Category Archives: Devotionals

A Good Helper is a Good Listener

My older kids are 7 and 4, so they are in the prime age to be little helpers. They LOVE to help! But as anyone knows who has been helped by a young child, “help” is a relative term. Even though sometimes allowing my children to help me means the job will be slower for me, I want to honor their desire to help and to learn. So I find ways to allow them into the process of whatever I’m doing.

Because we believe in teaching personal responsibility and family teamwork at a young age, our children have weekly chores. (I could write an entire post on the benefits of chores!) One of Sophie’s jobs that she loves to do is to be the dinner helper. When I’m getting ready to put dinner on the table, Sophie’s job is to make sure the table is cleaned off of all toys and craft supplies, and then she can begin helping me with getting dinner on the table. She’s usually very eager to do the second part of this process, but very resistant to doing the first part. She doesn’t want to clear off the table and put away her toys. This week, this conundrum resulted in a meltdown. She didn’t get to help with putting dinner on the table, because she was still engaged in the first task of putting toys away, because she didn’t get to it when I asked her to. Sophie was devastated that she didn’t get to help in the way she wanted.

Again the next day she was eager to help me with a load of laundry I was folding and putting away. I gave her a task to do, but she didn’t want to do that particular part of the job (putting away the clothes which were hers from the load). Instead, she wanted to take one bath towel to put away. Given that she can’t reach where the bath towels are kept, and that there were several other linen closet items, I resisted her request to do this task. While I continued folding the remainder of the laundry, she argued with me about how she was going to help.

“But I want to put the towel away” she whined.

“I asked you to put your items away” I reminded her.

“But I want to put this towel away too” she replied.

“Ok, thats fine, but you haven’t done the first thing I asked you to do yet.”

“But I want to help with this towel” she persisted.

I’m sure you can see how this played out. She argued with me so long that again, she didn’t get to help at all. I finished folding and gathered up all the other items and put them away. This really set her off. And since it was almost time to leave for school, the conversation continued into the car.

“Why didn’t I get to help with the laundry this morning?”

“Because Sophie, when you are a helper, you do what the boss asks you to do. Helping isn’t done through doing whatever it is that you want to do. It’s done by doing what you’re asked to do. Sometimes what you want to do isn’t the most helpful thing or even the thing that needs done or even something that you are able to do. If you truly want to help someone, you have to do whatever it is that they need you to do.”

And I finished with a line that my children probably could say in their sleep: “A good helper is a good listener.”

Since I was already on my soapbox, and since the Holy Spirit was nudging me yet again through my own words, I carried on in our morning prayer. “Lord, help us to be good helpers to you today. Help us to do not just whatever it is that we may want to do, but help us to listen so that we can know what it is that you need us to do. Help us to be good helpers who listen and do what you’re asking instead of just what we want.”

This conversation really impacted me. How many times do I ask God what he needs and then just charge ahead with whatever I want to do anyways? This is exactly what my children, particularly Sophie, like to do when helping. I love that they have the desire to help, and I want to include them, but it would actually be helpful if they were listening to me and aiding me, instead of just doing their own thing.

If we’re honest, we all could probably improve upon our listening. If we took a closer look, I’m sure we would all find instances where we asked God how we could help, but then we did what we wanted instead. And maybe that wasn’t the thing that He needed done the most. Maybe we missed out on truly helping because we were too busy throwing a fit about what we wanted to do when he asked us to do something else. Like children who want to help a parent, we all need to remember that a good helper is a good listener.

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Memories of Daddy: Prayer

When I was a little girl, I recall vividly the way my Daddy prayed. He prayed about everything. All the time. We’d be pulling into a parking lot, and I’d hear his familiar prayer, “Lord, we just need one parking space.” It seemed like such a silly thing to pray for. And yet, as an adult, I find myself saying the same thing, out loud, with my own kids in earshot as we pull into a parking lot.

My Daddy had an ongoing conversation with his Heavenly Father. If we passed an accident, he always prayed, “Lord, those people need your help.” If he couldn’t find something, I’d hear, “Lord, where is so and such. You know where it is. Please show me.” If anyone in our family was sick, he was quick and ready to lay hands on us and pray for healing. Before every meal, he prayed more than just “Thank you for our food,” often tearing up as he spoke with his loving Father. My Daddy was a man of prayer.

While I sometimes catch myself praying similar prayers as an adult, I don’t think I realized the full impact of his continual dialogue with God on me until just recently.

