Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My forever first born

Today is her birthday, my precious first born.

I realize I am half done raising her now that she's NINE. I can't really wrap my mind around it: halfway! It is also so strange that she is permanently my first born. And with that status comes an order that never changes. With your first born, motherhood doesn't get easier.

When I was pregnant, entertaining all my naive notions of what my life would soon be like, I expected I would gradually and consistently improve at mothering. What I did not realize was that the child I'd be mothering would be changing at a more rapid rate than I could keep up with. As soon as I'd master her routine or finally nail down a solution for a particular problem, that skill would become obsolete as she quickly grew. The routine would change, or a new problem would arise, both in which I was completely unskilled. In retrospect, does it help me that I finally figured out how to put her down for a nap without a pacifier? NO! That problem threatening to consume me at one point had a valuable solution for a matter of months, and a new challenge was happy to take it's place. So in the long run, the only thing I've gotten better at is expecting the constant change, the constant challenge, for both of us.

That firstborn. If you have one, you may already know what I mean. Or you may be slowly discovering this: you're always in a new stage. Always heading into uncharted territory. Always trying to find your footing on the shifting soil. With my first born, I was schooled in nursing, putting a baby to sleep, moving to solid foods, teething, then first steps, potty training, preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade. She has always been the first. I have always been trying to keep up, pouring through books on baby care and discipline, remembering the rules of long division and the line between subject and predicate. She is the first to gain from all my parenting knowledge, and the first to suffer from all my errors.

I must be honest with myself here, with you, and with her. It's harder for us. It harder for me to never know what to expect one stage to the next, and it's harder for her having a mama who is constantly inexperienced in mothering a child her age. In contrast, my younger one and I have a smoother time, as I feel familiar with what is coming next, and he surely benefits from that. He gets a more relaxed and skilled mother. And so my journey as a mom of my daughter is slightly more stressful, and slightly more intense. Because she is special. I could have ten more children, and she'd still be the only first. We grow together. Not only am I raising a daughter, but she is raising a mother.

In a sense, my daughter has taught me everything I know about motherhood, and a heck of a lot about love. And I am not always a good student of her. She has not always been a patient teacher (hello, toddlerhood!) and neither have I. But every single day, we've schooled together for these sacred nine years. I pray someday she understands why our relationship is woven with as many failures as there are momentous firsts. They go hand in hand, I'm afraid.

I'm sure the next nine years will be more of the same: glorious, terrifying, beautiful change. May 31st, 2002, I was called to be a mama, to be with her every step of the way. And I couldn't feel more blessed to be hers.

My darling daughter, your heart inspires me, your gifts amaze me, and your love humbles me. If God lined up all the girls in the whole wide world, I'd choose you. Happy Birthday.


Friday, May 27, 2011

It's the little rituals

This morning, my husband lingered for a bit before leaving for a late morning meeting. It was so nice to be together in the quiet after the kids went to school. Coffee cups and small talk and peace. Then we began to go about our days, and from the bedroom, I heard the door shut. A long silence followed and I thought he left without kissing me goodbye. He was gone long enough for me to think for quite a while about how much our little rituals mean to me. They are the little things that hold me in tight, so much more so than the grand gestures and costly vacations.

The times we make certain we bring the camera are not the ones that mean the most to me. They are the goings in and out, the openings and closings of the day, and the time we spend together in the holy moments such as church and before-dinner prayers.

I wanted to share our few little rituals, and I wanted to know what yours are. In the sharing, we can help one another weave a few more of those threads that hold up all the others. In our marriage, I think the earliest ritual we started - back when dating - was the habit of holding hands during prayer. Whenever we are sitting together in church and it comes time to pray, with eyes closed, we instinctively reach for the other's hand. There have been hard seasons, no doubt, when that hand holding was so difficult. But it never stopped. Thankfully, there has always been at least one of us willing to reach out and take the other.

My husband and I also kiss and hug every night before bed, and every greeting after being apart for the day, such as his coming home from work. Again, during tough times, we can hardly look each other in the eye. But most of the time, one of us is willing to press through hurt and pull together what is trying to pull us apart.

For our children, there is the kissing, hugging and prayers at bed time. My husband has the ritual of singing and playing guitar for them, and they love it so much. Hearing their little voices trying desperately to sing "Father, I Adore You" in a three-part round is so precious. They want to do it so badly on their own! They are getting it, slowly but surely. And not just the song, but the safety of being pulled into our family, the little rituals helping heal the broken places among us.

This morning, turns out my husband had not left. He was fiddling in the garage, that place that exists outside of the dimension of time, and eventually came back in. I heard the door open and shut again, and his heavy footsteps come back into the bedroom. "I thought you left without saying goodbye," I said imploringly. "You did not!"  He grinned back, incredulous. It seemed a silly thing to him, that I thought I was forgotten. Impossible, really. And then I was drawn in just a bit more.

So what are your little rituals in your family relationships, the repeated things you find holy in your simple everyday? This weekend, let's be conscious of them. Let's try to draw one another in tighter, safer, and resist the temptation to pull away. We need each other, and there are rich blessings to be found in connectedness. 


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: in Aly's words

Happy Thursday, friends! Today, meet my friend Aly. She has a really great blog called The Mommie Diaries where she works out her faith with eloquence. We connected at the very beginning of this year through the blog world, and since then discovered that we live close enough to be face-to-face friends as well. What a blessing Aly is, and what amazing things the Lord has done by weaving our lives together. I know you'll be touched by Aly's sincerity and passion for the Lord. And just look at her baby girl. So precious, and so blessed to have Aly as her mommy. What a legacy Aly is leaving her daughter through her words.

