Thursday, October 22, 2015

Leading By Love

Have you always wanted to raise leaders?  So have I.  The problem, for me, has been my perception of what a leader looks like.  In many ways, and for many reasons I've had to unlearn, I have presumed a leader looked a certain way.  You know:  liked by many, recognized regularly, desires to be in leadership positions to further influence for good, etc.  All those are fine and good.  But those are not the only character traits a leader may possess.

My older daughter came to me recently, as I was preparing dinner, with a heavy heart.  She told me, with obvious distress, that a certain peer was being picked on quite a bit.  This particular girl has special needs and I know her from previous years.  When my daughter was in kindergarten with this girl, she didn't grasp her struggles.  Sure, we would talk about it.  But Ella didn't always understand that this girl didn't intend to hurt or be cruel with her actions.  Now, Ella is three years older and she gets it.  More than that, she is bothered greatly by peers who don't show her compassion.  

She was relaying to me examples of how some of her peers treat this girl in the lunchroom, which is the main time Ella is with her.  She was upset as she told me story after story.  Lunch is a time when the classroom teachers are on their lunch too, so other staff or parents help out.  I'm sure it's slightly chaotic and loud and I doubt they are humanly able to be aware of every situation.  So I don't hold anyone responsible.  But I listened and then I just gently reminded Ella that she can only control her response and actions and that she should remember to show love.  

She responded, "I do Mom!  I stick up for her.  When she asks if she can sit by me, I say 'Sure! I was saving this seat for you!' " Tears in my eyes!  I couldn't have felt more proud!  I love that this girl must view Ella as a safe person.  She then told me about one or two others that are kind to this girl.  In that moment, I realized we are raising a leader!  She may not be the most popular or fashionable.  But she has the heart of a leader.  Jesus was that way.  He talked to the prostitute.  He ate with the tax collector.  He was a friend of the sinner.  He wasn't particularly liked or accepted by the rulers.  He hung out with smelly and foul-mouthed fishermen.  He led by loving first...without reservation.  

Ella's name is a derivative of "Eleanor" and means mercy.  I have laid awake at night crying frustrated tears over struggles with this daughter of mine.  At times I've told God we misnamed her.  In essence, I was saying "God, you messed up and got it wrong!" We've always prayed and chosen our children's names based on what we believed God had already chosen for them.  We've felt strongly in the meanings of our children's names.  Mercy:  love and compassion.  I know that's who God made her to be.  But it hasn't always seemed that way, trudging through the trenches of parenting a young--and very strong--child.  But yes, she is full of love and compassion...full of mercy.  She's a leader.

Now this hasn't and probably won't get her recognized.  And that's okay.  I am making peace with my previous presumptions and expectations of what a leader looks like.  There are many types of leaders out there.  I see characteristics of leaders in all of my children, though I truly doubt a single one will ever be the Class President or head of the soccer team.  I don't say that with discouragement; they're just not those kinds of leaders.  But we are raising leaders. 

Tessa is a best friend to whoever she meets.  Her favorite barsita in the world--the one she has to run and hug and talk to--is not someone the world would consider lovely.  I don't say that with cruelness.  It'a simply an observation of what the world around us declares as attractive or acceptable.  Yet Tessa loves this gal as if she was the most beautiful person she's ever known.  And I see how it makes this gal's day.  My Tessa is a leader, leading by love.

Last Thanksgiving, while in downtown Cincinnati with family, my Luke asked if we had money to give a shabby looking fellow holding a can.  I didn't know his story but it didn't matter.  Luke, and a few of his cousins, desired to bless him.  He wanted to lead by love.  

Jaden has had some tough situations on a sports team this year.  He has felt excluded, criticized, and discouraged.  But never once has he retaliated with cruelty.  He has been picked on unfairly, but he still looks for the good in another.  There was an incident last spring in which I intervened, because he was being mistreated and no one stepped in to defend him.  Later, when we talked about this kid who was picking in him, Jaden said "I don't want to say he's mean, because he's not mean.  He just gets carried away." Now, mama bear, at the time, thought the kid was a mean jerk!  I know, not cool, but true story.  Jaden looked for a more loving explanation.  He led by love.  

My children teach me daily.  And what they've taught me, or reminded me of lately, is that leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.  Sure, some are true extroverts loved by all!  Some are awkward and picked on unfairly.  But I would rather be raising children who grow into adults who lead by love rather than any other way one can lead.  What else matters?  True love is selfless.  It doesn't wonder what's in it for me?  And here's the kicker:  I honestly don't think Ron and I can take much credit for any of it.  We often wonder what the heck we've done wrong when they disappoint us.  But truly, this leading by love's only by God's grace!  I don't always lead by love.  I don't want to detail right now how I sometimes lead.  So if my children are leading by love, if your children are leading by love (in the many, many ways that can look), then I say to God be the glory!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rest Easy, Good Mama

I rolled down my car window and waited.  I had to tell her.  I had to catch her eye and say it before I pulled out of that parking space.  You're doing a great job!  You're clearly a good mama!  I had watched that mama in the grocery aisles, wearing her baby girl and pushing a stroller with two energetic boys, all the while loading fruit snacks and milk and dog food in another cart she pushed.  If ever hands were full, hers were!  She spoke gently and lovingly, yet firmly.  She told those wiggly boys she needed their help in the checkout lane.  I had parked right by her, me with only my youngest one in tow.  I watched her help little ones into car seats and load a trunk full of groceries.  I saw myself and a thousand other mamas, as I watched her.  So I just had to tell her.  And her response, with nervous laughter, Thank you.  I don't feel like it.

I pulled away and tears filled my eyes.  Because that was my response too.  That is my response.  I meant what I said to her.  But you know what?  She meant what she said too.  And I know that because I live it.  Thank you, but I don't feel like it.  I can't tell you how many times I've longed to hear it:  an affirmation that, despite my failings, I'm a good mama doing a good job.  I hope that someone other than me encouraged that sweet mama on that morning.  But I'm the same way, when faced with encouragement or affirmation:  my vulnerability shows up.  I can't help but confess:  Thank you, but I don't feel like it.  

