How to let your children be the beautiful miracles God made them to be (And a free gift!)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

Philippians 1:20-21

 

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Typical driveway decor. :). They said it’s the name of their “band.”  

Left to their own, my thoughts dart around, raising my blood pressure and making me reach for another cup of coffee.  Pinballing from child to child, to overdue items on my To Do list, to unmet needs and forgotten homework, to sports and tutors and appointments and ideas I heard and meant to incorporate, to conversations I meant to have, and friends I want to see — my mind swirls with passions and dreams wriggled up with the needs of the day and the weariness of my bones.

The honest way I navigate these blessed and beautiful and broken days – the way I grow and straighten out a bit of my twisted up places – it happens drowned in grace and one day and a time and almost never linearly.  I experience breakthrough and setback, I remember truth and then I forget.  I’m soaring with passion and then crushed with discouragement.  And as I stumble through, I am ever in need of our unchanging, faithful God.

I wonder where you sit as you read these words, sweet mama.  I’m imagining all the ways that you laid your life down in service to your family today, and what might be swirling in your mind and heart.  I wonder if you are relishing in giggles or if you sit with a heaviness about your failures or disappointments.

If you hid in the bathroom for a moment of respite during the dinner hour, or if you had to check to see if the windows were open for that moment when everyone yelled things they didn’t mean…Sister, I am so with you.

I wonder if you are desperate to love this motherhood thing, but you haven’t slept in months, or you long for a nice dinner conversation, or defiance has you worn to the depths, or your child’s hardships have you tied in knots.  I wonder if you have a tangled mix of excitement and dread for the summer ahead.

Maybe your mama’s heart beats deep today for a child grappling through school, a newly discovered learning disability, a troubling change in behavior, or a diagnosis that feels like a shattered dream.  Maybe you haven’t felt connected, you don’t understand what makes them tick.

I wonder if you’ve had expectations, like I have — about ease in sleep or growth or health or school or friendships,  that your children might love the things you love, or naturally connect with you the way you connect with others, that they would claim faith as their own at a young age, or behave in the way you’ve taught.

I wonder if you’ve found yourself- like I have – sometimes needing a bit too much from them, expecting to have a bit more control than reality allows.

In my last post, I shared about how my wrong expectations of myself and motherhood have sometimes chained up my joy.  You can read more about how I’m finding that as I begin to release my expectations, and trust in God’s sovereignty, I discover a road of beautiful adventure and freedom with God.

But even more…the thing that makes my eyes blur and my soul quake… the thing that really makes me want to fight for truth is the way my unrealistic expectations can chain up my children, hurt our relationship and keep them from living in the joy and freedom they were made for.

Several years ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks that there was a fabric being woven by a million tiny interactions that I didn’t mean to have, weaving together a pattern and life and relationship designed by unfair expectations and too little grace.  I was overwhelmed by my life and the house that needed cleaning and the baby that needed feeding and all the things I felt like I should be doing, and so I’m plopped my needs right down on the tiny shoulders of my children.
I found creeping into the corners of my heart this silent need for my children to fit in the metaphorical box I had made for them, taking up the exact amount of space that I had to give, which was sometimes infinitesimal…

The evidence was in my subtle disapproval over clothing choices because I didn’t want them to be teased the way I was, my quiet repulsion over table manners that I didn’t have the fortitude to endure with grace, forgetting to offer tenderness and back scratches when I felt like I was running on empty, too many words of correction and instruction and too few words of encouragement and blessing, unintentionally guiding my children to the activities with which I was comfortable, talking too much and listening too little, expecting my elder children to mature in accordance with my need.

As my capacity shrunk with each child we added to the mix, or each time daddy’s work schedule ramped up, I was shrinking the space for needs and moods and unpredictability that my children were allowed to have in our home.

I tried to fit my children’s needs into my life in predictable and methodical ways.  I wanted their growth to be linear.  I wanted their behavior to be ever-improving, their independence to be ever-increasing, their knowledge and understanding to be visibly multiplying.  I wanted to know how much of me mothering was going to take today.  I wanted the chores to be done because I had a plan, and I implemented it, and I needed it to work.

You and I both know, it doesn’t go that way.