This post, which I read last week, has been coming back to me over and over. May it speak to you today today. Thank you, Aly, for sharing your heart with us.
It was last Thursday and I was downstairs having my morning quiet time. I had been praying for about 30 minutes and God was revealing some pretty earth shattering things to me. There was pride that I hadn't recognized and some impure motives in a few situations I was involved in. God was shining light into so much darkness I hadn't even known was there... Needless to say, I had a really wonderful time of confession and repentance, all before 6:30 AM. I felt completely alive and filled with His goodness and mercy, ready to face whatever the day would bring. I looked up at the clock and realized I needed to iron my husband's pants ;).

So I went upstairs and he was just waking up. I got his pants on the ironing table and noticed a tear in the pocket. Still groggy, he remembered that yes, he'd ripped them the other day...so he couldn't wear them. I immediately huffed and puffed and went into the closet to find something different he could wear. I complained that he still has so many old clothes he needs to get rid of, and why can't he just wear the ripped pants because I specifically made sure they were washed and dried yesterday so they'd be ready for him to wear today, and on and on!
Spirit filled? Not so much. Loving my husband...with a cheerful heart? Not a chance.

I ironed some other pants and walked downstairs on the verge of tears. Not out of frustration with the pants, but because why don't I GET IT? Why can't I love my husband in a way that honors the Lord, and why do I always get frustrated over the tiniest little things? I should know better. I do know better. I know what my husband needs in order to feel loved, and he feels most loved through acts of service (carried out happily and without grumbling). WHY can't I just get a clue? Why can't I put into practice all the things that I know to be true? What is wrong with me and when will I ever be good at this without having to try so hard? When will it ever come naturally to just serve him and not have to constantly battle myself? And right after I'd spent thirty beautiful minutes in prayer?

Then, very gently and with clarity (so I knew it was Him now) God spoke right to my spirit:
What is it that you think you'll be able to perfect? Is there some great need to be able to do life without constant filling and refilling from me? If you reach this point of perfection, wouldn't you then require none of Me? You know, Aly, I quite enjoy our sweet intimate moments in the morning when you pour out to me and then I pour into you. And we both know you enjoy it, too. If you had it all together and did everything right all the time, you'd have no need to come back to Me every single morning (let's be honest: every hour, most days) to be renewed and filled, to confess and repent, to be sanctified, to learn and grow and know me more intimately. Isn't the point of all of this supposed to be more of Me, not less? Just go apologize to your sweet husband (who already knows you can be a little crazy at times), and come drink in the fullness of joy in My presence.

Then I thought about Paul and the "thorn in his flesh" that never went away. I mean, Paul, of all people? He pretty much had it together, you'd think. But even he had areas that needed continual renewing:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God is all about relationship. There will always be a reason for us to cling more desperately to our Redeemer. So you will never get to a point in your life where you don't need Him anymore. His ultimate goal is not to wean you from Himself, it's not like our human child/parent relationships. The point is not to get to a place where you have it under control all by yourself. We're supposed to need Him every hour. More and more each day. And when we do, that's a good sign.

{ADDED: Leslie here. I don't know what's going on today, but blogger won't let me comment on anyone's blog INCLUDING MY OWN! Am I the only one here?? Well, I guess if I'm not, you won't be able to tell me so. Kind of annoying, so here's my comment: The part that I can't get out of my mind is the phrase about how we live like we are weaning ourselves off of God. and how that's the opposite of the direction we should be going in! I certainly get tempted to feel like the more perfect I get, the less I need that day to day, hour to hour input. And how wrong I am. Thanks for the reminder that my direction should be more and more, not less and less. Ok, just needed to get that off my chest!} 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The dream with the wolves

A couple of years ago, I had this dream. It was so vivid. And terrifying.

I was somewhere with a sort of empty landscape, like the desert, and it was just after sunset. The light was dim and shadows were all around me. I was alone and afraid.

Soon, a small pack of snarling wolves approached me, viciously baring their teeth and advancing. I could tell they were intent on attacking me and I had nowhere to run. I felt defenseless and weak, as they began to lunge and bite me. I hadn't a sense of such pain and terror in a dream in years.

And then I realized I wasn't alone. In the shadows stood the figure of a man nearby. I knew it was Jesus, and yet He stood motionless. He seemed unaffected by my torment. I kept trying to dodge the wolves and turn away from their biting, but they were relentless. I felt a panicked confusion that Jesus wouldn't rescue me. He simply stood in the shadow, watching. I didn't know why He wouldn't help me, and so I endured a sort of injury from Him as well.

I must also add that I was ignoring something inside my spirit. It was illogical, this idea, and so it took a long time for me to listen. I already somehow knew that if I were to scream out, "I'm enough!" the wolves would stop hurting me. All I had to do was shout it out. It was as if Jesus was giving me this shield, and I refused to use it. Because I couldn't believe it.

So I chose to fight in my own ways first. It just made more sense. Dodging, hiding, feverishly praying, yelling at the wolves. None of it worked. They bit and growled and hurt me again and again.

Finally, out of options, feeling broken, abandoned, and desperate for relief, I screamed it out. "I'M ENOUGH! I'm enough. I'm enough..." And instantly the wolves retreated.

At the same moment, there came another agreement I knew I needed to make in my heart. Not just "I'm enough," but "You are enough," as well. I needed to believe that even when I can't understand God's ways, He is and has everything I need. As soon as I could speak out and believe that I was enough in His eyes and He was enough for me, peace settled, nothing could attack me, and I began to heal.

Now, it is a couple years later, and I'm still working the truths of this dream out into my real life.

I had a doozy of a week last week. I didn't realize for several days of being attacked (in a spiritual sense) that that was exactly what was happening. I was trying twenty other ways to dodge the lies that were taking bites out of me. But the dream...I wasn't remembering it, and in a moment of surrender and silence, the Lord brought it to mind. All you need to do to be free is shout to those wolves, "I'm enough," and "He is enough," because I AM. I could feel them starting to retreat as soon as I conceded, "Yes, OK, I remember, Lord."

