Guest Interview–Michelle Cooper, part 1

One of my favorite things is to sit down with a friend, ask them questions and learn from their experiences. Today I want to introduce you to a dear friend I’ve known for 5 years,  Michelle Cooper. She has been a consistent blessing and encouragement in my life. I love her honesty in this interview and how she testifies to God’s goodness in her life. I am sure reading her story today will encourage you as you read about God’s faithfulness in her parenting. 

Worthy Hope: Can you share a little bit about who you are, how far apart your kids are and what are your circumstances in parenting?
Michellmichelle3e Cooper: My name is Michelle. My husband and I have four children: Henry (9), Wyatt (7), Myles (5), and Tessa (3) – three boys and a girl. I am very thankful that I have been able to stay at home with my kids. My kids attend a local public school, and
my husband works in public education. He has a very demanding job, and we have learned to embrace his work as a family. We try to attend as many events as we can with him, but there are many evenings when we do life without him home. We have always talked to our older boys about this so they understand where Dad is and what he is doing. They love when we get to join him at work! But this also means that I tend to family life a lot as a wife on my own. Our third child has Down syndrome. He is five years old. We did not know he had Down syndrome until he was born. We didn’t even realize it when he was born as he didn’t have a lot of strong physical markers; however, by time we were released, our pediatrician was certain. Three days later, it was confirmed through bloodwork. This definitely changes our family picture in how we ‘do life’ together. There are a lot of unique challenges and opportunities that having an individual with special needs in a family brings.

WH: Did you initially have a theological framework with which to think about Myles’ disability? What was it?
MC: I have seven older siblings, and disability joined my family much earlier than Myles. I have a niece who has Cerebral Palsy who is now 16. She is in a wheelchair and is nonverbal, but she is not cognitively delayed. I have another niece who is 12 and severely autistic. So I already had two siblings and their spouses walking the road of ‘special needs.’ At that point, my theological framework was definitely there. I had seen my parents struggle with how God could let things like this happen. And try to constantly ‘fix’ situations that are just earthly unfixable. Even as a teenager, I remember thinking — “Geesh, why can’t they just accept this?” I knew that God cared, and I also knew that God was sovereign. I believed this, and I knew that praying for healing was fine, but at some point, you have to accept the journey and stop trying to change the course. I was young, and not married, but I remember always thinking that someday I just might have a kid with special needs. I just wasn’t sure what my situation would look like. That may sound strange, but it’s true. In fact, on the way to the hospital to deliver Myles, I called a friend and she was encouraging me, and my parting words were, “You know my fear is that one day I’ll have a baby and find out something is not right…” So, a theological framework? I’m not sure how sound it was, but yes, I was confident in the Lord’s plan for all people and understood that nothing is a mistake.

WH: How has the Lord grown your perspective over the years? How has he sharpened your theology of suffering?

MC: It’s easy to become discouraged with the difficulties of life in general… even when nothing is going wrong. But when you are faced with a daily challenge that does not go away or get better, you are confronted with whether or not you trust in God’s goodness and kindness. Disability, or special needs, can tend to feel like a relentless gnawing at you. It doesn’t go away, and there’s no end in sight, and there’s no getting better, meaning there is no cure. Sure, there are therapies, etc., but there is no taking it away. And while there can be much reward and blessing, there can also be a lot of tiredness of spirit.

The first two years of Myles’ life were really pretty calm. He was healthy and did not need any heart surgeries like many other babies with DS do. He was very quiet and never made a squeak, was exceptionally sleepy, and didn’t walk until he was over two. Life was simple because I’d put him down and he wouldn’t go anywhere. When he was just two, our 4th child was born. She was practically walking and talking out of the womb, and by time she was one, she had caught up to him in all ways.

By that time, Myles was three and now could walk. He was not verbal, but had started yelling and grunting for everything he wanted or needed. We had been signing but it took so long for him to even pick up on a few signs, and he would just resign to yelling or grunting loudly for me to get my attention. It was wearing and between him and her, I felt tired not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. It was a different kind of tired than with my older two. It was a frustrated, impatient, discouraged, weary tiredness–the kind where you just wonder a lot what others are doing because surely no one else’s life is this challenging. I’d find myself thinking about what a ‘normal’ home would look like. I let myself wallow in pity and despair forgetting that God cares for me and sees me in my neediest moments.

