How to make a difference when your hands are full

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The privilege of my life to be this little guy’s mom.
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
1 Thessalonians 2: 8

My eyelids were heavy on this Monday that came around a bit too quickly, with it’s dimly lit sky and it’s drizzly rain that says “Stay under the covers.”  Sweet ones were unready for the hurry of the morning, drowsy bodies in slow motion.  But the clock doesn’t wait, and time just keeps ticking on tempo with deadlines of school bells and appointments and naps and To Do lists.

On the days when I’m just muscling through to get to the end of it, I’m a smidge desperate for my life to mean something.  I think we all are.  We’re made with a longing for the things that endure.  We yearn to do something that will be remembered.  We long to be exceptional, to make someone’s day, week, life a little better, to grow God’s kingdom, to offer the world a unique idea or message or mission, to run a family, a non-profit, a school, a company, a church, a country, a home…in a way that’s never been done before.

I want to make an impact on the world, but some days I can barely get my weary body out of bed.  You too, mama?

I was squarely in the Monday grind, and thinking about what it looks like to be a disciple and make disciples when you are so dang tired, and your hands are so dang full.  It is the privilege of my life to be called “Mama” by my little ones, but I wonder how to bring an energy to it that bears fruit?  How do we live a life of purpose, and not just survive our days?

I write today (and most always) about things of which I claim no particular expertise.  I’m humbled and often hesitant, as I have little in regards to earthly credentials.  I am simply compelled to share a thing that God has granted me the great privilege to do, and a work he is doing in my heart.

There is this one thing that I believe is making my life and love bigger than the walls of my skin, and it has nothing to do with expertise or high capacity or doing it all right.  There is one thing that is encouraging my heart to believe that I have a God-given unique and valuable role to play in the body of Christ and on planet Earth.  And you do, too.
A key that God is giving me to unlock purpose in my life is letting go of perfection, control, striving…and stepping into the light, to let the light of the Lord in me be seen.  I’m letting go of trying to make my life look put-together and pretty enough to be worthy of making a difference and I’m giving away the sloppy, messy, sleepy, and redeemed life I’m living.  I’m giving it to my children.  I’m giving it to those who might want to enter in.  And I’m giving it to you in the ashes of a mess of words, in faith that God just might make them into something mysteriously beautiful in you, as he is in me.  What if we don’t hide in shame over all that we cannot do, but give away what we have…a broken and sanctified life, hidden in Christ.   

About six years ago, at the very time logic said I was too busy and too exhausted to have anything to offer — with a fitness business to run, a ministry in Young Life, a husband running for public office, and a toddler and a newborn at home (seriously)— God offered me an opportunity to invite someone in.

A recent college grad was looking for a family to live with.  In the middle of our crazy, we simply said “Yes.”  We gave a whole pile of qualifications about how we were in a wild season, and it’ll be messy, and I have nothing to offer, and I’m not sure how it will go, but she could come in and be a part of it, if she wanted to, and we could just see what God would do.

And you know what?  He did a miracle.  He changed a life.  Several, actually:  ours and hers.  And I began to catch a vision for how God could use my brokenness to pour out his strength. When I give my empty, He gives his fullness.  When I give my weak, He gives his strength.  When I give my story, He gives his healing and redemption.  When I die to my comfort, he gives true, abundant life.  When I give my mustard seed of faith that I truly am an ambassador of Christ, He moves mountains.

I spent too much of my life trying to make the tree of my life look prettier, and more worthy of bearing fruit.  I wanted my impact to come from the tidy and beautiful corners of life.  We can decorate the tree of our lives with twinkling lights and ornaments, trying to impress each other, or volunteering for things we don’t want to do.  We can live ashamed of the behind-closed-doors truth of our lives while we offer a tidy and beautiful corner to the rest of the world, but we’ll end up feeling like a fraud and we’ll mostly leave others feeling jealous and insecure.  

I’m beginning to see that true enduring fruit only comes if we are willing to live authentically, planted and rooted where God puts us, when our roots lie deep in the secret places of intimacy with our King, who gently prunes our branches and refreshes us with the rains of his daily mercy and provision.  His delight shines down like the sun to revive our spirits, and we surrender to being used by him, given away just as we are, believing that Christ’s work on the cross was enough to cover all our splintered places.

Purpose is unfolding in the middle of overfull days when I swing my doors open and let a few come in and watch God at work in my mess – let them watch me apologize to my loves, watch me sweep the same floor and fold the same clothes again and again, watch me fail and be washed anew in God’s grace, watch me hope only in the Lord and soar on wings as God renews my strength, watch me need Jesus every hour.

Friends, though we struggle, God calls us pure and blameless and white as snow, in Christ.  We are free to claim that, as we follow Jesus, we are worth following.

If the Spirit of God resides in us, than we ought to confidently proclaim, as Paul did, “Watch me and do what I do!” (paraphrase).  When we know we’re the worst of sinners, and we boast only in Christ, we have nothing to fear in giving our lives away.  We have nothing to fear in opening our doors.  We have nothing to fear in letting someone walk alongside, and believing we will have something to offer.  We have nothing to fear in letting our light shine.

