a prayer for potty training

There is advice aplenty about potty training, but very little written about the spiritual challenges of potty training. Yes, you heard me right. The spiritual challenges of potty training. Anything that opens our hearts wide up to see the frustrations hidden beneath; the expectations for life to act according to our plans; the desire demand to be in control – well, this becomes ripe fodder for growth. Or repentance. Or sanctification. Or all of the above.

Maybe you approached potty training much differently from me (and I am sure some of you are out there!), but for me it’s been an exercise in surrender. Surrendering my expectations and realizing the limits of my control over my daughters. I cannot control when (or if) they will use the toilet. I can nudge them in the right direction; provide incentives to make it more attractive for the desired behavior; set up an environment that is conducive in pottying. Yet if she decides she isn’t ready – or if her physical development isn’t there yet – it just won’t happen.

There are spiritual analogies here as well. As I seek to nurture my daughters’ faith, it’s much the same way. I can nudge them in the right direction (towards faith and wisdom and away from unbelief and foolishness); provide incentives to make it more attractive for them to walk in the path of life; set up an environment that is conducive for faith. But at the end of the day, it is up to God and her whether she will take hold of this Life or not. And when. I can’t force her into a prayer of belief or into steps of faith that may be beyond her spiritual development.

How do I fill this gap between where I want my child to be (re: pottying and spiritual development) and where she is? Deal with my own heart, and P.R.A.Y.

So with this round of potty training, I was clued in a bit more to potential frustrations and disappointments and challenges, and I penned the following as we set out to “launch” potty training a few days ago. I humbly offer it to you if you, like me, need it.

Father, I ask that you’d give us discernment to know/evaluate whether L. and A. are ready, and to lovingly encourage them to do what we think they’re ready to do. If one of them isn’t, give us wisdom and restraint to back off if needed. Give us perseverance and endurance because even if it goes really well, it’s a process. Help me to expect the best but not force them into my will. Help me to know how to gently nudge them and when to step away to foster their independence.

Restrain my anger and frustration. Give me the long view, both for potty training and even more so for how You’re using this process to expose my own heart and make me more aware of my own need for grace. Give me wisdom to walk away and regroup when it’s overwhelming.

Above all else, let everything I do be done in love — in Christ’s love that dwells in me. Love that is patient, kind, not boastful or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way, isn’t irritable or resentful, bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13) I don’t have love on my own nor can I muster it up. I come to You needy of it, and confident that You delight to make your people loving.

When sin is revealed in my own heart, let me quickly repent and ask for forgiveness — not cover it up/try to hide it/make excuses. When the waywardness of my daughters’ hearts is revealed, let me be quick to show them the grace You shower upon me as well as any correction appropriate for the situation.

I do ask for minimal messes, but even more than that, I ask for longsuffering and the attitude of Christ when they happen. He who made himself nothing … taking the very nature of a servant … (Philippians 2). Do guard and protect us from causing any hurt in what could be trying days. And give us joy, laughter, and fun! Bond us closer to you and one another through this process.

In Jesus’ Name,

Thankful Thursdays

Psalm 149 calls God’s people to thankfulness with these words:

Praise the Lord! … For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.

Isn’t that astounding? Read it again – it almost sounds too good to be true.  That the God who made everything and upon whom we are dependent for every breath takes pleasure [enjoys, delights] in you and me. We are to praise God because he takes pleasure in us. And so we praise him because he is pleased when we praise but even more so his pleasure in us causes us to praise him.

And so I move into thankful reflections today, thankfulness that’s not object-less but thankfulness to a present God who receives it as praise.

{I’m thankful for} my husband who enjoys house projects and home repairs and keeps all of us females steady with his presence.

{I’m thankful for} my friend Ellen and the ministry of Harvest USA during such a poignant time in our country where there is much confusion and need for loving, compassionate, wise ministry in the arena of sexual brokenness.

{I’m thankful for} friends and family near and far who cheer me on in this journey of faith and motherhood. (Many of you reading this now!)

{I’m thankful for} the baby BOY that my youngest brother and his wife will be welcoming into their family in early December (their first!).

{I’m thankful for} sunshine, summer breezes, living in a place surrounded by water and close to the ocean.

{I’m thankful for} my in-laws’ visit this weekend as they will love and delight in all of us, showing us in 1000 ways the delight of God our Father in us, his children. We can’t wait to see you, Grandma and “P-pa”! Now on to making up your bed …

Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, copy this icon:  leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.

I just read Lisa’s “Thankfulness on Thursdays” post here – she was also an inspiration to this practice.


On my bookshelf

20130610-062659.jpgI am an avid reader. I always have been, and in fact as a child I would often stay up way past bedtime reading by the light of my nightlight or a flashlight under my covers. I was such a rebellious bookworm. (Yes, I agree that’s a bit of an oxymoron.)

