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When you really want to love summer, but you’re getting crushed

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Summer and I have a complicated relationship.  

As a stay-at-home mama, I treasure the slower pace, the extra time with these precious children of mine.  I relish in the opportunity for white space and rest and sunshine and making memories and the kind of boredom that frees the imagination. 

From the heart of May, the heart in my chest starts to swell with anticipation of watching my people run through the sprinkler with their buddies, and the tiny wet footprints that will cover my floor.  I imagine their sibling friendships flourishing with giggly pillow fights and giant forts and long days splashing around in the pool.  

I can’t hide my grin when I think of swim team ribbons that will be won, diving board tricks to be mastered, finger paint creations to be hung on the wall.  

I imagine the books read and the dreams dreamed that could never be, without the extra wiggle room.  I’m fully committed to spending at least a handful of days in pajamas, and several handfuls in bathing suits, from morning straight on ’til night.  

Summer is bursting with potential.  Two whole months with nothing much to do…I should have a chance to patch up all the mommy failures of the school year, and do all of the things well.  I imagined in summer, I would climb into bed with each of my children just to scratch their backs and chat in the way that only happens when toes are tucked under covers and faces are surrounded by beloved stuffed animals.  I would linger and listen…really listen…about hurt feelings and lizards and swim meets, until my little ones’ eyelids got heavy and they were ready to let the moment go.  I would move slow and soak up the silly little moments that add up to a childhood.  I would be patient, and tell the clock that it can take a break.  Everyone would be well-rested and would get along.  I would have long date nights with my hubby and long family adventures, and we would make sweet family memories together. Summer would make it all better. 

From the heart of May, it all seemed so simple.  

But right in the middle of all of this potential, the boredom intended to lead to imagination and beauty, becomes a reason to pick a fight, just for something to do.  Family adventures turn to whining, and the only moment I enjoy is the picture I snap when I trick everyone into smiling for a gummy bear.  

I get tired of hearing my own voice encouraging little ones to be grateful when it’s too hot or too rainy or too sunny or not sunny enough… when we never have enough time at the pool…when it’s never the right time to put on sunscreen….when it should always be the right time for ice cream…and everyone is Always.  Always.  Always. Hungry. 

Thankfully, after an adventure turns sour, my children only seem to remember the fun.  As it was for me as a child, summer is a time for nothing much to do, except practicing handstands in the pool.  

So, perhaps my high expectations of summer come from my view being shaped in childhood, when summer was nothing but sparkly brilliant adventure.  

But the thing I now know, though I’m still making peace with it, is that the rest and relaxation of a child comes partly at the sacrifice of his mama’s.  Someone has to hang and clean and pack and unpack and repack all of the swim suits and goggles and floaties and towels and snacks and water bottles and sunscreen.  A leisurely picnic for the family comes at the cost of cooking and packing the food and paper plates and blankets and hats and bug spray.  Someone still drives.  Someone still cooks.  Someone still cleans.  Someone still launders.  Someone’s ears receive all of the screams and tattles and needs and questions.  Someone carefully places what feels like thousands of things into a bag for each and every adventure.  Someone facilitates the fulfillment of everyone else’s summer dreams.  

So, thank you, Mom, for making my summers magical.

And thank you, Jesus, that you are multiplying the magic in the lives of my children.  They really do love it.  And that makes it well worth all of the effort.  

But can I just admit that I sometimes I feel kind of crushed by all of this fun?  Some days I am so, so tired.  Some days I feel like I cannot muster the energy to answer one more question or settle one more argument.  Some days I am pressed by the sheer number of words exchanged, by the number of time outs, the number of Band-aids, the number of wet floors I have wiped up, the number of minutes I have spent spreading sunscreen on tiny bodies. 

There is an undeniable blessed abundance in my house that I do not take for granted for a minute.  I treasure the opportunity to be home with my little army of children this summer, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.  

But sisters, sometimes…Summer. Is. Hard. 

There is this ugly side of summer mixed up with the ugly side of my heart that says “JUST GO BACK TO SCHOOL, ALREADY.”  

I want to be the mom who never wants summer to end.  But even before I finished the giant exhale of relief of less – less hurry, less homework, less calendar, less daily grind…Before I even let the exhale settle my soul, there was an equally strong and competing inhale of more – more opinions, more noise, more voices, more sibling arguments, more complaints of boredom, more questions about what we’re doing and when and where and with whom and for how long, more entertainment, more meals to make and clean up at home, more decisions to make about wide open hours.

Summer and I made our first transition when I entered the working world, and I realized that summer break was no longer a thing.  And now, we’re making another.

I think somewhere along the line, I started to think that staying at home with my kids meant I would get a summer break again.  But this year, I’m letting it go.  I’m wrapping up the gift of summer — all of my expectations and hopes, all of my rest and relaxation — I’m wrapping it up and tying a bow around it, and I am presenting it as an offering to my family.  I am believing that abundant life happens right on the other side of giving my own summer “break” away.  I’m believing that my gift in summer will be the life that only comes when you give it away – the abundance of living that only happens when you die to yourself.  I begin to truly delight in my children and their fun, when I stop being concerned about my own comfort.

