Monday, September 23, 2013

Freedom and how cars here stay filthy

I come from a land of clean cars. And not simply clean. We're talking polished, perfect. Pretty much every other car in south Orange County is sparkling and shiny and imported.

My dad is one such fan of the flawless, speck-free, black sports car. Growing up, I observed him not only washing his cars every few days, but also using a long-armed duster to daily fluff off any dust that would dare enter the garage and land on a hood.

When we moved here to Montana in April, within a matter of days, I noticed how completely filthy all the cars were. It was still snowing, but infrequently then, which left a layer of slush on the roads, mixed with mud from the thawing earth. And I saw something which I had never seen before. This magical road mixture leaves an awe-inspiring display of frozen mud stalactites along the entire bottom perimeter of every car. In addition, literally within days, my car had a layer of frozen grime all over the surface that I have never experienced. After grocery shopping, I shivered to have to shut the trunk and touch the surface of my filthy car. It was gross.

My first thought was, "Wow, we'll have to get our cars washed a lot." But I was baffled by the lack of car washes here - in fact, I've yet to see a full service one. My second thought was, "Well, wait. The weather doesn't seem to let up long enough to make getting a car wash worth it."

My third thought was exhilarating. "Maybe no one washes their cars all winter. Maybe I can stop having to keep my car clean altogether..." All signs pointed to freedom.

Freedom from having to keep my car sparkling and shiny was a totally new concept. I mean, I've never been great at it to begin with, but I always felt I should be better. I knew I could have been better, and felt pretty regular guilt that I wasn't. But now, it's literally impossible to keep a shiny, clean car. And that freedom feels pretty sweet.

You knew I was going somewhere with this, didn't you? Well, today in church, something synced. The pastor was talking about Luke 5, Jesus in the boat telling Peter, "Throw out your nets." And Peter, a professional fisherman, balks a little at Jesus. He's failed all night long, and is sure the idea of another cast is pointless. Yet he does it, and of course, when they pull them up, the nets are so full, they begin to break from the weight of the fish. Peter's response is what is interesting. He's not grateful or overjoyed. He's so deeply ashamed that he tells Jesus to get away from him because he is just a hot mess.

Peter thought that if Jesus left him alone, He'd have time to clean up. Wash off the grime of his sin. Present himself shiny to Jesus later. Peter really, really wanted to scrub his own slate clean before being with his Lord. I totally get that.

I'm not talking outer appearance. I don't usually struggle with wanting to keep up a good image of myself to others. I struggle more with trying to be my own savior and compulsively tidying my heart before I stand before Jesus. It's all fueled by shame. That's just my bent. If you've been around here long enough, you know that already. I feel like I have to talk myself up with truth and wipe the tears away, sometimes, before I can get to business with the Father. I get so ashamed of my mess. I really want to be shiny and polished first.

Rather, I wanted to be, past tense. God has grown me a lot in this area. I've written about it quite a bit too. I even have a tag on the right called "shame is my game," because it has been, for a long time. And so grace as a remedy has been a continual and hard-wrought lesson, no, theme, in my recent years.

Last week, the temps dropped low enough to sprinkle the mountain tops with snow. I took the picture above trying to capture it. Today, sitting in church, I realized that as I will grow accustomed to rolling a filthy car for the next 8 months or so, I have already grown much more accustomed to rolling a sinful heart without the compulsion to polish up before I come to Him. This is the freedom in which I've been living for a short while now: to come to Jesus in my times with him and say, "Lord, wow, I'm a hot mess right now!" not buckled over in shame as in the past, but with self-acceptance in my heart, remembering the power of grace, and with a hopeful expectation that He will receive me with loving, open arms. I'm so very confident in this now that shame has less room to push me around.

Condemnation's underlying tool is fear, of course. Our hearts need love so very badly that we tremble and quickly embrace the fear that we may not get it. We may not be worthy. We may have missed the mark too many times. We may be unlovable and end up abandoned.

But for me, getting out of the grip of shame and condemnation has been like strengthening a weak muscle. With practice, the muscle gets stronger. Walk out of the grip of shame over and over, and soon it's power over you is broken. Any power shame does have over me is only what I've willingly given it anyway.