A grandmother in our church shared with me about a time she visited our preschool classroom with her granddaughter who was visiting and wouldn’t stay in the class alone. The teachers asked for someone to lead in prayer before snack, and my son Micah was a ready volunteer. As he began to pray, her eyes bulged out, recounting it to me, she exclaimed, “He took us to church!” as people often say of someone who prays a moving prayer. She was blown away by the prayer of my four year old. (But, not to worry, she said, as he was soon talking about poop and being a typical four-year-old again!)

In that moment of talking with Pam is when my Daddy’s legacy hit me. He was a man of prayer. He made me a woman of prayer. And now my children are becoming people of prayer.

My Daddy left a legacy of prayer in my life because he was always doing it in front of me. I’m sure we can all identify problem habits that our children have because they’ve seen us model them. But are we modeling the good habits also? My Daddy modeled “pray without ceasing” every day of his life when I was growing up. And now it’s ingrained in me. I want the same thing for my children. But I realize that if I don’t model it for them, then they won’t grasp it in that way. If I never prayed with them or in their earshot, then how would they learn to pray?

Many people like to use rote prayers that are repeated before meals or bedtime, “Now I lay me down to sleep” stuff. That’s alright, but I don’t think it captures the real relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. Sure, there are things I don’t pray about in front of my kids because they don’t need to know the intimate details of certain situations. But there are a lot of things I do pray about in front of my kids. I want them to know what authentic conversation with God sounds like.

That’s what prayer is in our house — a conversation with God. And my kids know they can talk to God anytime. He’s always listening, I tell them. My kids are invited in to prayer time throughout our day. Sometimes they choose to repeat what I’m praying, and sometimes they pray their own prayers.

I’m thankful I had a Daddy who taught me to pray continually through the way he lived his life. And now, in turn, I hope to model that for my children as well.

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Say Thank You

As you begin reading this, I’d like for you to think of something you’re grateful for. Just a word or two, something that you’re grateful for. I’ll come back to that in a little bit.

Most of you know that I’m in the trenches of motherhood that many know can be very draining. Little people can be very demanding, very needy, very emotional, very irrational little people. Tiny tyrants attempting to rule the house with their miniature iron fists. As we battle for control each day, one of the things that I’m always drilling into my kids while they are still young is “Say thank you.” I want them to grow up not as entitled, spoiled, grown up tyrants, but as people who realize they are blessed every day.

Here is a lesson in saying thank you that really hit home with me.

My children go to two different schools, so every morning we have the hustle and bustle of getting everyone out the door on time. Some mornings you would think Mary Poppins is directing traffic in my house as everyone does everything they’re supposed to do, in a timely fashion, with a happy face. I almost catch myself whistling “A Spoonful of Sugar!”

But other days, my journey through the morning feels more like the highway to you know where! Everyone’s crying. Everyone’s yelling. No one can find their shoes, or their mittens, or their glasses. I’m more like a drill sergeant throwing children out the door and into van.

One particular day not too long ago, this was the tune of our morning. We were all yelling, crying, the kids were fighting, running late, of course. Not my favorite type of morning. And I hate to drop my kids off at school when everyone is mad at everyone! That’s the worst. So this particular morning, as everyone was bundled in the van, Sophie was crying and throwing a fit, Micah was complaining and whining, the baby was just making noise to be part of the chaos. And I thought, how do I flip this? How do I help these babies get through this yucky morning and have a good day?

Gratitude. That was the answer.

So I (loudly) asked everyone “What’s something you’re thankful for today?” I had to ask it more than once to be heard over the mayhem. But soon the answers started coming: a warm van to get to school, the beautiful snow, my friends at school, my mom, twinkle twinkle little star (from Hannie, of course). Soon we were on a roll, and everyone was feeling SO MUCH BETTER. We turned those thankful moments into our prayer time for the day before we dropped my son off to school.

Gratitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:16-18. It’s probably well known to many of you. It reads: “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I have a background as an English teacher, so whenever I approach words, I do that with my English teacher brain on. Can’t do it any other way! But what I first notice about this Scripture is that it’s a command. It’s written in the indicative tense, which means the subject of the action is “you” understood. In other words, you could read “YOU rejoice” “YOU pray continually” “YOU give thanks in all circumstances.” The “you” isn’t written there, but it’s understood that the sentence is talking to you. It’s commanded of “you” to do this. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a feeling. It’s a command.

