A Lenten prayer: prone to wander

This prayer is from a favorite book that I “happened” to be gifted with by dear friends just as Lent was beginning: Prone to Wander, by mother-son co-authors Barbara Duguid and Wayne Houk. I have found its call to worship, specific gospel-saturated prayers of confession, and then assurance of pardon to be spot on for my heart this Lenten season (and really any time!). I also love that there are suggested songs listed at the end of each entry. It’s been a personal worship guide – although written to be for a church, there are multiple uses to be sure.

And having some bit of personal interaction with both Barbara and Wayne through CCEF courses we’ve been a part of together makes the writing sing even more so. They are both tremendously gracious, and incredibly gifted at putting gospel truth to words.

 

Five Minute Friday: “open”

Each Friday that I come to this space, I think I start much the same way. Something along the lines of, “Well … it’s been QUITE the week.” Today is no exception. Day 5 of snow days (=no school days, #desperateMomsUnite), and I’ve once again witnessed the limits to my impatience as I’ve lost it many times with my 4-year-old twin daughters. Who surely would also speak of a week that’s felt long, hard, and boring. With occasional glimpses of happiness as we played in the snow and drank hot chocolate. I am praying that the snow-play and hot-chocolate memories would override the rest. And if not, well, that’s what savings is for – college or therapy, their choice. !

I love this introduction to “Five Minute Friday” by its lovely hostess, Kate Motaung:

Welcome to another round of Five Minute Friday, where bloggers from all corners of the internet gather to feverishly tap out five minutes of free writing on a given prompt each week.

If you don’t know what we’re all about, click here for more info!

So here goes – “open”:

***

To close in on myself after pain or sinful anger is easier than staying open. It feels safe to curl inward, to isolate, to lock myself in the proverbial ivory tower. I am safer here. And so are they. They won’t be hurt by my rudeness, my angry words I regret moments after they fly from my mouth. Closure feels better for everyone.

photo credit: lauravuphoto.com

photo credit: lauravuphoto.com

But open is how I’m created to live, and open is the only pathway to love. Open to others, and them to me. Open like the vast expanse of sea meeting sky horizon. Open like a field of Texas bluebonnets in springtime. Open like the sunny sky above the clouds always there when you take a plane above the grey skies. Open like my daughters who say, “I forgive you, Mommy,” and then ask me to come play with them in the next moment.

We need to be open to one another. I need you to be open to me so that I know I’m not the only one struggling amidst motherhood and writing and counseling and home-keeping and marriage. You need me to be open so that you can love me with empathy, and so that you can speak gospel words of grace and truth into my heart and story.

To close inward? Well, it’s the path to depression (anger turned inward), and to isolation, and to despair, and to bitterness. It lets my mind and thoughts be unchecked. And while that may be appealing, it is never best or good in the long-run.

God’s grace is that he opens our inward-turned souls, opens them to the beauty and light of redemption. And to the community of the redeemed.

***

living with the heat in your life (a biblical understanding for life’s weather)

how people changeOur church’s Sunday school is studying “How People Change” as one of the two classes offered for adults. [Insert shameless plug here: my pastor-husband has done an incredible job over the past five years of revamping our Sunday school so that it’s now something worth attending for an extra hour each Sunday – there are usually two classes offered, one that’s a biblical-theological track with a team of professors and educators from our church teaching through the Bible and one that’s practical theology] I introduced the DVD yesterday, and the topic was focusing on the “heat” aspect of CCEF’s model for change. [CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, is where I did my counseling internship, and their counselor-professors taught the counseling courses I took as part of my M.A. in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary.]

Identifying the “heat” in your life, or the weather, as I think it would be more aptly named, is the first place to begin in the process of change. Sadly, I’ve observed all too often that this is where ministry, friendships, and counseling/therapy can stay. And we are missing so much! The “heat/weather” in our lives is important, and there are equal dangers of either maximizing or minimizing it, but more often than not, we cannot change the “weather” of our lives in a similar way that we cannot determine the weather of our days. We learn to identify it, even understand it and possibly predict it, but at the end of the day, the weather is one of life’s givens. Our response to life’s weather is where change happens, or not. Where there is growth, or stagnation. Where there is joy mined through the depths of suffering, or a heart becoming bitter and resentful. And if we are honest, we have observed both tendencies in our lives. Right now, there are life situations I’m responding to with bitterness, and there are also life situations I’m responding to with hard-fought joy.

