Why you don’t need to be afraid to give it all


A short-antlered buck gnaws at the lime green leaves of our freshly planted dogwood, and the fresh anxieties of the day begin gnaw at my heart.

My first sip of hot coffee touches my lips with all it’s promise of a boost of energy for the day, and the first cries of precious voices touch my ears, and my heart opens desperate wide for a touch of grace from my King.

Yesterday was one of those days when I drove my van sputtering into the gas station after my gas light came on way too late to be helpful.  And last night was one of those when my body and soul came sputtering into bed, having run the last few hours on empty, as well.  I should have noticed the needle creeping down on the fuel gauge, and I should have seen the signs of my patience and grace wearing thin.

But sometimes we just don’t know what we need until it’s almost too late.

And I want to think that these are just little insignificant moments, but then life is just a collection of little insignificant moments, and what does it looks like to live them well?  These few short years when my kids are here and listening…what does it look like to give them my best?

Sister, it frustrates me to no end that I sometimes try to function like I was made in the image of my gas tank – when, truly – you and I were made in the image of the Almighty God of the Universe.  Our gas tanks and our hearts are actually nothing alike.  We don’t have to use up all our resources, only to hit empty with sputters and short-fuses and failure and fatigue and desperation.  We don’t need to refill with some magical boost of energy and wisdom that will last us the next week or two.

We are far more like a branch on that sweet little tree in my front yard, with roots that grow further down and sit steadier and drink deeper and stay connected.  Unlike our gas tanks, we can choose to keep our souls attached to the source of grace, trusting that the supply will not run out.


There is a still small voice that beckons and pursues our hearts, and offers a lot more grace than my gas light.  We can listen and align and drink and stretch to new heights, as we give the refreshment of that grace away.  

As a mom, I often feel like I’m giving away what I’ve had for about two seconds.  I wake and decide where my spirit and attitude rest, then my children wake and I set the tone with that thing I just decided.  In ugly moments, I have to stop and breathe, and receive the grace not to react – and in that very moment, I get to give away the grace I’m receiving.  My children ask me what’s wrong as I hang up the phone, and I have an opportunity to speak out loud the truth I am deciding to believe right in that very moment about the news I just heard.  The truths we speak reshape our hearts.

There is a time to draw away and be alone with God, yes… seek and pursue this!  But a mama’s reality is that often when we wish to draw away, we cannot…and so, we are invited to give away not what we received yesterday, last week, or even this morning, but to give away God’s grace, as we are drinking from the fountain that never empties.

Don’t be afraid of running out of steam today, sweet sister.  Go ahead, give your service, your attention, your caring, your patience, your grace.   Not in a way that is resentful, or martyr-like, or neglecting self-care, but in a genuine fearless offering of yourself through those moments when you are needed beyond what is comfortable to give.

As you give your life away, you will find it in your Savior who gave his for you.  

There is an ever-flowing, never-emptying fountain of grace available for you, sweet friend.  As you pour yourself out today, don’t empty out like a gas tank… stay connected to the source of refreshment.  Breathe and drink of God’s grace right there in the midst of your moments, believing that the water only gets sweeter and the color of your life only get’s richer, and the heights of your joy and peace only get higher, and the fruit only gets more plentiful.

What I Never Knew about the Father Heart of God

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To my eyes, nothing but a masterpiece of love

No matter what the day holds, there is something I know to expect as my children climb into bed at night.

There is something about seeing my children rest their heads down on their pillows at the end of the day…  Something about the curves of their faces, and the bend of their eyelashes, the rise and fall of their chests… Something about the way middle daughter pulls a blanket up to her chin… Something about the way my eldest easily pours out all the words for which the day ran out of space… Something about the way my son sighs deep and smiles soft and nestles close, body and soul… There’s something about the way my toddler wiggles in her bed until I tuck her in just so…

No matter what chaos precedes, there is something in this moment, each and every day, that summons a thousand kisses and a tender tuck of the curl behind the ear.  Something inspires me to cup the face and whisper the word of blessing and affection.  Something calls for my fingers to outline the angelic faces and scratch the satiny backs.  Something invites me to forget the offenses of the day, the heaviness of my eyelids, the weariness of my soul…  and to remember only the ferocity of my love, the integrity of my acceptance, the vastness of my gratitude.


And it all spills right out of me.


The impassioned tenderness I would feel for my children is a thing I simply did not grasp before becoming a mother.  I never knew how my heart would enlarge with every miracle of life.


And looking back, I see that before I climbed into the heart of a parent, I had not well-imagined the father heart of God towards his children.


There are dimensions of God’s love for us that cannot be contained in our limited understanding…but, nevertheless, as I feel the kind of love for my children that seems unable to be squeeze into the limits of my heart, the picture I have of God’s love gains new color and contrast, new depth and beauty.


Far more often than I’d like to admit, I see an image of my heart towards God reflected in a toddler who refuses to receive help, or a little one who cannot seem to submit to my authority.  I see how easily I trust my own judgment over God’s, despite knowing better.   I assume God is against me when I don’t get my way.  As I have the parental wisdom that my child should not run in the street, no matter how their little bodies long for the freedom, my God has a higher perspective of the things that will hurt my heart, no matter how I might long and ache and moan.


As I sometimes need to press my little one into her carseat for the buckles she resists, sometimes, the gentle hand of my Father God restrains me, and says “Not yet” or “Not in this way.” And,  I squirm with all of my irritation and assumptions about how He must not be that good.  As parents, we lovingly set boundaries for our children – to keep them safe or guide their hearts.  As my children push and resist and defy, my heart cries out with “Hey, I’m on your team!  I am FOR you!  Trust me!”


In the same way, I feel God’s call for me to trust the depth of his love, the purity of his will.


The first time a child of mine fell asleep in my arms was the last moment I considered feeling guilty or ashamed for falling asleep during a prayer.  As I felt the joy and adoration of my child’s body melting into mine, I saw afresh that God’s heart towards me is exceedingly tender.


The first time I watched my child fail on the journey to learning something new – like the thousand falls on the way to learning to walk – that was the last day I perceived impatience from God towards my weakness.


