Motherhood as Worship

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17, NLT

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” – Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a mom. You don’t have to have read my previous mommin’ blogs to know that it. is. HARD. Really hard. Admitting that it’s hard doesn’t take away from the greatness and the privilege of it, and being blessed to be mothers doesn’t make it awesome all the time. There’s no way around it and there’s no shame in admitting it: being a mother is just really freaking hard sometimes.

Days, weeks go by without me getting any time at all to myself. I start to groan when the kids ask me to play with them. I begin to even grow resentful towards all the things I have to do for them, things they almost certainly won’t appreciate or remember. I scroll through Instagram and Pinterest and dream of all the things I can’t do “because of” my kids. I grow weary. I grow annoyed. I count down the days until school and the hours until pickup. I want a break. And to be honest, there’s really nothing wrong with needing a break. Breaks are healthy, refreshing, self-care necessities. But momming for the breaks is as defeating as working for the weekend – you view  your situation as an obstacle instead of an opportunity. And, I’ll admit, I sometimes feel like the kids’ needs are hurdles. I sometimes view motherhood as an inconvenience, something that holds me back from what I’d rather be doing (probably napping), as opposed to what it really is: worship.

Each of us has a purpose. We have gifts, abilities, callings. We are uniquely formed to fulfill unique destinies on this earth, and each step we take within God’s will is an act of worship. By following the plan He has for our life, we are praising Him, glorifying Him. If God has made you a mother – be it through biology, adoption, fostering, or a caring heart – you are part of His plan, both for yourself and your child. Being in His will, then, we can do what He has called us to do with a heart of worship, as an act of worship. Every shoe we tie, every bad dream we snuggle away, every lunch we pack or pay for is an act of worshipping our God because we are doing what He intended us to do as mothers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all women are called to be mothers, and I’m not saying mothers are called or capable only to parent. We are magnificently created women with multiple gifts and callings, we can do so very much, each act with a heart of worship. Whatever we do as we walk in God’s plan, we can approach just as we would worship – “Here I am, Father – broken, imperfect, tired. I don’t know it all and I doubt myself, but I know You are good and have placed me here. Do what You will and what You can with whatever is left of me.”

Worship is sometimes hard for me, at least fully. I can sing the songs and clap the hands and do a mean church sway, but it’s difficult at times to completely turn off my brain and praise my Savior. I’m tired. I’m distracted. I don’t always feel well. I notice a missed note. I can think of 100 other things I could be doing and 100 other things that await me when I get home. It doesn’t lessen my love for my Creator, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to give all of me. If this isn’t parallel to motherhood, I don’t know what is. I love you, I can go through the motions, but sometimes I’m so distracted and tired that I just don’t put my heart into it. Both motherhood and worship ask me to give of myself, to reach from what is left of me and offer it to another. That’s hard. But when it hits, when I think of how GOOD God is to me, how GOOD He is on His own, oh how I praise Him. When I think about what He’s saved me from and what He’s led me to, I can’t help but worship Him. And what an honor to use my life to worship Him beyond the Sunday service times. What a loving God to look upon my life, full of fumbles, and say, “I can use that.” How often must our offerings of praise to Him be like the macaroni crafts we receive from our own children – imperfect, falling apart in places, but offered with love and awe and received with gratitude and affection. God is SO GOOD, ya’ll, and He has chosen YOU. Remember the next time that you are distracted, depleted, that He hand-made and hand-picked YOU. How much easier the brokenness is to bear when you’re reminded that you can be made whole by the One who made you to begin with.

Momming is hard. It can be frustrating. It can lead to the most tremendous self-doubt and the most stifling isolation. I find myself sitting here with dried tears on my cheeks, equal parts frustration with my kids and mourning the idea of “normal”. It just rarely looks like we thought it would, this parenting gig. I can list what I’ve given up and long for what I’ve yet to get, but at the end of the very long day, curled into a ball of brokenness, touched-out, talked-out, doubting it all, I see a stuffed animal I sewed back together and realize: it’s not all about me. It never will be. Whatever my frustrations and sacrifices, however real and valid, they will never overwhelm the need my children have for me. The will of God for me to influence them as people will not shrink back because I haven’t had a Snickers in months. Again, self care is incredibly necessary, and the needs we have are very real. I’m not dismissing them. I’m just reminding us, reminding myself, that motherhood by nature is about someone else. I am very much looking forward to Heaven someday, when I can freely worship my God all day, for eternity. So for now I can prepare myself by worshipping Him with my life, with my actions. I can view motherhood as His will and not an inconvenience. I can prepare for Heaven tomorrow by worshiping through my actions today.

If I will allow motherhood to become an act of worship, I am inviting God to be instrumental in my walk as a mother. No pun intended. I can acknowledge my shortcomings and imperfections, both as a Christ-follower and a mother, and say, “Here I am, Father. Use what you can of what’s left of me.” I can end each night in tears, knowing that while my offering may not have been perfect, it was done in worship. Jesus’ walk to Golgotha was painful, bumpy. He needed help to get there. And while I wouldn’t necessarily compare motherhood to crucifixion, I will say that both are journeys of sacrifice and completion. Both are the will of God asking very much of us in the name of love for our children. Jesus felt such stress that He sweat blood, He asked God if there was any other way. Not once did His love or commitment to us waiver just because he felt the weight of it all. Not once do we stop loving our children because it is hard to care for them. Jesus stumbling never meant He couldn’t do it, and the same is true for you, mama. And at the end, be it on a cross or waving your child off at their wedding reception, when we cry out that it is finished, we know that the sacrifice, the pain was worth it. That God was glorified, His will was done, and our children are better for it. Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross and yours doesn’t end at graduation.

Every set of sheets you change in the night, every tear that you wipe, every correction you give, every meal you feed them, every ride to school, every doctor appointment, every ride from practice, every load of laundry, every dish you clean, every video game you research, every Pokémon story you listen to, every teacher you meet with, every book you listen to them slowly stumble through, every pile of crumbs you sweep, every backpack you check, every jacket you hang, every carseat you buckle, every cough medicine you give, every little, thankless, tiring job you do and every huge, significant, exhausting obstacle you tackle, they’re all acts of worship. They all honor God as you walk in His will. The Virgin Mary is mostly noted as having given birth to Jesus, but between the manger and the cross she performed untold amounts of tasks to care for Him. Mary, the mother of God, bathed her infant, taught Him things, cleaned up after Him, fed Him. Motherhood was necessary to the will of God. You, mama, you who is tired, discouraged, drained – you are necessary to the will of God. You are worshipping God in your faithfulness, in your tasks. You aren’t dressed in your Sunday best and you aren’t harmonizing to beautiful music, but you are worshiping Him. “Here I am, God. I can’t do this without You and I’m offering to do it for You. Do what You will with what’s left of me.”

 

 

Sometimes It Just Storms

Years ago, my husband started a new job. It was in a new city with much better schools and a too-long commute that cost us almost as much in gas as we were paying for our mortgage, so we made the obvious decision to move. We listed our home and prayed for the best.  Then the real estate bubble burst.

