Saturday, October 7, 2017

You're Awesome

Have you ever just longed for an encouraging word? Felt so discouraged in your soul, that you just pray that God would put someone across your path to lift you up? “Please, anyone, I need a word of encouragement!” I inwardly cry out, without verbalizing the need to anyone in the flesh.  At times when I’m feeling weary with the sleepless nights of young motherhood, long days of working, and juggling all the balls we juggle as parents, I just ask the Lord to give me a word. Just anything that is a message from Him, to me, through a fellow human on earth.

I must admit that Sunday mornings can be trying times as a mom with a quiver full of 4 adorable, yet challenging young ones. With my husband serving on the greeting team at church from set up around 7:30 am til tear down, mid afternoon, that often means that I’m on my own to get our 4 kids (did I mention we have 4 kids? And yes we know where babies come from) fed, dressed, and out the door. On time…well that’s the goal anyway. Some mornings, my “big three” will get along quite nicely, nicely, and pick out their own mismatched clothes with pride, (I choose my battles wisely and am grateful for a flip flops are the “norm” church) and things click along fairly routinely. But for things to go smoothly without hiccups, it’s more of the exception than the rule for our Sundays. Most Sundays before church, I’m often breaking up fights over broken Legos, who ate the last piece of sausage, or who let the baby crawl up the steps unattended. On mornings that are stressful, I have been known to lose my you know what, and briefly, but abruptly scream in the smelly soccer socks strewn mini-van on the way to worship, and threaten to pull over the vehicle before I can’t see straight to drive. Fortunately, within a few minutes, and when they settle down with deer in the headlights eyeballs after mommy just raised her voice, I compose myself, apologize for overreacting (while still explaining the “why” behind my brief madness) and keep driving in the direction we need to go, but it’s not always a rosy picture or a heart focused on the Lord, pre-worship experience. So, one morning, after a rough go at a start to the day of “rest,” I finally arrive, barely on time to church with my brood of 4, hurriedly check them into childcare, and have my brightly colored, yet baby drool stained church tee on and externally ready to “serve” with a smile on my face, and tears hidden to all behind my eyes. And praying that no one asks me, “How are you…REALLY?” I forgot my waterproof mascara. On the outside I’m looking and smelling so recently showered in millennial approved skinny jeans with cuffs rolled, TOMS, and coordinating long tassel necklace, but on the inside I’m thinking, “I am a horrible person. I just yelled at my kids on the way to God’s house of all places, and muttered a few bad words under my breath. Not the worst of the bad words, mind you, but words that shouldn’t be silently whispered across my lips at 9 in the morning, preparing my heart to worship and serve in the Kingdom. Ugh. I am horrible. Lord, give me some sort of encouragement, because I just want to crawl into a hole and cry. Or sleep. Sleep would be nice.” Those are my thoughts as I smile and greet newcomers coming in the door, ushering them to their pre-ordained seats, as the worship band music plays triumphantly, and I grin, nod, and say, “Good morning, we’re so glad you’re here!”, my mind still racing about the terrible morning I just experienced with my miniature sinners, I mean blessings on my day “off.” I think, “Lord, this is my time to reflect on you and your goodness, and your mercy and love. Why does it have to be such a trying time, every FREAKING Sunday??” I’m exasperated.  The music plays on with another upbeat song, and I contemplate the lyrics, that He is a good, good Father. He is- and I know He is, but I am still really longing for some of His goodness, right NOW before I have a panic attack walking people to their seats. Then, a friend brushes by me, touches the small of my back, and whispers, “You’re awesome,” and keeps walking.  As I stood in the back of the dimly lit auditorium and serve, and fake smile through my coffee stained teeth, with pain and hurt behind my eyes, and greet others to make them feel welcome, I’m awesome. Tears well up more, but this time in the best way possible. And I know that God gave her a word for me in that moment. Thank you Father. Thanks for that word. He is a good, good Father, that gives good gifts to His children, and in that moment, I needed to know by another human, that God thinks I’m awesome. I’m not the perfect mom, wife, or volunteer. But I obeyed, even in my weakness and said, “Yes,” to God when asked to greet on His behalf and for His glory, and showed up to serve in His Kingdom on earth, and I’m making a difference, one, “Good morning,” at a time. And because He’s good, Jesus declares me awesome. Not by my works, but by His spotless life, death and resurrection.

That was just a moment in time, one foggy memory of a Sunday morning, and weeks have gone by now, but the words have stuck with me. “You’re awesome. “ Me. I’m awesome. The Lord wanted to speak to my discouraged, broken heart, that in the midst of this beautiful mess in our hard, but cherished family years, He made me, and I’m enough. I’m awesome. Not perfect. Not without fault, but my Father still sees me for whom He made me to be, through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross, a new creation. Awesome. Wow. Thank you Lord. And thank you Jesus with skin on, my friend who spoke those words into being.

