When Easter isn’t a Major Key Holiday

 

On December 26, I published a post titled, “When Christmas Isn’t a Major Key Holiday.” It seemed to resonate with a number of people who also found themselves feeling unfestive as they dealt with grief and heartache during the season of “glad tidings and joy.”

I concluded,

Grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom…

Perhaps, like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Christmas is more about a cry of anguish than holiday cheer and warm fuzzies. Of aching longing for eternity rather than rosy contentment with earthly things. Of desperate expectation rather than idyllic sentiment. Of hope – hope in what has come, yes, but more so in what is yet to come.

Perhaps where our anguish and the hope of Christmas meet, we experience a glimpse of the true peace and joy of Christmas. Perhaps the key to Christmas spirit isn’t found in ideal circumstances or putting on a happy face or pretending Christmas doesn’t exist, but rather in embracing the anguish as we desperately cry out, flat on our face, with tears streaming and heart breaking, “O come, o come, Emmanuel!”

Little did I know when I wrote those words that Easter of 2020 would in many ways feel like a repeat of Christmas: a usually “major key” holiday arriving in the form of dissonant chords in a minor key. Coronavirus has drastically altered life across the globe in a startling matter of days. Like whiplash, the sudden halt to normalcy has left people bewildered and hurting and feeling anything but celebratory.

In our American context, we are used to Easter week being full of pastel colors, blooming flowers, new dresses in the latest floral prints, Easter egg hunts, loads of chocolate, visits with relatives, upbeat worship songs celebrating the Resurrection, and inspiring sermons about the victory of the resurrection. Perhaps we attend a somber Good Friday service or watch The Passion of the Christ to remind us of the more gory, solemn side of Easter, but we quickly get back to the heartwarming reality that Christ triumphed over sin and death.

What if the same conclusion I came to at Christmastime is true of Easter, too? What if grief and heartache aren’t anti-Easter but the doorway to a deeper, truer, more poignant kind of Easter joy? What if grief, heartache, confusion, isolation, disillusionment, and fear are exactly the Easter lead-up emotions that give way to the deepest kind of worship?

On Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples, family, and friends went to bed devastated and grieving. Their dreams had been crushed. Their hopes of deliverance dashed. Their would-be king hung on a cross. Their friend was in a tomb. Their band of brothers was temporarily disbanded: one had sold Jesus out, all of them fled out of fear, and one of them denied him three times. After all he had done for them, in His time of need, they were no where to be found.

They were hurting. Confused. Isolated. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Afraid. Grieving. Ashamed. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. Was it? Easter week had begun with joyful celebration. Yet it ended with something entirely different. What happened?

They couldn’t see that something better was coming. Something greater than their greatest hopes. There was no joy for the disciples that night, or the next or the next. There was no bright spot on the horizon.

Just days before, Jesus had triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey while people waved palm branches and effectively declared that He was their awaited Messiah. He’d been healing all their diseases. Raising their dead. Curing their blind. Feeding their hungry. They could follow him whenever they wanted and return to the comfort of their homes when his words became uncomfortable. They were ready for deliverance from all the things they didn’t like and he was their guy. Their ticket to freedom. The genie to their dreams.

Perhaps Palm Sunday represents our lives up until now. We have lived in the privileged comfort of life in a first-world country where our personal freedom and convenience are our gods. Where it’s easy to declare Jesus is King because it comes at little to no personal cost. Where we unabashedly use hashtags like #firstworldproblems because we’re so privileged we can even joke about it. Where we do what we want, when we want.

Maybe the Easter joy we are used to experiencing is actually Palm Sunday joy. It’s the joy of good times; the joy of living in a state of comfort; of having a god who mostly gives you what you want and expects little in return; of thinking our happiness is attainable with that next relationship, that next promotion, that newest iphone; of full bellies and satisfied sweet tooths.

But where is joy in shouting “Crucify him!”? Where is joy in the betraying kiss of a friend? In the sting of the whip and agony of the crown of thorns? In realizing the one you put your hope in is about to die, leaving you empty and confused? In the horrifying sound of the weeping and moaning of a bereaved mother at the foot of the cross? In the realization that you put the nails in his hands yourself?

The joy is there, friends. It is Sunday’s joy, but it is there. It is there in the sighing whisper,”It is finished.” It is there in the realization that everything he said WAS true…which means if he’s dying now, he’ll be living later. It is there in the kingdom of heaven breaking in, poking a cosmic hole in Brokenness. It is there in the tearing of the veil that has separated man and God for generations.

Easter is only a joyful occasion if Good Friday is a torturous one. For only when we are acutely aware of the brokenness around us, of the blood of guilt on our own hands, of the hopelessness of everything else around us…only then can Easter be good news. Pain is the birthplace of joy.

We are keenly aware of the brokenness around us right now. The illusion of Palm Sunday has spoiled. The tables have been turned. The entire world is groaning and aching even more intensely than usual at the afflictions of disease, injustice, hunger, economic uncertainty, fear, and loneliness because of COVID-19. Everything around us looks bleak and hopeless, empty and vain. We feel like we’re trying to contain and elephant in a birdcage, shoving one limb in only to have another fall out. On top of it all, the situation is only revealing our worry, selfishness, fears, idols, fragility, and helplessness that have been there all along.

Our dreams have been crushed. Our savings accounts drained. Our sense of control squelched. Our hopes of deliverance from this nightmare dashed. Our countrymen, even friends and family, lie in graves. Our communities are disbanded, isolated. Our deliverers of modern medicine, science, and intellect overwhelmed by a giant foe.

Maybe we don’t need more Palm Sunday joy this year. Maybe we don’t need celebrations and feasts and egg hunts and big to dos to find joy in Easter. Maybe we don’t need life to return to normal so that we can celebrate appropriately.

Maybe what we need is the lonely, quiet, uncomfortable silence of socially distanced living in the middle of a pandemic we cannot control to scrape off the layers of false joy, comfort, security, and hope we have covered up for so long. Maybe there in the depths of the agony of our deepest fears, heartache, grief, pain, confusion, disappointment, and disillusionment, we will discover true joy: the joy that comes when you realize that something great is coming. Something greater than your greatest hopes. That in fact, Jesus IS everything you’ve been looking for, only far, far better.

So friends, this may Easter look different for you than it ever has before. Maybe you don’t feel like celebrating. Maybe you’re planning to ignore it; it’s just another day, right? Maybe you’re trying to recapture as much of your sense of normal Easter festivities as you can muster in your own home and virtually. Maybe you’re trying to conjure up some leftover Palm Sunday joy that has to be stashed somewhere, right?

But maybe you should embrace the painful context of this Easter. Dig deep into the heartache. Let it be as uncomfortable as it actually is. Lay down your expectations for everything you thought life was supposed to be, how God was supposed to work. Admit that brokenness sucks. Acknowledge that coronavirus only reveals the things that have always been true: we are weak. We are finite. We are mortal. Wealth is fleeting. Security is momentary. Comfort is blinding.