And after thirty-plus years of walking with Him, maybe all this means I've finally understood the gospel. It's the simplest thing of all, and I've read it a zillion times: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) Not after Sunday when we cleaned our slates for the week, not because we were disciplined in brushing off all the sin dust every day. He didn't die for us once we proved ourselves worthy by trying hard to clean up our acts. Jesus died for us while we were filthy and had no hope of ever getting clean.

The weather in this world is just too harsh, too dirty to make my clean-up act worth it. Your storms and my storms are too constant. The minute I come up for air from one trial, another one starts, and Lord knows I NEVER deal with them perfectly. I wrestle and battle and only sometimes get it right. I am totally waving the white flag of trying to keep my spirit clean and tidy on my own. Jesus is enough. His life, His death, and His resurrection is more than enough. He washes me with grace. So very much grace, which is the antidote to shame. 

To believe in that grace, to expect it, to walk under it's banner while covered in grime that makes you shiver, well that's freedom.

Just think. All winter long, my filthy car will be a beautiful reminder of the gospel.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 4

I hate to tell you this, but I literally just emailed my son's teacher letting her know we could not complete the Star of the Week poster that's due tomorrow and I blame moving.

I blame moving not only for my total lack of photos, which are supposed to be plastered all over the poster and which are still packed away, but also for my scatterbrain because I could have realized this a few days ago, in time enough to print more at Costco. But I didn't. And I'm human. A human who just moved.

Here's why I hate to confess what I just did. Because when I was a student, I never missed an assignment. I completed them with extra designs and decorations in the margins and spent hours coloring in bubble lettering. I was born to be an overachiever, not because I felt I had to be, but because I really loved school. And school loved me back, meaning I now realize what validation and worth I gathered into my arms school year after school year because I did well.

So I may or may not have carried a bit of this overachiever-ness into my mothering once my own kids started elementary school. Naturally, I thought the responsible thing to do was train them early to cross every "t" and dot every "i." Complete all your assignments with your best effort, your best handwriting, and maybe add bubble lettering. Just kidding. I mean, it would have been nice though.

My intentions sounded good, in theory. It sounded like I was teaching good habits, I was teaching them how to be good students. BUT. I was forgetting the more important matter: they are small children, and I need to be their mother first.

Suddenly (why do all these BTS posts come to this point...where I realize I'm doing it all wrong!) I had a third grade girl who was spending MULTIPLE HOURS on her homework each night. I had been trying so hard to train her to be responsible that I lost touch with common sense. I don't remember what exactly hit me upside the head. But I had a sort of epiphany.

I am her teacher before anyone else. As her mother, I'm the authority who is ultimately in charge of her education, whether or not I'm physically sending her to school outside my home. It's still my job to regulate, monitor, and decide what kind of life I'm providing for my child. And if I AM deciding to send her to school outside my care, then I sure as heck better be on top of those people to whom I'm entrusting her.

Now, I didn't become THAT mom. You know, the overbearing mother who can't ever give a teacher a break and who thinks her child is the Queen of Sheba. Gross. But I did start to decide what homework my daughter really needed to do. I certainly decided to try to provide a more balanced lifestyle for my girl. I wanted her involved in cooking with me before dinner, she played a sport that was important to her emotional and physical health, and I wanted her to be a kid, to have at least a little time to play with her brother. All her after-school time could NOT be filled with more school work in order for her to be a well-rounded person. Does it seem crazy that I had to be intentional about providing time for a child to play? I think so. I can't believe it took me a while to notice, but I'm telling you, it had gotten THAT bad.

Do you see how I was passively handing off authority over my child's life to people who do not probably love her? I'm sure I've just stated many a mother's reason for choosing homeschooling. But I do believe I can remain my child's primary teacher and still send my kids to school. I know there are several good alternatives to public school, but whenever we've considered a change, God has always led us back to it for our family.

So when I took my child's life back into my own hands, first I doubled my efforts to understand what she needed more work on, and what she had already mastered. If the teacher assigned 20 math problems in something she'd totally mastered, I wrote the teacher a kind note saying that my daughter had done enough school work for the day and had proven to me that she'd mastered the concept. If she needed a little practice, I'd reassign her just the even numbers, and then check them.

