Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mother Suffering

When my mom passed away I was an absolute novice at grief and loss.  Matt took me on a walk about a week after her home-going:  just circled the block right out our front door.  I leaned on him like I was recovering from some major surgery or devastating sickness, us (both 27) walking the pace of 90 year olds.  I couldn’t move any faster.  Those first days I could barely breathe.  But I could cry in church and lay my head down on Matt’s shoulder and he would hold me tight and it was alright and nobody acted like I was the least bit improper.   They knew.

I knew nothing about planning a funeral. I’d never even cared for a friend who’d experienced loss.  I wouldn’t have known how.  But I was blown away by the friends who somehow knew.  They sent flowers.  They brought food and just sat with me in the afternoons on the way home from work.  They wrote cards- short cards, few and simple and totally loving words.  They shared their memories and snapshots of my mama.  They loved her with me and they loved me.  I was surrounded and upheld and it’s all a cherished Ebenezer in my life to this day.   

That was almost twelve years ago.  I birthed four babies soon after she left (in the span of 5 years.)  I wanted her to tell me how to do this motherhood thing.  I wanted her to tell me I could do it and that she would help me.  I wanted her with me, her hand stroking my hair with mother-blessing, infusing me with the courage I needed so badly.  

I’ve been at this motherhood thing for more than ten years now.  I’m privileged to see the daily feedings of my little multitude at our table and it strikes me as a miracle of grace three times a day (plus snacks).  I get to be see Him soothing stormy seas souls too- when by faith, He stands over us and speaks “Hush…Peace… Be still” and we can receive His calm and make peace and make joy together again.  

Still, it’s in picking up the leftovers at the end of each miraculous day, and sometimes between quarrels and boxing matches of various kinds and alternating contestants throughout the day, that I question, “Why, amidst so many miracles and obvious blessings, would there be so much painful fallout from our lives together?"  The crumbs and shards of my own brokenness- and theirs-  seem to be the bulk of the leftovers that fill my basket, even with all these repeated miracles we witness together- the daily grace that sustains us.  

I told a friend a few days ago “I’m not one of those brave moms, I’m too sensitive and weak.”  I’ve experienced grief and, Really? I’d call this stuff of motherhood “suffering"?  Simply the daily ordeal of bickering and meanness and madness and a few slammed doors and stomping away and the foolishness and “can you please try to remember what I said just a minute ago?” and, “well, then...can you please do it?” …. Yep.  It is for sure a kind of suffering for me. 

One of the things I’ve learned about grief is that my thoughts turn to mush.  Reason and rationale all blur with emotion and numbness and pain and nothing is left coherent.  And this is definetely true of my motherhood struggles.  Processing sometimes seems rational but for much of this mess of my heart, I have to admit that I don’t always see things rightly and I need Jesus, need to cling tight, for however this storm blows and whatever I feel.  Storms often feel stronger and scarier than they really need to be….  Cling to Him, Jill.  

Sometimes the only English I hear all day is our children's occasional gladness, splattered with the beating and bruising of sibling bullying.  (And moms don’t have to move to China to find this true for them too.)  It’s bullying alright…  except that they’re constantly rotating roles between pharisee-abuser and victim.  And if that doesn’t break me down, the utter foolishness can crumble that last whole pieces of me to dust.  “Buddy, you’re how old and did you really think that dangle-twirling the craft-trash can on your toes while you read at the couch would go well?” And I would probably be strong for it other days, but sometimes a good kid line is like a straw to this camel… “Sweetheart, mama’s cooked (what feels like) 4,000 meals this week and washed (approximately) 5,000 dishes and we won’t go into the laundry or the guests or the languages swirling in my brain and the burdens breaking my heart and I’m tired, darling.   Can you tell me about the snail in the puddle after I finish this sentence?"

I know that I’m still just beginning at this til-death journey of motherhood.  There’s more to come, more joys and sorrows.  And I know this too:  this is hard.  

And guilt makes it harder.  Because how else have my kids so perfected these patterns?  So now not only do I have to listen to bickering and the far too frequent nagging drip of dishonor and disrespect, but I also have to admit that I’ve modeled all this complaining and overreacting and impatience for them, all this gunk that they’ve learned so well.  