God spoke these "enough" weapons to me a long time ago, and they haven't expired. I don't know if they resonate with you in your own life, if your wolves are like mine, attacking your self-worth and sufficiency, and God's sufficiency too, sometimes with relentless force. And I don't know if you've reasoned with God like I have, saying, "God HOW, exactly, am I enough, when I know I am definitely NOT, when I am definitely falling short in all my jobs?" This was His answer for me this week: "You are enough, because I am the rest." His power is perfected in my weakness. When I fall short, He makes up the difference. He is the rest. I can't always see it, but I believe it. And belief in the truth makes for quite a formidable shield.

And one more thing. In retrospect, I remember that shadowed man in my dream, the passive Jesus. The problem is that Jesus is never passive. He is always acting on behalf of His children, so when he seems passive, I've learned it is to allow us room to take our own steps of faith. A good parent eventually lets go of the newly walking baby's hand. She lets her child take age-appropriate risks. The Lord is no different. Now I realize that in my dream, He was not passive. He was waiting. He didn't abandon me in my struggle (even though I felt like He did). He was at my side, witnessing and feeling my every pain, and praying for me to find courage.

Friends, that is what He is always doing! Standing nearby, like a good parent, ready to brace us if we fall, but also hoping we take that next wobbly step of faith.


Monday, May 23, 2011

If God lined up...

We play this game, my family and I.

I stole the game from a pastor who shared his family tradition in his talk.
Well, it begins as more of an affirmation, less of a game. But there's a point at which the affirmation becomes so rooted, so familiar on the tongue in your home that it begins to be played with and jumbled and laughed about. Because it is so embraced. Everyone feels so embraced.

It goes like this. Let's say I was kneeling next to my son's bed during bedtime, just like I did tonight.

It doesn't have to be his birthday. But today is. His sixth, to be exact.

And normally, I'm not scrambling for something to say in order to mask my shy tears for how six years ago, I labored until I could hold his just under eight-pound frame, and the wonder at how his bony legs now reach so far down his Star Wars sheets. But I was.

I began, "If God lined up all the boys in the whole wide world...

even the really fast ones,

and the ones who never got in trouble in class,

and ones who could put together really hard Lego sets without help,

every little six year old boy with every color hair and eyes,

I'd choose you.
And if we had a really bad week, and I got another try, I'd choose you.

And if you did something - the worst thing you can think of - I'd look at all the boys in that long, long line,

And I'd choose you."

But my son isn't surprised at all. He is laughing because he said "You'd choose me!" two minutes ago, as soon as the words started to come out of my mouth. The sentiment is so familiar it has become a game. Then he grabs his stuffed animal, as he usually does, and plays the game with his much-loved friend. "If God lined up all da dogs...." and on he plays.

And once in a while, when we play this in his room in the glow of his nightlight, he slips his skinny arm around my neck and says with gleaming eyes, "If God lined up all da mommies in da hold wide world (grinning ear to ear, dramatically pausing)....I'd choose you, Mama."

All of it swells with love more than I can contain, so it presses up, welling in my eyes and widening my smile. I shake my head, not knowing how I deserve all this goodness. Knowing that I really don't.

As if that isn't enough, Jesus whispers from the corners of this game, every time. I hear his voice echoing mine, as a parent, to me. "I choose you." I say it to my child, and I hear it as a child, whispering in this rhythm of love.

Over and over, "I choose you."

We all sleep easy in the embrace.



Friday, May 20, 2011

Right this minute.

Casey's got this cool link-up on Fridays called What is on your heart? So I'm gonna tell you what's on mine. Then I'm gonna link up. And I like lists, so I'm numbering the things. Numbering tricks me into believing my mind has some order to it. And it's casual Friday today here at top of the page. I just decided that. In a writing sense, not a khakis-and-white-shirts sense.

Here goes.

1. Tonight I started editing some photos from the past few years of my son's life. His birthday is Sunday and I'm planning to write a post about him in honor of his six years. The pictures. Man. I miss my baby, and yet I'm so excited for his new stage. Kindergarten ends in a few weeks. His 0-5 years ends in two days. You know what that means? You know how every book and smart person says that the most critical season in a child's life is from 0-5? You know how it feels to digest the fact that after Sunday, I will have ZERO children under six? I can't even wrap my emotions around it all. But I am trying to remember this post, and how to keep perspective....less focus on the loss of where he's been, more focus on the celebration of where he is going. Which is hard to do looking at those photos. Breathing slowly.

2. Number three is going to be about this book I'm reading. But number two is about my bookmark in that book. I often use photos as bookmarks. And this one is extra special to me. It is an old, square photo with rounded corners. The back is stamped with FEB 1978. Handwriting in blue ink says "Friends, 8 mos." It is a picture of me, just having turned 3, sitting on a hideously 70's brown couch with a patchwork pattern on it, my arm snugly around my brother, the 8 month old. He is slumped to the side against me, baby rolls hidden by his white PJs. I am in a goldenrod turtleneck, my strawberry bangs neatly trimmed above my eyebrows. I am pushing my pink cheek down to his fuzzy head. If it weren't casual Friday, I'd get off the couch and scan it for you. But you have a good imagination. I lose reading time while staring at this photo. I love my brother.

3. Casual Friday is imploring me to say it this way: Elizabeth Elliot is legit. Seriously. She is the spiritual mentor I've never had. As soon as I open any book of hers, I am floored by the truths inside, and how much I need them. I just started this book, Discipline: The Glad Surrender. I resisted reading it for a long while, honestly because reading a book on discipline sounds about as interesting as eating oatmeal every day for eternity. But what in the world. It is one of those where I am SO mad when I happen to be reading it and don't have a pen handy. I have to stop myself from underlining the whole page sometimes. Let me just share one little piece. OK, I tried to decide what to excerpt from the book and it's too hard to choose. I'll write about the greatness and what I'm learning in smaller bits later. You may be hearing a lot about it.