Once, she was required to type an essay in fourth grade. The school was clear on their policy that they would not teach typing and the children would have to learn independently. I overruled that requirement and said she'd be turning in a neatly handwritten copy because I would not have her practicing how to type the WRONG way just for this assignment. Other times that year, I typed a few papers for her that she'd dictate from her written draft, since the grade was always for her writing, not her typing, and I was pretty sure nine year-olds didn't need to be spending an hour typing when they didn't know how. I never once got a complaint back, and my daughter never once got a consequence for incomplete work. If she had, then I would have taken up her case with the teacher myself in person. Because I am my daughter's authority.

The whole thing reminds me of being in labor for the first time. I was terrified during my first delivery, so whatever the nurses told me to do, and whatever the doctors ordered for me, I consented. I have regrets about not being my own body's authority. It's a horrible feeling to be pressured into choices that you would not freely choose, were circumstances different.

I did not want the life for my daughter that I felt so pressured into giving her. Thankfully, I got the gumption up to make changes, because no one else would have. I'm not only the authority on my kids, but I am their first and best advocate. You know your child's needs better than anyone else. At some point, you'll have to fight to protect them. Here's permission to do so.

My girl has just started middle school this year. I am not sure how things will change. It is all new to us both. I still have the urge to suggest bubble lettering on reports and for goodness sakes, at least write in cursive (she won't). She is not me, and her brain works entirely differently than mine did and does. She is an excellent student, in her own way and of her own right. I've learned that too, to let her develop into her own version of a student. My heart sort of broke in half the couple times over the years when she's said she doesn't like school. But after a few deep breaths, I embraced her individuality.

Trust me when I say that until she is old enough to defend her own needs, until she can choose what a "balanced" life means for her, I will be the one who stands in the gap as the best authority on her life, and her first advocate. It's just my job. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Storytelling and sparrows


Our Saturday morning was messy, in all the ways it could be. By 10 a.m., I wanted to go back to bed and start over. But knowing we had an engagement at 11 pushed me up out of my pajamas and into three outfits before I decided on one for the cloudy day outdoors. Yet even the indoors was cloudy; nothing was horrible and nothing was great. Everybody and everything was merely fine, and grey.

It was cloudy in my head too; I noticed God's promises seemed far off and fuzzy. I didn't have my usual joy and wondered if spiritual lions were on the prowl.

But the day went on, as it does, uncaring that I wish it would just stop for a while and let me get my footing. It was the down escalator and I was the little girl who wasn't quite sure when to step on.

At our engagement, I smiled and tried my hardest to be sociable and interested. But really I felt awkward and out of place. I'm getting used to feeling unknown since our move, but that doesn't make it any less difficult. After talking to my closest friend for 90 minutes the other night, it struck me how refreshing it was to converse with someone who really knew me. I had forgotten what a luxury that is. Deep and long-term friendship is such a gift.

So as we drove home, I felt a little relieved to be back in my own car with my family. We chatted about unmemorable things. Just before our driveway, I noticed a group of tiny sparrows zipping quickly in disorganized loops around our next door neighbor's house. They were scatter-brained and silly and strikingly small. But something went wrong. In the blink of an eye, I watched one swoop over to our house and smack hard into the window nearest our front door. The sparrow dropped like a rock to the wooden seat of our bench a few feet below.

At the same moment, we pulled into our driveway. I made an urgent, wordless sound, flung the car door open and ran to the tiny bird. His chest was rapidly heaving, though he lay on the wood otherwise motionless. His tiny head was dipping between the slats and he had no strength to lift it. All the reasonable thoughts went through my head: birds have diseases, they carry sickness, he'll fly away when he's able....but I couldn't walk away. He was so helpless and perhaps near death.