This year, I am finally admitting the thing that has stood in the way of my rest.  I am admitting that a relationship between summer and a stay-at-home mama is not simple and straightforward.  It’s not a break, a vacation, or a retreat.  It’s simply a shift.  As I facilitate rest for my children this summer, I can trust the Lord to bring rest to my soul.  I find life in giving mine away. 

So friend, if summer is hard, you might be right where you should be…pouring out your love and energy and effort to facilitate a culture of rest and adventure in your home.  The next time you are packing the pool bag, or breaking up a sibling squabble, remember that you are SEEN by your Father God.  Let the work of your summer be a dance of worship before your King.  

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39

Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Colossians 3: 23

Dear child of mine, teach me to have eyes of wonder

Dear child of mine,

Many things I teach to you, sweet one.  I’ve walked a few more miles, and lived a few more years.  But in this, I am your student.

In this, I find you wise beyond your years, and mature beyond measure.

In this, I find you exquisite.  I can only hope not to move you backwards.  I can only hope not to make you more like me, but me like you.

It’s your eyes that captivate me, precious child.  It’s the way your eyes can see things that I have long forgotten to notice.

It’s the way your eyes can take in everything that truly matters and nothing all at once.

You care not about the traffic, but you revel in the size of the wheels on the truck beside us.  You care not about the clock, but the flicker of the rock along the path to our car never fails to catch your eye.

You fear not if we’ve wondered off the trail, but you delight in the feel of a toad in your hands.  You love the bumps of his back, and the rise of his throat.  You delight in the quick of his legs and when he surprises you with a mighty leap, you treasure the hunt to find him again.

What I call weeds, your eyes call wild bouquet.  What I call delays, your eyes call divine appointments with God’s gifts of the day.

Though I’m older now, small one, I want to grow eyes like yours, as I age.

Sweet child of mine, will you teach me to have eyes of wonder?

Will you teach me to see the world as one giant gift of glorious exploration?

Will you teach me to encounter God the Creator in the curve of a butterfly wing, and the wiggle of a worm?

Will you teach me to slow my busied mind, and breathe in the scent of fresh cut grass on a hill?  To roll down it with abandon to the grass stains?

Will you teach me to put aside the worries of the day, to tip my chin and feel the warm of the sun on my face?

Teach me to linger, to giggle endlessly about the way your baby brother’s diaper bobs back and forth when he walks.

Teach me again about the bliss of spinning with arms spread wide…the exhilaration of stumbling to the floor to watch the room swirl.

Teach me to marvel at the engineering of trucks and excavators and cranes in the construction site.  Just to watch the levers and gears and dirt frolic and dance.

Teach me to dwell with the trickle of creek and the echo of crickets.

Teach me to see the miracle of faces.  Teach me to see with endless possibility, and courageous hope.  Teach me to know God by having eyes to see his beauty in every little corner of creation.

Dear child of mine, when I grow up, I want to have eyes just like yours.

Never lose your wonder.

When you need to walk on water in the middle of crashing waves

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Matthew 14:22-33 NIV
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

I have mixed feelings about this story.

If I had designed these events as a reflection of my own heart, things would have gone a little differently…

The beautiful and captivating story of Peter walking on water, the redemptive story of my own life, the exquisite story of all of creation…  If these were written as a reflection of my own anxious heart, they would be written through the lens of pain avoidance rather than redemption, self-sufficiency rather than dependence, comfort and ease rather than faith, perfection rather than sanctification, quick answers rather than perseverance that builds character and character that builds hope. 

The Jesus made in my own image would have calmed the storm before he invited Peter to Come.  He wouldn’t have let it hurt.  He would have kept it neat and tidy.  Jesus would have made His command to “Take courage” nice and easy, because He would have silenced the waves and thunder, preemptively.

But God, in His great mercy, made me in His image instead – not the other way around.  God in His infinite wisdom, orchestrated the events of this passage of scripture, in this particular way.  And you and I both know that a story in which the miracle happens while the wind is still blowing and the waves are still crashing, is a whole lot more relevant to our real lives.

I want to walk on water to Jesus, don’t you?  I want to be brave.  I long to have adventures with the Lord, to co-labor with Him, and be called into supernatural places.  But before I step out of the boat, I’d prefer sunny skies and calm waters and life vests, and a well-established Plan B.  

It’s easy to be courageous in calm waters.  It’s easy to trust Jesus when things are easy and predictable.  But we learn what our faith is made of when the skies grow dark and the waters get a little rocky.  We learn to trust Jesus when we answer His invitation to lock eyes and Come, right in the middle of the storm.   