Without further ado – my intro to the DVD is below:

***

What is “heat”? Of the following scenarios, raise your hand if you think that it would qualify as “heat”:

  1. Discovering that raccoons have been nesting in your attic for several months
  2. Going on vacation to the Caribbean
  3. Being sick with strep throat
  4. Finding out that you got a job promotion
  5. Moving across country for a new assignment
  6. Having a baby
  7. Getting asked out on a date by someone you’ve admired from afar for a long time
  8. A break-up of a dating relationship
  9. Your child getting first place in a competition
  10. Winning the lottery

Most likely, it was easier for you to identify the “bad” things than the “good” things as “heat,” but heat refers to both. I think a broader way of describing heat would be “what’s the weather in your life?” Sometimes it’s beautiful and sunny; other times (like this week!) it’s cold and rainy and cloudy. Weather can last for days on end, or shift from hour to hour. And so do the circumstances in our lives, and the opportunities for our hearts to be revealed shift constantly. In fact, I think this constant shifting is part of the “weather/heat” that reveals our hearts! Just when you’re enjoying a very pleasant season with your children, one of them gets sick – and then you get strep – and then she stays sick and you’re isolated and frustrated and angry with God. (True story of our past month in the Nelson household!)

And isn’t that how we view our “heat”? The circumstances in our lives? The biggest problem I face in my own heart and that I’ve observed through my years of counseling ministry is this tendency to blame the weather for my heart’s response. It’s why parents get such a bad rap – we’re always blaming them for every bad quality in our lives. It’s why I expect in marriage counseling that it will take a few weeks (at least) to begin to get down to work – because both of them tend to blame the other as the problem. It’s why I can get sucked into complaining as my primary mode of communication: I really do see my primary issues as my circumstances … and if only my kids would get well, my work schedule would calm down, my husband would listen better, summer would come, then I could live the godly life I know I should be living. Or at least be happy.

As you watch this video and discuss it afterwards at your table, and then reflect on it personally, think about the ways that you tend to blame the “heat” for your problems.

In many ways, this is the easiest week of Sunday school because “heat” is the easiest and first thing that we recognize in our problems. Let me present to you two tendencies that you may find in yourself – and consider this as we dive into this week’s lesson:

  • Over-focus on (maximize) the heat: This is the M.O. for most of us. It’s why we blame our spouses for marriage conflict, and why I think that if I lived in a bigger house, life would be easier. It’s why I think that once my kids are older and better behaved, I’m going to enjoy them more and be able to fully be “myself” again.
  • Under-focus on (minimize) the heat: This is less common, but just as distorting. There are some of you who tend to blame yourself so much that you never take into consideration the “heat” of your life as something that’s contributing to your heart’s response. You assume that your struggles today are always because of the sin in your heart. An example of this is someone who’s experiencing panic attacks. As she begins to tell me about them, and I am hearing the stress of her past year (moving, job change, parenting and marriage difficulties, health problems), it seems obvious to me why she’s having a panic attack. It’s her body’s reaction to so much external stress/heat. When I point this out, she has an “aha!” moment – she didn’t see it because she discounted the real impact of the circumstances of her life. This may also be your tendency if you’ve been abused – you tend to take on the shame of your perpetrator’s sin against you, and you assume the abuse occurred because you deserved it, or you were/are a bad person, or you didn’t lock your door at night, or you wore something inappropriate on a first date. Absolutely not! Part of the “heat” of a victim’s life is the way he/she takes on what’s not meant for him/her to take on – and part of believing the gospel truth will be the ability to disown the shame handed to you by the abuser, and to say, yes, the abuse was/is a major part of the “heat” of your life but it’s not the whole story nor is it the end of the story/your story.

