Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Truth We Live

We are the worst Tooth Fairies ever. I dare you to pit your stories against ours. You would think that there is strength in numbers, that the fact that there are two of us to do the remembering would guarantee that we would have a decent shot of pulling this off.  You would think that we would learn our lesson, that the number of times we have felt the sinking feeling of forgetting in the pit of our stomachs would be enough to help us change our ways, but you would be wrong.  Of the 20 or so collective teeth that my kids have lost in the last 7 years, roughly 10 of them were forgotten by the time we went to bed...leaving us to make up a hasty story in the morning about why the Tooth Fairy left a dollar on the front porch, or under the bed, or why it showed up sometime after breakfast. My kids have now assumed that the Tooth Fairy who comes to our house is really, really, irresponsible. They aren't wrong.

Last week, Ava lost her second front tooth, giving her that adorable, giant space right in front that is completely irresistible to me. And, classic Kolmans, after she went to bed with her tooth tucked neatly under her pillow, it took us all of about 5 minutes to forget all about the previous ONE HOUR of dramatics and all of the coaxing and cheering that it took for her to get brave enough to pull that tooth out herself. So, when she came down to our bedroom in the morning and said the Tooth Fairy hadn't left her anything, I nearly decided that it was time for the jig to be up.  Let's just tell her it's not true.  Let's tell her it's us and we are horrible parents. But, Loren is not willing to give in so easily and he knows a thing or two about the tenacity of belief that exists in kids at this age. Plus, he is an Evil Genius. So, he went up there to "help her look", with a dollar tucked into his watch. Mysteriously, he "found" that dollar on the floor under the bed. Ava was excited! But, because he is masterful in the dark arts of deception, he casually mentioned that he wasn't sure it was actually from the Tooth Fairy...maybe it was just left here by someone which Ava said, "Nope.  It's from her.  I smelled it. It's from Fairyland."  That girl's imagination is strong.

It's more than her imagination, though.  Ava is still in a stage where she believes what we say now because she doesn't have a reason not to. She trusts us implicitly. And she doesn't have a lot of competing voices in her life right now. This is a great window of time, where we can pass on truths about who God is (and also lies about the Tooth Fairy, apparently) and she believes. But I have two older kids, as well as a whole bunch of teenagers that are in our lives constantly through Young Life, so I know that the days are numbered where words alone are enough to make belief take root.

Loren and I have talks often about kids these days, our own and the teenagers and young adults we get to know through Young Life and through our own kids. We talk about what is driving them.  About what is driving parents.  About the ways that so many are lost and trying to find themselves in things that are so temporary.  Sports, Academics, Extra-Curriculars. Popularity. Dating.  About how parents encourage this, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not.  We also talk about the temptation we feel to buy into some of it, too.  We talk about how it begins to seem normal and even beneficial to encourage our kids to let their lives be wrapped up in these temporary things. And we talk a lot about how, the older our kids get, the more we will stand out as weird parents if we don't do that.  Parenting with an eternal mindset is no easy task, especially for a recovering people pleaser like me.  Because so often, standing firm feels like disappointing our kids...a lot. A wise man told me recently that if we are going to shepherd our kids like Jesus shepherds, we can expect them to be disappointed often. This was a great comfort.  Jesus disappointed and disrupted people, to be sure. He called them to things that our natural selves do not gravitate to. Things like selflessness, and humility, and loving your enemy. He called them to examine their lives, to forgive, to get the plank out of their own eyes, and that the first shall be last.

I am grappling with how to hold on to these simple truths in a world, and even in a church culture, that has normalized the idolization of self and pride and "me first".  We are living in a culture that has asked students to sacrifice themselves to gods that can't redeem them but, instead, distract them from their deep need of the Only One who can by putting them on a pedestal and telling them the world is theirs.  I am really struggling to know how to shepherd my kids to buck this system and, instead, follow Jesus into a life where they will become less and He will become greater. It's exactly the opposite of what they are hearing almost everywhere else.

