Sabbath rest for a mother’s heart

If you find yourself in need of rest, true heart rest, these links will help you follow the voice of Jesus as he leads us there (Matthew 11:28-30).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

A poem by Sarah Dunning Park – http://simplemom.net/poem-book-learning/

“Chatting at the Sky” – When the days are long and the minutes are longer

Christina Fox at “The Gospel Coalition blog” – Motherhood for the rest of us

(in)courage blog  – How gentleness makes our children great

Jen Hatmaker – More grace: on not being mean, hateful, and horrible

 

 

Lenten fast and reading “7”

cropped-img_0363.jpgThere is a beauty to winter’s barren branches rising against the crisp blue sky. A beauty quite different from that of the branches clothed in spring’s fresh buds and blooms of life or when radiant in fall’s glorious colors. It is not unlike what’s gained from a fast. It is in what’s not there that we can see and appreciate what is, and even anticipate what will be again. Reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker has been good to remind me of the beauty of what is not. The beauty of less rather than more, of giving away things rather than gaining more possessions, of turning off media instead of plugging in, of growing in appreciation instead of discontentment, and of making God’s Kingdom priorities bigger than that of my own “American kingdom” of self. I don’t want to make  a new Christian law to follow, which I could so easily try to do – something that focuses on me trying harder and doing more. Yet I see its value in the way that what she does is so counter-cultural that I can’t help but begin thinking more about the eternal treasures we are to be storing up instead of earthly goods to acquire. Now if only that thinking would translate into doing … 

Enter the Lenten fast. The introduction from our church’s Lent devotional guide sets the scene:

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter,
inviting us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

It is traditional to choose something to fast from for 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday (with Sundays as “feast days”). In combination with some of what I was challenged by in the fasts, I decided to choose a few things nearest and dearest to my heart: (1) Target, naturally (2) non-essential phone apps (3) sweets/desserts and (4) tv for Seth and me

And I am here to tell you that I have kept this fast perfectly and will never be turning back again. Ahem. Not quite. I’ve been surprised by how difficult it has felt at moments, at how naturally I want to distract myself with Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, email; at how much I have longed to just escape into a good tv show at night; at the way I crave something sweet in a hard mom moment; and at how I’ve longed to run to Target with my daughters in tow just to buy something shiny. I think that without even thinking, I was using apps, reaching for sweets, and making a Target list in the first few days of Lent. Yikes! Am I really that addicted? Apparently so.

But there has also been something sweet that has crept in amidst the new “barrenness” of my life in these areas. Less budget drain and more time spent playing with my kids because of no Target; more focus on the present because of no phone apps; more rest and conversation with my husband because of no tv; more reminders to turn to Jesus in prayer instead of reaching for the nearest sweet escape (not to mention, more energy!). Every day has not been like this. I have fought these self-imposed restrictions and wiggled my way out of them occasionally. I have been angry more quickly some days because my false refuges have been taken away. What’s come to the surface of my heart is not always beautiful. But then again, with more to repent of, I am brought back to Jesus more often.

One of the Lenten passages this week was Matthew 6:1-21. I was struck by the phrase, “your Father who sees in secret.” In the context of this passage, it’s talking about doing these things in secret: giving to the needy, fasting, and praying. What do I do in secret, that only my Father sees? And how does what I do in secret reveal where my heart’s true treasure is located? Too often what’s revealed is that I am unloving towards my family, resentful of what I give, that I’m self-indulgent and prayerless. When performance for others is stripped away, what is left? Here is a place of repentance, as I seek the identity of being clothed in the righteousness of the One who perfectly obeyed – even in secret – and where I am reminded that Christ’s life in me – in the very core of who I am when all else is stripped away – is my only hope of glory. But what a very sure and certain hope it is! So fasting leads to repentance which then leads to celebration. And this is the Easter worship of a Life crucified then resurrected and now waiting for me in heaven.

Taco Tuesdays and Romans 1:1

One of my new year’s resolutions has been to memorize Romans along with Ann Voskamp’s “Romans project.” I would like all of you to know that I am two weeks behind. And, in fact, that I have “failed” at all of my New Year’s resolutions that I felt so excited about a month ago. (was it only a month?)

