Loving Fragile

By Jenny

“I can’t do this!”

Those were the words I repeated over and over in that labor and delivery room. Days ago I had prepared for this moment, practicing with my husband all the positive mantras I would repeat when the labor pains would come upon me, but they were lost to my memory now. Sweating, panting, groaning, shaking, now all I could say was: “I can’t!”

“Yes, you can!” my husband assured me softly. “You already are doing this!” the midwife added gently.

Fast forward a couple hours and my tiny, wrinkly baby is lying in my arms. Forget my aching, bleeding body—my heart is surging more alive than ever with a new love, protectiveness and eagerness and tenderness and hopefulness all meshed together, a force strong enough to knock the breath out of me. I pull him close and gaze fixedly on his face. I feel his warm, soft skin. This is the one I carried inside me for months on end. The one I had dreamed about for so long. The extension of my very self, here in my arms, so small and helpless and fragile.

I feel suddenly afraid. Looking at him, I realize I am fragile, too.

Can I do this?

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell…

The hymn is playing softly from our little portable speaker. Now I turn it up.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

I hit the Repeat button. And I lay there, a long time, holding my newborn baby, listening to this song over and over.

Can I do this? I ask myself. Is my heart strong enough to love such a fragile bundle? Can I handle the worry, the hurting, the aching my heart would do for this boy, not just today but for the rest of my life?

The reality is—I can’t do this.

I can never shield this boy from all the sharp edges of this broken world. I can’t close his ears to mean things people will say, I can’t give him a life free of disappointment, I can’t keep him from pain. And walking with this boy, helping him grow up, my heart will break, little cracks certainly and big pieces perhaps, as I feel with and for him all of life.

Like Mary, I ponder these things in my heart.

And I listen to this song again and again, meditating and worshiping the God of love. I’m comforted to realize that what I can’t do, He has already done. I can’t provide for my son’s every need or satisfy his every desire, but God can. I can’t heal his heart from pain, but God can. I can’t always be there and I will fail him—but God’s love endures forever.

What a God! He is vigorously and relentlessly pursuing the good of His people in all power and for all eternity. And it is because I am covered head to toe in this divine love that I can love others, and pour myself out unreseveredly, and risk all heartbreak. If for love’s sake my heart breaks, it will fall a thousand pieces into His hands, those hands that were pierced for me, broken to make me whole. If for love’s sake my heart breaks, then I am only brought closer to the heart of God, only plunging deeper the depths of His love ocean. We, fragile beings, can love other fragile beings, because we are upheld by this greater, stronger, beyond-comprehension love.

I kiss my little son’s forehead. I gaze at my husband sprawled exhausted on the little hospital room couch. Faces of all those friends and family members so loved flood my mind and the kind lady coming in to take our trash smiles at me.

You can love.

For though we are fragile, He is strong. Sing of His love, His measureless love, again and again. And carry on.

Time Unfolding

By Jenny

Last night, we drove to the nursing home to pick up a new crib.

“We’re not able-bodied,” the crackly, slow voice told me over the phone earlier in the day. “But you can come get it.”

“Would around five o’clock be okay?”

“Well, that’s our supper hour. Let’s say seven.”

So seven o’clock, we show up. White-haired folks out for an evening stroll on the sidewalks point us in the direction of the building we are looking for. In the front doors we wander, signing in as visitors with little badges. “You’ll want to go just past the dining hall, to the right,” we are directed. Passing the ladies eating neat little bowls of pudding around a table bedecked in autumn colors, my husband wonders aloud, “Do you think we could get dinner here?” We hadn’t eaten for hours. Suddenly, surrounded by the aged who eat dinner at the same time every day, I feel very young.

We knock on the door, and a little old man with a delightfully gray beard answers. He shows us the cherry-wood crib, and we chat for a bit. His grandchildren live in England. He is moving into a smaller apartment and needs to downsize. So here we are.

The crib is loaded on to a rolling cart and the Grandpa points us down the hall, slowing standing and reaching for his walker. He is going to walk out with us.

We walk slowly. Small steps, one foot carefully placed before the next. I take the opportunity to see this Grandpa’s eyes, to slow down my own self, to ponder life. This is a man at the end of things. A man who had lived full and is now near the finish line. My heart melts as I consider my own grandfather, whose memorial service I attended just days earlier. That morning I’d listened to Pavarotti as I drove to work—not my usual choice of listening, but my Grandpa adored that Italian musician. Tears had filled my eyes. Death is hard.

I have a hard time imagining myself old, I realize as I pace down this nursing home hallway. I don’t think I really believe that I will grow old–that I might live in a place like this, that I might have grandchildren who live far away and a home to downsize and a walker to lean heavy on.

Inside me my baby boy somersaults. I smile as I instinctively touch my growing belly. “Is it your first?” a passerby, in a wheelchair, asks.

It is my first. We’re just starting life. We’re setting up our home, anticipating and dreaming for our future, hopeful, anxious, wondering. So here we are, getting a crib at a nursing home, wide-eyed with awe as new and old intersect.

“What is your life?” James writes. “It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

Once upon a time this old man hobbling next to me was a little baby kicking in his mother’s womb. Then he had a little boy of his own. Then he had grandkids. Then, he came to the end. And we took his crib.

We live as a vapor.

“Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away…” the hymnist penned.

James reminds us not to boast—not to assume our own sovereignty over our days (4:15). We’re to live humble, leaning on the Lord’s will like this old man leans on his walker. And here—here—to establish our hearts, for “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). We can hope for the future, the real future, the eternal life.

“Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.”

He will bring us all, little baby and young, clueless parents and old wise Grandpas, home to a Glory where time will never end, where we will share the ultimate victory, where death will never dismay, where joy will be unhindered. All together, united with our Father.

Forever.

Nurturing a Spiritual Life

By Jenny

The life of faith is a life that needs nurturing. A life of faith doesn’t happen by natural means (John 6:44), and it cannot be maintained by natural means either.

But sometimes I treat my spiritual life like I treat the potted herbs on my window sill. I sort of assume they’ll stay alive on their own. I think they get enough sun, give or take, and I watered them oh, yesterday wasn’t it? I might forget about them for days except to occasionally admire how green they look or to glow when a friend walks in my kitchen and says, “How do you keep those beautiful plants alive?” The truth is they’ve only been there a few short weeks. Time proves that I don’t consider those plants as living things and I don’t take seriously the care they require. Now, they sit brown and dried up—dead.

When I assume the same things of my spiritual life—that my faith will stay strong with a little Scripture now and then, like a drizzle of water on a bowl of dust—I neglect the power of the life God has breathed into me. Assuming my own human strength, I underestimate the glory He has shared with me, the rescue He has granted, the future He promises. I grow forgetful, dry and hard.

I’ve been wondering and meditating lately on the practical ways I can nurture my spiritual life—because I need help. I need to learn and know what my faith needs to grow and to flourish, like I need to know what basil needs to live on my window sill. I need to figure out how to seek (Matthew 6:33), and feed (John 6:27), and endure (Matthew 24:13). It’s a matter of life and of death.

Here are a few ideas that come to mind. I write this list not so much as recommendation to you, but as a reminder and challenge for myself, and one I welcome you to enter into with me, if you’d like.

– Hear the stories and hearts of Christian saints. To consider the stories of the children of God is to glean rich insights and inspiration. Joni Eareckson Tada, Corrie ten Boom, Augustine, Jim & Elisabeth Elliot, John Calvin, and so many more—there is a host of witnesses to cheer us on our way.

– Commune deeply with other believers. I need friends who can share Scripture with me, and I with them. Friends who will ask me how my devotional life is going. Friends who will ask me to pray for them and with them. Conversations with brothers and sisters are key to my own perseverance.

– Pray on your knees. An uncomfortable position helps me to concentrate and perhaps more importantly, remember my own humility before the King of Kings and the awesome truth that He invites us, His children, into His throne room.

– Journal through Scripture. If I don’t write it down, it’s much harder for me to remember and engage. When I write, I can visualize, and add notes, and highlight, and draw arrows and circles to build understanding. I can record my prayers and my goals and review what the Lord has done. I find this beneficial.

– Serve others intentionally and in humility. Entering into another’s sorrow, bearing their burdens, putting aside my own interests for their interests—this shows me more of Christ.

Well, it’s a short list, but it’s somewhere to start. If I can pursue even one of these points each day, I can pursue growth and change—I can lay hold of strength, and glory, and life.

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well-built” (Luke 6:47-48).

Apple Seeds & Heavenly Love

By Jenny

Once upon a time, you were the size of an apple seed.

And your little heart—so tiny!—was already beating.

When my very-wide-eyes first saw those two lines on the pregnancy test, the baby in my womb, who I was just beginning to meet, was the size of an apple seed (five weeks after conception). An apple seed is so small you can barely grasp it in your fingertips—but already this little person’s heart was beating more than 100 times per minute, already the mouth and lips were beginning to form, already permanent kidneys were in place, already he or she was beginning to wiggle and squirm!

The Bible acknowledges God as the Creator, the One who designs and initiates and sustains every human life. Talking to God, the Psalmist says,

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”

As I’ve learned more about the development of human life—the progression in size from apple seed to blueberry to avocado, as all the details come together to make a human being—these verses have come to have new meaning for me, and not just as a mother, but as a neighbor and friend. As I walk down the busy street, I look anew at the passersby. That white-haired woman sitting on the bench, that businessman marching steadily on, that weary, arguing family pushing the heavy-laden stroller—these human beings are all wonderful works of God, known by Him while yet unknown to everyone else, knitted carefully, mercifully together in a mother’s womb.

The love of God, to the tiniest among us, breathes fire into my soul. I worship Him, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” and I pray that I might too, walk in His love, to smile and encourage and befriend the people He has put in my path.

Charles Spurgeon, of course, puts it well. In his April 30th devotion in Morning and Evening, he writes:

“Dear reader, is this precious to you? Then hold to it. Never be led astray by those philosophic fools who preach up an impersonal God, and talk of self-existent, selfgoverning matter. The Lord liveth and thinketh upon us, this is a truth far too precious for us to be lightly robbed of it. The notice of a nobleman is valued so highly that he who has it counts his fortune made; but what is it to be thought of by the King of kings! If the Lord thinketh upon us, all is well, and we may rejoice forevermore.”

The Lord thinks on you. He thought on you when were just the size of a little apple seed.

Be encouraged in His love today!