When You Need Fresh Eyes

A cool breeze rustled through the pines- a welcome break from the furnace of Phoenix. We were at a quaint hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a weekend away. All I wanted to do was feed my hungry, little man cubs and get on the road to our next adventure.


But first, coffee.


As my cup went from empty to full, I breathed in generic coffee, and for a hot second pretended I wasn’t trying to wrangle three little bulls in a tiny hotel china cabinet with free pancakes and syrup overflowing. I could almost taste my vacation from my “vacation” in a cup, when I was stopped by a stranger and brought back to reality.


“Your kids seem really great.”


Surely, I needed to take my first sip of coffee because I didn’t hear her right.
My kids? The ones jumping around like rabid monkeys and screaming for more orange juice?


“They are so well behaved.”


Wait. She was complimenting my children; bed-headed and zestful as they were.“Thank you!” I quickly responded. “They have a lot of energy!” I said, gulping down my hot coffee.


“Oh sure, they’re kids. They’re supposed to have energy. But they listen to you and respond so well. They really are good boys.”


And that was it. My heart melted into a puddle on the floor.


It took a stranger to see in my own children what I couldn’t in that moment. We only had a few days in the cooler weather and slower pace, but I chose to spend our trip scrambling. Scrambling to get them to calm down AND be quiet AND not disturb anyone AND sit still in their chairs AND follow mom and dad exactly AND NOT SCREW ANYTHING UP.


Sometimes, I become so wrapped up in teaching them how to be humans that other people will enjoy, that I forget to enjoy these precious humans myself. You would think enjoying them would come naturally, since they are my own flesh and blood. But often, I’m so consumed with training and teaching, I forget I can actually delight in them too.

Even more than noticing how well my boys behave, this lady acknowledged my hard work.


No, I’m not completely in control of my boys’ behavior (good or bad), and my worth doesn’t depend on it- Praise God.

But you guys, parenting is hard.

I do my best to be very intentional every step of the way, and often, it feels in vain. Most nights, I sit my weary self down, put my feet up on the table, and wonder if it was even worth it. Was it worth the continual redirection, consistent consequences, non-stop encouragement, persistent prayers? When the first fit is thrown at 7:00am, it seems as though my efforts have turned up void.


But this woman stopped me and told me I was doing something right.
I don’t usually rely on the validation of strangers, especially when it comes to my job as a parent. Hell, if I gave any weight to the opinions of strangers, I would have given up on life and escaped to Mexico years ago- see my earlier post here. But this stranger’s words were what I needed that day to help shift my perspective.


They brought the reminder of a trusted friend’s words- “our children are image bearers of God, and we need to treat them that way.”

In what ways do you need a fresh perspective today?

We can get so lost in our intentions that our blessings begin to feel like burdens. Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to see our lives more accurately. Sometimes that nudge can even come from a stranger.
I walked back to our table, same coffee in hand, but with a new set of eyes to see my little image bearers more clearly.
I gently ran my fingers through my son’s tousled, dirty-blonde hair and took in a deep breath. As I exhaled, I simultaneously let go and allowed myself to enjoy these sweet gifts I’ve been given.


Why Waiting is Holding You Back Part Two

Part Two: Welcoming Others Into Your Brokenness

The weight of the staff was too much to bear. He needed rest, relief, reprieve. Sweat flooded his brow and his arms shook with fatigue.

The weight he bore was not just the staff, it was the nation of Israel on his shoulders that day. But he couldn’t. He was exhausted and the day was long- longer than he was strong.


He had three choices:


He could push through, try to muster the strength to hold the staff on his own. He could have been successful. Extremely prideful. Entirely emptied.


He could try to do it on his own and failed. The gravity of such a failure leaving him crushed by the weight of the staff and his own shame. A loss separating him from the community of people he was trying to protect and rendering him utterly alone.


OR he could set his pride aside, enter into community, and allow his friends to be a part of the struggle- allowing them to be a part of the work God was doing. Instead of waiting until he had reached the other side triumphant, (or more realistically defeated) he could choose to lean into the people God had placed on either side of him and open himself up to their help.


Moses chose the latter that day.