4. Lastly, on a more vulnerable note, I've been just keeping my head above water lately. In case you're in the same boat, I'm in it. So many challenges swirling around me lately, in my mind and heart. I do have an understanding that some of it is spiritual attack. I do know that others are struggling around me as well, and are causing some of the strife. I do know lots of grace better be happening for them and for myself. And in my rough place, I read this post last night - how I love Gina's heart - and I was not expecting my face to flush hot with the coming of tears. It was the Holy Spirit reminding me, "I've got this. I'm holding it all together." It was just what I needed. Then this morning, I made a quick stop for a bagel at a local place I like to support because they are Christians and they have the best bagels ever. Once in a while, they play Christian music inside, but today I wasn't listening. I was in my own thoughts. I didn't notice until halfway through my bagel that this Chris Tomlin song was on. Yeah. Hot flush on my face, welling up, over my bagel. Over the Lord.

How He loves me. How He is calling me to bring all my mess to Him, offer me His healing grace. He is so gentle, caring tenderly for my bare heart. {Sigh} I have a lot to work through right now, but at least I know to lean in to Him.

Suddenly casual Friday turned into weepy Friday. But that's how I roll sometimes. I'm a feeler. Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I'll be celebrating it with my special little soon to be six year old. Legos will be involved. I'll share next week.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: in Heather's words

Meet Heather.

Wait. You already know Heather, I bet. And at least you know her because she just recently designed this lovely little blog. But if you don't know her beyond her amazing design skills and impeccable taste, you must know that she is also one of the most grounded people I've known. So kind, personable, gracious, and so generous in heart, how could I not invite her to write for this series? And what a heartfelt post she has written. It is already hitting me personally tonight, as I cut and paste this post together. Thank you, Heather. So much. You are a truly lovely woman.

Since losing my son Samuel in 2007, God has shown His grace to me time
and time again. God used my loss as a way to open my eyes to the world around me,
and through His love I was finally able to understand that there is no such thing as a small
act of kindness. Needless to say, I kinda thought I had this grace thing figured out.

I should have known better. 

Every time I think I understand something, God finds a way to shake things up
just enough to show me how little I really do know.  This time it came in
the form of a situation I never expected to be thrust into.  Someone that I
trusted betrayed me, and while the old me would have gotten angry and
confrontational, the new me understood that grace was required for this
situation.  The old me, the version that existed before my sweet son was
born, would have wanted to change minds and get my side of the story across.
 The new me, the version that God saved through His grace, knew that my
story didn't matter here and the best I could do was to allow space and offer
prayer for hearts to be changed.  I promise you, this makes it all sound
much easier than the reality of it was.  The old me kept trying to break
through to wreak havoc on the situation, which led me to became frustrated with
myself.  I kept thinking, shouldn't I of all people know better?
 I mean after all, I had lived under God's grace for so many days while my
heart was broken in two, so shouldn't I be able to offer His love to people
no matter what the situation?  I felt disappointed in myself and assumed
that God was disappointed in me too.  My mind stewed in this state for an
embarrassingly long time until I was finally, after too many weeks, able to sit
quietly and hear Him.  In that moment, just as He always does, He covered
me in His blanket of grace, calmed my mind, and whispered...

Grant yourself grace.

I can honestly say that it had never occurred to me, not even for a second, that
through this journey I should have granted myself some grace along
the way.  After hearing His words though, I knew what I had to do.
 And so I sat in the quiet, telling myself that it was okay that I was
having a difficult time walking this path.  I began to tell myself that I
will never get it right all the time, regardless of what God has shown me,
because I am a sinner.  I told myself that I deserved the same kind of
compassion that I would show to others.  Let me tell you, that was a
very hard sentence to say, but once I did, I felt so free. I realize that I
likely looked like a crazy person while I sat and talked to myself while
crying like a baby, but I don't mind.  Being able to finally grasp the
importance of putting myself on the grace list was a very special gift He gave
me that night. 

Thank you for letting me participate in this amazing series of yours Leslie.
It has seriously been an honor for me.   xoxo-Heather 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Potty talk and Bible versions

For about two weeks, I've been hearing a lot of yuck come out of the mouths of my babes.

Potty talk. Rudeness to one another. Innocent but totally inappropriate language (like when my five-year old tried out the word "sexy" this week after coming home from a friend's house). It is a tenuous job to be constantly teaching them how to use their words appropriately and lovingly (particularly when I don't have a clean grasp on my own words!).

But take printing the alphabet. I'm an expert. I can print the alphabet in tons of ways: lowercase, uppercase, cursive, bubble letters...you name it. If you're a child and need to know how to print letters, step right up because I am confident I can teach you some awesome printing.

Using words appropriately all the time, however, is not easy. The task in my own life feels monumental. So as far as teaching it, I feel nowhere near expert status. And friends, whenever I feel out of my element in an area of parenting - whenever I know my knowledge and wisdom are below what I need to adequately teach my child something - I always look to the Bible to help me teach. If I can't offer my children what I myself have mastered firsthand, I go to the source of all good teaching. God's word contains everything my child really needs to know.

So this verse has been popping up in my head from my younger years on the subject of using one's words well. Ephesians 4:29. Here is the version in which I learned the verse, the New American Standard Version. I memorized this in high school:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Here's the deal about Ephesians 4:29. It has a lot of confusing words in it for kids. I am not into teaching my kids to memorize scripture in language that is not yet familiar to their little brains. I just don't see the point in that - at least not for my in-the-moment purposes of getting a point across. If I were to share this verse with my Kindergartner, he'd say, "Whaaaaaat?"