Maybe this pandemic gives us the unique opportunity to strip away all the distractions, all the secondary sources of joy that so easily become primary, all the coverups for the things we don’t want to face, and simply sit with the story of Easter. Maybe as we see that the bad news is worse than we thought, we will also see that the good news is far better than we could have imagined. Maybe we will remember that this is not our Home, and that the deep ache we feel for the world to be right won’t go away when coronavirus is over.

Maybe then the true joy of Resurrection will sink deep into our hearts. Jesus is alive, and He is King of a Kingdom that is far better than this world could ever be.

Maybe Easter isn’t a major key holiday this year, and maybe that’s ok. Because the dissonant chords of life on this earth won’t find their resolve until Jesus returns. And if He’s risen tomorrow, He WILL be returning later.

 

 

What’s in a Name? Faith…Literally

Britney Hamm pregnant faith
On vacation in Tacoma, WA just a week after our ultrasound.

We were 20 weeks pregnant with our fourth baby. This was the momentous ultrasound, the moment we’d been waiting for, when we’d find out if our son would get his wish for a baby brother or if we would welcome a third beautiful baby girl into this world.

With nervous anticipation, we sat in the waiting room, the pounding of the machinery renovating the building doing little to calm our jitters.

Finally, the ultrasound tech called our name. I settled onto the exam table, my husband next to me holding my hand in the dark room. The sonographer smeared the cool jelly on my bulging belly. Black and white images appeared on the screen in front of us as she moved the wand over my stomach, naming and measuring body parts. The moment of truth…

“Those are definitely girl parts,” the sonographer said confidently, circling the telling part of the image on the screen.

After confirming her surety about seven times, a burst of love filled my heart. Another girl. Our son would be devastated. I had no idea how room arrangements would work in our 3-bedroom house with three girls once the baby outgrew the nursery. But we were having another precious little bundle of pink. How could I not rejoice?

My doctor entered the room. She and the sonographer studied something on the screen, discussing it quietly. “Your placenta is partially covering your cervix,” my doctor explained, pointing to the grey image. “It’s called placenta previa.”

I’d heard of that. I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. “You’ll need to take it easy,” she continued. “Nothing more strenuous than normal walking.” If it hadn’t moved by 28 weeks, we could face the risk of bleeding, early labor, and a C-section as early as 34 weeks depending on the health of the baby.

She assured us that there was a good chance the placenta would move; we just needed to be cautious just in case.

“Stay off Google,” she said before she left the room.

I’d had three textbook pregnancies and deliveries thus far. Pregnancy was my friend (mostly). Even before this news, I’d been fighting a little voice saying, “When is it my turn? When will my luck run out?” Sometimes I felt like I’d dodged a bullet – three times – but one would hit me eventually (I recognize the theological flaws with those statements; they floated into my head nonetheless).

With each pregnancy, my sense of realism increased. I was well aware that things can happen, things do happen, and things could happen to me. My best friend is a NICU nurse. We also personally knew families who had lost an infant or child. Child loss was not a distant reality; we weren’t so naïve to think it couldn’t happen to us.

Chances meant nothing to me. None of us know if we are the 99% or the 1% until it happens. Statistics don’t provide true reassurance. We would have to put our trust in something greater.

My husband and I decided that her middle name would be “Faith.” We needed faith to believe the placenta would move. And we needed faith in the goodness of God no matter what happened. Our prayer was that God would build our faith through this, and that whether we birthed a healthy baby at full term or joined the ranks of those who have lost a child, or anything in between – we would have faith in Him and worship him.

baby girl hamm born
Baby Hamm #4 arrived at 11:45am on 1/21/19 after 2.5 hours of labor!

Seven weeks later, the follow-up ultrasound revealed that my placenta had moved clear out of the way! Baby girl was  healthy. We could proceed forward with a normal delivery.

I didn’t realize then, nor did I realize for months later, that the entire trial with the placenta previa was for one thing: so that we would choose that middle name as we prayed for the faith to respond in worship to whatever may come. Faith was the point. Literally.

We thought we were asking for faith to respond in worship to a C-section. Bleeding during pregnancy. An early delivery. Bed rest. Post-labor hemorrhaging. Even child loss.

Instead, God was preparing us to respond in faith-filled worship to things we didn’t see coming. He, in His faithfulness was tuning our hearts to sing His praise even if.

Even if my friend’s baby passed away hours after birth just a month after our baby was born.

Even if I had breast cancer (I didn’t, but it took three ultrasounds and a mammogram to be sure).

Even if my dad didn’t survive a severe hemorrhagic stroke (he did, but it was life-altering nonetheless).

Even if my dad never gets out of the wheelchair.

Even if the fabric of my family of origin unraveled.

Even if the marriage of someone close to me fell apart.

 

That’s just scratching the surface of the things that transpired in the months following her birth.

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

 

When we chose her name, we didn’t see how the story would turn out. But we chose faith.

 

We don’t see the complete healing for my dad’s body.

We don’t see the reconciliation for the marriage of someone close to me.

We don’t see the restoration of all that has been broken in the last year.

We don’t see the resurrection of my friend’s baby.

 

…In this life.

But we choose faith.

Faith that God is good. Faith that healing, reconciliation, restoration, and resurrection WILL come to pass in the next life. Faith that God is at work. Faith that God is providing what we need to endure the challenges set before us today. Faith that God will provide what we need for the challenges we will encounter tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Baby Hamm #4 One Year OldToday, my sweet baby girl turns one year old. When I look at her in all her cheeky, chunky sweetness, with her toothy grin and her bright blue eyes, I am reminded of her name. Of why we chose her name. Of how God’s faithfulness is wrapped up in this little ball of joy. Of how we had no idea we would need such a tangible reminder to have faith, but He did.

What’s in a name? Sometimes, literally, it’s faith.

 

Happy birthday, sweet baby girl. May you always have faith in the goodness of God, and may your life be a beacon for others to see Jesus and respond in faith.

 

When Christmas isn't a major key holiday

When Christmas isn’t a Major Key Holiday

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has always been my favorite Christmas song. Something about the haunting minor key and the pleading lyric captivates me (see the end of this post for a beautiful rendition of it by Sovereign Grace).

This year it’s been even more poignant. I’ve been struck that it’s not primarily a song of celebration or “glad tidings” and warm fuzzies.

It’s a song of anguish. Of longing. Of desperate expectation. Of beseeching hope.

Until this year, the holidays have been a relatively joyful and peaceful time, a time I’ve always treasured and enjoyed. This year, I joined the ranks of those for whom the holidays are a deeply painful mixed bag due to some life-altering circumstances my side of the family has been going through (and is continuing to go through) in 2019. The traditions I’ve treasured now come with an unwelcome bitter side dish of heartache. The warmth and closeness and enjoyment my family of origin have shared are now tempered with heart-wrenching sorrow.

I know we’re not alone. For many people, the season of “glad tidings” and “Christmas cheer” is one they wish would just pass by. It doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate. It’s filled with heartache, familial conflict, loneliness, or painful reminders of things lost.

