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Miracles in the Storm

As part of our bedtime routine, we try to read a couple stories out of the Bible. Last night we read the story where Jesus walks on the water to His disciples. How many times have I read this story? A lot. But something struck me this time.

Picture this: twelve grown men, burly, bearded, sun weathered. Fishermen. Men who worked hard, day in and day out, with rough, calloused hands. A zealot, or fighter. A tax collector, who, before knowing Jesus, probably knew the ins and outs of intimidation and manipulation. Tough guys. Twelve men in a boat, and suddenly a storm comes up. Now, we know at least four of these men practically lived on this sea. All of them were acquainted with being in boats, even during a storm. And yet, they were having trouble. As they fight the storm, they look out, wind whipping their faces, water spraying into their eyes, nose, mouth, and they see a figure coming toward them. He is walking toward them, feet and body unaffected by the winds. His hair probably whips around, but His face is steady. He knows His destination, and He is undeterred by the storm.

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The disciples are in the middle of a life threatening storm, but – get this – they were afraid of Jesus. They thought He was a ghost. As He came toward them, these twelve men were terrified. Jesus, ever calm in the storm, reassures them, but they don’t believe.

They believe more in the impossibility of the circumstance than in Jesus’ ability.

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Now comes a part I find equally absurd and fascinating. Peter asks Jesus to prove Himself by allowing Peter to walk on the water. As a fisherman, Peter knows the danger of the storm, but he’s willing to step into it if it means he will reach Jesus faster. It seems that Peter counted braving the storm and possibly encountering a ghost as the lesser evils than staying in the boat without a Savior.

But what about the other disciples? Even having seen multiple miracles from Jesus in days leading up to this, the other disciples still couldn’t believe the availability of the miraculous in their everyday lives. When Jesus reassured them He was not a ghost, only Peter was willing to test the miracle of Jesus’ presence by walking on water. From an outside perspective, I could judge the other disciples. Until I realize I would not have stepped out of the boat either, nor do I always find the faith to step out to Jesus on a daily basis.

I find a challenge in this that I hope I can draw together. Often I use storm metaphors to convey the daily roller coaster of parenting, and when I read this story last night, I felt conviction in my heart. How often am I in the middle of a storm, and yet I am unwilling to believe in Jesus’ miraculous power to intervene? Why am I so hardened against the belief that in the toughest moment, Jesus could be walking toward me, totally unaffected by my circumstances, totally unfazed, and willing and ready to perform a miracle?

On hard days, I get in this zone of always and never, and I say things like, “I will always struggle with my kids,” and “I will never be more patient!” Or “They always react this way” and “they will never change!” The possibility of change in my life and my family’s lives is nonexistent. We are in a vicious cycle, I am out of ideas, and we will never find freedom from this. Like the disciples, I believe more in the impossibility of change than in Jesus’ ability.

But the miracle is this: Jesus is always able, and He will never leave me.

In the middle of my storms, He is able to reach out and perform the very real miracle of giving me what I need in the moment. This is most often patience and grace, and frequently a divine ability to keep tears inside my eyes. He is willing to perform miraculous works in the hearts of my children, showing them their wrong and teaching them how to be loving, kind, and godly. Peter counted the dangers of the storm as less than staying in a boat without his Savior. He would rather have been holding onto Jesus in the middle of the water than riding the waves in the safety of the boat. When will I see trusting Jesus in that moment as more beneficial and effective than clinging to my safety nets, my go-to discipline strategies, my ingrained and inherent reactions? I want to start looking for the miracle of His presence in my everyday instead of being astonished and afraid by it.

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Let’s stop being like the other disciples and start believing more in Jesus’ ability to work miraculously in our lives instead of in the impossibility of it. Let’s see Him in the middle of our difficulty and hold His ability to work miraculously in our lives as greater than the raging of our storm.

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To Be Offended

I’ve had this post in draft for about a week now. I’ve been a little worried that my posts are coming across not as “real life” but more as complaints about the struggles of being a parent. But I’ve tried writing some more lighthearted posts, they just aren’t from my heart. As a commitment to myself, this blog is always about real life – real joys, real struggles, real breakthroughs with The Lord. Some days I feel wildly joyful about the messiness of parenthood and the beauty of children. And other days…well, those are real life too. So bear with me as I talk through our lives. And join me if you want, as I seek to be changed and grow in The Lord through it all.

Once upon a time, I took everything personally. Every look, every comment, every accidental exclusion, every intentional inclusion, surely all of them must have an ulterior motive.

Then, after a series of relational eye openers, I made a decision: getting offended is not worth my energy. And so, with a lot of intentional practice, I changed my mind about how people treated me. I say this lightheartedly, but mind you, it wasn’t a lighthearted change.

And now I have children. Very verbal children, as a matter of fact, and as we all know, kids say the darnedest things. For some reason, the decision to not be offended hasn’t transferred as easily toward my kids as I would have expected. Here are some of the things they’ve said to me, just in the last few weeks:

Norah, while standing next to me, discovered my unfortunate amount of gray hairs: Mommy! What IS that?! Get those out of there!