Success in the battle against the Amalekites rested on his ability to hold the staff of God in the air that day. When the staff was raised, the Israelites were winning the battle. But when the staff was lowered, they were losing. Staff in hand, Moses looked at his brother Aaron on his left side, friend Hur on his right, and invited them into God’s beautiful story on the pages of Exodus 17. Together, they were successful. Not only Moses, Aaron, and Hur, but all of Israel walked away conquerors that day because of one man’s willingness to lean on his people for help in the middle of the battle.


I don’t think this is always an easy choice. In my own life, it comes with a lot of questions. How much do I share? With who? When? What does it look like? I want to set healthy boundaries with what I’m processing and who with, but a lot of times I end up swinging to the opposite side of the spectrum and going it alone. Most often, fear is the culprit holding me back in solitude.


But I don’t want to live in fear.


Do you?


Let’s choose to follow Moses’ example. Let’s choose to invite our people, our “tribe” if you will, to be a part of our struggles. Let’s not deprive them the opportunity to be involved in what God is doing, but instead allow them to play an active role in His story and ours.


Maybe you have allowed people to enter into your brokenness before and it was not the “Moses” experience you were expecting. They were less than tender with your pain or didn’t respond the way you had hoped and it left you feeling as though you should have stuck it out alone.


I’ve been there. It’s not easy when people you respect and trust respond in a reckless way. And it makes sense for you to counter by pulling back and no longer sharing the pieces of your heart with people as a means of protection.


But I have to wonder if these wounds may have been a result of misplaced expectations. I know it’s commonplace for me to come to community with an ache or need and expect them to say the right things to make me feel better. I want them to understand the hurts of my heart and even more than that, fix them.


I wonder what would happen if we chose to have faith. If we chose to move forward towards our people, letting go of past hurts and present expectations.


What if, instead of looking to our community for healing, we turned to them for help.


Would community look different if we we came with our trust in God as the true healer and redeemer of our pain. Would we feel more open to sharing from our vulnerabilities, if we knew our hearts were ultimately in the loving hands of our God and not the sinful people surrounding us? Maybe we could move towards these people without overwhelming expectations, but instead open hands knowing God put them in our lives for a reason.
Let’s not wait until we’ve conquered our past hurts and insecurities. Let’s not wait until fear of getting hurt again subsides.


Let’s go forward, boldly, together.

Why Waiting is Holding You Back

Part One: Purpose in Pain

“God, don’t let my pain be meaningless. Use this. Teach me the lesson I need to learn, and then let me use it to encourage someone else who is struggling.”


This has been my go-to prayer through countless seasons of my life.


Lonely and broken, entrenched in an eating disorder…


Overwhelmed and depressed, navigating trauma…


Powerless in Africa….


Grief stricken after babies lost…


Exhausted from sleepless nights and ceaseless, colicky newborn tears…


Seriously.


My lips know this prayer from muscle memory. “Please, usethis. Please redeem this.”


I wanted my pain to have purpose, not only for my comfort but for my pride. I thought I needed to fully overcome my struggles in order to be able to open up.


And I wanted to speak from the mountain top. Perched from above, looking down. Boastful, lofty, accomplished, proud. I wanted to speak once triumphant. My stories crowned with achievement, an adornment only worthy once the victory was won.


I couldn’t speak from a place of vulnerability because that would make me look weak. Overcoming my weaknesses, victoriously, seemed a much more appealing way to share. I wanted to encourage from a place of strength, a place of pride. I wanted to have it all figured out and to appear poised, assured, self-sufficient.


But isn’t the valley where God breathes, moves, calls us to life? Isn’t it when we are undone that he sits with us- steady and unfailing, accompanying us back up the mountain? Why not speak in this place- free of expectations, promising stories of His goodness?


Yet still, I’ve been waiting for the right time. Waiting to be healed from the hurts of my past, needing to have all the right answers. As though time held the secrets to my pain, and all I needed to do was wait for God to reveal them to me.


It has been years of waiting, and I can’t say I’ve found what I’m looking for, but what I’ve come to realize is that healing from pain is not a destination. I’ve wrongly believed if I had it all figured out and could fully heal from my past, only then could I share the lesson God was teaching me to encourage others. But also, to bring glory to myself.


Isn’t that the story everyone wants to tell? “I was in the depths of pain and struggle, but now, here I am, all fixed.”


That’s the story I wanted to tell!