The next aspect of this short Scripture that I notice is the adverbs. These are the words that describe the action of the sentence. We have “always” “continually” and “in all circumstances.” These words further show us that the action commanded is not something we do just when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. These are things we should do all the time. Always. Continually. In all circumstances.

Yet on mornings like the one I described to you earlier, rejoicing and giving thanks were the furthest things from my kids’ minds. As an adult, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to draw them out of that little funk with a time of thanksgiving. It really did turn our whole morning around, mine included. But that’s just a difficult morning.

What about when the really hard days come? When you lose your job, or your spouse loses their job. When someone you love gets a difficult diagnosis. When your spouse leaves you. When a friend dies. When a child falls into addiction. When you lose everything. There are many moments in life that it is very, very difficult to give thanks.

I’ve had many moments like this in my life. Moments, seasons really, where is it very difficult to be grateful. Most of you probably know that my daughter Sophie has autism. Her journey has been filled with difficulty from literally the moment of her birth. At times, that’s something that’s been very hard to say thank you for. I remember one morning in particular not that long ago, I was feeling sorry for myself about her autism diagnosis, and I felt that gentle nudge to give thanks. So I began to try and think of things I was thankful for because of autism. It’s still a little hard for me to say, “thank you for autism.” But I’m working towards that. But still there were so many things that I found to be thankful for.

There have been so many people that we’ve been privileged to interact with because of her diagnosis. We’ve received the help and support of so many different teams of people. The beauty in her overcoming so many obstacles is incomparable. That would be absent if it weren’t for her struggles. Our church family has come around us in such an amazing way to love and support our daughter and our whole family. Again, blessings that would be absent if our need had not be present.

And then there’s those little things that make Sophie Sophie. When I’m cleaning and I find all of her hatchimals shoved into a tiny baby sock that she was using to cart them around. Just those little things that make her her. She wouldn’t have some of those endearing habits if it wasn’t for autism. And even though the diagnosis is difficult to accept and be thankful for, I wouldn’t change Sophie for the world. I love her completely, every bit of her, with my whole heart. Would I remove some of her obstacles? Yes, in a heartbeat. But I also know the same God who controls all things in this giant cosmos for his purpose sees Sophie and controls her life in his good hands too.

So let’s call to mind what you thought of earlier when I asked you to choose something you’re grateful for. If I had to guess, or if I’d been in your seat, I would have probably written, my family, my husband, my job, my church, something like that. I doubt very much I would have written “autism.”

And yet, this is something that God has allowed in to my life. And gratitude, I believe, is the key to finding peace in those situations. Because gratitude restores my perspective. Instead of seeing God through the lens of my circumstances, I can see my circumstances through the lens of his love. I can remember that I believe in a God who is both totally good and totally sovereign. There’s nothing that happens to me that he hasn’t allowed. And there’s nothing in his nature of doing that, that isn’t good and kind. I have chosen to believe that no matter what is happening around me, my God is always kind. And so even when the difficult moments come, I can say “thank you.” It doesn’t erase the grief or the pain or the anger or the fear immediately, but it does restore peace, the peace that passes understanding which is promised in Philippians 4:6-7, another passage that reminds us to pray, to give thanks, and to trust.

So as you think back on that thing you chose to be grateful for, I want challenge you to add a second thing to be grateful for. You won’t feel grateful for it, but you can choose to be. You can choose to be grateful in all things because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And I trust that as you choose to be grateful, the Holy Spirit will bring you peace, and your perspective of a good and loving God will be restored to guide you through the difficult road you may be walking.

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Think About what You’re Thinking About

I had a conversation with Sophie this week that started me thinking about what I’m thinking about. One of the issues that often accompanies autism is anxiety. Sophie struggles with anxiety in regard to a few specific things, such as loud noises,  safety drills at school, her daily routine, and candles — they are terrifying. Her anxiety causes her to fixate on these certain things, which manifests as continual questions about them.

“Mom, what do we do if there’s a tornado drill today?”
“Mom, what if there are candles in the school?”
“Mom, what if the kids get loud around me, what can I do?”
“Mom, what are we doing today?” times 100, especially when the answer is “Nothing” or “We don’t have plans” or “It’s a snow day today.”

Sophie enjoys routine, predictability, and perceived control. When she feels out of control or loses sight of the routine, she asks these questions over and over again. It can be very frustrating. She knows the answer to the question she’s asked, and the answer never changes. The answer also doesn’t alleviate the anxiety that she’s feeling.