Micah, after a very sweet snuggle: Mommy, when will your belly be smaller again?
Me: After baby Elena is born, it will get smaller slowly.
Micah: But I want it small right away.
Me: It will have to shrink like a balloon with a tiny hole in it. It will take a little while.
Micah, bursting into tears: But your big belly really bothers me!

Norah, quoting a Yo Gabba Gabba song: Don’t bite your friends!
Me: Remember you bit me yesterday? Am I your friend?
Norah, after thinking about it for about three seconds, just started snapping her jaws at me. She later informed me I am not her friend nor Micah’s friend, but lucky for him, Daddy is both of their friends.

Micah: Mom, you smell like fat chicken.

Micah: Mom, can I put a bow in your hair?
Me: No thanks, buddy. I’m wearing my hair down today.
Micah: But I really wanted you to look pretty for my birthday today!

Love keeps no record of wrongs, right? So all of these little comments from my kids, who really don’t know that they’re hurting my feelings, should roll right off of me like water off a duck’s back. Should is the key word here. Don’t is the more appropriate word. Apparently next I need to teach them tact and proper timing and just what not to say.

It’s easy to get offended when you’re laying so much of yourself down for another person, especially because that sacrifice makes you vulnerable to them. And why is it that the more vulnerable we are, and the more we have to trust someone with our hearts, the more the little things make us feel offended? I mean, come on. If they know me so well, don’t they know better? I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and what I’ve come to realize in myself is that it’s because it feels like an affront to my dignity. But more than that , if I really look at it, it’s an affront to my pride. Those people who are closest to me are not affording me the respect I feel like I deserve, and that means my pride gets hurt. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the things people say and do are a genuine offense to our dignity, and that should be dealt with. What I’m saying is, most often, in my life with my family, it’s not my value that is feeling sore. It’s my pride.

What it comes down to is me feeling like I deserve better than you saying that to me. Didn’t you see all the work I did today? How could you say and do that, after everything you put me through? Who are you to make that judgment on me ? How dare you take that tone with ME!

But my family and those close to me are most often not intentionally hating on me. When it comes down to it, the offense I feel is also a question of worth. Did my value as a person, wife, or mom diminish because my kids insulted me? Am I less of a person because they don’t like my cooking or because I ruin fun with cleanup time or because I picked the ugly shoes to wear today? Do I have less dignity because my husband and I both happened to be grumpy and yell at each other yesterday morning? Am I worth less because my daughter spoke to me in the ugliest voice she could muster?

The answer is no. I am a person of value because Jesus created me. I am a person of dignity because Jesus died for me. My worth lies not in my role or my performance or my ratings. My worth lies in Jesus Christ. If He died to save me and He loves me, that’s the end all anyway, and no amount of insult or offense can change His opinion of me.

As I walk through each day with my small kids , teaching them how to do life and how to love God, I have to remember that God is using them to also teach me how to do life and how to love Him. If I let Him speak to my heart, these moments of offense can be real moments of reassurance. He shows me again who I am in Christ, and just what that means for my interactions with my family. I don’t have to take things to heart. I can take them to His feet and let Him transform them into words of His love for my soul.

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Freedom in the Boxing Ring

Well, surprise! Norah is still two, which means…wait for it…she’s still acting like a two year old.

Last night, after a particularly loud struggle between us, I felt like, “why are we still struggling? Why isn’t she getting it?” And then the brilliant answer dawned on me: I’m an adult and can analyze my actions and emotions, make changes, and actually remember what I should be doing, even though many times I don’t do it. She is a toddler and can’t critique her own actions and judgments and then change in the middle of mommy being so horribly mean as to ask her to eat dinner.

Working through the Terrible Twos has been significantly louder this time around. I ran at full speed into her room last night because I heard her screaming at me, only to discover her completely asleep. Yes, my meanness even pervades her dreams. You must wonder what I do to incite such horrific emotions in my daughter. The list is terrible, unfair, and includes things like go potty in the toilet instead of the floor and no, Honey, we don’t eat chocolate for dinner.

So this morning as I got breakfast together, feeling the weight of last night and girding myself up for another day’s battle, two songs that Davy has been singing lately came into my head. They go like this:

Where the Spirit of The Lord is,
There is freedom
Where the Spirit of The Lord is,
Chains are broken, eyes are opened
Christ is with us, Christ is with us
(Where the Spirit of The Lord is by Hillsong Live)

And

All I want, all I need
Is more of You, less of me
Take this life, Lord it’s Yours
Have my heart, have it all
(To Be Like You by Hillsong Live, same album)

As they morphed into one continuous song in my head, I had an eye opening moment. Bear with me as I explain:

Where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom: Because we love and follow Jesus, He makes His home among us. That means His Spirit is here. And that means we can walk in freedom here.

Because His Spirit makes its home with us, we can believe and trust that He will work in our lives. Read this to mean: God isn’t standing idly by while I struggle with Norah. His love and grace are here. His perfect ability to see her heart, know her struggles, and know what will work are here. He can and will open her eyes to understanding what to do, how to respond, and eventually, that she needs Him too.