But what I’ve learned is that I will not be able to say Christ has healed me, not fully, this side of heaven. It’s the wonderful juxtaposition of the already and the not yet. Christ is healing me. This healing from my pain, the stories of my past, and my pride, will be a journey to be walked, not a final stop.
Truthfully, the pain I’ve experienced may never bring forth the beautiful lesson, complete with shiny bow, that I’m looking for. I may never be able to speak from the mountain top with a clear understanding of my pain.


Even so, pain is not purposeful only when we can explain why it happened. We don’t need to fully understand the reason for our pain in order to grow from it and use it to encourage others.


I don’t want to wait until I have all of the answers. I want to open my hands and let God use me. I want to trust in the Spirit He’s given me- one of power, love, self-control. NOT one of timidity. He has given me a purpose and grace to be unafraid in sharing my stories.


I want to be a light even in the midst of my struggle, but that can’t happen if I wait until I’m at the top of the mountain- healed, restored, holding all the answers. If I wait until I’m fixed, I’ll never share. I’ll never motivate. I’ll never inspire. I’ll never encourage.


Today, I make the choice to go forward boldly with my stories, stories of God’s redeeming love in the midst of pain and heartache. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I trust He will use them for those of you who find yourself without all of the answers you so desperately want, too.

What To Do When God Says, “No”

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” -Psalm 145
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Beyond late, I tossed the baby doll into my purse and rushed out the door. This tiny doll, left at our house by the daughter of a friend, needed to be returned to its owner. It wasn’t until later in the coffee line, shoving the baby doll aside as I dug for my wallet, that it hit me. It took my breath away.
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There it was– a reminder of my grief and sorrow, a reminder of good desires that God had chosen not to fulfill. When I begged, and He said, “no.”
Images of tea parties, ballet recitals, daddy-daughter dates, barbies, bows, pink flashed in my mind. If I stood longer, I would see us sharing a bowl of ice cream while we talked about the “mean girls” at school. I’d be holding her crying on my shoulder over of the boy who didn’t invite her to prom. I would be there celebrating when a man asked her to marry him, helping her into her white dress, holding her hand as she had her first baby, praying over her as she learned how to navigate motherhood.
The sting was as strong as it had been over a year prior when I learned I would never have a baby girl of my own. My desire to raise a daughter would never be more than a desire unfulfilled. And there I found myself– waiting in line for coffee, holding my breath, keeping at bay the breakdown that threatened to overwhelm me.
Friends, please hear me say this: I am a boy mom through and through. I wear it as a badge of honor because every thread of my being loves the three precious boys who have been entrusted to me.
It seems sinful to share grief over the daughter I’ll never have when God opened his hands and gave in abundance the children that are mine. But I’m learning to accept that the sorrow I feel doesn’t take away the love and gratitude I have for the good things God has given me. My heart can ache and be filled with gratitude simultaneously; the two are not mutually exclusive. Nor is this grief complaining. It’s acknowledging a hurt and allowing myself to experience it, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. When I accept the reality of my sorrow and allow myself to feel the pain, I can use it to move forward, closer to knowing God and myself a little better.
“Listening to the pain of loss and heartbreak can wake us up to who we are, where we come from, and what matters most. But only if we open ourselves up to them.”
-Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways
 
As I continue to process the pain, I hear the words of Isaiah 64 resounding in my ears: “I am the potter and you are the clay.
There is solace in this verse when I stop hearing God say harshly, “I do what I want, and you will deal with it” and instead whisper, “I am the Lord your God, and I care for you. I’ve created all things in this universe, and I know what is good because I am the only author of good. What I’m making of you is good. Trust that my hands are gentle as they mold. Not a hammer to chip away stone, but delicate, slow, intentional hands on moldable clay. Let me define who you are and provide what is good for you because I am the only one who knows your story. And I am the only one who can offer you true, lasting, goodness.”
I must lay down the “good” desires of my heart at the feet of Jesus with open arms, trusting that he will fill open arms with what he deems best. He is the true desire of my heart and all fulfillment will be found in Him.

When You Need To Be Talked Into It

I started working out, again.
Okay, so I haven’t actually started yet. Technically, I “started” by ordering a gym membership online from the comfort of my couch in some stretchy pants.
 
But, you guys, it’s not even New Years. That has to earn me bonus points.
Don’t worry, I have every intention of getting my butt to the gym.
 
Kind of. Eventually.
 