  • Potty training – after two weeks of trials, I made an executive decision that WE were not ready for potty training. When the one twin who seemed to “get it” began screaming “NO!” during every attempt to take her to the potty, I figured that this was a clear message to give it up for now.
  • Focusing on my kids more/technology less – I still find myself in the hard moments inevitably drawn to check Facebook or Instagram or our budget on Mint.com or the weather or …
  • Doing the “Joy Dare” to focus on gratitude v. complaint. Why don’t you ask my husband how well I’m doing at that? Sigh.
  • “State of the union” with Seth – some progress. Some failure. Like the evening when my version of state of the union turned into a very unfair rant and rave where somehow in my twisted logic he was the one to blame for all of the stress I was experiencing in other areas of life.
  • Scripture memory – see above … or below.
  • Reading 40 meaningful books – progress! I desperately devoured several on potty-training, so that helped give me a head start on this one. But now I’m reading Pillars of the Earth which is a good read but realllly long. 900+ pages, so that’s slowing me down a bit. 

What I’m realizing is that I can’t. I can’t do any of this on my own. I need a living Savior to do what I cannot do and never have been able to do: achieve a state of being right with God. And I need a Savior to offer forgiveness, mercy, hope, grace – and above all this, unshakeable LOVE – for all of the MANY moments I fail not just to meet my own standards, but in sinful rebellion turn away from God towards my idea of what I think will help me in the moment. (Yelling? Complaint? Chocolate?)

Yet this is not a reason not to keep striving towards less sinful patterns, towards more of the Spirit reigning in my heart. This simply changes my motivation and the how-to for doing so. It’s not to bolster my pride and sense of self-sufficiency and make me feel better, but I do so because I am loved by one whose love changes me and I do so only in the strength found in admitting and confessing I have no strength of my own.

So with that said, back to Romans 1:1. I can’t seem to get past this verse phrase – “Paul, [1] a servant of Christ Jesus, [2] called to be an apostle …” I keep switching those two phrases around as I’m working on trying to memorize it. Meaning that I keep saying in my head, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, called to be a servant.” (And sidebar: memorization is not my strong point. I can be familiar with the general ideas and themes of various Bible verses but I am really bad at memorizing them word for word.) I think this shows me how I tend to get this mixed up in my own life. I want to put “called to be a [mom/wife/counselor/Bible teacher]” before the basic identity of “servant of Christ Jesus.” I think this changes everything. If I am FIRST a servant of Christ, and THEN called to whatever I’m called to in a particular season, I don’t complain to those people I’m called to serve or about the tasks I have to do nor do I take it personally if I receive criticism or feel like I’m failing. All of it is service to Christ Jesus. All of my service flows from the One who served me all the way to death because he was motivated by his love for me. This is not a guilt-laden, “Let me try to pay him back.” [I tried that for many years – didn’t work because it’s impossible!] But in the way that I feel about doing a favor for a friend who I know cares about me and who has done many things to show me that. It’s not a burden but a delight. And similar to the friend who strengthens me because she watched my kids for a morning, Christ’s service strengthens me to serve him by serving others out of and with the love he’s poured into my heart by the Spirit. Also, this identity is unshakeable. I am a servant of Christ Jesus most fundamentally. I will never fail at that because God guaranteed that with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Callings will come and go, but I’ll always be a servant of Christ Jesus. And I’m promised love, acceptance and eternal approval; in fact, I already have it. So no pressure or stress in that! I’m called to live out of who I already am.

Part of this is trying to find joy in what can feel like a pretty mundane stage of life. I decided that naming our days will help me to know what’s coming and will help our daughters to have something to associate with each day of the week. In trying to incorporate many major household tasks, a friend also suggested “Wash Wednesdays.” Unfortunately, our Wednesdays are too busy to do laundry but I liked the alliteration … so here’s what I’ve got:

Market Mondays – we head to the grocery store[s] to stock up for the week. I wish it were as awesome as a local farm market … maybe one day!