This is inherently a hopeful message – to realize that “heat” is just that – the occasions/circumstances in your life that reveal your heart – because none of us can change much of our life’s weather anyway. To focus on changing what’s unchangeable brings great frustration. You usually cannot significantly change your “weather” – the past abuse, even the good things like job promotions or vacation – but you can always by the power of grace and the Spirit change your response to the weather. Naming heat as “heat” frees you to start focusing and prayerfully engaging your part – what can change – instead of getting frustrated by being stuck in what you cannot change (or what may never change –  e.g., you can’t rewrite your past).

****

from contentment and celebration to complaining and despair

photo from zionsvillelutheran.org

photo from zionsvillelutheran.org

Isn’t it always like this? Our grandest moments of life, faith, work, are closely followed by our biggest days of struggle. I think about Jonah after he experienced an epic personal rescue from the belly of a big fish, and watched God convert an entire city (Nineveh) through his preaching. The book ends with a story of the prophet’s suicidal despair because a worm ate a vine that was sheltering him from heat. It’s ridiculous. Crazy, really. And then there’s Elijah. After he watches God send fire from heaven to consume a flood-drenched sacrifice on Mount Carmel in front of a crowd of frenzied Baal-worshipers, he sits under a broom tree in the desert to die. His exact words?

“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4)

What happened to his bold faith glimpsed just two paragraphs earlier in this prayer?

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)

What happened is that Elijah and Jonah, like you and me, are human. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love,” the old familiar hymn goes (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”). I should not be surprised that on the heels of such celebration at the end of last week with the news of Crossway’s acceptance of my book proposal, this week has felt like a battle against petty disappointment and despair. The things I have complained (bitterly) about include:

  • Our coffeemaker that broke on Monday morning [MONDAY morning, of all days?!!]
  • Twins who whine and squabble with each other over silly things, like who gets the red marker [typical for 4-year-olds, although not desirable]
  • Antibiotics that didn’t work as quickly as I wanted them to in healing a bad case of strep from last Thursday
  • A husband’s very long work day, leaving me with more-than-desired solo-parenting duties for my quickly-waning-parental-patience
  • Credit card fraud – at a random WalMart in Tennessee, of all places, for 5 consecutive purchases of $28.77. This alerted our awesome card company, who called right away. But then you have the *hassle* of switching automatic payments, waiting for the new card in the mail/etc etc

All of these could fall under the hashtag #firstworldproblems , or better, #whinymomproblems. Really they’re symptomatic of a heart fixated on self, who feels entitled to comfort and ease all the time. Diagnosing my problems yesterday didn’t really help much. In fact, it probably made it worse. Then I was better able to articulate (and unload in frustration) to my husband why he, somehow, was at fault for all of my frustration.

Ugh. (There’s a poetic word for you.) I have been blind to grace. Blinded to mercy all around me, and worse still, unable to help myself. Feeling paralyzed from taking hold in my own heart of the gospel-hope I can articulate for others through writing and counseling. Enter grace in the form of the impulse to text a friend for prayer this morning when I awoke still seething with frustration and venting it unfairly to my daughters. She then called after we dropped our kids off at preschool (thank God for this common grace!), and we talked each other through our similar frustrating moments, reminding each other of the grace we know is there. I hung up the phone feeling the slightest turn in my heart towards hope again. Hope not that things will get better, or that circumstances will change, but hope that God’s love hasn’t turned away from me in the midst of my sin and struggle and that his grace is yet deeper than my need for it. Amen?

the rescue of an angry mom

Two years ago I wrote a three-part series entitled, “Confessions of an angry mom.” [you can read those here: part 1, 2, and 3] Last week, at the invitation of a good friend from Philly days, I spoke about my struggle with anger to a group of moms in Hershey, PA. And as I prepared for this discussion, I realized that in the ensuing two years, what I am proclaiming now is God’s rescue of an angry mom. It’s a rescue that’s still very much in process, but there is a hope and confidence in my Rescuer now because of the intervening time between first identifying the struggle and watching God rescue me again and again and again. And so I am writing again about being an angry mom – this time through the lens of a backward glance of mercy and grace that’s rescued me from myself, and a more confident hope that HE who began a good work in me will carry it to completion (Philippians 1).