But I’ve got to call myself to some clear perspective: I have fantastic kids.  They are growing to listen and love and show honor to me in great ways and in hard pinches when they’d much rather go their own way.  They aren’t perfect, just like their mom and dad, but we’re growing in grace together and it is a joy to be family together much of the time.  There is just this deep ugly root that strikes harder than anything else in us right now- this sibling rivalry-bickering thing.  There's pharisee-ism and volcanic overreactions and complaining and boasting and fussing too... but this one is our biggie and I can’t seem to get under it.  Oh but He knows…. Cling to Him.  

The thing is, for all this sorrow and confusion, I feel no freedom to cry in public and I don’t get to take slow walks for the pain.  And yes, of course, I probably just need to grow up about all of this. 

And it breaks me to write any of this because I know far too well that there can be, should be, might be solutions to all of these troubles.  If I would only read this book (This is The plan, The book on parenting and it’s all you need and then it will all be better…).  If I would just follow-through and always be consistent.  (Which would be more doable if my kids were consistent with their trials and tribulations rather than pitching new ones at me faster than (insert the name of speedy awesome pitcher that a baseball wife like me ought to know.))  I laughed when I saw the blog headline “six words to stop sibling rivalry” but I clicked on it just to see… Seriously?  It was sweet, but it wasn’t a joke.   Apparently, all I need to say to them is “How can you make this better?”

There’s something about this kind of struggle that others don’t acknowledge with caring eyes or a soft hand on your shoulder.   We are a public nuisance in our bicker mode, so I get it.   But the public shame I hear (and fear) doesn’t help either.  “Man, that lady’s kids are loud!” and “That sounds like fingernails on a chalk board.” (Why, you’re right.  That’s *Exactly* what it sounds like.  And I would give just about anything to silence it, believe me, please.)  And why is “dear, you’re in a hard stretch” not the approach we often take with each other?   And how about crying a little together? And which mom in my shoes isn’t already trying all she possibly can to make things better already?   

Who would ever respond to the grieving me above by saying “oh, your mom died?  Well mine is still alive and she’s wonderful.”  I’m grateful no one said anything like that to me 12 years ago.   But let’s not miss the similarity to lines like, “Oh, your kids bicker?  I don’t even have to tell my kids to be kind…”  

Mercy, Lord.   

I am one grateful sinner that all this mess is exactly what the Gospel is for.  

Forgiveness for my failures and comfort and hope and help and sure promises for the future.  Faithful love to bind up all of our brokenness and bind us together in Christ.  I have all the promises of God and that actually is more than enough to combat all of our sinful attitudes and patterns, all exponentially multiplied (which is the formula for family.)  

This little post is equal parts clinging-to-Christ and soul-honest-lament, and it isn’t complete without me squaring up and staring down my own soul with the hard questions:  Maybe I’m too hungry for compassion and I really should be harder after solutions, better methods, communication, or better yet, maybe I only need to be more earnest in prayer for my children?  Maybe I need to own up to my responsibility to model all this needed peace better for them, somehow?  And how does a mom whose preached too many sermons at her kids, point them yet again, effectively, to the Savior who is the Only One who can do the miracle in us that we most desperately need?

Matt often has to talk me down from new plans and extremes.  And maybe that’s sone of what makes this so hard?  There’s no fixing it, just promise-clinging to make it through.  Because the best that I can see of this mess, is that there’s no honest, easy solution.  There’s just grace and that can’t be called easy and it sure isn’t cheap.  But it’s the toughest stuff in the universe I think… and exactly what our bicker battles need and its the best I can dream of: trusting God’s promises and presence with me- and holding tight for the ride.    He was faithful in the wilderness for 40 years to a people who'd dare complain straight against him when he'd just blown open the Red Sea to save them and he’s still faithful and patient and abounding in love for me, for us, today.  

Hold Fast, Jill.  We are going to make it, by His grace.  To see reasons for joy right here, right now.  To healthier patterns.  To saner years.  To build this family on the strength of His truth and look back with joy and gratefulness for all of it.

