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Eight ways to keep your peace in the holiday rush

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Don’t we all just long for our feet to stay steady on the ground, as the hustle and bustle of Christmas season swirls around us?

We yearn for anchored, thankful hearts and peaceful souls, as we attempt to make space to receive Christ anew, and bless loved ones with tokens of our love.

Don’t we all wish to approach the 25th with light steps and full of grace?  To wake easy to the joy of God with us, and to an idyllic Christmas dream?  To the smell of pine and the warmth of fire?  To smiling and grateful children greeting stockings in a row, and neatly packaged presents under perfectly trimmed tree?

But in real life, advent is often packed full of overlapping parties and school events, financial stress and long lists of things that need to be done.  Your little people still get tummy aches and runny noses, and toddlers shatter ornaments on the hardwood floor.

In real life, children sometimes forget to say “Thank you,” and we sometimes forget all about Jesus under piles of wrapping paper.

This time, I’m fighting hard for slow.  This year, making quiet for God’s voice to be heard and receiving his peace, is at the top of every day’s list.  I still get swept away by my To Do lists and the internal pressure to make my family’s Christmas perfect, but I’m grabbing hold of getting to Christmas morning with a bit of peace.

Here are a few of my favorites…

1.  Begin each day with a prayer, like this one, giving your day into the hands of the King.

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2.  Make a habit of stopping when the rest of the world is going.  Every time the pressure says “go,” just do the opposite, even if just for a moment.  Take a breath, and remember that we were never meant to carry the weight of the world, because we know the One who carried it all on our behalf.

Breathe out the demands, and breathe in Christ’s sufficiency.  While driving to work or school or soccer practice, use red lights as a cue to stop not only your car, but your busy thoughts, as well.  Take a moment to simply be smiled upon by your Father in heaven.

My most meaningfully productive days are those submitted to the King of Kings, who is “busy,” but never in a hurry.  Friends, we were created as limited beings, so we can rest assured we are only meant to be in one place at a time.

3.  Begin every shopping adventure – whether out-and-about or online – with a prayer for each person on your list.  Ask God for his eyes for your loved ones, and let your shopping be sweetened with His presence.

4.  Light a fire or a candle – perhaps while little ones are in bed – and let the subtle change in the atmosphere usher you into a readiness to connect with God.  This practice simply slows me, and soothes my restless soul.  The glint and dance of orange and yellow reminds me of the way the Spirit of God moves in and through and around us.  I love to turn on a worship song, sit with a hot drink, and watch the flames flicker, while asking God to whisper to me about his love.   

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5.  Every time someone in your home says (or screams) “Mommy!”… whisper “Father, Abba,” in the quiet of your heart.  Let your children be an example of the way we are invited to call upon the Lord with the needs of our days.  May their constant requests move you to ceaseless prayer.

6.  Spread a little Christmas cheer by smiling at your family and passersby, every time you meet their eye.  The busy of roads, malls, minds and hearts can steal anyone’s joy, if we let it.  I try to keep this simple habit, especially through the holiday season, and it shields my soul from the raging currents of more, faster, bigger, and better.

Sister, we can be agents of joy, rather than victims of everyone’s bad moods.

7.  Keep a notebook at the table to use mealtime as an opportunity for your family to write a list of the blessings in your lives.  Take a moment to give thanks together. If you are feeling overwhelmed by complicated advent devotions and routines, this is a simple habit you can start any time.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, and you can’t get behind.  Praise opens us up to connect with God’s heart.

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8.  Watch your children often, in this season.  Watch the blaze in their eyes as they sit near the Christmas tree.  Watch their faces when they see lights lining the edges of a house.  Soak in their sweet faces, and learn what it means to live with eyes of wonder.

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Click here for a printable Advent Prayer

How to live motherhood like a dance of worship

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This guy has already learned one of my best “dance” moves.  He doesn’t let us leave the house without sweeping the floor.  🙂

Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.  As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty… When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

2 Samuel 6: 14-22

In these days as a mom of little ones, packed with these mostly invisible and seemingly insignificant moments, folding shirts and sitting in waiting rooms and midnight snuggles, packing lunches and carpool lines, tripping over toys and tripping over words that I can’t seem to make come out of my mouth as sweetly as I thought they would.

It is an abundant and blessed season, but full of these unseen and unappealing things that can leave a mama feeling lonely, isolated, discouraged.

All the things we must do – the long lists, the piled-high messes, the endless chores and the discipline failures – can cast a giant shadow over the purpose, the joy, the blessings of raising children.  I can find myself wondering if I’ll just be another little old lady in the grocery store saying “Soak up every minute.  You’ll blink and you’ll miss it!”

How do we hold in one mind the tremendous gift and privilege, and the weariness and struggle?  How do we hold in one heart the immense delights and the hopes for beautiful futures and generations, and the dreams we fear died the day we brought that baby home?  How do we lift these same eyes to the heavens, when we can barely keep them open to drive our kids to school?  How do we bend the same knees before the throne of grace that are working so hard to keep standing?

Several years ago, I walked through a season of being stripped raw by exhaustion, by failure, by weakness, by my constant awareness of my brokenness, and feelings of inadequacy about what God has given me.  We had a newborn baby, and my husband was traveling for work.  It was a year full of trips to the ER, sickness and asthma and injuries, trials in our marriage, friends moving away.  I was facing fears about not being able to control our circumstances, protect my children, my marriage, my friendships, or even my own image and identity.

Everything I had once felt competent at felt like it was slipping away.  I went from an organized, always on time, fairly dependable person to always late, never returning phone calls, snapping at my kids, forgetting friends’ birthdays, and living in a house that mostly existed in that ‘state of emergency’ kind of mess.