For some, it has been this way as long as they can remember. For others, like myself, some tragedy at a marked point in time “broke” the holidays for them. those treasured traditions, memories, and activities are now tainted- or perhaps entirely overshadowed – by grief and pain.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I was dreading the holidays. I wanted to skip to January. I didn’t want to have to deal with the swirling tornado of mixed feelings the holidays enunciated. It felt like Christmas should just pass by unnoticed this year, because deep down nothing felt right or normal about it.

But I’m a mom of young kids, and skipping the holidays just isn’t going to happen. As we decorated and started listening to Christmas carols and opened our Advent calendar every night to do a different activity connecting the traditions of Christmas to Jesus and read Christ-centered storybooks, my heart began to thaw. My kids unadulterated excitement seeped into my heart, but for different reasons – reasons less about the surface level things I enjoy about Christmas and more about what’s left when you strip it all away.

I remembered why I love Christmas. I remembered why there is something to celebrate. The meaning of the words of the carols began to penetrate my heart.

I realized that my grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom.

You see, according to Scripture, Christmas didn’t begin as a major key holiday. It was minor key all the way. It was poverty. Scandal. An uncomfortable, long journey. Labor pains. A dirty manger. The blood and guts of birth. A murderous earthly king. A midnight escape to a foreign land.

Grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom.

Isaiah 9 says “there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” ANGUISH. Jesus didn’t come to a picture perfect people. He came to a people in exile. In bondage. In pain. Everything about the first Christmas began with anguish.

Perhaps, like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Christmas is more about a cry of anguish than holiday cheer and warm fuzzies. Of aching longing for eternityrather than rosy contentment with earthly things. Of desperate expectation rather than idyllic sentiment. Of hope – hope in what has come, yes, but more so in what is yet to come.

Perhaps where our anguish and the hope of Christmas meet, we experience a glimpse of the true peace and joy of Christmas. Perhaps the key to Christmas spirit isn’t found in ideal circumstances or putting on a happy face or pretending Christmas doesn’t exist, but rather in embracing the anguish as we desperately cry out, flat on our face, with tears streaming and heart breaking, “O come, o come, Emmanuel!”

No matter what is happening in our earthly life, no matter how much we have lost, there is always something to celebrate on Christmas for those who belong to Christ.

We celebrate that there will be restoration for the broken. Rest for the weary. Hope for the despairing.

We celebrate that the aching, the longing, the groaning are labor pains that WILL give birth to something beautiful, to an eternal treasure that cannot be lost.

We celebrate that light overcomes the darkness, that we have the ultimate victory, that we are not crushed no matter how low we feel.

We celebrate that though we live in a world cut off from its lifesource due to sin, that severed connection has been restored. Life flows through our veins again, because we have Immanuel, God with us.

So, to you who found yesterday (or the entire month of December) to be a painful mixed bag…to you who wished Christmas was over before it began…to you who felt you had nothing to celebrate…to you who found the traditions and decorations and gifts unfulfilling and meaningless…to you who can’t sing in a major key right now, here’s what I’m praying for you:

As you weep and mourn and grieve, as the holiday season makes everything you have lost or wish for even more pronounced, I pray your anguish will come face to face with the hope found in the child whose name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, who comes with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. I pray that where your anguish and that hope meet, you will experience the joy and peace that transcend all understanding, even in the worst of circumstances. I pray that you will see that when you strip away everything else, one thing remains, and that is Jesus, the Messiah, and that is everything.

He answered that prayer for me yesterday. He can answer it for you, too. Let your heart behold the True Light, whose life is the light of all mankind. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Background photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Bask in the Sun

It feels like spring today.

Finally.

Here in Kansas City, we’ve not been ok, as the hilarious meme I saw last week relayed. It went something like this (I can’t find it now, of course, so this is my version)…”Check on your friends in Kansas City. We’re on day 792 of winter. The sun is nowhere to be found. We’ve had precipitation 40 of the last 60 days. Salvy is out for the season, and Mahomes won’t be in uniform again for months. We are not ok.”

Well, we’re a little better today, because the sun is out, the temperature is above 50, and it won’t get dark till after 7!!! (We’ll pretend like it isn’t supposed to rain the next 3 days with a chance of snowflakes Thursday. Let us enjoy it, mmkay?)

My kids were thrilled to play outside this afternoon. Bikes, scooters, roller blades, swinging, dirt…they’re basking in all the things they have been missing for months.

I sat out on the front steps watching them ride and run up and down the sidewalk, soaking up the Vitamin D warmth of the sunlight, baby monitor at my side in a rare moment when the newest little is napping in her cosleeper instead of on me. I thought I’d be chilly in my single-layer, but didn’t dare risk waking the baby while retrieving a sweatshirt. Surprisingly, I wasn’t chilly at all.

The sun warmed up the chilly air to delightful perfection. I breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction and smiled as my 5-year-old son pulled his 2-year-old sister in the wagon and my 7-year-old jabbered about her gardening schemes.

Later, the kids chose to move to the backyard so they could dig in dirt. They found a sunny spot and dug their hands in deep (their fingernails prove that). I went inside to open the back door, with dreamy illusions of continuing my inhalation of fresh air on the deck.

The air was far from warm, however! Most of the yard and the entire deck are shaded in the afternoon, and without the sun, it was too cool for comfort without warmer clothing.

I resigned to stay in the kitchen where I could stay warm and keep an eye out. As I started some dinner prep, I thought about the difference the sun makes. As I reflected on that, it struck me how that illustrates the effect of God’s presence in our lives: all it takes is a ray of His presence to shine light in the dark places, breath fresh air into our weary hearts, and turn the shivering chill of life’s worries into the spreading warmth of godly joy.

Just like the sun is always there, those of us who trust in the name of Jesus have His presence with us always through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But just as clouds, buildings, and tree obstruct the warmth of the sun, so the worries, sorrows, and even good things of this life can obstruct our sense of His presence in our lives.

When we step out of the shadows into the light, we remember the joy of the Lord. When we move from the chill of the shade to the warmth of the sun, we experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Whether your forecast for the rest of the week is cloudy or sunny, take a figurative step into the sun this week. Step into His presence – open the Word, spend time in prayer, fellowship with another Spirit-filled believer, meditate on His truth, sing songs of praise.

As you do, bask in His light. Soak up His warmth. You might be surprised how your perspective and attitude change!

The Final Say in Suffering

The past few days have been filled with weeping. Weeping at random, in the shower, while giving a school assignment to my daughter, while nursing my newborn at 2am.

I’m not weeping because my husband was at a conference most of the weekend and I was physically exhausted from caring for 4 children. Nor because the toddler was sick all week and I’m at *sick* of snot and germs (pun intended).

*Image courtesy of Emma Trevisan via unsplash.com

I’m weeping because a very beloved friend of mine suffered an unimaginable loss last week, and my heart aches for her pain through the watches of the night and the mundane of the day.

I’m weeping because she’s the third person close to me to experience a major tragedy in the last three months.

That’s not counting the half dozen others I know who have experienced major tragedies in the last 6 months, or are in the trenches of ongoing suffering.

When I say “major tragedy” and “suffering”, I’m not using those terms lightly.

We’re talking sudden loss of an infant or child. Miscarriage. Wildfire ravaging homes. Unexpected loss of a parent. Husbands battling potentially life-threatening conditions with genetic components that may affect their children. Parents battling cancer for years on end. Finding out a child has been sexually abused by a relative.