I’m beginning to see that we can’t wait until life pauses to figure out how to walk with the Lord.  Marriage and motherhood have made life more raw, more vulnerable, and the pauses more rare.  Nothing feels easy and predictable when these precious pieces of my heart are running around this scary world of ours.

This parenting journey has stripped off all of the nice churchy things I used to wear, and held a mirror to my heart.  It has revealed the places of my heart that have been fortified in truth, and the places where my heart is still a little squishy and lukewarm.  Motherhood has revealed the ways I’m walking in the truth of my new, empowered, victorious identity in Christ and the ways I’m still walking with a limp. (2 Corinthians 5: 17)

The things that spill out of me when I’m sleep deprived or disrespected are the very places in my heart where I need a holy healing touch from our Living God.  I’m beginning to see that we cannot build a life of faith when we only walk with Jesus in calm waters.  If we are going to walk in God’s promises, we need more than Sunday mornings and quiet times.  We need a real God with reckless love who speaks into the middle of our messy lives, in real time.  And that is the God we have.  Hallelujah!

When my home feels loud and busy and chaotic, I can’t always get away to be alone with the Lord.

You too, mama?

I’m beginning to look for the eyes of Jesus right in the middle of the noise, and ask Him if I can Come.  He steadies me and lets me walk right on top of the raging waves.

Hear me…I believe in drawing away to be alone with the Lord, and I seek to do it every. single. day.  But I am learning to lock eyes with Jesus and walk to Him, on the days when I didn’t get to have an idyllic quiet time with morning dew and chirping birds.  God meant for his promises to stand when we were still waiting for a chance to go to the mountaintop.

I’m learning to lock eyes with Jesus and walk to Him, while five little people need five different things… when I don’t know if it’s going to be ok… when I’m confused and uncertain… and when this mama actually has no earthly idea what is best.   I am learning to lock eyes with Jesus and walk to him on the days when I did everything wrong.  I am learning to cry out to him to save me, right after my faith has been weak.

Maybe you have made the same observation about parenting that I have.  It never stops.  It just keeps coming, and each new day has new challenges, new uncertainties, new things you’ve never done before, conversations you’ve never had before.  If we wait until it all calms down to learn to walk with Jesus, we might miss our opportunity to rest in him when we really need him.  And we might miss our chance to raise children who walk on water.  

Needing Jesus this way…this is holy ground, sweet friends.

Jesus did not say “Take courage.  There is no storm.”

He did not say “Take courage.  It will be over soon.”

He said “Take courage.  It is I.”

The reason for our courage cannot be the absence of difficulty, but the presence of Christ.  

Like Peter, when we look at the wind and the waves, we become afraid.  If I look upon one of my children and imagine all of the ways things could go wrong, I start to sink beneath the water, right then and there.  My fear writes the story, and I can’t think of anything to say in their broken moment except the things my sweet ones are doing wrong.  But when I look at the eyes of Jesus, I can see with new eyes.  The waves are in my peripheral vision – their power insignificant in light of the power of Christ.

When I lock eyes with Jesus, I see my loved ones through God’s eyes.  I see with hope for breakthrough and healing and miracles.  I see with endless possibility.  Shortcomings fall into the shadow of the glorious love of God through the blood of Christ.

When the things we see with our eyes make us feel like treading water is the very best we could hope for, with an ominous sense that we will only last a few moments more, we can lock eyes with Jesus.  He invites us to walk right on top of the disappointments, the fears, the unfulfilled dreams, the uncertain futures.  He invites us to dance in worship to the drumming beat of thunder, with the sway of the mighty wind, and the beat of the pounding waves of the most chaotic and difficult days.

We lock eyes with the God of the Most High and we become like David, who looks on his companions, trembling in fear of the giant before them and says “…Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

When we know who is for us, we fear not that which is against us. 

Sister, whatever waves you are facing today in your home, lift your eyes from the challenges, the inadequacies, the uncertainties, to meet the tender-loving eyes of Christ.  Hold within your gaze the truth of God’s power and might, the truth of His fatherly love and his endless mercy, the truth of His sovereignty and everlasting kindness.

Although the frothy ripples of your unique sea of circumstances may still clap against your feet, you will be empowered by the presence of Christ to walk above the fray.  

“Mommy, I want to laugh about things”

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She grabs the hem of my shirt after I kiss her goodnight.  She pulls me close and says “Mommy, I want to laugh about things. ”

 

Maybe she wants me to recount a silly moment from our day, or let her give me a kiss on the tip of my nose. Maybe I tickle her under her chin, or we spend a couple minutes talking in funny voices about how we are big brown bears getting ready for hibernation…

 

This daughter of mine doesn’t particularly mind how it happens, but she reaches for me to just linger a while.

 

She wants us both to giggle – to be equally delighted in a moment together.