My sense of identity crumbled, and my ideas about how my faith should sustain me seemed to be failing me.

Though I had walked with Christ for many years, as real life was happening, I came up empty. I found myself writhing with worry, fear, self-doubt, loneliness, discouragement, hopelessness.

I knew that God can grant me a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4: 6-7), so why was I writhing with worry and fear? 

I knew that the God of hope can fill me with all joy and peace, overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13) , so why was I so miserable and hopeless?

I knew God could renew my strength like the eagle and make me to run and not grow weary, so why did I feel so depleted all the time? (Isaiah 40: 31)

I knew that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5: 1), so why did I feel so chained up and with insecurity and self-doubt? 

I knew that His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1: 3), so why did I feel completely inadequate and ill-equipped? 

I knew that God is faithful to forgive our sins (1 John 1: 9), so why was I drowning in a sea of shame and guilt?

All the promises of God’s word felt elusive, and my faith felt thin, and I felt bitterness creeping up in me about how my life was slipping away behind my family.

In this season, I desperately needed God to be real for the real moments of my days.  I desperately needed the promises of scripture to be true.  But I couldn’t escape the cyclical rhythms of waking and sleeping and feeding and clothing and bathing and comforting and shepherding.

It seemed that all the moments of my day were accounted for, and I couldn’t imagine discovering the margin to rediscover God.

And so, right smack in the middle of my crazy, I began a journey with a mustard seed of faith to simply CALL the Lord the things I was struggling to believe He was.  To ascribe to the Lord his beauty and worth. To tell God what I knew to be true of him and simply dare to wonder that the power of it might be able to infuse my life that wouldn’t seem to slow down for thorough theological study or lengthy silent prayer or long journal entries.

I needed faith with skin on.

Like David throughout the Psalms, I began to tell my own soul to stop feeling so sorry for itself and get up and praise. And something broke in me.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.  Psalm 103:2 

Lord, your grace IS sufficient. 

God, your power IS made perfect in my weakness. 

Father, you ARE strong and mighty.

You ARE the protector, defender, the counselor, the King.  

God, you ARE so good.

This became my dance.  What I was desperate for him to be in real life I began to simply tell Him (and my own soul) that He Is.  I began to offer up a sacrifice of praise.  (Hebrews 13: 15).

When our hearts are postured in praise, the magnitude of God and his character of mercy and grace begin to shrink our worry, our fear, the size of our needs and requests.

I began to have eyes for all of life as worship.  Everything we have to give away, everything we can pour out, every moment when we have no idea what to do, or what God is doing, or whether we are going to make it through…that everything is an invitation to worship.

When I was weak, I began to lay my ounce of energy on the alter before him, to pour it out with joy and watch Him renew me.  When my schedule felt overwhelming, and I felt like too much of a mess, I began to let others come in the door, just to see what God might do.  When I felt I had nothing to offer, I said “yes” to teach or lead or serve, not out of obligation, but as a proclamation of faith to God and my own heart, that He could use even broken mess of me.

Our praise, our gift, is not about the amount, the outward beauty, or the obvious value.  It’s about the posture of our hearts.

It’s about self-sacrifice.

It can’t be done in a way that keeps us in tact and protects our sense of control, but in a breaking open and pouring out.  Like the woman who broke the alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet…Like David shamelessly dancing before the Lord… Like Abraham placing Isaac on the alter…

True praise and adoration requires us to break wide open too.

In this season I began to see that I could spill myself out in adoration to God and that my little offerings could be priceless to the eyes of my King.  I began to feel as though I was being pulled close into a sacred secret romance with him, connected to his heart in my invisible service, my invisible dance of worship.

In 2 Samuel 24: 24 we read the words of David, a man after God’s own heart, “I will not offer burnt-offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

Something shifts in us when our giving, our praise, costs us something, when we offer it up not just as a happy Sunday morning refrain, but as a pouring out of a broken soul in a sometimes painful declaration of faith:  “You, O God, you are who you say you are.”

When I feel God got it all wrong, I proclaim that He is good. When I am empty and failing, I proclaim that His power is made perfect in my weakness.  When I feel weak, I proclaim He is strong.  When I can’t hear His voice, I proclaim that He is the God who loves to speak tenderly to his children, in hopeful expectancy.

The pouring out of our lives, our comfort, our sleep, our work, our energy, our tenderness…is an act of faith that proclaims that we believe God is a worthy recipient of our whole selves.  In all the little things, all the in between moments, in all the mundane that threatens our joy…a habit of adoration is transforming the way I see everything.

Poured out in secret places, we are invited deeper into the heart of God.  And it can all begin to feel like a dance of worship – from diapers, to emails, to late night chats, to business meetings, to carpool drives up and down the same road a hundred times a week, and everything in between.  My hands dance in praise in the scrub of the pan, or the stroke of a child’s face who has just made a poor choice.  My lips dance in praise as I choose gentle words, and as I proclaim God’s goodness, whether or not I feel it.

When we break open and lay it all down before the Lord in praise, we are free to dance.

Romans 12: 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

When knowing you should be grateful just doesn’t cut it

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Our “Gratitude Turkey” 🙂

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.  1 Chronicles 16: 34

One day a year the whole country slows and asks us to name a few things for which we’re grateful.  This morning after greeted me with the happy lingering aromas of turkey and gravy and pumpkin pie, and a lingering smile from the family and festivities.

In my home, thankful lips seemed to open easy this week – for siblings and bunk beds, for friends and legs that run, for mountains and woodsy trails, for chocolate and Legos and sparkles and a million species of animals.

Elsewhere, hearts heave with loved ones lost, with illness and addiction and broken relationships and shattered dreams.  In those places or at those times, the call to gratitude can feel a bit cruel.