Most of the time, I try to just change the subject or ask her to talk about something else. But this week I went at the issue head on with a little Jesus action. I said, “Sophie, why are you dwelling on things that cause you to feel anxious? The Bible says, ‘Set you mind on things above.’ That means you need to set your mind on better things. You shouldn’t be continually thinking about things that don’t help you feel good. You should be thinking about things that make you happy.”

I expected a zillion questions about this statement. But instead, she quickly shifted into topics that make her happy. “Like how my teacher left me the star student sign in our yard? That makes me happy.” Then we began spelling words together, which makes her SO happy.

Teaching our kids what the Bible says about how we should live, and think, is so important! I am continually reminding myself as a parent that my kids are born knowing NOTHING. Having a one and a half year old at home, this is very evident right now. I explain to her older siblings all the time, “Hannie didn’t know that the paper would rip if she did that” or “Hannie didn’t realize the toy would break if she threw it.” Kids don’t know. They just don’t. It’s my job to lead them by example and by teaching how God says we should live our lives. I think there was a lot of freedom for Sophie in that conversation. She realized that she doesn’t HAVE TO think about things that make her feel anxious. It’s much better for her if she thinks about things that are pleasant.

These moments when I’m trying to teach something simple to my children, the Holy Spirit always gives me the elbow and says, “Yeah, why DO YOU do that??” Because I struggle with negative thoughts too. I don’t always dwell in my fears and anxieties like Sophie, but there are many ways where I fail to “set my mind on things above.” Whether it’s dwelling in a grouchy mood or over-analyzing a relationship or problem, or simply complaining about my situation, I let my mind sit in a negative rut too. There are so many better places to dwell than in a problem. And we are not captives to our minds. We are not the victims of our thoughts who just have to sit there and take it while our minds run wild. We can take control of what we’re thinking about and do what Colossians says: “Set your minds on things above.” We can count our blessings. We can dwell on a God who loves us and who is working all things for our good. We can be intentional about seeing what’s going on that’s good.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

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Bitter Water

About a month ago I accepted a new job as the director of youth and children’s ministry at my church. I was (and am) humbled and delighted to be offered this job! I could say a lot about the process, because it could not have been more clear that this was what God had for me. But if I get off on that, it will totally hijack this other post I need to write…

My first week on the job, I contracted a wicked stomach virus that just would not leave me. So I was sick for the majority of my first week of work. The next Monday morning, I was excited to be feeling well and back at it. But when Tuesday rolled around, my world turned upside down.

My dear friend, neighbor, and my kids’ “granny” was in a bad car accident. She was taken to our major trauma hospital in the area and admitted to ICU with kidney failure, irregular heart rhythms, and numerous broken bones. Friends, in that moment when I heard that news, my world just stopped. I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing this dear loved one. And, of course, after thoughts of her well-being, quickly followed thoughts of how in the world I was supposed to do my new job with Granny, my babysitter, laying in the hospital. For four long days, I did not know if she was going to live or die. Some of the worst moments of my life.

I remember waking up the morning after her accident, with everything feeling upside down, praying for her, asking God what in the world he was up to, and specifically praying, “God, I know you have something in mind here, so I need you to show me your thoughts. I know you have a thought about this, a direction that I should go. This didn’t surprise you. So reveal your thoughts to me.”

So we’ve been functioning now for two weeks without Granny. The first two weeks in six years that she hasn’t been by the watch the kids for a few hours, even if to just give mommy a much needed minute for sanity. It has been a strange two weeks. It has intensified the adjustment period for me, having added new job responsibilities, while losing a huge part of my support system. I cannot say that it has been the smoothest two weeks of my life. While I’m really enjoying the job, life has gotten crazy busy, and my children are with me 24/7. So all the mamas know what that’s like…. A special kind of blessing, honestly, it is.

And so this week I’m working away on all my Sunday school lessons, and the lesson for the junior high and high school is just the hottest mess. I use a curriculum, and I just tailor it to our needs, and usually it’s pretty spot on. But this lesson was just making me scratch my head and say “Wuuuttt?” And it was really frustrating. So I put it away and prayed for divine inspiration. And woldn’t you know, when I took it out today, that Holy Ghost just opened up my eyes.