When I ever so gingerly scooped him into my palm, I noticed that if I were to close my fingers, he'd be almost totally hidden. I was a little breathless; I had never held a tiny bird in my hand before. I wanted to think he was beautiful, but he was so ordinary with all plain brown feathers. What struck me, however, was that though he tried, he couldn't keep his eyes open or his head held straight up. It was like he was falling asleep. I tried to calm him down with quiet and kind whispers. I guess I believed he might just trust me, that I wasn't trying to hurt him, that he needn't be afraid.

When I lowered him down over the forgiving grass in case he tried to move and fell, the scene went vivid in my heart. I know too much about sparrows and the Bible and God for it not to, I guess. Or He was just speaking so loudly and clearly. It was suddenly the most obvious thing in the whole world that I was the sparrow. I even scoffed a little inside, like when you've heard the same unfunny joke repeated five times by your preschooler. I tried to brush away the ridiculously obvious metaphor. But it's clung to me all day.

We are all the sparrows. We get knocked down and fuzzy-headed. We'd rather just go back to bed, shut our eyes. But Jesus scoops us up, holds us gently in His palm. So patient. Whispering kindness.

I would have sat there all day on the front lawn, holding my little sparrow until he either recovered or died. I would have put all else aside for the helpless thing. It reminds me that no one outlasts Jesus' patience. It's really unbelievable when I consider how patient He is. He knows how much sickness we carry, how much disease is in our hearts. It doesn't stop Him from wrapping us in His safe and capable hands. His compassion is too great for me to understand. His kindness doesn't ever end. And we are such ordinary, unlovely creatures, so strikingly small.

But His eye is on the sparrow. Every single one. Especially the knocked out ones who can't even find the strength to raise their heads.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12:6-7

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:25-27

Five or ten minutes passed, and my sparrow slowly improved. First, he managed to open his round black eyes and keep them open. Next he held his head up again, and eventually turned it, looked into my eyes and didn't seem afraid. I was surprised that he didn't struggle or panic when he started to come to. He was content to rest inside my fingers that wrapped him snugly. The kids got him a shallow plate with a bit of water on it, and when I felt sure he was stronger, I set him down onto it. He tested his wings, tentatively fluttering. And in another blink, he flew away in low scooping arcs between the two houses across the street.

What a blessing it was to have this little friend interrupt my day. It was sort of surreal, particularly because of the metaphor perfectly unfolding in living color before my eyes. And it was sort of strange to remember that God is at work telling beautiful stories through surprising characters. I mean, the sparrow rested in my hand, regained his strength, and did what he was designed to do as soon as I released him. He flew.

I was not so clouded yesterday to miss the meaning of this short story in which the Lord involved me. When my chest is rapidly heaving, when I can hardly get enough air and can't lift my head, I have only to remember that I'm in my Lord's gentle palm. He is in no hurry for me to get up and heal and take flight again. He waits, His eye never leaving me. The one difference is that as He stares at me, He notices all the ways I'm lovely, He feels proud of His creation and knows I am in no way ordinary. He whispers value and love and purpose back into my deflated spirit.

And when I'm stronger, He opens His fingers and silently frees me to do exactly what I was designed to do.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 3


Funny how I planned to write this post tonight on kids and emotions, and coincidentally, both my kids were sad and/or crying when I picked them up at school today. Never a good sign.

I take that back. Maybe it is a good sign. Maybe part of the reason my kids were able to express their emotions today is because they know I'm a safe place to dump that stuff. I can't be certain. But I am trying to cultivate a family culture where emotions are embraced and never wrong. How one reacts to them and manages them may very well be wrong, but emotions themselves deserve respect.

You may not agree with me here. But I am of the belief that God created us - ALL of us - as emotional beings. We are meant to feel things, and our feelings are meant to be like indicator lights on a dashboard. They tell us if there is a problem. They tell us when we're out of fuel. They tell us all kinds of information about the health of a vehicle. And so the indicators themselves are never bad or wrong; they just give information. Our reactions to those signals are what can be unhealthy or inappropriate. People who are unable to feel, who have shut down their hearts due to injury, like cars with broken indicator lights, are not functioning as they were meant to. People who choose to numb their emotions are in a similar state of dysfunction; it's the same as driving a car that has all sorts of warning lights flashing and just plastering some duct tape over them.