Christ IS with us here. He hasn’t abandoned me to the tossing waves of life with a toddler. This means I CAN turn to Him in the heat of the moment and He WILL give me strength.

So many days I see myself responding out of my unseemly human nature. You know, the responses that make you cringe in shame if you think anyone had seen them, and yet they continually come out to your kids. (Or maybe that only happens to me…) So how do I change? Here is my answer – make my aim for today more about allowing Him to change me – laying down myself to make room for more of Himself – than about disciplining Norah. Walk in the freedom He promised is already here, freedom to be Christlike in my heart and toward my kids, instead of the “freedom” to make my kids obey.

Freedom. Psalm 18:19 says He has “put me in a broad place.” The connotation here is that He has pulled us out from a confined, dark, crowded place and put us in an open field. Air, light, openness, freedom. When I narrow my vision to the Terrible Twos, and Norah and I crawl into the proverbial boxing ring, we both see only one thing: competition. Our struggle is confined, narrow , and only one of us will come out the winner. When we are “duking it out,” there is no room for Jesus in between us. There is only room for the fullness of my will and the fullness of her will to clash, and clash fiercely. And trust me, it is fierce.

Oh, how I would rather follow Jesus into freedom! How I would rather let Him take my heart, change it to respond with His responses, and allow Him to orchestrate the discipline with Norah. To take her, as He would, in love and peace, yet firmness and truth, and reach her heart. To make room for His Spirit to open her eyes instead of trying to force her to see things my way. To walk with Christ in our home, showing her the absolute need for Him, instead of making Him wait outside the ring to sew up our wounds.

This is all nice and stuff, but what does it actually look like, especially in the heat of the moment? When she’s screaming in my face and defiantly refusing to obey? To be honest , I don’t know. It looks a little different each time because God is working something more , something deeper, into both of us each day. By having our standard, go- to consequences, we at least have a routine she understands when she disobeys. But the responses between us, the conversations, our looks, our tones – that’s where all of this freedom stuff comes in. Christ responded in love, and yet He still responded in complete truth. He did not back down from what is right, and yet He did not provoke either. He had varied responses to situations, and yet each time was in perfect righteousness.

Christ is with us, and that means, all of His responses can be taught to us too. Where He is, He can save us from ourselves, our knee jerk reactions, our hereditary responses. Where He is, He can teach us to walk in freedom.

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Input Monster

This is a repost from when I first started blogging, but it’s something I am trying hard to work on again. I continually have to remind myself to just Put. Down. The. Phone.

Tonight Davy and I did a rare thing. We talked. Not about our kids or our new house or work or parenting strategies or worship leading. We talked about Davy’s video game, and he explained all about the amount of damage he can do. And then he told me about a TED talk he listened to. And then we talked about something very interesting. Hence, this post.

After hearing about the TED talk, I made some comment about it being nice to listen to something that challenges me to think outside my normal range. To think about a topic in a way that exercises my brain and gets that flow working. I used to love this about college. I loved working through abstract and complex concepts – it felt like my brain was growing. Like I was smart. There was such a sense of satisfaction to it that made me crave more. Not just learning, but chewing on what I learned, examining it, working my way through and around it, and then coming out the other side of it. I loved the process. There was something I didn’t have back then that, I think, may have enabled me to fully dig my brain into that process.

My smart phone.

You thought I was going to say kids, didn’t you?

Hear me out. Before I had my smartphone, I didn’t turn to technology every time i had a spare minute. I didn’t have a trusty place to zone out to that was within grabbing distance at all times. I didn’t have the pull to check on all my sites for new information or comments or likes. Before my smartphone, my brain had a chance to do a little independent processing.

Enter smartphone.

Now, as I’m waiting the three hours it takes my two year old to climb the stairs, I immediately reach for my phone to read that article I haven’t finished on how to entertain my toddler with tot trays. Or I’m heating up lunch for a minute in the microwave, and I think, “I’ll just check Facebook and see if anyone commented on micah’s latest quote I put up. And I’ll just scroll to see what my closest friends have posted.”
Or I finally have Norah asleep and have Micah set up for quiet hour, and I decide it’s a great time to find some more house ideas on pinterest. Or I am finally sitting next to Davy with no kids between us (never mind that he’s driving), and I’ll decide it’s time to respond to all my text messages.

Result: I have quickly and efficiently learned how to fill all of my precious moments with my phone. Let’s just briefly mention the amount of time my kids look to me and find my face buried in this screen. How many moments am I missing with them? Sadly, I don’t, and probably won’t, even know. Because they already passed me by. Let’s also just briefly mention how this must look to them and what they’re learning about social interaction, personal responsibility, priorities, and the ability to simply focus on one task: that technology is more interesting, takes priority, and trumps responsibility.

