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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.  

This…THIS is what I want for every mother

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The vibrant green of leaves peaking in my kitchen window, ears ringing with little voices, stomach in knots over the tussles of the morning, and slumped a bit from the week’s travel that could be described as anything but vacation (more on this soon…), I struggle to put hands to keyboard.

Right here in the messy middle of it all – just like you – my morning was full of time outs and Cheerios on the floor and rushing off to swim practice.  I changed diapers and I said the wrong thing and I folded laundry and poured bowls of cereal and rushed a song of blessing and let out a few big sighs that may have given my precious ones the impression that I am exasperated by them.  I issued a few extra kisses to try to make up for my bad attitude and hustled to assist a little one in the bathroom.  I buckled seat belts and said “I don’t know” to most the questions and shot up desperate prayers for more grace, more strength.

This is how I sit to write — nearly always convalescing from some parenting failure, usually from the last ten minutes.  My mind often burdened with a child’s need for which I have no answers.  Feeling weak beyond measure.

And yet something aches in me that I can’t bear to not tell you.  A deep beautiful grace has rained down on me, and I want it for every mama.  

Before I had children, I was cozied in my assumptions about parenthood — a sweet overflow of a loving marriage, an opportunity to leave a legacy, enrich our lives, invite joy.  Sprinkled with truth, but troubling simplistic, I thought I would just do my best, make sure they know I love them, set good boundaries, have fun, and we’d all turn out fine.  I’ve always known children are a miracle, a privilege, a gift.  I always assumed we would experience ups and downs.

But there’s a weightiness that I never imagined and a freedom that has led me to the heights.

Jesus offers this sacred invitation…”whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 39)

I never knew that motherhood was an invitation to die…  I’ve wondered at stories of reckless faith and obedience to serve where God calls, but I never knew that I could find this most holy ground right here in my home — that I could be resurrected into a new kind of living, just on the other side of dying to myself. I never knew that in motherhood I would be invited to die a million times a day, and find the freedom of a life hidden with Christ.  I never knew that I would be invited to give away my comfort, my dignity, my autonomy, my privacy, my self-preference, my efficiency, my sense of control, and that I would exchange it all for intimacy with my King, the only source of true life.

There is always a place for personal boundaries and self-care.  Take care of yourself, sister.

But joy comes in making peace with this journey of motherhood being one of sacrifice.   I’m discovering the greatest invitation in motherhood is one to lose my life to find it.

And so, as we meet needs in the wee hours of the night, give our day away as a chauffeur, or as tiny people toss their trash at us, we can find the strength to calmly parent – a privilege and a sacred mission – in the place where we let go.  We let go of our rights, our pride, our life, and our hearts are set free.

What I want for every mama is for her to experience this sacred dance before her Father in Heaven.  I long for the beautiful invisible works of her hands to feel like worship.  I ache for you to go ahead and lay it all down so that you can experience the riches of God’s grace for you.

 

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” 

Psalm 51:17

“But the king replied to Araunah, ‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing”” 

2 Samuel 24:24

When you need to break free from worry

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,

because they trust in you.  

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord,

the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.  

Isaiah 26: 3-4

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Perfect peace.

The sun glitters in the slanted blinds, and a word glints in the depths of me – this maddeningly elusive and perfectly impossible word…

Peace.

In a world of rush hour traffic, ever-increasing internet speed, and stress as a badge of honor, peace feels impractical, even self-indulgent.

The more I allow my thoughts to swirl over my children –  about the risk of injury, the fragility of life, the pressures to keep up in school, the endless online world, the hazards of just walking this earth brushing up against other humans who hurt each other… the more I think, the heavier my burden, the tighter my grip around the children I’m desperate to protect.

Dangers are real, and we suffer in this life.  We know and hate to believe that our children will, too.

As much as I love to hear a comforting “They’ll be fine,” from a mama who has gone before me, I can’t help but scream inside “How do you know?!” and let my mind jump to friends whose children were not fine, or times that my worry seemed to be the reason I made the right decision about going to the ER.

Truly, the answer to endless worry over our children is never in logically determining that it will all be ok.

I envy the beautifully shameless relaxation of the perfect little face of my sleeping babe, and I wonder at what it must be like.  To fret not.  To rest when sleep calls.  To never fear for the events of the day.  To explore the world with eager expectation and hope.

But we’re told in God’s word that this kind of peace is available to us in Christ – not a life without responsibility or hardship, but a Life. Without. Worry.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7

As we make choices of trust, of gratitude, of prayer, of supplication, God’s peace enters in and stands guard over our hearts and minds.

Our hope must rest on something more secure than our circumstances.  The irritatingly simple truth is that one thing keeps us in perfect peace…  One thing allows us to walk through this life free from a mind full of worry…  One thing allows us to remain steady, unflappable… Trust in the Lord, the Rock eternal.  

We all know this is easier said than done, but I am seeing my own mind of worry transformed in a million tiny choices to trust that God is who He says He is.  

Rather than feeling victim to life’s circumstances, weak and powerless, we can instead – by the power of Christ – walk in peace, strong and empowered to make choices for our families, free from worry and fear.  We can strongly choose to take reasonable precautions with our children – not out of fear, but LOVE.  We can powerfully choose to set boundaries on what they are allowed to do, where they are allowed to go, or when they need to see a doctor – not out of fear but LOVE.  We can strongly choose how to guide and shepherd them, using the powerful minds God gave us, but reject the worry that so easily partners with us.