Over these past five years, I have prayed more, asked for forgiveness more, and yearned more for heaven because I see the despair of my sin and how relentlessly I HOLD onto my earthly treasures–my time, my energy, my rest, my space, my everything.

Being a parent reveals your own heart the most. I know we have all read that over and over so it can sound trite. But it’s the hard core truth! Through all of this hardship in our home, God has blessed my husband and I both with an endurance that we didn’t have ten years ago.

Sometimes with special needs, you feel like you’re living in a twilight zone. And it can be very isolating at times because you can’t always do what it seems like a lot of other moms/families are doing. Before we had Myles, I felt very prideful in my parenting and physical strength/control I had over my kids. I took what God had blessed me with as though it was something I had accomplished on my own. When He allowed Myles into our lives, I began to see my weaknesses more clearly and my inability to make everything happen how I wanted, including my child’s behavior. The Lord revealed my judgmental spirit by humbling me over and over again. I see God’s goodness in this because I have grown in my heart to serve Him. I see that it has been in those many times of tears, anger, frustration, feelings of loneliness, feelings of ‘this is too much responsibility,’ that He has drawn near to me most.

A real tangible/practical way my perspective has grown is in the way I now deal with a long bout we have had with Myles pooping in his diaper and then smearing it everywhere. It always happens when we’re not around. I cannot tell you how ANGRY and UPSET I would be when I discovered his mess. On the carpet, on the chair, smeared down a wall… you name it, it’s happened. It was just awful, and gross, and discouraging, and frustrating. Especially when he would look at you like he had done nothing wrong. To see my faith grow even in times like these, wow, how does the Lord do that? The last time this happened, I had a really good cry. The despair doesn’t always go away. But I quickly wiped my tears away and got to work cleaning and disciplined my mind to focus on heaven– what it would be like, when He will come, and how this life is not forever!!! I yearn for my Savior more even through small sufferings like these. And I crave the day when He will come to make all things right. michelle2

Stay tuned tomorrow, friends, for part 2 of this interview!

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That I May Know Him

Any given day one or more of the following thoughts fill my mind:

“Why does motherhood have to be so hard?”

“Toddlers and preschoolers are not really my thing.”

“I am not using my time/skills/gifts in the most effective way.”

“I can’t believe my moments are made up of this [fill in the blank!]”

These thoughts and the attitudes of the heart they flow from, whether consciously or unconsciously, reveal beliefs about God. They also reveal what I treasure other than God. Have you found yourself wrestling with similar thoughts?

What we believe about God and what we treasure matter. They impact everything in our lives, including how we experience the difficulties and sacrifices of motherhood. When I say, “Toddlers and preschoolers are not really my thing,” the heart of it may be questioning God’s plan in making me a mom. At least that’s what I see in my heart. I am doubting His wisdom and ability to enable me to parent toddlers and preschoolers. In thinking, “Why does motherhood have to be so hard?” I find I am treasuring strength and rejecting weakness. As a mom I feel entitled to rest, sleep, relationships, or success. When any of those is taken from me, I am chafing at the life God has called me. In those moments, I am not trusting my Father’s plans for my life.

One of my assumptions for this series is that we are all theologians. Theology is not only the study of God but also knowing God. In the book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, Gherard Forde defines a theologian like this: “being a theologian just means thinking and speaking about God.” We all think and speak about God, even when we don’t realize it. We need a theology of suffering because what we think about God, expressly or not, shapes our experience of suffering. How do we know Him and how do we grow in our knowledge of Him?

Knowing God through the Jesus who died and rose again

God has chosen to reveal Himself in the Crucified Christ. When Philip asked, “Show us the Father,” Jesus responded, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14: 8-9). This Jesus is a Lamb who was slain and has risen again. Because our life as believers is hidden in Christ, our lives now have the same pattern of His–death, burial, resurrection. God reveals His power and glory to us as we become like Him through the fellowship of His sufferings. Our tendency is to want to know him apart from suffering, but it is in suffering that He reveals key aspects of His glory. Dear moms, we must embrace our call to know God through the Christ who suffered and died.

What does it mean to know God through the Crucified Christ? In Philippians 3:1-11 Paul explains how knowing Christ motivated him to willingly give up everything else he treasured. Let’s look at the passage briefly.