But that’s not the point I’m making tonight. The point is, actually, that I’m finding technology, for all it’s blessings, to disable my brain instead of enable it. It’s pull on my life short circuits my brain and robs me of the precious time i need to actually THINK. I think somewhere I picked up a false idea that I have to be productive to be worthwhile, and “multitasking” on my phone at least feels productive. But my brain needs more than the idle reading of useless, or even sometimes useful, information. I don’t need more and more and more input. This just leaves my brain fat and still hungry. I need my brain to exercise. To work out some of these ideas, to come up with new ideas, and to have the time to actually see an idea through from start to finish. Ironically, I need my brain to be left alone.

As we were talking, I was reminded of this instance not too long ago in the bank. I was waiting for the teller and resisting the urge to pull out my smart phone. I firmly told myself I would not check Facebook. Then I noticed something. The music in the bank was French. I started thinking about what differentiated French music from other music, and you know, I found quite a few reasons without even looking them up on google.

I have a theory that the level of input I receive from my phone is sedating my brain. It acts as a placebo, tricking my brain into thinking I’m still “learning” so much, like I did when I craved growth in college, but without actually giving me growth. It soothes the crave, but like a drug, leaves me empty.
I also have a theory that it contributes to my heightened level of distractedness. Maybe I’m teaching my brain to not be able to focus on one thing because every spare second I have, I’m turning to more and more and more input. I think by having something to “do” every time I have a minute to myself, my brain can’t stop long enough to process a single thing in its entirety. It’s jumping from input to input, thought to thought, and it learns never to spend longer than a few seconds or minutes on a single thought.

This bothers me. I want a strong mind, not a distracted one. I want a brain that holds up against the wave of information, not one that is tossed by it. I want to be an input processor, not just an insatiable input monster. And I don’t ever want the memory my kids have of me to be one of my nose against this dumb phone screen.

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Sharing Control

I had already asked him four times, and yes, I was keeping count.

Micah had either suddenly developed a serious hearing problem or he and I were developing a serious relational problem. It’s the little things that can really add up in a day. You know, like asking your three year old four times to brush his teeth, knowing full well that he heard you and also knowing full well that in about five minutes, he would want to snuggle you with that stinky mouth breathing on your face.

So I asked again, just for good measure. A request for the road, you might say. But he just kept playing cars. There might not be a degree to describe the boiling that happened in my blood, and I might have had to walk away so I didn’t outright yell at him. But I’ll tell you two good things that happened when I walked away: one, I realized this scenario was in large part my own fault for being lax on my follow through. And two, I decided to ask him why he never listens the first time.

“Because, Mommy, I just don’t like what you’re saying.”

Hmmm. Well, that isn’t going to fly. Part of me wanted to be offended and shocked at his response, but I knew I couldn’t let myself go there. Letting my pride rise up in arms because of the comment of a three year old just isn’t worth the fight or the tears. But the act of willful disobedience because he “doesn’t like what I’m saying” is a new one to me, and I couldn’t let it slide.

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it.”

“Yeah, Mom, but I just can’t control this. And I don’t like that. When you say something I can’t control, I just don’t like it. So I don’t do it.”

He’s said this thing about control before, so I knew what he meant: when I tell him to do something he doesn’t like, he feels out of control of his life. Suddenly he feels like everything is falling apart.

As a side note, I should clarify that Micah’s verbal response to me didn’t get him in trouble. In this post, I talk about our family policy on saying no, and even though neither of us liked what the other was saying, Micah spoke to me in perfect respect. No raised tone, no disrespectful language. His actions had disregarded my request, and that was disrespectful. But when it came to our communication, he operated completely within our family boundaries. Because of this, we were able to talk about our conflict without verbal disrespect. Our kids don’t get in trouble with what they want to communicate to us, as long as the way they do it is appropriate. And just because they say it doesn’t mean they get their way. It just means they got to say it and we got to listen.

But still. Out of control or not, like it or not, falling apart or not, the guy still has to brush his teeth. And he still needs to obey, and get into the habit of obeying, what I ask him to do. So what do I do? Do I start telling him a list of all the things I don’t like to do but still have to do every day? Things like dishes and wipe bottoms and get up early and force feed everyone vegetables? And how it doesn’t matter that I don’t feel in control half the time, and that it doesn’t matter if I particularly like what I am doing at a given moment, if it has to be done?

Well, actually, yes. That’s what I did. I don’t recommend it, though, because it wasn’t effective. He really didn’t care, and he mostly just looked like he wanted to get back to playing cars, hoping I’d forgotten about the teeth thing. So if you were hoping for advice on how to lecture your three year old on the importance of responsibility and what it looks like in your own life, don’t follow this example.

Honestly, in the moment, I couldn’t figure out what to do. So I just made him go into the bathroom, and he cried through brushing, and he cried after brushing, and he cried when he remembered that he brushed. But I didn’t cry when he wanted to snuggle me because now he smelled like oranges and mangos. But I did cry later, when I prayed about it and brought up to God all the times he completely ignores me. In case you didn’t know, I’m mostly a crier. Maybe that’s where Micah gets it.