The story we are studying is of the Israelites at Marah, where the water is bitter. In spite of all the miracles they’ve seen God do in the past few weeks of their lives, the Israelites begin to whine and complain that God isn’t providing for them. I read that, and I’m like, “Wuuuttt? Come on, guys! You just walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! I think God can help you with your water situation.” But they didn’t see it. So Moses, bless his soul, cries out to God for help. And God says, “ok, throw this tree into the water.” Say what now? How is that going to solve this problem? Good ol’ Moses doesn’t question, or if he does, he made the editorial choice to leave that part out when he wrote the book of Exodus. He just puts the tree into the water, and BOOM! sweet water!

So here’s how God hits me between the eyes with this: “What are you going to do, Catherine, when I serve up bitter water for you? Are you going to complain and gripe and be frustrated that your life is less convenient now? Or are you going to choose to obey, whatever craziness that may look like? Are you EXPECTING me to move or not?”

See, I started out pretty good right after the accident, asking God for his thoughts and all, but the living it out, that is the tough part. Even though my church family and friends have come together in amazing and beautiful ways to support my family, the fact that my friend and my babysitter is laying in the hospital with a very long long road to recovery still stinks. We miss her. Our lives are actually less without her, if you know what I mean. She added to our lives in a very sweet and unique way. This loss, however temporary, is a firsthand taste of some bitter water.

The brokenness of this world stinks. It meets us every day in the ways we sin and fall short and in the ways that others sin against us. Our friendships break down. Our families break down. Our health breaks down. And eventually, our hearts break down along with these things. Bitter water. It’s everywhere in this life. So the question is, what are we going to do with our bitter water? Are we looking for God, expecting him to move? Or are we wallowing in self-pity and frustration?

I think I’m going to look back on the faithfulness of my God and trust and remember that he has still got a plan, and he is still good. Even in the bitterness of this loss, I will look for sweetness. I will look for the miraculous. I know it’s there. I see it in the ways others are stepping up to care for us. I see it in Granny’s slow but steady healing. And I know I’ll see it in other ways as I continue to look.

 

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Kicking and Screaming

My children have this tendency that brings out the crazy eye really quickly in me. It’s called disobedience. I’m not talking the “I stole a treat from the pantry” kind of disobedience, or even the “I was mad at my brother so I threw a toy at him” disobedience. No, I’m talking about the kind of disobedience where I know that I know that I know that they heard me give a direction, but they just choose to do whatever they want anyways. It’s maddening.

This is especially true when we’re trying to leave to go somewhere, like to school, every morning. I do not want to say 12 times “Get your shoes on.”

Sometimes I ask my kids, “How many times do I need to ask you to do this?”

They always reply, “Just once.” Uh-huh. Sure.

I know that my experience is a common one, because we’ve all chuckled at the meme on Facebook where the mom loses her chill before anyone listens to her about their shoes. “Why is Mom so crazy?” they ask in wonderment.

I’m not sure why this is a struggle other than they’re kids and they’re too focused on other things, like the Paw Patrol Pups and Matchbox cars littered across my floor. They can’t see the big picture. They can’t read the clock. They don’t know that school starts in T-minus 10 minutes, and we live 7 minutes from the school. They don’t realize that I’m asking for all these small steps of obedience so that we can arrive at our destination as scheduled, to fulfill our intended purposes for the day.

What I want is best for all of us, but they often go kicking and screaming instead of with the ease of obedience.

Kicking and screaming. That’s probably a good description of my stance with the Lord sometimes.

Priscilla Shirer hit me between the eyes in her Bible study on hearing and obeying God: “God doesn’t speak to be heard. He speaks to be obeyed.” So often we want to hear what God is saying, but when he does speak up, we simply continue to focus on our own little world, arranging our own little “pups” just how we want them instead of following his directives. My heart cries for his voice, to hear him speak, but then when he does, I delay, I resist, sometimes I flat out ignore, because I’m too busy with my own plans and desires.

The situation is the same: God sees the big picture, and we don’t. He knows where we need to be and when we need to be there.

I was especially struck by this truth in recently reading the story of Philip in Acts. God tells him to get up and head down the desert road to the South. Immediately Philip does this. He happens upon the chariot of an important man from Ethiopia, and God directs him to remain near the chariot. Luke tells us that Philip ran to the chariot. He ran. He didn’t ponder if he ought to listen to those directions, he didn’t continue arranging his scrolls or adjusting his robes and sandals — he ran! And because he ran, he was near the chariot at exactly the right moment, when the Ethiopian was reading an important piece of Scripture. So Philip got to share with him the gospel of Jesus Christ. The man believed and was baptized. Because of Philip’s obedience, this man’s life was forever changed, and he took his new knowledge of Jesus back to his own country and people. All because Philip obeyed, immediately.