When we’re honest, gratitude doesn’t always come easy.  Even in the most beautiful and seemingly blessed lives, hearts can sit heavy with unnamed pains and haunting fears.  Churning anxieties or a cloak of shame can shade the best of intentions to live a grateful life.

For us mamas, another little old lady in the grocery store check-out says to “Cherish every minute,” and we’re left in a puddle of guilt about how we must not be woman enough.  To cherish the tantrums and the sleeplessness and the defiance… to cherish the ache for the baby you lost, or the positive pregnancy test that never came…  to cherish every minute as you pry your hands open and let your children go into the big scary world…. to cherish every minute as you juggle endless appointments, or as you throb with after school tears from the child who can’t manage to make a friend… to cherish every minute as you grieve over unreached milestones, or as you long to draw close to the child who won’t talk to you… to cherish every moment if you haven’t slept a full night or used the bathroom by yourself in a decade.

Motherhood is a the most tremendous joy and privilege of my life.  But can we just be honest that sometimes cherishing every minute is really, really hard?

Whether you are walking through the darkest of times, or your life looks pristinely perfect on the outside, sometimes knowing we should be grateful just doesn’t quite cut it.

Like the child who mutters “Thank you” when served that food they dislike, the words sometimes hurt coming out, and leave a bit of an aftertaste of unspoken caveats and exceptions.

Maybe we can manage to muster up a list of blessings, but our hearts remain stone cold to peace, to joy, to the promise of God’s goodness.  Maybe we writhe in guilt because we know we have everything we’ve dreamed of, but our hearts can’t seem to sort through the whining or the fatigue to soak it all in.

Early on in my parenting journey, I think I functioned out of a mentality that if my grateful moments simply outnumbered the annoyed or frustrated or discouraged moments, that I would get by ok.  But as the years went by, the demands increased, and the challenges grew a little beyond throwing a plate off the highchair, this mentality fell short.  I found that most of my time was influenced by irritation or just plain exhaustion.

I began to find that gratitude couldn’t just flow out of the easy moments, when my children were looking cute and adoring me.  It had to flow out of a deeper and more powerful choice.

It’s more like that mama in the waiting room at the orthopedist’s office last week, as my eldest and I sat in the hum of activity, with a spattering of comforting words over little ones in all stages of X-rays and braces and casts and healing journeys, with the ring of busy phones and the buzz of cast saw reverberating in the stale medical air.

Amidst the bustle, I heard another sound.  Simple and pure and imperfect in that real life beautiful kind of way.  A mama with tired eyes and unhappy toddler in arms, awaiting an elder child in the X-ray room, joyfully singing “Skip to my Lou” as if it was the thing she was put on earth to do.  She bounced and sang, snuggled and sang, walked and twirled and sang.

And it fell on my ears like the melody of praise.

I have to think it fell on God’s the same, as she poured herself out in service to her little one, comforting and reassuring with happy tune and tight embrace.

The beauty of the sound wasn’t in it’s perfect pitch or impeccable tone.  The beauty wasn’t that the act was dramatic or difficult.  The beauty was in the simple surrender; a smile for a moment that invited a frown, a melody for a moment that invited scorn, joy for a moment that invited only weariness.  When many moms might tire of the fight, this mama chose to be poured out.  She chose to give herself away, in the midst of an unpleasant moment, to this tiny person before her.

I think our gratitude looks a bit like this.  It looks like telling our own souls to get up and sing, when they feel like crawling into a hole.   When the curves of our mouths are heavy low, we lift them up like weights on a bench, like Moses’ arms over battle, claiming a victory that we can’t yet feel or quite believe.  When our lips are inclined towards complaining or self-pity, we can choose to lift them up in praise.

Gratitude doesn’t have to be easy to be good.  It doesn’t have to be constant to be worth it.  Every time we make a choice to offer up a sacrifice of praise with our hands at the kitchen sink, we invite the power of God.  Every time we offer up a sacrifice of praise with our lips in a tender word to our children, we invite peace and joy into our homes.  Every time we offer up a sacrifice of praise with our eyes in a lifted gaze, we invite renewed strength to our weary bones.  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16: 34)

So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands were heavy, then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Our supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.  Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. Exodus 17: 11-12

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The bad habit I want broken for me and every mom

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For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  
Philippians 1: 6

In my early years as a mom, just as truly as my lips seemed to be magnetically drawn to the pudgy cheeks of my little ones…  Just as truly as my heart could have burst with zeal to capture all the best that life could offer them…  Right alongside the beautiful stuff of motherhood, the honest ugly truth is that there were several long years when nearly every time my children wore a tie-dye shirt with flower pants, or chewed with their mouths wide open, or tripped someone with the mini shopping cart at the grocery store, or just seemed to take up too much space in a room, I squirmed almost out of my skin.

With disapproval.

With insecurity.

With fear.

Not because I actually thought they should be better.  Not because I wanted them to be perfect for me.  But because I wanted them to avoid every pain I had faced, every joke that had been cracked at my expense, that left a crack right down the middle of my selfhood, every pointy edge of the world’s cruelty that might make them want to shrink back.

I wanted to rescue my children from all of life’s hurts and rejections and exclusions.  

Fear concluded that the rest of world would be hard on them.  So, in my limited, fleshy mind of worry, I unknowingly resigned to do everything in my power to present them perfectly inside-the-box and charming in every way.  Truly, whatever people-pleasing insecurity was tucked inside of my 8 or 10 or 12 year old heart came leaking out of my 30-something skin, and made a bit of a stink in my home.

I had developed this bad habit of trying to fix my children up into perfect little people.  It held a thin hope of protecting them from getting bruised, and a shoddy sense of control to comfort my uncertain heart.  