As I processed the scenario with God, I remembered those key words Micah had spoken: I just can’t control this. I realized that listening comes down to an issue of control with him. If he doesn’t “hear” me, he is in control of whether or not he obeys or disobeys. I know for some personalities that having a sense of control is very important. And while I don’t know the details psychologically or emotionally of whether allowing kids to have this sense of control, even in the choice to obey, is good or bad, I do know that allowing Micah to have it is more effective than holding the Ultimate-Authority Card over his head all of the time. And since one of my goals as a mom is to pursue peace and relationship within my family, I also choose to relinquish some control to achieve that.

So I approached this thing differently. If he wants control, I will give him two ways to have it. I decided not to pick the battle anymore. I will ask him once, and I will remind him once (because, after all, he is only three). After that, I take action. This keeps me from getting to a boiling level, and this keeps him from operating in a kind of manipulative control, especially because when it gets to this point, he sees me responding through my frustration.
First, if I ask and he complains, I tell him outright, “You can’t control this. You need to obey. But you can control your attitude. You can choose to obey with a good attitude and be happy or you can choose to obey with a bad attitude and make yourself miserable.” His response to this usually involves a fake smile and lots of whimpering, although I have been pleasantly surprised a few times with a complete attitude change.

Second, I give the consequence if he chooses to ignore me and I have to ask more than once. The consequence is simple and always the same: I get to take away one of his toys for the day` for every time I ask. He doesn’t pick the one I get – I do. Often I take the one he’s playing with. This makes him mad, but I always explain, “You had the choice to obey or have me take away your car. You chose to disobey and now I have to take your car.”

The other day he thought he had one-upped me and said, “I know exactly where you keep my cars you take away.” I think he was hoping to scare me into stopping my strategy. But I just replied, “Ok babe,” and didn’t give in to the call for a conflict. He walked away looking kind of confused, but I’ll tell you one thing. This “share” of control has worked really well for us. He hasn’t expressed feeling out of control even once since I started responding this way, and I haven’t felt like I will lose my control since either. Because there is a way of dealing with an issue that is so frustrating that removes the frustration for me, I’m able to respond in a way that is much more effective than screaming, “I’ve already asked you SIX TIMES to put on your shoes!” Sometimes it takes quite a gathering of cars in my little parking lot before Micah does what I’m asking, but it’s ok. It’s ok because he’s learning (and I’m reminding) that each times he chooses to do the wrong thing, he is actually choosing a negative consequence. He’s learning that choosing to do wrong is actually hurting him more than it’s hurting anyone else.

I like that as my kids get older and have more understanding, I get to be more creative with discipline and consequences. Each situation can teach a life skill, if I can wrap my head around how to convey it. Now, if only I could get my two year old to stop throwing herself on the floor…

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Ropes and Anchors

Today was one of those days. You know the ones. Where starting from breakfast the wrongs of the day start to pile on, and you get sucked into this emotional spiral that twists every way downward with no emergency exit. And it takes you three hours to make it out of the house and the lady at the store refuses to restock the yarn you need and you realize that your three year old just emotionally bested you in front of a lot of people and your two year old won’t nap and the grocery store is out of the medicine you need and your daughter may or may not have a stomach bug and your son may or may not have said you smell like fat chicken.

And the only words you can think are: Defeat. Overwhelm. Failure. Inadequate.

And so you cry. Hard, fast , ugly tears that rush down your face, over your soul, and they burn. Because those salty tears are cleaning and healing the rawness that you rarely lay open. The rawness that speaks to insecurities of parenting and throwbacks to your childhood. The rawness that comes from constant feeling of overwhelm and inadequacy and being disrespected and disobeyed every. single. day. The rawness that is a result of the question, can I actually do this? And the resounding answer of, no, I cannot actually do this.

It’s the ugly cry. And those tears don’t just wash down your open soul, they wash into the cheese you’re grating for everyone’s lunch, which you can’t serve them anymore. Except you still use it to make yourself quesadillas because, after a morning like this one, anyone would need a little comfort food.

It’s one of those days. The ones that dragged your emotions through the mud. This is not a pity post or a plea for sympathy or an “it will get easier.” It’s a confessional, raw and laid bare, because I know you’ve experienced it too. And in the presence of such good company, I’m willing to bet I haven’t been the only one to cry in our cheese.

There is a danger and unpredictability in parenting. We become the emotional anchor of our small children, of these people who feel the intensity of the wide spectrum of emotions without the ability to control them at all. And being tossed in the winds and waves of feeling, they cannot bring themselves to a sense of balance or peace. They rely on us to anchor them, holding them steady and bringing them back to safety.

But what happens when we as anchors are blown and tossed along with them?

I look at the storm that blew through my home today, my responses, and my emotions, and I can humbly think only one thing. I am no savior. I couldn’t anchor us today. I couldn’t save us from being capsized. I, in fact , was the one who most desperately needed the anchor, Someone who would come and let the first words He speaks be “Peace. Be still. ”

I was at a seminar last night and the speaker told us that God always comes to us with love and grace first. Even in the need for correction, He acts in love and grace first. And while this is what I try (and often fail) to do with my kids, I forget that this is what Jesus willingly does (and never fails to do) for me. That in this day, while I am being blown about, the words He speaks to me are not “Defeat. Overwhelm. Failure. Inadequate. ” The words He speaks to me are, “Peace. Be still. My grace is enough for you and your circumstances.”