 I know the best I can do for my kids is to teach them to love God and to love others, no matter the cost. That is the most important thing. But it isn’t enough to just tell them that with my words if I, myself, am navigating the safe waters of shallow faith and cultural relevance.  I have to show them that with my life and with how I help to structure theirs.  I have to show them with my own life that we carve out time and energy for the most important things.  That people are more important than being the best, or achieving your goals, or having things and that following the Lord is more crucial than anything else.  I have to teach them how to build their own lives around these principles.  That means that sometimes, less important things, even those things we enjoy and that benefit us in some way, get pushed to the side. That means that sometimes less important things are called what they are...a distraction, a chasing of the wind, an idol. The less important things can’t take precedence because then the truth our children hear and the one they see don’t match up.  Experience tells me that our kids tend to believe the one they see us live out, more than the one we talk about. 

My last born child is 7. Her days of believing whatever we say are numbered.  The Tooth Fairy is on her way out and good riddance to her and her irresponsible ways. But, I can't afford to be irresponsible with the truth. I hope the truth that we speak about who God is and how he loves is one that is seared on our kids hearts because they see it lived out each and every day.  I pray that our lives match up to our rhetoric.  I'm praying that my kids' disappointment when we prioritize faith and following Jesus over whatever current idol they are being asked to buy gives way to a deep rooted understanding of our greater commitment to God's glory. And I'm praying that, as they grow, it will be their greatest joy to become less as He becomes greater...which leads me to this sobering question.

Is it mine?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Safest Place

We had a parent/teacher conference last night for Ava and got a great report. "Ava is caring and friendly." "She is very bright and an excellent reader."  "Ava is energetic!" (Ummm....yes. Energetic is a kind understatement. I once tried to count all of the cartwheels she did in one day...then wisely decided it was a massive waste of my time. But, let's just say, there were a lot in that first 10 minutes of counting!)  Even as we were getting this good report about Ava from her teacher, though, I sat there fighting back tears most of the time. And even now, I am still processing why.  And I am still teary.

Ava's teacher is wonderful, by the way. If I was going to hand pick a teacher that had qualities I felt Ava needed to be successful in school, this is the teacher I would pick.  She is firm and holds the students to high standards. She teaches using a lot of rhythms and rhymes and repeating and perfect for my musical, energetic girl. She is kind and compassionate and authentically loves teaching. (And 1st graders are HARD, ya'll!) She communicates well with parents. And maybe best of all for me, she genuinely enjoys my daughter.  I don't think Ava could have a better teacher. I am so, so grateful that God has placed her in this class.

But, every year since preschool, when it comes time to talk with teachers about my littlest girl, I am teary. Right or wrong, the thoughts I have during those meetings are, "Please, love my child." I am overcome with such a strong desire for her to be really known and loved and enjoyed by those God has placed in her life.  I think it's because I know the struggles she has, the hurt she has already had to contend with in her little life. And I know how she deals with it, too.  How she has already learned to put up walls when she feels rejected in some way. I want people to see beneath the exterior...beneath the strong-willed, tough, sassy little girl, to the vulnerable parts of her that sometimes get unexpectedly exposed and send her reeling. I want people to see that she has big feelings about hard things in her life and that she doesn't always know how to process them.  That her fear of rejection is strong and causes her to react quickly and harshly sometimes. That sometimes she quits because she is afraid of looking like she doesn't know something...afraid of what that might mean about her.

I want people to see all the great qualities I see. Her wit and sense of humor, her compassion, her determination.  I think I am teary because I want to shield her from anyone that might misinterpret her behavior, her words. Because I know her. I see her. I get what is behind the hard parts.  And I see the beautiful ways that God has made her a unique reflection of Him.

But, the reality is, that's just not always going to be possible. In fact, when it happens in a classroom that is full of kids, it is probably just because she has an incredible teacher, like she does right now. But I don't know what will happen next year, or the next, or in all of the years that come after.