***** [excerpts from my talk – thanks to all of the women who were incredibly engaging and kind listeners who let me know that I am not alone in this struggle!] *****

photo from goodenoughmother.com

photo from goodenoughmother.com

It’s been a long journey for me in my struggle with anger as a mom, and to be honest, I’m still on it. My willful toddlers have become energetic 4-year-old preschoolers. They do not run in opposite directions in Target (usually) and the tantrums have dramatically decreased. And it’s not because I’ve discovered a secret parenting secret. So much of it is developmental on their part. AND YET I will give credit to God for rescuing me from being an angry mom. If anything I share with you will speak into your heart and tell you that there is hope, that you don’t have to be stuck in an endless anger cycle, then my prayers for this morning are answered. I am going to share what’s helped me, and it’s been multifaceted. Your own “anger plan” will be as individual as you are.

(1) What I hope to do is first of all, to let you know that you are not alone! Anger as a mom is so shaming that it keeps us silent, especially in Christian circles. But every time I’ve brought up my struggles with anger, there is always another woman in the room/group/retreat who says, “me too!” We need to walk into the light and be honest with God and one another about our struggles. So I hope that you will reach out and talk to someone about your struggle with anger, whether it’s big or small or somewhere in between.

(2) And secondly, I hope that you will be able to understand what your anger is saying – about you, your life, your heart, your kids, your parenting. Anger has many messages.

(3) Finally, I want you to leave with hope that God loves you in the middle of your anger and that as a Christian, God is even now working to free you from your destructive anger.

 Understanding what your anger is saying

I noticed the many ways that anger can manifest itself – not only the loud yelling or outbursts, but also criticism, sarcasm, a lingering bitterness or resentment. The object of my anger was not always the one(s) I was acting angry towards. Sometimes I was angry at myself for getting angry; other times I was feeling resentful towards my husband and directing it towards my kids; and yet other times I was upset with my kids but taking it out in an angry resentment towards my husband. Ultimately, I was angry with a God I viewed as controlling yet distant. Far from caring, compassionate, and intimately involved in my day-to-day battles as a mom to twins. 

Some of the messages of my anger were:

  • “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better treatment, more respect, kids who listen to me, etc.”
  • “I feel so emotionally overwhelmed that I don’t know what else to do.”
  • “I need a break.”
  • “You’re getting in the way of what I want.”
  • “You are not meeting my expectations.”
  • “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
  • “I must have control.”
  • “Life should be perfect. You should behave perfectly.”
  • “CALM ME DOWN!” This last one I am indebted to Hal Runkel’s book, ScreamFree Parenting for, in which he discusses the need to take responsibility for my reactions toward my kids. Saying “you make me angry” just isn’t true. I get angry when others get in the way of what I want/think I deserve/expect in the moment.
  • “You’re wrong, and I’m going to make you pay.”
  • “God has left the building/house/Target store.” [and it’s up to me to provide for myself what I need.]

I have unmet expectations, desires that have become demands, and I need to reexamine those desires as well as readjust my expectations. Maybe I’m expecting more of my child than is developmentally appropriate. Maybe I have turned a good desire into a controlling (idolatrous) demand.

Your anger is ALWAYS saying that something is going on inside you. You need to stop, pause, take a deep breath, and take time to reflect. Your anger should get your attention – it’s like a warning light on the dashboard of your car indicating something is amiss inside.

The message of your anger that you’re reflecting to those around you (husband, kids, friends, parents, in-laws) is always a picture of the message you’re giving God. Every emotion is ultimately directed towards God.

What will rescue you from anger

Rescue from your anger as a mom comes as you realize:

  • you need to be rescued (you can’t manage your way out of this)
  • God is powerful enough to rescue you and loving enough to rescue you
  • You are loved right now, right here, in the very middle of your ugliest mom moment that you would never share with anyone. God knows you intimately (Psalm 139) and loves you completely.

Rest here. You are loved. You – YOU – are loved. God knows you. He compassionately stands with me, not as a judge from afar. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, there is no judgment left for you in Christ. Only love. God is with you. Always. His resurrection power is at work to give you what you need to endure with patience.