We get them sleeping and then they stop.  We get that behavior worked out, and then there’s a new one.  They get over their separation anxiety and then it springs up tenfold.  Friendships are working for them, and then they suddenly aren’t.  We had big plans for the day and then a fever.  They usually bounce out the door for school, but today they don’t want to go. You dreamed of football and he wants to dance.  You imagined dresses and hair bows and she wants sneakers and t-shirts.  Today he’s not sure about all this God stuff.  Yesterday that joke was funny, but today it hurt.  Family time feels impossible because someone is always punching someone.   Reading just hasn’t clicked.  It’s hard for him to make friends.  Or maybe you’re a mama who just longs for the “normal” struggles because you can’t take a single day or milestone for granted with your child’s health or special needs.

Our children and their circumstances and their days are beautifully tragically humanly predictably unpredictable.

But with painful clarity, I began to see that my wrong perspective left no space for my children’s development to be messy and erratic and rarely linear, like mine.

High standards for our children can be a blessing that calls them into the fullness of their potential.  But needing them to meet those standards for our sense of well-being is a dangerous game. 

As I began to look beneath my constant barrage of corrections and frustration, what I saw in myself was fear:  lack of trust that my children’s stories were the Lord’s, fear that there would not be enough of me to go around, fear that their behavior and performance reflected my failure, fear that they were not going to live up to their full potential, and it would be my fault.  I think the struggle to extend grace seems to coincide with the place where our fear and shame rests — where we can’t let go.

I’m finding that at the core of most of the “needs” I have of my children, there is a lack of faith.

Though many parents share it, the need to control our children isn’t just a quirky part of motherhood to expect – at the heart, it’s a sickness of unbelief.  Our earthly expectations become our comfort.  When we try to stand on them, we aren’t believing God can walk our children through their own hardship and unknowns.

Our assumptions are not solid ground on which to stand, but there is a kind of expectation that is secure…

We can surely expect that God will never leave or forsake us (or our children). 

We should expect that God gives us (and our children) ultimate victory. 

We should hope with absolutely certainty that God is making all things new, in our lives and the lives of our children.

We should expect that any momentary affliction is preparing for us (and for our children) an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

We can expect that God has good plans for us, and for our children — that he works all things for our good.

Though everything else is uncertain, our expectations and our hope rest securely in Christ.   His promises are for our children, too.   God sees them directly— not just through our eyes, but through His own Adoring Father’s eyes.

In this light, we are free to guide them warmly through change and failure.  We are free to trust God’s handiwork on them, and believe He can handle their trials.  We are free to shed our expectations, and begin to explore and discover them.  We can stop striving, and we can look up into God’s heart, the One who knit them together and knows every hair on their heads, and apprehend His delight in them.  We can step into the beautiful adventure of mothering one or a few of God’s people.

I have a renewed sense, the way I did when each of my children were newborn strangers that I long to study them, see God’s creative originality on them.  I want to be introduced to the parts of them that scare me, to break them out of the comfortable box I put them in, and trek into the uncharted territory of their unique spirits and characters.

I’m still at the very beginning of this parenting journey — bigger failures, tougher decisions, higher stakes are ahead.  But as I stand today, I am trying to loosen my grip on my plan, and let the far more creative and ravishing story God is writing for my children begin to unfold.

Trust in God’s covering is fortifying me, allowing me to be a more stable mom —to become a rock for my children to bounce off of through all of their volatile stages.  I can be less emotional about the failures and surprises, and simply take the hand of my child and one step at a time, as God’s Word and Spirit lights our path.

If you need some ideas for breaking free from unfair expectations of your children, here are a fewThese are some habits that are helping me loosen my grip on control, helping me walk in freedom to allow my children to be the mysterious and unique and beautiful unknown miracles they were made to be.

Here’s your gift! Click to download your free printable.

Revelation 21: 5, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, Philippians 1:20-21, Jeremiah 29:11, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

 

The heartbreaking thing every mom is ashamed to admit

 

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Not quite the photo I envisioned. 🙂

The painful honest shameful truth is that I was disappointed in motherhood from the moment I saw that second little pink line.  When I expected a rush of pure joy and excitement, what I got was a sloppy mix of fear and unworthiness, speckled with elation. I didn’t feel the way I expected to, or felt I should. Many of even the sweetest moments of parenting have been mixed with something sour and strange.