What I do know is that God has uniquely equipped me to raise this child.  I may not always feel like I am doing it all right, and I may not always (or almost never) feel like she is getting it. But, I know that my heart is inexplicably tied to hers.  That I can, so often, see what is happening just below the surface. That God has given me a gift, a reflection of his own heart, of being able to look at her when things are crazy and feel almost nothing else but love. (Almost...I'm not Jesus, after all.) And so, maybe everyone doesn't have to "get" her.  Because I do. And her dad does. And Jesus certainly does.

We can bravely send her out into the world because, at home, her heart is safe.  And maybe she can bravely go out into the world because, at home, her heart is safe.  And I can rest because, in Jesus, both of us have all that we will ever need.
Loving someone so much that it hurts is part of parenting, I think. But if someone could kindly tell my tear ducts they can have the afternoon off, it would be much appreciated.

Friday, September 16, 2016




1.     give support, confidence, or hope to (someone):

Here is my own definition. Encouragement is a finger that lifts the chin to see the bigger picture, eyes that  look at someone with deep love instead of judgment, and words that speak truth about who we are and who God is. This is what Jesus did with his whole life, in word and in deed.  As a follower of Jesus and a mother, it is basically number one on my job description. 

We have these wonderful trainings with the Worship Team at our church.  Led by our worship pastor, Aaron, we spend a couple of hours, all together, every once in a while, diving into topics that are intended to deepen our faith and strengthen our ability to lead the congregation in authentic worship. Last week, we talked about encouragement. 

When pressed to figure out the etiology of the word, it seemed obvious enough.  To give make someone brave.  I need this in so many areas of life.  We all do. There are so many times that I want to quit trying when things are hard, so many times when my old beliefs and habits are comfortable enough that I don't want to know or do anything different. We probably all feel that way sometimes, in some area of life. We need to be encouraged.

If encouragement is giving someone courage, then imagine what it might mean to encourage someone in their marriage. Imagine giving them words that make them want to press forward into the hard places, to hold up the truth about the good ways that God is making us more like himself as we become one flesh. What if we could help make people brave enough to open up their heart just a little more toward their spouse, even if that was scary or hard?

Imagine what it might mean to encourage someone in parenting, to come alongside during those long days of early childhood when there is not enough sleep and not enough functioning brain cells and it seems things will never be normal again. What if we can encourage during those rushed years of adolescence where everyone needs a ride and there is a game or a practice or a concert or a parent/teacher conference seemingly every night, and when the dailyness of school and homework and chores incites violence on every side! (That's not dramatic...that is just being real!)  Imagine hearing or giving someone words that lift up the truth of the good work that God is doing in these children, the ways that he is using their parents to make them disciples of him. Imagine words and actions that tell young and experienced parents that they are not alone in this hard thing.

More importantly, imagine words that encourage us in our faith. Words that make us brave enough to press forward in belief, in service, in evangelism, in love. Words and actions that give us the hope that Christ redeems each part of our life, the hope that this life is not all there is. This kind of encouragement makes us brave enough to take the next step, or to stand our ground, or to bend our knees in submission.  

At the end of our training last week, Aaron shared with us that this is part of why we sing in church. That our singing together, the truth of the Gospel, makes us brave and gives us courage to move forward in faith. It shined a light on what I know to be true in my own life, that singing songs about God makes me brave because it reminds me of who I am and who He is. 
So, this week, as my Bella needed some encouragement, I had a new way to think about it. What truth can I speak over her that will make her brave? How do I lift her chin so she can see the bigger picture and so she can glimpse who she is in Christ. What a sweet time it was of telling my girl what an absolute joy she was, of telling her some of the things I see Christ doing in her. In that moment, I was also so grateful for the songs we sing over our kids, the hymns and worship songs that tell the truth. And I am especially grateful that Bella, my little songbird, loves to sing them all the time. I know now that she is being made brave by the words, just like I am.

I wonder, (partly because I need to update my playlist) what songs make you brave?