Heavy, heartbreaking stuff.

Can We Stop Over-Spiritualizing Suffering?

Can I be honest for a minute? Can I just say what we all feel? What we’re all thinking when we stop over-spiritualizing long enough to deal with suffering frankly?

I’m weary of this broken world. I’m weary of watching people I love experience loss and heartache and being powerless to alleviate their pain.

I’m angry at sin and brokenness. I’m angry at the enemy who delights in our demise.

I’m wondering why Jesus hasn’t returned. I’m wondering why suffering seems so unfairly distributed.

I’m longing for suffering to end. I’m longing for this broken world to be a distant memory.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last several months I have thought, wept, moaned, or angrily shouted in my head “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” or “Why haven’t you come back yet?”

And you know what? The weariness and anger and longing I feel aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re right.

It Wasn’t Meant to Be This Way

Image may contain: outdoor

They’re right because this was never the way things were supposed to be. Death was not the plan. Hear that: we weren’t supposed to die.

That’s why death makes us feel like our hearts are being torn from our chests repeatedly. All other suffering we experience is a tied to death, either to physical death (such as physical pain) or spiritual death (such as the effects of sin, whether ours or someone else’s).

I don’t understand it all. I don’t pretend to understand the how’s, the why’s, the what’s, the when’s, the who’s of suffering (believe me, I’ve struggled with that last one a lot. Why have my thirty years been relatively free of tragedy when so many loved ones suffer one hardship after another? That’s a post for another day).

I may not understand it all, but I do know He never meant for us to have to experience this. That’s why He made the tree of the knowledge of good and evil off limits to begin with. And that’s why, on this side of Eden, His heart breaks with ours.

Hear that, friends. God weeps with us because He knows we were never meant to die. He created us for life, not death.

Jesus wept when he found out Lazarus was dead. Why would he weep when He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead? Because Lazarus wasn’t supposed to have to die. His sisters weren’t supposed to have to grieve. They weren’t supposed to have to know what heartache felt like.

In those two small words, “Jesus wept”, Jesus sets us free in so many ways…to weep. To grieve the brokenness of this world. To shout “it’s not fair!” – because it isn’t. To ask that the cup be taken from us, even when we know it won’t be.

Yes, God is good.

Yes, God is sovereign.

Yes, God works in and through suffering.

Yes, God’s purposes and plans can’t be thwarted.

Yes, God knows the number of days each of us will live on this earth.

We can affirm those truths and proclaim the goodness of God in the midst of suffering while still acknowledging this is not the way things were supposed to be.

Whispers of Hope in the Middle of Grief

As we acknowledge that reality, through our tears and in our grief, the whisper of the gospel comes, planting hope in our hearts: It won’t be this way forever.

Brokenness is far reaching. It leaves no person untouched. We all feel the effects of that half-eaten apple. None of us are immune. Either we weep for our own suffering or we weep with those we love for theirs. Or both. We can’t escape it.

But the love of God is farther reaching. So far reaching, in fact, that it paved a way to set all things right again. Jesus suffered so that our suffering could come to an end. He died, so that our death would not be final. He rose, so that we could rise to new life.

The more we long for the way things were supposed to be, the more beautiful the gospel is to us. The gospel isn’t just about my personal saving from my own sin. It’s about the King who will avenge His people, the Shepherd who will reclaim His sheep, the Creator who will restore His creation, the Bridegroom who will reinstate His bride, the Warrior who will accomplish His victory. It’s about this messy, broken world being flipped on its head, the author of brokenness defeated once and for all. It’s about hope.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:19-24

Though we find ourselves swimming in a sea of suffering, though the waves of hardship wash over us, leaving us breathless and gasping for air, we are not consumed, because we are not without hope.

So, on days when our hearts are broken, when nothing makes sense, when the frailty of life is far too poignant, we cling to this hope and remember:

Suffering doesn’t have the final say.

Pain doesn’t have the final say.

Death doesn’t have the final say.

Jesus has the final say.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

She’s Here – Fourth Baby Birth Story

The waiting and wondering are over.

The anxieties over road conditions, getting to the hospital, and getting someone to the house quickly enough watch our kids are over.

She’s here.

Fourth baby and mama after delivery
Let me tell you, when I left the doctor’s office at 9am I did NOT expect to have a baby by lunchtime!

First thing Monday morning, January 21, I went to my OBGYN for my belated 39-week appointment. Four days till due date day.

As planned, my OB did a membrane sweep (a natural way of kickstarting labor if the body is ready).

Apparently my body was ready (all those contractions I’d been having over the weekend had actually being doing something, taking me from 1 cm at 38 weeks to 3 cm that day), because between her office and home (a 15-minute time span), I had 3 contractions.

Daddy and fourth baby
This man, I tell you, is amazing. He’s the best labor coach ever – I seriously don’t know that I could do natural births without him championing me. And he’s an incredible father. Don’t babies look good on him???

Even though I’ve done this before, I always have this irrational thought that I won’t be able to tell the difference between the mildly painful contractions of my prodromal labor and the real contractions of actual labor.

Hah. Like every other time, I knew.  The real ones feel totally different.

I got home at 9:15 and asked my husband to keep working from home a little while longer, as I suspected labor was imminent. I set the kids up with TV and tried to rest, but the contractions were growing stronger. I got up and fiddled around the house, cleaning up here and there, stopping for contractions as they increased in intensity.

At 9:47 I started timing contractions. They were 2-3 minutes apart. This baby was coming, and she wasn’t wasting any time! After 20 minutes of this, I showed my husband the contraction log on my phone. He jumped to action – calm as a cucumber as always – to put our bags in the car and get ready to leave.

Biggest baby yet at 7lb 10oz
Our biggest baby yet! 7 lb, 10 oz, 19.25 inches long. Funny because she doesn’t seem bigger, but the scale don’t lie.

In God’s providence, my best friend was already on her way over to our house for a planned play date. She knew I was having the membrane sweep that morning and there was a chance I’d go into labor while they were over, so she was prepared accordingly. I texted her to let her know the contractions were coming quick (she later told me she drove, shall we say, not the speed limit. She thought she might be delivering our baby at our house! She is a NICU nurse and attends high risk deliveries, so she’s qualified).

Right when she pulled in the driveway at about 10:20, I suddenly had a 5 minute gap between contractions. For a moment, I was confused. Did labor just stall, or stop altogether? Surely those contractions were far too strong and close together to have been nothing! The intensity of the next contraction removed all doubt. In another measure of God’s grace, they remained 5-6 minutes apart from the time she got here until we got to the hospital. This allowed me to say goodbye to the kids without being mid-contraction (which may have freaked them out), and I only had to deal with one contraction in the car (car contractions are the WORST).

Mom, Dad, and baby ready to go home
Last day of our vacation…I mean hospital stay…trust me, when you’re on your 4th kid, two days in the hospital just the two of you + baby = GLORIOUS. Three meals/day you didn’t prepare, cable TV…must I explain further?