Proverbs 3:27 has been rolling through my head on repeat as I’ve pondered obedience: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.” There are so many times that I feel a nudge to do something for someone, to pray, to offer a word of encouragement, but unlike Philip, I don’t run towards the opportunity. I withdraw into myself and think “I couldn’t possibly do that.” But the words of this Proverb and the words of Priscilla have driven me onward into opportunities to obey. When we obey, we release our perceived notion of control, and we embrace God’s control, and that we are moving pieces in his grand design. We embrace the good works he prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). And who knows, maybe someone’s life will forever be changed because of our obedience, or maybe we’ll just make it to school on time for once.

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Fishes and Loaves and All That I Lack

I never get tired of the story of the fishes and the loaves. It is so full of truths, and every time it touches my heart. I revisited this story this week in preparing Sunday school material. And what jumped out at me was a reminder that I very much needed.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, Jesus is teaching a large crowd of people (around 20,000) in a remote place. Evidently it’s been a long day of teaching, and the people are getting hungry. The disciples want to send them on their way so that they can get to the neighboring towns and buy something to eat. But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”

Of course all the disciples can see is their lack: “This would take more than half a year’s wages!” they exclaim. We just don’t have enough.

Jesus simply tells them to go see what they have and report back with it to him. He then miraculously turns the five loaves of bread and two fishes into a feast for 20,000 people. The disciples even have to gather up the leftovers!

So what smacked me in the face this time? My own lack. That’s often all I can think about. I simply am not enough, do not have enough, cannot be enough.

This can hit us financially, when we literally don’t have enough to pay the bills. Or it can hit us emotionally, when our kids (our our spouse!) are taking such a toll on us that we’re not sure if anyone will be alive at sundown. Or it can hit us physically when we just don’t have the energy to do what needs to be done. There are so many ways that we find ourselves lacking.

We try so hard to be enough, to fool ourselves and everyone into thinking that we’re enough. But the truth is we’re always inadequate on our own. All we need to do is what the disciples did — bring what we have to Jesus. He will see that it is more than enough for the task he has set before us. Instead of focusing on where we lack, we need simply to see what we have. And in faith, we bring it to Jesus, trusting that he will make it enough.

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Battling for Transformation

Motherhood is not for the faint at heart. It presses upon a woman in a way that few things do. My days are not my own. They are run by three tiny bosses who think they own the joint. And these bosses, my children, threaten my sanity on a daily basis. On one particularly rough tear-filled, attitude-riddled day when Hannie was less than two months old, I sat down to a lovely fresh salad at noon, my stomach growling in anticipation. Four poops (a contribution from each and every child of mine) and a nursing session later, I sat back down to a slightly wilty salad at one o’clock. On top of fighting the hanger, there is, of course, also the sleep deprivation, as well as everyone’s adjustment to our new little baby joining the family. And, of course, it’s also summer break.

As much as everyone is all “oh yeah! it’s summer break!” and I’m cheering that school is out too, there’s this other component of my life that just goes to shambles without the structure of school.

It’s named Sophie.

I hardly recognize my daughter right now. If you know Sophie, you know her as the sweet and inquisitive little girl who will take your hand and be your friend, the helper, the complier. Not so this summer. She is now the foot-stomper, the door-slammer, the “NO” shouter. With the intensity of a new baby and summer break falling together, Sophie has just spiraled into chaos. I told my husband one morning as we talked about how to discipline her, “I’m just worried that her behaviors are getting out of control. We’ve got to do something to get her under control.” I felt in my spirit that day the urge to pray about this concern (yes, I should have been doing so all along). And so I began to pray and ask God for wisdom in how to parent Sophie, how to be a better parent to all of my children, really.

So this is motherhood for me right now. High pressure. I’ve been pushed to the max at times with a new baby and sleep deprivation and Sophie’s changes and a three year old. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve yelled. I’ve spoken to my children in ways that are embarrassing and ugly. And I’ve asked God to help me with this. I want to parent my children, especially Sophie, whose needs require infinitely more patience most days, in a way that reflects Jesus to them, rather than a crazed woman teetering on the edge of insanity. So I’ve reinvested in my journey of transformation as a mother and also just as a follower of Christ. Our journey as Christians is mean to be transformative, but sometimes we forget that. We forget that we have to work at it.

