Men who behave badly are all over the news these days. In fact, it’s been so much a part of our national conversation for the last year that I’ve had this post (most of it, anyway) written since we found out that we were having another boy—raising the Reissig boy total to four. I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for the better part of a year and finally got around to editing them. Unfortunately the national conversation about men doing bad things hasn’t changed one bit. It’s only gotten worse, which has only increased my desire to process what it means to raise four sons in a world where men behave badly.
The end of the year is the time for list making. I’ve read (and been encouraged by) many lists of books, blog posts, and favorite things. I’ve even created those lists in years past. But instead I am going to share the three things that the Lord used to sustain me this year. As I’ve shared before, this is the year that took us through the ringer in so many ways. Ben’s arrival into the world was traumatic (a word I don’t use lightly) and hard on our family in ways we are still processing. But even in the difficulty we have been encouraged by the Lord through people and through his word. I know that many don’t come to the end of the year with the mental or emotional bandwidth to take in a lot of lists and book ideas. Life is just too relentless, so if you find yourself in the midst of a difficult year, I pray these resources encourage you too.
I have either been pregnant, nursing, or grieving a lost baby for the past seven Christmases. Whenever December rolls around I find myself reflective about the incarnation and what it meant for Mary. I find myself encouraged by what it means for the effects of this broken world, especially the pain I’ve experienced in childbearing.
One of my favorite Christmas songs has always been “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I love the words. I love how it tells the tale of expectant longing for Christ’s first coming, and drives us to long for the second. But I also love it because it’s in a minor key. I have a soft spot for songs in a minor key. I grew up loving music for many reasons—one of them is how music is evocative. Music makes us feel. And as one who feels deeply and also tends towards melancholy, a minor key suits me.
A couple of months ago we had the stomach bug in our house. Whenever a parent mentions the stomach bug, collective groans of sympathy usually follow. Adults don’t fare well with the stomach bug. Barely verbal toddlers do worse. In rapid succession, all of our non-infant children succumbed to the stomach bug’s fury, and I was left weak, cranky, and dousing Purel on my hands every few minutes.
Few things confront you with your lack of God-like abilities like a multi-child case of the stomach bug. Someone is left to suffer alone when mommy can’t get to everyone. When one kid is sick, the others are left to fend for themselves. When multiple kids (and the parents) are sick it’s almost like Lord of the Flies.
One year ago this week I thought I was beginning to miscarry a baby. I had all the signs of miscarriage. So when I sat down on that ultrasound table it was with 100% certainty that I thought I would hear “there is no heartbeat.” I didn’t even pray for a heartbeat. Instead I prayed for grace to face another miscarriage again, to pass another dead baby—again.
But God had other plans for this baby. These plans were far beyond what I would have dreamed up. In many ways, these plans would have been my worst nightmare.
He had plans for this baby that I feared was dead.
“We are all just limping towards the finish line,” Daniel said to me a few weeks ago after we were talking about the great loss a friend had endured.
If you live long enough, you will find that this world is a dark and scary place. Very few Christians make it to glory without first walking through some deep valleys. Year after year, God breaks us and strips us of all self-sufficiency. He humbles us and brings us low. He gives and he takes away, and we beg for the grace to bless his name in the midst of it all.
We are a people of second chances. Even when it’s hard, we are prone to forgive those who sin against us, hoping that maybe they will treat us differently the next time. We give our children chance after chance after chance to obey (or try again next time). We give those who break the law second chances to live life differently. Second chances, in many ways, are built into our souls. We want them for ourselves and we grant them to others.
A few weeks ago my sons were watching the popular children’s show, Doc McStuffins on television. I’m a big fan of Doc McStuffins. I like the diversity the show brings to the table. I like that the main character is a girl and a doctor. I like that she is African-American and portrayed in a positive light. I like that she is kind and helps people. It even holds my attention when my kids are watching it.
I wish I could say I always pay close attention to what they are watching. True confession: I don’t. While we don’t let them watch things that we haven’t vetted, I don’t filter every piece of content once we have approved it.
I learned my lesson.
A few years ago I was struck by the reality that the life I now live is often harder than the one I lived before God saved me. I didn’t get saved until early adulthood, so I have vivid memories of life before Christ. My life was certainly empty, but it was very different, and in many ways easier. Life after Christ became richer, but harder. It became hopeful, but filled with greater difficulty. I had joy, but not necessarily unending happiness. My sins were forgiven, but sometimes there wasn’t much else to rejoice in. The more I grew, the more I realized that I’m not alone. I even started seeing that the pattern of scripture is pain now, relief later (Rom. 8:22-24). God’s people must walk through a lot before they get the promised land, before they get glory (Acts 14:22).