Several years ago, I woke to a hurt relationship with my eldest daughter, and a rugged hunger for a new way.  As I timidly let the light shine in the deep, dark quarters of my heart where this critical spirit was born, I realized that the backdrop to my constant corrections and tightening grip around my enterprising, torch-bearing, wildly free-spirited girl was a steady stream of criticism of myself, as her mom.

As my own spirit was being crushed beneath the barrage of judgment, the same judgment seemed to be all that could spill out of my mouth.  

Unpleasantly clear to me now is that, as I fought to save my daughter from the harshness of the world, my own harshness was crushing her in advance.  Not with terrible words, but with constant critiques.  Not with outright denunciation, but with a subtle spirit of Not Quite Good Enough.  The same spirit with which I was judging myself.

Since that moment, God has been ushering me into the new identity that has been mine to wear all along — the identity of chosen, redeemed, adopted daughter of the King of Heaven.  One purchased by the blood of Christ, pure and righteous in the eyes of God.  A daughter upon whom God looks and says “You are mine and I take great delight in you.”  A woman leaning and living into a perfect holiness that has already been given me as a gift, in Christ.  Born into freedom.  With an inheritance in joy.

As I lifted my gaze, I found the eyes of God looking on me with tender delight, gentle affection.  

Friends, even sweeter are the curves of your face to the perfectly clear eyes of the God of Heaven, than the face of your own sleeping babe to your eyes.  

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Me, a beloved child.  This is who I am to Our God.  This is who you are.  And here is the place from which we can be changed and sanctified into the people God already knows we were made to be.

And here, from this loved place, we have a a true and steady love to give.  

As I journey into the truth of my identity as God’s beloved, I fight to believe the same truth for my children.  Parental love often comes in the form of consistent and firm boundaries, as a path to real freedom and abundance.

But in all our boundary-setting, correction and discipline, we can start from a place of victory and hope, rather than a place of fear and defeat.

The thing is, if we try to fix our children up with criticism, they might just take on an identity of rejection from the start.

At any age, unconditional love and acceptance, as we bump and crash into lovingly set boundaries, is what allows us walk out our potential.

I want my children to know what I’m learning the hard way, that we learn who we are, not be looking around but by looking up into the heart of our Maker.  

So that means we can start every correction with radical acceptance and bold fearlessness.

I’m through with trying to fix my children up into the perfect little people, and I’m trying to remember and share Christ’s invitation to simply be covered by Him.  Because of the promises extended to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can find rest for our souls right in the messy middle of our sanctification journey.  And, in turn, we can lead and teach and train our children with peace, with grace, with hope.

As we get our fear and discomfort with our kids’ mess out of the way and trust God with their hearts, and our own, we become more trustworthy parents.

Sisters, as for me and my house, we’ve determined this habit of trying to fix our children has got to go.

God works on our hearts with full confidence in the end product.  He knows who we are becoming, and his patience is enduring.  His grace empowers and encourages me towards a life of abundance – it lifts me to my feet when I fall.

May we all believe with confidence in the beauty and potential and God-given purpose tucked inside each of our precious babes, and may this hope and grace be a solid ground on which to stand, as we shepherd their hearts.

The beautiful thing about an upside down life

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Do you have those moments in motherhood when you feel equally and simultaneously blessed beyond measure and like you’re going to crawl out of your skin?

Yeah, me too.

The endless needs to meet, the dishes and laundry, the noise and the arguments, the chauffeuring and the schedules, the changes and transitions and disruptions and sleepless nights…it’s just a lot.

Beautiful, messy, amazing, demanding, miraculous, exhausting life.

There is a heavy side to this parenting job, shepherding and guiding through life’s pains, and feeling the weight of directing our child(ren)’s future.  But much of the stuff of my day isn’t really difficult.  Many of the tasks of motherhood are simple and straightforward.  So in the daily grind, I sometimes find myself wondering why I’m struggling.  I think I could change diapers and correct children and fold clothes and answer questions and do dishes at your house with a smile on my face and a skip in my step.

Sometimes, the hard part is not necessarily what I have to do, but the state of my heart.

As I pay closer attention to what goes on in my heart and mind when a child’s need arises, or 47 of them at the same time, it’s not actually the work that’s hard.

When it’s one more diaper or one more water cup to fill when I just sat down, I think the more difficult part is the battle that rages inside for my rights and my dignity.  Something bubbles up in me that says “Dang it, I deserve to sit down and eat a meal!”  There’s something ugly that thunders with thoughts that say “I woke up at 5:30am so I could get time BY MYSELF.  You’re not invited!”  Or the feeling that it must be an attack on my basic human rights to have someone bust through the door every time I try to use the bathroom.

Though these thoughts may not make it out of my mouth, they eat away at my insides and make this motherhood thing so much heavier, harder, a constant battle.

But that way of thinking has everything to do with identity and greatness as the world sees it.  It’s about who you know and what you do and who you impress and how much money you make and how much you produced and how satisfied it made you feel.  It’s about demanding respect and fighting for your rights.

But friends, there’s something beautiful in motherhood, and so many times in life, that we could miss in the million ways we are stretched and pressed and bruised by meeting everyone else’s needs.

There’s a gift inside of the work, a mystery tucked inside of the demands, an invitation beneath the invisibility.