Part of my reinvestment in this journey is a commitment to God’s Word and to spending more time in it. God has been leading me in a study of the book of Colossians which has been rich and deep, eye-opening and soul-refreshing.

So, I’m praying for wisdom about how to transform my parenting, particularly for Sophie (and how to survive this season with my sanity in tact and all my children alive) when the words of Colossians suddenly come screaming back to me:

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

This admonition comes after Paul teaches for two chapters about the power of Jesus and how it sets us free. He says, “While you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, naming it to the cross.” Wow. That gives me pause every time I read it. So, because of what Jesus did for us, we are free from the curse of sin. And that’s where transformation comes in. Because of what Jesus did, we can be free to “set our minds on things above.” But what does that mean? How do we do that in real time?

Paul goes into detail about what our former nature, the sin nature, would produce in us — things like rage, anger, malice, filthy language, lust, etc. And he says that we should put those things to death. Pretty intense.

And then he explains what it looks like to “set your minds on things above.” He says we must “clothe ourselves” with things like compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, humility, forgiveness, and above all, love. Clothing ourselves calls to mind the realization that we must put these things on, like our clothes. They are not just part of who we naturally are, unfortunately. But we have access to them because of Jesus, because of his Spirit in us.

So all these words come screaming back to me as I’m praying for wisdom about transforming my parenting. And it all just clicks. This is what it looks like in real time. To be transformed as a mother, I need to set my mind on higher things, not just on my emotions telling me to fly off the handle. I need to clothe myself with the traits that the Spirit gives me access to as I’m dealing with my children. I had the realization this day that I’m not enslaved to my anger or to the filthy words that might try cross my lips when I’m pushed to the breaking point with my children. As a woman set free by the death of Christ who nailed the written code opposing me to the cross, I can instead choose patience, gentleness, kindness, and so on, as I deal with my children. Not an easy choice, no. But a good one. I have to make the choice to take my mind off of my feelings, off of my anger and impatience, and to instead put on compassion, kindness, patience, love. This is wisdom to parent my children.

And it’s also wisdom for a whole variety of other life circumstances you might be going through. Whatever you scenario is, it fits there too. Trouble with coworkers? Set your mind on things above when dealing with that coworker. Trouble with your marriage? Set your mind on things above. You, too, having trouble with your kids? I know you’re out there… many of us have vented together this summer about our battle with insanity during summer break. Join me. Set your mind on things above. Don’t be enslaved to your feelings, to the voice of your sin nature telling you how to act. Choose to clothe yourself instead with all the gifts we have because of Jesus.

 

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Two Kinds of Bottle Brushes And the Spiritual Truth I learned from Them

We recently brought home a new baby. A sweet little girl. At six weeks old she pretty much has down the eat, sleep, poop routine. She makes a lot of laundry, and a lot of dishes, mainly bottles, to wash. In just six weeks I’ve learned that there are two types of bottle brushes in this world: those that CAN and those that CAN NOT. Because our sweet baby came a week early, there were a few items that were not yet purchased or readied for her arrival. The bottle brush was one such item. So I asked my dear husband to pick one up when he went out for groceries. He made some flippant remark about the ones at the grocery store not being good enough, but I insisted we “just needed one right now” so he should get what they had. And so he did.

Let me tell you, this bottle brush was one of the CAN NOT brushes. It was an epic failure at its life purpose. I mean, a bottle brush has essentially one job to do: Clean the bottles. Right? It’s not like I’m asking it to scour my pots and pans or fix dinner. It would be like a fly swatter that was unable to kill bugs, or broke after the first swat. The spongy part on the top of this bottle brush ripped off within a week of use. A week! Come on!

When I brought home the second bottle brush, similar in nature to the first, my husband questioned my logic. If the first one proved a failure, as he had predicted, why would I buy another one? Because, simply put, I am Marian Halstead’s granddaughter. Why would I ever spend six dollars when I can spend three? (Since most of you don’t know my grandmother, I’ll add that she was the type of lady who washed and reused her tin foil, her plastic baggies, and — get this — her saran wrap! Seriously?! I don’t even like to deal with it the first time around, let alone to wash and hang up to dry, then fold and store to reuse the darn stuff! Oy! That was my grandmother. Frugal to the core.) Although, if you’re doing the math like I am, you’re realizing that two bottle brushes at three dollars does in fact equal six… So… we can chalk that one up to sleep deprivation?

