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

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Summer and I have a complicated relationship.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But sisters, sometimes…Summer. Is. Hard. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The deep satisfaction of giving it all away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to see the radical love of God in absolutely everything

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

 

 

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…

 

 

When you can’t find Jesus in the daily grind

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Word of the day:  BECKONED

If you’re a mom, and you don’t drink coffee, you’re kind of like a superhero to me.  I could give it up if I had to, and I have for periods of time, but I actually believe that on many days, my cup of coffee in the morning is a pure vessel of God’s grace.  And just like when the cute guy was the reason you went to Young Life club when you were 15, or the free breakfast was the thing that got you out of bed to go to the church where you found a family, God beckons me into his presence…sometimes with the smell of coffee.  And I feel fine about that.  He is gracious with me and my weary body.

He greets me with the warmth of those first sips, with the freedom of new mercies, with the safety of his delight.

The truth is that the shape of God’s pursuit of my heart is ever changing, deeply personal, brilliantly transfiguring.  His invitation to “Come” takes all kinds of strange forms in these days with little ones.  As I’m summoned to the restroom by a tiny voice, for some undignified duty, I hear God beckoning me to lay my life down to find it.   As I’m called to the kitchen sink by the towering mound of dishes, or to the dining room table by the endless piles of clean laundry to fold, I hear God beckoning me to do everything unto him, to find purpose in the secret romance between us.  As joyful pregnancies left uninvited marks on my body, I’ve heard God beckoning me into the freedom of my image-bearing identity as a co-creator of life.   As I’m faced with my weakness all day long, I’m invited in, to walk in Christ’s strength alone.  As I’m drawn to the nursery by the midnight cries, I am beckoned to a God who sees me – who renews my strength, even when sleep cannot.  As I’m charmed to the play room by my children’s giggles, I feel God’s joy over me drawing me in for a Fatherly kiss on the forehead.  I’m invited by the maddening slow of toddlers into the unhurried wonder of the Spirit.  In the million questions that could never quench my children’s endless curiosity, I am beckoned to enter into a sweet humility and thirst for understanding before my God.

We are ever and always beckoned to see God’s relentless pursuit of our hearts – in the moments that can’t be rushed, in the places where no one else sees, from the underbelly of our shame, by the captivating faces of our children, by all of creation…

Beckoned.

Tune in today, Sister.  God is coming for you.

 

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Isaiah 55:12