We can choose to believe that the Lord is always good (Psalm 145: 9).  We can choose to believe that his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12: 9).  We can choose to believe that he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31: 6).  We can choose to believe that God hems us in, behind and before (Psalm 139).  We can choose to believe his promises for our children, and for their mamas.

As you care for your littles ones today, sweet mama, may you go out in sparkling joy and be led forth in perfect peace.

 

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Hope for the inside of a mama’s head

 

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“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your MIND.’”

Matthew 22: 37

Last night, with sweet friends filling our home, sounds of laughter and connection reverberating, I took notice of the little one who seemed to have no concern for how to interact, or with whom.  Driven by impulse, unabashed in her every move, she ran and spun, crumpling to tears, bursting with excitement, running off with confidence, coming close for reassurance, stopping to tackle her baby brother, running off to grab a friend by the cheeks, taking a quick lap around the house, just because.

Her shamelessness is puzzling and refreshing.  Her haphazardness amazing, beautiful, innocent…

But I’m struck that I sometimes allow my mind to run wild in this same way.  How unfitting.  Unlike the sweet innocent freedom of my baby girl, my chaotic and haphazard thoughts, if left unchecked, threaten my joy, steal my peace, distract and burden me…

I should have reminded the babysitter to keep the basement door closed.  I need to put on the cabinet locks.  I hope the big kids got to swim practice ok.  They all need more of me.  And more play dates, too.  And more alone time.  And probably more sleep.  How am I going to keep the boy from falling behind on reading this summer?   He’s worked so hard.  What if…?   And what am I going to do about that sweet little overlooked middle child who often disappears in her room with her hurt feelings?  What if…?  And how can I get my kids to stop fighting? And how should I cut down on our clutter?  The crafts are everywhere.  Are they learning to take responsibility for their things?   

Are we reading enough?  Are these tantrums normal?  Maybe they need healthier meals.  How do I keep my picky eaters from running our house?  I need to schedule a babysitter for next Friday.  Have I had too many babysitters lately?  Did I schedule check-ups for my summer birthday kids?  Babysitters for those, too.  Maybe we should cut out TV.  And artificial food dye.  But what about birthday parties?  I don’t want to be that mom.  Maybe I should get that wheezy little one allergy tested.  What if…?

My thoughts bounce from one worry to the next, often lacking direction, aimless and reactionary.  They mask their erraticism under the guise of getting things in order, problem solving, decision making.  But in truth, who of us by worrying can add a single hour to our lives? (Luke 12: 25).  

Often our words and actions take priority, and our thoughts are left to their own, seeming ungovernable, idiosyncratic, and presumed to be mostly harmless.

Every mama knows there is much to think about, plan for, change or organize, lead or coordinate, nurture or decide.  We use these minds God gave us for the benefit and blessing of our families…to be intentional, thoughtful and strategic.

But allowing our thoughts to pinball around, frantically condemning the past and resolving to some new future, worrying, fretting, and rolling over the “What if”s”— it is a joyless and peaceless existence.

Our worry is fruitless and distracting.  

Throughout the gospels, Jesus speaks to and answers the thoughts of a person, often instead of their words or actions.  He knows that our thoughts can govern us, drive us, control us, hold us captive.  He also knows that our minds can be renewed to align with his, that our thoughts can be steadfast on him, and lead us to all that he imagined for us as his children.  He knows that he can set us free, renew our hope, keep our peace.  And he longs to do so, through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2).  Our thoughts can run rampant, but we are advised in God’s Word to never let them.

When we call to mind that God’s steadfast love endures forever, his mercies new each morning (Lamentations 3: 22-23), we have HOPE.

When we choose to believe we are whom God says we are – his children, in whom He delights – we have CONFIDENCE.

When we call to mind what God has done, we ENDURE.

When we set our minds on things of God, and not things of man, we live SUBMITTED to God’s sovereignty.

When we choose to believe God is who He says He is, that He will fight for us, we have VICTORY.  (Deuteronomy 20: 4, John 16: 33)

When we place our hope in God, He renews our STRENGTH.

When we cast our burdens on the Lord, we will NOT BE SHAKEN. (Psalm 55: 22)

When we come to Christ with our heavy burdens, we receive REST for our weary souls. (Matthew 11: 28-30)

When we reject fear, we receive God’s HELP and PRESENCE. (Isaiah 41: 13, Psalm 23: 4)

When we take our thoughts captive, and submit them to Christ… When we present our requests to him with thanksgiving, we have PEACE that guards our hearts. (Philippians 4: 4-7; 2 Corinthians 10: 5)

When we turn our thoughts to gratitude, we receive JOY.

These are all decisions we can make, actions we can take.  Our thoughts don’t just happen to us, mamas, we choose and direct them.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Philippians 4: 8

As our little ones grow out of toddlerhood, they need not simply lose the freedom with which they began.  As they mature, they can grow into the even more exquisite freedom intended for the children of God.  Mamas, let’s walk in the freedom Christ intended for us, and give our children a beautiful example of what true freedom looks like.

Today, sweet friends, let’s test our thoughts against the truth of God’s Word, grab hold of them and allow them to come under God’s promises.

And let’s drink of the boundless freedom, the steadfast joy, the unshakable peace, the enduring hope that God intends for us, his beloved children.

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