First (v.1), Paul gives a command to rejoice and to rejoice in the Lord. Earlier in Philippians he referred to Jesus Christ as the Lord. So this command to rejoice is a specific command to rejoice in Christ Jesus.

Second (v.2), there is a warning: beware of those who want to put their confidence in the flesh. Putting our confidence in the flesh is a threat to joy in Christ.

Third, (v. 3) the reason for the warning is in our identity. We are the true circumcision or the new covenant people of God. As His people we serve by the Spirit of God. We boast or glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Fourth (vv. 4-6)—Paul listed all the reasons he had to put his confidence in the flesh. As a Jew he had much human glory, an impressive resume which had been the ground of his righteousness.

Death and Resurrection–the way to know Christ

But in verses 7-11 Paul “counts as loss” what gave him confidence in himself, because knowing Christ was a treasure that far surpassed anything else. He accepted the loss of all things so he could know Christ. For Paul, knowing Christ meant knowing the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings (v. 10). And the way to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and experience His fellowship was in being like Him in his death– not only in his literal death if necessary, but also in being like Him who made Himself nothing, took the form of a servant and humbled himself even to death (Phil. 2: 7 ff).

To sum up, Christ was Paul’s joy and glory. He yearned so much to know Him that he could rejoice in the loss of all things, if by that suffering He would know Him intimately and enjoy Him forever. Paul knew that he would truly know Jesus and His power as he entered the fellowship of His sufferings. His ultimate goal was to attain the resurrection from the dead, and in rising again, to be with His Savior.

In the next post I will dig deeper into the implications of this passage for us as moms. But for now, friend, let us embrace the call to know God His way. Indestructible joy awaits us there.

Guest interview–Julie Pizzino

Today I am excited to share with you this interview with my dear friend Julie Pizzino. She loves the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. She has been a wonderful “older” Titus 2 woman in my life, especially as we share a passion to see the gospel in action in our communities and around the world.

Worthy Hope: Can you share a little bit about who you are, how far apart your kids are and what were your circumstances parenting when they were ages 10 and younger? 

Julie: I am Julie Pizzino, 67 years old, wife of 47 years, mom of 45 years with three children, and now grandmother, pastor’s wife for over four decades, English teacher (usually part-time) of either homeschoolers or at a classical Christian school.

Our sons are two and a half years apart, and when they were twelve and almost fifteen, we welcomed by international adoption a daughter into our home. I was blessed to be at home for the rearing of our children, although I did tutor and teach homeschoolers along the way. Our children had diverse educational needs, because one had learning differences, one was gifted, and one was bright and especially creative in the arts.

When our sons were little, my husband Randy was able to assist at times, coming home for lunch from his office at the church building. Then as they grew older, his time had more demands upon it. He also regularly traveled to minister in other places. Sometimes that was hard, but I was supportive of his ministry and gave myself to extending hospitality and enjoying the work of the ministry with him. The Lord encouraged me through friends who had me in their homes, kept up with me by phone, and came alongside me when demands were stiff.

WH: Did you have a theological framework with which to look at the daily difficult circumstances of motherhoood when you first experienced them? What was it? 

JP: Oh, how I wish I’d been more intentional about developing a theological framework for my mothering! I often chafed at the demands of the littles, longing for the free time I’d once had to read as long as I wanted, spend time with friends, and sleep consistently. But I did not cultivate a Gospel grid until our third child came long. Then I recalled how quickly time passes and how worthy the calling of mothering is. Those experiences of wife and mother have revealed sin in me like nothing else and have made me call out to the Lord for grace over and over again. I remember vividly a night when one of our children had a stressful day and did not make it to the bathroom in time several times that day and then again that night. I felt so hot and angry inside for all the extra work this child was causing me. Once I cleaned up yet another mess, I went downstairs to our living room, sat quietly before my Father, and confessed my inability to be obedient, gentle, and effective as a mother. I told the Lord, “I do not want to go on like this. Please help me!” Although I have had many, many times of failure since then, it was a breakthrough for me to realize that I could not do this hard thing of mothering unless the Lord supernaturally helped me. He graciously answered that prayer by causing me to learn to die to myself.

On a natural level we avoid dying to ourselves. It is painful, costly, and counterintuitive to the pursuit of happiness to which we think we are entitled. But here is the truth: dying to ourselves in our being wives and mothers is the pathway of joy, just as Jesus endured the cross for the joy which was set before Him. And then because of the resurrection, we are raised after these little deaths to better understanding of and love for Christ, our husbands, and our children, as well as renewed spiritual vigor.