We arrived at the hospital around 10:40. As soon as we were in triage, the contractions started coming almost right on top of each other again. The nurse assessed me at 5-6 cm dilated, a huge change from the 3 cm less than 2 hours before at my appointment.

She asked if I wanted an epidural (she hadn’t seen my birth plan yet). As I do every time, I hesitated. She gave us a minute to think about it. I told Travis, “I’m not sure I want to do this without an epidural again. I don’t need to be a hero. I know I CAN do it; I just don’t know if it’s worth it.”

Fourth baby is in the car seat!
Heading home! Don’t judge the pacifier usage at 2 days old.Trust me, this girl knows how to nurse.And as our pediatrician said with our first, “Let’s give babies some credit…they know the difference!”

As always, he was supportive but also gently reminded me of the reasons why I choose to birth without. As with the previous 3 times, logic (and fear of the unknown, to be quite honest. I know labor without an epidural; I don’t know it with one) won over the feeling of pain and we turned the epidural down. Making that decision in the middle of the pain gives me stronger resolve as I recommit to the type of birth we want and the reasons for it (In hind sight, we probably wouldn’t have had time for one anyway!).

We moved from triage to our room, where the nurse assessed me at 7 cm. Shortly after, the pressure was mounting. 8 cm. My doctor came down. She said, “well that was fast!” Per our request, she broke my waters to speed things along, assuring me it would only take a few more contractions to be complete.

She was right. Maybe 3 or 4 of the most intense contractions of the morning, and I was complete. Two big breaths of pushes and Hammbino #4 was here! It was 11:53am. Less than 2.5 hours of true labor, 3 if you count from the first contraction when I left the doctor’s office. Despite the speed, the whole morning felt characterized by a sense of total calm and peace, and for that I am grateful.

Biggest sister and big brother meet newest baby sister.
(Sorry for the grainy pic). I think they’re happy…just a little.

We are exceedingly thankful for every aspect of this birth. God took care of each logistic and variable we had been anxious about. His goodness would be no less good had things not gone smoothly – even if the worst imaginable had happened – for His goodness is not dependent on the outcomes of the circumstances – He is just good, regardless.

But in this situation He chose to display His goodness by answering my concerns in kind with what I had prayed for. I have been growing in my prayer life and

Little big sister meets baby sister
The baby is no longer the baby!

learning to pray with specificity. I think He knew that I needed to see Him answer each of those specific concerns in order to grow my faith – and He did. He won’t always answer that way, but this time, He did.

There are many, many things we are thankful for with this delivery. She came on a week day, so my OBGYN was there. She came in between ice/snow storms, so the roads were clear. Because my best friend was already en route to our house, we didn’t have to worry about getting someone to the house to watch them until Grandma arrived. Travis was already at home. The house was relatively picked up and I’d just cleaned bathrooms the day before (those little things matter to me for sake of our sanity returning home!). I only had one contraction in the car. There are many more I could name, but we are most grateful that mama and baby are 100% healthy!


Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children[a] of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!

Psalm 127:3-5, ESV

Waiting for Uncertain Certainty

I originally wrote this post on April 27, 2013, one week before my due date with our 2nd child.

Today, I’m 38 weeks with our 4th child. And I need these reminders just as much today as I did 6 years ago. So, with minor revisions, here it is again. I’m preaching to myself, again.

Like before, all that needs to be done is pretty much done. The freezer is stocked with some meals. The newborn clothes are washed and put away. The house is relatively clean and the laundry on top of (for now). The hospital bags are packed; the kids bags for Grandma’s house are packed. All major projects I’d hoped to accomplish are finished.

There’s nothing left to do but wait, while maintaining our normal life when we all know it’s about to change. Drastically (Ok, so the 2-year-old doesn’t quite understand just how drastically her life is about to change…)

We’re waiting for something certain- we WILL go into labor; this baby WILL be born – yet with uncertainty- when, what time of day, how long of labor, etc. I’m stuck in the paradox of waiting for the certain with all the uncertainty of how and when the certain will come to be.

36 Weeks

I can’t say my mood has been particularly jovial these past couple days as I sit in that paradox. My nesting craze has come to a halt, turning into a state of grumpy exhaustion and restless anxiety as my mind runs through all the variables I can’t control.

I wish I could say that after doing this 3 times, these last few weeks of pregnancy were different this time, but the truth is my heart is fickle. The good news is, the answer is exactly the same as it was 6 years ago.

It’s tempting for  me to think that what my heart needs is just for this baby to come – or for God to tell me when she’s going to come – so that I can live purposefully until she does (an email from god@heaven.com with the date and time, length of labor, and difficultly of labor on a scale of 1-10 would be nice). It’s tempting for me to think that the waiting days are futile and purposeless, just minutes ticking by on the clock until the next phase of life starts. It’s tempting for me to think everything would just be better if I at least knew.

But what my heart really needs is more Jesus. More gospel. More focus on His glory, less on mine. More purpose & joy drawn from Him, less drawn from my circumstances or physical state of being.


Waiting for the Uncertain Certain: The Believer’s Paradox

Waiting for the uncertain certain is actually a reality I live in all the time – I just don’t think of it that way.

Isn’t it the paradox we live in as believers each day? We await the second coming of Christ, which we know with certainty WILL come. But we don’t know when, or even fully how.

I admit my eschatological position is not fully solidified. I know Jesus will return. I know He will redeem everything. I believe Scripture gives us some cues about what that will look  like, but that ultimately, we won’t know when or how until it happens.

Sometimes we begin to doubt. We forget that full redemption will come. We fail to live each day purposefully and joyfully, instead grumbling and complaining about earthly things and the state of this broken world. We’re tempted to think that if we just knew when He was returning we’d have more purpose and joy in the meantime. We’re tempted to think that the days until He returns are really just futile and purposeless.

Yet, while we’re stuck in the uncertain-certain paradox, we’re called to live faithfully. Purposefully. Gratefully. Joyfully. Contentedly. With trust, and hope, and longing all at the same time.  I have a feeling that even if God decided to tell us exactly when He was returning, He’d expect us to go on living exactly in those same ways. But He doesn’t. We must trust Him, trust that He knows best, trust that He has a reason for how and when He returns. Trust that He has purpose for us each day until then.


The Israelites, John the Baptist, and the Uncertain Certain

The people of Israel were stuck in the same paradox for hundreds of years. They knew a Messiah was coming. But they didn’t know when. There were signs that they could look for. I have to wonder how many times a baby was born in Bethlehem that someone thought, “is this Him?” much like the questions an evening of uncomfortable contractions brings to me, or the news of an epic natural disaster bring to some believers.

Yet for all those hundreds of years of uncertain waiting, what did God expect of them? That they trust him. Rejoice in Him. Find their hope in Him. Live purposefully for Him. With contentment because He is enough and His glory is the ultimate goal.

38 Weeks Pregnant
38 weeks. Yes I am wearing the same shirt.
Don’t judge.

John the Baptist is a great example of this. God gave him a job to do: prepare the way for the Messiah by proclaiming his impending coming. John didn’t know who he was; I don’t even know if he knew the Messiah was present on earth just 6 months after his own birth until God clearly identified Jesus as the One John was proclaiming. Maybe John was tempted to get worn out, or bored. Maybe he was tempted to say “God, come on, can you just tell me when this dude is coming?” God didn’t tell him the how and when. No, God said “John, I have this task for you. And it’s about me, not you.” So when Jesus did come and God revealed His identity to John, what was John’s response?

Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease. -John 3:29b-30

In another specific instance, the people of Israel were stuck in this same paradox. Moses had ascended the mountain to receive the commandments from the Lord. The people knew he would return; they didn’t know how or when. They were told to stay at the bottom of the mountain and wait.

At some point they determined he had been gone too long. They decided he either wasn’t coming back, or that they couldn’t wait that long. So they begged Aaron to make a golden calf. They pursued idols. Instead of trusting God and finding their purpose and joy in Him each day until Moses returned with His words, they built for themselves another god.

What a vastly different response from John and the Israelites. Both living in the paradox of waiting for the uncertain certain. John faithfully fulfilled the calling God had given him, finding his greatest joy in God Himself as he carried out the task God had set before him. The Israelites doubted God, doubted His goodness, doubted His sovereignty, and begrudgingly pursued other idols.

How are We to Wait?

God calls us to live in the uncertain certain. As believers, we live every day in the “already but not yet.” We wait for what we know will come without knowing when or how it will come. Yet the waiting we are called to is not one of purposeless, stagnant, dull twiddling of thumbs. Anything but! We are called to wait:

  • With longing, because we genuinely look forward to what is to come. We feel the weight of a world not yet fully redeemed, and we know that the good things of this life are but a shadow of the good that is to come.

Yet with…

  • Trust, because we know that He is good and sovereign, and that everything is ordained in His time, for His glory, whether that timing makes sense to us or not.
  • Hope, because we know that He is true to His Word, and that the certain will come to fruition. In the meantime, we have hope because we know that He is at work and the certain has already been put into motion.
  • Contentment, because we know that He alone can satisfy us, and while we look forward to the day when He will satisfy us eternally with none of the distractions of a broken world, the good news of Jesus means that He can satisfy us now.
  • Joy, because we know that nothing in the current world can bring us the kind of joy He can. We have been given everything we don’t deserve and nothing we do deserve. There is no greater joy.
  • Gratitude, because we know that each day is a gift from Him. Every day is a testimony of His grace that He has not abandoned us nor given us what we deserve, therefore each day is worth celebrating with gratitude and praise.
  • Purpose, because we know that His glory and kingdom are the ultimate goal, and every mundane moment of every day can serve that purpose now. Since every day is a gift worth celebrating, every day is also an offering we can give back to Him.

These realities that are true in our lives as believers are true for me right now as I await the arrival of our little one. If I focus on earthly things, on what I think I deserve or the way I think things should be, I will be like the Israelites…begrudging, grumbling, discontent, and filled with idolatry.

But if I focus on heavenly things, on the sovereignty and goodness of God, the purpose He has given me, the greater joy that even the birth of a child is but a shadow of, then I can be filled with all of the above things even I as longingly await labor to get underway.

I don’t need to know when labor will come in order to live purposefully in the meantime. What I need to know is Christ…that must be enough.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! -Psalm 27:14

“The Lord is my portion” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. -Lamentations 3:24-26

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of god in Christ Jesus.-Philippians 3:14

While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll be running the race even while I wait – John Waller “While I’m Waiting”

As I wait, you make me strong
As I long, draw me to your arms
As I stand and sing your praise
You come, you come and you fill this place – Ten Shekel Shirt “Meet With Me”

Worshiping in the Blood of Your Loss

Worshiping in the blood of your lossIt’s been a heavy week.

And not just because my toddler ended up with 5 stitches (although that did happen).

Last Thursday, a childhood friend of mine evacuated her home in with her husband and toddler, narrowly escaping the fury of flames that tore through Northern California in the Camp Fire, now considered the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in CA state history. Their home, along with 90% of the town, Paradise, has been destroyed.

Come, Lord Jesus, come soon, I whispered through tears Friday morning when I woke up to read the scope of the devastation

Sunday, as I gathered with my church family for corporate worship, heart heavy with grief for my friends and their community, more tears fell as I sang…

“And all who hurt with nothing left
Will know that You are holy” (All the Poor and Powerless, All Sons & Daughters)

“I am sure of this
That I will see Your goodness in the land of the living” (Psalm 27, Greg Lafollette)

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise” (Come Thou Fount)

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander” (Oceans, Hillsong)

I don’t know how much more situationally pointed those truths can get. Talk about a Spirit-led set list.

 

Worshiping in Brokenness

How could I sing praise to God with my church family, knowing what my friends are going through? How can my friends gather for worship services and point to reminders of God’s goodness in a time of such hardship?

They are questions worth asking, because, if you haven’t noticed, these things are happening around us all the time. Wildfires. Shootings. Injustice. Racism. Domestic violence. Sickness. Death. Sexual abuse. Natural disasters. Need I go on?

The question isn’t if they’ll happen. They will happen. To us, or to someone close to us.

We can’t offer pat, cliché answers. We can’t try to explain it away. We can’t minimize the pain of those who are suffering. We can’t put on a happy face and sweep our pain aside.

No, the real question we must ask is where do we turn when they do happen?

The answer is simple, but far from easy: we turn to worship.

We turn to worship for one simple reason:

Because He is still good.

We turn in worship to the goodness of the Living God. We cling to the hope of knowing that “we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living.” We rejoice because we know this is not all there is, and the heartache and devastation of this life will come to an end.

What else is there to cling to?

I wrote a blog post back in February about the statement that stuck out in my devotional, “And if not, He is still good.” I had no idea when I penned that post how much that simple statement would shape my perspective as I processed through some tough things from 2017. Nor did I have any idea how it would prepare my heart to deal with some of the heartbreak happening in the lives of those around me in 2018 – such as this. In fact, I had literally just shared that quote and how it has impacted me with the very friend who lost her home. To which she replied,

The older I get the more I realize that life is full of hardship and grief. Suffering is a part of our calling, I think.

This exchange was less than one month ago.

 

The Tango of Worship and Lament

Worship and lament are not mutually exclusive. Despite what our happy-go-lucky American Christian culture has taught us, worship and lament do not only exist apart from each other.

In fact, I’ve heard it said that lament is the highest form of worship.

Look at the Psalms. Nearly half of them are considered laments, yet the Psalmist nearly always ends in worship – acknowledging and affirming the goodness of God and his unmitigated hope in God despite the circumstances.

Why? How can it be that lament is the highest form of worship?

A couple years ago, my husband and I got to hear the amazing story of a missionary named Gary who lost his wife on the mission field in the Middle East. You can read his whole story in his book – there are powerful lessons to be learned about forgiveness – but here’s the part I first heard that profoundly impacted me.

His wife was murdered, shot in the head three times, by an Al-Qaeda terrorist. With her blood splattered all over the floor and the walls of the medical clinic where she worked, Gary did the unthinkable. He got down on the floor and lay his face in her blood where he proceeded to sing the hymn, “I Surrender All.”

