Surprising joy when you feel you’ve lost your life

My in-home expert on surprising joy

A seed falls, and we do not weep for the death…but rejoice for the promise of life to come.

There’s a beauty and a trust as we witness a dying that brings life. This is, perhaps, one of those sweet hints in nature that points to a deep truth that echoes throughout the earth and reverberates in our very souls. Nature gives way and, each year as the winter chill sets in, the death holds a promise. We wait. We eagerly expect. We anticipate with full confidence that new life will spring forth in due time. And we know that without the death, the life would be cut short, cheapened, lost. As nature sways with the secret winds of the One who made it, we watch and celebrate it’s majestic beauty.

Life from death.

In the same way, I walk in the hope that Jesus not only died to pay the penalty for my sin, but that he rose and is alive. And because he died, I have life. He came to serve and not to be served, and He leaves an example of a life of sacrifice that brings life.

Research has shown time and time again that the happiest people are the ones giving their lives and resources away to serve others.

But if I’m honest, I think I have had an idealized sense of what a life of service looks like. I’ve imagined that the kind of dying to self that makes us feel like we’re really living can only happen in the big things.

I’ve dreamed of missions and living among the poor. I’ve partnered with beautiful organizations doing beautiful world-changing things. I’ve grieved that I don’t have more capacity to serve now that I’m home with young kids. I still deeply treasure these opportunities to serve the poor and needy, and celebrate all those doing this significant work.

But I have thought less of life as a mom. It often feels small and insignificant. I have fought against the way it shrinks and simplifies my life, and I have sometimes been frustrated by the way it fills all of the spaces and leaves no room.  As we fight against it, and wish for bigger better things, we allow seeds of resentment and bitterness to be sown.

But, in the last couple years, the truth of the life I’m living as a mom has slapped me right across the face. Sometimes, quite literally. The truth is that mamas die a million small deaths all day long. Perhaps the life of service and sacrifice that I’ve dreamed about is right in front of my face. Perhaps leaning in and reconciling with the dying that fills my days could be the key to unlock the life I sometimes feel I’m missing.

Friends, we mamas might have all the worldly comforts that make us feel like our days should be easy.  We might enjoy the comforts of beautiful homes, and minivans, and organic meals, and Starbucks stops. But, there is no peace for the mama who won’t die a thousand times, on a thousand days.

As we are willing to die in every corner of ourselves, we open ourselves up to new and better and fuller life.

Perhaps not whipping my body into shape after giving birth is not a failure, but an opportunity to discover life and joy in the death of my vanity. Dying to self is giving your very body to be stretched and scarred and changed. I give my body.

Perhaps I’m not less-than because motherhood has killed brain cells. I have frantically looked for a child who I’m holding on my hip. True story. But perhaps my distraction and preoccupation is not a sign that I’m now less worthy. Dying to self is giving your mind to organize and facilitate seeing that the needs of everyone else in your home are met before your own. I give my mind.

Dying to self is cleaning the messes that threaten your basic human dignity – the ones that leave you looking for the emergency biohazard hotline.  I give my dignity.

A place in me that once cared about some respectable thing now holds the lyrics to the Wild Kratts theme song. Dying to self is giving yourself to care about the little things…the names of all the dinosaurs, the microscopic boo-boos, the math homework. I give my interest.

I can feel embarrassed by my swift tears or sudden panic when it comes to my children. But dying to self is giving your heart to care about the big things…the illnesses and injuries that make our heart stop, the heartbreak and the grief of watching your children suffer or be in danger. It’s the giving of your heart in a way that you can never take back. The giving to a love that makes your heart beat right out of your chest, and makes you feel wildly alive and wildly in danger of being crushed. I give my heart.

The daily grind of chores doesn’t make my life small. Dying to self is giving all of the in-between moments to launder and clean and feed. I give my hands.

Dying to self is letting your family change and shape your goals and dreams, whether you are working tirelessly juggling work and home, or you’ve given up a hard-earned career to stay home.   I give my dreams.

Dying to self is being the rock against which my children can crash the wild waves of growing up. Dying to self is keeping steady for their uninhabited and unfiltered and underdeveloped BIG feelings to find their boundaries in the safety of my arms. I give my comfort.

Dying to self is looking with grace-filled eyes after being slapped across the face by a tiny person. It’s shepherding in love after being yelled at for some horror like offering the wrong lollipop color. I give my pride.

Only as I lean in and give myself away can I find peace and freedom. If God sees me, and I’m within his call to the life of sacrifice, I don’t need to fight to be seen. I don’t need to resent my husband for his freedom to leave the house, or my children for their ingratitude. There is a harmony in the song I’m singing.