The first time I saw my child run his heart out and lose, or the first time he proudly offered me a mishmash work of art as a gift specially designed for me… these were the last times I felt from my God that I hadn’t been good enough to please him.  Jesus covered our sin, and God’s heart towards us is pure delight.


I still forget sometimes, but there’s a new truth in me…


As I watch my children stumble into new broken revelation about who God is, and why he made them, I am assured of God’s pleasure as I seek him with my limited understanding, with my confused and often incorrect theology.  In the same way that I love to hear the name of Jesus come out of my daughter’s tiny mouth, even if to say “Jesus is so cute!” or “Jesus is in my sippy cup!,” I see that God simply loves to hear me call on his name.  He delights as I lean my breath of a life and my ephemeral body of dust into his mighty eternal chest.


As I watch my children face life’s brokenness – the kind that is not at all good – I feel God’s heartbreak over the way our sin and the brokenness of the world has brought us pain and suffering that he did not design.  I feel His eagerness to hold me, to bring comfort and healing and redemption, when I face hardship.


Being a mama is changing my view of the father heart of my God.


As I imagine God’s heart towards me now, I imagine the tenderness of His hand as he leads me through life’s broken places.  As I beg my own children to trust me, I am endeared to God’s caring, and my own lack of understanding and perspective.  I know the reality of his higher and broader and deeper understanding.  I feel his unwavering longing for my good.  I sense the weight of the eternal perspective he has on my heart and life.  I feel his wisdom in allowing me life’s trials for the sake of my freedom, for the sake of winning my heart.


My eyes are becoming clearer to see that yes, love is the force that drives me to tell my child not to run in the street, or to allow their little failures for the sake of their growth and refinement…and likewise, love is the force that drives my God.



As I imagine God’s heart for me now, I see him holding out gifts for me to take and open and enjoy, and I hear my childish whines about how I don’t like the color of the wrapping paper.


As I imagine God’s heart for me now, I think of the magic and fun of genetics — how the features of a face, the color of eyes, the shape of cheekbones are passed between generations.  I think of how my husband and I study the faces of our children saying “He has your mouth” or “She has my eyes.” And I feel God studying me, his image bearer, proudly proclaiming: “She looks like me!”


My husband and I go on a date and end up looking at pictures of our kids.  We can’t stop thinking about them when we’re away.  It’s a little embarrassing, but we are fiercely grateful and mildly obsessed with these amazing little people.  How much more does God’s love for us never end, and our name never leave his mind?  As I imagine God’s heart for me now, I think of a father who is beautifully preoccupied with me.


As I imagine God’s heart for me now, I hear his words of blessing infusing me with courage.  When I embark on a new challenge or adventure, I feel him speaking confidence to proceed, and gently warning me not to wander too far.   I can almost hear His voice echoing in my own encouragements and cautions, as I send my sweet ones out on their bikes.  Only His voice is pure love, free from anxiety and fear.  His voice makes me long to rest in his covering.


Though God is the picture of a perfect parent, and I most certainly am not, I find that I can relate to God’s heart in this holy time of parenting young children.


The father heart of God is a beauty to behold.  I invite you to let the tenderness you feel towards your children endear you to the heart of God.  Let your imagination rest on His pure delight in you.  Imagine His eyes exploring the curves of your face, and wondering at the beauty of your soul.  Imagine His warm giggles when you lift your broken works of art to Him.  Imagine his bent knee to lift you from your failures and skinned knees.  Imagine his tears over your heartbreaks, and imagine him gently catching those from your cheek in a bottle.  Imagine his pride when you are his hands and feet on earth.  Just like you pull out a photo of your child to show to a friend, God loves to show the world His glory and goodness in your very face and life.  Soak in his tenderness, and let it change you.  Let it put a bounce in your step, like that of a child who knows he’s loved.


My beautiful friend, today, let your imagination wander to a Father God who is kind of obsessed with you.

Mama, this is how you know God is after your heart… (And a GIFT!)


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This morning I woke swimming in the mystery of life and motherhood…so heavy with burden and responsibility, so light with games of peek-a-boo and spontaneous dancing.  So emptied out of energy and time and space and refreshment, so full of laughter and wonder and silly conversation.  Despite the palpable beauty and the irrefutable blessing, there is a darkness that can cast shadows on a mama’s joy, and that leads us to live a shadow of the blessing intended for us.

There is the feeling of invisibility and having no visible achievement to show for the mothering of the day. There are sleepless nights and impossible pressures.  There are fits and messes, and the hurry of the world clashing with the maddening sloooow of children who don’t see the big deal about putting on shoes. There is the crushing inadequacy, the fear of the dangers and hardships our children could face. There is the tension of being a mom, with enormous influence and utter lack of control over future and faith and safety.

There are the yoga pants and minivans, the feelings of smallness and un-chicness. There is the lack of understanding from the boss or the dinner party host. There is the impossible-to-explain importance of a naptime. There is the intense grind of chores and meals and sports schedules, and endless driving. There is the hopelessness of keeping up, the discouragement of failure, the laying down your life in the most imperceptible ways. There is the absence of instruction or feedback. There are the postpartum hormones and breastfeeding struggles that everyone has but no one likes to admit, and everyone seems to forget by the time their youngest is out of diapers.

Something in me cries out for someone to see, for someone to understand the chaotic mystery I’m trying to live, somehow with intention and purpose.  Maybe like me, you yearn for someone to understand the strangeness of stumbling for coffee and trying to piece together a seemingly sloppy mess of moments into a story leading little souls to the feet of Jesus…shaping the next generation with the same handful of moments that can so easily be shaped by prolonged fatigue, grumpiness, and the inexplicable experience of “mommy brain.” All we’ve learned about life and faith and work seems to short-circuit in days of pure survival with tiny people.

And yet, our lives will be made up of a series of these mostly ordinary moments.  What might it look like to live these moments fully alive?  What might it mean to find God in the mess, instead of waiting for the mountaintop?


The days of a mother are full of things to distract us or keep us from the gift… I have to think that the secret to joy is not in pretending they aren’t there.  I have to believe that a feeling of purpose and fulfillment is not in finding enough affirmation.   I think the joy and peace and purpose we long for are just on the other side of surrender.