 

This is my little one’s way of bidding for connection with me. She doesn’t just want books and hugs and kisses and prayers.  She doesn’t want a cookie cutter bedtime routine, alongside of her siblings, but a unique and personal, secret and special moment of connection.

 

She wants to know that her daddy and I find her captivating, that we relish in her enough to laugh out loud.

 

Somehow this bid catches my attention unlike the other nightly requests for a sip of water or one more kiss. Somehow this one pierces me to the middle – perhaps because I can see the cry of my own heart tucked inside of her sweet plea.

 

I see my own heart wrestle through the truth that I know with the ache I have felt…Jesus loves me! And he loves you! Hallelujah!

 

But don’t we all want to feel it in just a bit more of a personal way? Don’t we all want to be the apple of another’s eye? To be liked? Enjoyed? Delighted in? Laughed with? For the simple look of us to bring someone deep pleasure?

 

And isn’t this ultimately the cry of my heart with my Heavenly Father, that He would take pleasure in me, and that I could feel it?  And that I could take pleasure in Him, too?  That his eyes on me and his delighted smile would fill me with confidence and joy?

It is so unbelievably easy to find delight in these precious children of mine.  All I have to do is stop moving for a few moments and watch them, and the joy wells up and bubbles over, and I can feel my pleasure pasted all over my face.

 

But what is blowing my mind each time I hear this precious bid from this tiny princess, is to think how much more our perfect Father God must be flooded with delight in looking on the faces and hearts of his children…to picture God as a heavenly parent, is to picture a shameless, delighted smile on His holy face.

 

This week, I’m busting open my imagination to consider that my Father God looks at me more tenderly than even the most loving mama or daddy.

 

Maybe my Abba Father giggles to himself as he watches me try something new.

 

Maybe His joy gushes over with laughter each time he sees me remember something He’s told me, and choose to walk in it.

 

Maybe my smile alone quickens his pulse.

 

Maybe He hates to see me skin my knee but revels in holding me tight and binding me up when I run to Him for comfort. Maybe He feels like I do, that it is a sacred and delightful privilege to be a Comforter.

 

Maybe a squinty-eyed grin comes over His face when He sees me stumble and get back up again…when he sees me smile brave.

 

Maybe he sometimes likes to watch me sleep.  Maybe he can’t help it because he’s so enchanted by the curves of my face.

“Jesus, I want to laugh about things…with You.” I want to experience that deep and joyful and personal connection with your Spirit, again and again.

 

And I want to usher my children not only into the delight of their mama and daddy, but into Your tender and glorious pleasure.

 

May our homes be so filled with your Spirit, right in the midst of these everyday moments, that our joy bubbles over and our walls ring with laughter.

 

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37: 4
 

 

The deep satisfaction of giving it all away

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Everyone is buckled into the minivan, and for a moment, I just breathe.

I linger in the garage doorway and search the crevices of my mind for forgotten tasks and items.  I can’t remember the last morning we didn’t forget something, but my overloaded brain doesn’t seem capable of doing anything other than recovering from the chaos of the last 40 minutes.  
I’m pretty sure one or two of the kids never actually ate any of their breakfast, and I know for certain that I didn’t brush the baby’s teeth.  I hope, but probably won’t ask, whether or not everyone is wearing socks under their shoes.  

I shove one last sippy cup into my giant tote, along with a pair of sneakers for the littlest, whose bare little toes I recall kissing as I buckled him into his carseat.  I’m quite certain today will be the day the straps finally break on this bag, hanging over my right shoulder – the one that’s been serving quadruple duty as purse, diaper bag, pantry, and fix-all treasure chest.  

I grab my coffee in my other hand, and my sunglasses between my lips, and open the door to the garage, where my little ones have been waiting for approximately seventeen seconds.  

Before I even have the door fully opened, I hear a chorus of “Mommy!” and the names of those who need to be tattled on.  I decipher a request for music and a few desperate pleas for food and water, though the only thing we’ve done since breakfast is get into the car.  

How can there be this many problems by 8am?  How can I be tired already?  

I’m just now glancing in the mirror for the first time of the morning, and I’m thankful to find a hairband around my wrist to throw my mess of hair into a high bun.  

Friends, this motherhood thing is no joke.  Full and abundant, relentless and exhausting. It’s no wonder so many mamas can’t seem to stop the complaining from spilling out of their mouths, whenever they happen upon a listening ear.  

A handful of years ago, I found myself stumbling into stay-at-home motherhood, and subsequently, into playgroups and mommy meet-ups.  I found myself frustrated and confused that we all seemed to sit around talking about how little sleep we got or how long our husband’s work hours were, or how strong-willed our child was, as if it might make us feel better if we won the medal for “Hardest life.”  I was frustrated with other moms, and I was frustrated with myself, for going right along with the negativity.  I knew we should be more grateful, but it was also nice to connect with others who “get it.”

I absolutely adored my children, and often times the negative words leaking from my mouth didn’t even feel true.  I was just grasping at an opportunity to be seen in what I was working so hard to do, but for which the world seemed to have no words or appreciation.  