Since I’m seeking to write more regular posts, I thought a weekly or monthly “On my bookshelf” would give me something to work with (and something for you to look forward to). You’ll notice that I always have one fiction book, which I usually read just before bedtime and/or at the beach or stolen precious minutes of naptime. Right now I’m reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It’s a murder mystery, a favorite genre of mine ever since Nancy Drew, and so far so good. A little hard to get into the story, but I love the writing.

Next in the stack is a nonfiction cultural read, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve written a little bit about this book already, and you will be hearing more from me on this topic in the future. One quote that resonated with me from Chapter 4 – “Parenthood”:

In many ways, the happiness of having children falls into the kind of happiness that could be called fog happiness. Fog is elusive. Fog surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere, but when you try to examine it, it vanishes. Fog happiness is the kind of happiness you get from activities that, closely examined, don’t really seem to bring much happiness at all — yet somehow they do. … the experience of having children gives me tremendous fog happiness. It surrounds me, I see it everywhere, despite the fact that when I zoom in on any particular moment, it can be hard to identify.

And then I like to be reading some sort of Christian book which will help to strengthen my faith and understanding of the Christian life. I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage for, well, several months now. Not because it’s not good but precisely because it is so good that I can only digest small portions at a time. I’ll leave you today with this quote from Chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage”:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life throws at us.

Take Ten for Thanksgiving

Fall PumpkinsAs I looked up the word “thankful” and its synonym “grateful” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I thought about how I often throw those words around – particularly at this time of year – with no thought to what they actually mean. Hence the dictionary search. As I came across this compilation of definitions, what I have reason to be thankful for became more clear, too. And why I am not more thankful is a sad commentary for my lack of eyes to see, really see, all that surrounds me. I’m going to ask you to do something with me today. In between preparations for the big feast, or after your belly is full from feasting, take ten minutes to sit down and think of ten things for which to be thankful. (Thankfulness is a great natural antidote to the anger I’ve been writing about, too, by the way. An angry heart and a grateful heart rarely coexist at the same time.)

First, the definition:

  • conscious of benefit received
  • appreciative of benefits received
  • affording pleasure or contentment
  • pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated
  • well pleased, glad

Isn’t that eye-opening? Hopefully, that begins to get you thinking about some items for your thankful list. I wanted to take this even further. Thanksgiving for me as a Christian isn’t merely having warm feelings of general goodwill and thanks for life in general. Thanksgiving has an object: the Creator and Giver of all good things. Thanksgiving is to be part of my life as someone in relationship with God. One verse I found summarized Christian Thanksgiving quite concisely:

Psalm 75:1 – “We give thanks to you, O God;

We give thanks, for your name is near.

We recount your wondrous deeds.”

In those three lines, the writer of this ancient worship hymn instructs me about God-oriented giving of thanks.

  • “Giving thanks” is an action – a choice and a decision.
  • “We” – not merely individual, but corporate. Something we do in community, with our community, and on behalf of our community.
  • the direction of my thanks – God! Seems simple but often I find myself not thanking God directly. Or really attributing something I’m enjoying to another source, like my great ingenuity in thinking of how to manage my day to find some peace and quiet, my self-sufficiency, my bank account, etc. The ultimate source behind all of this is God. And as a Christian, I am asked to go straight to The Source with my thanks. This will help my heart keep worshiping.
  • the why of giving thanks – “for your name is near.” God himself is evident all around me, and he is present with me and within me by the Spirit. Who he is – his character – is very near to me. If I have eyes to see!
  • how to give thanks – remembering his wondrous deeds. This is a specific recounting of what God has done, with an implication of a sense of wonder and awe at the God who has done these deeds.

Here are a few of my “ten” when I sat down to recount specific thanks to God. I’d love to hear a few of yours, too!

  1. The beauty of barren branches against a wintry blue sky
  2. God bringing together a Carolina girl and a Jersey boy in Philadelphia to marry, raise twin daughters, and expand one another’s cultural experiences
  3. Parents who love God, Seth, me, and our daughters – on both sides
  4. Daughters who are teaching me how to love more fully
  5. Faith awakened at a young age with which to receive God’s greatest gift of grace in Christ
  6. A heavenly Father who’s known me from the beginning of time and pursued me with love

And I could go on. I hope that I will never stop. I’m about 300+ into Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts” challenge. And you could just be beginning with your first ten! Read more at her blog here. And happy Thanksgiving!

Jesus Encounters the Woman at the Well – or should I say, Target …

As our community group studies the book of John together, using the fabulous “good book series” by Tim Chester, we come to this week’s encounter about Jesus meeting “A Desperate Woman” (the Samaritan woman at the well, story found in John 4). Raise your hand if you qualify. Yes, I see those hands. One of the questions prompted me to reflect on how Jesus would address me. If Jesus encountered me, probably in the aisles of Target, and talked of living water, what would he point to as patterns where I seek satisfaction elsewhere? What’s my “if only” that I’m living out of? I share this hoping you will relate to this desperate woman and the Jesus who offers her true Life.