Taco Tuesdays – since our small group meets this night, we always need something really easy to cook for dinner. Hence, tacos. And, yes, this means when we host our small group, our house will likely smell like El Paso.

Women’s Bible Study Wednesdays – self-explanatory; highlight of my week. I love studying God’s word with these women. Right now we’re going through 1 & 2 Kings as we look at Elijah and Elisha’s life

Trash-truck Thursdays – because, well, Thursdays are when the trash trucks come through our neighborhood which is the highlight of my 2-year-olds’ week

French toast Fridays – Seth’s day off (since Sunday is a work day for him as a minister) and he loves making French toast for all of us at breakfast

Sleep-in Saturdays – well, one can have wishful thinking … one day, Seth and I will get to both sleep in on a Saturday. For now, we take turns.

Sabbath Sundays – I really do want to make Sundays a day that’s somewhat different from the rest of my week. So I’m experimenting with different ways to do that. At its simplest, it often means that Seth and I both crash for a long nap when the girls nap in the afternoon. Other times, I’ll try to blog or read an enjoyable book I’ve had on my shelf. After having kids, I had to get creative because I can’t really “take off” from the work I do the other 6 days of the week – diapers still must be changed, meals have to be prepared, tantrums must be dealt with – but I did decide that I wouldn’t do laundry on Sundays. I mean, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. And so that’s my line … and I’m sticking to it.

2013: the year of NEW

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New. It’s a word that conjures up freshness, a clean slate, a beginning, something unused, not old. Like this exquisite sunrise we witnessed on New Year’s Eve. I don’t often get to see a sunrise because I’m just not “a morning person” but this was an unexpected benefit of getting up at 4:30 am that day to drive back home before toddlers became too cranky. It was breathtaking and glorious. I want it to be the picture of this new year dawning, of every day dawning. One of my favorite bloggers, Ann Voskamp, names her years, and I thought that I would follow that trend this year. I want it to be new. In every way.

To experience God’s mercies that are new every day (Lamentations 3:22-24).

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

To live out of the new heart I’ve been given by God in the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

To put off the old self, put on the new self created to be like Christ (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10).

24  … put on the new self,created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

10 … put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

To experience a taste of the future when our returning King comes to make all things new because even now, I am part of this new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

I want to fight sin in a new way, and to see new grace instead of dwelling on old hurts, failures, sins.

Less complaining, more thanksgiving.

Less thinking about what I want, more thoughtful considering of what the Spirit wants.

A posture of listening. (I am so quick to talk, to speak, to offer my “wisdom,” to think I know better.)

To see my children anew and delight in them.

So much about my life has felt mundane, monotonous, difficult. And I am tired of complaining about it and then feeling stuck and defined by it. I want this year to be different. I want to experience new freedom from sinful anger, discontentment, and complaining. I don’t want to repeat old cycles of sin that are so well-learned by me. I want to know a newness that permeates every part of my heart, life, world, neighborhood, church, community.

For starters.

How? Empowered by the Spirit of Christ, who is the source of all things NEW, a few thoughts as I’ve had time to reflect and ruminate during this first week of 2013:

  • Renewal of the mind = memorize Romans 1, 8, 12 (as per Ann Voskamp’s plan) and begin the 2-year Bible reading plan by Whitmer
  • Take Voskamp’s “Joy Dare” to purposely focus on gratitude instead of complaint
  • Weekly “state of the union” with Seth to connect about marriage and our lives (an idea I’m indebted to Jim & Marsha Petty for – my wonderful landlords when I first landed in Philly for seminary)
  • Focus on my children when I’m home with them – less texting, escaping to technology via email/Instagram/FB/etc, less talking on the phone, maybe even fewer visitors and play dates so that I don’t miss these years.
  • Read 40 books. Life –changing ones, preferably. I’m off to a good start with Seven by Jen Hatmaker. Revolutionary, in a word. (Thanks for inviting me to read this with you, Katherine.)