I felt disappointed when I didn’t have the clarity of mind to soak in my first moments with each new baby.  I felt disappointed that I cared about things that don’t matter – like what someone else thinks about my parenting or the way pregnancy and breastfeeding would effect my body.

I felt disappointed in myself for not cherishing my swelling belly, and instead worrying about how I would look after giving birth. I was disappointed in myself for stepping on the scale too often.  I hated that I cared…but I did.

Warring thoughts collided:  the blessing and the cost, the privilege and the sacrifice.

Even as I type, I fend off the thought that my words appear selfish, ugly, harsh to your eyes.  I write in faith that you might need to know you’re not the only one.

There have been moments when I felt I should be relishing in ecstatic bliss over my children, and instead I felt empty, lonely, lost.  There were postpartum days when I felt crazy and feared I would never feel like myself again. There were days when I looked upon a child I birthed, and they felt like a stranger.  There are days I feel like it’s barely worth it to try to have fun together, because we’re so likely to end in tears.

I’ve felt disappointed each time the idyllic scene I pictured when I planned an activity for my children was lost to a scene of whines and wet pants and bloody knees.

I felt disappointed the first time it didn’t come naturally to throw my arms around my child – the first time I had to choose to be affectionate towards them because some distaste for their behavior had crept into my spirit. And I think the heaviness that can rest on our shoulders as mamas so often comes because we thought it was supposed to look some other way.  We thought we would burst with fondness for them every minute. We thought we would remember every minute what a gift our children are. We thought we would stop caring about trivial things when they stood against the immense value of raising up the next generation. We thought we would never yell, or even feel inclined to. We thought we would have more patience and grace. We thought we would look different, feel different, be different as a mother.

The weight of it can ravage our souls.

No space exists for these feelings when mamas fight for years just to get one of those second pink lines.  No space exists for these thoughts when we know so profoundly that children are a gift, a heritage, a treasure.  And so, rather than give these thoughts and feelings any space, they silently breed shame, and wreak havoc on our sense of self-worth.  They discreetly curse us and tell us we’re unworthy of the children we’re given, convince us we’re the worst mom.

We need to hold fast to gratitude.  But not as a bandaid…

And friend, there’s no denying, I brought a lifetime of expectations into this motherhood thing, and face a million little heartbreaks over the ways I don’t live up, or the ways my life doesn’t look like I thought it should. A million moments of envy of the mom who seems to be doing it better.  We need to never lose sight of the blessing, but in order to thrive as mamas, I think we also need to validate the pain and disillusionment of this journey looking so exceedingly different than we thought it should.

Only as I recognize, grieve, and release my expectations… Only as I make peace with my actual life… am I beginning to taste freedom and experience the fullness of joy in the reality of my days as a mom.  

I know some of you have faced the deepest pain and tragedy on your parenting journey.  If you have lost a child, faced infertility, or have a child with special needs and face the ongoing grief of missed milestones and experiences, I see you… our Father God sees you.  My heart breaks with yours, and I know God’s does too.  I know that your fractured hopes and expectations and dreams are a present reality in each day of your life this side of heaven.  There are real pains that leave real holes.

But there are these other pains that just come, just blow in with the wind, idealistic expectations simply a result of not knowing better.

I think many of us just thought this road would be easier, that we would be stronger.

Though I’m sure everything looks reasonably close to perfect from the outside, in my motherhood journey, I have often flip-flopped between bliss and angst.  One moment, I feel the abundance of blessing and joy.  The next moment I feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped and beaten down.

My real-life mama story is often a journey of failure and weakness, and strength in Christ alone.  My real-life default is to drown in worry and fear, and I am in continuous battle of surrender, entrusting my children to God’s care, over and over.

In my real story, I am often disappointed, and I have to lay my expectations down each and every day, so God can show me the the gift I was missing.

My real days are full of gathering up grace for each moment, because I’m desperate for it.  And when I let go and see the world through my children’s eyes of wonder, real life moments of magic and euphoria surprise me.

My real story is one of discovering some of the ugliest corners of my soul, and letting God’s light shine on them.  In my real story, I sometimes want to run away, and it is pure sacrifice to enter in.