So anyways I brought home the three dollar bottle brush. And what did I get for it? Well, this one did last a wee bit longer than the first, maybe two weeks, but it did me a worse wrong, because it cracked in half while I was using it, the entire scrubby portion disattatching from the long handle. So here I am with my fingers pinching this short stubby bottle brush top trying to wash out my bottles. Insert eye roll. It was an obnoxious way to waste my precious time by making the bottle washing process even more laborious. When my husband came home from work and I showed him what had happened, he chuckled at me and insisted on buying the “nice” bottle brush. Amazon Prime will have it here in two days. Perfect. Until then I tweedled with the insy-weensy top of my bottle brush to get the job done.

So I’ve been using my new bottle brush for about a week now. It’s so luxurious, guys! I love it! Not showing any signs of breaking down, this one. It is definitely a CAN bottle brush. It can fulfill its life’s purpose with gusto. And I am pleased.

So as I washed the bottles tonight this really got me thinking about what I’m investing in, other than stock in the bottle brush market. Is it the cheap-o stuff that really just CAN NOT make me a better person, or is it the CAN stuff, which will fill me and feed my soul?

I feel like I don’t have a lot of free time right now, but I do spend a lot of time feeding my baby, which requires me to just sit and be. While I am often using this time to referee my older children, there are many minutes where they are entertaining themselves, and I actually do have some quasi-free time. Imagine that. So I’m evaluating what I do with this quasi-free time, because I kind of feel like my life is complete chaos right now, and I don’t really like it. Some of that just goes with the territory of having a new baby at home. We are all adjusting and finding our way to her addition to the family. I am sleep deprived and not functioning at my finest. And before you try to tell me not to be too hard on myself, trust me when I say I’m not. I recognize the transition we are in and that there is much grace for my shortcomings. However, I would still like to do my best through this transition. I would still like to bring my A-game as I raise these precious babies that God has entrusted to me. And I don’t think even my C-game has been showing up. Nope. And I’m not good with that. So, back to my free time which I was evaluating. I’m realizing that I’m filling it up with a bunch of meaningless time-wasting junk (aka, playing on my phone, darnit). Not exactly a soul-filling activity.

There’s a passage in Isaiah that says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

Why, oh why, am I investing my time in stuff that does not feed my soul?

Just like the bottle brushes, there stuff that CAN feed my soul and stuff that CAN NOT. The stuff I’m filling my time with just CAN NOT cut it, just like my cheap-o bottle brushes. This stuff won’t fill me up to meet the challenges of my day. But God’s Spirit, his Word, those CAN. I don’t want to settle for the three dollar fix that just can’t cut it. I don’t want to spend “money on what is not bread” and “labor on what does not satisfy,” to invest my time in that which will never feed me. It’s like I’ve been using the lousy bottle brush time fillers instead of investing in what really works — spending my time in God’s word, in prayer, in worship. These things will do the job to fill me up, to make me capable of the tasks before me. No more wasting my time tweedling around with stuff that’s less than, that’s in the CAN NOT category. Time to invest my time in a way that feeds me and fills me.

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Sabbath

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Yesterday was Sunday. We went to church, and when the kids laid down for their nap, I contemplated all the things that I needed to do — put away laundry, tidy up the toy area, sweep floors, clean the bathroom, run to the store, and on and on. When you stay at home, you never leave work, and the job is never done. But you know what I did? I spent time talking with my husband, I read a book, and I took a nap. When my kids got up, I laid on the couch with them and relaxed.

It. Felt. Great.

Why? Sabbath. We were not designed to go, go, go nonstop. We need to stop and rest. It’s hard to do that when there are so many things clamoring for our time and attention in the warp speed of our culture. So many good things (better than cleaning!), too! I did nothing yesterday afternoon, but my soul was refreshed. I was recharged and ready to meet the new week.

We are actually commanded to stop and rest, but, as with all commands, we have to make the choice to do it. It’s easier to just keep going, but rest is good for the soul. So stop. Take a break. Read a book. Take a nap. Spend time with family. It’s not laziness, as some of us at home moms might feel. It’s commanded by God, and it’s good for your soul. So take a break. It’s really ok. When your soul is refreshed and rested, you’ll do a far better job being the person you’re trying to be through the week.

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