The source of my hope for NEW is here in an ancient prophetic book, Isaiah 43:18-21 –

18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20
… I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

Connecting Christmas with the Newtown Tragedy

stars at night

Darkness. Black darkness. Tiny beams of light come through. But it’s still night. We still wait. We can’t see clearly, and we don’t know when daylight will arrive. Yet aren’t the stars brighter because it is so dark? They are not visible when the sun is at full strength. We await Light. The true Light sent into the world, whose first coming [Advent] we celebrate during this season. But all it takes is the horrific story of a deranged 20-year-old committing the most senseless tragedy to date in an elementary school in a safe, postcard-perfect New England town that had a single homicide on its record of the past 10 years – all it takes is this one story to remind me, to remind us, that there is a greater Advent we await. Our king came in weakness and vulnerability the first time, but when he returns next, there will be no question of his power and his strength and all evil will flee before him like darkness at dawn’s first light.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.

The only way I can reconcile the Newtown tragedy with this season is to see it as a study of contrasts. The darker the light, the brighter the star shines? The God who came, and who is coming again, came to the unsuspecting and unaware. But not to take life senselessly – he entered to give life abundantly. Many asked “why?” Why would a powerful God, the Creator of all, stoop to take on human flesh in some mysterious and lowly way? Love. Love that beautifies and gives life to the one loved. Many still ask why – why come to a virgin? Seems humanly impossible. Why come poor and not rich? Why come to a lowly city? Why spread the news first to those despised in society [shepherds]? Unlike all of the “why” questions we’re asking about the Sandy Hook tragedy, these “why” questions are beautifully inexplicable. Underneath all the search for why and theories as to what caused Lanz to do what he did is a search for safety and protection that we are never guaranteed on this side of heaven. I shiver with fear to write these words. I feel the “survivor guilt” of being able to hug my two daughters when there are 20 sets of parents who waited in vain for their children on Friday. I feel the anxiety mixed with nausea when just imagining what it would have been like to wait for  my child who had been senselessly murdered. I said to a friend in jest, “Another point for homeschooling.” Yet the sobering reality is that I cannot protect my children in any place, at any time. I cannot guarantee their safety. This is a call for me to entrust my fear to the God who banishes fear, who has prepared a safe place where sin cannot enter, death is no more, and tears and mourning are forever banished.

Because I worship a God who came near, I can have faith to picture what you won’t see in any news report. We see the images of weeping parents without their children. But what would it be like to imagine our Father God welcoming these little ones home on Friday? Rescued from the evil of the world, now safe forever from the power of the Evil One to hurt and destroy. They were not embraced by their earthly parents on Friday, but could they be embraced by God their Father through faith in Jesus? Who knows but that many of these little ones had the child-like faith Jesus tells us we are to emulate. Now they see the reality we hope for during Advent.

Even more so, I know that I can trust this God who came near. In the midst of heart-wrenching suffering and sadness, I was reminded by our pastor this morning that our God is a Father who knows what it’s like to have a child unjustly murdered. He allowed Jesus Christ – his only Son – to die for the sin of the hurt and rage and brokenness of all the human race so that we might be saved from sin’s death sentence. So that we can hope for full justice even in such a tragedy. So that our own sinful brokenness might be healed and we would know comfort in the midst of unspeakable pain.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

As there are new corners touched and hearts broken by sin’s curse through this tragedy, I can hold onto hope that Jesus is coming to bring joy when he reigns with truth and grace and that even now the comfort of the Christ-child (God come near – Emmanuel) can be tasted in the midst of a dark world. We wait for dawn in the dark blackness of night. But it is coming. He is coming. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Confessions of an angry mom, part 3

[Part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here for part 1 and part 2]

Ok, thanks for hanging in there! Here is the final part, as promised, and my prayer is that you feel a bit of hope dawning in your heart – like the first light of sunrise. This is certainly not my final time to discuss this topic here. I’m thinking it might be merely the beginning of a longer conversation. Also, please know that what I write is not merely “past tense struggle.” Today I was angry when two cranky girls pushed my buttons on our way home from church. The irony of it was that while my husband was preaching to the second service, I was losing it in anger towards my nap-starved toddlers at home. Oh, Lord, we need your mercy daily! Moment-by-moment. And thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that we have a guarantee of it – eternal, cascading mercy and grace. May you know that today wherever you are struggling.