I wanted to drive back and say it again.  And again.  And again.  Until she protested no longer and just received those words.  I wanted to receive those words myself.  Because this kingdom work of raising the next generation is full and continuous and selfless.  Because it is a good job.  More than that.  It's a calling and we are leaning into it, with all of our faults and failures and messes.  God sees.  It matters, what we do!  From the endless grocery trips to the endless loads of laundry.  From the cuddles and boo-boo kisses to the hours of sound it out and try it again.  From the meals prepared and lunch boxes filled to the Mama's sorry, I shouldn't have reacted that way....God sees!  

He sees our hearts, even when we blow it.  He knows our hearts during those moments when all we see is our mistakes.  And our feelings about how we're doing?  We can't trust them anyway.  I truly believe he wants us to know that we are good mamas, doing a good job.

So please hear and believe this, dear mama.  You may falter and stumble and even fall.  But as long as you fall into the arms of your Heavenly Father, He will carry you through the tough stuff.  And when your hands are so full you can barely see more than the next step, just take that step and trust that God is with you and He will lead you.  He will make up for all you lack.  Just as you clean their messes, He can clean up yours.  And when you need to hear it, take a moment to remind a fellow mama.  You are a good mama, doing a good (meaningful, eternal, life-changing) job!  

Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee today
Also linking with Holley Gerth

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Safety Nets

Several of my children have begged for a trampoline for such a long time.  Well, this summer we finally caved and bought one; we got a great deal!  But the one stipulation for me was that it absolutely had to have a safety net.  I know trampolines aren't the safest place for my children, but the safety net makes me feel just a bit better.  And if I'm honest, that's exactly how I feel in my life as well:  safety nets make me feel better.


Can you relate?  Life isn't safe.  It's never going to be.  In fact, a safe life is not something God ever promised us.  Yet we want that safety more than almost anything else, don't we?  We want to know that at the end of the day, everything is going to be okay.  That we won't fall and get hurt.  That our children and loved ones won't experience great pain.  But we know better. And still, we put such effort into constructing safety nets around our lives.  

This week at my women's group, we discussed the idea of complete surrender to God.  We expressed a common fear of letting go and surrendering complete control.  We honestly shared--as wives, mamas, and friends--that completely surrendering control of our lives was scary.  It didn't come naturally to a single one of us.  And yet the irony is that we were all aware we were not ultimately in control.

So what do we do?  We put up those safety nets.  We make a perfect plan (or so we think) and we aim to stick to it.  We know what's best for us, right?!  We make rules too:  don't lean on or put pressure on the net.  We don't want it to tear or be compromised in any way.  How funny is that?!  We know the net is not completely reliable.  We know it's imperfect.  I wonder why we put so much trust in what we know we can't fully trust when there's a perfect one we can trust?  There's one whose ways are perfect even when they are not our ways...even when we cannot understand them.

I am guilty of living this way.  I am not always quick to trust that God has a better plan than I do.  Especially when I do not understand or comprehend the why of what He is doing!  So often, in His gentleness, God has reminded me that He has a perfect purpose and plan and that it may be revealed to me in time.  He has gently reminded me to trust Him.  At other times, He has actually allowed me to fall right through that safety net and onto my face.  And while it may be incredibly painful...and my self-esteem may be bruised, He has allowed me to see that there is no safety net I can construct that can protect me.  He alone is my safety and shield.  

I haven't arrived at this conclusion perfectly, fully, or completely.  I know it.  But I don't always remember it.  And sometimes in the midst of my day-to-day, God finds me busy constructing another safety net.  For me, it usually gets constructed in an area where I don't have a clear path or the answers I think I need or deserve.  When I feel that perhaps God has forgotten about a particular area, I go to work.  I make a plan.  But my plans are far from perfect and a fault is revealed in time.  Playing it safe is rarely the path that God has chosen for me.  If it was, I wouldn't need to trust Him.  I don't want to live as if I don't trust the only one who is trustworthy.  

I want to feel free to live and jump knowing that the only one who's a safe shield for me is calling me to trust Him without fear and without hesitation.  He calls me to have faith in what I cannot see.

I don't want to trust in what my finite mind can comprehend.  I want to trust in the one who knows the end from the beginning.*  As for my children?  Well, they will still jump on the trampoline with a safety net intact.  (And yes, I know there is still risk involved).  But I hope to help them understand that God is our only safe shield.  His word and his hope are where we can securely put our trust.*

*Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 119:114

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From an Introverted Mama's Soul

My kids are having lazy summer days.  You know the kind:  swinging and maneuvering monkey bars for hours, licking messy Popsicles on the porch, jumping in the pond all afternoon, camping out in each other's bedrooms late at night.  This summer we said no to extra activities in our schedule more than we said yes.  Sure, we've enjoyed church camp, sat through many baseball games, seen fireworks displays, and had friends come play.  But we've had more quiet days than loud ones.

Has this been healthy for my family?  I hope so.  I think so.  I'd gander a guess that it has been, because it's been healthy for their mama.  This mama needs a slower pace!

As cliché as it sounds:  the older I get, the wiser I become.  Well, maybe not the kind of wisdom that rules a nation--or even a successful business...or five children, come to think of it--but wisdom about who I am and what I need.  I started off my summer by reading an insightful book called Nourished, and what I gained was a deeper recognition of my need for slower moments in my life as well as times to further foster deep and meaningful relationships.  These areas are crucial for my most nourished self.  And we all know, if mama ain't happy, nobody is happy!

I could guilt myself an awful lot if I succumbed to comparison.  I am not the mama who has well-rounded and educational field trips planned for every other summer day.  On days when we can't swim in our pond, I don't always have a backup plan.  I have determined that my attempt at reading and relaxing in my hammock for a short time while my kids play is often better than my attempt to organize an activity for them.  I am a happier, more nourished person when I make time to nourish the needs of my soul.  I am a better, more peaceful mama when my tank is full.  I am learning this, albeit slowly.  Thankfully, I have a husband and a few good friends that remind me of this regularly.