We landscaped our home. We painted our home. People came, walked through, and left. We updated fixtures. We steam cleaned the carpets. Still no one wanted our home. We welcomed our second child and brought him home to a bare nursery, convinced we’d be moving soon. We lowered the price. We switched realtors. We tried Craigslist. We lived among boxes with no decorations on the walls for almost two years, always at the ready to be gone, move on. But no matter what we did, no one wanted our home. What we’d bought it for and what it was now worth with 7 foreclosures on the same street were just too far apart. No one was qualifying for home loans – fewer were even looking to buy. We waited, prayed. We had one car so I would be home all day with two boys, a baby and a toddler, with no transportation. My husband would leave in the morning while it was still dark and not get home until it was almost bedtime for the kids. We spent so much in gas that we had to get groceries from the food pantry. Once, my oldest son pulled a classic toddler move and busted his eyebrow open, obviously needing stitches, but I was alone, my husband was at an event over an hour away and didn’t have his cell phone on him. There were times the four of us slept in his office to avoid having to make the drive back home before another service or event. It was bad. We wanted so badly to be out of there, to get on with our life, to be rid of something that was once such a source of pride for us, but no one was buying.

Then one day someone was listening to me vent about not having sold the house and she asked me something that’s always stuck with me: “Do you think God hasn’t allowed the house to sell because you’re not supposed to be in that new city?”

Years before that, far back in my college days, a psychology professor of mine told the story of the time he was pastoring a church and several people brought a member to him, someone in need of immediate prayer. They believed this person who was foaming at the mouth and convulsing to be possessed. My professor immediately recognized that they were having a seizure.

Even longer ago, Jesus slept on a boat. A huge storm came up, waves crashed, and the elements threatened to capsize the boat. Terrified, the disciples with Jesus woke Him, who promptly spoke to the storm and calmed it.

What have I learned from these accounts? Sometimes it just storms.

Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, sometimes His will is obvious, sometimes God closes a door and opens a window. And sometimes it just storms.

How often we experience turbulence and immediately turn to the heavens and cry out, “Why?!”

The disciples on the boat with Jesus, rocking with the waves, feeling the spray in their face, seeing the clouds and clashing all around them, cried out, asking Jesus if He even cared if they drowned. They saw trouble and assumed it represented an emotion or intention on the part of God. Even though they were with Him, literally right next to Him, able to see Him and know He was real and with them, their first thought was that He was against them, or at least indifferent. How often we count ourselves in God’s company and begin assigning His will to storms, all the while forgetting his ability to calm it. Sometimes it just storms. Not because God is trying to drown you, not because God is trying to stop you, not because you haven’t prayed enough, but because it just does.

What would happen if, instead of crying out, “God, why is it storming?!” we steely spoke, “God, calm the storm.”? If we saw trouble ahead, found ourselves in the midst of hardships, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of a God who has forgotten us, we remembered what He can do for us?

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and they came to the Red Sea, they were forced to stop. Did Moses cry out, “God must have led us here to be slaughtered!”? Did he look at the water and say, “Welp, I guess all those plagues were off the mark – we probably should have stayed behind in slavery.”? NO! God did not put the Red Sea in front of them to stop them, He put it there to EMPOWER them. Because when Moses came to that water, the seeming dead end, he did not stop and whimper that it must be God’s way of stopping them, he lifted his hand and with the power of God saw those waters part. Suddenly what was once an obstacle was a pathway. What could have been interpreted as the end became an unmistakable beginning. Sometimes it just storms, sometimes there’s just stuff in the way, but every time God is able to overcome it.

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen because of the hand of God. Job is an example who easily comes to mind. The Great Flood was never just a storm. But look also at Joseph – sold into slavery, falsely imprisoned, the guy had every reason to think God’s will for his life wouldn’t come to pass. “It’s kinda dark in this pit my brothers tossed me into, I guess those dreams probably meant something else.” NOPE. Jacob, a man who literally wrestled with God, could have tapped out, could have justifiably thought God just didn’t like him, but would not let go until he got the blessing he KNEW God alone could give him. He walked away with a limp, but sometimes limps happen. A limp doesn’t mean God didn’t bless you – heck, in Jacob’s case it was proof that He had.

Because as much as someone can walk away from Jesus healed and whole, they can walk away from God limping and still have been blessed. Because as much as God can bring a flood to destroy, He can calm a storm to save. Because sometimes He wants to do something, sometimes He wants to show us or stop us or teach us or lead us. But sometimes it also just storms, and He has no motives. Jesus didn’t cause the storm on that day He was in the boat. God wasn’t smiting anyone. It was just a storm. And misinterpreting it did nothing to God’s abilities to calm it.

God has a voice. He speaks to us. It is not up to us to interpret what we see around us when we have every right to just ask Him ourselves… if only we’ll listen. If only we’ll stop looking for signs and just listen for guidance. If only we’ll stop assuming that everything happens for a reason. If only we’ll remember that the God who creates storms is also able to calm them. If only we will listen in patience instead of blaming in fear. If only we will pray with mercy rather than judge another’s storm. God is powerful, He’s mighty, He’s able and always, and yes, He can create a storm, be it in the form of weather or circumstance, rain or consequences. What He isn’t is mute. He does not only speak to us through trials and high winds. Do not be so quick to assign God’s will to an event that we give the storm more power than His voice. Listen to Him, not the rattling windows. Blame the wind, not the Father, when it storms. Stare up into the heavens, beyond the wall of clouds, and rather than wait to ride out the storm you think you’ve earned, call out to the One above it who can calm it should He desire. Or just let the rains wash over you, because sometimes it just storms.

So no, I do not think that God crashed the entire US real estate market to keep us from selling that house. He’s able, sure, but I don’t think He did. God’s pretty cool about making His will known, about speaking to His children. And I refuse to listen to the storm around me tell me what God wants to do when I could just ask Him myself. Because as you know, sometimes it just storms.

The Cinderella Mom

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Hey, Mom. I see you, up late.

The kids are in bed, the husband is snoring, and the place is all yours: it’s go time on mom time.

The time has come for you to be who you were long before the kids were there – the writer, the reader, the artist, the seamstress. We spend our days as servants, ragged, worn. But when night falls and the clock strikes, our transformation takes place. Bippity, boppity, boo! The responsibilities of the day and the plans for tomorrow fall away, and for just the slightest of time we’re alone to be us, to follow our dreams, to play among our passions.

Not every night. Some nights all we can manage is a little Pinterest, maybe some Netflix. Some nights end in tears, some end in guilt over how you wish the day had gone, some end on the couch before you mean them to. Heck, some nights don’t seem to end at all because the kids keep coming out of their rooms and asking questions and wanting more water and complaining and tattling and remembering details about a YouTube video from 7 months ago and being the thirstiest person to EVER LIVE. But some nights are magical. Some nights the stars align, the alarm doesn’t taunt you, and the silence is golden. You don’t have a pumpkin carriage, but you have a couch, a desk, a favorite chair, or even just the whole living room floor awaiting you, ready to take you where you’ve been itching to go. There isn’t much time – there never is – but what you have is the stuff of fairy tales, the stuff that holds you over, energizes you, reminds you that you are more than Mom, that you can do more than laundry and shuttling and meal prepping and breaking up fights. You can produce more than milk and fruit snacks. Maybe you work magic with a pair of needles, maybe you paint, maybe you read… maybe you rest. Whatever it is that you do, it is of the utmost importance that you keep doing it.