*Part 3*

As I began exploring my heart and God’s Word, since true change always comes as the two intersect, I discovered that God has a lot to say about anger.  I found a sermon from a favorite preacher in New York City,  Dr. Tim Keller, titled  “Healing of Anger”.  Once again, God used him to invite my heart to the beauty of the gospel as it connects to anger. Much of what I’m reflecting on here is from that sermon. A few key verses on anger:

  • Psalm 86:15 – “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It is not that God is angry, but He is slow to anger and His anger is over the right things that make God’s anger so different than mine. His slow anger means that I am not destroyed because of my sinful anger against my children. His slow anger makes room for grace, for abundant love and mercy. His slow anger made a plan for how to deal with the source of his anger: sin. And at great cost to himself – he would allow his own Son to be the sacrifice his anger demanded for sin. So that we (the sinners) could be called sons and daughters. God’s anger is always against sin, and yet he allowed Christ to receive his wrath against sin so that we could be counted righteous. So that we would not have to be enslaved by the sin that grieves his heart. This is my greatest hope as I battle anger.
  • James 1:19-20 – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Yikes! What a contrast to God’s anger. Mine is hardly, rarely righteous anger, and it actually does not accomplish what God wants in my life – the righteousness He has given me and clothed me with in Christ. God’s anger is always against sin; my anger is usually because of personal discomfort. This is why I get enraged over a child not going to sleep at night but why I hardly blink to hear about the latest genocide in Africa. My anger is not righteous; it’s disproportionate. The injustice in the world that should anger me barely causes me to turn my head while I am disproportionately angry towards the person who cuts me off in traffic or the child who screams, “No!” when I tell her to come upstairs.
  • Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I respond with harsh words instead of a gentle answer, I make my anger and that of my kids worse.
  • Proverbs 16:32 – “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Being slow to anger will take tremendous soul strength, strength that I do not have apart from Christ. It’s compared here to the ingenuity, military prowess and planning necessary to take charge of a city. Patience will entail planning, fortitude, and strength – it will mean divine resources, available through Christ’s life and death on my behalf.
  • Proverbs 25:28 – “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” No self-control leaves me vulnerable, without protection and susceptible to destruction like a city without the protection of its walls and gates.
  • Ephesians 4:26-27 – “ ‘In your anger do not sin;’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Sinful anger is toxic and gives the devil an opportunity he should not have. It is part of my old self, not my new self in Christ.
  • Genesis 4:6-7 – “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” The very first instance recorded in the Bible of human anger is Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel that arose out of jealousy that Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and his own was rejected. The Lord here comes to warn Cain, and this story is a warning to me. Cain did not heed God’s warning, and anger gave way to murder. Anger’s natural unchecked consequence is death, and that means not just physical death of murder but the ways that anger unchecked always results in some level of relational death. In the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, I will rule over anger or it will rule over me.

What does anger say about my heart? For me, it’s usually one of the following:

  • I am not believing God is sovereign, good, loving, and personally involved in my life.
  • There is something I want more than loving my kids and exercising Spirit-empowered self-control – I’m refusing to live in God’s kingdom and instead want to live in the kingdom of self.
  • 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.
  • I need forgiveness, and I need to repent. I need Jesus!

Hope is found as I agree with God about what he says about my sinful anger, confess to him and to others, seek the grace always plentiful and available in Christ through faith, and make Spirit-empowered choices that are different. This can include researching a good child development book so that I better understand why my children are responding in the ways that they are and adjust my expectations accordingly. It can include calling a friend who has similarly aged children and asking her how she’s dealing with a certain behavior or issue. It’s often included a conversation with a more experienced mom to ask for her perspective on this particular stage. Heart-transforming change always means coming before God in prayerful dependence, asking specifically for the help that I need and asking him to show me the “way out of temptation” before it comes. I have written verses I want to meditate on and remember on 3×5 cards and put them in highly visible places where I will see them during the day (my kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc). Most importantly, it means rehearsing the gospel story of redemption to myself again and remembering where I am in it: declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection and living a life no longer enslaved to sin in community with the body of Christ. I am awaiting Christ’s return to make everything right, to destroy sinful anger forever, and to restore all of his people to a perfect relationship with a holy and beautiful God. This is the hope that purifies me day by day, and it is remember my identity in this story that gives me courage to live out its beautifying truth. Even – and especially – as I battle anger as a mom of toddlers.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 2