Friday, September 9, 2016

You Are A Good Mom

Every morning, since the first day of school, Ava has gotten up and said, "I don't wanna go." On most every day, there have been tears. We have explored the reasons why, since she loved school last year, to no avail.  She loves her teacher. She enjoys school.  Every afternoon she comes home and says she had a great day. But, every morning is the same. "I don't wanna go. I miss you when we aren't together."

It's heartbreaking. I hate watching her walk out the door, crying. Some place in me wants to solve all the problems. To make sure she never has to feel sad. And watching my child walk out the door with tears makes the voices in my head that whisper, "you are failing" a little bit louder.  Especially in regards to parenting, it feels true to me. A lot. Too much.

So, for three weeks now, as my 6 year old has left the house crying, my mother's heart has felt like a failure. That something must be wrong with me and the way I am parenting her. And believe me, these aren't the only kind of parenting moments that give way to this kind of feeling. There are plenty more with each of my kids. Maybe this happens honestly enough.  I want so badly to do the right thing. I want to honor God, and to love my husband and my kids well. I want to be everything that God desires for me, to step in to the glorious life he has planned for me. But somehow, in the midst of that holy struggle, without exactly knowing how it happened, slow and steady and as sneaky as that first snake slithering in the grass, the spirit of death starts to choke me out. I start to feel a little more constricted. A little more constrained. More anxious. And the voice in my head starts. It's refrain is always, "Take care! Do something! Work harder! Right the ship!" And it seems like the loudest voice, so I do.

But I can't do it all. And the more I try, stumbling and pressing forward and trying  to fill all of the gaps, the more it reaffirms the belief that I am failing. And I feel more constricted. More anxious.  More swallowed up.  But when I stop, and usually when I say this out loud to some of my good people, God, in his mercy, opens my eyes and lets me see this for what it is. An impossible feat. And one that only He can manage. This kind of failure is grace in my life. That I cannot do it all.  We cannot do it all.  This dismantling is how he loves us. We are broken and exposed and he waits for us to glance up from our guilt and shame and see him loving us. See him calling us, instead, towards rest and trust. And when we do, we are brought low in the best possible way. We understand that his extravagant love is too much. It bends our knees and we keep going lower, lower until, chest to the earth, we can drink from His river of life.  Free and clear and with no requirements other than our thirst.  And now, I can have a new perspective.

I can't be everything and everywhere for my kids. That's hard for me, still. And sometimes, it makes me feel like a failure. But, I know it's not true. At least not in the ways that I think matter. Oh, I am failing alright.  I am failing at being everything my children need all the time. I am failing to protect them from all of the world. I am failing at making sure they are happy all the time. But, I can't do all of those things. And even if I could, even if I sometimes strive for that from an unhealthy place in my brain, I don't think I should. I'm not sure that failing at those things is such a bad thing. So, if I am not supposed to be everything for all of them, if I can't do that, even on my best days, then what am I supposed to be?

Well, God asked me to be their mom, not their Savior. He's got that covered.  I guess that's a good place to start.

And the thing is, I'm a pretty good mom.  I'm saying that as much for me as I am for the mom reading this who has ever felt like they are failing. I am a good mom.  I hug my kids when they cry and listen to all their stories (well...most.  Cause some of them...ugh) I love their dad like I have a crazy schoolgirl crush and also like a woman who has been in the trenches and knows that marriage is fun, but it is also about sacrifice and commitment and finding a way through together.  I challenge them and cheer for them and create opportunities for them to stand on their own. I snuggle and tickle and do carpool and run to the store at the last minute. I enforce the rules and set boundaries and monitor devices. I apologize when I am wrong. I pray...oh how much I have prayed for them!  I am devoted to Jesus and I pray that my life is a reflection of the Gospel that they can see and hear and touch. And also, I try and make sure I am not more devoted to them than I am to Him.   These are the things I can do.  I was made to do this.