Something else that keeps our hearts from running smoothly is shame. Many of us have shame connected with our feelings. Have you ever been told any of these?

You shouldn't feel that way.
It's ridiculous for you to feel that way.
Don't be mad.
Don't get so upset.
You're overreacting.
Don't be childish. 
Suck it up.
Toughen up.
Big girls don't cry.

Probably all of us have, at some point. We feel shame when we are told our feelings are not okay or aren't acceptable. Now here's the tricky part. In order to help our kids get an A in Emotion 101, we need to be getting an A ourselves. We need to be comfortable with our own feelings - all of them - in order to accept our children's. For some of us that is a pretty tall order. The shame gets in the way.

Lucky for you, I've become sort of an expert on shame. Can I quickly share a book that really helped me understand why God made me the way that I am? Feminine, emotional, tender? And that God patterned my emotional heart after His own? It's called Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul. It changed me. I think every woman should read it.

Once I got a grip on embracing and respecting my feelings (because I knew God did), I started trying my hardest to validate those of my kids. It's something of which I'm conscious all the time in my mothering. And respecting their feelings is not always easy, because kids don't have the maturity to express their feelings in a very clear or controlled manner, obviously. I mean, many 40 year olds can't do it. Certainly it's way more difficult for my pre-teen daughter to manage hers.

If you've not worked much with your kids' feelings, step one is giving the emotions names. Kids do not know how they feel and they need us to teach them. Even though the result is nearly always crying, you'll be really good at guessing the actual emotion that's causing the tears, especially when they're little. The main emotions we always always always come across and refer to are these:


Disappointment is a big one. Life is full of disappointments, and kids need to be able to (eventually) cope with small setbacks. The ice cream store being out of her favorite flavor, or a special blankie getting left at grandma's can send a little one into a meltdown. Calmly naming this feeling and showing empathy helps so much. They need to know it's okay for them to feel disappointed (if expressing it in an acceptable way, of course) and that we all deal with disappointment regularly.

Some people think that addressing or even recognizing a child's emotion will just cause him or her to carry on longer. Let's just admit that we are afraid of their emotions; it's understandable since kids are crazy, uncontainable, and unpredictable beings half the time. But honestly, validating their little hearts is actually what HELPS them get the emotion under control. Think about it; at least for me, when someone doesn't respect my feelings, I am only motivated to amp it up and keep expressing it. When I feel heard and understood, then I can much more quickly calm down.

These are other feelings we've dealt with and named, but less often:


In my experience, I spent a few years naming their feelings for them, and now they are old enough to not only identify them, but express them to me also. For instance, at two and three and four, my son would just cry or yell when he couldn't fit his Legos together just so. I told him, "Wow! You are really frustrated. Would you like some help?" Now, he just growls, "Ughhhh! I'm so frustrated!!" Or this past weekend, as I got on his case for not cleaning his room, he exclaimed, "I'm just really overwhelmed and you know I can't work when I'm overwhelmed!" It was cute because he's only 8. But I could completely relate; it's hard for me to be productive when I'm overwhelmed too. And I was so glad he could tell me how he felt, because I clearly needed to change my parenting course.

My daughter, on the other hand, has a very deep soul, but struggles to find the words to express herself. It's just her personality. So when I can see she's upset or having a hard time, I find a private space for us to chat and ask her to tell me two feeling words. Then I wait very patiently for her to find them. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes, I give her a list (choose Soul Word List, then amend for kids) from which to choose, so she can remember the names of feelings. Starting a conversation with feeling words tells her that no matter how she feels, it's acceptable, I can take it, and I'm really interested in hearing her heart.

And lastly, I share my feelings with them. I don't want to be seen simply as a chef/maid/chauffeur to my kids. I want them to understand I'm a person with feelings too. That I get hurt when someone says something mean. That I feel nervous when I'm meeting new people. That I feel jealous when a friend gets to do something I wish I could do. That I feel annoyed when someone shoots a Nerf dart at my face. I tell them these kinds of things regularly, naming my feelings, and modeling (most of the time!) self-controlled reactions.