Admittedly, I have to daily remind myself that this need to nourish myself is not selfish.  Quite the opposite!  I could easily begrudge my precious children for being just that, if I didn't learn to first take care of myself.  I love being a mama; I cherish these five little lives God has blessed me with.  They deserve a mama who is fully nourished rather than drained.  Certainly, it is no surprise to God that I am an introverted mama who needs times of refreshing and recharging to be the best I can be for my family.  So if slow is where it's at for you too, then go with slow.

I guarantee that your kids' fondest memories will be about the peaceful and happy times, rather than a Pinterest-perfect summer, filled to the brim with daily play-dates and field trips.  If, however, you're a mama who needs more stimulation, then go for it!  Learn about yourself and what you need to do to recharge.  Everyone in your life will benefit from that commitment to nourish your soul.  Be okay with who you are and how you best operate.  And when you finally take those monkeys to the zoo, you will all enjoy the day!

I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Beautiful Life

I inhaled the strong, rich scent of my morning coffee.  I don't often come close to finishing a cup without zapping it two, three, fifteen times!  But the sound of coffee percolating was music to my ears.  Another familiar sound was music to my ears:  my two girls upstairs playing together...nicely!  Okay, so maybe the nicely part wasn't as familiar as I'd like it to be.  My toddler's sweet sounds were also music to my ears.  He was exploring new territory every day as he learned to walk faster and faster and hey, maybe he could run after all!? Nope.  But he sure squealed with pride and delight as he tried, and tumbled once again, onto his cushy tush.  With the windows and doors open, there was a heavenly breeze.  The roosters were echoing each other's cock-a-doodle-do.  The birds were whistling their blissful morning's songs.  In the distance was the steady rumbling of the tractor's motor as my 11-year-old began his morning chore.  Life was good!

At this point, you may be waiting to read what went wrong.  Even as I recount this delightful morning, I'm remembering how many times I've spent my life waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It's sad.  I remember that morning well because it was only days ago.  But mostly I remember that morning well because, as I walked through my kitchen taking in those smells, sights, and sounds, I felt content and grateful.  I basked in that feeling for a while and I gave thanks.  I thanked God for the wonderful gifts He had given me.  So what ended up going wrong that morning?  Nothing.  And most likely everything.  

Nothing tremendous happened to rain on my parade.  The other shoe didn't drop.  There weren't any traumatic events or catastrophes in my little world.  

On the other hand, there was more disaster and sadness in the world around me than I felt I could handle.  At times, overwhelmed is too small a word for how I feel about raising children in these times.  Eventually, the sweet giggles and words my girls exchanged as they played turned to bickering and silence...and perhaps some stomping as one sister decided she was done with the game.  My sweet toddler turned testy tired toddler, as he had been missing one too many naps trying to keep up with his older siblings during the summer days.  And when the tractor needed more gas?  I ended up with more gasoline on my flip flopped foot than in the tank for the first attempt at filling the incredibly antiquated gas tank at the station.  Even after a shower, I could still smell the lingering scent of gasoline on my skin.  Yuck!  The upstairs sink wouldn't drain...again.  As the day grew, there was more bickering, fussing, and whining.  There were more spills and cold cups of coffee...endlessly reheated (a mama's gotta try!).  The day was far from perfect.  Isn't every day?

But I remembered those first perfect moments of my morning.  I have those perfect moments so often.  There are countless moments during my day when I stop and think I love this life you gave me God, when I think I have so much to be thankful for.  Is every day of my life perfect, blissful, and carefree?  Heck no!  You could spend a day with me and see how easily we fall apart, mess up, and let each other down.  I think that is the story with most of us.  That's real.  That's family.  That's life.  So we have a choice each day.  I am learning that I have a choice many moments throughout my day.  Will I focus on the frustrating pitfalls of the day?  Or will I focus on and give thanks for all of the little moments that are beautifully perfect?  Or at least perfect in my little world.  And your perfect will never look the same as my perfect.  My perfect will never--should never--look the same as yours!  And yet our imperfect wonderful lives are filled with opportunities and moments to give thanks.  

This is the life I wanted.  As Ann Voskamp wrote, Every day that you do the hard things that you don't want to do --you're building the family you always wanted to have.

That's the secret!  It's all of the little wonderful moments that make up a beautiful life.  It has taken me many starts and there have been endless distractions while putting together these few words.  I have had to answer way too many questions.  I have had to comfort a fussy babe and instruct a child on proper phone call etiquette.  There are crumbs under the table, pieces of grass on the floor, and too much cleaning that needs to be done before our out-of-town guests arrive in two days.  I haven't had a shower and my tummy is rumbling with hunger.  However, there is also beautiful perfection in this day.  The sky is blue and I hear the birds and chickens.  Perfect.  My soft babe nestled on my lap while I fed him a banana and his sisters giggled at his too-big bites, repeatedly kissing his cheeks.  Perfect.  My older boys have been outside, morning chores completed, playing a rousing game of Nerf gun wars.  Perfect.  Well, maybe none of it is truly perfect but it is imperfectly me.  It is my beautiful life. 

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Jennifer Dukes Lee today

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wanted: Weakness

If weakness is a prerequisite for God's all sufficient grace and power, then I've got this in the bag!  You know the verse I'm referring to, don't you?  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9.  I know this verse; I believe this truth; I've written and prayed along these lines.  But yesterday I just laughed out loud as I rehearsed it back to God.  I expressed that if weakness was the requirement for the power and grace of God to show up, then I should see more of His power than any mama I know!

I admit that I may have expressed this flippantly.  Shortly after, however, I said it with vulnerability from an honest heart.  I feel that way so often!  I want to do this mama-thing ten times better.  I fail so miserably at times.  I struggle to feel adequate or enough.  My kids deserve better has been a common theme played in my head.  I lose my patience when my 5-year-old cries in the shower (she's not fond of washing her hair in a bath right now either).  I attempt a perfectly peaceful bedtime tuck-in but fall prey to lecturing about the tidiness (or utter lack thereof) of my daughters' bedroom.  I download devotionals and realize two months later that I never read them with my children.  Plain and simple, there are many moments during my week--or days--when I feel so helplessly weak.  I cannot alone change who or how I am as a mama.  

