How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy He gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days, because He lives
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives
Today we joyfully welcome a precious new granddaughter, born yesterday, and rejoice in the risen Saviour from Whom all hope comes.
Funny how a character from a book can grab you in childhood and never ever leave you. I found myself thinking again about the Laura Ingalls books the other day, and wondered what had so captivated me about those books. First I thought maybe it was Laura. Definitely there were times in my early life where I felt like I fit awkwardly into my world, which was also a common feeling of Laura’s.
But thinking deeper, I realized that it was actually Caroline Ingalls who made the biggest impact on my adult life. She was always making the best of her circumstances, adding beauty to her home in all sorts of ways, and encouraging her family to learn and to be graceful and courageous in the midst of challenge.
One of the stories that comes back to me often is the way she used carrot juice to color winter-pale butter. She got the juice by grating a carrot over an old tin pan pierced with nails, and then wrapping the carrot bits in cloth and squeezing the juice out. She wanted her butter to be pretty even in the winter time.
There are stories of her making over dresses, and telling her girls stories from her childhood, and putting colored ribbons in her girls’ hair, and teaching them to read from the two books that they owned. She treasured a little china doll that she kept on a pretty shelf, and was dismayed at first by living in the sod house built into a hill on the banks of Plum Creek. Then, just like always, she squared her shoulders and made the best of it.
The book most memorable to me and my very favorite was ‘The Long Winter”. Caroline had to call on every skill to help her family through that terrible winter. They ground wheat in a coffee grinder, and burned hay in the wood stove when the firewood was gone, and barely, barely lived through those long cold days.
It was not til adulthood that I understood another, equally powerful strength that Caroline possessed. She was able to love her husband well, and support and treasure him even as he carried his family hither and yon to all the different places they lived during Laura’s childhood. Charles was a dreamer, a restless soul, and (I think) not always a good decision-maker. Very often he asked his family to move right as life was getting easier for Caroline– when the garden was getting productive and the children were enjoying school and the well had been dug and the house was cozy and warm.
How hard it must have been for Caroline to acquiesce to each move gracefully, to trust her husband’s judgement though she knew his decisions often brought her family great challenge. Of course it was a different time, one where men were expected to lead and women just followed. And Laura probably omitted some of the hard moments and hard conversations that his decisions sparked.
But what I read in those books, even now as an adult, is strength and grace and a powerfully honoring way about her. I think it was she who helped him be the best man that he could be.
In my mind, she’s the real heroine in the Laura Ingalls books, possessing both skills that I’ve worked to cultivate and others that I don’t remotely yet have a grasp on. I’m glad to have had such a strong woman to inhabit my mind, both in my childhood and even now that I’m all grown up.
What about you? Do characters in childhood books still live in your mind?
I’ve been thinking lately about the hard in life, how it lambasts you sometimes amid a stretch of tranquil days, surprising you with that ‘oh, it’s you again’ familiar misery. How lying in the dark some nights the heart aches so hard it’s a struggle even to breathe. There are moments you’re wild to talk it through with someone, someone who will understand the pain of it all, someone who will lift just a few ounces of the stifling load off your chest. Someone who can sit with you and encourage you to keep breathing, keep trusting, keep stepping forward.
But who can we truly trust? Who will not betray us? Oh, it is scary to be transparent, to honestly unveil the shape of the ‘hard’ that is rocking your particular bit of the world on any given day. The reasons not to speak are so many.
When it’s a loved one whose pain is savaging your heart, even in the middle of that pain you often still want to protect them from the uncharitable thoughts of others.
Or maybe it’s pity you want to avoid. Who wants everyone feeling sorry for you, or wincing at just how un-together your life is some days?
Or maybe it’s judgment that you fear. Always it seems there are people judging you for not getting this thing or that thing under control. Judging you for not preventing this pain in the first place. Not being wise enough, kind enough, dedicated enough, maybe even ruthless enough.