And unlike the burn my tears leave in my soul, He brings a soothing balm, a gentle healing that urges me to rest and stop trying to take it all on my shoulders. That lets me unload the stresses and fears and hurts and invites me to trust and be at peace.

It’s an invitation off the downward spiral. An invitation to look up and be brought up. An invitation to relinquish my position as the anchor. Jesus is the anchor, and I am simply the rope that connects my children to Him.

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An Open Letter To My Screaming Two Year Old

Dearest Child,

Once upon a time, you were tiny and sweet and snuggly and wrapped very tightly in a blanket. I could wrap my arms around you and you would smile up at me, and that rise of joy in my heart was enough to make me think it would always be this way.

But now you are larger. You are louder and stronger willed, and my efforts to wrap you tightly in my arms are met, not with smiles, but with thrashing. Another kind of rise happens in my heart, and this one isn’t very pleasant. Not pleasant at all.

My dear, screaming child, who are you?

I know I have about 25 years on you, but the way you kick and scream and throw yourself on the ground? That’s how I feel too, deep in my heart, when you test me. It’s taking me every ounce of patience to not throw any sense of maturity out the window and join you down there on the floor. And how would that look in the middle of Michael’s, with those two old ladies who have been following us around the store watching my every move? That’s the difference between you and me at this moment. I have to think about the old ladies.

I’ll be honest, honey, you wear me right out. I don’t even know how you have the energy to fight me on everything, but it’s never ending. It’s like you have a direct line to some mysterious life source – a nectar that is unfazed, pulsing, fluorescent and buzzing. Is it possible you’re not human? Is it possible you’ve been sent to test me to my limits, to stretch me thin, to push all the buttons you know of, only to transform at the last second into the sweetest, most loving and affectionate person around? There are days I wonder.

And there are days I marvel at how the raw humanness that comes out of you, the uncultivated and unlearned parts, the core of will and independence and selfishness and immaturity that is so common and expected in you because you simply don’t know yet, brings out the same in me. I’m appalled at the way my reactions are so quick to revert to that raw selfishness and immaturity, even though I should have put all of that ugliness to rest inside of me.

Dear child, my real question is, how is it that your tantrums are really a mirror to my soul?

And now I am faced with the gritty decision. The one that is almost as hard for me to make as it is impossible for you to understand. To silence the rise boiling in my chest and show you what it means to overcome – not overcome you, overcome me. To swallow the outburst and teach you that self control is a teeth-grinding hard choice and not a trait we are born with. To soften my response to demonstrate that ugliness is not about the way we look on the outside but about the overflow of our hearts, and the way we vomit all over other people shows us more about who we are than it does about how we feel. And as I look at you giving strength to the fullness of these emotions, I am softened. Not because I’m tired, but because I realize I can’t leave you this way. To walk away from this and leave you to your own devices would be a cruel punishment, harsher than any I could give you, because I would be letting that immaturity and ugliness and selfishness take root in your heart.

So I use the same words over and over and we go through the same steps over and over, doing this dance together that goes in circles and never seems to get anywhere. But as I look back, straining to see any progress and any changes, I see that things have changed. I see parts of my own selfishness shed on the floor, small parts of my own immaturity and ugliness strewn behind us, like they were thrown off in a struggle to the death. And though more still clings tightly to me, I see that the shedding has become part of our dance, and that you, sweet baby, are starting to do it too.

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Becoming a Servant

I recently read that viral post from a woman judging other women who have chosen to raise families. And while it’s obvious that she wrote it just to go viral and get high traffic on her post, something she said stuck out to me because it’s always been my own struggling point: anyone can be a mom.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always wanted my life to be special. To do something no one else could do. To fulfill my potential, which would obviously be a huge blessing to the world. I wanted to be what no one else could be, like filling a void that I was created to fill. In other words, I wanted my life to count for something huge. (But of course, for the glory of God, and all the while hoping the pride exuding from my pores would be mistaken for that, you know, “obedience glow”.)

But while this sentiment is very American dreamish, it’s also very counter biblical.

Have you ever noticed that God doesn’t talk about our “potential”? He doesn’t give us a lot of big promises about the great things that we will do? He definitely gives us promises about the great things He will do, but that’s completely different. Notice that He doesn’t show us how to make a name for ourselves or become famous or admired in other people’s eyes? In fact, the story that comes to mind now is the Tower of Babel in Genesis, where He actually scattered the people all over the earth because their sole purpose was to become famous and be noticed apart from Him. No, God isn’t really concerned with us doing great things. He’s really concerned, however, with us becoming more like Christ.