The key to unlocking joy and abundance in the midst of this motherhood thing – it lies hidden within our deepest cries and our desperate longings.


I believe God whispers to our hearts in the places that cry out the loudest.


As I open my ears to hear, I begin to notice God’s gentle whisper beckoning me to his heart – into deeper intimacy with Him – through the very things I thought were there to steal my joy.  I invite you to tune in and listen to how God is calling to your heart right in the middle of your mess…

As your human limits slap you right across the face…when two eyes, two ears, two hands are never enough to meet all of the needs… When you crash into bed like a force of nature despite the mound of things you “should” be doing…  When fatigue, lack of control, the inability to “fix it” for your kids overwhelm you… May these things drive you to submit to God’s infinite wisdom and sovereignty.  Through our fleshy and finite humanness, God calls us to know his omnipotent kingship.  God beckons our hearts through our weakness.

As you feel claustrophobic with small people hanging on you or talking ceaselessly, may you feel wooed into the safety and quiet of God’s presence. There was a time it was sheer discipline to remember to seek quiet in my day… it now feels like survival. I think of Jesus with the sick and desperate crowding against him as I feel the constant needs of my children assailing me. I think of newlywed days in a crowd and wishing to be alone with my love. God calls to our hearts through the pressure of our days…may you feel the longing ache to draw away and be alone with Him, the Lover of your soul. God beckons our hearts through the relentless pressure. 

As your sense of identity seems to slip through your fingers…  When everyone talks to your baby as if you are merely a backdrop…  When no one notices that you never got to sit down for the meal… When so much of your life, worries and fears, longings and hopes, service and heartbreak – so much is unseen… may you hear God’s whisper that he sees.  We are drawn into a life of self-sacrifice, before one set of eyes, the eyes of Our Heavenly Father. We are invited into a secret romance with him, and it’s all a dance of worship. God beckons our hearts through invisibility.

For this generation, there is a relentless unspoken law of “good mom.”  When the expectations to do everything right are crushing you, and your constant failure bombarding you…  If you fail to be the mom you want to be, and you are haunted by the thought of sweet little eyes seeing you do it all wrong… may you be washed in the truth that our shepherding is about our imperfection pointing to the perfection of Jesus, our weakness pointing to Christ’s strength.  May you be beckoned by the whisper that says it’s all about grace.   God calls us to security and confidence based not in our performance, but in our identity as His daughter. We are transformed by a keen and constant understanding of our need, and an hourly dependence on our Rescuer Jesus.  God beckons our hearts through our failure.

When you are frustrated by your child’s agonizing slowness and distractibility… may you be beckoned by the invitation to wonder and delight.  When you struggle to get them to focus, may you melt into their intoxicating giggles.  Children are Jesus’ example of the liberation intended for our hearts.  We are invited back to the magic of a butterfly.  We are beckoned by an enthusiastic attitude of “Do it again!” We have a picture of the faith Jesus describes, in which our confidence comes from knowing we’re loved, not by our performance. Accepting grace comes easily, love is assumed.  They move slow, are open to interruptions, are infinitely forgiving.  This posture opens up endless possibilities for encountering the Spirit of God, living in gratitude.  Children delight in every little thing of God’s creation.  God beckons our hearts through our child’s eyes of unhurried wonder.

As parents, we have everything to lose.  Fear of real or imagined danger and loss can be debilitating.  Every time we must let our children go to some new adventure or unknown circumstance, it is as if our hearts are ripped right out and given legs.   We are all Abraham laying Isaac on the alter because we believe God keeps his promises, and have nowhere else to turn (Genesis 22).  We are all Jochabed putting Moses in a basket on the Nile because we have no other choice (Exodus 2).  We could let this feeling trap us and paralyze us from joy-filled living, or we can listen for the whisper that gently says “I set the stars in place (Job 9:9, Psalm 8:3).”  We could tune into the voice that says “I know every hair on their heads (Luke 12: 7).”  We could listen for the One who says “They can never leave my presence, and I am the only one able to hem them in (Psalm 139).”  Though we don’t have a promise for perpetual safety and ease, we have a promise that God is near, and God is good.  God beckons us through our desperation for His covering over our children.

Days and nights full of laundry and dishes and lunch boxes and diapers and driving…they have a mind-numbing repetitiveness.  We could spend them waiting bitterly for a better life to begin, but I’m beginning to see that the mindless tasks can become like repeating a worship refrain. As we build up our muscle memory for folding shirts and loading the dishwasher, we can build a spirit memory of openness and adoration.  We can fold a shirt giving thanks for the one who wears it.  We can pack the lunch or scrub the pot giving thanks for strong arms for our task.  God beckons us with the repetitive refrain of our day, inviting us to sing a song of worship with our hands.  

God is after your heart, Mama. I pray for eyes to see the wild pursuit.








A simple mantra to make your failed attempts a victory and not a defeat


This was one of those mornings when the beauty of the sunrise, the snowflakes decorating the bare branches in our front yard, and the excitement of a first school delay….none of it seemed quite enough to save us from a mess of ugly words and sharp tones and time outs. None of it seemed to save me from waves of that gut-deep ick of not feeling especially tender or affectionate towards my children. None of it saved me from the sinking shame of not being able to make myself like them as they screamed accusations at me about how I must have moved their boots or forgotten to wash the shirt they put back in the wrong drawer, or how I didn’t pour enough milk, or how it was All My Fault.


God must have sent his angels to my aide because my words caught on my tongue, and there was a spark of grace. In the midst of wanting to make sure everyone knew that I actually was not guilty of the things they accused, a greater truth set in that I am guilty of so much more than not keeping up with laundry. There’s this deeper and more beautiful truth that in our guilt, Jesus took on all of the accusation meant for us, and didn’t fight back. He gets it, and he took it all straight to the cross for us.  Jesus calls me his sister and co-heir, so I don’t have to fight back either.

The flash of grace almost kept me from saying anything snippy…but not quite. And the rest of the story is that Christ covers my present failures, too.

And then…the snow boots and gloves are all located and tightened to an acceptable fit, and these little ones swarm me with hugs and charge out the door to spin with arms spread wide, and tongues held out to catch snow flakes. They yell through the door how they love me and sorry for yelling. And it’s all worth it for ten minutes of magic before school. And I breathe and die to my convenience and comfort and dignity, and realize that this ten minutes is better than nothing.