And in my real story, when the world says I’m trapped because I can’t pee by myself, I say I’ve never been more free.  In my real story, I’m discovering things about myself that make me feel I was absolutely made for this.  In my real actual life, my dreams and goals and ambitions don’t disappear, but grow and morph and bend with each season of my family.

In real life, joy comes in dying to myself, abundance comes in sacrifice, peace comes in surrender, fun comes only when I set aside the relentless pressure to live up to my expectations and the ones I perceive from the world.

In my real story, motherhood has driven me into deeper intimacy with my Father God than I ever could have imagined.  Truthfully, the extraordinary privilege of raising my children pales in comparison to the deep intimacy with my King, the sweetness of dependence, trust, surrender that motherhood has required of me.     The greatest joy has come when I can get over myself and my expectations, and I embrace my imperfect children as their imperfect mama on our imperfect journey together.

And I realize it’s ultimately the same journey for every one of us…whether we have children or not, whether we run a company or a country or a classroom or a home or some tangled mix…it’s the same journey of God winning our hearts.  It’s the same call to lay our life down to find it.  

So mamas, what if we’re not doing it all wrong, and this broken and sloppy road is exactly what God intended for motherhood?  What if He knew in His ultimate sovereignty that the only way we could stop trying to BE the Savior, and start pointing our children to their Savior in Jesus is if we were sickeningly aware of our weakness? What if this is what God meant when He said to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”(2 Corinthians 12: 9)? What if our lostness is where we are found? What if our shattered dreams are what drive us to be the mothers that God intended? And what if we release our children to be the miracles God made them to be as we let go and let them be unique and different with desires and dreams and traits way outside of our comfort zones?

I’m not saying that God delights in making our journey difficult.  He is near to our hearts, and leads us tenderly (Isaiah 40: 11).  But I believe that our expectations – the ones that say that motherhood is supposed to be easy, pretty and fun in all the moments – these expectations steal our joy, and rob us of God’s joy and grace in the difficult but immensely beautiful days with young children.
I believe God has a bedraggled and beautiful adventure for you today, sweet friend.  Rather than holding onto the story we thought we were supposed to be living, let’s consider being led on a journey of surprise, adventure, and deep intimacy with our King.

 

More on releasing our children from our unrealistic expectations next week…

 

 

The one word you need to get through your day

yield

I have a bad habit of pushing myself to the absolute max.  For most of my life, my default answer has been “Yes” and my default custom has been to stay up too late, wake up too early, do too much, and rest too little.  I know I’m not alone and books are being written and we’re all talking about how we need to slow down, and you are right there with me with days too full, nights too short, eyelids too heavy, and schedules bursting at the seams with too much of everything.

 

I push hard knowing that coffee and eye liner will be there for me in the morning.  I push hard because I feel like I’m supposed to for my children, for God, for community.  There is a time to push.  We need each other — and let’s be honest — if we never pushed, we wouldn’t see each other much.  And yet, I also know the truth that we were made for rest…pure and simple and free of agenda.  I know that our bodies were made for sleep, and we were made to believe that the world keeps spinning if we stop for moments in the day, and seven or eight hours at night.  As much as I resist, somewhere deep down, I believe that our need for rest and sleep is a God-given daily source of humility, a life-line to remind us that He’s God and we’re not.

 

I’m sometimes inclined to think that my opposition to sleep is a result of being a grown-up with responsibilities, but than I see even the tiniest people resist it.  Every mama knows the maddening vexation of watching an exhausted child scream or wiggle with “I’m not tired!”.  How many times have we seen another question, another book, another kiss, another blanket, another song, another back scratch, another drink, another trip to the potty, another anything to restrain from being overtaken by relaxation?  One of mine will hold an arm in the air or bounce a leg off the side of the bed for minutes on end, unyielding to the calm.  Another child of mine often says she just “can’t” close her eyes – doesn’t know how.

How many times have all the moms said “Just go to sleep!”?

There was the boy on the road trip the other week, who said sleep was impossible, leaving me simultaneously frustrated by his noncompliance and struck with the truth of what he said…  because he was absolutely right.  There is no amount of obedience or work or doing that could render sleep.  It cannot be forced or rushed or demanded.

