A Full Plate: Hannah’s Discontent

Inspired by 1 Samuel 1

As she mended, she watched Peninnah changing soiled clothes before swinging her small son up over her shoulder effortlessly.  Before she looked back down, she was certain she saw a dark-eyed glance of superiority cast her way.  Her heartbeat echoed against the empty walls of her womb.  Hannah would never become comfortable in the room with her torturous sister wife, Peninnah.  Wasn’t it enough that Peninnah had already borne multiple children? Why must she also prod Hannah into wounded inferiority?  Hannah’s hands felt useless as she worked at household tasks that would never take the place of an infant cooing in her arms.  She was discontented, and out of her discontent came desperate pleas to God to give her what she most wanted in life- a child.

At the dinner table, she felt strongly her outcast state as Peninnah’s children bustled and shoved, chattering boisterously throughout the meal.  Yet Elkanah, in his quiet way, always made sure Hannah’s portion was double.  After all, he loved her, in spite of a culture that valued childbearing as an integral part of wifely duties.  He saw her fervent desire, and he understood her in a way that was beautifully tender.  He filled, and refilled, her plate with abundant love. Elkanah could have seen Hannah as “less than” for her inability to produce a child. He could have judged her, despised her, even discarded her. Instead, he gave her a double portion. He loved her in spite of what she lacked, and he attempted to fill that gap by exceeding her needs. Some would be envious of her husband’s love for her, just as she was envious of Peninnah’s motherhood.

I wonder, as I watch this intimate family dinner unfold, did Hannah miss it?  In her desperate desire for a child, was she blinded to the beauty of her husband’s love for her?  And further, do I miss them-the blessings I take for granted while I wait impatiently for new answers to prayer, new ventures, new blessings?  Hannah is known as the face of answered prayers, a fervent believer graced by God with the son she requested. And yet, I see in this small daily moment of her life a side of myself that is not pleasing. It is a desperate focus on the lack, not the abundance.  It is taking for granted what I have to hope for what I may never receive.

Wherever you are in your journey, there will be those who have what you seek.  It may be a beautiful home, a successful career, a healthy child.  But chances are, you life is full as well. Don’t miss the fullness of a moment for the emptiness of a desire as yet unfulfilled.  Maybe, like Hannah, that desire will be quenched.  But maybe, when you focus on what you already have, that emptiness will feel less hollow,will echo less pain, and you will find fullness at the dinner table.

Surviving the Seasons

imageMaeve was 5 days old when Nick came home to find me, cuddled up on the couch, sobbing inexplicably while Maeve nursed. He knelt in front of me, clearly afraid to ask the cause. I had cried all through my mom’s visit while she lovingly cleaned my kitchen and graciously said nothing. All that I could think that day was that I would never leave my house alone again, empty-handed and carefree. The walls were squeezing the breath right out of me and my baby bliss was being overshadowed by the impending doom of cracked nipples and sleepless nights. And as soon as Nick asked how to help, I blurted out, “Take me to the mall.” What? I don’t even know where that solution came from- I hate the mall. But a few laps around sharing sips of a Gloria Jean smoothie with Nick, and the clouds receded. I could see the possibility that my life, though changed, would still have moments of normalcy.