In that season, part of me still believed that the menial tasks of motherhood were beneath me.  I thought I should be doing something bigger or more impressive.  Or at least doing this “small” job more perfectly.  Yet, another part of me felt like being a stay-at-home mom was the most difficult thing I had ever done.

Though I knew that I knew that I knew that my children were an absolute gift, on many days, I found myself falling into a puddle of self-pity.  

I felt sorry for myself for not being understood.  I felt sorry for myself that I had nothing to show for the soul-crushing day I had just survived.  I felt sorry for myself that I was giving and giving, even when I was tired, or sick, or sad, or lonely.  I felt sorry for myself for the emptiness I felt, even when my home was full of adorable little faces.

More than anything, I felt deeply ashamed of my ingratitude.  Right alongside friends longing for a family or struggling to get pregnant, or wishing to be home with their children more, I often looked at my children and felt unworthy to be their mama, wondering why the mere look of them wasn’t filling my life with total joy and satisfaction.

At some point, I determined I must be missing something.  This simply could not be it.  This could not be God’s heart and desire for me.  

I didn’t want to be like the grandmas in the grocery store who tell me to soak it up because this is the best time of my life.  I didn’t want to tell every new mom for the rest of my life that it’s going to go way too fast.  I didn’t want to just survive this, and then regret all that I missed by not figuring out how to love it while it was happening.  I didn’t want to fill up photo albums to create memories of things that I didn’t actually enjoy very much.  

I wanted to live these moments.  I wanted to soak them up in a way that changed me. 

I began to wonder what would happen if I just stopped giving everything to my family begrudgingly, and started giving as if this was all I was ever meant to do.  I had always loved long snuggles and bedtime stories, but what if I gave the same energy to laundry and diapers, and arguments and bad attitudes? 

What if I poured my energy into, not just the fun moments of parenting, but all of these in-between mundane moments, as if these days were the only ones I’d bring before the throne of Christ, at the end of my life?

I began to have eyes to see all of the ways that I had been grasping to keep my life in tact…I rolled my eyes at the messes, because I was trying to preserve my dignity.  When a child was disrespectful, I crossed my arms repulsed, because I was trying to preserve my pride.  After a certain amount of work, I began to function out of this thinking that I really deserved a break, because I was trying to preserve my comfort.  I sputtered awkward answers at a cocktail party about what I did other than “stay at home” because I was trying to preserve my relevance in the world.  I was bitter about being late because I was trying to preserve my image as a dependable, punctual, responsible adult.  

I began to wonder what it would feel like to treat my children like the vulnerable Least of These Jesus talked about, and to give it all away with reckless abandon.  What if I simply threw my life into this thing the Lord has given me to do —  not neglecting self-care, but abandoning myself to be poured out — and let the Lord give me his abundance, right in the middle of the mess?  

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  Matthew 16: 25

As I threw off my fears of keeping it all together, and let motherhood get a bit messier, giving when I had nothing left, because I chose to believe God gave me each of these little things to do, I began to find the life I had been so afraid to lose.  I found purpose inside of my own four walls, and deep joy in the middle of chaos.  I found myself delighting in my children, not just in the peaceful and sweet spaces, but in the disheveled and unpredictable ones, too.  I began to find abundance in the emptiest moments, energy in the midst of sleep deprivation, fun in the middle of work, and worship in the middle of mundane.  And I found deep satisfaction in the in-between, invisible, far from Instagram-worthy moments that only God could see.  

I began to discover the heart of God to fill us up as we are poured out, and to let us share in lavish resurrection living as we share in the death of Christ by abandoning our preferences, pride, comfort and convenience.  

No matter what your day-to-day looks like, sister, whether you are a stay-at-home mama, or you are juggling work and home, whether you have tiny ones or teenagers, be encouraged that God’s heart is to strengthen you out of his glorious riches, with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Eph 3: 16). 

As we pour our lives out in places where we can’t receive back… As we offer forgiveness seventy times seven times… As we let our lives be poured out like a drink offering… As we choose to release our pride, our comfort, our lives to whatever little tasks are put before us… we see the abundant grace of God multiply in our hearts and homes.

Why heart connection is the secret to effective discipline

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One of your sweet ones is turning her back on you, working her best scowl or eye roll, and communicating mostly in grunts.  Some child you birthed – in heart or body – has decided to do the opposite of whatever you say.

And you wonder, where did I go wrong? When did my words lose their power?  When did she stop trusting that I am on her team?  When did I become the enemy?

Taking independence and testing boundaries are a normal part of growing up.  But I think the behavior of our children can also offer us clues about what’s happening in their hearts.

 

Sisters, through my last nine and a half years of parenting, my husband and I have tried all kinds of discipline strategies with our five unique little people.  We’ve tried Time Outs and logical consequences and taking away privileges and earning privileges and behavior charts.  I read many of the books I could find about how to fix bad behavior and get our children to listen.