 

It is pure, unbridled surrender.  It does not come unless we let go. 

Sleep can’t go on your To Do list, because you can’t do it.  You have to let it undo you.

 

Perhaps that’s why it is sometimes so hard for my little man of passion and action and concrete solutions, and why I can’t seem to get myself into bed on time, either.

How curious that sleep never seems like a good idea until it’s too late and we’re left with our heavy bones and sticky eyelids.  And how curious that the same is true of all the things that require our surrender.

Because it’s hard to be told what to do, but it’s even harder to know that there is nothing we can do but “let go.”  I think surrender and letting ourselves be undone might just be the hardest thing.  Waving the white flag feels like defeat in the most miserable of ways.  I think we will always avoid surrender unless we believe there is a greater victory on the other side.

We say “No” to one more thing for the greater “yes” of being refreshed and having new life breathed into our bones. We say “No” to doing all in our own strength for the greater “Yes” to Christ through whom we can do all things.

I’m so painfully aware that all the things I might be inclined to do, to say, to write…that they will be empty unless I simply abide.  Jesus says that apart from him, we can do nothing.  We, the branches, can bear no fruit apart from the vine.  All the things with which I could worry myself to no end… All the things that keep me up at night…  All the things I tell my sweet ones I need to finish before I’m ready to play or snuggle or read or get the snack… there is no lasting fruit apart from Christ.

But abiding in Christ, remaining in him, waiting on him…it requires the deepest and fullest surrender.  As sleep requires our physical surrender, so abiding requires our soul surrender.  We surrender our swarming thoughts, our burgeoning need for productivity and efficiency and impact.  We surrender our agenda, our pride, our worry, our control.

As sleep refreshes our bodies, so stepping into quiet submission to the King of Heaven has the power to refresh and recharge our souls and spirits, the power to change our perspective on our day.  God has the power to change the lens through which we see the circumstances of our day.

If you’ve had to stop reading this post a couple times to wipe spit up off your shoulder, take someone potty, break up an argument, or race to chauffeur your people to the next thing, I am so with you.  If you have to rally three or four people to do your job as mama in order to get away for a couple hours or days, I am so with you.  If you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, and it feels like your home and everyone in it would crumble if you let yourself breathe, I am so with you.  If you have an incessant list of things running through your head about the medicine you need to remember to give, the food you need to remember to pack, the babysitters you need to remember to find, the ride for your child you need to request, the diaper rash that needs a better cream, the meal plan you haven’t made, the errand you are procrastinating because you remember the chaos of last time, the behavior or ailment that you wonder if you should be concerned about, the sport or class you worry you should be signing your child up for…I am so with you.

But when I sat on a plane with my daughter yesterday afternoon, after a weekend away with sweet friends, and the stewardess reminded me to put my oxygen mask on first, my spirit said “Yes, ma’am and amen.”  I have nothing to give without a source.  I must believe that yielding to the Spirit of God in the middle of the unyielding pace of my day is the only way for my life to yield enduring fruit.

 

Yield… this is the word that has me tied up in knots and spreading my wings.  This is the word I think might just be the answer to everything our souls need and our spirits cry out for today.  

Yield   | yēld | verb
1. to produce, provide, deliver
2. to relinquish, surrender, relent

 

How tremendously lovely and rich and mysterious that the same word means both surrender and productivity, both to admit defeat and to deliver results, both achievement and relinquishing control.  How beautifully ironic and perfect.

As we lose our lives, we find them.  As we yield ourselves, we yield beauty in our lives.

Whether or not you can get a good night’s sleep tonight, you can choose to yield to the Spirit of God in the midst of your crazy day.  You can yield to the belief that drawing away with God is the one decision that yields the most fruit.

Today, I’m not going to resist the moments of my day that make me feel small.  I’m surrendering my pride and laying my life down a million times over, in faith that God will give me His.

Today, even as I work, on laundry and food prep and shepherding and emails, I’m choosing to relinquish my hyper efficiency and drive for productivity, in faith that the Spirit of God will enter into my openness and deliver moments of beauty and grace.  I am letting go of the unrelenting push, and choosing to be interruptible. ”For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8: 35)