So I just HAVE to share with you again the sheer wonderfulness of the New International Reader's Version, or the NIrV, which takes the entire Bible and translates it using words most kids can understand. Check out how much more down to earth Ephesians 4:29 becomes:

Don't let any evil talk come out of your mouths. Say only what will help to build others up and meet their needs. Then what you say will help those who listen.

Ahhh. Thank you NIrV. Thank you for helping me teach my kids that the measuring stick for choosing what to say is whether or not it will help the listener. So simple. My kids can get that! Right?

On www.ChristianBook.com, you can shop for Bibles, and sort by version. If you pick the NIrV version, you can see there are 29 different children's Bibles in that translation. Or, just look up the verse you want on Bible Gateway, and select NIrV to see the verse in that version. For a child who is a young reader, I think this translation is ideal. It has helped me explain the truths of God's word in much more simple language. When it comes to teaching our kids things as important as that, who couldn't use a little help?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekend with Before and After hair

I had a really good weekend. It contained a little free time with a friend, a little T-ball watching of my favorite player, and a special lunch with my favorites on the planet. But one more important thing that happened was that I got a haircut. I don't love to spend money on my hair, so I get haircuts like three times a year. Maybe four. I feel a little bad for my haircutters because they deserve better.

Anyway, you'll see the progression in my pics - before and after the awesome haircut I got.  And btw, the pics where you see my freshy style are on the SECOND DAY. That's how you know you got a good cut. It looks exactly the same after you sleep on it for 7 hours. Why oh why can it make you feel so darn happy when someone else makes your hair look cute?

Exhibit A: T-ball.

First of all, my fave playa. Must have caught him while not climbing the fence or trying to carry handfuls of dirt while running from second to third base. I love T-ball. Can't get any cuter.

Second of all, it's 8 a.m. Just remember that. Having red hair means I also have invisible brows and eyelashes when going au natural. Which is why I sometimes get passionate about new mascara. Also, notice the way my hair, in this "before", has a texture resembling hay.

Exhibit B: Happy, happy lunch with my peeps after church, sans hay hair.

Look. Don't you love those guys? My beautiful girl always poses so well for pictures. My little buddy....well, we just take a lot of pictures and hope the stars align such that all his limbs are motionless for one photo to turn out.

As for my hair, I'm sure tomorrow, after I wash all the magical salon products out, it will slowly but surely approach hay-status again. And then I'll neglect my haircutters, and then be embarrassed when I finally get in again. It's a vicious cycle.

But that's okay, because I have these two. They make me unable to care less about hay hair.

Lord-willing, I have these two every day.

Every precious day.



Sunday, May 15, 2011

{Repost} Grace on a Thursday: For someone else

{I'm reposting my Grace on a Thursday post from last week, which was lost into the blogosphere somehow due to the Blogger hiccup. A nice friend who still had the post on her Google Reader emailed the text to me! Hooray!}

I think up till now, I've been thinking about and writing on the many ways I need God's grace by the time Thursday rolls around in my week. Today was different.

In the matter of an hour, three different people backed out of commitments they had made to me. It was sort of interesting that each person needed grace from me. And even funnier that I had it to give! Today was a good day, so I felt filled up and content, not burnt out and dragging as I often feel by evening. But each of these people were burnt out. They were at their end and felt awful. They didn't want to let me down. They wanted to have more to give, but simply didn't. And I had a choice: either to be disappointed and pouty, or offer them a generous heap of grace.

I don't know why offering that grace tonight was easy for me. It isn't always. But I wonder if the reason I felt filled up was because God wanted to use me. He kept my tank filled so that I could pour into others that fullness of love when they needed it most. (I don't feel like I'm boasting about this because it feels so unusual to be the one handing out the grace, since typically, I'm the one in need of it!)

Gosh, how often does He provide that grace for ME through others? All the time! All the time, the Lord uses a friend or family member or blog friend to encourage me, lift me up, and cover me with grace when I'm defeated. He could do it Himself, directly speaking to me, or supernaturally helping me feel better. But instead, most of the time, He uses others. Isn't that sorta crazy? That the Lord of heaven and earth wants to use broken strugglers like you and me just so that we get the blessing of being filled up and poured out into another's life?

Grace is hard to find in our world. Much more common are judgement, entitlement, retaliation, and unforgiveness. It is also really, really hard to teach our children how to offer grace. The other reactions come so much more easily. They don't have to be learned. They are woven into our humanness. Grace is counter intuitive in our world. It doesn't make sense. And that is precisely why offering grace is so loving; people are starving for it.

Someone will cross you today, or let you down, or say something careless. Don't forget that he or she is starving for grace. God will take care of the conviction if sin is involved. No need to be the Holy Spirit in someone else's life. Try grace. A forgiving smile, a "Don't worry about it," or an "I understand" may be the buoy he or she needs to stay afloat right now.

If you're the one needing grace on a Thursday - and trust me, nearly every week that is me too - take time to look at Jesus and see his forgiving smile. He does understand, and He has heaps of grace for you, as long as you'll believe it and then accept His generous favor. (Hey, you should just take it, by the way. Really. You can't earn it, so quit trying!)

Oh friends. I hope you have a great day. Let me know if you get a chance to hand out a little grace.


Short and Sweet Sunday

I woke up this morning - well, I wasn't even fully awake - and these words were in my head and in my heart.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Psalm 27:13

The words trickled along, my mind sleepily turning them over one by one, and I noticed I knew them.

I knew the verse, and I knew its truth.

I've stood on the brink of despair and remembered His goodness. I have been able to turn my back on confusion and hopelessness and choose trust because He is good. And I can say I know it because I have seen it. I don't have blind faith, I've seen His goodness over and over again.