It really touched me the other day when I announced I was going to dinner with a friend for the first time since we've been in Montana. As I was leaving, my son said, "Tomorrow I want to hear all about it!" I thought, "Wow, I'm not just a servant to him. I'm a person who may or may not have a fun time, who may have ideas and feelings to share, who is valuable to him." It was a great reminder: when you show interest in the feelings of another, they feel valuable and loved.

I hope we can help our kids feel valuable and loved this school year; they will certainly have many, many feelings about it all.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

For when God is hard to hear

Today God and I had a date, and I felt a little stood up.

I was to start to work on something and I needed His guidance. I needed to know where to begin. 

But though I was trying to listen, I struggled to hear Him, and the more I struggled, the more anxiety I felt about not hearing. It built, over an hour of me questioning myself and Him and flipping through my Bible to find that nothing was speaking. I wasn't hearing anything but the horribly loud tractors outside my window, building a new house. But no clear guidance came, and I finally noticed that I felt nervous and afraid.

It's interesting the way I can behave totally contrary to what I know to be true sometimes.

I was totally behaving as if God's plans are hard to find out. As if He has buried his will for me somewhere in the sand along a beach and the burden is on me to find this buried treasure without a map. If that were true about God, then my fear and anxiety would be appropriate. What if I don't find it? What if I miss my opportunities? What if I invest my time and energy into something that is not what He wants? If God were sneaky and withholding and secretive, well I better worry. (Isn't it easy to behave as if He is? As if He wants us to sweat something out of Him?)

But He's not secretive and withholding. He's loving and faithful every minute of every day. His character is the exact opposite of withholding. He's generous beyond description. He's giddy with delight when His kids come asking for direction. Would He ever deny me the guidance I need? Never. That kind of denial is not only against what the Bible says, but it's also against what I have actually experienced. I can personally testify to His faithfulness. That's what I believe. He is faithful to lead me when and where He wants me to go. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. His guidance is clear.

The only time His guidance is NOT clear is when He is not yet ready to give it, and when I behave like an impatient child. How fear-ravaged our hearts can become when we are not willing to wait, be still, and surrender our agendas.

I teach my kids that God always answers us one of three ways: Yes, No, or Wait. And the 'wait' answer is a stretching one, painful like holding a yoga pose that pulls against your will to relax and find a more comfortable position.

But since I answer to God and not the other way around, I'll hold the stretch, thought it stings.

Lord, my times are in your hands. I'm ready and waiting. When you call, I'll move.

Let that be our prayer today.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 2


Sometimes I feel like sending my kids back to school is the equivalent of throwing them to the wolves.

Suddenly they are out of my care, my protection. I feel this most right after summer, when I've been constantly able to monitor them. Our days have felt safe and controlled.

It's tempting to let a number of fears creep in as a new school season begins. The 'wolves' on the schoolyard never seem far enough away. Naturally I want to protect my kids from negative things like bullying, exposure to foul or inappropriate language, and the kinds of things to which my child may be introduced through another child. But I also feel a reactive instinct to shield them from other negative experiences that school may bring, things like failure, rejection, and conflict with others.

My mama HEART wants my children to be constantly happy. It wants my children to be insulated from all forms of discomfort and injury. At the same time, my mothering BRAIN knows that kind of insulation is not only impossible, but also would not allow my children to grow into healthy, capable adults.

So I have this constant battle within. I think it's obvious God wired us with this inner conflict for a reason. Many good reasons. We are to provide protection for our kids in many ways, but also we are to ensure a supportive environment for helping them learn to cope with the harder stuff of life. And in my experience, every mother has one of these sides of herself winning more often that the other, and that can be a bad thing. Letting our protection instincts consistently win means we can become overly sheltering, rescuing our kids from discomforts of life that they need in order to mature.

It's a fine line, and it's hard to know when to step in and rescue our kids. It's hard to know at what age a child should be encouraged to handle one thing or another. And sometimes we have no choice. An unexpected tragedy could expose a child to pain for which they are in no way prepared or able to manage. Even on my best mothering days, I can't keep all the variables under my control. Does that thought alone send a little shiver through your mama heart? It does mine.