As I ponder that moment of encouragement now, I think, why do I not speak more into other’s lives like that? I try, and do sparingly, but not as freely and generously as I should. The Holy Spirit often speaks softly in my ear, and sometimes I listen, and sometimes I obey. One day at a shaved ice stand with our family, He told me, “Hey, tell that mom you like her hair.” What? Why? She has a mix of brunette and gray hair, youth mingled with age. I hesitate and think, that compliment, though well intended, may sound weird to her.  “Just trust me, she needs the encouragement, right now. You know who you are, but she needs to hear who she is in Christ.  She is beautiful.”  As we sat shoulder to shoulder at brightly stained with rainbow colored syrup picnic tables I turned my head and made eye contact with a mom around my own age. The sun was beaming down upon us, melting our colorful iced treats, as our kids loudly slurped, and I sheepishly verbalized a direct compliment about her hair being naturally beautiful in color. Immediately her face lit up with joy. She smiled, touched her salt and pepper hair and blushed, and thanked me graciously. The mom of two proceeded to tell me the story of how she went gray pre-maturely in her 20s and has dyed it for years, battling her roots that had betrayed her, until recently when she finally took the plunge to be naturally speckled and gray. And confessed that she was beginning to love this new found freedom, from the dye bottle, but still felt like she didn’t recognize herself in the mirror. This fellow human, heart pumping with feelings and emotions, said she really was thankful for me noticing, and we exchanged names, children’s schools, the usual suspect mom demographics, and genuine smiles and laughs, and went along our way as our kids licked the sides of their sticky cups. “How hard was that?” says the Spirit to me. I internally reply, well, not difficult at all, and quite a delightful Spirit led exchange, I must admit. “Then do more of this; it’s a free gift to others who need my love and encouragement.” I understood, and we went on with our kid centric day of whines until melt down, then recovery, and creative dinners of “must-gos” aka leftovers, too tired to cook.

Words. Words mean things, my husband often tells our sponge-like children. Well, isn’t that obvious? It should be, but we don’t always live this practice out for the good of the hearer. Words can tear down, or build up. Words are free, but costly. Words have weight to them, for the good or evil. Why are we often so free with using the weighty words on social media, our tongues lashing out through the taps of a tablet, yet we are not as free with our words of encouragement to build others up? We can easily point out what all is wrong in the world, and how someone else should fix it, yet, we are so hesitant to build one another up with our words, both written and spoken. Our words are heavily guarded as if we have only so many compliments, words of encouragement, or positive things to say before we run out. So we keep any positive dialogue close to our chest where it is safe, and we don’t share the words that may be the idea or phrase someone is longing for someone to tell them. We as fellow humans experiencing life together, have this verbal gift, and we withhold. Why? Do we think that by saying something kind, we will somehow have our own invisible super power weakened, like Superman being too close to the feared kryptonite?  I’ve found that when I know who I am in Christ, a new creation, daughter of the Most High, dearly loved and cherished, I am free to give. Give with my words, knowing it’s in no way taking away from who I am in Christ. I know who I am, but I am called to point out something beautiful, noble or noteworthy in someone else, that they may be questioning as worthy or not. A lot of times, I believe, we as earth dwellers, are walking around, experiencing life together, wondering, “Am I awesome?” Everyone else may look like they have it together, but we internally wonder, “If someone else sees that I’m worthy, I’d believe it. But until then… I’m feeling discouraged. Depressed. Anxious. Unworthy. Anything but awesome.”

I challenge you my friends, see the awesome. And speak it into being.  Listen for the Holy Spirit to show you the things that make someone unique. Know who you are in Christ, so that you may freely give gifts of verbal encouragement. Point out the good you see in others. Maybe you see that someone is a natural with children on the soccer fields, and would make a great coach. By speaking it, you may give that person the confirmation to do the thing he or she is thinking of, to volunteer next season and coach and mentor young kids learning the game. It may be a young lady who always has her makeup done flawlessly. You may assume that she knows she’s gorgeous, good at this art form, but never assume. Speak up and tell her what talent she has in artistically applying make up, and you may be the one to encourage her to go into cosmetology, her passion. Our family saw a young man working at a burger joint with clear leadership skills and an amazing work ethic, every time we went into the restaurant. My husband spoke life into this young man, and told him the potential he had to become a Marine and months down the road, he graduated at the top of his class at Marine boot camp, from those words of recognition as a springboard to success.

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

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

Think life. Then, speak life. See the gray hairs of life, the beautiful imperfections, and verbalize them to a perfect stranger. You never know what may spring forth from your words of encouragement. When in doubt, always let someone know, that Jesus has made them, awesome.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Parenting is hard.

I love being a mother. As a young child people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would often say without hesitation, "I want to be a mommy when I grow up!" I meant that truly. It did not mean I didn't have aspirations for any other things, but to me that was my highest calling. Motherhood. Fast forward 30 years later and I am a mother of four beautiful children, ages spanning from 9 years to 4 months old. The Lord has blessed our family immensely. They are so precious and healthy and well, in fact, that I often feel like I don't have the right to even confess or utter some of my own struggles of motherhood.

