  But it's much MUCH more complicated than that, and outsiders looking in on motherhood also don't get to see the deep joy and satisfaction that mothers experience as they put their hair in a ponytail again, nurse another toddler back to health, or give thanks that they are blessed enough to have a car full of cracker crumbs.
Outsiders can't always see the way moms do mundane things with eternal purpose, or work with excellence even when the pretty results are thwarted.  It's not a glamorous job by our culture's standards, but God calls it an important one.

And because of what I know now...I'm TRYING to be more reserved with my judgements about what type of mom I'll be to school-aged children, teenagers and adults.  Because it will probably look a lot different than I expect once I have a better perspective!  Also, I think some of these things have helped humble my too-high view of self, as I recognize my daily need for God's grace through the cross.  I can't do this thing alone, and I certainly can't do it WELL without ongoing growth and training.

Can you relate?