How many times have you and I seen His goodness in our lives, even in what appear to be small ways? An uncountable number. And yet we still at times stand on the brink, seeing despair as our only option.

I would say I've learned to turn my back on that despair through trial and error, meaning I've yielded to despair way too many times before I found the courage to dig up memories of the Lord's goodness and choose to believe I'd see it again. Faith is not easy.

But so worth it. You have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living too, so next time you face that precipice, pull out those memories with all you have. Use them like weapons, and ask God to show you His goodness again. It may not be in the way you'd prefer, but He will, I have no doubt.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

We've all seen His goodness. The trick is remembering it when it counts most.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Some say I have a cute button.

And some sassy words. I apologize. Kinda.

But I don't apologize for my amazingly cute new top of the page button over yonder! 

Did you see it??!!

Heather did my whole blog redesign and every time I click on "View Blog" from my dashboard I feel so happy to see my new duds. I didn't have a button before, so if you've ever wanted to put a lovely turquoise mini typewriter on your sidebar, you can! Well, aren't you so excited? I am. (Did I mention that?)  

Also, I wrote a new "about" page. You can check it out by clicking on the "Welcome" box with my photo. I wanted to put a few words towards defining what the heck I'm doing here in my corner of the blog world. OK it's more than a few words, but that's how I roll. I know you love me anyway. 

Finally, Heather had the amazing idea of creating a Grace on a Thursday button. That way, when you click on it, you can read all those posts in one place. Aaaaand, you can steal that button too, if you like that series and want to share it on your sidebar as well. See how they match? Oh so pretty!

Now if only someone could design me an outfit out of all these pretty color, my life would be complete.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Hey, and if you're new here, say Hi, K?
(And if you have your email enabled in your profile, I can say Hi back. Please please? If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me know and I'll elaborate.)

{Oh yeah, and did anyone else notice that my last post, the Grace on a Thursday one is completely gone?? All that mess with blogger yesterday must have erased it! I don't have another draft either. Sad.}


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two remedies for shame

I have been anxious to sit down and write this post all day. After yesterday's post, I've been mulling over my thoughts on shame and what I've learned in the past few months regarding it.

This post contains truth I've learned recently that can and will change my life. It's that important, and it is a perfect example of the Lord providing me the tools I need.

Just for a little background, remember a couple months ago I went to our church's women's retreat? Well I did. (You can refresh your memory here.) Before I went, I was also contemplating going to a conference for Christian writers and bloggers called She Speaks. I have a very subtle, way down deep idea that God may want me to write more than just blog posts. That maybe I'm being prepared for something beyond the scope of my words in this space. I'm open to His ideas, and curious about them.

Also, I know that the Bible speaks a lot about telling others of God's great work in our lives. If He has loved me, changed me, shown up for me, then part of my story is certainly to give Him glory by encouraging someone through sharing that experience. I've known this for a long time, so I'd say over the past 15 years, I've felt an ever-growing conviction about telling God's stories. In fact, that conviction is part of why I'm passionate about this lil' blog.

So I went to the women's retreat with that mental backdrop. On Saturday night, during a message that was not really speaking to me all that much, the speaker threw out a verse from Revelation so casually. It was even off topic. That verse may have been the whole reason I was there that weekend. (Remember, Revelation is a record of visions John saw regarding the end times.) Here is the verse with some more context:

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.

"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death."

Revelation 12:9-12

The speakers voice faded into nothing in my ears. I instantly had this image of my arch enemy standing before the throne in heaven, day and night, accusing me and all believers. I saw it. I felt it. And I knew it to be true. Picture it. Can you hear the accusations? (Perhaps you heard some today.)

Did you hear what she just said? What an awful mother. I can't believe she's even a parent. Wow, is she screwing up their lives.

Her husband doesn't care about her anyway. She's just not what he needs. He'd much rather have someone different.

She is just spinning her wheels, not making any difference to anyone.

She doesn't have any real friends, and she'd lose the ones she has if she were any more vulnerable. What a mess. 

She is just a big fraud. If anyone really knew what was going on, she'd be an embarrassment.

Going to church? Bible study? What a waste of time. Nothing's ever going to change. It's just too late for her.

I fought back the ugly cry in that moment, when the speaker had already gone onto another topic. I knew it all too well, how that dark, deceitful spirit presses me down with lies. Thick, cloudy, bold-faced lies.

But the ugly cry was not for the shame I regularly battled. It was actually for joy, because of the remedies spelled out in the passage. I was so humbly thankful for the two things, the two specific weapons God clearly showed me that I could wield against the Accuser: the blood of the Lamb, and the power of my testimony.

Do you see the pieces coming together for me here? I hope I am doing the Lord justice with this story because it is amazing how in His great compassion, He saw my shame, and He handed me the tools I needed to fight.

"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb..."

My first weapon is the blood of Jesus. I can claim redemption because blood was shed for me. The resurrection happened; we just celebrated it a few weeks ago. For shame to begin to dissolve, I need only recall that my spiritual debts are cleared once and for all. The Accuser has nothing on me. My sin has been removed from me as far as the east is from the west. There is no accusation that the blood can't cover. Period.

"Now there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Romans 8:1

"...and because of the word of their testimony."

My second weapon is the power of my testimony. Let me just say that as soon as I share a bit of my story, whether in a blog post or over coffee with a friend, I feel stronger. The accusations stop because I am focused on God's work in the bigger picture, and I feel useful to Him. Friends, don't underestimate the power of your testimony not only to affect someone else's life, but to protect your own soul from the Accuser! It is so important to be willing to speak out the ways the Lord is at work in our lives. It helps both the speaker and the hearer to remember what life is all about. It is all from Him and through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36). The Accuser's big trick is to get us to focus on ourselves; one big pity-party is all we need to open ourselves up to attack.