But everyone says summer bodies are built in the winter, and the triple digit temps are screaming- “That ship has sailed!” Plus, the thought of wrestling my undomesticated tribe into clothes, carseats, and the front doors of the gym sounds like workout enough for me.
 
Did I earn a donut yet?
 
Listen, I know the gym will be good for me so I should want to go. But it takes motivation to jump over the real-life obstacles of whiny children and busy schedules standing in my way. A lot of motivation.
 
So…why did I sign up for a gym membership if I don’t want to go?
 
-Spoiler Alert: Here’s where I talk myself into it.-
 
Because sometimes, your willpower has to do the work before the rest of you is ready. Even though every fiber of my being is saying, “No way lady! You’re perfectly happy being lazy…. Plus, there are a million reasons why you don’t really need to do this,” I am going to choose to ignore that voice.
 
History tells me that when I ignore my emotional resistance to the gym and force myself to go anyway, I won’t regret it.
 
My physical body isn’t the only thing that benefits from sixty minutes of glowing with sweat. My mental, emotional, and spiritual health come out glowing too.
 
 When I choose to regularly devote at least a portion of my time to exercise, I find myself with real energy and a more positive mindset. My sleep improves, which means my morning devotion time benefits, my patience for my kids grows, and my affection for my husband shifts a little closer towards that “before-kids” glow.
 
This means, it’s worth my time to get back at it.
 
I’m not saying I’ll give up my donut, because I believe in earthly fore-tastes of God’s sweet, coming kingdom.
 
But I am saying that committing to the gym when I don’t feel ready to, is something I know I won’t regret. And… it’s not even New Years!

Unreserved: God’s Love

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I was running away, avoiding dealing with the hurts of my past. The hurts of my present.
 
Some called my lifestyle self-destructive. I preferred to call it fun. Way more fun than confronting the hot mess I had become.
 
In my defense, I was 19.
 
When you were 19, would you have chosen to delve deep into the dark, twisted wounds plaguing your heart? Or take a few shots, put on a mini-skirt, and make life a party? The second certainly sounded like a better plan at the time. And it worked for me. For a while.
 
Then, I woke up alone.
 
Not alone like no one was in the house with me. I had three roommates and was never really alone.
 
But I was alone.
 
I was tired.
 
Empty.
 
In all of my running, I had run from the true hope I had once known.
 
I don’t believe in coincidence, so I will say it was by divine providence that one of my roommates invited me to church that morning.
 
Here’s the thing: we were NOT the kind of girls who “go to church.” But because of the timing- right as my emptiness had become so clear to me- I willingly obliged.
 
I remember feeling dirty as I walked through the doors. I felt even more isolated as I bumped elbows with people crowding into the small room with purple chairs and dim lights.
 
I couldn’t tell you one word that was spoken or even a song that was sung that day, but I can tell you how it felt.
 
The room smelled well-loved, like many people had shed tears on its floor before me. I was anonymous in this sea of unfamiliar faces, and it made the room feel safe. A reprieve from the weight I’d been shouldering.
 
As the music played and the pastor spoke, something inside me started to change. They incited a response in me I hadn’t felt before. It seemed as though the bad I had done no longer existed and I was worthy of being loved. It didn’t make sense.
 
It felt wrong. I didn’t trust it. I was dirty. I reeked of frat house and underaged scandal. He was holy, righteous, perfect. I expected him to have expectations of me, but He met me with warm embrace instead. Somehow, all of my reckless living had lead me here, to the reckless love of our God.
 
I was undone.
 
His unreserved, uninhibited love for me was overwhelming. I left the church that day made new. Not made whole, but made new.
 
It has been eleven years since that moment, and I still experience God in this way. In each of my circumstances, God’s love is deeper. He reaches into the darkest place of my heart and says, “I see you.” He doesn’t abandon, shame, condemn as I would expect him to. Like we might, if we saw someone so intimately.
 
He stays. He loves. He doesn’t wait until I’m all cleaned up; he chases me down when I’m dark and disheveled.
 
This happens because God doesn’t love, He is love. He is the complete embodiment of perfect love. Love is not an action he has to put forth effort to do, it is woven into His DNA. And because this is who He is, His love doesn’t depend on me. It unconditionally exists because He exists unconditionally.
 
The unreserved love of God is what grabbed ahold of my heart in that church building eleven years ago, and it’s His love that continues to change me every day since.
 
 
“Immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.”. -Ephesians 2:4-5