My daughter had a lot of very typical little girl conflict with other little girls in her class when she was 6 and 7. She was alone a lot at recess. She couldn't quite find a loyal friend (because how many loyal 6 year olds do you know?). Those years, she wandered around, felt lonely, and withdrew. It was so hard for me to watch. I tried conspiring with other moms to help her connect. Playdates came and went. But I grew to understand that much of the situation hinged on my girl and her personality; I could try to teach her how to be a friend, but I couldn't change the way she was wired, and I couldn't insulate her from the discomfort that came from how that impacted her school relationships.

I could, however, provide comfort. To be comforted is one of the most important needs our children have. We spend so much time worrying about how to protect them that I feel we miss out on the more important matter: generously comforting them when something goes wrong. And eventually, things will go wrong. You know it to be true. When a situation really goes south for one of my kids, personally I can get overwhelmed with my own feelings of anxiety and confusion, watching my son or daughter suffer. I forget that in those times, what they need most is not a rescuer; they need a brave and tender comforter. They need empathy. They need me to tell them that hurt is normal and some lessons come hard.

"Insults have broken my heart,
and I am in despair.
I waited for sympathy,
but there was none;
for comforters, but found no one."
Psalm 69:20

We know a couple of marriage counselors from our CA church, authors and speakers in their field, who report that only 1 in 10 adults can recall a difficult time in their childhood where they were comforted by a parent. 1 in 10. That is a scary statistic, in my books. We are all at risk of being parents who focus more on rescuing from pain and less on comforting through it. Thankfully, the Bible gives us some guidance on the matter.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

God is actually teaching us how to be comforters whenever we ourselves are comforted by Him. Jesus is the best parent ever and this is what He says to his son Simon Peter in Luke 22:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

My mama heart races with anxiety at this passage. Jesus - again, the best parent ever - is not even glancing in the direction of rescuing Peter from Satan's assault. Could you say that to your child? Because if I'm all powerful, I'm thinking I'd say, "Hey, Satan wants to throw you down, but I had my three best angels kick his ass!" Yes I just wrote that. I'd make a really bad Jesus. I mean, how do YOU feel when your kid gets pushed down at the park? I know how. You think of all the acceptable ways you could regulate on that other evil child who dares lay a hand on your precious baby.

Instead, Jesus does not rescue. He offers encouragement. Comfort. And guidance for Peter's future. Right after this scene, Peter betrays Jesus three times and endures what was likely one of the most painful failures of his life. Jesus knew that was coming! And I can guarantee it was incredibly difficult for Him to watch his son suffer so much. We'll never know how this series of events impacted Peter's ministry. But the Bible gives us a good glimpse of what a powerful witness for the gospel he became.

Though my mama heart feels panicked at the thought of stopping myself from rescuing, my mama brain understands. Kids need to grow into healthy adults. And it will take a lot more than eating vegetables to get them there.

Insulation is best left for coats. In a Montana winter, I hear the ones filled with down are best. But we simply can't insulate our kids from all pain and suffering. If you are following Jesus day by day, you'll know when to step in and take action. The Holy Spirit will give you the sense that you should do some rescuing, make a change, or hold someone accountable for his or her actions. But that decision will not and should not be driven by fear. It should be driven by Jesus. He knows how best to parent our kids, and really, we can't make wise decisions in parenting without hearing from Him first.

I'll sign off with the prayer that's in my heart right now:

Lord, help me to stop myself from being a fear-driven parent. Help me to trust you more, to make wise choices in my mothering, and to be more of a Jesus-driven parent. Help me to seek your counsel every day. And remind me to comfort my children when their hearts are broken with the comfort you've shown me. Thank you so much for being the best parent ever, a perfect model for me to imitate. And thank you for making me brave. Amen.

{footnote: I didn't learn how to truly comfort my children until I read this book. Before that, I think I was not only afraid of them having negative experiences, I was afraid of them having negative feelings too. So I marginalized their feelings, said silly things like "Everything will be fine," and didn't truly hear their broken hearts for a few years. Giving comfort is not putting a band-aid of happy words on a wound. It's looking directly at the wound, validating how much it hurts, and not asking it to heal any faster than it needs to.}