[Part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 here, and part 3 here]

Many moms of toddlers struggle with anger – and we struggle in silence, feeling the shame of how we treat our children and feeling the shame of struggling with anger as a woman. Our culture often doesn’t connect anger as an emotional response of women. It’s seen more as a “male emotion.” And so that adds a layer of shame to our own struggles with anger as moms. In sharing my struggle openly, I found a few friends to be “go to” friends in the angry moments – meaning friends I could text or call when I felt really angry, or on the verge of anger, who could talk me off the angry ledge. Sometimes, simply interrupting my angry tirade by calling someone else was enough to help the angry feelings to pass – or at least for them to lessen and to give me time to pray. Sometimes I literally walked outside the door to get a breath of fresh air for a moment. Other times, I set my kids up with “Sesame Street” to give myself the mental and emotional break I felt like I needed. Some mornings, when I felt my emotions to be particularly fragile, we arranged a last minute playdate in order to have the accountability and companionship of a fellow mom. If this wasn’t possible, we planned an outing. To anywhere. It really didn’t matter, just as long as we were out of the house. I’ve also found that turning on music can be calming for everyone, both me and my daughters. Anything to give me a chance to calm down, to cry out for help from God (instead of having an angry tirade against him in the guise of parental frustration directed towards my children), and to wait for the Spirit to show up to direct how to discipline, instruct, or care for my child rather than following what my emotions told me to do.

In the category of preventing anger, counseling can be tremendously helpful. Counseling can be either formal or informal. Maybe you could ask an older mom in your life who’s been there to come over weekly or monthly for coffee – or, better yet, ask your husband to watch your kids so that you can go out with this older friend and have uninterrupted conversation. Maybe you could seek a good friend to hold you accountable and to be a fellow struggler with you, a friend who will counsel you and remind you of the gospel and let you do the same. Worship at church weekly is such a refreshment to my heart – like setting “reset” as I remember God’s forgiveness of the past sins and struggles of the previous week and as I ask for new mercies and grace for the yet unknown struggles of the week ahead. It’s been a time for me to be convicted of sin, repent, and be refreshed by the grace of God that covers all my sins – even the heinous anger of a desperate mom against her undeserving children.

It also helps to notice when you are most likely to be angry – to keep checking your emotional “barometer” and notice how you’re processing the demands of each day. I realized that I needed to go to bed earlier at night because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. And that I needed to do less outside of the home. I was most likely to get angry when I felt the pressure of a demanding week, with places to go, commitments and responsibilities outside of our home. Maybe for you it might be the opposite – maybe your anger comes because you feel too isolated and you aren’t getting enough outside connection. The important thing is to know yourself, asking God to make it clear what your tendency is – overscheduling or under-scheduling – and to seek wisdom and strength to know what to cut out or what to add in so that you are able to manage your home, your children, and/or your job while staying emotionally healthy.

I also notice that when I’m trying to process my own complex emotions that I am more likely to take it out on my kids. What can I do to process my own emotions better, separately from my children, so that I don’t have so much background noise/burden? It might be worth it to hire a babysitter regularly simply for the purpose of you getting out alone with a cup of coffee, your journal, and the Bible or a good book to help you process whatever it is that’s weighing on your heart in a given day, week, or season. Find friends who could swap childcare with you so that you’re able to give one another the much needed breaks you need. Communicate clearly to your husband what it is that you want. More than likely, he will be all too happy to cooperate when the end result is a wife and mom who is better able to engage her family. If I’m having a week that’s felt hard or anticipate a particularly difficult week ahead, I request with my husband a morning or afternoon “off” during a weekend simply to do whatever it is I need to do. Sometimes I head to Stella’s with my journal; sometimes I meet a friend for lunch; other times I run errands in the blissful joy of solitude and efficiency. The other benefits to this is that your husband will more fully appreciate what you do every day of the week and your kids get valuable “daddy and me” time. Leave any lingering mom guilt at home with the kids, take your keys, and go!