And most likely all they will remember is the magic.


Is it not such grace that children never seem to remember all the other moments in between the magical ones? They don’t remember the snacks and diapers and potty trips and wrestling in between the magic of seeing animals at the zoo. They don’t remember the waiting and whining in between the moments of magic at Disney World. They don’t remember the bedtime arguments in between the magic of snuggling up to a good book. And they don’t remember the trauma of unmatched boots and gloves, and missing clothing items in between the magic of playing in the snow.

Those in-between moments fade away in light of the moments that are really something.  And this one was.

Would I have preferred to have our stuff together to get out 30 minutes earlier to make it feel more enjoyable and less rushed and more worth it? Absolutely. But their ten minutes of bliss was so much better than nothing.


Better Than Nothing.


So much in this life as a mom of tiny people feels like settling for the real-life, less-than version of what I thought the thing was supposed to look like. When I picture obedient happy children prancing through my tightly controlled plan, the real-life, less-than version always involves far more cost to me and far less ease of enjoyment.

But, I’m trying….Sisters, I am just trying to let “Better than nothing” be ok.

I’m trying to embrace freedom to just do what we can, and accept the limits that God knows about, and that I can’t do anything to change. And truly, every time I take the road of celebrating the moments we get instead of mourning the moments we don’t, this flood of grace follows…


I realize now that I’ve had this constant scale running in my head, weighing the cost and the gain of everything in my day. Is it really worth it to try to get up early to have a quiet time, if I know for almost certain that I will be interrupted? Is it really worth it to go through all the hassle of hats and gloves and coats and shoes and potty breaks and snacks and water bottles and ‘oh, I forgot to feed the baby’ for a little park time? Is the aftermath of never-the-same laundry really worth their joy for splashing in the mud puddles? Is a kitchen covered in flour worth their thrill of their “helping” me make cookies? Is it worth it for me to try to keep a commitment to daily-ish exercise when I’m so dang tired, and can’t seem to ever get more than 20 minutes?

Undoubtedly, yes – with heaps of grace when I can’t – it is worth it. It is worth it to lean in the direction of moments of life-giving joy. I heard this quote from G.K. Chesterton on God Centered Mom (one of my favorite podcasts!)…

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”


Funny as it sounds, I am finding it to be so true. Many of the things in our days that are worth doing, we will never be able to do perfectly, or even well. But our efforts towards life-giving joy are worth it for our sake and for the sake of our children.


So lately, “Better than nothing” has become a bit of a mantra for me.

I finish a 15-minute workout in our basement gym with the sound of baby cries through a monitor, and I say to myself “Well…that was better than nothing.”

I give the floor a quick once-over before running out the door for carpool, and I think “Better than nothing!”

Their daddy and I lead 47 seconds of an intentional conversation with our children at the breakfast table…Better than nothing!

A friend and I each squeeze in a few broken sentences at a park play date, and part ways with a hug and a look that says “Just being together in our mess… it’s so much better than nothing.”

My husband and I grab a quick chat in front of the fireplace between the last child getting to bed and our faces flopping into pillows…As far as a date is concerned, it’s better than nothing.


Some days “Better than nothing” seems to be my anthem. And you know what? On all accounts, it actually is Better. Than. Nothing. A ten-minute workout or an attempt to connect with my husband, or a moment to listen for the voice of God in the quiet of the morning…

these are a victory, not a defeat.


I believe God blesses and multiples these choices we make…not just our success to do them well every time.  I believe God sees the inclination of our heart, and the direction we are leaning, not just how effective we are at changing course.


There was a time, not so long ago, when I wasted sweet moments beating myself up over each and every one of these things. I wondered why I couldn’t get my children to sit still to finish a devotional. Or why I couldn’t get up early enough to have a good workout or quiet time. I was burdened by the steady decline of the cleanliness of my house. I would beat myself for not being a better friend, or wife, or church member. But I’m beginning to realize that the decreasing size of my offering due to the increasing amount of capacity taken by life’s necessities…it actually does not decrease the worth.


My Better Than Nothing is the two copper coins from the poor widow, worth far more than what I brought from my excess of time and energy when I was younger.


My Better Than Nothing is the five loaves and two fish from a little boy with faith to give it away and see what Jesus would do to feed the 5,000.


Without our measly offering, we don’t get to see the miracle.


So, sisters, when we’re tired, and it all seems like too much of a hassle, let’s bring our Better than Nothing to the feet of Jesus and watch him do the miracle of joy, the miracle of peace, the miracle of moments of magic multiplying in the lives of our children.


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How to love the Messy and Crazy that crushed your Christmas dreams


This one comes with the sounds of tearing paper and children’s delighted squeals still ringing in my ears. This one comes with sweet flavors of Christmas treats still lingering on my tongue. This one comes with bits of paper and ribbon still on the floor.

This one comes with a heart full of family and laughter and the joy of giving and receiving. This one comes with Christmas carols still hummed under my breath. And children in new clothes. And new treasured toys resting in their new spaces in our home. This one comes with heart still pumping the magic of Christmas through my veins.

This one comes with Christmas lights still twinkling in the corner of my eye, and sparks of anxiety and too-much-ness of the season still trying to make a mess of me. We made it through Christmas day. We made sweet memories and everyone had something to open, and our bodies and home survived the chaos.

But the photos that tell a story of how we lived the idyllic front of a Christmas card – they don’t tell the whole story…

Because Christmas in real life means your Advent devotional comes with potty breaks and baby’s cries.

Christmas in real life means your two-year-old thinks that baby Jesus is just “really cute” and that must be why we can’t stop talking about him.

Christmas in real life means that you spend the morning preparing for the perfect Christmas-y outing only to realize that you drove away from the house with that perfectly packed bag sitting on the counter.

Christmas in real life means that any attempts to simplify or buy less leave us feeling like the salmon swimming upstream, getting bloodied with all the “What is Santa bringing YOU?” and “What’s on your Christmas list?” and “What do you WANT for Christmas?”