God invites us to flip it all all upside down…

To celebrate the times when our needs can’t be met, because it draws us close to God’s heart of abundant and fresh daily mercy.*

To boast in our weakness because it pulls us into the strength of Christ.*

To be poured out, giving our life all away, because it’s the secret to finding the life we’re grasping for.*

We could be burdened by our work being invisible to the rest of the world.  Or we could let the work of our hands be a song of worship before the delighting eyes of our King.*

We could scramble and claw to be left alone, or we could offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…and discover the secrets of Christ, who came and served and endured unto JOY.*

We could spend our energy fighting for our rights to sleep and peeing alone, or we could find our life as we go ahead and give it away.  We can offer generosity of spirit and time and energy and words, trusting that it will all be given back to us.*

I itch for my children to know what I’m learning the hard way, about how real life, real joy, real greatness is found when we give it all away.

And isn’t this what we want our children to know?  How to put another person’s needs before their own?  How to have genuine compassion and a drive to serve and protect those weaker than themselves?

How in the world do we teach this upside-down, inside-out concept of serving one another, of washing the feet of another, of taking the lowliest position for the sake of Christ, with the promise that the last will be first in the Kingdom of God?

I think this is one of those lessons that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until we see it live and breathe.

Their daddy and I can prattle on about how they should just hurry up and stop fighting for the biggest brownie and to be first into the car.  We can tell them how Jesus says the “last will be first” only to watch their squabbles shift to shoving each other into the car so they can be last.

In a world full of “likes” and “follows” and always looking beautifully put-together, how do we set aside the drive to always be best and liked and recognized and elevated and admired?

These things we can spend so much time chasing always turn up empty.  When I try to stand on them, the shifty sandy ground beneath my feet washes away with the waves.  In this realm, when people stop admiring, and someone else is better, and seasons change and no one sees me, I’m left with nothing.

The world doesn’t have much solid ground to offer us, or our children, not in money or fame or success or titles.

And I want the kind of riches for my family that last into eternity.

So, in a world that’s all about getting ahead, I want to be mama who teaches her children about getting low.

The beautiful thing about living upside down is that we have nothing to fear.  No one and no thing can take away the brimming life that results from dying to ourselves.

We have freedom.  The pressure is off to meet other’s expectations and keep up with the mom next door when we are living for God’s eyes alone.

If the way to be great is to be the least, than, mamas, cleaning poop off the walls or being told off by a toddler or spending three hours a day driving your people places are right there in the sweet spot of God’s heart for us.

The gift is that we only need eyes of One to experience the greatness we all long for.

The beautiful thing is that joyful and abundant life doesn’t require a title or applause or a corner office or ten thousand Instagram followers.  It’s accessible to us from our kitchen sinks, from our child’s bedside, from the driver’s seat of our cars.

We can take the Hand of Love to be led forth in grace, when we let our lives be hidden in Christ.  And as our families see us serve in joy, they have a window to see where true life is found…in giving it away.

 

*Bible references:
Lamentations 3: 22-23 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” – Matthew 16: 24-25
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12: 1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  -Hebrews 12: 1-2
“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” – Luke 6: 38
Jesus was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that through his poverty we would become rich. -2 Cor. 8:9
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3: 3

 

 

My kids saw me cry right there in the middle of the kitchen

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Oh Lord, would you put fresh mercy in this hand today…

I felt the stick of dried milk on my elbow, and I had bite marks on my shoulder from my curious and teething toddler’s last embrace.

The words being thrown around my kitchen table bit down even deeper than those new little teeth.

My ears were stinging with it – not just with the noise, though it had gotten quite loud, but with the dissonance of sharp arguments and overly enthusiastic tattling and defiant disrespect.  My disgust with it all was apparent on my furrowed brow, and it only made my little ones agog to load me up to the brim and see what spilled out.

It was one of our last days of summer, right before starting back to school last week — I was eager to love it.  Anxious to soak it up.  Desperate for slow.  Staunchly committed to having fun together.

But my children have this innocently prodigious way of stripping me right down to the bare bones of myself, where I can only hope some grace and Jesus spills out of my weakness, instead of the repugnance I feel on my skin.

Perhaps you can relate, friend?

Someone was mad at me and wouldn’t tell me why.  Another one didn’t like any of the ideas, and didn’t want to go anywhere.  Another had packed the bags and lined the shoes and was waiting at the door for some grand adventure.  Oh, and everyone was hungry, of course, though breakfast had yet to be cleared.  And an overwhelmed and very upset child screamed at me one too many times about how I just don’t get it and I don’t even care, and finally all I could muster in response was a handful of tears.

These are the broken moments of which I am sometimes so very afraid.  It’s funny how I don’t want to show them my weakness – I hold it back like some secret Kryptonite, as if my children are the enemy, and to reveal it would surely be the death of me.

But there’s this beauty in the broken place.  I didn’t mean to go there, and I won’t hurry back, but when we break, there’s a beautiful thing that can happen…

 

When we break through to the raw place, instead of covering it up with anger or bitterness, we see the true longings of our heart.  When we break, there is a thing ready to be healed.  When we break, walls come down and we bust open to mercy.  When we break, we become soft.  And though a soft heart is more easily wounded, it is also more ready to love and receive love, forgive and receive forgiveness, delight and be delighted in.

 

And knowing our need allows us the receive the healing touch of Christ, who said ”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…”

 

This broken moment last week gave my children the opportunity to see that their words affect me and were fracturing our relationship — it invited them to look around and see who else was affected.  They wanted to stop and reevaluate how the words they were using with their most important people.  We had a chance to recognize that we need help to love one another better, and it left them looking for the Source of Love.

 

I stooped low.  We huddled up.  We prayed for a fresh start.  We gave and received grace.  God met us.  And it was sweet.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34: 18). None of us want heartbreak, disappointment, overwhelm.  None of us go looking for something to crush our spirit.  And yet, time and again these are the places where God meets me.

 

This crushing moment led us to the throne of grace.  

 

I’m not saying that you should cry in front of your children, as a method of showing them their need for Jesus.  No.  We have a responsibility to remain steady and consistent, and mostly predictable, to provide peace and stability for our children.