Whatever it is that you miss about the time before becoming a mom, do that. Did you meet friends for movies? Do that. Did you write short stories? Do that.  Did you sculpt, garden, give yourself pedicures? Do those things. There may never be time to do them every night, or even every week. But there may also be no other time than the magical midnight hour to do them at all. You cannot afford to invest all of yourself into motherhood. You will never see a return on it if you do. Huge parts of you, yes. More than you knew you could give, sure. But you cannot give every part of yourself to raising your children or you will have nothing left when you’re done. And you will be done, at some point. Not tonight, obviously, but someday.

Beyond what is left of you then, the world needs what’s inside of you NOW. You, your perspective, your gifts, your words… they don’t just disappear once you become a mother. You still matter. You have not become a bookmark in someone else’s story, holding the place and marking pauses. Your name may have been changed to Mom, but who you are was not modified, what you are capable of remains.

There’s a quote that makes the rounds, I see it about once a week and the person accredited to it changes as frequently. It says, “Children are not a distraction from the more important work. They are the most important work.” I don’t know that a quote has ever filled me with so many conflicting feelings at once. Yes, this privilege we have in child rearing is great. The weight of our decisions hangs heavily over us every night, the words we speak, the job we do, can ripple outwards who knows how far. We get one shot at raising these people, and it’s a really big deal. But we also only get one shot at being us, and we have more to offer and are more impactful that motherhood alone. Do not misunderstand me, I’m not discounting motherhood and all its glories. I’m saying we’re mighty moms BECAUSE that’s not all there is to us. We were not given talents and gifts and callings and likes and preferences simply to let them waste away once we started changing diapers. You are made up of so much more than mom genes. You have ideas, passions, abilities, and the world needs them. You need to exercise them. And, just as important, your children need to see them. What better way to raise strong young women than to show them what all a woman is capable of? What better way to raise appreciative young men than to show them all the facets of you? Let your kids be in awe of you. Let them see you create, let them know what’s important to you. They see every day how human you are, so give them a glimpse of how superhuman you can be. My kids’ mom takes photographs that hang in peoples’ homes. They sit on chairs their mom painted and sometimes even wear clothes she made (though just washing the store-bought stuff is equally miraculous most days). Show them the stories you wrote that impacted people they’ve never met. Make sure they know about the baby blankets you made that will become heirlooms, or the recipes you shared that feed countless families. Tell them about the job you work at, the kids you teach, the patients you help, the companies you help run, the services you provide. Let them see the stack of books you’ve devoured, show them your art, your hobbies, your contributions, your gifts. Show them YOU.

In my experience, kids don’t appreciate the meals or the cleaning or the folding or the pick up line. They expect it, it becomes mundane. It can do the same to us. And it’s hard, pulling yourself up out of the mundane, the rut. It can be difficult to feel inspired when you’re surrounded by the same mess and chaos and laundry piles that you were in all day. But just wait. Wait for the clock to strike and allow the magic to work. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to work all day, to feel the press and the rush to get home and get everything done for the day, then everything prepped for the next, in a span of a few hours. The temptation to fall fast asleep and rest your brain must be overwhelming most nights. But sometimes, just sometimes, don’t give in. Stay up and do something for you. Transform. Be YOU. Not the employee, not the mom, but YOU. The unique you who existed long before the babies and the meetings and the appointments. Allow yourself to indulge in what brings you joy and dare to feel no guilt for it.

I admit to losing myself when I first became a mother. I won’t go into too much detail now, mostly because I’ve already gone on for so long, but also because I’m saving it for another blog, wink wink. But whatever the details, I was lost. Me, Jen, the goofy, movie-quoting, fashion-magazine-devouring, creative person had become a shell, a robot, someone only capable of carrying out tasks necessary for my baby. I didn’t recognize it at first. I didn’t know I wasn’t fulfilled, and if I had, I wouldn’t dare have voiced it for fear of being judged. But I remember the moment I realized something other than caring for my son was making me happy. I had taken photos of a family friend and was skipping through the house as they transferred onto the computer. Me. Skipping. I don’t do that NOW, and I’m sure it was just as ridiculous to see then, but something was awakening me, something had stirred a part of me I didn’t realize had gone stagnant. I was doing something creative, and I was loving it. Over the years, as with any relationship, my dance with motherhood has had highs and lows. Some days I crush it and some days it crushes me. Some days the monotony so consumes me that I forget what I’d want to do with free time, should I scrounge any up. On those days, on the really hard ones, when you’re so completely overwhelmed that you can’t see past the moment to come up with a hobby, just sit. You don’t have to create anything. You don’t have to cure cancer. You don’t have to have hoardes of fans or followers, customers, influence. But you DO have to take care of you, and just sitting can do it. Maybe that leads to reading a book you’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe that leads to getting an idea. Maybe that leads to you singing a song. Or maybe you just get to be with yourself for a little bit and catch your breath with no one to touch you, to ask of you. Your relationship with you began long before the one you have with your children, and it’s just as important to maintain it.

It can be really hard, having to wait to do what you want, to do what you’re passionate about. It can make you feel unimportant to have to put yourself on the back burner. It can make you feel guilty, to use precious and finite time doing something only for yourself. Find the time. Make the time. Heck, trade, barter, or steal the time. Cinderella had only one night and it was enough to change her. She had a pretty rough day the next day, too, and still it was worth it. You’ve spent so long being the unappreciated attendant and all you want is the chance to have a night of magic… or maybe to get your hands covered in Mod Podge or sculpting clay. You don’t have a fairy godmother or glass slippers, but an adult coloring book could be just as transformative. Make your passions and hobbies a priority, make YOU a priority. Fight for who you are, not what you do. Wait for your moment, enjoy the quiet, and have a wonderful night with yourself. Don’t be a stranger. Be Cinderella. Isn’t that what we wanted to grow up to be, anyway?

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The Miracle of Normal

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I know what you’re thinking. “Normal? What’s wonderful about normal? There’s nothing miraculous about being NORMAL.” And going by the definition of the word, you’re right. Normal, as we know it, means ordinary, expected. Movies and novels don’t usually revolve around the main characters rising from obscurity to become normal. In fact, most epic journeys begin with the desire to leave normalcy behind. Fairy tales end with happily ever after, not normally ever after. As a culture, we seek out extraordinary, amazing, sensational, exceptional, above and beyond even when it’s above and beyond our means or abilities. Go big or go home, they say. Stand out. A cut above. Be a big fish, capture the dream, shoot for the stars. Motivational posters don’t exist to encourage being normal, and we sure as heck don’t share about what’s normal on social media. Normal, as we know it, is overlooked, even sometimes embarrassing. No one wants to be normal – they all want to be anything but. In our quest for glory we ignore the very marvel that is NORMAL. We think that being normal means being less than, slower than, uglier than, poorer than.

My first pregnancy was not great. I mean, pregnancy itself is a generally hard experience, but my first was pretty bad. High blood pressure, bed rest, fetal monitoring multiple times a week, an IUGR diagnosis and a premature delivery via emergency C-section. We almost lost our baby and then had to leave him in the NICU for weeks. The circumstances surrounding him being born alive and healthy were nothing short of miraculous, and God really got to prove Himself. But as I found myself pregnant for the second time, I prayed differently. Though I knew God to be a God of miracles, of wonder, capable of anything and always holding me in His hand, I prayed for normal. I prayed for a normal pregnancy, a normal delivery, a normal baby. And when my uneventful pregnancy came to an end with an uneventful delivery and a normal baby with nothing extraordinary to share or anything standing out as apart from the norm, I praised God. Because God is as much in the normal as He is in the miraculous. Because sometimes, normal IS miraculous.

