Truth telling for Moms

I’m a mom who daily lives under a rock of guilt and failure.

I haven’t given my six-year-old siblings to play with.

 I haven’t worked hard enough (or at all) today on his developmental skills.

 He’s spending too much time in front of electronics.

 I could do this all day.

 

I don’t know if it’s because Jesse has Autism and is an only child that I put this added pressure on myself, or if all moms do this. I suspect we each have our areas we struggle in, the lies we tell ourselves. When I stop the merry-go-round of all the ways I’m failing as a mom, God is gracious to help me fight with truth.

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The truth is, my son operates differently than other kids and so his activities and interests will look different as well. The truth is, I’m doing a great job as his mom, but I’m not perfect either. God knows this. The Lord didn’t wait until I had my act together before He gave me a son. It is in the process of raising him that I am sanctified!

The truth is, I am already “enough” as a mom, wife, friend and woman because Christ is enough and He lives in me. Condemnation has no place here. When I remember this, I breathe easier again, my shoulders begin to relax and I get to enjoy my son instead of focusing on all the ways I don’t measure up.

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If I stay hunkered down in guilt, I can’t clearly see the amazing blessings right in front of me. God holds out this wonderful gift and I reject not only the gifts of freedom and joy, but God Himself when I’m wrapped up in my own shortcomings.

Mom life is hard, but the truth is He gave you and me specific children, with distinct personalities and skills, to love, nourish, and raise for His glory. We get to teach them about the Lord who is our life.

             Our kids are gifts to enjoy, little lessons to learn from, means of sanctification. Preach this truth to yourself today when you feel like waving the white flag. God gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for the least of these, right in our own tribe.

It first starts with us loving Him as our ultimate treasure. That’s the place where we parent well and do anything well. Our relationship and growing love for the Lord will overflow on whatever else we put our hands to do today. We learn that even when we mess up or they do, there is grace and forgiveness extended vertically and horizontally. We start to live the message of the cross and that is the truth we need to tell ourselves everyday.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Epiphanies & Favorites

 

 

Winter can be blah after the holidays are over. January and February feel bleak, cold and gray. This winter was unusually warm though, with a few spring-like days sprinkled in almost each week here in Alabama. I do like winter because I enjoy hibernating under a cozy blanket with a cup of coffee. However, on days that felt especially claustrophobic those unexpected days of sunshine were a breath of fresh air. A few other things this season made the winter months more pleasant. I made a list of 7 things I enjoyed or learned these past few months. Maybe you’ll find something on here to check out for yourself or just find encouragement.

 

  1. Glorious in the Mundane podcast by Christy Nockels

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I stumbled upon this back in December and have listened to every. single. episode. Christy has the wonderful ability to communicate her heart to her listeners. Her love for the Lord is undeniable. It’s in every episode. Plus she also interviews guests like Chris Tomlin, Beth Moore, Ellie Holcomb and Matt Redman. She encourages me to live out my faith with vulnerability and humility.

 

2. Write it down

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A friend gave me a sweet pink journal last month. It’s The Simplified Journal  by Emily Ley. The front cover says: “I will hold myself to a standard of Grace not perfection.” I love that quote. Plus it’s an organized journal which for me, helps declutter my brain in each proper section. I don’t know about you, but I can’t internalize things for very long or else things start to go very, very wrong. So writing down thoughts, feelings, or occasions can be a good practice. I even write out prayers sometimes so when I go back and read some of the entries, it is amazing to see how the Lord has worked in specific situations.

 

3. ‘The Crown’ on Netflix

This show is a look into Queen Elizabeth II’s life when she takes the throne upon her father’s untimely death. I love British monarch dramas and this didn’t disappoint. If anything, tune in to see John Lithgow play Winston Churchill. The man should win an Emmy.

 

4. Tavern Style Pot Roast for the win

Campbell’s Tavern Style Pot Roast sauce is going to change your life. I’m being a little dramatic but it is the easiest cooking you’ll ever do and dinner will be amazing. With this, you just plop a roast in the slow cooker and pour this sauce over it and you are done.

 

5. Permission to nap

I recently realized why I prefer summer vacation to the school year. When my five year old, Jesse, has rest/quiet time at home during the day I also give myself time to rest. But in the school year it feels like laziness. Why is that? Learning to be still is hard but I’m understanding that times of rest are necessary too and even productive, just in a different way.

 

6. Flowers make me happy

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I started buying flowers on sale in December to spruce up the dining room table. I do this about once a month as a small treat to myself. Now they usually go up on the mantel and just make me smile. Sometimes little things can make a big impact. It’s something I look forward to buying now. And if you live near an Aldi store, they usually have a small arrangement of flowers super cheap! Have I ever mentioned how much I love Aldi??

 

7. Becoming a planner is a good thing

I am not a natural planner or details oriented. I would rather leave that to someone else and just go with the flow. But that doesn’t always happen and if there is something fun or interesting I’d like to do then a plan of action must be set in motion. Sometimes I need to be the one to make it happen and invite someone else along. I did this recently by attending the Broken + Free tour in Nashville, and asking a friend to go with me. We had a fabulous time!

 

So is there anything you loved or learned over the winter? Every season Emily Freeman hosts all bloggers to join and share their seasonal favorites. I always find something new or interesting from someone else’s perspective, which is why I like linking up to her blog for these special posts.