And yet, in our weakness, Christ is strong.  So let’s also not be afraid of being in over our heads.  Let’s not be afraid to admit to the Lord and to each other, mamas, when our day has nearly flattened us.

 

Let’s lean our pain, our struggle, our weariness into the chest of God, that He might wrap us in a healing embrace.  And when we fail… let’s trust God with the hearts of our children, too.  I was afraid that my accidental tears may have burdened them, but as we gave God our broken morning, He exchanged it for joy.

We don’t have to feign strength when we know the Source.  We are free to draw close and honest to the heart of God, with our children… to pray gently for them when they are struggling to use kind words, to shepherd them when they have failed to disobey, to apologize to them when we’ve been wrong, and we can usher in to watch God’s healing work.

When our heart fails within us, may we gather up the presence of God as our portion, our strength. (Psalm 73: 26)

When we are weary, may we climb into the lap of our Father God, trusting that he can give strength to our hearts, and renewal to our bodies. (Isaiah 40: 29, Matthew 11: 28)

When we are hopeless, and fear that nothing we are doing will amount to anything, may we place our hope in the Lord.  May we soar on wings like eagles, tireless and full of life. (Isaiah 40: 31)

When we long to just be better, stronger, more whole…may we hear God say to our hearts “My grace is sufficient.”  May we boast in our weakness, that Christ’s power may be great in us. (2 Corinthians 12: 9)

Sometimes I put too much weight on keeping it “together” with my kids.  Steadiness, consistency is a big deal in parenting.  I’m a believer in it, and I fight for it daily.  But it’s not THE thing.   I’m tempted to become robotic when I’m trying to muster up patience, and avoid yelling.

But today, I’m proclaiming out loud that the thing I want most is to be on my knees before Christ himself.  I’d rather be soft than cold.  I’d rather be accessible then impenetrable.  I’d rather exhibit heartbreak than calculated control.

Openness requires faith because it leaves us vulnerable.  It requires faith that God’s grace is enough when we let our hearts be hurt.

But openness can lead us to genuine need and true dependence on the Lord.  It can leads us to authentic heart connection with our God and with our children.  We have an opportunity to draw close.  We have an opportunity to pray.  And our children have an opportunity to feel our veracious and loving investment in their hearts and our relationship with them.

Today, I’m choosing to be unafraid of my weakness.  Today, I’m choosing to trust that God’s mercy can cover my failure, my disappointment, my inadequacy.

 

I’m choosing to believe that I can let my walls of fear and self-protection come down, and take up the shield of faith, as the only defense I need. (Ephesians 6: 16)

 

Psalm 73: 26  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  

Habbakuk 3: 19  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. 

2 Corinthians 12: 10  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  

 

When you dread the question: “What did you do today?” (Part 2)

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“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 

1 Corinthians 15: 58

I have always loved being productive and efficient.  I have spent a lot of my life living for results.  I love checking things off of a To Do list. I love Excel sheets and organized desks and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a productive day.  I love taking steps that feel linear and progressive. I love large gatherings, the sounds of laughter filling my home.  I love making friends and building connection, deep conversation, and the feeling that I might have made a difference in someone’s life.  Whatever the form, I love visible, tangible, see it, taste it, touch it results.

I think we all do, to some extent.

We are built to create beauty and innovation, in the image of the One who made us.  This beautiful drive is set in us to partner with God in something bigger than ourselves.

What I never knew is what would happen to me when all of the visible was stripped away. I never knew what it would feel like to work all day and have a list longer than when I started, and to fail to explain how the minutes and hours evaporated.

I never knew what it would feel like to work tirelessly and never see the bottoms of my hampers.  I didn’t know the feeling of picking up the toys only to find them dumped in the next room.  I hadn’t felt the sting of giving everything away, to be told I’m the worst mom ever or that I just don’t care at all (this was just today).  I never knew about sweeping and mopping endlessly, only to find sticky and littered floors when my husband walks in the door.  Walking around all day not knowing I had spit up on my shoulder, and feeling so unbelievably insignificant.  I never knew about struggling through a trip to the grocery store only to encounter eye rolls and annoyed glances from passersby.

 

Getting to the end of the day without having accomplished anything I can name, and having no idea what kept me so busy – it can make me feel so small.

 

I never knew how much of me could be spent in completely invisible spaces, bandaging the boo-boo, holding and praying over the child with the nightmare, making all the lunches in those special ways, rocking the baby, changing the wet sheets, folding the clothes, going to appointments, loading the dishwasher, wiping the bottoms, breaking up the arguments, teaching and training and guiding in the ways of relationship and reconciliation, buckling and unbuckling and rebuckling the seatbelts, cleaning the kitchen over and over and over and over, and shepherding the hearts in all of the in-between spaces that will add up to a childhood.

 

I never knew how incredibly uncomfortable I would feel in my skin without tangible successes and accomplishments to show for my days.

 

Several years ago, this experience turned me inside out.

 

My husband, Mike, and I had just left our home in Kansas City, with thriving lives and work and ministry and friendship, pregnant with our third child, to move to Durham, North Carolina for Mike to attend business school.  My calendar, which had been bubbling over with color-coded activity from 5am until 10pm most days, with a personal training business and a high school ministry, children’s activities and social gatherings… transformed overnight to completely, entirely, alarmingly blank.

 

I stared over my bulging tummy into the adorable faces of a three- and a one-year-old child and thought my life was all but over.  I was wild about these little people of mine, blessed beyond words to be their mom.  And I had no idea how to “just” be their mama.  I felt that I had lost myself, and suddenly I was forced to believe that I mattered even when no one over three feet tall could see me.