And Christmas in real life means wrestling with wanting all the magic for your children but wondering when Christmas became all about ME and all the stuff I want?  Wondering how to teach them to be grateful…to be givers.

Christmas in real life means that all the magic comes alongside head and heart swirling with friends grieving lost ones and a divided nation and Syrian mamas just like me, desperate to cover their precious ones under their wings.

Christmas in real life means that the good news of Christ’s coming hasn’t quite reached the spaces in your soul where there is pain and loss, loneliness, heartbreak, or broken dreams.

This one comes with a heaviness that even the magic of Christmas is hard to embrace as the world spins another day with all it’s heaviness and weariness.  And I sometimes find myself envying the innocence of my children, and the purity of their joy and delight.

This one comes with waves of sinking condemnation wondering if my children missed the point – if we did it all wrong. If we gave too many gifts, or the wrong ones. If we did enough to help the poor. If we spent too much money. If we did too much Santa. If they saw too much of my stress and not enough of my presence through the season of Advent. If they would have been happier just to have me, and not so much of the cookies and the crafts and the gifts and the decorations and the perfect photos.

Christmas in real life means you sometimes question the things you’re teaching your children, about how Jesus came to bring peace and freedom, light and love, grace and truth. And most of the gift of teaching them is in allowing them to teach it back to you.

And the lie of the camera and trying to live out the idyllic, tidied-up front of the Christmas card is not so much that it is too good, it’s that it’s not good enough. That picturesque scene doesn’t reach down to the broken parts of my soul – truthfully, it either makes me feel like a failure or makes me feel like a fraud. The perfect Christmas doesn’t capture the story of our real God who cares about our real lives and came down into the mess to shine light into our darkness and speak life into our dead places.

Jesus didn’t come to speak into the picturesque Christmas. The truth of the nativity is that it was dirty and smelly and uncomfortable. And I think the truth of God’s Christmas story is that that’s the point. He gets it. He sees us. He’s not fooled by our perfect Instagram post. He knows that our hearts need more answers than how many “likes” we get. He knows that being loved for our tidied up best doesn’t heal our wounds of rejection, and questions of our worth.

We need to be known in our mess and loved in our mess to know love at all.

And our God knows that our deepest desire is not for a perfect Christmas tree, but for a perfect Savior…who died messy on a tree so that we could live.  He knows that our heart’s cry is not for a perfect family photo, but for a perfect love that covers over all of our ugliness.

Jesus didn’t come to be born in a stable so that the nativity scene would make the perfect Christmas card, he came small and messy to be the answer to our real, messy, smelly and sometimes tragic lives.

On my real life Christmas morning, there were moments of pure joy and delight. And moments when someone peed on the floor.

On my real life Christmas morning, children squealed and ran to give hugs of gratitude upon opening a gift. And children fought and cried over liking each other’s gifts better than their own.

On my real life Christmas morning, we all got dressed in our best red and green. And the baby spit up all over my first two outfits.

On my real life Christmas morning, the big kids enjoyed a lip-smacking batch of French toast while the toddler got ahold of a pack of gum, from which she ate several pieces with the wrapper on, choked, and threw up all over my purse and a pile of clean laundry. You won’t see that one on a Christmas card…

I could so easily let the messy moments disappoint me or take away from what Christmas is “supposed to be.”  Or I can let the messy moments shift my focus to see that Christmas was never supposed to just be pretty.

Don’t get me wrong…I love the beauty of white lights lining a home, or the gold and red ornaments on a tree.  I love the elegance of a poinsettia, and the way a Christmas carol warms my soul.  These are sweet gifts of beauty that symbolize the true and deep beauty of the season.  But the truth is our lives don’t tidy up for a perfect Christmas Day.  We still get stomach aches, and we grieve lost loved ones, and we change diapers, and kids throw tantrums.  And the real beauty of Christmas is that is the world that Jesus chose to enter into with us.

The sweetness of the messy moments is that God spoke straight to them by leaving his throne to sleep in a manger surrounded by smelly animals.

The magic of Christmas is not that it’s pretty, but that it lets us be ugly. It’s not that it’s tidy, but that it lets us be messy. The magic is that God took on flesh and chose to live our real life alongside of us to become our perfect rescuer, who knows and understands our weakness and our struggle and our mess.  This is the true magic of Christmas.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)  

Freedom to be invisible when you’re screaming to be seen

Friend, you know those deep down places of your soul where the light doesn’t dare shine? Do you ever find yourself screaming from those places just for someone to see you? I know I do. I drive myself crazy with it.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one, but I have this feeling that you’ve felt it too.

I find these odd boasts or complaints coming out of my mouth. Boasts about things that didn’t make me proud. Or complaints about things that didn’t actually feel difficult. I make excuses or justifications for things I chose not to prioritize. I become shameful about decisions I made on purpose and with confidence. These things come out of my mouth, and leave a strange taste behind. I find myself wondering what I’m trying to prove, and to whom.
I have shamefully murmured to my husband that I actually swept 12 times today, even though the floor is covered with crumbs.

I have found myself inadvertently landing in the middle of a one-upping match with a mom friend, over who got less sleep or who has the more “spirited” child. I actually feel greatly blessed and deeply privileged to be chosen to shepherd my little flock. And in truth, I do not feel sorry for myself in the least. So I find myself wondering why I would make it sound like I do.

I’ve been known to compare horrors of labor and birth that I actually count as the most miraculous and magical experiences of my life.

I have complained about being up all night with a sick child when, in the moment, I actually treasured the opportunity to hold her.

When I’m out with a couple children, I find myself wanting to tell everyone that I actually have five, just so they know how hard I’m working.

I see a hunger in the dark, ugly places in me for everyone to see and praise me for all the things I do or all the things I am sorting out in my head.

I have asked a guest to please excuse the full hampers. I do laundry every day, it’s just that the baby has been spitting up a lot, and we’ve both been wearing three or four outfits a day.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never met someone who cared about my full hampers, and yet I keep explaining them away.

I have blamed things on my children, saying that I cleaned the basement, but they wrecked it again and we had to run out the door to do carpool before we had a chance to clean it up.


I have heard myself say that I just got behind. But don’t be fooled, my friend. The truth is that I live in those “behind” places.