And because I have to keep things simple, short enough to post up on the fridge, if I really need to remember it.... and because I *really* need to remember this... I’ll preach our simple course of action to myself yet again:

Start clinging to God's promises... roots deep in the Truth of His Word.
Ask for wisdom (James 1:5)
Love them.  (Be Patient.)
Model the peace of Christ in you, for them. 
Teach them to choose, to do hard and holy things. 
Pursue their joy.  Encourage gratitude.  (Because those two are inseparable.  Thanks AV)  
Speak slowly, calmly, kindly.  Smile deep into their eyes.  
Listen long. (It will probably involve snails and poop and plotless story lines but their might also be some confession and secret dreams shared and precious prayers.)
Serve humbly, selfless.  (Them above you.) 
Be firm in authority and discipline, with compassion...
Compassion. Before. Consequences. 
Preach the Gospel!  Live, Give the Gospel message of grace.
Be quick to ask for forgiveness because you’re going to need it too.
You will fall down (don’t be surprised).  Get back up again, grateful for the Gospel that gives you forgiveness and life.  
Keep a song in your heart… and keep clinging on...

Related:  another mom’s heart:  The Joy and Sorrow of Parenting

Monday, July 4, 2016


The moment of reconciliation...  after some sweet guy was climbing a rock and mom thought he was with dad's group and dad thought... and well... we found him and mom cried and ....

two trees is not quite enough for two hammocks.  
Worth a try... and the boys made a mostly fun hammock war out of the opportunity.  

That this beauty is just an hour and half from our house is a bit shocking.   #magnificentcreation

This is Vivi's "best friend outside our family, because of course Marian is my best friend in our family."

There were lots of cheeks kissed in this little photo shoot and to end it all, both beauties needed a little wipe down.  

our neighbor kids are just exquisite!  Love these little friends!

Sweet ladies... I asked if they're sisters and nope, just friends.  (But matchy friends are especially special!)

She recently heard a challenge of one girl who wanted to jump 1000 times... and she's following hard that way.

Isaiah's always drawn to this- painting Chinese calligraphy at a park with a huge water brush. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

John's #7 Mark

John Timothy is our funny face, full of expression, compassionate, bike rider extraordinaire, Chinese speaking, reading on grade level, draws action packed stories on multiple pages every day, deeper thinker than you might guess, not the crazy bravest (yet), hilarious, super sweet heart Seven Year Old.


Happy Birthday, John Love!

a super sweet fun group of boys here to celebrate 

We played games outside first...  For capture the flag, these "light sabers" were the "whackers" that could send your opponents to jail.   (Love these fine ten year old young men!)

Then they came up for some delicious lagman (the local noodle dish) and cake and ice cream and a bit of splashing around in our little blow up pool.  #supergrateful

This shot was actually from a few days after his party... we were at a new park that just opened and John wasn't feeling well.  Sweet boy ended up tossing his cookies at the park, but he was still a cheer to be with, even being low energy.  

We're so grateful and so outstandingly blessed to have you as our son, dear John.  May the Lord continue to grow your heart and mind and body strong in Him, and all for Him, for His glory!  We could not love you more John Love!  ~ your smitten mom and dad

the birth of a star in our hearts?

Anyone who's read much here will know that I'm a grateful reader of Ann Voskamp.  Her post yesterday is just too good to leave unmentioned here.  Just too good, too beautiful, too full of eternity and forever glory...

If you feel at all stirred by the excerpt below- and I hope we all are- please read the whole magnificent thing over at Ann's blog.  

"They say that 77% of practicing Christians believe Christians have a responsibility to adopt, but only 5% of Christians have adopted — and I get why it’s tempting to think you shouldn’t adopt and someone else should and I get the choking fears and I get the questions that won’t stop haunting and I get that supporting adoption doesn’t mean that we’re all called to adopt because caring for orphans looks different for each of us, but it has to look like something —  and I never stop getting over how Jesus left the 99 for the 1 and the whole focus of our Father is fighting for orphans, making them sons and daughters.
God searched for you, found you, fought for you, signed the papers with His blood and He adopted you and brought you Home –and the only way any of us get into the family of God is through the most painful adoption.
Adoption is all of the broken’s story.
We’re all sort of a different kind of the same kind of broken. "

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Good, Good News {Welcome to our new, dearly loved nephew!}

A new redhead has been welcomed into the world and into many wildly ready to LOVE THIS CHILD hearts in the K family.

