Ephesians 2: 8-9 For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
This day after Easter has me so deeply grateful for a Savior who reached out to save us, right smack in the middle of our mess… a Christ who went to the cross saying “Forgive them.”
I’m awestruck with the goodness and mercy of Jesus, who knew how we would think we know better. He knew we would try to take matters into our own hands. He knew our weakness, and He loved us first. Jesus took on all of our brokenness and self-reliance and outright rebellion, just because he wanted to be with us forever. Hallelujah!
But this day after Easter also has me thinking it tragic how many of us moms in Christ seem to leave all of this freedom at the door of our homes.
Maybe we walk in freedom at church, at work, in friendships, in ministry, but with our children, we writhe in guilt and carry all the weight of our own brokenness solidly on our own shoulders.
Can you relate?
The pressure to be a “good mom” is enough to squeeze all of the freedom right out of parenting.
You know those evenings when you’re desperate for the day to come to a close, but you know that the instant your head hits your pillow, someone will need you?
You know those days when a cacophony of coughs and wheezes and sneezes and cries rings through walls and over baby monitors, and you know you’re going to be rubbing backs or dishing up medicine or rocking someone back to sleep any minute…so why even bother?
Midnight snuggles are precious, holy moments, but winter germs are a bit merciless, and I’ve had at least a dozen of those nights in the last three weeks.
I know I’m not the only one.
Despite the precious moments we try to embrace, we can’t help but notice that parenting sometimes seems to require giving on empty for a wildly unforgiving amount of time. As a mom, you might be left to look around and wonder if anyone sees or anyone cares that you’ve had to pee for three hours, but haven’t had a chance… or that you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in years… or that you’ve answered so many questions today that “What’s for dinner?” makes you want to scream.
Parenting requires a fierce devotion to meet the others’ need, when you feel like your own is getting smashed under everyone’s muddy shoes.
In my early years of motherhood, I thought I just had to muscle through, just keep it all together, be enough, stay strong, keep going. And I had very little reason to doubt that I would make it through the little years this way.
I had everything a mom could ask for – healthy kids, supportive husband, loving community, good sleepers – and so, my system of staying on my game and being everything for everyone seemed to work just fine. But underneath my shell of strength was the fear that I wouldn’t actually make it, if anything ever went really wrong.
I struggled to admit to myself or to God how desperately I loved my children, because it would leave me raw and vulnerable to the possibility of being flattened by hardship or tragedy. Other parents joked about starting counseling funds because of the wounds we would unintentionally and inevitably give to our children, but everything in me said No…that wouldn’t be ok…I simply must succeed. I couldn’t tolerate the reality that I could and would fail. In that season, when I encountered difficult situations, other parents suffering loss or injury or illness or hardship with their children, my heart would simply beg Please, God, not us and my mind would concede I couldn’t survive it.
Something in me knew that my “Head down and hope for the best” mindset was a bit flimsy, but I didn’t yet know another option.
My firm expectation that life was generally supposed to be awesome, was only mildly muddied by the bumps I faced, in my younger years. I predominantly maintained the philosophy that heartbreak, uncertainty, angst, and grief were the exception. And that life was “supposed” to mostly feel good.
I thought the goal was to remove the obstacles, be always moving towards settling the disquietude, solving the problem, removing the pain, learning the lesson as quickly as possible, so I could do better. Be better. Fail less. Hurt less.
And when I became a mom, I thought motherhood was “supposed” to feel amazing almost all of the time, too. I was always thinking about how to remove or repair the things standing in the way of experiencing motherhood as mostly fun and wonderful.
The wheels of my mind spun with new answers and things I had read, formulas and systems and solutions to fix myself and my children and my home right up into the perfect versions I thought they should be.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62: 6
Many Monday mornings over the last nine years, I opened my weary eyes and glanced at the clock, only to feel as though I was already behind in every way. Not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough exercise, not enough quiet space before the Throne of Grace.
Many Monday mornings, I looked down at these feet and wondered how they would take each of the steps required of them.
Many Monday mornings, my first inclination was to billow with strategy, to rank my To Do’s in order of priority, and to hustle. As I scurried around, I tried to breathe strength into my own heart and bones, simply by flexing my measly muscles beneath the weight of it all.
And I usually ran out of steam and patience about 8 minutes later. Cheeks flushed, eyes of furry, an unruly snippiness in my tone, and a gut-deep unease that I’m not cut out for this job…all by 7:38am.
Oh mamas, how do we steady our hearts and minds so that we’re not getting buckled up in the minivan already heavy with defeat, when the sun has only been up for two hours? Don’t we all ache to be steady, unflappable, not so easily thrown?