 

Sometimes we do need to take time to look back, for a mental inventory of things we can be thankful for or encouraged by, even in the hardest of moments or seasons of life. Spring is just around the corner and I’m anticipating it, but I hope not to write off Winter too quickly either. That’s the lesson I want to learn: to find gratitude and beauty in every literal season and seasons of life.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grace in the cracks

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Before Jesse was 8 months old he had no trouble sleeping. What I mean is, he slept like every other baby. In the early months, a couple times a night he would wake to nurse. Then came a few longer stretches of sleep. Usually rocking would work or the amazing mechanical baby-swing. Wind it up and he was as good as gold.

I thought we were nearing the edge of the woods in the sleep deprivation world. My mom always said you can endure anything as long as it doesn’t last forever. Her words rang in my ears those 3 a.m. nights that seemed endless.

And yet, somewhere around Christmas his sleeping habits grew worse, and so did mine. Frustrated and foggy-brained, I went into survival mode. Just make it through this day. Steal sleep in the cracks. An hour here, a cat nap there, or just close my eyes for a few minutes.

As Jesse out grew the baby-swing, he struggled to sleep through the night. When rocking didn’t work even his naps grew shorter. He woke up crying most days and I scooped him up, weary and defeated, to cradle him on my chest while we both laid on the couch.

Jesse would often finish his naps cuddled safely in my arms. This forced me to stop everything else and just rest and be present. His breathing became steady and calm again, as I watched his little body relax into sleep. It was in these moments two verses came to mind as I marveled over God’s way of taking care of me:

 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters”

 Psalm 23:2

 

“He gives strength to the weary and

increases the power of the weak”

 Isaiah 40:29

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            God made me physically rest when I needed to. He does this in a way that isn’t militant or harsh, but lovingly.

Tenderly.

Like a Shepherd over His sheep, God knows what is best for us before we do. And I remember laughing over the irony. I was trying to help Jesse rest as God helped me rest. I was a child in need of a nap!

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We sometimes forget how important physical rest is and that it can affect our spiritual health as well. We think we can “do it all”. It humbled me to find out that I can’t. Something has to give. It was about this time that Jason and I started praying at night for Jesse, and for us as well, to have the gift of sleep. I didn’t realize sleep as a precious gift until it was taken away.

And rest came in ways I didn’t expect. Even though the nights were still interrupted with Jesse’s hyperactivity, God’s grace took shape on that couch during nap time. There were dishes in the sink, laundry to be washed, and a list of to-do items, but the only thing that mattered was the only job I had in that moment: to be still.

And that was enough.

The Lord taught me that I often forget how much I need Him to take care of me as I take care of the sweet, autistic son He has entrusted to me. God delights in ministering to our hearts as well as our physical bodies! He reminds me that He will provide grace even in the cracks.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Delight of Duty

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Some of us make New Year’s resolutions to signal a fresh start or to throw off last year’s excesses and failures. Something I’ve done the past few years is to pick a word to meditate on. My senses are heightened as I notice the word popping up in whatever I’m reading or listening to.

In 2015 it was ‘grace’, which was partly responsible for the birth of this blog. Last year’s word was ‘joy’ and for 2017 it is ‘delight’. Now, I know that joy and delight are very similar. Here’s where I make the distinction: Joy is a picture of what I want my Christian life to look like. That continues to be a life-long journey. Delight, on the other hand, is focused on how I love God. Do I delight in Him? His Word? I want to take pleasure in knowing Him more. Again, this too is a life-long journey and isn’t tied in a pretty pink bow at the end of the year. But it’s a start.

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”
-Psalm 119:35

I prayed about having something to help me desire God, out of duty AND love! I forget that we are commanded to delight in the One who created us and keeps us alive with every heart beat, every breath we take. Just as I enjoy spending time with my son and husband, I learn to love God deeply when I find my pleasure in Him. John Piper terms this as Christian Hedonism. Jonathan Edwards personally resolved, “to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can”. That obtaining happiness in God starts now for the believer, whose real life didn’t even begin until the moment of salvation.

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I’m hoping to practice my delight in God this side of heaven, learning of His character, and trusting Him even when life is hard or I don’t understand the circumstances. God graciously showed me last year that I was still striving “to be good enough” for Him instead of just enjoying His love, His goodness, His presence within me. I was angry in the moment, when God laid me low, but now I look back and see it was all a work of His kindness. God continues to be faithful even when I am not. That is grace and in looking back over my personal experiences with the Lord, I now can delight in Him!
This doesn’t mean that all of life is fluff, butterflies and unicorns. Life is still full of disappointments, sorrow and pain. Douglas Wilson, pastor and apologist, discusses delight as:

“true joviality […] as an act of defiance […] It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier […] We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.”
(The Romantic Rationalist p.166)

I have not always thought this way. I tend to get frustrated with people who don’t see things “my way”, even if my thinking is aligned with Truth. If I’m not delighting in God, then I’m not worshipping Him, and where there is no worship there can be no joy. If I am not joyful, then who wants to listen to what I have to say anyway?

Wilson elaborates that we don’t live as schizophrenic believers either. We “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Christians know how it all ends and that is our hope. Delight has many faces, I’m learning. We can comfort the hurting and celebrate with the joyful because God is our ultimate satisfaction.

 

“Let thy unexampled love constrain me into
holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.”
(Valley of Vision p.213)

 

Grace upon grace,
April