And I have stumbled the sloppy, hard way into this revelation of a piercing and strikingly simple reality.  When patterns of distrust and disobedience are developing in my home, there is one thing that is almost always true.

Our hearts are not connected.

Maybe I didn’t stop to hear about her day.  Maybe I said something that hurt her feelings.    Or maybe she is just carrying something that I don’t know about – disappointment or hurt or fear or worry, and somehow she ended up feeling like she has to carry it all by herself.

Maybe someone spoke mean words on the playground, or he is embarrassed about a mistake he made in his soccer game.  Maybe he is just discouraged by one too many corrections today.

But if I am not connected with these places of hurt in the hearts of my children, then I am inclined to assume that bad attitudes and defiance are just that. . . bad attitudes and defiance.  When in fact, bad attitudes and defiance might be the only open window to what’s really going on inside of their sweet little chests.

This is not to excuse negative behavior, or to say that defiance always points to a hurt heart or connection.  Children misbehave from a shockingly young age, and so much of our job as parents is to teach them where the boundaries are.  Toddlers might throw their plate on the floor four million times just to make sure you are going to send them to Time Out every single time.  They might hit because they want to know what kind of sound you will make, and what kind of power they hold in their little fists.

But, if our children are taught healthy boundaries from a young age, and have the capacity to obey, then these behaviors eventually fade away.  Right?

 

As our children grow, we have a choice to make about how we will interpret their attitudes and behavior.  I’ve begun to notice in my older children that a well-loved heart at rest doesn’t generally feel the need to act out.

If one of my children is acting out, I am trying to take the opportunity to look for clues and consider that they might be crying out for help.  God is softening my heart and pulling the scales from my eyes to see these little heart cries all day long in my home.

Help.  I feel like I’m all alone and I’m going to show you how terribly alone I feel by telling you to “Go away.”

Help.  I am going to make you see me right now, even if I have to scream and yell and hit, because I feel like you just don’t see me.

Help. I am saying mean things because I never want to feel so small and powerless like I did on the playground today when mean things were spoken to me.  

Help.  I feel like I’m losing control and I need you to tell me I’m going to be ok.

Hurt little hearts will do just about anything to make themselves feel better. . . by getting attention, by asserting their power, by pushing you away, by convincing themselves they are actually in charge.

And the opposite is also true.  When our children feel heard and understood, seen and known, confident of our love and desire for their best, they are simply more likely to trust us, and therefore more likely to listen and obey.

Boundaries remain firm and consistent in our home, and sometimes that means that my husband and I let our children be mad at us.  It is right and good and loving to hold the boundaries firmly!  But I believe from the depths of me that heart connection and effective discipline go hand-in-hand.  This has become a helpful “heart check” for me.

My son is acting like I’m his enemy.  Am I connecting with his heart?

My daughter has a bad attitude about everything I’m asking her to do.  Have I asked lately about that scuffle with her friends at school?  Or how she’s feeling about her daddy’s travel?

So often, when I get off of the discipline train for a few minutes to explore the heart of one of my children – without agenda, other than to connect and know them better – I discover a previously unspoken fear, anxiety, or hurt. . . something they were convinced they had to hold alone.  And once they are seen and known and loved in that tender place, the eye rolls and shrugs melt away, right along with our discipline struggles.

Even my youngest children seem to respond to extra snuggles, or whispers about my love, after a hard moment, or a hard day.

And isn’t my heart the same?

Like so many things that I notice about the hearts of my children, this reality is found tucked inside my own heart as well, as it relates to my Heavenly Father.

When the depths of my heart connect with the love God has for me. . . When I am believing that he is working all things for my best. . . When I am confident that He delights in me. . . I am simply compelled to love and serve Him.

And when I feel wounded by something I’ve perceived was against me – bad news, an unanswered prayer, a failure or disappointment, confusion about something I thought God called me to – I get discouraged and try to take things into my own hands.  I shrug my shoulders at Him and neglect to ask Him what he thinks about my day.  I stuff my ears with busyness and pressures and numbing to turn the volume down on God’s voice.

Obedience is interwoven with believing we are loved.  Trust is interwoven with believing we are seen and known.  Courage is interwoven with believing we are believed in.  Confidence is interwoven with believing we are delighted in.  

Sister, if you feel up against a wall with one of your children, like I often have, would you get off the discipline train for a few minutes with me today, and connect with the hearts of your children?

Search and discover their deep places, as if you are on a treasure hunt.

Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

Watch and listen for little bruises or untruths that they are holding.  Reassure them of their true identity as your beloved child and as a beloved child of God.  Adorn them with blessings and confidence about who they are becoming.  Remind them of the beautiful vision you have for their life.

I pray that this habit transforms discipline in your home, the way it has in mine.

How to absolutely delight in your children

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That squishy kind of love.

