Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62: 6
Many Monday mornings over the last nine years, I opened my weary eyes and glanced at the clock, only to feel as though I was already behind in every way. Not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough exercise, not enough quiet space before the Throne of Grace.
Many Monday mornings, I looked down at these feet and wondered how they would take each of the steps required of them.
Many Monday mornings, my first inclination was to billow with strategy, to rank my To Do’s in order of priority, and to hustle. As I scurried around, I tried to breathe strength into my own heart and bones, simply by flexing my measly muscles beneath the weight of it all.
And I usually ran out of steam and patience about 8 minutes later. Cheeks flushed, eyes of furry, an unruly snippiness in my tone, and a gut-deep unease that I’m not cut out for this job…all by 7:38am.
Oh mamas, how do we steady our hearts and minds so that we’re not getting buckled up in the minivan already heavy with defeat, when the sun has only been up for two hours? Don’t we all ache to be steady, unflappable, not so easily thrown?
I felt the stick of dried milk on my elbow, and I had bite marks on my shoulder from my curious and teething toddler’s last embrace.
The words being thrown around my kitchen table bit down even deeper than those new little teeth.
My ears were stinging with it – not just with the noise, though it had gotten quite loud, but with the dissonance of sharp arguments and overly enthusiastic tattling and defiant disrespect. My disgust with it all was apparent on my furrowed brow, and it only made my little ones agog to load me up to the brim and see what spilled out.
It was one of our last days of summer, right before starting back to school last week — I was eager to love it. Anxious to soak it up. Desperate for slow. Staunchly committed to havingfun together.
But my children have this innocently prodigious way of stripping me right down to the bare bones of myself, where I can only hope some grace and Jesus spills out of my weakness, instead of the repugnance I feel on my skin.
Perhaps you can relate, friend?
Someone was mad at me and wouldn’t tell me why. Another one didn’t like any of the ideas, and didn’t want to go anywhere. Another had packed the bags and lined the shoes and was waiting at the door for some grand adventure. Oh, and everyone was hungry, of course, though breakfast had yet to be cleared. And an overwhelmed and very upset child screamed at me one too many times about how I just don’t get it and I don’t even care, and finally all I could muster in response was a handful of tears.
These are the broken moments of which I am sometimes so very afraid. It’s funny how I don’t want to show them my weakness – I hold it back like some secret Kryptonite, as if my children are the enemy, and to reveal it would surely be the death of me.
But there’s this beauty in the broken place. I didn’t mean to go there, and I won’t hurry back, but when we break, there’s a beautiful thing that can happen…
When we break through to the raw place, instead of covering it up with anger or bitterness, we see the true longings of our heart. When we break, there is a thing ready to be healed. When we break, walls come down and we bust open to mercy. When we break, we become soft. And though a soft heart is more easily wounded, it is also more ready to love and receive love, forgive and receive forgiveness, delight and be delighted in.
And knowing our need allows us the receive the healing touch of Christ, who said ”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…”
This broken moment last week gave my children the opportunity to see that their words affect me and were fracturing our relationship — it invited them to look around and see who else was affected. They wanted to stop and reevaluate how the words they were using with their most important people. We had a chance to recognize that we need help to love one another better, and it left them looking for the Source of Love.
I stooped low. We huddled up. We prayed for a fresh start. We gave and received grace. God met us. And it was sweet.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34: 18). None of us want heartbreak, disappointment, overwhelm. None of us go looking for something to crush our spirit. And yet, time and again these are the places where God meets me.
This crushing moment led us to the throne of grace.
I’m not saying that you should cry in front of your children, as a method of showing them their need for Jesus. No. We have a responsibility to remain steady and consistent, and mostly predictable, to provide peace and stability for our children.
And yet, in our weakness, Christ is strong. So let’s also not be afraid of being in over our heads. Let’s not be afraid to admit to the Lord and to each other, mamas, when our day has nearly flattened us.
Let’s lean our pain, our struggle, our weariness into the chest of God, that He might wrap us in a healing embrace. And when we fail… let’s trust God with the hearts of our children, too. I was afraid that my accidental tears may have burdened them, but as we gave God our broken morning, He exchanged it for joy.
We don’t have to feign strength when we know the Source. We are free to draw close and honest to the heart of God, with our children… to pray gently for them when they are struggling to use kind words, to shepherd them when they have failed to disobey, to apologize to them when we’ve been wrong, and we can usher in to watch God’s healing work.
When our heart fails within us, may we gather up the presence of God as our portion, our strength. (Psalm 73: 26)
When we are weary, may we climb into the lap of our Father God, trusting that he can give strength to our hearts, and renewal to our bodies. (Isaiah 40: 29, Matthew 11: 28)
When we are hopeless, and fear that nothing we are doing will amount to anything, may we place our hope in the Lord. May we soar on wings like eagles, tireless and full of life. (Isaiah 40: 31)
When we long to just be better, stronger, more whole…may we hear God say to our hearts “My grace is sufficient.” May we boast in our weakness, that Christ’s power may be great in us. (2 Corinthians 12: 9)
Sometimes I put too much weight on keeping it “together” with my kids. Steadiness, consistency is a big deal in parenting. I’m a believer in it, and I fight for it daily. But it’s not THE thing. I’m tempted to become robotic when I’m trying to muster up patience, and avoid yelling.
But today, I’m proclaiming out loud that the thing I want most is to be on my knees before Christ himself. I’d rather be soft than cold. I’d rather be accessible then impenetrable. I’d rather exhibit heartbreak than calculated control.
Openness requires faith because it leaves us vulnerable. It requires faith that God’s grace is enough when we let our hearts be hurt.
But openness can lead us to genuine need and true dependence on the Lord. It can leads us to authentic heart connection with our God and with our children. We have an opportunity to draw close. We have an opportunity to pray. And our children have an opportunity to feel our veracious and loving investment in their hearts and our relationship with them.
Today, I’m choosing to be unafraid of my weakness. Today, I’m choosing to trust that God’s mercy can cover my failure, my disappointment, my inadequacy.
I’m choosing to believe that I can let my walls of fear and self-protection come down, and take up the shield of faith, as the only defense I need. (Ephesians 6: 16)
Psalm 73: 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Habbakuk 3: 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
2 Corinthians 12: 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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 everythingright 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 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.
…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.