“Heather, look at what’s in your cart. You think that once you and your daughters are dressed well and once your home looks like the pages of Pottery Barn, you will be satisfied. You also think once your life is so-called ‘balanced’ (meaning you feel in control most of the time and have enough time to yourself), you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll be able to exhale when your relationships are conflict-free. Not so, my daughter. I watch you run yourself ragged and overspend trying to be satisfied and feel secure. Stop running. Rest in me, in the midst of the chaos of your days. Let me direct you. Live out of the inner satisfaction you’ve tasted before through my Spirit who dwells within you. Live out of the identity you have in me – you are mine; you’re beautiful; you’re more than ‘good enough.’ You’re righteous. Perfect. Complete. The Spirit is there to help you experience these realities, to believe I am true and deeply satisfying, to free you from places you run for temporary, fleeting satisfaction. Drink deeply of my living water. That’s right. You can start putting back most of what you’ve filled your cart with today. And I promise you’re not trading in joy – you will know it more deeply in me, as you always have.”

the hidden glory of baptism

This past Sunday, our daughters were baptized by Seth. I was surprised only that I did not cry. I had a delayed response – all the emotions broke through Monday evening, which is a fairly typical emotional pattern for me. But what a moment it was! It has been good to reflect on the poignancy of their baptism – and I imagine that I will be doing so for quite awhile.

As an introduction, in the Presbyterian church we do not believe that baptism saves in and of itself, but that it is a sign that our daughters are part of the visible church because they were born to Christian parents. This means that they will  not be communing members of the church until they each make a step of faith for themselves – saying that they personally need Jesus to forgive them of their sin. As I was reviewing its meaning, I found this quote from “On Being Presbyterian” by Sean Michael Lucas helpful:

“The sign of baptism is rooted in God’s larger unchanging purpose in human history. From the very beginning, God has been redeeming a people for his own possession and for his own glory. While God certainly calls individuals to himself, he has, from the very beginning, especially emphasized the relationship of professing believers and their households, and their place within his larger and unchanging purpose of redemption. … [baptism] is  God’s act of initiating us into his visible people … because God’s promise is offered ‘for you and your children’ (Acts 2:39).”

Lucia and Alethia’s baptism seemed to be  as much about Seth and my promises to raise them in a gospel-saturated home as it was about their receiving the sacrament of baptism. Below are the vows that we made:

We acknowledge our child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.

We claim God’s covenant promises in her behalf, and we look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for her salvation, as we do for our own.

We now unreservedly dedicate our child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that we will endeavor to set before her a godly example, that we will pray with and for her, that we will teach her the doctrines of our holy religion, and that we will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

So with all of that said, below is a poetic musing on this past Sunday –

ordinary moments become
water, sprinkled, dripping down
the sweet innocent
baby skin

claiming the promise
that the sin hidden beneath
such innocence
needs a Savior
she who is yet unaware
will need the grace
poured upon her
like the water
from her father’s hand

she will need Grace
from her Father’s hand
coming through the
nail-pierced hands of
His Son
to save and to cleanse
like the water alone cannot.

the water does not cleanse
it sets them apart
by grace through faith
for grace
through their faith one day
in the Savior they need –
the One we need
to make such vows.

they smile
look curiously
as the water drips down
“an odd time for a bath, Daddy!”
if they could speak
they will not remember
this moment
but we will
and all who witnessed it
we are to testify
to this sacrament
to fulfill our promises
to them.

as they are unaware
and receive this gift
unasked for
I see myself in them.

This is grace: I accept
the gift I don’t know I need
I am unaware
as my Father pours his mercy upon me.

dressed in white
simple elegance
a picture of the Bride
awaiting her Groom
and we pray she will
know His voice
when she is old enough
that she will see
His love pursuing her
that she will say “yes”
“I do”
this is all we ask.

and I walk away
feeling as if I have
in a common
ordinary moment
taking on
eternal meaning
by the grace of a glorious God.

comfort and utility

A few weeks ago, I was watching Lucia as she played on a blanket on the floor. Bedtime was quickly approaching, and she decided that it was time to try to put herself to sleep. She has developed quite a “lovey” obsession in the past few months and uses her soft pink-striped zebra to cozy up to as she drifts off to sleep. Sometimes I have found her with this snuggly blanket animal almost entirely covering her face. (Yes, it did scare me a bit because of SIDS paranoia … but it seems lightweight and small enough that it won’t do harm.) So, naturally, she reached out for the closest object (hoping it would be her zebra) and began snuggling up to it, rubbing it against her face. The funny thing about it was that it was her hard plastic alien teething toy. So it must have been far from soothing – in fact, quite the opposite.