Those feelings have returned frequently in my parenting journey. They have crept in during moments I could not stand one more tiptoed interruption to my 9:30 TV show, moments when I was wrestling two little ones out of Meijer and back to the car mid-tantrum, months and years when I made meal after meal that one, or two, or three tiny critics did not like and refused to eat. In each of those difficult, tiring moments, it felt like the clock hands had slowed to an eternal crawl.
As I have raised three little ones for the past eight years, I have felt like I would wear maternity pants forever, be stalled in my creative ventures permanently, miss nights out with friends until I sat rocking alone on my porch to my death. These are lies, lies my impatient self repeats internally to lull my thoughts into boredom, unfulfillment, even discontent.
But more than anything, motherhood has taught me that life, especially with children, is in a perpetual state of change. Like the Michigan weather, the seasons of motherhood shift on a whim. Just when I can’t take one more bedtime battle, Anika decides to go to sleep right on time with a sweet kiss. The weight is lifted, the clock is ticking again. I can take a ridiculously embarrassing trip into public with cranky, unruly children and vow to never leave my house again with them in tow, then have a beautifully peaceful day at the beach together just a week later. Looking back at the past eight years through this lens of constant change, I can see my own metamorphosis as a mom and a person. I am not afraid when Carys decides to eat nothing but bananas that she will die of malnutrition. History has proven that just won’t be true. I can shut my internal voice right up when Anika has growing pains that force a midnight bath coupled with pained screaming. I know her little foal legs are just stretching her into her
preschool self, and the pain is temporary. That moment I had when Maeve was five days old came out of a fear of the unknown of motherhood. But now I know, and experience erases fear. I can feel my muscles relaxing, albeit slowly, into acceptance of the seasons. There are dark, cold winters, hopeful springs, beautiful but fiercely hot summers, and autumns of putting some plans to rest for a time. And just like I have survived a lifetime of uncertain weather, I am surviving, even thriving, in the changing moments of mothering. My acceptance has led to peace, not reluctantly, but with open-handed freedom to find happiness in each stage, even if the happiness is just the knowledge in the hard times that the snow will melt eventually.
Nick and I are in a current state of change. It is exciting, and scary. Our jobs are morphing and our roles at home will change to hold the shifting weight. It will be a time of growth, and I know that might bring growing pains. But I also know that as we navigate the change, we will find peace and happiness, no matter how the transition unfolds. Eight years ago, I might have felt swallowed in terror. I don’t embrace change naturally, and I am afraid of the unknown. Still, I can credit my eight years of enduring the stages of motherhood with bringing me to a state of faith that everything does have a season. It makes the wonderful moments more meaningful and the difficult moments more bearable.

Realizing Brokenness and Releasing Pride

The wooden pew beckoned, opening its heavy arms of home to me. I sat, and the verses of an old hymn poured over me, a familiar baptism. My leather Bible, creased with use, nestled in the folds of my lap. I was home in the house of the Lord.
One might peer in the window of this church and see the beauty without the pain, the saved without the sin. It is the facade of perfection clothed in the suit of wealth. And that one might turn away because this perfection is frightening, a heavy weight more than a freeing wind. You see, we have polished the scars in that old wooden pew too much. The shine blinds our eyes to whom has sat there in need of salvation. There is no honesty for the world in a perfectly polished pew. Not that the church cannot have nice things; sitting on the floor would not change this perception to the world. More that the world can see the remnants of the scars, the imperfections of the churched, and feel themselves welcomed home there too.
My Sunday dress to cover my scars and sins is no more honest than the wolf wrapped in sheep’s wool. I am broken, but I, along with myriad Christians, piece myself together with glue and glory and march in those high church doors, then close them to the brokenness I’m afraid I don’t have glue to fix. But glory is all I need, and God is boundless. So one day, I shed my Sunday dress and put on a t-shirt. My bruises peek out of the sleeves, but I can feel the Son. I leave the security of my home to travel tens or thousands of miles to dig in the dirt, and I see my savior in the faces of the people I meet. But even this becomes a salve for me. I am not giving up my bed, my dresses, my secrets to imbue the reality of salvation here. I falsely believe I can share without releasing some part of myself in the process. I have released myself to the God who saves but not to the ones who need saving.
This is not necessarily a call to traditional missions, although it may speak that way to you. It is a call to honesty that bridges the gap between churched and unchurched. It is unveiling our scars to reveal the healing that is possible and opening our hands to release our security of wealth. In our moments of vulnerability, we become the person outside the stained glass. We show the complete picture of grace, the beginning-to-end story of brokenness giving way to wholeness.
But we cannot accomplish this task without first seeing the pride that grips us. Pride prances in prettiness, marches in superiority, even whispers in piety. I have been too proud to be honest of the failures that mark me, failures of attitude and obedience. The church has been too proud to admit mistakes of office in this world, and the churched have been too proud to reveal their pre-Christ nature,especially when that nature continues to threaten in their post-Christ days. Can we, can I, shed that cloth of pride we’re in and live in naked honesty? In that transparent skin, all might see God within us. Then can we unclench our fingers that hold tightly to our riches in order to recognize brotherhood in poverty? In those open hands, God may work miracles of blessing beyond ourselves.