 

I wanted to defend myself over the mess I had tried to clean, the chaos I had tried to pacify, the child I had tried to discipline…despite the appearance that I had sat on my behind all day.  I wanted to be understood, to vindicate myself and scream to the world that there was more to me than diapers.  I wanted my children to behave and speak kindly so that the world could see what I’ve taught them.  I simultaneously wanted to prove that I had a brain and questioned that it still worked.  I wanted to change the world and just wanted a shower.  I adored my children, and never took a day for granted that I got to stay home with them, but I suddenly had no idea who I was or what I was doing.

And I abruptly forgot how to make friends because the first question out of everyone’s mouth is “What do you do?”

 

Despite feeling like my dreams were coming true…

Despite the desire and gratitude for the ability to stay home…

Despite knowing that so many other moms would love to be in my shoes…

Despite feeling abundant and undeserved blessing…

 

Despite all of that, I found myself squirming and wincing at the words “I stay at home with my kids.”  Suddenly, all the lines were blurred, and who I am felt mixed up with what I do and the busyness of my schedule and my perceived relevance to the rest of the world.

 

In that season, I faced this ugly underbelly of my heart where I was silently desperate to be important and known and respected and appreciated and needed.

 

I cried out to God, begging him to give me purpose and identity and clarity about it all…begging him to show me where to invest, to let me use my gifts.

And in this one simple desperate prayer, he gently offered me this…

Sweet one, be faithful with what you have been given.  Be poured out here.  Whatever gifts you are longing to use, give them all away right here, where only I can see.  Whatever you feel you are capable of doing, do it here with the ones I’ve entrusted to you.  Trust me with the offering.

Painfully simply, God told me in the quiet of my heart that as I love the least of these within my four walls, I was loving Him.  Be faithful as I am faithful.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 40

He gradually and gracefully extended my reach beyond my home, but my eyes for what I’m doing with my children are new.

I come back to this truth over and over that in God’s upside down Kingdom, my children are completely and totally deserving of the the very best of me.

The parts I used to use to impress a boss.  The parts of me I used to make money or to try to create something beautiful.  When my children are the ones in front of my face, I can pour it all out to them, knowing that the eyes of the Father are on me.

And in that moment, my offering could be better spent no where in the world.
Maybe someday, I will have the opportunity to do a great thing, by the standards of the world.  Or maybe not.  But for today, I will heed the words of the lovely Mother Teresa…

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Give it all away right where you are, Mama.  Your toil is not in vain.

 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12: 1

If you missed Part 1 of this post, you can check it out here.  

Moms…is your heart aching for something to show for all of your work? (Part 1 of 2)

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Sweet messes made while I mopped the kitchen…

 

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3: 3-6

 

Do you ever feel like you get to the end of a breakneck day and look around to find that your house is messier, your connection with your children a bit more disheveled, and your insides tied in a few extra knots?

Me too.

Bedraggled at the end of a day, I sometimes wonder why I worked so hard, when no one seems to notice or care.  Down in my belly, I hope and trust and struggle to keep believing that raising the next generation is deeply meaningful work.  I know it is.  But I fail to be the mom I imagined a hundred times a day, and some days I can’t help but wonder if someone else would do a better job.  I make resolutions for better, more present, more intentional days only to find interruptions, discouragement, unexpected crises, and a dollop of uncooperativeness from my sweet little ones who didn’t get the memo on my new expectations.

 

This parenting thing requires faith that something is cultivating under the surface, that God is at work and multiplies the faithfulness of our hands.  

 

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom just dying for something, anything to show for your day, or you’re a working mama wondering how in the world to juggle it all, I think so many of us have these same questions badgering us about how we measure up and all the things the other moms seem to be doing better, the child’s needs we can’t meet, which sports or musical instruments or languages we should be learning, how exactly our life was reduced to folding clothes, packing lunches and driving to sports practices, and if anyone in the world has a clue how hard we’re working to manage it all.

 

This thing requires faith that we are seen by God when we are seen by no one else.  

 

Do you ever wonder if anything you are saying is getting through to your children?  If any of the work you’re doing in your home makes any difference?  If you will invest and serve and give it your all only for them to look back and say you were too hard on them or too easy on them or that you favored their sister or that you were too distracted with housework and emails to spend time with them?  Do you wonder if they’ve noticed your effort?

 

This thing requires faith that God will sift out the words and the lessons and the moments with grace, that he sees our children and knows their heart’s cries…that He hems them in, even through the ups and down of their well-meaning parents.  

 

These secret, sacred things of parenting – terribly and wonderfully invisible to the rest of the world – are the weightiest things I’ve carried, with the least amount of training, input, or feedback.  These up-all-night, argue-all-day, hang on for dear life, just make sure to say “I love you” and try to mean it kind of days…these are the ones that make up the most formative years of our children’s lives, the ones they talk about in the counseling sessions later.

 

These are the years that shape us…that make us brave or make us afraid.  It makes me want to give them my best.

 

And yet, if you stop by my house at 5pm any day of the week, you’d never know I’ve tried to teach them anything.  You’d never know I worked to create a home of peace and belonging.  You’d never know there were 87 moments of reconciliation and 743 corrective words exchanged today.  You’d never know by the look of things, with hair-pulling and clean-up refusing and their mama muttering something about will they just wash their hands for dinner, for the love of all things good and holy.

 

My motivation for this work at home cannot rest in seeing immediate results.


This thing requires faith that seeds are being planted and God — our Faithful Gardener — will bring a harvest in their lives and mine, in time and with great care.  

 

I’m discovering that I surely cannot rely on my children’s words or behavior to tell me how I’m doing at being a mama.  My hope must rest in faith alone.