Evan Lloyd, you are an answer to prayer, an evidence that indeed "God is gracious."

If you're interested in the name, you'll see in Greg (Matt's brother) and Heather's post that there could not be more awesomeness or legacy packed into one little boy's name.    We love it!  We love him.  We love all these Grether Reds and all of our precious ND Ks.

Missing you, loving you, and wishing we could bring over spaghetti or tacos or pie for the big two.... and be with all of you to celebrate this GIFT!

Blessing on you Evan Lloyd.  May you grow as a boy of valor and joy and wisdom and radiant passion for Jesus and super fun wit (how could you avoid any of that in your family!?).  May the Lord's blessing be on your life for His brightest glory, all the days of your precious life.

Just so you know, little love, we're celebrating your birthday with a day off homeschool!  Too much teary joy for schoolwork today!

We love you,
Uncle Matt and Auntie Jill and all your China cousins-  Isaiah, Marian, John and Vivian


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Homesick: Hurting for Orlando

#prayforOrlando is a huge pull on our hearts these days as we grieve from too far away, such tragic losses, such gross violence and pure EVIL in a city we love most dearly.... the city where we met and married, where our first son was born, where so many, so very dear ones live.

We are grieving for families and broken hearts and lives shattered by this wickedness of two shootings in one weekend.

May the Lord speak His true Word into all the brokenness across Orlando... for comfort, for hope, for healing, for drawing many to the Truth of Who He is and how we need Him and that He is good,  truly good, fully good.... even though this world is full of wickedness.  May Orlando lift up their eyes to see the loving Father, the suffering Savior, the present Comforter and may His peace be known in your hearts there now...

Monday, May 9, 2016

all the local news

on a bus ride with local ladies

(warning:  random heart ramblings here)

I'm terribly shy for taking photos of local neighbors but I so long to share with you the local scenes and beauty.  It's ridiculous for me to be so timid for this because in this culture, I'm honoring these friends if I want their picture and they'd probably all pose bright and happy and at least one person in most every group pic would give bunny ears to another and it could be real lively and fun... but I'm an introvert and this just overwhelms me.  Most the time, I'd like to just smile and nod at most the people I pass on the street and keep walking to the grocery store for veggies and eggs.   

Sadly, rather than feeling honored, often I'm annoyed, when people want to pose for "bunny ears" with my kids and make them stop from wherever we're going or whatever they're playing to smile with strangers who usually don't even say hello- but just want a flashy pic they can boast of on social media.  

Still, a huge piece of my heart still hungers to capture more local beauty, more natural shots, even though I squirm when we're targeted as the subject of their photography.  (There's no way around this being a very sad, broken thing in me to have to confess.  I hate it but it's all true.)  

I'd love to get more natural shots of my neighbors.  Nobody looking, please.  Just a regular still life on film (digitally.)  So I'm trying to get sneakier with using my phone.  Savvier about pulling off the "I'm just texting someone" look while I snap away like a totally silly fake spy.  Somebody please tell me how I can do this better- not interrupt their conversations and just take an honest good photograph?  I'd love to get a few more shots of local scenes around us:  life and people, that we've come to love so dearly.

In other news...  two princesses stopped by our living room to play games the other day.  

in honor of Uncle Greg- whose Monopoly legacy burns deep in the hearts of our kid crew.

masterful hairdo done all by her big sis!

And we took these two awesome guys (who work at Matt's company) to the mountains to see if we can make some fun business stuff happen out that way this summer.   It was a great excuse for a day of fresh air, run-in-the-grass, JOY!