But none of these strategies alone is enough to get at the heart of your anger. They allow you to clear some space so that you will be able to deal with your heart. Stay posted for part 3 coming in a few days.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 1

Today I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion on the topic of “Nurturing Emotional Health as a Mom” with our church’s moms’ ministry, entitled (appropriately) “Nurture.” I learned so much from my preparation as well as from my fellow panelists. And so I wanted to share here part of what I shared today, in hopes that you too will know (1) you are not alone (2) God meets you (3) you can change. I am experiencing all of that and more in this journey. A journey of “imperfect progress” to quote Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued.

Anger and fear/anxiety are often two sides of a coin. They are two responses to feeling out of control and two ways to seek to regain control. I have lived in both places, and I often still do. Anxiety used to be my prevalent and familiar emotional response to out-of-control situations, like a pending job transition or move, pregnancy with twins, bed rest while pregnant with twins due to preterm labor, trying to feed newborn twins, and the run-of-the-mill daily issues like budget, income, and people pleasing. Anger I was not so familiar with from the inside out. Until my precious daughters reached about 18 months, when they began turning from babies with predominantly physical neediness of me to toddlers with extreme emotional demands of me and a huge emotionality of their own that they brought to each day. I began losing it in angry outbursts, almost but not quite as frequently as they would erupt in a toddler temper tantrum. It became as if we would set each other off. I felt out of control and at the end of my emotional resources. Completely, utterly drained, with no hope until preschool of any relief or refreshment. And I don’t know about you, but as often as I hear “it goes by so quickly!” and really want to believe that, it does not help me to get through these very draining days and weeks that feel as though they are eternal in length and demands.

My anger continued to increase, despite my best efforts at prayer, seeking help, trying to be more self-controlled. And I think that’s part of the problem. It’s not about me being self-controlled, but about me being more Spirit-controlled. I’m learning ways to manage heat-of-the-moment anger and seeking God to heal me of the roots of my sinful anger, preventative care of my heart and soul. My anger is often my temper tantrum against God. I began keeping an anger log – tracking the times when I got angry, what I did in response to what was happening around me, why I became angry – looking at what I wanted in that moment, and then seeking God’s help for biblical truth to fortify my heart.

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 twin toddlers.

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.” [Usually peace and quiet and kids who can self-parent – to quote Paul Tripp in his parenting series “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”]
  • “You are not meeting my expectations.”
  • “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
  • “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.

I began with a lot of repentance, first toward God (the real target of my anger), then my husband (who would sometimes get fired upon), and most often, my daughters. Who, though often the ones seemingly triggering my anger, were the ones I sinned against in my angry yelling at them and out-of-control fly-off-the-handle moments. I talked to friends, honestly admitting my anger, asking for prayer, and finding that I wasn’t so alone as I thought I was. Hence this blog post, and our morning’s discussion, and each of you who find that this resonates with you. We are not alone! And that is the first and most important step in dealing with anger as a mom. Stay tuned for more in the next few days.

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Want to read the rest of the series? Part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Joy in my “lot in life” (Ecclesiastes reflections)

I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I hear or utter the phrase, “It’s just my lot in life,” there is the connotation of reluctantly putting up with what one wishes she could change about her life. In reading through a rather obscure and not often studied book of Ecclesiastes this summer, I am realizing that I’ve got it all wrong. To realize that God has given me my lot in life is meant to bring joy. Why? Not because life is easy – far from it. Ecclesiastes clearly portrays the toil and burden of life that often feels vain and meaningless. Toil, vanity, “striving after the wind,” are popular refrains here. But the writer of Ecclesiastes is pushing into life, seeking to see if God entering the picture makes any difference to life on earth.