As he later told John, his friend who we heard speak a couple years ago,

“I knew if I didn’t worship right then and there, I would never worship again.”

(Watch this video starting at minute 22 to hear John tell this story and talk about worship in grief).

Three weeks ago, my husband met Gary and heard more of his story. Gary said we Westerners get worship all wrong. We think worship only happens when we’re happy. We look at worship as the mountaintops, the spiritual highs, the outflow of the joy that’s already within us.

But what if the truth is that worship produces joy? That worship in the valleys is the very thing that brings us to the mountaintop?

What if Gary is right, that if we don’t put our faces in the blood of our loss and declare, in the middle of total heartache, utter devastation, complete loss, “Even still, You are good,” we’ll miss the deepest worship we could ever express?

 

Proclaiming He is Good in All Things

We don’t have to lay aside our grief to worship. We don’t have to pretend everything is fine in order to proclaim the goodness of God. We don’t have to set aside real life to come to church for some superficial experience singing songs of praise to God while our hearts scream inwardly in lament.

Instead, we can worship in our grief.

Such as my friends, who lost their 3-year-old child after she battled one unexpected health issue after another, yet still proclaimed through deep grief, He is faithful.

Such as a woman from Bible study, who lost her husband with two small children to care for at home, yet who responded to the gentle urging of the Spirit one afternoon…”Sing my praise.”

Such as a friend, who recounts how she held her premature baby in her arms for a mere few hours before releasing her to the arms of Jesus, yet who through her tears whispers in all sincerity, “He’s been so good to us.”

Such as pastor friends, who fight through unexplained nerve pain and loss of use of the husband’s arms as they  minister in a culture hostile to Christianity, yet who declare the sufficiency of God in all things on a global platform.

Such as my best girl friend, who goes to work every weekend to care for little ones born far too early with insurmountable health problems, who walks newborn babies to the morgue with bereaved parents wailing behind her, yet whose own faith in the love and mercy of God remains unshaken week after week.

This, friends, this is worship.

When natural disasters take lives and destroy towns, He is still good.

When toddlers slice their fingers on cans and need stitches, He is still good.

When you face the uncertainty of a pregnancy complication, He is still good.

When the chronic pain continues with no relief, He is still good.

When loved ones turn their backs on Jesus, He is still good.

When spouses are murdered by terrorists or die slowly of cancer, He is still good.

When marriages are everything they shouldn’t be and nothing they should be, He is still good.

When little ones die before they have a chance to live, He is still good.

Friends, we live in a broken world. Let’s not pretend we don’t. Let’s not push one another to false “I’m fines” and plastered churchy smiles and shallow Christianese platitudes.

Let’s push each other to weep. To dig deep into grief. To take our questions and doubts to God, crying out as the Psalmist did time and time again. To deal genuinely with the pain and suffering of this broken world. Let’s push each other to stick our faces in the blood of the very thing we’ve lost, all the while proclaiming, “It’s not ok. This is not ok. But He is still good, and one day He will make it ok again. Because of that, I can worship.”

For more on the topic of suffering, listen to this amazing sermon my husband preached on October 28.

If you would like to help my friends as they seek to rebuild their lives so that they can continue their ministry to their community, please consider purchasing something from their Amazon wish list. Thank you.

If you would like to help others affected by Camp Fire, many of whom my friends know, considering joining this Facebook group and adopting a family.

 

You’re Wasting Your Mind

I was eighteen and about to graduate from high school. I had been a straight-A student since preschool (Ok I lied. There was one B in grade school. I blocked it from memory.). I scored high enough on the ACT to have my pick of high-ranking universities. I could go anywhere I wanted and be anything I wanted.

My plans were set. In August, I would leave St. Louis and embark on a new adventure…in Kansas City. All the way across…the state. At the not-so-prestigious…University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). I would go there to study…

Dance.

“You’re wasting your mind,” one of my classmates said one day as we left worldview class. I’ll never forget the expression of disdain as he shook his head and slung his backpack over his shoulder. I knew what he was thinking; I couldn’t blame him. From the outside, it looked like I was throwing away the mind God had given me.

But I knew something else.

God would not let my gifts, talents, and abilities go unused if I chased after Him.

I learned that lesson from my mom, an incredibly creative and talented individual. Throughout her life she has danced professionally, choreographed professionally, sold art, refinished furniture, written music, taught preschool music, taught Bible studies, acted in church plays and community theater, led worship teams, taken voice lessons, taken piano lessons, authored poems, choreographed for show choir, written musicals, and the list goes on. Oh, and she raised 4 kids as a stay-at-home mom.

Don't Waste Your Mind the Great Artist Britney Lyn Hamm Her songs may not be on K-Luv and she may not be starring on Broadway, but no one can rightly look at her and say her creativity has been wasted. She has submitted her life to following Jesus, not to maximizing her potential. Her greatest aim is knowing Him, not being known. Yet in His faithfulness, God has given her opportunities to use all her gifts and passions in various seasons of life – not all at once, not always in the ways she expected or even wanted. He, the Great Artist, has been faithfully painting a greater masterpiece in and through her life than what the world can see.

Flash forward in my life over a decade. I’ve long since graduated college. Not as a dance major but as a psychology major. I didn’t go on to pursue a Masters’ degree, which makes the Psych degree, well, almost useless (practically speaking). I became a wife and a campus missionary to college students. I began working in marketing communications with small businesses and nonprofits (that’s a story for another day). I became a mom, once, twice, three times a lady (couldn’t resist). I began a biblical counseling training program I plan to complete (hopefully in the near future). I started (and finished) writing my novel. I embarked on providing my children with a rich, quality education at home. I discipled countless college women and wrote a premarital counseling curriculum with my husband.

Today I received an email from a client of mine. We worked together a few years ago on another client, and she contacted me last week for services for her own business. Her email today said, “I came to you for your mind. I choose to work with people who challenge me to think more clearly, and it was evident in our meetings that you have a very keen strategic mind and an effective and professional way to help others see what they are not seeing.”

I don’t share that to pump myself up, I really don’t. Go be impressed with someone else (preferably Jesus). I share it because I found great, God-exalting irony in the contrast of her statement to the one made by my classmate years ago. My name may be meaningless to 99.99% of the world, but I do not believe my mind has not gone to waste. From discipling college women to teaching my children to assisting clients with their communications strategy to crafting a novel, God has and is using my creativity and intellect as His vessel.

Here’s the point of all of this: When you submit yourself to Jesus as the King of your life, He is faithful to use every bit of what He has created in you for His glory and the building of His kingdom.

   It may not happen in the ways you expect.

            It may not happen in the ways you want.

            It may not happen in the ways that make money.

            It may not happen in the ways that achieve measurable success.

            It may not happen in the ways that the world affirms.

            It may not happen in the ways it happens for others.

            It may not happen all at once.

But it happens. Because God, the Great Artist and the Loving King is a God of purposeful, intentional design, not a God of wasted space.