If we believe the light is in us, as the Bible says it is, then we ought not hide in the shadows.

When your life is messy and your hands are full, you serve as a perfect backdrop for the vibrant and striking life of Christ to be made known.  When you feel emptied out with nothing to offer, you might just have made room for the Spirit of God to pour through you and do something groundbreaking.

I’m beginning to see that as I come out of the shadows, and invite a young professional to spend the day with us or another mama to come and do the real life bedraggled and beautiful mom thing side-by-side or a 20-something to come live with us, we create space to encounter a God who left heaven and put skin on.  Humbly…I’m watching God change lives when I give away my mess of brokenness, and trust in a Jesus who made us his hands and feet.

Friends, I have sat to write this post a dozen times, and stopped short the last eleven because I’m on my face over the thought that you would feel for one minute like there is one more thing you need to do.  Mama, if you are in over your head and dragging your weary, unshowered body to the coffee pot in the morning, I am right. there. with. you.

But even more, I can’t bear the thought that you would miss out on this miracle that I believe happens when we shake off the shame, and share our lives with whoever might want to come along.  It’s a precious treasure, burning a hole in my pocket, and I don’t want even one of you to miss it.

My encouragement is not for you to take on commitments that you don’t have time for.  My encouragement is that you open your door and let someone come in to see exactly what you are already doing, to believe that God could do something miraculous.  And if this is already your habit, then carry on sister!  And never let shame tell you that you’re not enough.

When Jesus invited men to be his disciples, he never stopped his what he had set out to do , he simply said Come along.  Be with me.  Walk with me.  Watch what I do, then do it.  Our example for making disciples is one that says “Come along.”

If you’re like me, it’s hard to imagine that anyone on earth would be interested in spending time with you and watching you change diapers and fold shirts and send small people to Time Out.  This is a step of faith.  It’s a choice to believe that there is something going on in the heavenlies as we serve our families unto the Lord.  It’s a step of faith to believe that, as we trust God with our muck and invite God’s grace into our homes, it is a precious sight to behold.  It’s a step of faith to believe that we are chosen, redeemed, ambassadors of Christ, royal daughters of the King of Heaven.

Maybe there is another mama for whom you’ve been mopping your floor and saying you are loving every minute of being a mom….stop doing that.  Just let her in.  Maybe it’s a colleague, a neighbor, your kids’ friends, a high school or college student (try connecting through your local church or ministries).  Step out of shame, and consider sharing the life you are already living before the throne of grace, not leading from your strength but from Christ’s strength in your weakness.

If you follow Christ, you are worth following.  You’re a world changer.

 

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A rainy day at the zoo with my loves.

Freedom for those up close and personal moments

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A sweet little voice from the backseat reaches my ears as we approach a red light. “Mommy, can we help that woman with the sign that says ‘homeless’?” See, I can tell them that we love the poor, but my tenderheart in the backseat doesn’t want to hear about it. She wants to see it, feel it, touch it, taste it. And I’m suddenly in one of those crises of my intention smashing up against my lack of follow-through. My words and the reality of my life collide in a heap, and I realize again that the most important things are not really taught, but caught. I’m in that sloppy space of needing to mean what I say and say only what I’m ready to live out. This kind of discipleship – the kind where our children learn what it means to live and walk in faith by watching – this kind gets right up in your face.

There was a time in my life when loving others, ministry, discipleship – it all felt tidied up. I could go about my life, and use the free spaces to find opportunities to share about my faith in Jesus. Only the safe, pretty and in-control spaces. Without realizing, I was presenting a story of “Once upon a time life was messy, and then I met Jesus and now it’s tidied up and beautiful.” God was gracious to redeem what I offered, but in the quiet, I think something felt disingenuous. You and I both know that life doesn’t get tidy when we follow Jesus. Life is still a sloppy mess with pain and grief and temptation and disease and broken relationship. Even under God’s covering, and in His hope, life and our own weakness this side of heaven, still hurt and confuse us.

It took some up close and personal relationships to show me that I hadn’t been free. The honest truth is that there is no freedom in offering only the pretty spaces to the world. Only the clean house. Only the made-up face. Only the well-prepared bible study lesson. I felt the pressure of keeping it up. I felt the fear of being “found out.” And those with me likely felt the same.

I faced my first crisis of intention versus reality a number of years ago when life got a little intense. My husband was elected to the State Legislature, I was running a small personal training business, I had recently become a mom, and I was involved in a ministry for high school students, which I was striving to do in the in-between spaces. As my life became more demanding, I began to see that if I only invited those around me to see the pretty parts of my life, I would soon run out of parts to offer. I began to see that the margin for loving anyone from the tidied-up spaces was quickly being squeezed out of my life.  I considered cutting things out to make more pretty space, but I felt that God was leading me in a different direction. I felt that I needed to step in faith, rather than rest on my own strength.