I’m only a few chapters in, but he’s already seeming to paint the tiniest bit of hope that yes, life feels futile and meaningless, until you acknowledge God as Creator and Giver of your lot in life. In fact, the ability to enjoy life is in and of itself a gift from God, whether one recognizes this or not. My lot in life – the portion God gives to each of us, which feels heavier and harder in some seasons than others – is given to me precisely to bring me the greatest joy possible. I agree that this sounds different, difficult, and incongruent with my daily experience. Especially because my daily experience of life is filled with many mundane and monotonous tasks. And yet –

To know God as giver will bring joy. There is no joy in my toil until I begin to accept “my lot in life” as something that’s divinely orchestrated not only for my good, but for my enjoyment. Could it be that this is what I too often miss in my focus on God’s sovereign arrangement of the world and my life? I forget that God arranges and orchestrates not just for his glory and my good, but for my joy. There is a joy in this day, in this week, in this month, in this year and in this season that God has arranged the details of my life to provide for me. And God will give me the ability to enjoy my toil and to find that joy.

If you’re finding this hard to believe, don’t take my word for it. Enjoy this passage from Ecclesiastes 5:18-20:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

How my toddlers’ tantrums expose my own

Twin toddlers. Whew. Really it’s a whole new ball game, but then I think I’ve felt like that about every stage of having twins. The exhaustion never recedes completely, just shifts from one stage to the next. The good thing about this age is that they sleep really well and very predictably 95% of the time. Twelve hours at night; two-hour afternoon naps (at the same time). So I should be more physically rested. And I think I am most days. They’re also independent, so getting places is much easier now. They can walk down the stairs to the car; they can each crawl up into their car seats; they (usually) hold my hand when heading through a parking lot. The only things I have to remember to bring with us are diapers and lots of snacks. They eat on their own, so I place their food in front of them, and voila – anything that they are going to eat, they do on their own. No more of me feeding them. All of that is doubtless easier than the first six months when I remember days when I didn’t know how to find time to take a shower, much less anything else. It was survival mode.

But. The emotional drain of toddler twins is not to be underestimated. One tantrum at a time is bad enough, but two of them at the same time? Exhausting. And even if they’re not simultaneous, with two there is just more possibility that a tantrum will erupt at any given time. Yesterday when I was shopping at Bj’s Wholesale Club (my favorite store because they have grocery carts that fit two in, which are easy to navigate), I was looking through the yogurts trying to find one with an expiration date later than tomorrow. (I kid you not – there were none!) While I had my head in the cooler, I was interrupted by a shriek of pain from one twin and turned to see a familiar sight of the other twin clamping down on her arm. Yikes! What do you do then? One needed comfort; the other needed discipline; and we were in public and I was at the start of my shopping trip. So I forewent discipline (a topic for another time) and separated them, putting the victimized twin in the cart as a treat – with all of the other groceries. As you can imagine, this arrangement didn’t last very long since the twin in the cart was enjoying trying to open all of the familiar packages. “Nanas!” “Boo-berries!” “Crackers!” Whew … thankfully, this particular story ends well. I put them both next to each other; gave them another snack in hopes that they would eat that instead of biting one another; and we made it out without any further incidents. I feel like my days are characterized by what feels like endless moments such as this one.

Then I add my own frustration and anger to the mix, and it is not pretty. I remember moments when they were babies and were both crying and I would join in with my own tears. I feel like at this stage, it’s way too easy for me to join in with my adult tantrum as they tantrum. My tantrum looks much different. More socially acceptable (usually). I yell; I tell them to stop; I make empty threats hoping they’ll change; I pout until I get a break and count down the minutes until nap time, or Daddy’s arrival home, or bed time. Then I collapse in guilt and exhaustion and get angry at God for arranging days that feel like too much for me to handle. The truth is that these days are exactly what God’s arranged, and they are too much for me to handle. I need grace. I need grace to pray in the moment instead of getting angry. Grace to exercise Spirit-infused self-control instead of joining in their out-of-control tantrums. Grace to know when I need help and to ask for it. I’m learning; we’re learning; and I am glad for a community of friends and family to support all of us as we go through these days.