Lately I've run into fellow frazzled mothers that are trying so hard and wearing  themselves out in their parenting years. It is all consuming. Nursing around the clock and feeling like a human pacifier,  separating fights among siblings like a WWE referee, making nutritious meals like Rachael Ray, doing laundry at midnight so your child can wear their favorite shirt the next day, doing homework with your child that melts down at the very thought of a double digit addition problem, and putting the human boomerangs back to bed for the bazillionth time that night. "Just one last hug!" (Insert sigh here). I see common threads of reward and exhilaration for being a loving and diligent mother, and yet also exhaustion, overwhelming frustration, and downright discouragement too. We wouldn't trade our roles as mothers to our children for anything in the world. It is a priceless honor. And yet, we often feel guilty for even muttering the words, "This is hard." Parenting is hard. I will admit it. It's not that any one task is difficult, but the accumulation of daily tasks day after day that seem to pile up and often lead to a potential mental breakdown when we're not proactive about taking care of ourown needs. You know the old adage of putting on your own oxygen mask before you can help others to put their own mask oxygen on in order to not pass out. But who has time for that, right?? I know I am guilty of not putting mine on first. Too busy to care for my own needs when there is a baby crying and lunches to be made. Who's with me?!

The other night, I was parenting my 4 young kiddos without my husband who was in a night class, and all was going fairly well until a routine brotherly squabble was the straw that broke the camels back. And I was the camel. I hadn't realized that my own tension was mounting as high as it had been. It's hard to explain until you go through it. The littlest infraction that your child does seems to send you into a tailspin. Looking back, I can think with a level head that it wasn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment it's huge. Huuuge. In the heat of the moment, you feel the physiological effects of anger or frustration with your heart racing, your body temperature increasing and your patience leaving. Fast. Often times you mentally feel like you could snap or crumble. Your rational side has gone by the wayside. And I know for you, mom, in those moments it's huge for you too. It's easy for an outsider looking in and think that you're overreacting with your feelings of frustration. But just like a small dripping faucet, at first it doesn't bother you, but eventually the constant sound makes you feel like you're going insane. Bonkers. To the nut house! (Even when in reality, it's just a moment of frustration and not worthy of a medical diagnosis!) Parenting is hard. After my "breaking point" the other day, I had to walk outside (with baby still safely attached in my sling) to take a deep breath (or 2 or 12) cry out to the Lord for help and clarity of thought, and I walked back in to what seemed like the lions den...when in fact the children were repentant and eager to make things right. Thank. You. Jesus. (And the thoughtful husband even came home with flowers and a sweet and funny card after I texted him what a mentally tough night it had been.)

Sometimes we need that time to pause and step away from a tense parenting situation, and I'm here to say: You're not the only one. A lot of times as mothers (or fathers!) we think that everyone else has it all together. They have all their ducks in a row. Except you. That is a lie from Satan. No one has the corner on the market of perfect parenting. We are all doing our best and some just appear to be doing it better than others. Or maybe they just have a larger range of parental perspective to realize that this too shall pass. But I will tell you that you, dear friend, have a unique gift that the other mother across the street may not have. God made us all with different talents and abilities and ways to nurture our children. He gave us the children he gave us for a reason. You're the exact mother that they need. They don't need Susie homemaker to be their mother. They need you. Even if that means they get Happy Meals more often than you'd like to admit. And that's ok. They will survive! You have their best interest at heart. You, dear one, are chosen by God to be His adopted daughter, redeemed and loved for eternity. He sees you as you nurture your babies as they're sick throughout the night. He sees you as you're picking up toys under the couch once again with knees crackling, and He sees you as you kiss them on the head when they are finally resting peacefully. And He created you to be the loving mother that you are, by His grace and mercy. The Lord sings over you even in the moments where you feel like you are at your weakest. When you feel like you have nothing left to give, He is still there and He has not left you. Motherhood can be a lonely place when we don't make a point to find community and discover that listening ear when we are physically present with another person that gets it. God created us with the need for relationships with those who can lift one another up, and even when it means getting out of your comfort zones, we need to do it. We have to step out and be vulnerable because I've learned from experience that it's not a good place to stay in the mode of self-pity, even when it seems justified. It's vital for our mental health and well-being to have relationships with other mothers especially in this difficult season. After nurturing your relationship with the Lord, and a healthy marriage with your spouse, your oxygen mask may be a coffee break to share your heart with a neighbor, running a 5K with a motivated friend, or a splurging for a much needed pedicure with your bestie. You know what you need to refuel.

And it's OK to admit that parenting is hard. But God is there giving you strength along the way and the Lord sees YOU and all you're doing to raise your children to love God and keep his commandments. I encourage you today to reach out to a friend or neighbor just like you wish someone had done for you on your most difficult times. We all have those days and most likely a friend is having that moment right now where they might need you. Listen to the Holy Spirit as He often lays friends on our hearts for a reason. And after that connection, they will be more likely to be there for you when you need it too, as great friendships rooted in Christ blossom and grow. I believe that's a win-win situation.

Ecclesiastes 4:12
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.