I want to be one of those mamas who can’t stop giggling at her children.

I want to be the mom who loves to watch them, loves to dance with them, loves to sing along to their made-up songs, and hides around the corner of the room to watch them jabber to themselves, or to catch a glimpse of a sweet sibling moment.

I want to be the mom who runs to greet my sweet ones in the morning, and throws my arms around them.  I want to soak up the late night chats and smile often.  I want to live interruptible to their requests and questions and needs for band-aids.  I want to watch their goofy antics with the attitude of “Show me again!” and not “Hurry up.”   I want to hang their pictures on my bathroom mirror, and wear the macaroni necklace they made me.

I want to be the mom who tells them daily what makes them unique, and reminds them often about the beautiful purposes they were made for.  I want to be the mom who lingers in evening prayers because I just like the sound of their names lifted to heaven.  I want my love to pour out uninhibited, even in the ugliest moments.  I want truth and shepherding, discipline and accountability to flow gently and lovingly from a place of  unwavering love and affection.

Guys, I want to be the mom who loves summer.   I really do.  I want to be the mama who can’t get enough of my children.  I want it because I believe it will make them world changers.  I want it because I believe this love will be a launching pad for them, and I want to usher them into the boundless love of God.

I want to love a little more like a spunky little daughter of mine, with bouncy curls, boundless affection, and radiant joy.

Residing in the tiny chest of my three-year-old daughter is this heart that is reckless and free, unbound and bursting with all things beautiful.  Perhaps you have a child like this one, who loves with a shameless love that spills all over the place, without concern for the mess.  She is fearless and uninhibited.  Daring and brave.  Her heart is always spilling and never pulling back because it can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be loved back.

It’s the kind of love with which our deepest hollow places ache to be filled, but that starts to leak the first time we get hurt, rejected or ridiculed.

This little daughter of mine begins her days with hopeful anticipation of which friends she might see, and how many new ones she might make.  She has a curious habit of walking up to strangers and saying “Hi.  I like your face.”  She regularly invites people of all ages to have a “chat” with her.  And she often grabs my face and tells me that she thinks I’m cute, and she never ever wants to let go.

I learn more about the wildly unrestrained love of God from this child, than I could from a library of books on the subject.  It’s just not the kind of love our tattered and worn hearts dare to imagine.

Those of us with a few more years behind us tend to look on little children with fearless love, and think it sweet, but we generally assume they will grow out of it.  As they begin to see that the world isn’t so warm and fuzzy, they will tighten up the reins on their affections.

But I have to wonder if this is one of those things we “gain” through the years of our lives, which isn’t really wisdom or maturity, so much as damage to hearts that were meant to love without fear.  

Maybe these little ones have a purer understanding of the love of God that we’re meant to know, because their image of it has not yet been tainted.  And maybe true wisdom is to heed the words of Jesus to be a little more like them…in their humility, in their openness, in their receiving and relying on Love.

1 John 4: 16-18 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 

Matthew 11: 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

There is NO fear in love.

Reckless love flows from deep within a heart well-loved.  A young child who has never had reason to doubt that they are loved, has no reason to hold their love back from others.  When they have felt cared for and delighted in, relationships hold possibility, hope, and excitement.  This, of course, is not true for a child who has not received love and care, and often ceases to be true when relationships get messy, and hurt and fear and insecurity enter in.

So how do we convince our shattered hearts to stop being afraid?  How do we love freely and fearlessly once again, or for the first time?  How do we become the mamas who can’t stop our ferocious love and pure delight from pouring out on our children?

Be the loved child.

Be the loved child.

Be the Delighted-in, Believed-in, Beloved one who can’t imagine not being loved back, because she is simply drowning in the ferocious love of her Heavenly Father.

Friend, this is our identity and our destiny.

You ARE the loved child of God who can love without fear!

I have had seasons of feeling so frustrated and short-fused with my children, not wanting to be merciful with their bad attitudes and misbehavior.  I have had seasons of feeling disconnected from their hearts, and resenting them for being unhelpful or disrespectful or needy.  I have had these days when I look at my heart and see coldness and pride, and wonder what happened to my mother’s heart of pure adoration for my children.  I cycled in and out of days like this, blaming it on sleep deprivation or just a bad day…until I had this troubling and beautiful realization…

If a child loved well by parents loves readily, than a loved “Child” of God (at any age) ought to love all the more freely.  If I know God’s love and delight, than love and delight ought to be pouring out of me, especially onto my own children.

And I am finding this to be true.  When I spend time letting God tell me what he thinks of me, the coldness falls off of my heart.  When I let God tell me that he is pleased, my critical spirit melts away.  When I let myself look into God’s delighting eyes, I catch a glimpse of his pure eyes for those around me.  When I live like the loved child of God that I am, love comes easy.

Be the loved child and you won’t be able to stop the love from springing out of your overflowing heart.  