If you at all resonated with my last post, you cannot afford to let go of your two weapons, the blood of the Lamb, and the power of your testimony. Use them, and then encourage me to, since I so easily forget! We are fighting the same fight, sisters. Let's shake off the shame God never intended for us to bear, and then watch each other's backs.


Monday, May 09, 2011

I almost cancelled Mother's Day

I almost did it.

Saturday was such a bad day for me as a mom that I almost said, "I'm over it! I will NOT celebrate Mother's Day with you people (my children) because you don't care about me as your mother and you do not respect my voice!" I was such a struggler. Whew.

At the time, I was writing this post in my head, chronicling every gory detail of the window between 2 and 6 p.m. when my house and all the people in it turned upside-down in chaos, tears, defiance, consequences, a bad fall (my son fell, trying to leap from the couch to the coffee table and started screaming, "I broke my leg! I broke my leg!" I was inclined to believe him, since he actually has had a broken leg before. But he didn't break his leg. Thank you, God.) family discord, messes everywhere, a missed appointment due to said chaos...need I go on? But a lot of the detail is lost now. I guess I should be glad it's been washed from my memory!

So I didn't want Mother's Day for two reasons. I didn't feel like anyone cared about the mother that I was, and also, part of me was convinced that all the chaos was proof that I was failing at the job anyway. Completely failing.

Because how could things be going so badly if I were a 'good' mom? How could my children be so disobedient and disrespectful if I were doing my job properly? My anger and mistakes and weakness must be ruining all my attempts at raising healthy adults. Right? I couldn't get these thoughts out of my head.

You know what all those thoughts are called? In a word, shame. The familiar, favorite tune my enemy likes to sing to me when the downward spiral begins. I feel like I need to be totally vulnerable with you here to share that Saturday, after all hell was breaking loose, I was covered in feelings of shame. Drowning, and totally succumbing to its power to sink me. Which means I was standing in the kitchen doing dishes and weeping. My typical grown-up discretion was gone. I was flat-out defeated.

I know that doesn't happen to everyone. It is just my thing. Some people struggle with self-confidence, some get overcome with worry, some are incapacitated by anxiety. My battle is with shame. I know in my mind it is inappropriate. I know most of the time it is not logical or spiritually sound. I know I am redeemed by Jesus and that He has paid the penalty for all my mistakes. However, I just don't yet know how to conquer the power of negative emotion I feel when chaos ensues and it looks to be all my fault. It makes motherhood - an occupation riddled with chaos - at times, very hard for me.

I think part of the reason is that when I was younger, a lot of things came easily for me. For one, I got really good grades in school. I was used to receiving excellent report cards every few months. This went on throughout my school career (well, there were some exceptions in college). That equals a long history of someone telling me what a good job I was doing. Naturally, I left college, entered the adult world, and began looking for my report cards.

I found them, most certainly. Appropriate or not, I found them. In my job reviews, in the birthday cards people gave me, in the words of my husband. Wow, are you seeing the problem with this pattern? And as much as I've grown in my three decades of life, a part of me still longs for a "good review." So is it all that surprising that when my kids are completely bouncing off the walls that I feel like a big failure? No! It kinda makes sense, in a twisted way. As mothers, we make the mistake of looking to our kids' words and actions as a kind of performance review.

I get it, and yet I know it is wrong. It is so very dangerous for me to be looking to my children (or anyone, for that matter) to reflect my level of success. They are simply broken, selfish people too, and while I have a responsibility to give motherhood everything I can, I am not responsible for their every mistake. They have free will, and the only one to whom I answer is the Lord.

I am not freeing myself or any other mom from the basic God-given responsibility to raise her children with a healthy balance of truth and grace. Of course not. But Saturday I was getting really confused. I started to think Mother's Day had something to do with a report card on me as a mom. I was believing the lie that I wasn't measuring up. I forgot to listen to what the Lord had to say about me as a mom. He hired me in the first place, didn't He? Were children my idea or His? Were they my creations or His? Oh, how I forgot that it is all about Him! His plan, His children, and His performance review.

Really friends, His feedback is the kindest, most forgiving, encouraging feedback I'll ever receive. He gently corrects when I'm off. He gives me great ideas when I'm out of them. He lifts me up when I'm feeling tired and defeated. He gives me every tool I need for my life. In fact, the way He honors me as a woman and as a mother, filling in where I am deficient, the Lord makes me feel like Mother's Day is every day.

He is celebrating me because I am doing the job I've been called to do: parent His children. And I'm doing it to the best of my ability. He is celebrating you too, if you're doing the jobs you were called to do. Not for the quality of job you're doing in your life. Not for how close to perfect you are. Simply for who you are.

The Lord honors mothers. He knows how hard it is to shape willful, stubborn children into mature adults. And so He is an ever-present help for us. As difficult as it may be, I am so thankful He gave me the chance to be a mother, if only to see how well He parents me. Knowing more of His love for me as my parent gives me the strength I need to try to love my children in the same way.

Each day, I have a new chance to love them as I have been loved. What a privilege. What a thing worth celebrating.

I hope you had a Happy Mother's Day.   


Friday, May 06, 2011

What I've learned from motherhood

{You may have already read this post. It was featured here last week. But for the day I stop blogging and compile everything I've written in this space, I wanted to make sure it was here in black and white on my own blog as well. Plus it is about motherhood, and what I've learned. No better time than this weekend to post it, right?}

Happy Friday!! 

I realized last night, while thinking about this post, that next month, when my oldest child turns 9 (that pretty little thing above) two major milestones will be reached. First, I will be technically half-finished with raising her (gasp). My time left before she is an adult will be equal to the time I've already had with her. That is a scary thought. And secondly, a couple months after that, around the time she was conceived, I will have been a mother for a decade. Those words string into black and white with a shock, for me.