I had always thought that loving others could only come from a put-together life. But in that season, God brought into my path an opportunity that began to change my thinking. I met a young woman looking for a home in which to heal from family hurts, to learn what godly marriage, parenting, family looks like. When this opportunity arose, I was days away from the birth of my second child, and my husband a couple months from his second election. I was working, and had stepped into leadership in several places in the church and community. Life was chaotic and messy. But my husband and I felt a nudge to invite this person in. It felt like a giant step of faith to allow someone into the mess or our home and family life, and to believe that she would see God in the midst.

It’s terrifying to let someone see our life when it is not put together. We want to clean up our bodies and our houses and our lives before we invite someone in. But I found myself wondering what I was really afraid of. If I truly believed I was following Christ in the mess, then there should be evidence…right?  If someone watching can’t see God and lives of faith in the messy times, than we must be lying to ourselves.  So, God challenged me to begin to develop a “come and watch me need Jesus” attitude. Watch my husband and I fall towards one another. Watch us ask each other and our children for forgiveness. Watch us get on our knees with our great need.

And guess what, by God’s grace, this young woman saw us forgiving ourselves and each other. She saw us living beyond ourselves and drawing on God’s grace. She saw us failing in ways that made all of us want less of ourselves and more of Jesus, and it changed her life. And ours.

God is still leading me on this journey – the journey of living fearlessly, and letting His power be made perfect in my weakness.  I’m seeing that I still have layers and layers of wanting to keep it all together for everyone watching.

And motherhood gets right up in my face like nothing ever has. I now have little eyes watching to see if my words come alive in my actions, and seeing all the moments – not just the pretty ones. And it forces me to look right at the truth of my life and how it compares to my words and my intention.

I have to be ready to say what I mean and mean what I say. And I have to be ready to need lots of grace.

I have to be ready to point to the Merciful One, and to teach my children not how to stop being weak, but how to lean our weakness right into the strong chest of God.

I have to be ready to teach them not how to fix our hearts up so we want and seek better things, but to go ahead and die to ourselves. We can just lay our will right down, and let God show us how to align with His will instead.

I have to be ready to teach my children not how to get better and stronger, but how to get right down on our knees and let God wash us again and again in grace through Jesus. This is freedom. I can live the life I intend to live, and not just pretend to. I can flounder and fail, and let God’s grace pick me up. And I can let my children and the world watch the whole thing. I can do more than teach them the Bible lessons (those are good too!), but I can also let them catch from me the freedom of walking in grace.

Yes, motherhood gets right up in our faces where there is no escaping being seen. And so, I’m forced to ask myself the question “Do I believe that I have the spirit of the Living God in me, or not?”

If I believe it, than I truly have nothing to fear. There is freedom to be seen in my broken and redeemed mess. There is no pretending that because I am a follower of Jesus, I no longer struggle with sin and weakness. In motherhood, and in the hardship of real life, I am led to a place of inviting my children (and others) to walk with me on a broken road of needing Jesus every minute. They see me fail and be forgiven over and over and over.

On the fly, I’m constantly led to face not only my intention, but the reality of my heart.  I’m forced to ask what I want my children to see me doing, and then do it.

In a moment when I could have convinced myself that I do care about the poor, but that there’s nothing I can do right now because I’m in a hurry anyway…my children bring me to the feet of Jesus. I face the truth that my intentions and actions are not lining up.

So, after that sweet cry from the backseat about whether we might do something to help, I try something new with my little disciples. I roll down our windows, we say “hello,” ask her name and say a quick prayer for her. My children join me as we offer this woman the dignity of being seen, and a little snack. A simple thing, but one that challenges the way I’ve lived, and the frequent emptiness of my intention. I can’t for a moment feel proud for the change, as I know I would never have done it without the innocent challenge from little lips. I want it to be real for them. And they make me want it to be real for me. I want to live more than a life of good intention.

Motherhood is teaching me that loving others can’t be tidy. There is a kind of discipleship that lets us reflect the greatness of God, by leaning our weakness into God’s strength. There is a way of loving others that lets us be broken, because we lay down our own greatness and point to God’s greatness instead. And God gets the glory as we let him reflect his great glory on the broken mirror of our lives.

In this life that comes with being covered in spit up, with whining and back-talking, and a million hidden things that make us feel so small… we can just be small, so the bigness of God can be seen through us. I imagine sometimes that this life as mama must be a little bit like trying to live with a TV camera in your face. Someone is always there to catch your weakest, ugliest moments – the moments that basic human dignity tells us should happen in private. But when children bust through the bathroom door, or pull off the nursing cover, or yell at us when we are running on an hour of sleep, the challenge to love and disciple them gets really up close and personal.

But if we let the up close and personal moments push us to laugh at our humanness, and be the empty vessels of God’s love.  If we let the moments when we face our inconsistencies to push us to live out our intention, and to say what we mean and mean what we say, then we spread our wings and soar in new freedom.