Friends, when the love of Jesus is enough for us, we are free from needing the affirmation of the world, the dollar sign in our bank accounts, the awards and certificates that measure our ‘success’, to validate our gifts and abilities. We are free to let the Great Artist mold and shape us into His vessels, trusting that He will put every piece to good use according to His purposes.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are my ways higher than your ways,

And my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

For further reading: Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 64:8

 

Image credit: morguefile.com

Clinging to Jesus in the Labor of Life

(If you don’t like birth stories, you can skip down to the heading below)

March 19, 2011:

Britney Lyn Hamm New Mom5:15am: I wake up in pain, breath-stopping pain. This isn’t like all the trial runs. This is the real deal.

9:00am: We check into the triage room at the hospital. “Five centimeters,” they say. “FIVE?” I ask. “Only FIVE?” It hurts this bad and we’re only halfway there? 

For the next several hours, I labor. The back pain is mind boggling. “I can’t do this,” I say to my husband with each contraction. “I need something to help it,” I say, desperately resigned. I’m only at a 6…only a 7…only an 8. “Just get through this contraction,” he says each time. I get through that contraction. Then another, then another.

1:45pm: Transition hits. If I thought I was in pain before, I had it all wrong. Now it’s too late for the epidural, even if I wanted it.

2:15pm: Time to push. They aren’t kidding when they say “ring of fire.”

3:03pm: A.N. Hamm is born, and all the pain slips away. “You did it, Babe!” he says, excitement bright in his eyes. Yes, Love, we did it.

 

April 24, 2013 – Due Date

Britney Lyn Hamm new baby 28:00am: I think I might be pregnant forever.

12:00pm: I meet with a college girl for discipleship. Contractions begin. She’s none the wiser.

1:00pm: She leaves. I tell my husband this is it, but to carry on his meeting in the living room while I labor in the bedroom. I’ll let him know when I need him.

1:45pm: Just kidding. Meeting over. The episode of Psych is not an adequate distraction. I can’t do this alone anymore.

2:30pm: We check into triage. “Six,” they proclaim. “SIX?” I return. “I’m only a SIX?” This labor is moving fast, they assure me. The intensity matches the speed.

Yet again, I say to my husband, “I can’t do this; I want something for the pain,” each time a contraction peaks. “No, you don’t,” he assures. “Just get through this contraction.” And then another, and another.

The room is a flurry with activity, much different than the quiet hours of labor in the room before our firstborn’s birth. This baby is coming like a train.

5:05pm: E.J. Hamm is born, and all the pain slips away. “You did it, Babe!” he says, excitement bright in his eyes. Yes, Love, we did it.

 

April 27, 2016

11:45pm: A contraction hits. I shouldn’t be scared, but I am. I know that this will hurt. That ring of fire ain’t no joke, and I know that now.

April 28, 2016

Britney Lyn Hamm new baby 32:30am: We head for the hospital. It’s a busy night. We’re waiting in triage for a room, but this baby is coming fast. And if I thought the previous two were intense, I hadn’t seen intense yet.

“I can’t do it!” I say, “The pain is too much!” “Just get through this one,” he keeps saying. I lock my eyes on the deep blue of his where I find nothing but a love as intense as the pain coursing through my body, and I get through it.

4:30am: We get settled in a room – and not a moment too soon!

4:45am: With one swift push, A.G. Hamm is born, and all the pain slips away. “The baby’s out?” I exclaim in surprise. “You did it, Babe!” he says, excitement bright in his eyes. Yes, Love, we did it.

 

The Labor of Life

All three of our kids just had birthdays in the last six weeks, plus I’ve been hooked on Call the Midwife, so the labor of childbirth is present on my mind.

Today, as I washed dishes after returning from the library with my eldest daughter, I reflected on the day. And it struck me that parenting – really, all of life – is a lot like labor.

Today was an incredibly hard day, involving a sick toddler who spent most of the day (and last night) screaming.  Like the contractions of labor, I thought each time she let out another blood-curdling scream, I can’t make it through this. I could not see an end in sight to the screaming and the sleeplessness and the feeling of total helplessness.

Before dinner, as I bounced the finally calmish toddler on my hip, I kissed her and said, “We made it.” As I washed dishes two hours later with a finally quiet house, I breathed a sigh of relief. We made it. The pain of the day slipped away with my precious ones on their way to dreamy land, and I felt one more little brick of character and faith had been laid in my heart.

How much of life is like that? How often do we look at the clock and think, “How will I make it to 5 o’clock? To next month? To next year?” Whether it’s the unrelenting demands of a boss at work, the insurmountable pain of a lonely marriage, the sheer exhaustion of caring for and raising children, the repeated disappointment of a negative pregnancy test, the overwhelming flood of grief over a lost loved one, or something else, life is full of contractions. Ripples of pain and suffering we aren’t sure we’ll get through, big or little.

You know what’s amazing, though? We get through it. We survive. We come out on the other side, and by God’s grace, sometimes we even come out stronger.

With childbirth, we get through it because we don’t have a choice. Our bodies WILL birth that baby. There’s no stopping it. The only choice we have is how we endure it, not if we endure it. But even that is not the measure of strength. Some people think I’m extra strong because I birthed three children naturally, with no pain relief (on purpose). I don’t think that’s strength – I think it’s madness. I think any woman can do that, because a century ago we didn’t have a choice.

Life is a lot like that, too. Sometimes we get through it- whatever it is for you – because we have to – there’s no other way but forward. Sometimes we get through it because we’re pursuing a higher goal or aim that makes the pain and struggle worth it in the end. Sometimes we get through it because of convictions we can’t compromise.

The Source of True Strength

Let me be honest, here – my husband is the real rock star of our labors. I genuinely believe that without his gentle but firm reassurance, I would have gotten an epidural all three times. That’s not to say that would have been weakness, because it’s not – it’s simply not what I wanted. He brought out of me what I couldn’t bring out of myself. With each contraction, with each lock of his eyes on mine, he reminded me of where true strength lies: not in overcoming it all in one fell swoop, but in persevering and sustaining through one contraction at a time.

Faith is a lot like that, too. The good news is that we don’t have to get through it alone. God does not remove the pain in one fell swoop, at least not usually. We have to get through it one way or another. But He’s there with us, with mercies anew every moment. He grips our hand and lets us squeeze the heck out of it. He locks our eyes on His, where we see nothing but a love so intense it endured the greatest pain for our sake, and He says, “Just get through this moment.”

God doesn’t promise us enough strength for the next day, or even the next minute. He promises us enough strength for right now. As we get through each moment, holding His hand, watching His eyes, listening to His words of reassurance, we find that we get through it, and some prize awaits us on the other side. Maybe it’s not a precious new life ushered into the world. Maybe it’s just one building block in our faith as we see one more tick on the wall as evidence of His faithfulness. Maybe it’s just one building block of character in our hearts as He weeds out something that needn’t be there to replace it with a deeper faith in Him. Maybe it’s just knowing that this time we were a little bit calmer and quieter than before because we trusted more deeply that He would carry us through.

I didn’t get through today gracefully. I didn’t get through it with utter calm. I didn’t get through it with perfect faith. But perhaps strength isn’t found in what we endure, or how much we endure, or how quietly we endure it, but in how tightly we cling, moment by moment, to the One who holds our hand. And let me tell you, today I clung.