And it all feels like worship.

My spirit gives a resounding “Yes!” to overseas missions and living among the poor. But I long to see us mamas shout a similar “Yes!” over the life of sacrifice that lies before us as we simply open our eyes in the morning (or in the night), with a willingness to do another day.

Nature points to this deep truth that we only find our life by giving it up. I long to see us fall each day like the seed, treasuring the promise that our death will bring new life.

As I talk with my mom friends, we still find ourselves feeling like being a mom is supposed to be easy and fun. The words of little old ladies who tell us with screaming toddler in grocery store line to “cherish every minute” echo in our heads. But I’ve watched my friends give up careers, and hobbies, and personal space, and clean shirts, and the last brownie. I’ve seen them die a million deaths. We get dirty with it.

And yet, somehow the world has us convinced that we’re doing it all wrong. Somehow we feel it doesn’t matter. We feel we need to do more, and better. And get out and serve in a way that counts.

Stepping into motherhood is risky in a ultimate sense. We allow the Lord to rip our heart out and give it legs. Ladies, this thing requires faith! I don’t say any of this out of pride, but to proclaim out loud that the devil, the Enemy of our hearts, has no right to steal the joy that comes from motherhood being a service unto the Lord.

If we are willing to lean into the life of self-sacrifice that is laid out before us, mamas, we can spend our lives in the sweetness of those feet-washing moments. You have an opportunity at every moment of the day to give your life away. And sister, your Father in heaven sees you!

The world fights against this motherhood thing with a force of self-indulgence and self- advancement. While some positions come with power, influence, lofty titles, impressive salaries, something to say at a cocktail party. Motherhood comes mostly with messes, failures and invisibleness. I think this is no surprise to God.

So, let’s let the seed fall. Let’s die the million deaths, on purpose. And let’s watch and wait as new life and joy spring up in your days.

My dining room table is under there somewhere

Freedom for those up close and personal moments

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A sweet little voice from the backseat reaches my ears as we approach a red light. “Mommy, can we help that woman with the sign that says ‘homeless’?” See, I can tell them that we love the poor, but my tenderheart in the backseat doesn’t want to hear about it. She wants to see it, feel it, touch it, taste it. And I’m suddenly in one of those crises of my intention smashing up against my lack of follow-through. My words and the reality of my life collide in a heap, and I realize again that the most important things are not really taught, but caught. I’m in that sloppy space of needing to mean what I say and say only what I’m ready to live out. This kind of discipleship – the kind where our children learn what it means to live and walk in faith by watching – this kind gets right up in your face.

There was a time in my life when loving others, ministry, discipleship – it all felt tidied up. I could go about my life, and use the free spaces to find opportunities to share about my faith in Jesus. Only the safe, pretty and in-control spaces. Without realizing, I was presenting a story of “Once upon a time life was messy, and then I met Jesus and now it’s tidied up and beautiful.” God was gracious to redeem what I offered, but in the quiet, I think something felt disingenuous. You and I both know that life doesn’t get tidy when we follow Jesus. Life is still a sloppy mess with pain and grief and temptation and disease and broken relationship. Even under God’s covering, and in His hope, life and our own weakness this side of heaven, still hurt and confuse us.

It took some up close and personal relationships to show me that I hadn’t been free. The honest truth is that there is no freedom in offering only the pretty spaces to the world. Only the clean house. Only the made-up face. Only the well-prepared bible study lesson. I felt the pressure of keeping it up. I felt the fear of being “found out.” And those with me likely felt the same.

I faced my first crisis of intention versus reality a number of years ago when life got a little intense. My husband was elected to the State Legislature, I was running a small personal training business, I had recently become a mom, and I was involved in a ministry for high school students, which I was striving to do in the in-between spaces. As my life became more demanding, I began to see that if I only invited those around me to see the pretty parts of my life, I would soon run out of parts to offer. I began to see that the margin for loving anyone from the tidied-up spaces was quickly being squeezed out of my life.  I considered cutting things out to make more pretty space, but I felt that God was leading me in a different direction. I felt that I needed to step in faith, rather than rest on my own strength.

I had always thought that loving others could only come from a put-together life. But in that season, God brought into my path an opportunity that began to change my thinking. I met a young woman looking for a home in which to heal from family hurts, to learn what godly marriage, parenting, family looks like. When this opportunity arose, I was days away from the birth of my second child, and my husband a couple months from his second election. I was working, and had stepped into leadership in several places in the church and community. Life was chaotic and messy. But my husband and I felt a nudge to invite this person in. It felt like a giant step of faith to allow someone into the mess or our home and family life, and to believe that she would see God in the midst.