His tiny hand of butter and silk stroked my face, from the tip of my brow, to the crest of my lip, sometimes with a brief pause to pinch my nose.
It was one of those sleepless nights full of unexplained cries and sleepy snuggles, and so – ready or not – my Littlest and I greeted the morning together.
My eyelids fluttered and lingered shut for too long a moment for his liking. But he didn’t cry. He rustled me patiently and gently, letting me know he was content just to be close, but would prefer my wakeful attention. The charm of the thing was almost more than a heart can hold.
The tender affection of a little one, so precious and pure – it humbles the heart.
This first moment of the morning ushered in the equally obvious and revolutionary realization that being a mama is absolutely and completely a gift.
Worth it. Blessed. Abundant. A joy.
So why didn’t I seem so grateful for the opportunity to shepherd and care for my children, less than an hour later?
Another snow day, another breakfast mess, another runny nose, another fresh cover of toys on freshly mopped floor, another fight over morning chores, another pile of laundry. A new round of bickering, tattling, back-talking, noise. Another attempt at morning devotions ending in lecture about respect and inappropriate times for silliness.
And all before 8am. Same old story.
There is this ever-common experience that mamas seem to share…that we unreservedly know that our children are a gift, and we manifestly struggle to walk in that truth through the mess of the day.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD.
Christmas season as a mama of young children sometimes feels like a deep isometric stretch – a steady work of holding joy and calm, while the muscles of the heart burns with laying our lives down, carrying the load of work for the sake of our family’s jubilation.
Together, we hold the immense privilege and the immense responsibility of being mama.
I feel on my shoulders the honor and the duty to steer through the busyness with grace, while working to create a home of peace, and a steadfast notice of Emmanuel.
This season, I revel in the abundance of joy, the abundance of events, the abundance of distractions, the abundance of blessing, the sheer abundance of the day. And I’m holding a posture of praise with quivering muscles, while the rush of more, faster, better badgers me.
You too, Mama?
The eyes of our children are full of hopeful expectancy and carefree delight. The days are sprinkled with countdowns and Advent calendars full of chocolate and burgeoning excitement that sometimes feels more like a tornado in our homes. But their waiting is what makes Christmas morning so sweet. Their waiting draws them in, and prepares their hearts for explosive joy on Christmas morning.
The mystery breeds the magic.
And for all of us, Advent is about waiting and preparing, yes for presents, but ultimately for the most extraordinary gift of Christ. But I can’t help but notice that we aren’t very good at waiting these days. In the days of high-speed internet, digital pictures (remember when we had to take them to get developed?), Amazon Prime with free one day delivery, and GoogleMaps that can tell us how to avoid the traffic…waiting can feel unfamiliar, and awkward.
I think God’s Word whispers that waiting and faith go hand-in-hand, and I sense a sweetness in resting in the arms of God in the in-between place.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.This is what the ancients were commended for.
Hebrews 11: 1-2 NIV
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Isaiah 25: 9 KJV
I wonder if Advent is meant to invite us in to the mystery that requires us to trust. I wonder if preparing to receive Christ looks a bit like working the muscle of delighting in God amidst waiting. The heroes of our faith drew close to the heart of God while waiting for answers to prayers, waiting for promises to be fulfilled, waiting for dreams to come true. I’m falling in love with a season placed in our calendars that was meant to invite us to wait and prepare to freshly receive the fulfillment of the greatest promise – the promise of a Rescuer, a Savior, a King.
In 2017, busy is a bit more comfortable than slow. A season to get things done is more familiar than a season meant to be an interlude. Most of us feel more closely acquainted with work than with rest.
But I sense a beautiful invitation in Advent, to find God in the pause, to let our hearts rest in the wait, to let our wonder and our longing grow, and to let a joyful anticipation for Christ well up in our souls.
I taste the wonder of Christmas when I sing Silent Night, or when I sit by our Christmas tree and watch the flames wink and dance in my fireplace. I feel that flutter of excitement in my chest, and for a moment, I grasp the magnitude of God With Us, as I simply let my heart pause and accept the discomfort of still.
In waiting, God invites us to come a little bit closer to his heart, and to be held, not by certainty and predictability, but by his arms of goodness and grace.
Whatever you might be waiting for this Christmas…a prayer to be answered, a longing to be fulfilled, or simply to be finished with all the To Do’s of the season, may your aching be met by the eyes of God inviting you to be held.
And may your Christmas morning be a sweet fulfillment of your deepest longing…may you feel met by Lover of our Souls, who came to dwell among us, to reconcile us to himself, and to invite us into the intimate nearness with him that we were made to enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.