Mornings Together... Getting ready for the World, rooted in the Word

She got The Biggest Story (by DeYoung) as her 5 year old birthday gift and now she calls it "my Bible"...  We'll get her a biggie of the real deal when she's reading a bit better but we just delight that she loves to try to track along with Daddy's reading.  She's got a good record of finding a pic in "her Bible" that goes along with what Matt's reading so far.  So soo super sweet!

make him a man after your own heart, God!
... and this one too, please, Lord!
(Honest, we're working, still working, on "learning posture" to show honor when it's due!)
Apparently, "learning posture" is a bit hard to find at our house sometimes...  but she's been writing songs of Jesus love that are beautiful beyond ballet perfect posture!  Love this girl too...  Oh God make them, makes us all, to hunger and thirst for you and fill them like only You can!  Anchor us in Your true and perfect Word,  Lord!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

in praise of patience

I have a clipboard, plain as can be, that holds my daily to-dos and my deep heart aims.  Under the top page with the week all lined out, I have pages of words that need to be revisited.  Often revisited.  Like today.

These words from an old Ann Voskamp post I edited slightly for flow (I selected these lines from throughout her longer, better post) but these are what I need tucked into my heart to blossom and bear some loving beautiful fruit this morning...

This is the order of love:
First love is patient. Patience is first a willingness to say thanks in suffering. 
Patience in the moment only comes from gratefulness for the moment. …. 
The inspired Words says that the foundation of love is first patience.
How can I be patient in the tipsiness of this domestic chaos?
How can I be patient in the pain of now?
Love is only patient if it’s first grateful for what is.
When I am not patient? My failure to love is first a failure to be grateful for who people are right now.
And my impatience is a result of my unthankfulness – I’m impatient for the children to be someone different, for the cashier to hurry up, for this to get done right now.
The more dissatisfied I am in this moment, the more discontented I am with who they are, with what is happening — the harder it becomes to be patient, to be loving.
Patient people dare to gratefully accept people where they are. Grateful for who they are now, appreciative of works of art not yet finished, but still deeply loved.
Patient people dare to receive the present always as a present — grace.
Patient people dare to live only in the present. Because they know that is where God is.
Lack gratitude — then lack patience — then, ultimately, lack love. To be love-full, I’ll first need to be grateful.

I need to remember this in parenting, perhaps more than anything.... but really, I need patient, grateful, trusting love in everything, every part of my life, every piece of my heart.  
When our child disobeys and an impatient spark of correction from a parent results in a long morning of refusal to listen, I am reminded again:  love is patient.  What if we had heard that first defiance and came to our child to say "I love you too much to let you disobey like that.  Dear, I want to help you know that this is not a path of blessing you're on right now and because I love you and want so much for your life to be blessed, for you to be in on the blessings I have planned for you today, I have to help you turn away from this disobedience."  
I think it would have gone a lot better than "That's enough!  You two, this is your discipline...." (One kid worked with us on this poor approach and took it honorably and moved on to make peace out of all of it.  But not the other child...) 
This quick discipline approach seems exquisitely consistent with my heart sense of justice and I-can-only-take-so-much-til-my-sanity-snaps.    But it seems that to those assumed and selfishly required "rights" of mine, Patience (Jesus) has a better word to speak.  
"Love my child."  

And yes, of course, we want to know our children's hearts.  We must seek for the whys and the "what's going on that you're choosing to do this?".  Hopefully that will be another way in to their hearts to show them they're loved.  Another way to point them to the wonder and the miracle and the mystery promised to us of the Gospel.  
I have no rights of my own to claim.   My justice, my sanity- they're not mine to defend or protect.  I'm called to lay them dow, to love.   His love for me is enough.  

The command to love our enemy is a command to find our hope and our satisfaction in God and his great reward — his future grace. The key to radical love is faith in future grace. We must be persuaded in the midst of our agony that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3).   (- John Piper's devotional "Solid Joys"

So, John Piper is writing about loving enemies that may kidnap or kill you.... but sometimes, there are parental agonies that seem to come at least a little bit close to that, don't you think?

My Lord has every right to every part of me.  My desire for justice is to be born patiently, hemmed in and communicated with authority in love and firmness to bring about the blessing that we all really want most of all.  Make it so, Lord.  I am far from such selfless love on  my own.  Show your love through me, through us!  May our children know thy are deeply, soulfully, wholly loved.  May it be so, in me and in our home, for your glory Jesus.