When the test results come back normal.

When the child develops normally.

When the baby is delivered normally.

When recovery goes normally.

When a day goes normally.

When a relationship progresses normally.

When you can eat a normal meal.

When you live in a normal house, in a normal city, surrounded by normal people.

Just ask a bride on her wedding day what a blessing it is for everything to go normally.

Because there are so many other ways it could go that aren’t “normal”. Because normal really means OKAY. It means that what’s expected is what’s in front of you. It means your head is above water and you’re making it. The relief that we experience when we share a struggle and are told it’s normal is marked. I remember very clearly a post I read on Facebook long ago. I was scrolling through, no doubt seeking an escape from the frustrations of being a mom, when I saw a post from a friend, a fellow mom: “What do the parents of normally-developing kids have to complain about?” At first it offended me a little, I’ll be honest. Because someone else’s struggle doesn’t negate my own, because it’s still hard to be a mom no matter what. But then I thought about it, and felt so ashamed and humbled by how right she was. What was I complaining about, really, while she awaited a diagnosis, an answer, any help she could find for her son who was not developing as expected, who wasn’t reaching milestones at the same time as his peers? What was really so bad about my kids being normal, high-energy, needy, rowdy, messy, hungry kids? Nothing. They were miraculously normal, they were okay. I wasn’t watching and hoping and praying for normal, because I’d failed to see how incredible normal actually is.

MANY years ago a guest speaker came to the church my husband and I were on staff at. He spoke of bold faith and big moves, and how God had blessed him in return for each of them. Passion like his is always a bit hard for me, the person who stinks at faith most times, the control freak who likes to have a hoard of canned goods and conditioner just in case. My husband came to me during the altar call of the service and told me he felt like God was prompting him to give $500 to this man’s ministry. My breath caught and my shoulders tensed. We had just, for the very first time, received a tax return (having a kid paid off!), and now had about $512 in the bank. This was new for my little hand-to-mouth family, to have such a cushy amount available. I loved knowing it was there, that bills would be paid, that I could go to the store and buy groceries for more than a few days at a time, that I could get the good toilet paper. That money meant security to me, and now my beloved wanted to give it away. We’d be right back to where we’d always been, struggling, waiting for the next paycheck, and terrified of an unexpected expense. But who was I to tell my husband what he had heard from God? Maybe God would see how much it meant for us to give that $500 and would bless us exponentially in return. I could do a lot more with $5000 than $500, right? So he wrote the check and we went on with our lives. The thing is, though, God isn’t a stock fund. He’s not something you invest in with hopes of high returns, he’s GOD. He doesn’t owe me anything and nothing I have is really mine, anyways. So you guessed it – nothing happened. No surprise checks arrived in the mail. No strangers bought our groceries in line while I was doing last-minute math to make sure we had enough to purchase them. No jewels fell from Heaven and no fish jumped out at me with coins in their mouths. We went about our lives, and I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t until years later that I realized we’d been living in the miraculous the whole time. Life went on. My husband and I, early twenties, one job, a baby, a crazy commute, a mortgage, bills, food…. we still made it. We were able to give $500 to the Kingdom and we never missed a meal. It was scary a few times, but we still made it. A young couple struggling to make ends’ meet gave FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS and still survived. Heck, we made it to where I can buy the good toilet paper if I want almost anytime I go grocery shopping (and I do). This wasn’t amazing because God did something huge when we gave $500, it was amazing because life was NORMAL after we did it. We could easily have been hit with an illness, an accident, an allergy, a ticket… anything to throw us off and keep us from being able to pay what we owed. But we weren’t. We lived life normally, and it is nothing short of miraculous.

I encourage you, friend, when you feel like your head is barely above the water, when you feel like you’re only treading water and never getting anywhere, when you feel like you just cannot get ahead… praise Him for that. Because you could go under. You could be knocked down by a wave. You may be exhausted, but you are STILL GOING. God is not a bank account to be drawn upon and there is no promise that we won’t struggle. If you’re not seeing progress, praise Him anyway. If you’re not seeing your bank account swell no matter how hard you work, praise Him anyway. If your bills are always being paid just a little late, praise Him anyway. If your child didn’t make the team they wanted or get into the school you had your heart set on, praise Him anyway. Because He’s as much God in the moments of fatigue and frustration and disappointment as He is in the moments of triumph and excitement and success. Just as the wind doesn’t have to blow for you to know it can make waves, God doesn’t have to be extravagant in His blessings to show His goodness. Can He do it? Yes. Is He any less good when He doesn’t? Of course not.

Jesus walked the earth for 33 years, yet most of what we know of His time here is limited to the last three, the time of His ministry. Does only knowing about 10% of His life make Him any less God? Jesus was just as miraculous, destined, and mighty in the 30 years we know little of as He was during the few years of His public ministry. There is still as much wonder and miraculous in the normal as there was in the wonder and miraculous of what made the Bible. As Jesus walked to the well as a teenager, as He endured taunts for being born to an unwed mother, as He went through puberty, washed dirt from His feet, was tempted, was hungry, through it all he was STILL JESUS. The purpose God had for Him and the work He would do was still going to change the world, still had eternal implications, no matter how normal those years were. God was still doing a mighty thing. Isaiah 53:2 even tells us that the Son of God “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Jesus looked NORMAL, ya’ll. Being born in a barn, parents being judged, looking just like everyone around him… none of that disqualified Him from being miraculous. His normalcy did not mean God was not still at work.

I’ll even go a step further and say that the cross was nothing special. It was constructed, roughly at that, of wood. Just normal wood, placed between two thieves, held together with normal nails. No jewels adorned it, no gold around it, just wood and nails. Yet just as He did with a normal lunch of bread and fish, Jesus took the common and ordinary, the normal, and did something miraculous. He took wood and nails and forever changed the relationship between God and man. Because in the hands of God, nothing is normal. Nothing is ordinary. We view our circumstances much differently in the eye of the storm than He does in the palm of His hand.

I want to encourage you, friend, that you are in the middle of the miraculous. When each day feels monotonous, when you haven’t seen a miracle, when the phenomenal seems far, you are in the midst of God’s goodness. When you feel discouraged that you haven’t seen a break in the trees yet, you are still on a path and God is as good and wondrous and loving as He will be when you get out of the forest. If your rescue, your healing, your provision hasn’t come yet, if your child isn’t developing how you expected, if your bills are more than expected, if your job seems to be drowning you or your relationship seems to be dying, you are still living smack dab in the middle of a miracle. Praise Him for where you are, be thankful for what IS there, and He will prove Himself time and again to be in control, even if you don’t realize until later that the unwanted path He’s been steering you along is the one you’ve always needed. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Boredom is not the absence of God, nor is struggle. At the risk of sounding cliché, you may never see your name in the Guinness Book of World Records, but you can be assured through your relationship with Jesus Christ that you’ll see your name in the Book of Life, and there is nothing common, ordinary, or normal about that.

Mind the Hazard Lights

I should be embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until I became a driver myself that I knew what the hazard light button was. I remember noticing it for the first time in my stepmom’s little red Civic, the newest vehicle I had ever been in and thus the epitome of technological advancement in automobiles. I saw that red triangle button on the dashboard among dozens of other doodads and whatnots I didn’t understand, but the imagery of it was such that I instinctively knew it meant “DANGER”. This could only mean one thing, of course: an eject and/or self-destruct button. Like Batman. I was always very careful in the front seat, afraid that I might inadvertently hit it while changing radio stations and send us both flying into oncoming traffic. This story doesn’t really have an application, I just wanted to share it.