And that got me thinking. The problem wasn’t that the teething toy didn’t have a good purpose – and could even be comforting when used as such – but that Lucia was trying to use it in a way different than as intended. She had confused the toy for her lovey. Of course, it didn’t have the intended effect and she became more fussy instead of less so. Sweet Lucia later drifted off to sleep happily tucked in with her zebra … and I shared a small chuckle to myself.

How like Lucia I am! Yet without the innocence of her infant mix-ups. What God has given me for a certain purpose I use in the wrong way, trying to find soul-comfort where there is none. Like food and sleep and “me time”. An organized home, uninterrupted phone conversations, babies who never cry, clothes that flatter, a post-pregnancy body that matches my pre-pregnancy one … the list goes on and on. And God must look at me, thinking, “No – that’s not the purpose! She is trying to find soul-rest and comfort in created things, not me. Gifts I give her have replaced me, the Giver. Meant to be enjoyed in their place. But she will never find the true comfort she seeks from these things.” I am to find comfort in Him and utilize His gifts for their purpose. But I reverse that, using God to try to get what I want and seeking comfort in His gifts. And because He is my compassionate Father as well as my God, He gently replaces my items of false comfort with Himself, the true Comforter. Again He issues the invitation to my heart,

“Come … all you who are weary and heavy burdened … find rest for your souls … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)


Worrying or watching?

Since I seem to be in a season of reading (v. writing – see this post), you will be the recipient of yet another quote. My mom actually sent this to me. As a perpetual worry-er, I find this such a sweet reminder of the God in whom I trust:

When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worrying to watching. You watch God weave His patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see Him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again.

(from Paul Miller’s excellent book on prayer, “A Praying Life“)

So how do I know if I am worrying or watching? I am anxiously trying to manage every detail of my out-of-control life when I am worrying, in contrast to working diligently on what’s set before me today and praying about the details that concern me. And then restfully waiting (watching) to see how God will work out the details that I am tempted to obsess about. [The obsession itself is quite fruitless — as Jesus speaks about in Luke’s gospel: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”]

When I am worrying, I am more concerned about me and less concerned about others. When I am watchful, I am eager to see God write my own story as well as weave together my friends’ stories. Worry shrinks my world to the size of me; being watchful expands my vision in proportion to the world-wide scope of God’s Kingdom. Worry means I am reading the Bible with unbelief and cynicism (if I am reading the Bible at all). When I am watchful with wonder, I read the Bible believing that these words and these stories and these promises are extremely relevant to my life today — and will actually assist me in making sense of the present and trusting God for the future.

And, as Paul Miller highlights in this quote, when I am worrying I am almost never praying. When I am praying, I will be watchful – trusting my Father who is good and faithful to take care of what concerns me.

favorite quotes from “The Horse and His Boy” (C.S. Lewis)

While on a road trip to South Carolina a few weekends ago, I listened to the audio version of “The Horse and His Boy,” one of C.S. Lewis’ books in the beloved Narnian Chronicles. It paints a beautiful picture of redemption – of Shasta’s journey from slavery to freedom, from being owned by another to discovering his royal identity. It truly becomes a metaphor for those who are Christ-followers. Enjoy a few of my favorite “nuggets”:

[Aslan to Shasta toward the end of the book] “There was only one lion … I was the lion … who forced you to join Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

[to Shasta when he questions Aslan and asks for an explanation for Aravis’ story] “Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

Advent meditations week 4/Christmas: love

As I am surrounded by loving family this Christmas, it is not hard to reflect on the love of God in Christ this holiday is meant to celebrate. Yet I know that for so many, Christmas becomes a painful reminder of the absence of love. Perhaps it’s the memory of a loved one who has passed away. Or maybe it’s physical distance from one(s) you love. Or emotional/relational distance due to conflict or feuding. Into this pain that the word “love” can hold, the beauty of Christ our Redeemer becomes even more powerful. Here is one whose love is eternal in measure, depth, quality, essence. No good-bye is ever forever; no fighting will cause conflict too great for reconciliation; there is even hope for life beyond death.

Where? And how? The promise of God is no haphazard well-meaning wish. It’s a covenant of Love guaranteed by blood. The blood of his son, Jesus, sent to earth as a vulnerable baby. Birthed in a cave. Cradled in a feeding trough. Celebrated by lowly shepherds. Rejoiced over by angels. Worshiped by kings from the East. Despised by the king (Herod) in his homeland. Anticipated by a prophet (Simeon) and a prophetess (Anna) in the temple. Announced by the prophet Zephaniah centuries beforehand, who spoke this about this one who would come to bring eternal Love. Listen and rejoice that there is such a Love – found through a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ: [substitute “daughter of Zion,” “Israel,” “Jerusalem” with your name]

14Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:”Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

18I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,

so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

19Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the LORD.