There’s also the problem of scale. Maybe despite the very real misery in your own heart, you know that others have it so much worse. There are friends mourning lost children, loved ones coping with their cancer or their child’s cancer, friends facing financial ruin or relational ruin or spiritual ruin. And all over the world, for the love of all that’s good, there are mothers whose dearest wish is simply to be able to feed their children. So. much. hard.
How dare I complain?
And yet. The heart aches. Quietly breaks sometimes under the weight of the struggle just to keep breathing in and out. What then?
The longer I live, the more I realize that pain is a familiar stalker of us all. Some more than others, perhaps. Each of us experience it in different ways, and some hide it deeper than others. But oh, we all know hurt. Don’t we, friends?
Our first and best and brightest hope in all of this pain-filled world is Jesus. He remembers our weakness. Sees every tear we shed. Feels every ache. He promises to someday wipe all tears from our eyes. He promises that His plan for us is good, that it is intended to give us hope and a future. He promises that He will carry His good work on in each of us to completion. He went to the cross and died to ensure that bright and complete and perfect future for us.
On those promises we can depend.
But when we find ourselves adrift in the abyss of suffering, I think most of us also long for the kind of friend willing to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ to us. The kind quick to offer solace and forgiveness and encouragement, and glacier-slow to offer judgement. We also need friends willing to share their own moments of struggle and pain.
Some of us have hurts deep and raw and evident, and we need no invitation to share. It just bubbles out. But others of us are all too quick to paste on a smile and to say, ‘Oh, I have it so much better than so many…’ when really what we need most is a safe place to share honestly, to unburden those covered-up hearts. And for some of us that courage only comes when someone else is brave and honest and vulnerable and transparent, first. Leading the way.
Oh, to have friends like that. Oh, to be that kind of friend. It truly is one way to see Jesus at work in this hard and hurting world. We all know pain and suffering. Let’s lift each other up whenever we can.
Greater is the One living inside of me than he who is living in the world.
In light of the tragic death of Robin Williams, so many people are writing on the topic of suicide, some with compassion and some with judgement. Here are two excellent reads from friends of minds that illuminate the suffering soul and offer encouragement along that hard path. Please, let’s be light-bearers, reminding each other of the only true hope that exists in this hard and painful world.
Recently the adoption community was rocked by the news that an adoptive mother of many children was killed in a car accident. It is so hard to process news like this. That’s when faith has to come in, I guess– faith that the God who knows everything knows better than we do. But oh, it’s hard to trust that God really does have a good plan for those precious children.
My friend Carrien recently wrestled with a similar issue when friends of theirs died, also in a car accident. She talked about how a lot of times no matter how hard we try, we can’t change everything we’d like to change in this world, and how futile that can sometimes feel. When she shared those feelings with her husband, here’s what he said: “You are a very minor drop in the bucket, just as I am, just as we all are. We have no ability to predict the outcome of our actions, positive or negative. We do what we do, because it is who we are, not because we are changing the world.”
She said that for a long time she’s made choices in life in this way: “I ask myself who I want to be, and then I act the way that person would act.”
Isn’t that a great thought?? I love it. It’s taken me years to truly understand that I can’t really change other folks. I can’t solve all the problems I want to solve. But I can work on myself.
Who do I want to be?
My friend Tisha, a fellow adoptive mom, has also been doing some thinking about life-legacy. When she heard about that adoptive mom who died, who left a tremendous legacy of love to her family, Tisha decided on three words that she most wants to represent her. She chose brave, reflective, and impactful. Aren’t those great words? She even asked her children to choose words of their own– you really ought to go read the whole post for a fuller picture of her thoughts about all this.
After reading her words, I just had to choose some words of my own. I hyphenated to get a bit more in there, but here’s my three. Joyous. Grace-filled. Giving.
Oh, I want to be all that to the ones around me. What about you? How would you like to be remembered when the time comes for you to leave this world?
“…being confident in this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6