And the really strange thing is that I don’t think I ever needed you to think I had the perfect house, or that I was the perfect housekeeper. Something else in me – something deeper – cries out with these excuses and justifications.

There are layers and layers of things that mamas do, think, juggle, pray that leave a part of us invisible to the world.

Deep down in the hidden places, there is the web of thoughts that organize and balance and coordinate all of the schedules and needs, all the appetites and nutrition, all the connecting and reconciling, all the papers and treasures, all the preferences and feelings, all the tending to ailments of body and soul, all the education, the driving, the coaching, the shepherding, the guiding. This is the part of us we grow to hold so dear, the part of us that is most refined by the flames, and holds us closest to the heart of God. This is the part that could scream our worth out loud to the world. But the world around can’t see it, or understand it.
And so we try to explain our worth in simpler terms – with things like cleanliness and good behavior and punctuality and beautiful family portraits and school or sport success.

But every time we let the excuses and justifications grab at something visible to show for being a mama, we cheapen this most precious part of it all…the most precious invisible part. Every time we try to scream how much we do, we miss the joy of doing the invisible thing before a God who delights in invisible work.

This part where we know the heart of motherhood rests, is the most invisible, most quiet, most meek, and most exquisitely beautiful.

The world doesn’t have eyes, or even language, for this job. Often the world around us is blind to the unique thing that we Do, Think, Are as mothers…the care and attention, stability and guidance, perception and intuition about each one’s needs.

I’ve begged with my excuses and justifications for someone to know what it’s like to have my mind, body, soul. Sometimes I want to explain that I swept while I held a child on my hip, and consoled another about a playground tussle, and quizzed another on spelling words, and kept an eye on the dinner on the stove, and kept my phone close by in case the doctor called back. I want to explain that I may not have much to show for the work of today, but being mama all day made me tired and also made me feel so very alive.

At the end of the day, you can’t see how I stopped folding the laundry to read a book to a child bidding for my attention. Or how I walked the siblings down the road to forgiveness and peace instead of sending them to their rooms. You can’t see how I patiently persuaded the baby with a cold to keep trying for milk. Or how I remade the lunch that had a cup full of water and fiery boundary-testing will poured all over it. You can’t see that I got up and did the work of holding them accountable for their actions (almost) every one of the 200 times someone made a wrong choice. You can’t see the soul bruises I sustained today as I let them throw the punches of their big feelings that had nowhere else to go.

But that’s the good stuff of parenting. We talk all about the diapers and the laundry and the Cheerios that end up everywhere. But you can’t quantify the work of being mom any more than you can catch the wind.

That deep down part of me that carries the weight of the world on behalf of my children – with joy and on purpose – it sometimes screams to be seen. At times, I have tried to quantify and be appreciated for it, but it only causes me to feel less known and understood.

And it feels so silly that I’ve tried to explain the work of the day because, the truth is, I didn’t question for an instant that the invisible things were worth it.  Connection after a day of bickering felt like victory on the battlefield. Hearing the prayers of my children for a hurting friend at school felt like changing the world.

The good stuff. I know it matters.

That sweet invisible part of being a mother can truly only be seen by God Himself. And perhaps allowing it to be so would give us the opportunity to experience communion with an invisible God who knows how it feels.

Being a mama is not having a clean floor or a well-organized schedule. Being a mother is not making gourmet meals or serving on the PTA. Being a mom is not keeping up with all the activities and all the sports, or all the play dates, or all the birthday parties. Yes, we do many of these things, but we know it doesn’t sum it up.

Being a mama is providing the invisible nest from which our children can fly.

Being a mama is lifting up the invisible prayers to an invisible God who does invisible things in their hearts, and sends invisible angels to protect them from invisible dangers.

Being a mama is being the invisible rock on which your children stand, and slowly moving out of the way so that they can stand on the Invisible Rock of Christ alone.

Being a mama is getting out of the way for God to move before the eyes of our children. It’s getting out of the way for our children to grow. Or getting out of the way for our children to fall, and being ready to scoop them up when they do. (And being a mama is making sure our “I told you so’s” remain invisible, too.)  

Being a mama is providing the invisible safety that allows for a sense of belonging, and a confidence in becoming.

There is enough to do in my home and family – and yours – to keep at least two or three people busy all day. And whether you are spending your days at home, or trying to squeeze all of the mom things in around another full-time job, or something in between…the truth is we will never be done with All. The. Things, so we will always have choices to make.

I know we have to figure out a way to do the laundry and the dishes and the cooking and the driving and the soccer practice and the homework.  But when it’s time to choose the truly invisible things, choose them with the confidence that you are seen by God. Cast off the shame that says it’s not worth doing if the world can’t see or applaud it. All the hidden things that happen in your mind and heart because God made you mama – hold onto those like a precious jewel that only you and the Almighty can enjoy.   And the light of God’s love that sees and knows you in all the invisible places– it shines the brightest through that most hidden jewel , onto your family, and out to the world.

Mama, you’re a hero. Chosen. Equipped. Fully known. And deeply loved.


When you want to put the election to rest but need to help your children do it better


Our home has begun to bustle with that familiar surge of energy and excitement that comes each year as the holidays (and a couple of birthdays) approach. Days before Thanksgiving, and my children are eager for our home to be full of friends and family. For their bellies to be full of those once-a-year kind of treats. For their hearts to be full of the joy and anticipation of the season. For their noses to be full of those smells that seem to make the whole of life make sense.

But for me, the air has another unfamiliar scent this year. No matter how I’ve tried, I struggle to take hold of the holiday cheer with usual ease. I know the holidays are already layered for many of you – with grief and loss, longing or heartache. But this thing in the air right now…it stings the nose and disorients the heart.

There’s a thing I haven’t wanted to write about, but nothing else will come. It’s sticking to me like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. I’m tired of all the words, but I can’t seem to move forward without adding mine to the story. Maybe you can relate. It’s like the song I can’t get out of my head. Except I’m not sure I want to. There is something happening here that needs our attention. And as I walk into a season marked with giving thanks and preparing our hearts to receive anew the gift of God With Us, I need to link arms with you on something.