Colossians 1:11-12 –

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Cry out for rescue. Expect rescue. Celebrate past deliverance. This is the example of the Psalms.

Pray and then call someone. A trusted friend/etc. You can’t do this alone.

Accept your limitations, physically and emotionally. You may need medication for a season, or counseling, or preschool, or a weekly babysitter or housecleaner, etc. There is no shame in your limits, but relief can come as you live within them.

Make a plan for how to remember and live out of the reality of your rescue from being an angry mom. Your freedom/rescue plan. Because you are already rescued forever, how can you live free?

Galatians 5:1 –

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Freedom from …

  • Guilt and shame
  • Isolation
  • Judgment and condemnation
  • Hiding your struggles
  • Trying harder
  • Being controlled by your children
  • Drudgery and duty
  • Following a certain parenting method
  • Depression

Freedom to …

  • Live forgiven and ask for forgiveness
  • Engage in community
  • Receive and show grace
  • Be honest and vulnerable
  • Stop trying
  • Be the parental authority
  • Enjoy your children as the gift they are
  • Be the expert on your child
  • Walk out of depression

Practical suggestions for making your freedom plan

1. Cry out for rescue. Expect rescue. Celebrate past deliverance. This is the example of the Psalms.

2. Pray and then call someone. A trusted friend, small group leader, mentor, pastor, or counselor (or all of the above! I’ve certainly done that.) You can’t do this alone.

3. Accept your limitations, physically and emotionally. You may need medication for a season, or counseling, or preschool, or a weekly babysitter or housecleaner, etc. There is no shame in your limits, and relief can come as you live within them.

4. Make a plan for how to remember and live out of the reality of your rescue from being an angry mom. Your freedom/rescue plan. Because you are already rescued forever, how can you live free?

Further resources

anger

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst
She’s Gonna Blow!: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger by Julie Barnhill
Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch
“How Do I Stop Losing It With My Kids?” by William P. Smith (CCEF, New Growth Press, 2008)
ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel
“The Healing of Anger” audio sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, October 17, 2004)

child development
Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel
How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah Klein
Ilg & Ames child development series
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

realistic motherhood memoirs
What It Is Is Beautiful by Sarah Dunning Parker – a poetry book on being a mom of young kids
Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker
Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton

freedom in Christ looks like love

After an incredible sermon yesterday on the topic of freedom in Christ and love and limits and knowing the limits of your story and the compulsion of Christ’s love for me, I was reminded of this piece I wrote a couple months ago that I have not yet shared here. So – here you go! And I will return to provide a link to yesterday’s sermon by my pastor once it’s uploaded.

***

When thinking about freedom in Christ, there is no better topic. Who doesn’t want to live free, with wild abandon and throwing caution and reserve to the wind? I think of my 4-year-old daughters running gleefully up and down the beach or dancing in our living room. There is a conspicuous absence of shame that is envious to us “grown-ups” who obsess too much about our appearance and what’s appropriate. Freedom in Christ is our inheritance and our identity as ones redeemed through faith, and yet so often I do not live free but fettered.

I am fettered to your opinions of me, and so I hesitate before speaking truth in love.

I am fettered to freedom of self ,and so I become enslaved to “me time” and my pursuits.

I am fettered to my idols, and so I give time, energy, and attention to the latest fashion or the next material possession on my list.

I am fettered to my rights, and so I refuse to forgive you for how you’ve wronged me.

I am fettered to fear and cannot move beyond what feels comfortable or manageable to me.

I am fettered to pleasure, and so I use you to get what I want (companionship, adulation, social position).

the-broken-chain1What will set me free? And how can I know when I am free? The words of our freedom proclamation in Galatians 5:1 come to mind:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

How many yokes of slavery are you lugging behind you today? Do you realize you have been set free (past tense)? All Christ asks of you is to stay in your freedom.

How can you stand firm in your freedom? Does it mean that you stop attending church, or serving, or spending time with people who drain you? It seems for me that to stay free requires that I remember what I am free to do. Which is to love. The church of Galatia must have been thinking the same thing, for Paul writes just a few verses later in 5:13

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Paul knows that too often we who try to pursue freedom can quickly become indulgent. I’ve said it myself – “I’m free not to commit to that ministry/those difficult people/that task, so I am going to say no.” There is certainly a place for setting limits – and I’ve had to learn not to be fettered to pleasing people (and leaders in my church) by saying “yes” to more than I could handle. Yet too often, I think of freedom as freedom to do what I want to do.