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I was reminded of it when my own daughter asked a few weeks ago what the red triangle button meant. “They’re for when you have a problem, ” my husband explained, “so people know to move away from you.”

This struck me.

My husband is the most selfless person you’ll ever meet, so this isn’t a reflection on his character, only on what the hazard lights have come to mean: when did “I’m in trouble” become “move along”? Hazard lights are intended to alert the other drivers that something has gone wrong with the car or driver, that they can’t go on as normal or at the same rate as the others on the road. Their distress signal has become an annoyance to others. Rather than pulling over to offer help, the other drivers see the blinking red lights and move off to the side in an attempt to get past them quicker. We see the trouble and worry only about how it affects our commute.

I once sat on the side of a highway for more than 6 hours with my hazard lights blinking. 6 hours. I’d experienced a tire blow-out going 70 miles per hour and miraculously maintained enough control to safely come to a stop on the shoulder, yet I did not have the knowledge, skills, or tools to change the tire. I made phone calls until my cell phone died (the car charger was still years away from being common), I missed all of my college classes that day, I was starving, exhausted, scared, frustrated, angry. I waited and waited while hundreds of cars passed me by, not one stopping to offer assistance. Could they have been a crazy axe-murderer who wanted to chop me into tiny bits? Sure. Those exist anywhere. But could they also have helped? Yes. But no one did. Despite the very obvious signs I was giving that I needed it.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t have time to stop and help a stranded motorist!” Well, friend, I can promise you that the stranded motorist probably didn’t have time to be stranded themselves. They had work and appointments and responsibilities still waiting for them, too. How much faster would they get to where they were headed, how much faster would the flow of traffic be restored if someone took the time out of their own schedule to just help?

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I don’t know how to fix a car!” Well, friend, sometimes just having someone there with you can ease the stress of a motor emergency. My stepdad was in a car accident a while back, a bad one. It was raining and he was alone, trapped. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been, let alone hurt. The wreckage made it impossible to reach his cell phone to call for help, he must have been there wondering if anyone saw, if anyone noticed, if anyone was coming, if anyone would help. Alone. Until some wonderful Samaritan took it upon themselves to climb in there and keep him company, keep him calm, until help arrived. Someone took a detour from where they were headed, got out into the rain, and comforted someone who was very much alone. Someone saw the hazard and responded.

You probably see by now that I’m not just referring to car troubles.

It applies across the board to life. The depressing social media shares, the mother juggling groceries and children in the parking lot, the elderly neighbor who can’t start their mower, the overweight first-timer at the gym who can’t figure out how to start their machine. People need HELP. Hazard lights are blinking all around us. Yet all too often we just rubberneck the wreckage, slow down long enough to see how bad it is, thank God it wasn’t us, and move on. We glare at the man whose car won’t start in the middle of an intersection, as though he didn’t already know he was inconveniencing the people behind him, when getting out to help him push the car would be much more impactful. We silently judge the single mother who can’t pay her bills when a helping hand, a tank of gas, or a night of babysitting would be much more helpful. We hate the way our depressed acquaintance makes us feel so down when they’re around, when helping them feel better when we’re around could be the difference between life and death. The mom you’re scoffing at for using formula – did you offer her breastfeeding support? The man you’re taking cell phone pictures of because his pants are slipping down – did you tell him and save him the embarrassment? The friend whose marriage is crumbling – have you offered an ear or just observed the wreckage? The relative who is battling a disease – have you visited, listened, helped, or just thanked God it wasn’t you?

People all around us need help, every day. It could be as easy as sharing a post from a friend’s business or as involved as taking in a family.

“But Jennifer,” you say, “I’m having car trouble, too.” I know, friend. Depression and anxiety are all around us. Financial struggles, relationship battles, health troubles, existential crises, kids, school, work… we’re all struggling. I know. And sometimes all you can do is climb inside the broken-down car and cry together. Acknowledging someone else’s struggle does not negate your own. There’s no way to measure who has it worse, nor should there be. We’re all in this together, all traveling the same road, and we all benefit when someone in need is helped.

There’s an actual, documented phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. In a crisis, individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim the more people there are around. Seriously. The MORE bystanders there are, the LESS likely anyone is to offer any help. Victims will wait and wait for help that doesn’t come because everyone around them assumes someone else will do it. It’s mass apathy. It takes someone taking charge and giving specific instructions to specific people to get anything done. You can’t just yell, “Somebody call 911!”, you have to point to a person and say, “YOU, call 911.” While I’ve seen this portrayed several times on the always-accurate Law & Order: SVU, I recently witnessed it first-hand. I was in a situation that required police interference, and people just stood there. Watching. Some were in disbelief, some had their cell phones out to video. I had to be the one to call the police, because the bystander effect was in full force.

This idea, this stopping to help when others don’t, it’s important enough to have made the Bible. In Luke 3 we’re told of the Good Samaritan, the man who stopped and offered assistance when so many others before him didn’t. Jesus Himself offered up everything He had for the good of all of us. You may not have riches, you may not have influence, you may not have extra time, but if the Son of God can offer Himself to help everyone, even the jerkiest jerks and the buttiest buttheads, who are we to just keep on driving by? When did “I need help”, when did “love your neighbor as yourself”, become open to interpretation, prioritization, and impassivity?

We cannot live this way. We cannot allow our dependency on others to rid us of any responsibility. We cannot see flashing hazard lights and shrug because they don’t affect us. People need help, WE need help. So what are you going to do about it?

God Didn’t Heal Me Today

 

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God didn’t heal me today.

It doesn’t mean He isn’t going to.

It doesn’t mean He can’t.

It doesn’t mean I’m being punished.

It doesn’t mean He’s forgotten about me.

It doesn’t mean He doesn’t hear my prayers.

It means tomorrow I will ask again.

 

It also means tomorrow I’ll likely wake up in pain again. It means I’ll head straight to the tray on the counter full of orange prescription bottles and gulp down the first round of medications, feeling defeated before I even check my email. It means I’ll have to keep constant note of the time, so I can know when I’m allowed to eat and when it’s time for more pills, since there’s a delicate balance between medications to be taken on an empty stomach and medications that will ruin your day if you take them hungry. I’ll ask Him again, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who heals, to touch my body before I swallow these prescriptions. I’ll ask Him when I feel the pain. I’ll ask Him every time I glance in the mirror. I’ll ask Him when I’m doing laundry or unloading dishes or just sitting on the couch. I’ll ask Him when I feel that I need a nap. I’ll ask Him when I want to do more.  I’ll ask Him when I see the moms who can do more. By the end of the day I’ll beg Him. When I take more medicines before bed. When I see my name on another prescription bottle and double-check the dosage to make sure this is the higher one, the one that is supposed to make a difference. When I fall into bed and turn on the heating pad. When I groan, ache, sigh. I beg Him to heal me, to touch me, to change me. Most of this I do in silence. Some nights it gets really bad and I ask others to ask Him, too. But He hasn’t yet.