Oh I do know the mama that I want to be!  I know her so well.  She is full of grace, forgiveness, love and creativity...and most of all she always speaks with soft gentility.  (She does not have that too-loud and sometimes harsh tone to her voice).  She hears from God about how to raise her children and she executes it flawlessly.  So much so that everyone who knows her (or follows her on Facebook) thanks her for her wisdom and grace.  Okay, truth be told, that last part made me chuckle out loud.  If you know a mama like that, be forewarned that she is most likely sharing only the good.  None of us are that good all the time!  I've had to remind myself not to compare myself with her.  Comparison is a thief of joy and is never fruitful for me or my children 

But here's the truth:  even if I could attain this perfect mama status, I would need a hefty dose...and then some!...of God's grace.  Because I've found out that I am weak.  I cannot do any of this in my own power.  I don't want to!  I truly do not want to attempt any parenting without the love and help of God.  I have made an absolute mess of things, as a mama, plenty of times by disobeying his word or not following his example.  But I know that I can come back to his truth and example, and try again.  He has given me grace a thousand times over.  So while it's possible that I may always dream of a better version of me, I hope that my kids remember God's grace and love when they think of their childhood and when they think of their mama.  This would mean that his grace was certainly sufficient in my life and in our home.  

My favorite beatitude has always been Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:3  When I think of poor, I think of helpless.  No, I have not done an inductive Greek study of this particular passage.  But it has encouraged me more times than I can recount.  I have been reminded that when I am helpless, only God can get me through.  I want that dependence on him, no matter how uncomfortable it always is.  He has given me and my husband five little lives to shepherd...and they daily bring me to my knees, dependent on his strength.  I don't always love the feeling, quite honestly, but I would not want to have it any other way than finding myself helpless and in need of God's power and grace to get me through.

In a book I'm slowly reading, I read a few sentences that brought tears to my eyes as I identified with the author.  To preface the quote, she was having a moment complaining to God about her feelings of inadequacy and lack of beauty or charm.  I pictured how I so often feel as a mama.  This is what God impressed upon her heart: 
If I'd made you physically beautiful, you'd be admired.  If I'd made you with showy talent, you'd be held in awe.  If I'd birthed you to a wealthy family, you'd be envied.  If I'd given you exceptional intellect, you'd be relegated to ivory towers.  [If I'd made you a Pinterest-perfect, soft-spoken, patient and solely wise mama, you'd never depend on me to mother.]  Instead, [Stephanie], I made you a bit lumpy, gave you an unexceptional face, commonplace capabilities, unremarkable talents, [average mama-abilities].  You see, for the good works I prepared in advance for you to do, I needed an average, ordinary woman to [parent with grace and] identify with a great many others just like you.*
I took some liberty with the quote, but it spoke to my heart.  God encouraged me to remember that he never intended me to do this mama-thing alone.  It was never his plan for me to have perfect reactions, words, and insights all the time.  When would I need him if that is how I mothered?  Maybe you feel desperately in need of his power and grace in your parenting.  Or maybe in another area.  I think we all do in some area of our life at any given moment...if we're honest with ourselves.  His all-sufficient grace is there.  He gives us exactly how much we need every time we ask.  

*quote from Carole Mayhall, When God Whispers:  Glimpses of an Extraordinary God By an Ordinary Woman

I'm Having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Desperation, An Opportunity In Disguise

God, if I could have just one prayer answered concerning my mothering, it would be this:  please, please help me...change me...enable me to see and love my children through your eyes...please!  I'm desperately asking this of you.  I cannot love them on my own.
I uttered this prayer not long ago as I pondered attitudes and behaviors that I have encountered in my children that have perplexed me and left me feeling desperate.  Desperation.  Not the greatest starting point of a prayer of faith.  Or is it?  I can think of several biblical stories wherein the main character saw a prayer answered dramatically and speedily.  More times than not that character had finally come to a point of desperation.  

As I prayed and wept, I had one child in mind specifically.  To say I struggled with this one was putting it mildly.  Do I even like her?  I wonder if I should have ever become a mama?  I wish I had never become a mama.  I am so discouraged.  Why does everything turn into a battle?  I have no clue how to deal with her any longer.  There you have it:  the ugly, and yes...incredibly shameful place I was emotionally.  Those were statements I had thought or had spoken aloud to myself.  I felt unbelievably desperate.  Now, while I understand that a more seasoned mama may be thinking If you think you have it bad now, you haven't even approached the teen years...I am where I am and where I am is where I am.  Maybe mama, you can relate to how I felt, or maybe not.  Nonetheless, I think we all have experienced desperation before.  And I have decided it's a good launching pad for God to take over.

I had no idea that the same day I uttered this simple prayer to God, He would answer it in an unexpected way.  He answered it by giving me an opportunity.  And not even with the same child.

The school bus roared away as my oldest son meandered down the driveway.  After dropping his blue backpack on the bench he slowly unwrapped his granola bar.  I could tell something wasn't right.  He kept turning a paper over in his hands and reluctantly handed it to me, embarrassment shone in his deep brown eyes.  Somehow I got 10 demerits and I didn't even do anything!  I initially thought, What now?  The truth took a little longer to unravel.  He was partially guilty and partially innocent.  Regardless, some serious life lessons were going to result.  The most unfortunate of these was losing the privilege to attend the final fifth grade field I wished I could accompany him on because it sounded profoundly interesting!  I felt disappointed for him.  Honestly, I'm not certain that the punishment fit the crime in this case, but a consequence is a consequence and I am not going to bat for him on every issue.  He would have to suffer the consequence and learn from it.  

We talked, and I knew his dad would talk with him later.  He knew his wrong.  I peered out the kitchen window, watching him bounce the basketball in the driveway, and I hurt for him.  Oh, how I wished I could have been with him to remind him of good choices...and self-control...and consequences.  But he is on his own during the school day, facing tests of character regularly.  I couldn't change that.  Nor could I take away the sting of the consequence he would face.  But I could do something.  I could love him the way God loves me when I mess up royally--which can be a daily an hourly occurrence in my life!  Admittedly, I didn't ponder all of this until after my later interaction with him.