Quite the opposite of what freedom in Christ offers. His is a freedom to love. A freedom to “walk by the Spirit” and “not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). This is a freedom that looks like the fruit of the Spirit being produced in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 2:23). To stand firm in my freedom in Christ is to stand firm in the truth that sin is dead to me in the cross, and the life that I live is lived by faith in my risen Savior – his righteousness that frees me to say “no” to the flesh and “yes” to Christ. Freedom in Christ is “faith working through love” as Paul describes in verse 6 of Galatians 5. If you want to know how free you are, ask yourself how loving you are. When I am set free from slavery to myself and the idols I make out of relationships and possessions, I am set free to love with abandon and delight – with no strings attached. Freedom in Christ looks like freedom to love as we have been loved.

day 21: color

photo credit: dvdreleasedates.com

photo credit: dvdreleasedates.com

I call the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college the summer that my faith became technicolor. In my previously black-and-white faith,  grace was a word used merely to excuse sin – “it’s covered by grace! Praise Jesus! I can keep on being rude to my family and hating those different than me, plus do everything I want to do and know that I’m still saved.” I didn’t have a high view or a very personal view of grace, amazing though I professed it to be each time I sang the words of that familiar hymn. 

And then I began to feel my futility in being righteous enough according to God’s standards. I started losing sleep out of anxiety that I was not doing enough for God and under the burden of trying to do everything right all of the time. I cried out to God in my first grace prayer that sounded like this: “God, I can’t do it anymore! You must help me!” 

And wow, color flooded in like the Technicolor scenes of Wizard of Oz once Dorothy leaves Kansas. Grace was everywhere and in everything I read and many conversations I had that summer. Grace carried me and infused strength to me when I had finally professed that I had none left. Grace brought renewed joy to me in the God of my salvation who did my impossible at great cost to Jesus – rescued me from sin and set me free in hope to be a new creation in Christ.

Grace was on every page of Scripture. Romans, Galatians, Colossians, even the Old Testament pointed to it with promises in Ezekiel of a new heart and God’s invitation to his people over and over again to return to him, for he had redeemed them.

***

Part of the October 31-days writing challenge. Read the rest of my posts here.

Day 3: new

new snow

photo from larainydays.blogspot.com

“Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) Who doesn’t love new? Like a white blanket of snow unmarked by footprints, “new” begs for us to venture forth in joyful exploration. And new is what the world will be one day, and new is what we in Christ already are. We are the ones who display the “new” to come – the first sign of what will be fully realized at the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

New means we get another chance, that I never run out of grace to cover my sins and failures, that there is always hope for tomorrow and the next minute to be different. New means that I am not defined by who I’m not – I find new identity daily in grace and mercy that hides me securely in Jesus Christ.

What could this look like today, for you and for me? Not only that I walk in the joyous adventure of my new freedom in Christ, unfettered by past sins or future anxieties, but it means I can relate to you with forgiveness. Giving you a new chance to be who God is making you to be. At the end of a difficult day with my daughter, I lean in close as I’m kissing her goodnight and remind us both that tomorrow is a new day. What hope! What lightness – what fresh beauty awaits and what new mercy will cover tomorrow’s imperfections! I can continue to fight against idolatry and to invite you into the same. You will never be outside of the reach of redemption.

For behold, he is making ALL things NEW.

***

Posting as part of 31 days and Five Minute Friday today.