Whatever parenting challenge you are facing today, start here:  God loves you, sister, and takes great delight in you.  In Christ, God’s love and affection, mercy and grace, are yours.  His smiling eyes are on you, longing to pour out his compassion, longing to hold you and bind up your broken heart.  He longs to carry your burdens, and renew your strength.  He longs to tell you how he knit you together, and calls you his masterpiece, how he knows every hair on your head, and catches your every tear in a bottle.

If we know we are fully loved, we can love like our hearts have never been bruised.  The “Delighted In” cannot help but love with grace, with truth, with reckless abandon.

So, if you’re wondering today how to love your family like you’ve never dreamed possible, first, be loved beyond your wildest imagination by a Father God who calls you “My delight is in her.” (Isaiah 62: 4)

 

Psalm 149: 4 For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.

Zephaniah 3: 17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Jeremiah 31: 3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Why your children really need you to be imperfect

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Ephesians 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

This day after Easter has me so deeply grateful for a Savior who reached out to save us, right smack in the middle of our mess… a Christ who went to the cross saying “Forgive them.”

I’m awestruck with the goodness and mercy of Jesus, who knew how we would think we know better.  He knew we would try to take matters into our own hands.  He knew our weakness, and He loved us first.  Jesus took on all of our brokenness and self-reliance and outright rebellion, just because he wanted to be with us forever.  Hallelujah!

But this day after Easter also has me thinking it tragic how many of us moms in Christ seem to leave all of this freedom at the door of our homes.

Maybe we walk in freedom at church, at work, in friendships, in ministry, but with our children, we writhe in guilt and carry all the weight of our own brokenness solidly on our own shoulders.

Can you relate?

The pressure to be a “good mom” is enough to squeeze all of the freedom right out of parenting.

Continue reading “Why your children really need you to be imperfect”

When running out of options is the best thing that ever happened

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You know those evenings when you’re desperate for the day to come to a close, but you know that the instant your head hits your pillow, someone will need you?

You know those days when a cacophony of coughs and wheezes and sneezes and cries rings through walls and over baby monitors, and you know you’re going to be rubbing backs or dishing up medicine or rocking someone back to sleep any minute…so why even bother?

Midnight snuggles are precious, holy moments, but winter germs are a bit merciless, and I’ve had at least a dozen of those nights in the last three weeks.

I know I’m not the only one.

Despite the precious moments we try to embrace, we can’t help but notice that parenting sometimes seems to require giving on empty for a wildly unforgiving amount of time.  As a mom, you might be left to look around and wonder if anyone sees or anyone cares that you’ve had to pee for three hours, but haven’t had a chance… or that you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in years… or that you’ve answered so many questions today that “What’s for dinner?” makes you want to scream.

Parenting requires a fierce devotion to meet the others’ need, when you feel like your own is getting smashed under everyone’s muddy shoes. 

 

In my early years of motherhood, I thought I just had to muscle through, just keep it all together, be enough, stay strong, keep going.  And I had very little reason to doubt that I would make it through the little years this way.

I had everything a mom could ask for – healthy kids, supportive husband, loving community, good sleepers – and so, my system of staying on my game and being everything for everyone seemed to work just fine.  But underneath my shell of strength was the fear that I wouldn’t actually make it, if anything ever went really wrong.

I struggled to admit to myself or to God how desperately I loved my children, because it would leave me raw and vulnerable to the possibility of being flattened by hardship or tragedy.  Other parents joked about starting counseling funds because of the wounds we would unintentionally and inevitably give to our children, but everything in me said No…that wouldn’t be ok…I simply must succeed.  I couldn’t tolerate the reality that I could and would fail.  In that season, when I encountered difficult situations, other parents suffering loss or injury or illness or hardship with their children, my heart would simply beg Please, God, not us and my mind would concede I couldn’t survive it.

Something in me knew that my “Head down and hope for the best” mindset was a bit flimsy, but I didn’t yet know another option.

Continue reading “When running out of options is the best thing that ever happened”

How to see the radical love of God in absolutely everything

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My firm expectation that life was generally supposed to be awesome, was only mildly muddied by the bumps I faced, in my younger years.  I predominantly maintained the philosophy that heartbreak, uncertainty, angst, and grief were the exception.  And that life was “supposed” to mostly feel good.

I thought the goal was to remove the obstacles, be always moving towards settling the disquietude, solving the problem, removing the pain, learning the lesson as quickly as possible, so I could do better.  Be better.  Fail less.  Hurt less.

And when I became a mom, I thought motherhood was “supposed” to feel amazing almost all of the time, too.  I was always thinking about how to remove or repair the things standing in the way of experiencing motherhood as mostly fun and wonderful.

The wheels of my mind spun with new answers and things I had read, formulas and systems and solutions to fix myself and my children and my home right up into the perfect versions I thought they should be.

Continue reading “How to see the radical love of God in absolutely everything”