Our children feel it too. They have seen and heard all kinds of things these last weeks and months. And just like when they fall down and look at my face before deciding if they are going to cry, they are looking now to see if it’s all ok.

This thing that won’t lift off my heart or get out of my head – I have to think it’s worth my intention to choose what story I’m going to tell on my face, in my spirit, and in where I choose to shine a light for them.


The titles we give to folks are a funny thing. The lofty ones come with a sense of power and greatness, honor and respect. These titles we stick to the front of a name can seem to grow the very size of a person.

I imagine that you, like me, have thought a bit these last two weeks about one such title. You may have taken moments to consider it’s grandeur, and all that rests under it’s authority. Perhaps you’ve allowed yourself to ruminate on the monumental task to direct the future of our country. To mark, or in some cases, dramatically alter the course of history. Maybe you have pondered the enormity of being granted that title by the people, for the people of this nation. Perhaps you’ve wondered how anyone could ever be truly worthy of it.

The President of the United States.

It strikes the ears with a unique magnitude. With authority to appoint leaders and declare war. With a voice to which we have looked to comfort us in the wake of crisis. With opportunity to inspire hope, and encourage endurance amidst uncertainty or catastrophe. With influence to build or destroy our nation’s reputation across the globe. With ability to give us a sense of identity and belonging, to make us proud, or to make us afraid.

In our home, we have worked to learn the names and faces of the past 44 Presidents. We have taught our children that this is a position of greatest honor –a powerful mark in history – worth giving our attention and teachable ear. And that God has a hand – that He ultimately chooses and appoints leaders, and that His plans cannot be thwarted. And friends, I believe this is still true.


The title of Mama is only lofty in our own hearts. We know the weight of it only because it sits down heavy on us when we climb into bed at night. But we mamas can’t turn a blind eye to the world our children walk into. We have to shine a light on ahead so we can be their guide as they encounter it.

In the wake of a harsh campaign full of ugly words and surrounded by a fog of fear, I am saddened. I am saddened that words like “campaign” and “election” feel ugly in themselves, though they might once have been full of promise, hope, and freedom. No matter where your politics rest this November, I hope we can unite in a sense that something is broken. I am saddened by the anger, the confusion, the division, the void left where dignity and pride and respect and heroism once stood.

This last two weeks, I’m considering the title I bear, and the little ones who look to me and their daddy to make sense of it all. Bearing the title of Mama may not gain us a place in the history books, but the history of our own family is being written before our eyes, and under our care.

And my spirit tells me that this is a moment in history through which I want to take great care in leading my children.

This truth gives me peace: “President” is a vast and heavy and awe-striking word to add before a name, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “Almighty God of the Universe,” who set the stars in place. He is the one who knit together the very body and soul of each President and each who cast their vote to elect him (or her, as the case may someday be).

In light of this, I’m looking to Him with the Greater Title to be the voice that comforts. To Him to be the one who shapes history. To Him to give hope and a sense of identity and belonging.

And in this light, I look for how to guide my children through this moment in history.

I want to prepare and equip my children (and myself) to bring a message of love and grace in an environment of hatred and judgment and deep division.

I want to have an answer for their confusion about what they are hearing, and what they have heard about those to whom they might have looked for leadership and example.

I want to have an answer for the deep divisions that seem to leave no space for loving and productive conversation around what I think – I hope – we can all agree is broken.

As I scan the aftermath of November 8th, and I look to friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, I see a heavy and dynamic and complicated landscape. I wrestle with wanting to understand and categorize and rationalize what has happened among us, and who plays what role. But when I look in the faces of my children, there is only one thing I want them to see…not parties or movements, races or religions, groups or categories…but individual human hearts. I want them to simply see human hearts the way God sees them, made by Him and in His own image.

I want to teach my children to do it better – to get rid of bitterness and rage, anger and brawling, slander and malice (Ephesians 4), and to use their words to build up, rather than tear down. I want to demonstrate kindness and compassion – not just towards those who agree, but towards all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or voting record.

I want to teach my children that our opinions and feelings ought not divide us, but provide an opportunity to extend compassion and kindness towards one another.

As I look at human hearts, I see hearts that are lonely with their pain, and see no space for it. I see hearts that are grieved and heartbroken. I see hearts that are relieved and hopeful. I see hearts that are offended. I see hearts that feel silenced for fear of offending. I see hearts that are deeply afraid. I see hearts that have been afraid for a long time. I see hearts that long for healing and wholeness in this country and the world, and believe differently how it comes. I see hearts that want to be seen, and didn’t realize who was hurt on their path. I see hearts that have been wounded and have turned on their neighbors because they want someone to blame. I see hearts that feel rejected and cast off. I see hearts that feel misunderstood in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons.

There is a deep pain in some hearts, that we cannot neglect simply because we didn’t mean to hurt each other.  It can’t be neglected by those who experienced tragedy and defeat that Tuesday night, or by those who experienced victory and relief.  We need to name the broken thing for the sake of equipping our children to do it better.

Regardless of which candidate you believe was the better choice or the lesser of evils this November, the language of this campaign left some hearts feeling that there is no longer a place for them here in the United States. I’m grieved that we have refused to see each other.  The election is over, and the voice of democracy has spoken, but friends, we have some cleanup to do.  I want to invite our children to be part of the healing.

We need to have an answer for our children about how to love our neighbor who is different from us.

We need to have an answer for our children about the treasure and worth and profound beauty of a woman – that her body is not for the taking, and that her worth lies far deeper than her skin.

We can continue to disagree on all kinds of things, but let’s agree on the value of every human heart and life. Let’s agree that the lessons our children are learning in kindergarten, about not leaving someone out, taking turns speaking, and not using hurtful words…that these still apply when you’re a grown up.

Let’s be willing to see human hearts that are hurting for all kinds of reasons, with all kinds of stories, and voting records, and agree that those hearts are worth our attention and our listening ear. I want to have an answer for our children about loving all of God’s people, despite our differences, or our disagreements.

This title of Mama holds great blessing and tremendous responsibility…and almost no control. But I’m making an intentional choice for my tiny corner of the world. I’m choosing not to be another voice of what’s wrong with the world, and another finger pointed at who caused it all. I’d like to take this title of Mama that I’ve been given and use it to be a voice of hope… a voice of love for all people… a voice for the voiceless… a voice lifting up the only name and title that truly comes with power and authority – Almighty God.