 

embracing imperfection (July edition): living between “not quite enough” and “a little too much”

I’ve felt my inadequacy this month, which I’ll label under the category of “not quite enough.” Today all it took was hearing about a higher-than-expected car repair bill, which sent my heart sinking. Any cushion – any savings goals? They seem to have fled out the window as that bill fluttered into my text messages. A feeling of being defeated. And it’s not just that. It connects with a larger picture of feeling not quite enough as I seek to parent my “spirited” three-year-old twin daughters. I gave up on bedtime last night. I was doing all of *those things* you’re not supposed to do: empty threats, adult-like reprimands that devolved into harsh commands barked from downstairs – “JUST.GET.BACK.INTO.BED!” I felt as if I didn’t have the energy to get up from my comfy chair and interesting TV show (Parenthood in case you were curious) to do more than that. And you know what? Eventually, they went to sleep and settled down. So did I. But this morning roared to a start just minutes after I had settled into the quiet of my journal, and it felt like “you’re not quite enough” was the banner floating over my head as a mom yet again. 

“Not quite enough” is a shame sentence. A statement connecting to that vague sense of inadequacy we all carry and experience, that lurks behind any attempt to do or to be something glorious. Like a writer. I’m wrestling with feeling “not quite enough” as I long to pursue my passion to write, but feel like I don’t have quite enough time and I’m not sure I have quite enough of an audience and a message and would anyone really publish what I wanted to write?

I’m not quite enough when it comes to being a strong wife for my husband as he endures the challenges of full-time ministry as a pastor.

I’m not quite enough of a good friend because so often I can feel swamped by an over-full schedule.

But then the tone can switch, too. And I feel “a little too much” when I look at the scale and see a number there that feels 10 pounds too high. I was talking to a childhood friend who’s also recently reached mid-30s and we were commiserating about how much more difficult it is at this age and after having babies to be in the shape to which we’d grown accustomed.

I felt “a little too much” when I showed up in my full ballet leotard and tights to the “Mommy and Me” class when all the other moms (except my friend and I) had on t-shirts and yoga pants. Oops. Felt a bit out of place that day!

I can be “a little too much” at a dinner party – too intense, too counselor-esque, too brooding, too withdrawn (all at the same time).

But you know what my real problem is? It’s that I have not embraced “not quite enough” and “a little too much” as part of what it means to be a human dependent on a strong God. A God in whom I am more than enough, not because of me but because of all He gives me and all that He is for me. A God who never views me as “a little too much” because He delights in me. Yet I kick against my human limitations while God continues to shower me with grace. A God who says gently in the stolen, quiet moments (few though they be) that how well today went does not equate to how much He loves me. (Thank you, Gloria Furman, in Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full for that thought!) A God who reminds me that who I am is not what my ever-wavering bank account shows or the scale reveals, but it is forever redeemed, forever loved, forever holy because of Jesus’ forever grace. 

Five Minute Friday: release

It’s Friday. Hallelujah! It’s been a good, important, hard week. It’s been the best of times – news of two close friends having babies (Shelby’s #4 and Katherine’s #3); my most shared blog post ever over at The Gospel Coalition Blog; and then some intense ministry and life pressures and stressors that are inevitable when married to a pastor and working as a counselor, all while parenting two beautiful and strong-willed three-year-old princesses.

So I come here to this page thankful to be able to write and join in again with Lisa-Jo’s “Five Minute Friday” community. Five minutes of unedited free-writing on a different topic each week.

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firefly image

myjustliving.com

Release. What could it mean to release my art, my words, my love freely into the world? It’s an image of the fireflies we captured earlier this week and put in jars flying into the wild blue yonder again. They didn’t light up in captivity (much to our disappointment). What made them beautiful is the art they made when they were free. When we tried to capture them, to own them for ourselves, the art died (but they did not). Art can only be free when I am released from the cage of my expectations and my perception of yours. 

What would I do if I were released (which I am)? Released to create – to dabble again in painting for the sake of painting, to play the piano just for fun, to write words because I want to and I need to but not because I am expected to or need to get a certain number of stats to prove my worth.

Couldn’t I then in my freedom release those around me from the suffocating pressure I exert? To know I am released by one who was chained to a cross – the worst suffering imaginable – who was enslaved to death and chose not to be released – this makes my soul sing. This makes your soul free. I don’t need your applause for my identity and self-worth and writing. I simply need to release Jesus through my words and my art and my laughter and my relationships. And so do you. Jesus imprisoned that my soul would be set free. That ushers me into true release of the best kind – release from slavery to self’s corrosive power on my heart.