 

The woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8 is often mentioned in sermons. She’s the woman who suffered an unknown ailment for 12 years, a condition that left her penniless after having visited numerous doctors who couldn’t help her, and ostracized for being unclean. For 12 years. This woman is hailed as a hero of faith for having believed in Jesus still after suffering for 12 years, having felt desperation but not hopelessness for more than a decade. In just a few months, I’ll reach the point at which my body has been fighting against me for 20 years. Twenty. If this Pain were a person, it would be old enough to drive, vote, and even hold some public offices. Two thirds of my life I have walked this earth with the knowledge that my insides were jumbled, that I was different from everyone else. That my understanding of pain was different from most others’. Two thirds of my life I have experienced pain – sometimes just aching, sometimes excruciating. I have cried, screamed, vomited, subjected myself to invasive exams, surgical procedures, chemicals, hormones, rude and dismissive doctors, and God. I still ask Him to help.

 

I know He’s there. He may not be walking past for me to reach the hem of His garment, and oh how I wish He would, but He’s there. He was there when I got my first positive pregnancy test. He was there when my firstborn almost wasn’t born. He was there when my second baby was born completely healthy with no complications. He was there when our third baby left us before we even had the chance to know him. He was there when our fourth baby had some scary test results, and there when we found out she was perfect. He’s spared me, comforted me, and shown me the miraculous. I know that the God who healed the woman with the issue of blood is the same God who knit me together. I know that the same God who created the Heavens is the same God who thought the world needed me. I know He can do it. He just hasn’t yet.

 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get mad. Anyone with a chronic condition can tell you that there are good days and bad days, and sometimes both in one day, several times a day. On bad days I get upset with God. I get tired of asking for what I know He can give me, the same way my kids get mad when I don’t give them cookies they know we have. I don’t lie to them, I don’t hide the treats, I just know I’m not giving them cookies just yet. On bad days I’m so tired of recognizing symptoms that I don’t want to talk anymore. I don’t want to have yet another complaint to share, don’t want to drive anyone away with the negativity that lurks when someone asks how I’m doing. I don’t want to pull anyone else down, but I also don’t want to go through this alone. I need to talk about it or else I’ll imprison myself in this body and let illness become my master. The less I share the more isolated I become. On the good days I’m tagged and messaged by well-meaning people, people who don’t understand that oils and Plexus and diets don’t regrow new body parts. Lessening inflammation is nice, but ultimately only a miracle from God can truly heal me. On the bad days I’m told that I’m not praying enough, that I don’t have enough faith, that I don’t look sick, or that I’m not actually even sick at all. On good days, I calmly explain that surgery doesn’t stop the body from producing hormones. On bad days, I’m asked to defend myself, my choices, my intelligence, asked to remain patient while someone gives an opinion or asks an obvious question as though I’d never made the connection that exercise is supposed to cause weight loss. On bad days, when others’ expectations exceed my abilities, I get angry. When my own desires exceed my abilities, I begin to feel hopeless. On good days I can smile and function to the point where only I know I’m suffering. On bad days I want to cry and curse and hide from the world. I’m always honest with God about how I’m feeling, though it’s not as if He didn’t already know. Praying for something for almost twenty years will get you far past formal pleasantries with God.  But whether a day is good or bad, God’s ability to heal me does not change. His power does not fluctuate, it is not seasonal. On any given day, God can heal me. He just hasn’t yet.

 

I know others who have suffered longer than I have. I know others who have suffered worse than I do. I know some who blame God and others who still turn to Him. I know some who have lost their battles and others who fight on. I know some who have been healed and many who are still waiting. No matter who I know, they all pale in comparison to the One I know in Heaven. The One I know can heal me. The One who offered His body in place of mine, who willingly took suffering upon Himself to give me the chance at a life without it. He is the One who knit me, who perfected me, who knows the hairs on my head and the desires of my heart. He knows my voice and He hears my prayers. I don’t know why God hasn’t healed me yet. I don’t know if I’m supposed to learn anything. I don’t know if He ever will. But what I do know is that He can, and so I will keep asking.

 

Don’t Live Life in the Shallow End

Last weekend my loud little family and I were swimming at my parents’ house. It was a great day, full of splashing, grilling, laughing, and the inevitable anxiety that comes with having 3 kids in the pool at once. My 7-year-old had come a long way over the summer and was swimming like a splashy, awkward fish, so we’d been playing a game where I’d toss a stone into the pool and he’d swim down to retrieve it. I played this all summer long as a kid myself – though, being an only child, the high-fives when I swam up triumphantly were pretty bizarre. He was so excited, you could see his smile through the water before he ever broke the surface. But then I got a little too excited and did the unthinkable: I tossed the stone into the deep end. We all encouraged him and stayed close as he tried, and tried, and tried, then tried some more, but it just wasn’t happening this time. He would stand at the edge of the pool, close his eyes, and pray each time before he threw himself into water almost twice as deep as he is tall. He’d done it before, and having inherited his mother’s stubbornness, he was not willing to give up without trying. And trying. Then trying a few dozen more times.

After more than half an hour, it was just him and I in the deep end. Everyone else had gone on to play and splash, cheering him on from afar. I decided to sneak over and see if I could use my feet to scoot the stone to a friendlier depth, since the water was just a few inches over my own head. But I did not go unnoticed.

“Mommy, can you get it?”

I took swimming lessons as a child, and practically grew gills from all of the time I spent in the water. The Little Mermaid was my favorite movie (WAS?), and I would cross my ankles and pretended my feet were the fins at the end of my glorious mermaid tail. I am a certified SCUBA diver, for goodness sakes! Yet this small task had me frozen. You see, ever since I became a mother almost 9 years ago, I haven’t been swimming. I’d been in the pool, sure, lakes, even the ocean. But I hadn’t been swimming. Head-under-water, hold-your-breath, nothing-beneath-your-feet swimming. Without knowing it, I’d parked myself in the shallow end, holding babies and toddlers, observing eager boys, barking out orders about splashing. I’d hold onto them, show them how to kick behind their bodies, correct their arms, cheer them on, toss them, tickle them, and teach them, but I hadn’t been SWIMMING with them. Of course, there were times when this was absolutely necessary, and I don’t regret the watchful eye I kept over my little tadpoles as they turned into frogs… or some other aquatic animal that’s maybe not so gross. But here I was, a 30-year-old woman with years of swimming experience, and I was pausing before diving.

Part of it – okay most of it – was that I was embarrassed. I didn’t want everyone else to see me go under, for fear that I’d thrash and flail like my kids when they were beginning to swim. I didn’t want to head towards the bottom of the pool, only to come up empty-handed. I didn’t know what I’d look like, didn’t know if I’d fail, didn’t know if my ears would pop or my eyes would burn or my nose would sting. It had been nearly a decade since I’d felt the weightlessness of water, and I was feeling it.

There’s really no way to describe it eloquently, it was over so quickly. I took a breath, dove down, got the rock and popped back up. No biggie. But I did it. People saw me do it, too. And it was no big deal. Well, apart from the mascara streaming down my face and the water that just WOULD NOT stop being in my nose. A minute later, I did it again. I’m sure I didn’t look like Ariel, but I made it to the bottom and back up, and the day went on.

This all seems like a strange story to share, I’m sure. And until I felt God speak to me, the moment would have passed as if it were no different than trying a new food or hearing an old song I liked on the radio. But as I was back in the shallow end, watching the little one jump up and down in three inches of water, I felt the Lord speak to me about how significant it had been. How many other areas of my life had I spent hanging out in the shallow end since becoming a mother?