Before dinner, he came into the kitchen to collect the basket for our chickens' eggs, and he quietly whispered I'm sorry mom.  What are you sorry for?, I asked him.  I'm sorry that I got in trouble and for what I did.  That he would apologize to me--not one directly offended or wronged--showed me that he was remorseful and had already learned an incredible lesson.  I wrapped him in a bear hug.  I told him that I loved him no matter what!  He asked me if I would love him still even if he got 100 demerits.  I answered, without any hesitation, Yes.  I would love you even if you got 100 demerits.  I don't want you to.  I want you to make good choices so that your life is happy and fulfilled, because rules are in place for your good in the long run.  But I will always love you no matter what.

As he walked a little lighter to the chicken coop, I realized that God had unexpectedly answered my earlier prayer.  Does God ever move in my life as I expect him to?  He gave me a surprising opportunity to show love and grace to my child, as he continually showers me with love and grace.  I make poor choices.  I use my tongue as a sword.  I lash out when I feel frustrated.  I blame others when I need to admit my wrong.  I disappoint myself and God more times than I care to admit.  And each time I do, He reminds me that I am loved and there is grace.  There is grace to try again.  There is grace to start anew.  There is grace to seek forgiveness.  There is grace to wipe away the stains of my mistakes.  He doesn't lecture or berate me.  He loves me and he embraces me with tender mercy and grace.  I was able to do that for my son, without any hesitation.  I was able to see him and love him through the eyes of God.  

My own mama's eyes are often critical and fault-finding.  God is changing me.  He is transforming the way that I love my children.  I wish it came more naturally to me, to love them as God loves me.  But admittedly, I struggle.  There are circumstances and behaviors that I want to control, and when I can't I experience frustration and disappointment.  I am a perfectly imperfect mama.  Thankfully, God gives his grace to me in this journey too.  That evening, after the interaction with my son, I felt more at peace with the child I had in mind when I prayed my prayer of desperation.  I loved her more patiently.  I answered her more gently.  I squeezed her longer and took more time to tuck her in.  Surely I am learning that a place of desperation is nothing more than an opportunity in disguise.  

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Jennifer Dukes Lee today

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Endless Love

I drove down the road, sobbing salty tears of frustration and discouragement.  Once again, I felt like such a failure.  Letting out an exhausted sigh as I parked my car at the craft store, I doused my eyes with saline to mask my miserable mama's cry.  I felt lousy and weary, but I was no stranger to those feelings. 

(continue reading my story at The Ruth Experience, where I am honored to guest post today)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fog Days, Nerf Wars, and Messy Beds

I'm not going to deny that I was happy to reset my alarm and roll over for some extra sleep, when my husband informed me at 5:28 this morning that the kids had a fog delay.  Yes, you heard me right:  fog delay. It happens out here.  We live in the country and it's perfectly flat for miles.  When there is fog, it just sits for hours.  Buses can't move along more than 20 mph.  The two-hour delay turned to three and then turned to a "fog day".  This happens!  After my rowdy kids woke up the baby and I realized I really wasn't getting any extra winks, my happiness wore off just a tad.  

You know, I was supposed to have a few quiet moments, in between loads of laundry and during my baby's nap, to read.  And I know I was supposed to write completely mostly uninterrupted...with only one baby to occupy during that time, rather than baby plus four happy-to-be-home kids.  My plans changed!  

One of the first things I encountered when I went to my room after breakfast (well, after my kids ate breakfast), was a messed-up bed.  

I make my bed almost immediately after I roll out of it, so I don't love seeing it a mess an hour later.  But you know what, today I didn't care. In fact, it made me smile!  I snapped the picture to remind myself later--on days when I just might forget.  It made me smile because I heard what went on to cause my rumpled bedspread.

My boys had played a fierce game of Nerf-gun wars just before I came upstairs.  They squealed, laughed, screamed, jumped, ran (apparently onto my bed...or under the covers), and generally had a fantastic time of it!  As I re-made my bed, I considered whether my reaction should have been to teach them to respect other's property and belongings, and make them fix my bed.  But by this time, they were on to the next bout of energetic fun.  And I realized:  sure, I could lecture them or make them fix the mess they made, but I would rather re-make my bed ten times a day if it meant they were having a blast and enjoying each other's company.  Because in many families, that is rare.  And I don't want to squelch it.  Besides, if I shut my bedroom door, their war-zone square footage is greatly decreased.  And well, that's just not as much fun!

What took place next, after I allowed them to play, rather than harping at them for messing up mama's bed?  They went outside together.  They fed worms to our chickens (sorry if that picture isn't appetizing to you!); they played a competitive game of knock-out basketball; then they played catch for a half hour.  And now?  It is clearly time for another Nerf-gun war!  

I love that they are playing together!  Seriously, I think had I fussed about my bed and communicated "appropriate ground rules", they would have felt defeated and frustrated...and given up the idea of playing altogether.  We mamas can unintentionally inhibit our children from great play and enjoyment.  Oh that we would lighten up sometimes!  Yes, I am that crazy, possibly irresponsible mom who has allowed her kids to jump on beds and off of bunks beds.  I let them play outside when it is drizzling and chilly.  And I don't faithfully correct potty-talk.  I think life (the youthful, playful, innocent child's life) is too daggone short!  I want to them be allowed to goof off, be rowdy, and get messy...although admittedly, I don't love it when my 5-year-old runs out to play in a soggy yard wearing her brand new shoes.

Honestly, any time I catch my kids playing together happily, without my direction or coaxing, my mama's heart is so delighted.  I don't know if anything in this world brings me more joy.

Sometimes plans change.  Sometimes my quiet day full of baby snuggles, a couple cups of coffee, laundry, reading, and semi-uninterrupted writing turns into ruckus, messes, and mayhem...and more coffee is required to survive it at all!  But it is a gift.  One day, my bed will remain neatly made all day...but I sure will miss the squeals and the laughter of these fog days.  Today, my greatest delight is that my plans changed.  Outside, it is still completely foggy.  And inside, those boys of mine are once again at war--Nerf war, that is.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Door

Participating once again in Five Minute Friday, where the idea is to set a timer for five minutes and write about the given prompt.  Just five minutes.  I'm not very good at this--at all--but am forcing myself to do it.  Tonight's writing prompt is: door.