My instant thought is that I should be further along as a mom! What do I know? What have I learned? And oh God, what have I permanently screwed up?

But I came up with something I think is pretty huge. Huge, because I'm still learning it, still needing to keep it huge in my head. If I've learned anything over the last near decade, one thing I know for certain, that is necessary, even, for "making it" as a mother is that you have to get very, very comfortable with the only direction in which a child ever grows: up and away.

They grow up and away. They need me less and less, as I teach them to be independent, healthy people. And isn't that exactly what I want? Of course! Still, each step stings.

On this day, my little guy had completed all these puzzles by himself.

 This is where my perspective comes in, the only thing over which I have control. Because I don't have control over the growing. My kids keep growing, like crazy, in fact. But I can manage my perspective. Instead of sighing with heartbreak at every milestone left behind, I can cheer inside for each new development. This was a bit easier when they were little bitty. It's easy to cheer for first steps, first teeth, and first friends....all steps, mind you, that require less of mama. But it's been harder for me to cheer at different steps of growth, such as a five-year old big boy hand pulling away from mine when I go to hold it out of habit. It's hard for me to let my kids resolve friendship issues without just speaking to the other mom. It's so, so hard to watch innocence erode, the rules being tested and shoved by their wills to be separate from me and try out the wild world. (If you have a "darter" for a toddler, you know what I mean.) 

When my daughter was two, it was endearing the way she'd squeak, "I do it my big self!" with such passion and resolution. But a slow blink later, and those words become, "No thanks, mom, I don't need any help." Over and over. And I have a choice: to wallow in self pity that I'm slowly losing them, or be completely satisfied that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing!

Here's the bottom line that I need to remind myself every time I'm tempted to feel heartbroken at watching my babies slip away. It is not my job to raise children. It is my job to raise adults. Competent, compassionate, character-filled adults who can hold their own in this broken world. Oh, how I desire to succeed at this!  

So I've let go of a lot of ways I myself was trying to grasp at time. For one, I've stopped feverishly compiling photo albums and memory boxes and all the record keeping I was trying to do! I still do a little. I keep precious mementos and favorite art projects. But in those early years, it was so overwhelming, and I felt so much pressure to RECORD every breath they took. Now, I'm asking myself 'Why?' All those things can be well and good, don't get me wrong. If you're an amazing scrapbooker, go to town. But for ME, I was doing those kinds of things with a desperation, a desire to stop or control that which can't be stopped.

I love this old picture. So much baby and so much big boy rolled into one. He is about to turn six next month. He didn't want to hold my hand today.

I can't capture that smell of a baby's breath, or the feeling of a little one asleep on my chest for two hours. Yes, I enjoyed it while it lasted. But I certainly don't want to pine away for the past and miss what amazing people my children are becoming! Wow, they are miracles blooming before my very eyes, and I am so blessed to be their mom. 

But to experience all the blessings, I have to stop holding on in sadness to that which is lost. I absolutely have to get comfortable with them needing me less and less. I have to remember it is truly what I want.

I can't remember the last time I brushed my daughter's teeth, or the last time she put on some plastic princess heels. But just the other day, when she was slighted at school by a friend, she told me she didn't feel too sad because she knew God was her friend. My heart practically stopped. The truth is, if I'm doing something right, my kids will need me less and less, and learn to lean on their Heavenly Father more and more. That is what we're doing here. It all comes down to Him.
It is not about me.

That, my friends, is what I've learned from motherhood.   

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Grace on a Thursday: terrorists and such

My brain is always connecting dots. I'm always analyzing life and people and truth, often without even being aware I'm doing it. But sometimes I sense an internal resistance to lay my thoughts against what the Bible says. Sometimes I don't want to connect my life with what God says because I'm afraid of what I'll find along that line (because let's face it, the Bible says some pretty extreme stuff). Which makes me force myself to do it.

This week, in light of the recent victories in the War on Terror, I've felt that resistance. I've wanted to package up the death of Osama Bin Laden into a box labeled "justice." I've wanted room to feel prideful and superior to those "kinds" of people. But instead, I've forced myself to look at things from different angles. I've been asking myself how grace comes into the picture. What is God thinking about all this?

Now, there are two things to consider before I go on. One is that we live in a great country, one served by thousands of men and women much braver than myself who literally lay their lives on the line for my safety. They are heroes and they are to be honored. I know the United States has achieved some significant military goals this week, but beyond that, I know very little of what those men and women endure for our sake. I can simply be grateful.

But secondly, we are dealing with more than military initiatives, here. We are speaking of people, human souls. The facts I resist staring hard into are that God himself knit Osama Bin Laden together in his mother's womb, just like He did my own son. God saw his unformed body; He knew what each of his days would hold before even one of them came to pass (Psalm 139: 13, 15-16). My guess is that upon his death, Bin Laden was not a repentant man. I'm assuming he refused to surrender, not only to the U.S., but to the Lord Almighty. That's sad.

A lot of people on earth died that same day. Grandmothers, people in car accidents and hospitals, firemen, soldiers, and terrorists. The truth is God was grieved by the death of each person who never chose to surrender his or her life to Him. He was grieved for each of his created ones who would now be eternally lost.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 
2 Peter 3:9

Osama Bin Laden chose to remain on the throne of his life, and truly He ruled in evil and terror. It's too late for him to find grace. But it's not too late for me to humbly examine my own willingness to surrender my life to the Lord's leading. Thank God, I'm able to walk in grace this Thursday knowing that I'll never get what I deserve for my sin, and that God does such a better job running my life than I do. I'm so thankful.

{And justice...that's a whole 'nother post. If you want to hear my thoughts, once I wrote about that here.}