It’s terrifying to let someone see our life when it is not put together. We want to clean up our bodies and our houses and our lives before we invite someone in. But I found myself wondering what I was really afraid of. If I truly believed I was following Christ in the mess, then there should be evidence…right?  If someone watching can’t see God and lives of faith in the messy times, than we must be lying to ourselves.  So, God challenged me to begin to develop a “come and watch me need Jesus” attitude. Watch my husband and I fall towards one another. Watch us ask each other and our children for forgiveness. Watch us get on our knees with our great need.

And guess what, by God’s grace, this young woman saw us forgiving ourselves and each other. She saw us living beyond ourselves and drawing on God’s grace. She saw us failing in ways that made all of us want less of ourselves and more of Jesus, and it changed her life. And ours.

God is still leading me on this journey – the journey of living fearlessly, and letting His power be made perfect in my weakness.  I’m seeing that I still have layers and layers of wanting to keep it all together for everyone watching.

And motherhood gets right up in my face like nothing ever has. I now have little eyes watching to see if my words come alive in my actions, and seeing all the moments – not just the pretty ones. And it forces me to look right at the truth of my life and how it compares to my words and my intention.

I have to be ready to say what I mean and mean what I say. And I have to be ready to need lots of grace.

I have to be ready to point to the Merciful One, and to teach my children not how to stop being weak, but how to lean our weakness right into the strong chest of God.

I have to be ready to teach them not how to fix our hearts up so we want and seek better things, but to go ahead and die to ourselves. We can just lay our will right down, and let God show us how to align with His will instead.

I have to be ready to teach my children not how to get better and stronger, but how to get right down on our knees and let God wash us again and again in grace through Jesus. This is freedom. I can live the life I intend to live, and not just pretend to. I can flounder and fail, and let God’s grace pick me up. And I can let my children and the world watch the whole thing. I can do more than teach them the Bible lessons (those are good too!), but I can also let them catch from me the freedom of walking in grace.

Yes, motherhood gets right up in our faces where there is no escaping being seen. And so, I’m forced to ask myself the question “Do I believe that I have the spirit of the Living God in me, or not?”

If I believe it, than I truly have nothing to fear. There is freedom to be seen in my broken and redeemed mess. There is no pretending that because I am a follower of Jesus, I no longer struggle with sin and weakness. In motherhood, and in the hardship of real life, I am led to a place of inviting my children (and others) to walk with me on a broken road of needing Jesus every minute. They see me fail and be forgiven over and over and over.

On the fly, I’m constantly led to face not only my intention, but the reality of my heart.  I’m forced to ask what I want my children to see me doing, and then do it.

In a moment when I could have convinced myself that I do care about the poor, but that there’s nothing I can do right now because I’m in a hurry anyway…my children bring me to the feet of Jesus. I face the truth that my intentions and actions are not lining up.

So, after that sweet cry from the backseat about whether we might do something to help, I try something new with my little disciples. I roll down our windows, we say “hello,” ask her name and say a quick prayer for her. My children join me as we offer this woman the dignity of being seen, and a little snack. A simple thing, but one that challenges the way I’ve lived, and the frequent emptiness of my intention. I can’t for a moment feel proud for the change, as I know I would never have done it without the innocent challenge from little lips. I want it to be real for them. And they make me want it to be real for me. I want to live more than a life of good intention.

Motherhood is teaching me that loving others can’t be tidy. There is a kind of discipleship that lets us reflect the greatness of God, by leaning our weakness into God’s strength. There is a way of loving others that lets us be broken, because we lay down our own greatness and point to God’s greatness instead. And God gets the glory as we let him reflect his great glory on the broken mirror of our lives.

In this life that comes with being covered in spit up, with whining and back-talking, and a million hidden things that make us feel so small… we can just be small, so the bigness of God can be seen through us. I imagine sometimes that this life as mama must be a little bit like trying to live with a TV camera in your face. Someone is always there to catch your weakest, ugliest moments – the moments that basic human dignity tells us should happen in private. But when children bust through the bathroom door, or pull off the nursing cover, or yell at us when we are running on an hour of sleep, the challenge to love and disciple them gets really up close and personal.

But if we let the up close and personal moments push us to laugh at our humanness, and be the empty vessels of God’s love.  If we let the moments when we face our inconsistencies to push us to live out our intention, and to say what we mean and mean what we say, then we spread our wings and soar in new freedom.