The thing about doors is that you enter and you leave through them.  I'm all about entering through a great door.  God has given me, in my life, some pretty fantastic doors to walk enter into something, somewhere, exciting and great. But sometimes....sometimes he asks me to walk out a door.

Sometimes he asks me to walk out the same door that he told me to walk in.  It can be confusing.  It can be strange and even lonely.  And truthfully sometimes I don't want to heed his call to leave and walk out that door.  We just want answers.  We want to understand.  We don't want to wander or feel lonely.  But at times, walking out of that door can feel lonely.  We may feel as if we are wandering.

I have come to realize the amazing truth that I am never ever alone.  When God asks me to leave--to walk out of a door--he walks with me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stop, Still, and Listen

My little one kept leaning forward, looking over the bench.  After many attempts to hold him back while I laced up my tennis shoes, I heard myself.  Stop Blake!  Sit still.  Listen to me.  Do you want to fall?  I'm trying to keep you from getting hurt!  Now, before you think I'm completely ridiculous for speaking to a one-year-old, who's just learning words, as if he'd understand me, let me assure you:  I already know!  I heard myself and laughed almost immediately.  But, then I heard the words again, inside my own heart.  Stop!  Sit still.  Listen to me.  Do you want to fall?  Because...I'm trying to keep you from getting hurt.  

I heard those words in my own heart, as if God had said them.  Then I realized that he has said those words to me, many times over.  Stop.  Sit still.  Be still.  Listen to me.  I love you and what I want for you is for your good.  I don't want you to lean past me or go ahead of me.  I am trying to keep you from being hurt.  But how often do I listen?  How often do I trust that he wants the best for me?  How often do I believe that he really cares whether I fall or not?  Ouch!  The not-so-pretty reality is that I find myself, at times, in a place where I need to go back to the basics of trust.  Pure trust.

For me (and for most of us), trusting in my Heavenly Father is linked to a slew of other life issues, experiences, and relationships...and how I have perceived them.  I wish it was easier.  I wish I could trust inherently.  But, that's not the case.  I read a statement earlier that confronted me, once more, with the struggle that I face again and again:  Until we settle what we believe is true about God's character, we will always question his motives.*  

In this, I am like a little child, learning to trust and fully believe that my parents want to keep me from hurt and harm...that they want the best for me.  They aren't simply trying to rain on my parade.  My one-year-old is learning the word no, but he doesn't like it.  There are adventures in cabinets and under furniture and leaning over benches that he would like to have.  But he has to learn to trust that I see the bigger picture.  I see what can happen if he leans too far over the bench.  He has to learn to listen to my voice.

The hilarious irony for me is that I don't want full-rein of my life; I find great comfort in knowing there is a God who is ultimately the author of it all. Yet, at times I fail to believe that he wants the best for me.  Sadder still, at times I doubt his love for me.  When I have moved ahead of him--when I have chosen to take the reins rather than wait to hear his prompting--it has invariably left me hurt and wanting a do-over.  When will I learn?!

Answer:  when I sit still and listen to him.  When I slow down the chaos of my life to just sit.  And breathe.  And be.  Because if I can still myself and my thoughts long enough, I will hear gentle reminders of his love.  If I will just be still.  If I will just listen.  

There is a God who loves me and you.  He loves me even more than I love my babies.  He is capable of far more perfect love than I can give.  He longs to protect us, and give us good gifts, and see us made whole from worlds of mistrust and abuse.  But, until we settle what we believe is true about him, we won't fully trust him.  People have and will let us down--that's inevitable--but God is incapable of being anything other than loving towards us.  If we can put our trust in anyone, we should learn to put our trust in him!  

Lord, my trust and my faith are so small.  I want to trust you but then I doubt and waiver.  I can be so fickle.  Thank you for being patient and gentle with me.  No matter who has loved me well or who has completely let me down, help me to learn to trust you despite the hurtful memories or painful past experiences.  Your word promises that you have good plans for me:  plans to prosper me and not harm me, plans to give me hope and a future.*  When life gets too loud, help me learn to be still so that I can hear your voice.  When I doubt your love for me, please give me gentle reminders.  Thank you.

*quote from Grace for the Imperfect Mom 
*Jeremiah 29:11

Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Holley Gerth today.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Hide

This week the Five Minute Friday theme is: hide.  The idea is to set a timer for five minutes and write, no editing or over thinking.  This is a big challenge for me. I tend to over think most things.  But I'm doing it anyway.

I had a good friend recently tell me that she felt refreshed about a new opportunity... Just thinking that she could go somewhere and not have to wear a mask.  That she didn't have to go to a masquerade party...this time. I understood. 

I have been in places in my life where it seemed so many were hiding behind a mask. Some masks were even those of humility or sincerity. And not that those qualities weren't there at all. It's just that there was so much more. So, so much more. And why did they...why did we....always have to hide?

I am making strides to throw off masks. I don't want to hide anymore. I don't want to be associated with those who hide. I simply want to be known. And I only need to be truly known by one. Only one matters. The one who named me!  Let me never hide from him!

Once again attempting Five Minute Friday: Hide

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

She rattled off her list of six; she scribbled them on paper and placed them front and center on the fridge, with a tacky magnet holding it in place.  Her list of six.  Six friends she would invite.  Six friends to whom she would send invitations.  Six friends she hoped would come.  

I learn so much more from my children than they learn from me.  I am confident of this.  They teach me love, grace, joy, and forgiveness each day.  This one in particular.  This tough child of mine.  This one I wrestle with more than any other.  This one I cry over.  This one for whom I seek God's wisdom and direction in how best to love, guide, discipline, and simply enjoy.  How do I best extend love and grace to her?  She is the one I wrestle with.  How ironic!  She is the one I named mercy and grace.  She is the one who teaches me mercy and grace, through big and small struggles, every day.