I can’t control much, but I can control which direction I point the light I’m shining ahead for my children. And if I want to raise children who will rise above all of the noise, I need to point that light up into the heart of heaven. I can choose to point a light towards opportunities for unity and connection, rather than places of division. I can choose to point a light towards kindness and compassion, rather than bitterness and judgment. I can choose to point a light towards love rather than hate. I can choose to point a light towards gratitude rather than the bitterness and hopelessness that sometimes steal my heart away.

As we shine a light on the days and years ahead of November 8th, I want to link arms as champions of love. Let’s agree that we can’t march forward with the banner of love if only one side is held up. We need each other.

This Thanksgiving week, I’m choosing to give thanks that today I have a fuller picture of what is broken, than what I could see two weeks ago. I’m giving thanks for a window into the pain that must grieve the heart of God, because I want to be moved by what moves Him. I’m giving thanks for an opportunity to teach my children that the job of fighting for justice and caring for the marginalized really is our job, as followers of Christ. I’m giving thanks that we have the only hero we will ever need in Jesus, who was friend to the hated, the rejected, the outcast, the brokenhearted. I’m giving thanks that my God and Father is on the throne. And I’m giving thanks for you, whether you celebrated or grieved or a complicated mix of both on that Tuesday night, that we can link arms and teach this next generation to do it better.

I want you – specifically you – to hold your corner of this banner of love with me, and march onward.


Note:  Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, I am turning off comments for this post.  If you would like to contact me directly, I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to send me a message through my “Contact” page.

The real deal on abundant life


John 10: 10b

…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

…I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (NASB)

…I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (MSG)

Full. Abundant.  More and better than we could dream of.  I have read or heard this verse probably a thousand times, in all of it’s versions, about how Jesus came to give us full and abundant life.  Beautiful.  But rarely have I stopped to consider what this kind of fullness and abundance looks and feels like in the reality of my days.  In any version, with any number of interpretations, this verse draws our spirits to the kind of life that we long for – a life that is more and better and fuller than the one we would otherwise know.  Our souls long for the kind of fullness and meaning and satisfaction offered in knowing Jesus as the hero of the story…that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. So, why does life sometimes continue to feel empty and meaningless? Or just busy? Why do we get to the end of the day and wonder what it all was for?  Or lay our tired bodies down and wonder why we’re here?

I’ve been pondering these things in days that seem to be bursting with fullness of every kind. My days right now, with a newborn and four other children under 8 years old, are full in every imaginable way.  FULL of joy.  Full of tears.  Full of noise.  Full of laughter.  Full of boo-boos.  Full of kisses.  Full of love.  Full of hurt.  Full of mistakes.  Full of apologies…Just so full. Life is literally bursting at the seems. I am abundantly blessed. I know that this kind of fullness can’t really be what Jesus means when he says he came to give us full life, but I have a sense that there is something to learn from this place. I think what I am beginning to see is that, although grace though Christ Jesus is absolutely and completely free, the abundant living we are offered comes at a great cost to us. If we cling to our own abundance (of to-do’s, of worry, of fear, of busyness, of control), we miss the abundance that God offers us, and life begins to feel like too much in all the wrong ways.  For me, there are many moments when the fullness of my day does not feel like a gift, when the weight of it feels unbearable, when I don’t have enough hands to help, or eyes to keep watch, or ears to hear stories and questions, or food – never enough food…and I know there must be more to it.  There must be a way that I choose to either step forward into the abundant blessing offered to me through Jesus, or to just sit under an abundant pile of “too much.”  Whether you have a houseful of children, or one child whose needs and future weighs heavy on your heart, or a desk full of work, or an abundance of grief and loss or difficult diagnoses, or you just read the news this morning, the weight of the world can be crushing…abundantly so. So how can we step into a different kind of abundance? An abundance that frees our souls and makes our spirits soar? A fullness that makes us feel untouchable, because our spirits are secure and our feet are firmly planted in love and blessing? An abundance that makes us unable to keep our lips from singing God’s praise because it is just bubbling out of us?

I see that I can receive this kind of abundance only when I make a difficult trade. It costs me everything. I have to trade in the too-muchness of my life that I desperately feel cannot go on without me. I have to let it go…into the hands of God. I must make a choice to relinquish my control and admit that I am not and never will be enough. And only when I bring my brokenness and never-enough to the Lord can I receive the abundance that lets me live through too-full days with a sense of enough! I have to trade in an abundance of worry, submit to the sovereignty of God, and receive an abundance of peace that surpasses my understanding (Philippians 4: 6-7). I have to trade in an abundance of insecurity and self-doubt and let God wash me in an abundance of promises and sweet truths about how he knit me together in my mother’s womb and knew each of my days before I lived even one of them (Psalm 139). I have to trade in the tension and stress that builds with an abundance of fast-pace and noise and needs, and allow God to bring a slowness and rest to my spirit in the midst of it.  Rather than placing my hope in another cup of coffee, I have to lay down my broken, tired body, and allow God to use my emptiness as a vessel for the God who IS love, and the God who never sleeps to pour out his love and grace and energy. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my coffee. But there is a striving of the soul that exhausts beyond sleep deprivation. And there is a freedom of the soul that comes when we allow ourselves to live from inside of the weak and limited fleshy vessels God gave us.

All of this trading requires a difficult trust. It costs me everything that feels like it makes my life work. But I think I’m seeing that the truly abundant life that is offered to us in Christ, is found on the other side of letting go.

Life feels abundant in all new ways lately.  I feel beyond myself in almost every minute of my day, and as I am emptied out, God’s abundance is all I can live on…I need his filling every minute.  And to live in that place of constant dependence on Him is sweet blessing. The abundance that Jesus offers us cannot be “icing on the cake.” We can’t add it on top of our self-sufficiency.  In order to receive the fullness of the grace and peace and joy and love that He offers us, we have to first be empty.

So, today, as the noise builds and the pace quickens, I am abundantly empty of my own ability…and abundantly full of His. Praise be to God.