WH: You are a grandma now. How has the Lord grown your perspective on the little years? How has he sharpened your theology of suffering?

JP: Because I now “get” how brief the little years are, I am savoring every moment with my granddaughter Lizzy. I am overwhelmingly grateful that I get to share the Gospel with her, using the Jesus Storybook Bible. At nap time or bed time, she begs to hear about Jesus. I see clearly how much our daughter and son-in-law must deny themselves in order to parent Lizzy well. While the self-denial is absolutely a form of suffering, there are rich rewards of observing how pouring into her brings the fruit of obedience and even joy. But physical and emotional fatigue are real. I see more clearly now how important it is for a mom to have a community who can support and relieve her. I believe the Lord’s heart is very much toward young mothers and that He understands the trials of the repeated questions, the messes, interrupted sleep, and more.

WH: What were/are some of the temptations that you faced? What truth (s) reoriented your heart when you were tempted?

JP: As I look back, I see there were many points of temptation.

~~I would forget the importance of the work I was doing with my children at home. Much of it seemed so tedious and mundane.

~~I would forget the Lord was with me every moment. That truth alone would have kept me going at times.

~~I would forget to cry out to Him. That seems sadly laughable now, but it seems I would grit my teeth and persevere through the hard times, when I could have cried out to Him for more grace and strength.

I did have some truly wonderful friends who were mothering the same time I was, and they “carried” me many times and are still friends to this day. My friends’ faithful encouragement kept me going. And God has been so, so good to give me Titus 2 women throughout my life, women who have generously counseled me and prayed for me. I do not know what I would have done without them. I would urge every young mom to find such women and ask for spiritual help.

I have heard that a mom’s favorite verse is “And it came to pass.” But for me the verses about courage are the ones that speak to a mom’s challenges. Joshua 1:9 would be a great motivator for me now as a mom: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

WH: How has your growing understanding of the gospel impacted your perspective on motherhood in the mundane?

JP: My growing understanding of the gospel has been the biggest factor in my valuing mothering and grandmothering in every little moment. The gospel gives us the “big picture” of what God is doing in the world. When we are at home mothering our children, we are not sidelined from God’s building His Kingdom. We are on the front line, training little ones for His glory and becoming more like Jesus ourselves. It is kingdom work, for sure.

The “littles” require the same patience the Lord shows us, when we fall over and over into the same weaknesses and sins. Our children need us to mirror God’s mercy, His forbearance, and His gentle guidance into truth and obedience, line upon line, and precept upon precept. They need to be listened to, and they need a response delivered with a sweet spirit. They need to know they are valued as image bearers of God.

The Lord has taught me many lessons regarding disciplining children in light of the Gospel. First, I am responsible to train them in His ways before I punish them for disobedience. Second, I am to take my place at the foot of the cross with them in disciplining them. Even though I am in God-given authority over them, I am not to discipline them from a position above them but from the position of needing mercy along with them. Third, although I may need to correct them many times daily, the ethos or atmosphere of our home must be grace. Fourth, I would freely share with them, in age appropriate ways, my own walk with the Lord, including my struggles with sin, fear, unbelief, waiting on God to answer prayer, and more.

Daily Waves That Give Me Jesus

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On my last blog post, I shared part of the context in which God has made me think about a theology of suffering as it pertains to motherhood. I shared about a big wave God used to grow my fearlessness as I found, to my profound delight, that my sufficiency was outside of myself (1 Pet. 3:1–6).” [1] Today I want to share about smaller, daily waves the Lord allows in my life that both threaten and build my joy in God.
Continue reading “Daily Waves That Give Me Jesus”

A Big Wave–Battling Post Partum Depression

Today is the second day in a 31 day writing challenge. The topic for my series is about learning to embrace in motherhood the waves that throw us against Jesus, our Rock. Sometimes we face big waves; sometimes we experience small waves. They are all meant to accomplish something glorious in our lives. Before I expound on these truths more specifically, I want to tell a little bit of my story so you can have context for what I will share later about God’s dealings with me and how he has sharpened what I functionally believe about Him, His world and His Word.
Continue reading “A Big Wave–Battling Post Partum Depression”