Six friends she would invite.  And one of the six?  She was the one my daughter cried over for two years.  She was the one we had conversation after conversation, about how to love.  She was the one I reminded my daughter to love and pray for....despite.  She was the one who unleashed unkind words and told my daughter that oh no! she wasn't invited to play with them!  And now, the one who unknowingly caused such pain...she was invited.  By my daughter, full of fiery emotions and an iron-strong will.  By my daughter, full of mercy and grace.  My Ella Grace had completely forgiven.  Had possibly forgotten.  And had unhesitatingly chosen and invited.

I learn so much more about God's love from my children than I could ever hope to teach them.  And this one whom I've lost countless hours of sleep over?  She has taught me the most.  

It seems much like my struggles.  Like my broken and ugly places.  The parts I don't want to look at.  The parts I don't want anyone else to see.  The ones that have kept me up at night.  The ones that have brought unrelenting tears.  The ones I have no idea how to fix or change or manage.  Those are the struggles that have taught me the most.  Those are the struggles that have landed me on my face, begging for God's divine assistance.  Those are the struggles God has used to reveal his nature and his love toward me.

My daughter forgave, forgot, and invited.  I know another who did that.  And not because I deserved it either.  Yet, I am free to come to him at any time, because he forgave, forgot, and invited me.  My God loved me so much that despite all the mess and mistakes he knew I would make in my life, He offered the greatest gift.  And no matter what gift her friend may bring to the party, my daughter has already given the greater gift.  She forgave, she forgot, and she invited.  

I'm not qualified to teach much of anything through what I write or what I say.  I am the student.  I am constantly messing up this parenting thing--I'm not gonna lie--but God's gift to me, in my children, is astounding.  I am reminded of his promise:  and a little child shall lead them.*

Isaiah 11:6
I'm having Coffee For Your Heart today with my friend Holley Gerth

I'm also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Tomorrow

Full of hope, full of possibility, tomorrow is.  Tomorrow always feels and looks better than the end of today.  I suppose at the end of my today's, I generally feel some sense of regret.  I regret something I said.  I regret that thing, that most important thing, that I failed to say.  And often, I regret that thing I should have done...but didn't do.

I dream of tomorrow often.  Tomorrow I am a better wife, a better friend, a better mama, a better sister, a better neighbor.

I also think of the astoundingly refreshing truth, which is that Jesus is in my today just as much as he is in my tomorrow. So even though I have regrets, he has only good thoughts toward me tomorrow.  Just like he had only good thoughts toward me today.  And maybe tomorrow, I can give myself a little more grace.

Participating in a Five Minute Friday writing prompt. The subject is: Tomorrow

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Don't Delay Hope

Have you ever come to the point when you realize that you've allowed yourself to become cynical?  Or worse, jaded, in an area of your life?  Maybe it's with your job, with a friendship, with your finances, your parenting, or your marriage.  Maybe it's with a dream you used to hope for.  Becoming cynical is the essence, I believe, of losing hope.  And it's completely contrary to the nature of God.  But, do you know what?  It's a very easy way out!  And I've been there.

I'm not so proud of this, but it's the truth.  I have allowed myself to come to the point where I had lost all hope, at different times in my life.  Or, I refused to hope at all.  Because, isn't it easier to not hope, and therefore not experience disappointment, than to hope and possibly face tough disappointment?  Easier, yes.  But does it feel better?  No, not in my experience.  There is a verse in the book of Proverbs that explains it this way:  Hope deferred makes the heart sick.*  I used to think that that meant it was God's responsibility to come through for me, without much tarrying , or my heart couldn't bear it.  But the word deferred means put off(an action or event) to a later time; postpone.  This puts the responsibility on me.  I can choose to hope, or I can put off hoping.  God doesn't delay hope.  He is our hope.  He simply cannot delay hope.  And he doesn't want us to, either.

But, to hope, is to allow yourself to be authentically vulnerable.  Recently, I had to admit to myself that I wanted something quite a bit.  It had been easier, in the past, to delay hope, and act as though it didn't matter too much.  But I started to feel like such a fraud.  I felt as if I was lying to myself perpetually.  I was.  The truth is, God wants us to hope for certain things.  He gives us longings and desires to hope for.  Even more amazing is the reality that all, not most--but all, of what he wants us to hope for is ultimately for his glory, even if we can't comprehend the magnitude of that.  We read in Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'  He gives us a hope.  He gives us many hopes, really.  So, each time I minimized that thing that I really wanted, I was denying God the opportunity to give me the future he wants for me.

Not long ago, I read something profound that Oswald Chambers wrote.
Keep your life so constantly in touch with God that His surprising power can break through at any point.  Live in a constant state of expectancy, and leave room for God to come in as He decides.
I just have to confess that this literally floored me.  Yes, I've heard similar statements before.  And certainly, I've heard faith-messages preached on this concept.  But it always seemed more about what I could do to earn a miracle from God, rather than on His awesome power alone.  My part is to expect and to hope.  Because, after all, love always hopes.*

So, when I got that unexpected text (that brought me immediately to the thing that I greatly hope for), I had a choice.  I could dismiss it, trying to convince myself that none of it mattered anyway (so that I wouldn't have to face any disappointment if nothing resulted).  Or, I could allow myself that moment of excitement that said What if? and then turn it over to God in prayer.  He knows the plans he has for me,* doesn't he?

In my experience on both sides of the spectrum--jaded cynicism and expectant hope--I have to honestly say that hope feels a heck of a lot better.  It may be scarier for a moment, because it's never as easy to be vulnerable and real, but it leaves me in a better place spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Remember what hope deferred does to your heart?*  As a mama to five precious beings, I want to be able to allow them to hope also.  I don't need to teach them to hope, because children are born dreamers!  But I do need to allow them to dream and to hope.  The world, with its cynicism, will begin its attempt to crush their dreams at an early age.  My job is to train them to persevere in hope.  To not delay hope.  Watch out world!  Because, on the other side of deferred hope, is longing fulfilled.  And the Bible declares that a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.*

*Proverbs 13:12; 1 Corinthians 13:7; Jeremiah 29:11
I'm having Coffee For Your Heart today with my friend Holley Gerth

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Here All Along

Sometimes I wrestle with joy.  Or maybe the more accurate truth is that sometimes I wrestle with discontentment.  I wrestle with remaining joyful and content at all times.  I have a good life.  A really good life.  Not a perfect or problem-free life.  But I have a good life.  God has answered the biggest and best prayer I have ever had in the form of a wonderfully loving, selfless husband and five fun, smart, and uniquely amazing children.  Day by day, life has its ups and downs but truly I am a blessed woman.  However, I struggle to remain joyful and content.  I forget, at times, to count my blessings one by one.  And sometimes, I truly believe that I have lost joy.  That I can't find it.  

