Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Childbirth Really a Miracle?

I am always hearing in women’s media some celebrity mom say something like, “I gave birth…it was such a miracle.” What do they mean by miracle? Is it an event in which nature is defied, a divine act, or just another way to say super cool? 
It has nearly become a cliché, because when you think about it, women have been having babies since time immemorial, and it is a pretty earthly, organic experience -- one that occurs in nature all the time. Is that really a miracle? Aren’t miracles supposed to break the rules of nature?
I am about to give birth for the second time and to be honest, I would really like to think of it in miraculous terms, but I don’t want to just say that because it is expected, especially when there is a lot of evidence pointing to the contrary. So let’s get to the bottom of it. Theologically speaking, is birth a miracle?

It really comes down to the nature of miracles themselves. There are many miracles throughout Scripture and found in Christian experience through the ages. They have different meanings and significance. In one instance, God brings forth manna for the Israelites from the sky. In another instance, Jesus heals a blind man by rubbing spit and dirt over his eyelids, incorporating natural elements. Jesus’ first miraculous act of the New Testament is to turn water into wine. He breaks the rules of nature, but in another way, he simply accelerates the natural processes that He (the Triune) God had already created – the normal pattern of fruit fermenting into wine.
It would, therefore, seem that there are distinctions or differences among miracles. In reference to God’s miracles, C.S. Lewis states, “some of the miracles do locally what God has already done universally: others do locally what He has not yet done, but will do. In that sense, and for our human point of view, some are reminders and other prophecies.” In other words, some of the miracles of Christ, such as turning water into wine, reveal the inherent miraculous nature of God’s creation, his abundance, his goodness, his blessing of providing us with food and drink. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, however, it is prophetic. It points to the miracle of what is to come -- the resurrection of all his followers and the banishment of all death and decay. 
So, how does this relate to childbirth, because I still want to know if I am about to witness a miracle in a week or two? Turns out all those celebrity moms are right. Birth is a miracle! I would say that the creation of life is miraculous, and that in childbirth we, like our God, get to participate in this amazing miracle. Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary accelerates and highlights the miracle of the Father begetting life. What is done locally, Jesus being born of a virgin, reveals what is done universally, God created life out of nothing. Jesus born of Mary shows the elaborate and intricate process of life being created and handed down throughout the ages in a rich, complex, and mysterious process. I think one last quote from Lewis will help us put this question to rest, “Behind every spermatozoon lies the whole history of the universe: locked within it is no small part of the world’s future. That is God’s normal way of making a man -- a process that takes centuries, beginning with one creation of matter itself, and narrowing to one second and one particle moment of begetting,” (God in the Dock, “Miracles,” 30).  Childbirth is straight-up miraculous because God is at work creating life through and outside all time. He was at work in the manger in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and he will be at work in Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, in our little hospital room. I am deeply moved and humbled by this thought. I think the words of Mary are most appropriate.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.” (Luke 1: 46-49)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Labor Pains: You Too May be Having Them

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22) 

St. Paul is talking about the tough stuff of life -- the ugly, crummy, miserable side, our suffering and our pain. I need not cite examples, the evidence is everywhere. In his letter to the Romans, he proclaims that, although life can be extremely unjust, perhaps agonizing, it is but a small blip compared to the endless glory, beauty, and wisdom of God -- the peace and rest we will all experience when are with him face to face. 

I have been pregnant for a long, nine months now. I got through the first part where I puked everyday and past out in exhaustion every morning. I got through the middle part, where aside from all those little pregnancy joys like swelling and heartburn, I felt pretty good. Now I am limping my way to the finish line, sweating, heaving, big as a beached whale panting for just a dollop of refreshing water on a hot, Florida beach. If you think this is complaining, you should have been a fly on my wall the last two months. I think my general crankiness and complaints reached near epic proportions, and I probably owe Lydia, Bo, and Jesus a heartfelt apology. But in all the struggles of pregnancy there is a saving grace. There is a finish line ahead, an end-point, and a very great reward: getting to see my son’s little face.

Over the course of these nine months, I have been mediating on St. Paul’s words, “all creation groans as in the pains of labor.” With labor being just around the corner it made me see his metaphor in a fresh, new way. Any mother knows, labor is painful, but it is also the most unique pain there is. It is intentional, purposeful, and most importantly, it has an end-goal and a great reward. It’s amazing, but if pain has a purpose and a reward, it is so much easier to endure. 
How does this relate to our human suffering? Many will and have argued that we suffer wantonly, without meaning. In other words, the labor pains are arbitrary. Poet Matthew Arnold suggested this most vividly in his poem Dover Beach, “We are here as on darkling plain, filled with chaos and strife, while ignorant armies clash by night.” Suffering, ignorance, and pain, it’s all chaos with no ultimate meaning. 

