by Teresa Swanstrom Anderson
“Take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.” Deuteronomy 26:2 NIV
There are moments and seasons that hurt something fierce but are also so freeing with the knowledge that going through them is a necessity for our future strength and relationship with God. One such season occurred just after we brought home our second child from Ethiopia, right around the time my husband’s job began to change.
We were still so new to this whole adoption thing and were suddenly thrown into more transitions as Ben began traveling back and forth from San Antonio to Portland every month. He’d be gone five days of the month and spend more time in the office, which I look back on as the most exhausting and overwhelming time of my life . . . caring for and loving a four-year-old, a three-year-old, an infant, and our newest addition, a six-year-old who spoke almost no English and whom we were having challenges with as his heart began to heal.
I remember collapsing onto the floor in the kitchen one afternoon and bursting into tears. As I sat there on the cold tile floor, holding baby Imani, Anton and Laith both crawled onto my lap, cuddling and comforting me, while Ezekiel stared with wide eyes a few feet away. I wondered how on earth I could do this. I have so much respect for single parents and military families. I could barely endure a week per month by myself.
Lord, is this really what we’re supposed to be doing? You’ve got to give me more strength for this! I absolutely cannot do it on my own.
That day was a turning point for me. I certainly wasn’t at rock bottom, but I was drowning. I needed to cling to Him tighter. I had to, or I wasn’t going to survive.
Though the very essence of my soul wailed at the notion of being so low that my tiny children were compelled to crawl on the ground to comfort me, the reality was that I desperately needed their unyielding love while sobbing on that floor. And at that moment, God also bestowed their sweet tenderness to remind me of Himself. That His love is also unyielding and tender. As I ugly cried on the floor, being cared for by my precious preschool-age children, God whispered the word firstfruits into my ear.
Pausing from my tears for a moment, my mind began working like a Rolodex, trying to comprehend how it applied to me and my season. Firstfruits? I asked, confused. Help me understand what You mean, Lord!
I knew that firstfruits are offerings of the first and best crops to God, which is often spoken about in the Old Testament. It was an offering given in acknowledgment of God’s abundant blessing. Definitely not giving Him what is left over, but rather giving Him the best of the best first.
What was I giving Him? The leftovers. The leftovers of my time, my energy and my heart. He was reminding me of the need to put Him first. Above everything. Though I was going to Bible study every week, I wasn’t really spending time with Him. My quiet time, my devotions, my reading of the Bible and prayer time—it was sporadic and hurried. My heart was for Him, but I was in survival mode and He’d somehow gotten left behind in all the craziness and exhaustion that had become my life.
I was being tossed like a ship in a storm. I felt alone and overwhelmed. I was exhausted by the new challenges we faced as a family. I knew nothing could separate me from the Lord, that He was stronger and more powerful than this storm, but I was lost in the wind and waves. What I realized that day was that I needed to have the right perspective of Him. I needed to lean into the Lord and live in a posture of humility. My eyes were opened to the necessity of being bold in prayer, regardless of how I felt. I needed—no, I had to take the time for Him or there would be nothing of me left. I was encouraged with immediate relief knowing that giving Him my firstfruits would not only keep me off the floor but also help me become an unconquerable force because I would be living in His power.
I wasn’t sleeping much at night since Imani wasn’t, Ben was gone for what felt like a lot of the time, and I simply couldn’t get ahead of anything. The house never seemed clean; the laundry never ended; the sink was never empty of dishes. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I had family and many friends who would have dropped everything to help me if they’d known how much I was struggling, yet I felt I had to put on a brave, smiling face all the time.
I felt (and still struggle with feeling this way) that I had no business asking for help from anyone. This was the life Ben and I chose. We chose to have this many children. We chose to have a family that is outside the norm, full of things we’re still learning how to handle and love through. Things like how to teach a child English. How to help a young boy heal his hurt and loss and understand that we love him no matter how hard he tries to push us away. How to help two towheaded preschool-age boys not to feel ignored, or replaced, or that our adopted kids are more important to us than they are, even though they’re requiring a lot of extra attention.
Well, I didn’t have a lamb or crops to give, but I certainly had my firstfruits of time. I was so sleep-deprived and exhausted from Imani waking multiple times a night that there was no way—no way—I could get up earlier. I knew mornings were out. I felt the Lord direct me, saying to give my firstfruits during naptime. Rather than scurrying through the house cleaning up, doing laundry, and tackling the constant stream of dishes, I was called to first sit and be with Him. Then do my tasks after.
And it changed everything.
I don’t mean to say that everything became sunny all the time, but it was suddenly manageable. My attitude was better, and I had a full grasp on things. Jesus loved me back to life. My season changed. Somehow I was receiving a divine amount of ability and productivity. The Lord was multiplying my time, renewing and energizing me. I could see His hand in my life as my patience grew. Grace was extended toward our family and kindness was electrified. Magnified.
I was more attentive and loving, and my tasks were not only being completed but being executed thoroughly, and well. And through it all, I confidently leaned on Him, knowing it was in His power, not my own, that it was all getting done.
Two years later, I felt God stretching me once again. Encouraging me toward waking up earlier and spending an hour or two with Him before our children begin to stir in the morning, He released me of my precious naptime in the middle of the day.
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3 NIV
Whenever I talk about how early I rise, people seem rather shocked that I wake several hours before my children. Assuming I’m some sort of crazy morning person, they often announce to me, “Oh I could neeeever do that. I’m just too tired. I need my sleep.” Oh, if you only knew, I want to tell them! I so struggle getting up in the morning. Ben says I’m just like the kids: exhausted in the evening yet forced to actually crawl into bed. I want to stay up! I’ve always been more of a night person. So when my alarm chimes, I just want to cozy even deeper into my blankets and enjoy the warmth of my bed.
Get up! Get up! I urge myself. Grab your Bible and make a coffee . . . go! I tell myself as I convince my sleepy body to push back the covers.
Every morning I ask myself, What’s more important, my relationship with Christ or with my pillow?
My day is genuinely so much better once I’ve started it in the Word and in prayer. My attitude is better and I’m more focused, more joyful, less likely to snap at my kids and husband. My family even notices it.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9–10 NIV
My mind often races, full of the things I need to do, groceries I need to buy, and schedules I need to manage. So I’ve learned to have a journal next to me. Once I quickly scribble down whatever is rattling through my brain, keeping me from truly being able to concentrate, I can move on and move closer in my time with my Lord.
As my time magnified, the way I saw things also changed. I began to realize what an honor it was to care for my family. Keeping the house picked up didn’t make me a glorified maid; it was my privilege to take care of them in this way. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I suddenly turned into Mother Teresa or walked around with a halo over my head, never complaining when the kids spilled their milk for the fourth time that day.
I still prayed daily that God would work in me to give me a good attitude, patience and strength so that I wouldn’t lose my temper with my family because things weren’t as perfect as I wanted them to be. But as my time of intimacy increased, my whole being began to blossom with fruit.
The storm that I felt was going to drown me instead made me stronger because it led me back to Him.
“My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. You made me; you created me. Now give me the sense to follow your commands. May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:71–74 NLT
Author of Beautifully Interrupted: When God Holds the Pen that Writes Your Story, Teresa Swanstrom Anderson is an authentic and engaging speaker, blogger at TeresaSwanstromAnderson.com, and most importantly, a bustling mama of six (four from Ethiopia). Teresa is a lover of setting a beautiful table, passionate celebrator of the every day, and believes in instilling the love of God into her children’s hearts . . . and into the hearts of women everywhere.
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