How many hobbies had I let fall aside? How many opportunities had I passed up? How much of myself had I lost in assuming the identity of a mother? How long had I allowed my relationship with God to consist of me just treading water – or even just calling out and keeping watch from the shallow end as I guided those going deeper than myself? I get it, we’re busy. We’re tired. We’re stretched and pulled and needed and wanted, and we give so much of ourselves to our children that it feels like there isn’t time or energy or money to do anything for ourselves, and a lot of times there isn’t. Friendships can fizzle and pastimes become the past as we devote our lives to raising our kids. When I was preparing to graduate college over nine years ago, I had grand plans, great ideas about my future and bubbling excitement about what I’d do with my hard-earned degree. I was going to devote my life to helping others, I’d dress up for work and have an office where I’d hang my counseling degree, I’d make a DIFFERENCE. Then I saw two lines on a test I took on a whim, and all of those plans dissipated like smoke. My future no longer belonged to just my husband and I. On that morning in March, the same day I was to have my exit interview for graduation, everything changed. I waded to the shallow end.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t take my calling as mother lightly. This work we moms do is invaluable, influential,  immeasurable, and infinite. I wouldn’t give a thing to change the years I’ve had with my children, and I know that it will impact generations beyond just my own. But in that hard work, in the gravity of the work I’ve been doing, I stayed in the shallow end. I let fatigue keep me from hobbies, let stress keep me from relationships.

If you haven’t heard the song Oceans by Hillsong United, do yourself a favor and go download it. Right now. It’s an incredible worship song, and I absolutely love it, but there are parts of the song that make me uncomfortable to sing. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger.” Um, can we just hang out over here where it’s safe? Where I can feel solid ground beneath my feet and know that a wave won’t take me down? Where I can breathe as I wish and not take the risk of running out of air? It’s an incredibly perplexing predicament that motherhood puts us in, simultaneously proving God’s goodness in His ability to create life and planting almost crippling anxiety in us at once. I have never been more scared than I am as a mother. Diseases, accidents, bridges, water, fire, side effects, allergies, predators, bills, tornadoes, floods, snakes, spiders, famine, war, inappropriate commercials, Caillou – there’s just so much to be afraid of for our babies. So we devote ourselves to remaining watchful, ever vigilant, observing from the shallow end. We are EXHAUSTED. To our bones. Sickness, nightmares, potty training, school, sports, practices, activities, play dates, doctor appointments, homework, projects, cooking, cleaning, folding, hanging, refereeing, soothing, reprimanding, teaching, guiding, Minecraft – everything takes so much from us and leaves us with nothing left, resting in the shallow end. Personally, I’ve been focused on being a mom for so long that I feel embarrassed and timid about trying to be anything else. Would I still be relevant if I tried to get an interview somewhere? Can I still relate to other people? What WILL I do with myself once the kids are old enough to not need me here? Heck, what will I do with myself once they’re all in school and the house is empty and quiet, devoid of fights to be broken up, books to be read, and dolls to be played with? I’ve reached the age where I watch shows that have been off the air for 10 years and listen to music that I first purchased on a cassette tape. Is there a place for me in this world, or is my time up? What will I look like if I try? What will people think if I fail? What can I possibly have to offer apart from being a mom? So I stay in the shallow end, where I know my place, where I can do my job. The problem with the shallow end is that eventually, everyone outgrows it. Two out of three of my little ones are now in the deep end, and the day will come when the littlest one takes her first brave journey into water she can’t touch bottom in. I can’t stay in the shallow end, more than anything, because that’s not where my Savior is. He’s walking on the deep end, calming the waves, inviting me to trust Him, to join Him.

I urge you, fellow mommies, daddies, friends – don’t stay in the shallow end. There’s a time and a place for it, yes, but don’t forget what it feels like to be completely submerged. Don’t be so nervous and tired that you miss the opportunity to experience the weightlessness of having nothing beneath you, especially when the weight of the world is upon you. The deep end is scary sometimes, it’s more work, it’s a little unknown, you have to hold your breath and you can’t see what’s going on above you – but you can’t have much fun in the shallow end, at least not for very long. Let’s vow to dive in, to find what we loved and forgot, to kick our feet and ruin our hair and find ourselves again.  Let’s give faith a chance. Let’s allow God to carry us. Let’s find something we like to do – and do it. Let’s stop being so scared of being someone else that we forget who we actually are. Because the whole time I was underwater, I was still Mom, just much, much better.

Raising the Difficult Child – Consider the Dandelions

I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.

Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.

The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention.  Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes

Loving the Mentally Ill

I’ve written, deleted, and re-written this blog for months. It’s a tough subject, and it’s hard to be honest without offending, or encouraging while still being truthful. But in light of everything that’s being said about the recent suicide of a beloved actor, I need to write this. Again.
You see, not much offends me. Things anger me, confuse me, sadden me, sure. But not a lot hurts my feelings. But I’ll say it: I’m offended at some of the reactions to the death of Robin Williams. Straight-up offended. As if it’s our place to pass judgement on a man’s death. As if our opinions on the circumstances surrounding his life and death hold any weight. As if our own experiences give us any modicum of expertise with regard to the experiences of another. I’ve seen a lot of people who claim they overcame depression, so someone else should be able to, as well. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety for decades, I still have no ounce of justified judgement towards someone fighting a similar battle. I’ve seen even more complete misunderstanding and disregard for mental illness. The fact is, depression is an illness. Sometimes it’s temporary, like post-partum depression or seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes it’s based on circumstances, like bills or illness or difficult relationships, and can thus change with the situation. Sometimes, though, it’s chemical, it’s through no fault of the sufferer, and it’s STRONG. Chemical depression CAN be overcome with prayer, but just because it isn’t sometimes doesn’t mean the person suffering has no faith. It doesn’t mean the person is weak, just as requiring insulin says nothing about a diabetic, other than the fact that they’re diabetic. Depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance that must be corrected and observed constantly, or else it will quickly overwhelm. Depression is an ILLNESS, not a choice, not a lack of appreciation or contentment, not a weakness or a fault, and it most certainly is not selfish.
Ahh, selfishness. This is what so many of the judgements I’ve seen seem to get caught up on. The selfishness of the sufferer who chose to end their life. Does suicide affect so many more people than just the one who decided to take their life? Absolutely. But how quick we are to forget that mental illness affects the family and friends of the sufferer in life, not just in death. How quick we are to dismiss the suffering of the depressed or mentally-ill person. I’m not here to argue the theology of suicide, nor do I believe that death by one’s own hand brings about a poetic release or freedom, but I will say, LOUDLY, that mentally ill persons do not think logically. We can think logically, yes, and using our working, non-muddled-up brains we can look at the circumstances surrounding someone’s suicide and decide that it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t that bad, or they were selfish cowards. But just because something doesn’t seem to make sense to us doesn’t make it untrue. Just because you’ve never been so overwhelmed by darkness that you thought death was the only life for you DOES NOT MEAN it did not appeal to someone else. In discussing mental illness recently with a friend, she said that mental illness “gummed up” her brain, and it was the best description I’ve heard yet. Your brain may work, firing on all pistons, using logic and reason and recognizing cause and effect and multiple escape routes. But a mentally ill person’s brain does not. I need glasses to see clearly and you may not. This does not mean that because I need help to see, your eyes are better than mine. It means I need help to see.
I’ve lived my whole life with mental illness in the form of a bipolar mother. Is it hard? YOU BET. Do my struggles with her illness change her? In no single way at all, ever. It’s been a long road, and a very difficult one. Sometimes she does things that just make no sense… but they don’t have to. Just because I cannot empathize with her suffering does not mean her suffering is any less real. My confusion does not heal her. My frustrations do not heal her. Even my hurt does not heal her. Because SHE CANNOT HELP IT. No matter how much I want her to not be mentally ill, it won’t change the fact that she is, so I can either love and embrace her as she is, or I can live life constantly disappointed. A few times, in her darkest of days, she has even tried to hurt herself, and as a young girl who did not understand mentall illness, I was offended. My feelings were hurt, I was mad, and I thought her selfish. But just as a thirsty person will drink, a mentally ill person will do what their body is telling them to. Someone with Tourette’s or Parkinson’s cannot control every movement their body unwillingly makes any more than a mentally ill person can control every thought or action they take. Cop-out? To someone who does not have understanding or empathy with regard to mental illness, maybe. The fact remains that no matter how hard it is to love someone who is mentally ill (and it’s okay to admit that it’s hard), our suffering does not negate or outrank theirs.
Robin Williams, specifically, also dealt with addictions many times during his life, further proof of his suffering, his inability to control himself, his inability to behave like a “normal person” or think clearly. Robin Williams suffered a great deal more than any of us will ever understand, even those of us who have battled the demon of depression and stepped back from the ledge just in time. The truth is that we don’t know what he was going through. We don’t know what he thought or felt or lived or saw. We do know that he made us laugh and cry and quote a lot of movies, and we should be grateful for the impact he had on our childhoods. But we should not and CANNOT pass judgement on the very last choice he made, no matter how much that choice hurts us. Because it hurt him, too. Because it may have been, in his gummed-up brain that just wouldn’t submit, the only choice he had.