And that’s where I’ve been thinking. I struggled for a long time over being called to motherhood. Why would God want me to devote my life to something anyone can do? Something so behind the scenes, something so un-glamorous? I’ll tell you why. Because, if being a servant was good enough for Jesus, then it definitely is good enough for me.

Think about it. Anyone can wash people’s feet. Which is why it was quite astonishing to the disciples when Jesus bent down to wash theirs – the God of heaven and earth washing dirty, stinky feet? I think about how bad Micah’s toenails can get after just a few days, and then I feel astonished too. Jesus understood our desire to really be something. And in response, to paraphrase with a kids’ song, He said, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.”

In our culture, making a name for ourselves is the end all. But to God, serving others with a cheerful and humble heart is. I can’t think of a more serving (and often less thankless) job than motherhood. It consists of wiping noses, washing dirty bodies, scrubbing floors, cooking, cleaning, and feeding. Not to mention, wiping bottoms, holding our kids’ hair or rubbing their backs while they throw up, sleepless nights, and often cleaning up questionable substances off of the floor, walls, their faces and hair.

Yes, anyone can do those things. But that’s not really the point. Jesus didn’t give the commandment to go and be unique and make a name for yourself. He gave everyone the same commandment: go, tell others about Him, and make disciples. In other words, go, give up your life for the sake of bringing others to know Him. For my life right now, this “go” often directs me within my house, and making disciples often pairs with cleaning my child ‘s face or hands or during discipline or while I’m cooking. In the act of serving my family, I get to point the way to Jesus. This – this – is the call of motherhood. Fatherhood. Parenthood. And this, by the very nature of the commandment – going and investing in people – is serving others by sacrificing our wants and desires for their sakes.

Having a job and succeeding in it is not wrong – that’s a huge blessing. But that in itself doesn’t determine worth. God calls us to be transformed from glory to glory, meaning becoming more and more like Jesus. For me, there is nothing more effective in challenging and transforming my character than motherhood. This is a good enough reason for me to accept it as a life calling, not even to mention the impact it has on my kids. God has called me to a life of service. Maybe He’s called you to the same kind of life. If we want to be great in His kingdom, it will often look less like us smiling on a pedestal and more like us scrubbing something off the floor. And that – sacrificing our lives for another person’s benefit – is, ironically, something that not everyone is willing to do. But it is something that is completely worthwhile.

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Making A Heart Connection

“Norah, don’t put that plastic bag over your head. That’s dangerous.”

She slowly lowers the bag and looks at me like she doesn’t understand, even though I know she understood exactly what I meant. Then she raises it again.

(I always looked at those warnings on plastic bags with amusement. Like, how dumb can parents be to let their kids play with a bag? and why would kids actually think of putting a plastic bag on their heads? is it really so appealing that they would do it and suffocate? Um…apparently, yes.)

“Norah, no. Put the bag on the floor. It’s not safe to put a bag on your head.”

“But I want to do it,” she says.

“It’s not safe, babe. Put it down.”

“No. I want to put it on my head.”

“No ma’am. It. Is. Not. Safe. Listen and obey, right now.”

“NO! I WANT TO PUT A BAG ON MY HEAD!”

At this point, Daddy’s voice starts low from the other room, “Norah, listen to your mommy.” She runs away from me, straight to him. Straight to that low, disciplinary voice. Straight to that strength and security. Straight into being disciplined, and she knows it, but she makes the beeline anyway.

I feel tired. After a week of sickness in our house, Norah’s tired too. She’s been well, but she’s out of sorts, and she’s letting me know it. I’ve written a lot about discipline, meeting my kids where they’re at, and trying to show them love in the middle of a difficulty, but I confess. Norah has had me bewildered this week. Where did this kid come from? And when will she go away and send my daughter home?

As a habit, I approach discipline trying to teach my kids to make the right choices, not just to obey what I’m saying. I don’t want them to be automatons, obeying every little command just because an authority said so. I want them to use their judgment and decide what is right and wrong. That way they are able to reason and do right, even if I’m not around. So I typically don’t jump to snatch them away from a situation (granted, if they are in serious or immediate danger, I do. I’m talking about on average, especially when I’m right there to help if things go awry). Norah, at two years old, is definitely old enough to understand this, and she has been for a little while. But the downside (or should I say inconvenience?) to this style of discipline is that it gives more room for challenge. And she’s found that aspect very fulfilling this week.

I cried about it in the shower today. The challenges to my authority not only are tiring, but they’ve left me feeling at a loss. What do I do now? How do I handle this kid when I’ve exhausted all of my ideas, and she still isn’t responding? After a good cry, I started praying about my whole laundry list of things – going through all the stuff I know I should pray for, half heartedly, like a duty. And as quickly as I was trying to get through it, I heard The Lord say to me, “Is it too much to believe that I just want you? A relationship with you is more important than a stack of requests.”

And I knew that, though He was speaking to me personally, He also gave me the answer to my struggle with Norah.

Relationship.