My hope rests in faith that God’s mercies are new every morning, and so I don’t need to sit in guilt over imperfect days.  My hope rests in faith that God will fill in the gaps their daddy and I leave with precious friends and family, and the power of His Word and Spirit.

 

My hope rests in faith that God is writing my children’s stories, and He doesn’t need perfect threads to make a beautiful tapestry. 

 

If only I could have a guarantee that my work is going to make a difference, that all these moments of showing up and investing and shepherding and trying to be consistent will add up to more than heavy bones and sticky eyelids…that these moments will add up to the kind of childhood that shapes a person of character.  If only I could know for sure how this story ends.

But we do!  This story ends with a God who is making all things new.  This story ends with the victory of Christ on the cross that covers all of our frailty and all of our flubs.  This story ends with a God who never lost sight of us, and never lost sight of our children through every one of these sloppy, bedraggled days.

 

But this thing requires faith.  And I think that’s the point.  God is after our hearts and calls us into sweet communion with him when we’re dying to know who we are, why we’re here, and what kind of legacy we’re leaving.

Look for Part 2 next week…

 

And this is real life at my house right now…

 

 

If summer days have you feeling beaten down and defeated…a powerful solution

 

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A little smile from above.

The sun seemed to smile at my weary soul on that morning last week, as it crept around a nearby office building.  With only the sounds of a bird’s first-of-the-morning song and my sneakers striking the pavement, the sunrise brought me a dose of peace and courage for the day.

 

That niggling feeling that I should be soaking up every beautiful moment of summer freedom, right there with the drum of constant arguments and complaints of boredom on my aching ears…it all had me needing a little encouragement.

So the beauty of that morning’s sunrise sat far deeper than shades of pink and orange, with the promise of a fresh start, extending a gentle invitation to new possibility, new hope, new mercy.  A smile to say “Today is a new day”… “You are going to be ok”… “You can do this.”  A soft and simple smile.

And isn’t this the longing of every heart – to be smiled upon?

The beginning of the ministry of Jesus, God in flesh, was with a smile from above.  Father God looked down at him and said “This is my son, whom I love.  With him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 17)

How much more do we need to hear God say “You are mine, and I take great delight in you”?

There are so many other voices that would tell us we’re not enough, to work harder, that other moms – other humans – are doing it better, and we’ll surely never get it right.  In the noise of my mind I sometimes try to scare or guilt myself into being a better mom, a better wife, a better friend…but we all know that doesn’t work.  We end up being critical of others the same way we’re being critical of ourselves.

When we’re not receiving grace, we end up with none to offer.  

This day that started with the peeking sun smile, I was reminded that I could do all of this a different way.  I can start my day with simply being smiled upon…just getting quiet long enough to let God’s delight rest on me, without an ounce of striving.

And it makes me feel brave.   Like, this kind of brave…

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…where you know you’re loved and can run free and take on whatever the day would bring.

I forget all the time, but I’m trying to just take a breath at the start of each day and in the midst of every discouraged moment to let my heart receive God’s smile.

To be delighted in makes us sure-footed and unafraid.  We walk with more confident steps when we’re resting under the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father.

And, funny enough, the more I’m smiled upon, the more I smile upon my children.  The more I gain this courage of knowing Whose I am, the more I want to give a dose of courage to my kids – and everyone I meet, for that matter.

The Delighted In can’t help but love free.  The Smiled Upon can’t help but to smile upon others.  Those who live Claimed and Belonging can’t help but draw others in close.

Live loved today, mama.

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Grateful for my people, who make a morning at the zoo look like this. 

 

The Grace In Not Getting What You Want

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Not an act…grabbed a snapshot of my people wanting something they couldn’t have. 🙂
“But I WANT it!”  Eyes of disbelief, and a bit of a screech in the tone…this is the response from my charming little people – at least a handful of times a day – after I’ve delivered the crushing “No.”

You too, mama?

Mystifying as it is for our little ones, this necessary loss of innocence occurs as the reality sets in that the world and others actually do not bend to their whims.

Those of us who have circled the sun a few times know that sometimes the answer is “No.”  Sometimes we can’t have what we want.  Sometimes things don’t go our way.  Sometimes we have to wait.

But who likes it?

Every loving parent will gently teach that wanting does not necessitate receiving, even as our own mama hearts tremor with their secret unfulfilled longings and the “No’s” of life that ache down deep.

And how in the world do we teach them that the things we want aren’t always the things we need.  How do we teach ourselves?  How impossible when my own soul claws for the things that I just want – the night’s sleep, to be left alone in the bathroom, to just have a night out without someone spiking a fever on our way out the door. How often I hear from my own heart the same plea before a patient Father…”But I want it, Lord!”

But the magic of it is that the things I think I want, and can’t have, are the very things that are changing me from the inside out.

I think I just want a break, but what my heart needs is to know God’s daily mercies and to gather his grace like manna.  I think I want to just do it all right, but what I need is to know Christ’s power in my weakness.  I think I want to just be left alone for a moment of peace, but the constant interruptions are giving me new eyes to see every opportunity for silence with my King as pure gift.  God’s gentle voice speaks to me in my need…in the long breaths before responding to a child’s poor behavior, in the hugs offered when I wanted to roll my eyes, in the moments when my need to be forgiven gives me the humility to offer grace to my children.

So often, I find that the things I’m whining for are the things I need to lay down to find deep, rich, alive intimacy with God.

I’m realizing I may be a tad more refined, but not all that different from my children…and it makes my heart swell with compassion for them.

We can come alongside of our children as they slosh their way through tantrums and time outs, in the same way that Christ comes alongside of us in ours.  We can believe that the things they want and can’t have are shaping them.  And we can believe the same for ourselves.