***EDITED TO ADD***
If we continue to publicly pass judgement and name-call those who are suffering from mental illness, especially those who are no longer alive to explain their pain, we will make it even harder for someone who needs help to have the courage to speak up, reach out, and get what they need. Stop making it NOT okay for someone to suffer. Have some sympathy and maybe save a life.

Planting Time

“It’s just a season.”
I hate this phrase. I hate it because it’s usually accompanying a really tough time, and the phrase, while meant to encourage the sufferer that their woes are temporary, often feels flippant, cliche, and dismissive of how horrible the trenches can be. Because in the middle of a season, it doesn’t feel like a season, it feels like forever.
But it’s true. Heck, it’s Biblical. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, in case you’re wondering.) It’s scientific, too. Strawberries aren’t meant to grow in winter, snow isn’t meant to fall in summer. There are seasons for sowing, seasons for reaping. There are seasons for enjoying the spoils of a season spent working, and seasons for huddling and weathering the storms. Seasons where everything is in bloom and seasons where everything appears frozen and dead.
Seasons do not appeal to me, for the most part. I don’t like change. I like control, and I can’t persuade a season to stay, or to stay away. The beginning of every season is exciting, a new start, a change in perspective. Fall boots and Starbucks! Pedicures and ice cream trucks! CHRISTMAS!!! There’s always something to look forward to when a season changes. But then the allergies kick in, or isolation sets in. We’ve been cold and shut up inside with short, dark days or sweating for weeks during the never-ending summer days. Seasons always last just a little longer than we’d like them to. And with “seasonal” fruits and vegetables being grown and manipulated to be available year-round, indoor pools, and Peeps being sold during holidays other than Easter, the lines get blurred and we get bored. Quickly.
My season right now is one of planting. It’s a hard season. It requires lots and lots of work, time, attention, sacrifice, and sweat, with no indication of how the harvest will turn out, no taste of reward just yet. I have young children.
For a while I fought the season. We drug our children along with us and asked them to adapt to our schedules. We tried to plant during the wrong window. Since before we even began dating, I worked alongside my husband in ministry. If there was an event, I was there. If there was a girl in tears, I was ready. We stayed up late getting our calendars to look the same, dreaming up more ways to reach our students and spend time with them. I started wearing down, but there was no way I was going to admit I couldn’t do it all. I tried. Hard. I fought tired, hungry kids and schedules that were happy to eat me alive without a blink. I tried to be available to everyone, all the time. I scoured the internet for advice on being a ministry partner and a mother, I asked every pastor’s wife I knew, I cried, I begged, and I darn near collapsed every time I heard “It’s just a season.” I remember the disappointment, the near grief I felt when I thought I’d found a book that would give me the answers, only to discover upon reading it that nannies and babysitters were what made motherhood and ministry possible. I want to raise my children the way that God seems to think I can, the way He called me to. It was time to recognize that I couldn’t serve everyone else’s families while I served my own in such an important capacity. It was time to accept my season.
My calendar began to gradually look different from my husband’s. It’s still strange to me that there are new students who I don’t know, events that I don’t attend, sermon series that I don’t hear. Every now and then, someone will make a comment about my not being there, and it hurts, but I know I’ve made the right decision. I simply can’t do it all. And if I miss this season of planting with my children, I will not see the harvest in the next. God has called me to ministry, I just had no idea that ministry would be at home, and that three children could take up more energy than 100.
The best part about seasons, despite the fact that I can’t control them, rush them, or pick and choose what can be accomplished in them, is that they’re not permanent. We don’t live in the south pole. With babysitters not being an option, I can’t go to the movies right now. I can’t attend 99% of the things I’d like to. I can’t be by my husband’s side in ministry (although I’m learning that behind him in ministry is just as important). I have to turn down invitations and opportunities, friends and family. If a kid is sick, I stay up and stay home. It can often feel like a winter season, where nothing much changes, where I live in near isolation. But I am planting, planting, planting. Working the soil (complete with fertilizer, since one is still in diapers!). Learning how much water each one needs, giving each one the right amount of sun, nurturing growth, taking setbacks personally. I am a child gardener, throwing myself into the task of growing healthy, prosperous people. No matter how long this season lasts, it absolutely will not be forever, and will likely be over before I feel like I’ve had the chance to do my best.
Ministry or not, mother or not, we’re all in seasons. And we’re all in different seasons at different times. It can get really depressing really quickly to compare my sowing season to another’s reaping time. It can get really discouraging to try and live in a season other than my present one. Some days feel like they’ll never end, some days I even resent this season. But it won’t last. None of this life is permanent. Seasons come and go, seeds are planted and seeds grow. Harvest, winter, planting, growing… it’s all one big, ever-changing cycle that will continue whether we want it to or not. The sooner we (I) embrace our (my) season, the more effective we (I) can be in it. In the winter, we can rest and know that the sun is coming. In the harvest we can see the benefits of our hard work and understand how everything we did was so important. Dear friend, whether you are a parent, a single person, struggling or thriving, take heart and know this time will not last. There are plenty of other seasons ahead for you, and the change in season is not BECAUSE of you. The seasons change without regard for our feelings, but how often we allow the seasons to rule them. Embrace your season. Accept that it is only a season. Get the most out of your season. Know that each one prepares you for the next. Anticipate change even in the most monotonous of times. And if you don’t see me, it’s not because I didn’t want to be there. I just have a crop I’m tending to at home.