Recently our family added to our chickens.  We love our hens.  My oldest son takes such good care of them.  It's a win-win for us:  we wanted our kids to experience the responsibility of having pets, but not indoor ones just yet due to my son's allergies.  I have become a bona fide egg-snob.  I won't order eggs out anymore; they just aren't as tasty.  So, we added more baby chicks to our brood recently and our kids were thrilled.

Just like the first time around, our kids began picking "their" chick and naming her.  (Honestly, amongst those of the same breed, I can tell no difference).  But our kids usually can.  And it matters.  My daughter Ella promptly decided which one was hers and named her Lilah.

The following day, after moving our chicks to their new temporary home until they join the older hens, Ella could no longer tell which one was Lilah.  She was distraught.  Ella is a passionate young girl and is extremely emotional, like her mama.  I am continually seeking God's help in teaching her not to allow her emotions to cloud rational thinking.  Ahh...such an easy thing to do!  Smirk!  That being said, she was more than just a little upset that she couldn't find Lilah.

The day dragged on and Ella was inconsolable.  She had lost her Lilah.  We assured her that she would figure it out.  But Ella was still upset.  Later I was at the kitchen sink when Ella ran through the door and exclaimed "Mama!  I found Lilah!" "Yay! I'm so glad!" I told her.  Her joy was so evident.  She ran back out and I grinned at my husband as I whispered, "She was there all along." 

You know where I'm going with this.  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, the reality hit me like a ton of bricks.  God nudged me, grinned with the love of a Father who knows best, and said "kinda like your joy, huh?!"  He knows.  He has deposited joy on the inside of us.  Readily available as a gift of strength in all of our days, we only need to access it.  God promises us that in His presence is fullness of joy!*  It is with us as His beloved children.  

Just as my daughter's new baby chick Lilah was there all along--though not recognizable to her--joy has always been available to me. Too often, I fail to recognize it.  I am so guilty of looking for joy in the wrong places.  I am waiting for it to chirp or peep in such a way as to say "Here I am!  This is where you can find me!"  Maybe in a new place I'd never thought to look?  But the truth is that I only have to look inside.  Joy has been deposited inside me through the love and goodness of God, in the gift of His son.  If I trust in Him, then I can rest in His hope.  I can be filled with joy!*  It's that simple!

My prayer is that I would remember joy is here in Christ and nowhere else.  Help me with this Lord!  My joy can't be found somewhere that God didn't place it.  He placed joy in His presence.  We will only be met with disappointment when we seek for joy and fulfillment in the wrong places.  Lilah was there all along, waiting to be recognized.  The joy of the Lord is waiting for me to recognize it and access it.  In Him alone, it has been here all along.

*Psalm 16:11
*Psalm 28:7

I'm having Coffee For Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth today

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our Greatest Opportunity

Love is our greatest opportunity. If we want to see people change, if we want to influence their futures, we’re to love them profoundly. ~Andy Stanley

As followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to love as He has first loved us.  I have two dear friends who share the same favorite bible passage:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38,39 ESV
He loved us first.  And what an amazing love He has for us.  Nothing I do can separate me from His love because I am in Christ Jesus.  His love is in me.  Even when I don't feel it.  Even when I seem unable to live it.  Even when I am unfaithful, this promise remains.  Nothing can separate me from His love.  I understand why my dear friends both claim this passage as their favorite.  What comfort!  What reassurance!  What responsibility we then have, as His followers, to demonstrate His love to others.

Although this reality of the love of God is often difficult for me to grasp, I can understand it more clearly when I look into the eyes of a child.
 Somehow, when I look into the eyes of one of my precious children, I get it!  I can better grasp it.  Because, you see, I can't imagine anything that a child of mine could do, or not do, that could separate him from my love.  My love is far from perfect.  My love doesn't hold a candle to the love of God.  But the love I have for my children is very real and I can't imagine withholding it.

I have at times imagined scenarios that cause me to ponder how I might respond to my children.  I have considered bad or sad choices that they might make.  (God knows I know about such choices.)  And yes, sometimes I allow myself to be fearful of certain possibilities.  None of us want to be devastated by the choices of our children.  Still, I cannot imagine any possibility in which I would be able to withhold my love from them.  I would rather not breathe.  

God's love for His children is endless and it is fully and completely perfect!  He is able to forgive with no reservations.  He is love himself.  And as He so freely promises that nothing can separate us from His love, we realize that we have a responsibility toward others.  As Andy Stanley stated, we have an love them profoundly.

One of the things we talk about frequently with our children is love.  Any of them will tell you that they often hear me and their Dad saying: show love, show kindness.  We want them to see love our too.  It is my hope that they feel our love toward them in tangible ways.  It's not perfect and it's not complete, but it's there and I want them to know it without question.  We recently decided that we could help our children learn to show love in a more tangible way.  That as followers of Christ, we could do something more impacting.  We began sponsoring a child through Compassion International.  The excitement and joy on our children's faces as we made this decision together was priceless.  They began drawing pictures and making origami for this child long before we received our welcome packet in the mail.

They now have a friend in Haiti to love and pray for.  This has opened up several discussions about showing God's love.  We cannot do everything.  But as a family that has the privilege of being regularly reminded of the love God has for us, we can definitely do something.  We all can.  When we realize the depth of His great love for us--and that nothing can separate us from it--we have to do something!  We have a responsibility.  We have the wonderful opportunity to share His love.  And how much it makes our whole family smile that our special child to sponsor, love, and pray for is named Lovelie.  She is our constant reminder of the depth of God's love for all of us.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We might not be able to fully grasp this great love, but we can do something.  Let's share that love.  Let's teach our children to share that love.