Two years ago I was mostly new to the church and I sat with people I didn't know very well. Those women would grow to become close friends but I felt lonely and broken at the time. To be honest I wasn't very impressed with the speaker but I could feel the Lord doing a big work in me. When I left the conference I knew that the Lord was calling me to die to the mother that I always thought I would be. I had this image of myself as someone authoritative, who brooked no disrespect, who would not tolerate second-time obedience because only first-time obedience was acceptable. And many of you with kids who are reading this are probably saying to yourselves, "Yea, how'd THAT work out for you?" and the truth is, it wasn't working out for me. I was carrying around a great deal of shame because I thought I was a bad mom; we were getting reports from James's preschool that he was acting out, not listening to direction, and not responding appropriately to discipline. This conference was a turning point for me and in many ways I think the Lord was preparing me for my journey as the mother of kids who have special needs. Just a few weeks later James was referred for an evaluation which would eventually diagnose him with autism. Parenting a child with autism requires a different, more humble approach. The do-it-right-now-because-I-say-so-I-don't-care-what's-wrong-with-you thing is a disaster when the child you are rearing sees and hears and feels the world differently than you do and can't verbalize that something is literally causing him pain. Dying to the mother I always thought I would be gave room to let the Lord shape me into the mother he would have me be, which in turn lets me give room for my kids to become the people the Lord made them to be.
Last year this conference came in the midst of my break from the church. I was hurting and grieving the two miscarriages we had had the year before. I was unsure about whether I wanted to attend the conference. The unimpressive speaker from the year before coupled with the $35 admission fee (quite a hit to our meager budget) had me leaning toward staying home. But a friend who does some work for the conference had been given 4 tickets and offered one to me. I decided to attend but I made sure that I would be sitting with a woman who was safe to me; she knew I was having a hard time trusting the Lord and she was also in a hard place with him. She was the kind of person that would not only understand if I got up and left the room because I was feeling bruised, she would be leading the way.
That year Lisa Harper spoke and I just loved her. I couldn't tell you precisely what her messages were on but I feel like the crux of the teaching was on the Lord's unwavering love and presence in the midst of hard times. Just a few weeks earlier I had told the Lord that he needed to do the work of changing my heart and turning me back to him because I couldn't do it on my own. It was difficult to balance keeping my heart soft enough to allow him to do the work in me and not trying to do the work myself. But that weekend at the conference I felt the Lord tell me, "I'm doing it. I'm doing the work in your heart. It's not quite done but I haven't abandoned you; I'm doing it." It was also at that conference that my biggest hang-up with the Lord came into focus. There was a song we sang whose bridge repeated the line, "Your grace is enough for me," and I couldn't sing it. I knew his grace was enough to save me, but if that's all I have, his grace and nothing more--no family, no health, no roof over my head--is that enough? That question drove me back to the Lord. When I could say, "yes, his grace is enough," I was ready to trust him again. I realized that he doesn't promise healing from the things that plague our bodies but the things that plague our hearts. This paradigm shift is what brought me to the place where I could risk another pregnancy.
This year my 8-week old daughter will be sitting with me at the conference. She's still nursing on demand so I can't leave her for more than a few hours and I can't help but reflect on the Lord's work in my heart and his faithfulness to me over the last few years. Jen Hatmaker is the speaker and my best friend will be visiting from Chapel Hill with her 7-week old son to attend the conference with me. I know that even if I didn't have the "happy ending" I'm celebrating this weekend the Lord would still be faithful and good and loving. I trust in his goodness not because of my healthy daughter but because of the healing work he's done in my heart.
My daughter's name is "Annia Hope." We didn't come up with it. I know to many people this will sound kind of crazy but we honestly felt the Lord asking us to give her this name. Annia means "inexhaustible grace." To us her name is a constant reminder that the grace of God never ends and there is always hope in the work that he does in our hearts and in this world. We chose the name before she was born, before we knew whether labor and delivery would go well. I have friends and family who have had babies who died at full-term gestation or as the result of complications during labor. Her name wasn't some statement of faith, claiming that she would be healthy and whole-- I still have no guarantee that she (or her brothers) will grow up to be healthy adults--her name is a statement of faith that regardless of what happens to the earthly bodies of the people I love, God is still God. He is still good. And he still loves me.
My hope is in him. And I cannot wait to see what he does this weekend.