Yesterday, Ava came home talking about a new friend she had made. She was giddy and excited to tell us all about her. And today, when she woke up, she didn't look sad and she didn't say, "I don't wanna go." In fact, just before she left she said, "I am so proud of myself because I'm not crying. I know I will have a good day because I always do.” I asked her if she thought it was partly because she had a new friend she was looking forward to playing with. She nodded her head and smiled. And Loren said when they got to school, her new friend, Trenity, came running to the fence shouting her name. I think Ava just needed to know that there was someone, in the same place as her, who was really with her. 

That can't always be me. And that's a little hard for me, still. But it made me understand that she wanted to stay home with me because I am that safe place for her.  I am not everything she needs. I am not her Savior.  But, recognizing that doesn't make me a failure. It makes me a good mom. I am a good mom. So are you.
If you'd like to read a more hilarious take on this subject, this article will make you laugh out loud...and also give you a good dose of helpful truth.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I have a new favorite song on my playlist. It's called "Unsteady" by X Ambassadors. Here are the words to the simple chorus and first verse:

Hold , hold on, hold on to me

Cause I'm a little unsteady, a little unsteady

Hold, hold on, hold onto me

Cause I'm a little unsteady, a little unsteady

Mama, come here,

Approach, appear

Daddy, I'm alone

Cause this house don' feel like home

If you love me, don't let go.

At first, I liked it just because of the way it sounded.  I am often drawn to music and sound before words.  It's why I find myself singing songs like Meghan Trainor's "All About that Bass" and then later think, " this really a message I can get behind (no pun intended)...probably not."

But, this week, as I listened to the words of "Unsteady"  a bit more,  I understood why it touched a deep place in me. Because, I am a little unsteady.  I am.

As a person who feels ALL the of the deep feels, most ALL of the time, my heart can get so weary. In a  lot of ways, I know that this kind of soft heart can be a gift, but it can often also feel like a liability to me. It is exhausting.  In several conversations over the last few weeks I have found myself saying to people, "What does it mean to have joy in this life?  Is it a light-hearted kind of happiness?  Cause I don't have that." I have found myself increasingly burdened by hard things, both personal and in the world all around us.  There is a lot to grieve.

Let me be clear.  I have confidence in what the Lord is doing.  I am convinced of his goodness. I trust that he is at work and that he has not abandoned us. These are not questions I am asking.  But I also know this. Our God has promised us suffering. He has guaranteed us trials and sorrow in this life. So, what is my response to be? What is my heart's posture in the midst of hardship? I can't imagine that it is a kind of pasted on smile or some effort to count our blessings and forget about the hard things.

And then, on Monday, I read 2 Corinthians 6. Paul says, "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters,; known and yet unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you."

Paul might have been a little unsteady, too. Not because he doubted God, but because He could see the big, wide picture of goodness and hardship side by side. It's both encouraging and disconcerting at the same time. And instead of trying to only see one or the other, he acknowledged that this life is both. It's hard, and it's good.

As I continue to mull over these verses, I can sense a shift beginning to happen in my heart.  I see a picture that I want to live myself. It's the image of a heart open and walking forward...into wounding, into pain, into sorrow; into gladness and hope and truth, patience and understanding; into sleepless nights and hard work. Not protected from the hard things, but willing to embrace them because, ultimately, I am walking towards Jesus. Eyes on the prize, I will not always feel a lighthearted kind of happiness in this life, but there will be moments. Hopefully plenty of them, where, armed with a new perspective, I can just enjoy the moment. I can laugh easily and know that my burden is light because Jesus carries the bulk of it. I know this is a shift that needs to happen for me, lest I be swallowed up by all there is in this life to grieve. And I know it is a shift that gives me a greater understanding of and dependence on God.  A greater need for community so that I don't feel alone. And the understanding that lyrics like "this house don't feel like home", are exactly right. It's not my home.

I am unsteady.  But God is not. That is a beginning.

P.S.  I'm trying to sing this song more often these days. A reminder of Jesus, my Firm Foundation. Check it out.