I think back to when Davy called for Norah to obey, and she ran straight to him. She wasn’t running to be disciplined, though she knew that was coming. She was running toward the relationship. When Davy disciplines our kids, first he wraps them in his arms. He speaks to them face to face, eye to eye. He uses firm language, but he also uses tender language. And after giving the consequence (whatever that specific disobedience required), he tells them he loves them, urging them to remember to obey next time because it makes him sad when they have to be in trouble. The entire experience is wrapped in relationship, even though the consequence itself is unpleasant.

I write this, not because I’m trying to show off how well I think our family does discipline, but because I realize my errors by watching my husband. Instead of embracing her heart, I embrace the power struggle. Instead of making a connection, I just try to administer the consequence. Instead of taking the time, I’m rushing to get things “fixed and back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong – Davy isn’t a perfect saint. Some days I see his face as he takes the kids to the other room, and he’s having a power struggle of his own. But I see the fruit of his interactions with them. I see the relationship that he fosters, and it is apparent through the kids’ behavior that it is working. It is infusing trust, security, and a sense of moral responsibility.

A relationship with my kids is more important than my “stack of requests.” Making that heart connection in the moment of struggle is more important than just administering the consequence for disobedience. It gives the opportunity to work on our character issues, not just the physical issue that caused the trouble, and it helps to build trust with them, so that as they grow into more eloquent people, they feel the safety in expressing their emotions and struggles with us, instead of just worrying about getting in trouble.

As I think about this, I realize that it takes more commitment to discipline than before. It takes willingness to set aside my expectations and plans. It takes a choice to give my child undivided attention until we work this through, and I have to be willing to let other things go while I do that. It’s hard to do because I don’t want my coffee to be cold, or I don’t want to stop this thing mid-chore (because chances are, I won’t get back to it today). But that’s where I have to remember where my priorities lie. They do not lie in having a clean house or a perfect dinner. God called me to be a mother, and that’s where my investment of time should be – my children.

So, in the spirit of transparency, this is a challenge to myself, and to any of you, dear readers, who want more relationship in our discipline strategies: to take a breath before saying No, focus on a relationship with my child, and to remember that a heart connection is better than doling out consequences.

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Lessons from Quiet Hour #2

My kids have favorite shows that we watch over and over and over, but sometimes – sometimes – I get them to watch something else. A couple of days ago, it was Curious George, and even though George would be in a heap of a lot of trouble way more often if he lived in my house, I still don’t have many qualms with him.

Well, this particular episode is where George becomes the Station Master at the train station while the real Station Master is on lunch break. He just has to keep the trains all in order so they come into the station on time. Easy peasy. But leave it to George, they keep getting mixed up. At one point, he monkey-talks into the radio to the Engineers, attempting to tell them he’s going to switch them around.

“What’d he say? Anybody catch that?” asks one Engineer.

“No, I didn’t get it. Did you understand him, Number 7?” says another.

“I don’t understand him,” replies the third. “But I trust him.”

Ok, now before I go any farther, I want to say this: I’m not drawing an analogy between God and Curious George. God is not a monkey who arbitrarily switches our lives all around and makes us confused. But I do want to say that the third driver’s comment struck a chord in me because often I have felt that exact same way.

“I don’t understand him. But I trust him.”

How often over the last several years have I felt that I completely don’t understand what God is doing or saying to me! How often I have sat here bewildered, looking at my circumstances and in no way comprehending the why or the how or the when! How often have I looked around me and wondered what the heck He is doing and how on earth could it even be good?

But my inability to understand my circumstances or what God is doing says nothing about His trustworthiness.

This morning, as those third driver’s words echoed again in my mind, I realized that many times when I’m in the middle of a confusing, stressful, or difficult time, I become forgetful. I see the ocean swell around my little boat, and I forget that the last time this ocean swelled, Someone met it with Peace. I see the miles of dry desert ahead of me, cracked and parched, and I forget that the last time we traversed the desert, Someone sustained me on Living Water. I forget that in the lonely darkness and bitter cold, Someone guided me with a Pillar of Fire.

What is it about hardship that blinds me to remembering the goodness of my God? I am so willing to call up a host of bad experiences or feelings from my past – hurts, rejections, bitterness – and yet I slim down on the miraculous interventions and works that God has done in my life.

I’m not just talking about the worst of the worst hardships, either. It’s those moments when I’m dealing with a second round of the terrible twos, and I forget that God lead us and directed us through the first round. It’s that feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion, and I forget that God consistently gives me peace in the moment when I ask Him for it. It’s that birthday party we go to, and I willingly take insecurity onto my lap and snuggle it to my heart like one of my children, and I forget that God has set me free from comparison.

It’s in the hardship of watching a friendship crumble away or a person I love pass away, and I forget that God takes my brokenness, carries me to a secluded place with Him, and He mends my heart. He allures me into the desert and soothes my soul.

Often, I don’t understand Him or why He allows my circumstances. But when I take the time to remember who He is and what He has done, when I ask myself who has sustained me and given me all the good that is in my life, when I look at who I am and who I would have been without His intervention, I can say this with confidence.

I may not understand Him. But I can trust Him.

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