But to the Christian, all suffering is bundled into God’s suffering. All suffering has some mysterious meaning and redemptive purpose. We don’t know the full mystery of our pain yet, but we know that it will one day be revealed to us. God put his very life on that. The resurrection of His Son, Jesus God incarnate, is our promise that whatever we have suffered, either corporately or individually, small or large, will be redeemed. 

More than this glorious mystery, there is a great reward. For just as surely as I will look into the beauty of my son’s face, we too will gaze upon the beauty of the Son’s face.

Nine months of pregnancy and several bottles of antacids, made me think more on the goodness of God and his promises. Our suffering is meaningful and there is a great, goal in sight.  Whatever you are dealing with today, you can hand it over to Jesus and have the promise of an end, a reward, a redemptive act after the pain is over.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Guest Post: Best Selling Author Karla Akins

This week I get to share a post from best-selling author Karla Akins, known for her books in humor and historical fiction. I resonate with the open and transparent struggle in her words, and her ultimate conclusion - that we can trust God with all of it. Thanks to Karla, and please enjoy friends.
Blessings, Lilly.

Why kicking and screaming is not the best idea

On Sunday I was feeling like I wasn’t very good at much of anything I do.
Ever feel that way?
On this particular day, I felt I wasn’t a very good pastor’s wife.
It’s been a difficult year and a half or so of transitions at our church. And we’ve been through a lot of battles and broken hearts. And sometimes I think to myself, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
On Sunday I prayed, “Lord, I’ll keep doing this if you want me to, but I need your grace to do it. I’m just not feeling like I’m very good at it and I’m not sure I want keep on trying.”
You’d think after 32 years I’d hit my stride or something, but nope. I still have self-doubts. I still wonder if I’m doing something wrong.
I know that in my heart I’m doing the best that I can. But I do have a fear of growing bitter and not better with each struggle. It never gets easier. It’s always very difficult work. And God called me, the most unlikely of mortals, to do this loving-difficult-people thing. I don’t have a rhino skin. I’m a sensitive soul. Very tenderhearted. I get hurt easily.
Why on earth would God call someone like me to do His work?
Makes no sense, does it?
So I prayed and I felt the Lord nudging me. “You can trust me, Karla. I have a plan. You can’t see the big picture. I can.”
Oh, to rest in that trust.
hand of god visualisation 444IMG_0417
I tend to go kicking and screaming into rest. It’s not my nature. I’m a fixer. A doer.
Just rest in His plan?
Not as easy as it sounds.
But it’s a command, isn’t it?
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28
God never intended for me to do this by myself. He never wanted to burden me down with His concerns. These kingdom things are all His to figure out, aren’t they?
I’m still learning how to trust Him with my life even when it doesn’t make sense. I thought I’d learned that lesson long ago. But apparently, I must still need some practice.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Upon my One Year Anniversary at Christ the King Church

When your husband signs on to be the assistant minister at a new church, it is actually, pretty daunting. You don’t know what you’re in for. You don’t know what people will expect of you, what opinions they will form of you, or what they’re really like. Will they be kind and loving to you or not? I don’t think of myself as a “minister’s wife,” but other people often do and sometimes that’s a very public, vulnerable place to be in.  

This was the first gathering at our home
I remember when I showed up for my first Sunday service at Christ the King, little Lydia was only one and asleep in her car-seat. Bo was up at the front doing his thing, so I randomly picked a spot in the back. A woman turned to me, introducing herself, and then said, “Lilly, I am so happy that you are here. This is really a wonderful place for you. You will be loved and welcomed here.” She told me later, she didn’t know I was married to Bo, but she thought I was just one of the “beautiful single mothers at Christ the King.” She was embarrassed that she “didn’t know who I was,” (please like she should? Most people don’t) but to me, this made her sincere words even more meaningful.
As I walked out to mingle after the service one of the cheekiest old men, I have ever met, came over and hugged me. Bo came up and introduced me to him, “What?” he said loudly, turning to Bo, “This is your wife? My opinion of you has just greatly increased.” By the time, Lydia and I walked to the car to go home I was muttering under my breath, thanking Jesus to be called to a loving church. 
As I have settled into life with my new brothers and sisters, there have been many more stories like these. They have done big and small things to make us feel welcomed and loved and we have entered into a real fellowship with them. 
First meeting of a small group, now Sunday night service
There are many things that are said on the difficulties of being a clergy spouse and I have experienced some of these things first-hand. There are also immeasurable blessings to clergy life and I am shocked by the way a church can love and accept a clergy family. The people of Christ the King have done that for us through their words and deeds. 

I am looking forward to more years of mutual blessing with them and very thankful for a great year.