Friday, September 16, 2016

EnCOURAGEment



en·cour·age


VERB

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 courage...to 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

Unsteady


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, "Hmmm...is 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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

In the Middle of it All...





This girl.  This one with the grown up smile, who is now taller than me is one of the best gifts I was ever given.  And the process of her growing up is also a tool in the hand of the Lord to reveal my own heart.  She is now firmly in the middle of middle school.  Middle School. And let me just tell you that  Middle School is not for the faint of heart.  Oh, not for all of the reasons that you have heard.  All of the girl drama and the boyfriend drama (what in the world?!?) and ALL OF THE PUBERTY.  Well...all of that, yes.  But, it's more than that. Underlying everything is this unmistakable sense that she is leaving me.  Bit by bit.  Piece by piece.  She is becoming independent.  She is growing and changing and becoming less an extension of me, and more of an individual all on her own. And I know that this is a good thing.  But it hurts a little, this leaving.  And it scares me, too.

You see, when she was young, Loren and I were her world.  For the most part, we made the decisions.  We decided what she could do and, in some ways, who she would be for a while. I signed her up for soccer.  I took her to piano. My friend's kids were her friends.  That's the way it was, the way it should be.  The fabric of her life was firmly stitched to my own.  She had some say, of course, but she had less of a say. The daily decisions were mostly mine to make, and it was exhausting in a lot of ways.  The dailyness of parenting small children is exhausting.  What will they eat? What will they wear? When will they play, do chores, brush their teeth,  go to bed?  But, these days, I am learning that the alternative...that place that middle-schoolers begin to occupy is exhausting in a whole new way. Because now, they choose. More and more, they are making their own choices about who they will be and what they want their lives to be about.  And the mental energy it takes to guide, but not boss, to have meaningful  conversations, instead of bark orders, to be open to doing things differently than when I was a kid can wear my brain out. Not to mention the constant, heart wrenching process of allowing that firmly stitched fabric of my child's life to be ripped from my own bit by bit.  Sometimes, the feeling of losing her dependence on me often leaves me grasping for some kind of control, leaves me feeling frayed and raw. Because what happens when she chooses wrong? And I know, at some point, she will. So, even though it was exhausting, I can start to miss those days when I had the reigns.  When I decided who she would be.

But the truth is, I never really had the reigns. I never really controlled anything.  It was an illusion.  And so, middle school actually clears things up a little.  These children have their own will, their own redeemable soul, their own passions.  And, that can be a little terrifying.  That is, until I make peace with a sovereign God who has control. 

The truth is that I can't do enough or say enough or love Jesus enough to make my children's life free from pain or to make them follow Him.  I can't make them choose Him above anything else, even though it's what I want most for my kids. I can't love him enough to make anything happen in their lives, but most days I badly want to have that kind of guarantee. I would like to know that if I love him enough, they will, too. But, that's not true. And I'm pretty sure that I would fail at that sort of exchange anyway.  But here's what I CAN do.  I can love him and then trust him with their lives. I can set aside my desire for control and surrender to the God who loves them more than I do.  I can know that my kids are more than just a reflection of me and I can parent them out of a love that was freely bestowed upon me, instead of out of a desire for a certain outcome in their lives.  A friend reminded  me recently that Romans 8 says, "...the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."  That, if we follow Christ,  we aren't required to live to produce certain outcomes. Instead, the freedom that Christ brings is that we live in His love, as a vehicle of His Spirit.  Outcomes are produced, but they aren't controlled by us.  And there is freedom there.  Freedom for my life, and freedom for my kids as I trust their lives to him and parent in a way that shows evidence of that trust.

My days with this girl under my roof are numbered.  Trying to hold onto her is like trying to hold sand. But she has a bigger story than the one that takes place under our roof.  And I am learning to trust that the One who numbers the grains of sand and the hairs on her head is also the One who holds her future, the One who created the fabric of her life and who stitches it with love and for her good. There is freedom there for both of us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Double Blessing

My regular exercise regimine includes double unders.  You know, where you jump rope and swing the rope twice around for every one jump.  I kind of like it when they show up in a workout.  That's probably because they took awhile for me to master, but I did it. I watched videos and got advice and finally got it.  At first, stringing two together, then three, and now up to forty at a time. But, they aren't interesting.  I don't talk about them with my friends.  I don't blog about them (usually), and I don't list them on the "hobbies" section of any paperwork I fill out.  They are functional, raising my heart rate, working on my balance and coordination and toning my arms.

A couple of months ago, I got a Double Under Wonder (www.doubleunderwonder.com).  It's a jumprope specifically designed for doing double unders, that you customize yourself, with colors and designs. I got a bright turquoise rope and yellow handles with black polka dots.  I didn't need one with colors and designs. I could have gotten black or gray.  You know, something more hard core. But I didn't. The colorful one makes me happy when I see it swinging around and around. It adds a little flavor to the function of double unders and for that, I am grateful.

This week, as we say goodbye to the carefree schedule of summer, all days by the pool and relaxed bedtimes and any day of the week sleepovers for the kids, I am reminded that so much of my life is functional.  Get the kids up, get them to school or practice, do homework, make meals, and on and on and on.  And even though it takes up the bulk of my time during the day, it's not really that interesting.  I don't put those things on the "hobbies" section of paperwork either. But functional doesn't have to mean dreadful. I know that when I look for ways to see the happy in the mundane, I can always find them.  And I know that when I spend time reflecting on the gift of this life that the Lord has blessed me with, even the mundane parts are a picture of his goodness.

I won't lie, if someone markets a customizable vacuum cleaner with designs and flashy colors that plays music instead of the weird vacuum sucking sound, I'm probably gonna buy it.  But even if they don't, the hum of the vacuum can remind me to be grateful for this house, for this dog who sheds, but also makes us laugh when he howls at sirens and is the best pillow, and for these kids, who are obsessed with glitter and eating crackers in the living room, but who are also some of the best gifts we have ever received from the Lord. All is grace.

But seriously...someone should make that vacuum.

 

If I tried to explain this picture it would make no sense. Let's just say Debbie and I are Wonder Woman and leave it at that. But, like all super heros, you really need a cool jumprope like the one seen in the picture.  Go get yours at www.doubleunderwonder.com