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

 

 

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 Life We Never Expected

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          The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson is an honest confession inside a home with two special needs children – both have different forms of autism. The Wilsons write about real life experiences mingled with sadness and hope. They taught me that it is okay to grieve the dreams I had envisioned for my son; the things all parents look forward to for their kids: little league sports, college, independent living, marriage and grandchildren. Some of those may eventually come true, but right now a typical life is not one of them.

Andrew, a pastor in the UK, is transparent with his own struggles, coming to terms with the life he never expected. All the “big” ministry opportunities he envisioned, traditional parenting, and a regular life, was thrown out the window. Rachel writes in a vulnerable voice, acknowledging that this is hard and messy; but they find moments of humor and sweetness too.

Having a child with any kind of disability is isolating. I feel like I’m in a foreign land most days, unable to relate to another parent’s struggles because we are on completely different plains. When I’m not in the right mindset seeing my son’s typical peers wrecks me. This book has been a lifeline to help me remember that I am not alone. Sleepless night after night? Yes. Multiple therapy appointments? Yes. Hyperactivity, missed social cues, and seizures? Yes, yes, yes. Sometimes it’s comforting to identify with someone else going through a similar situation. I highly recommend this book as an oasis for any parent with a special needs child. Furthermore, family, friends, and the church can glean a helpful inside look on what daily life is like in upside down parenting.

The hope Andrew and Rachel possess as believers is contagious. They live with a mindset focused on eternity – in a world free from autism, epilepsy, wheelchairs, tube feeding, or any kind of suffering. One day their precious children (and mine) will have fully functioning minds where normal conversation is possible. One day they will be finally and completely healed. The Wilsons have given me a breath of fresh air with their raw and truthful words. For that I am grateful.

Here is an excerpt from Rachel:

“We are, at best, sailing desperately into the fog, with ever-changing winds, choppy waters, blank maps, and no real idea what we’re doing.

But God is the Captain. He is the navigator, mapmaker, and expert […] as uncertain as our voyage is, there are solid landmarks ahead that are knowable and concrete because of the Captain.

[…] I know He will journey with us to the very end, at which point everything that is perishable and incomplete will be gloriously resurrected and healed.

So I fix my eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen. And I take a deep breath.” (p. 148)

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

Confessions of a childless stay-at-home mom

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I have floundered this first full week of school- what to do with myself, what I’m good for, that type of thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom without a child now from 8-2:30 roughly. Am I lazy? Do I have anything else to offer in society?  I start examining the world’s standards of what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and the toxic game of comparison begins.

Even stay-at-home moms with children ALL DAY find the time and/or desire to volunteer in the community, teach Sunday school, work part-time from home and attend a Bible study.

So here’s me the jellyfish just floating through life – well its how it feels anyway. What do you do when you feel like you don’t matter? Go out and get a job? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Those are wonderful things, mind you, I just don’t feel the need to do them personally. Am I “just a mom”? Or can I be more than that? Is it enough and can I learn contentment in being at home even when I have no one to mother during the day?

My work seems small and meager.

Invisible, insignificant.

…And that’s okay.

Most of the inner workings of the world go on without any fanfare, recognition, or even so much as a “thank you”. My self-worth is not wrapped up in what I do, how many plates I can keep spinning at once, but who I am in Christ.

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Shortly after winning their silver medals in synchronized diving, Olympic athletes David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked by a reporter about their mindset with each dive. They admitted the pressure was intense to compete well, but that their identity is in Christ and not what they accomplish on the diving board. These young Olympians are secure in their worth because it isn’t tied to this world.

We may not be remembered in history (or win medals) for washing a pile of laundry, cooking dinner, or picking up our kids from school, but what will remain is how we reflected God’s character toward others. Whether your audience is one million or one, how you live should ultimately please the Ultimate One.

No one else has your life.

God gave it to you and the people in it to make much of Him, not yourself. There is a season and a time for everything. Thank God for the really good, the really hard, the really lonely, and the really ordinary times. As we focus on Jesus Christ, He will lead us, and our lives will culminate into worshipful living. Go to the Source of Life when you feel meaningless (or at least your work) and ask the Spirit to bless the work of your hands.

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Because when it’s all said and done, the most important thing you can do with your life is to pursue God and live out the faith you’ve been given. So for today? Enjoy God and His good gifts, big and small. Simply trust that in our unworthiness, Christ made us worthy of our calling. You are loved by God, and He is faithful to sustain you wherever He has placed your feet.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Missional Summertime

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This summer is already the best one yet as a mom who is now turning the corner to having a “big kid”. It is also the hardest, by far. His five-year-old curiosity and energy level daily leaves toys littered on every surface in the house. The floors stay dirty and the laundry list of things to do besides the actual laundry is high. I just have one child, but he always seems to be right under me – like in the kitchen, while I’m making dinner – when kids have the ability to multiply themselves to be everywhere at once.

In the school year there is more time to myself, so the summer schedule is taking some adjustment. But I love it. My little guy and I get to set our own itinerary (aside from naps, those are still essential) and we step out the door exploring our own backyard, neighborhood, and hometown. Days are filled with lingering at the local botanical garden, swimming at the Y, visiting the playground and trips to our library, which has an awesome children’s section.

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It’s a balance of playing with him, getting regular housework done (or attempting to), and still trying to maintain my sanity, staying human. Jesse is learning to entertain himself more, which is huge. But because he is an only child I want to make sure we have time together. In a lot of ways at this stage I am his main friend/playmate. It won’t always be like this so it takes effort to be cognizant, soaking it in.

Yes some days are super hard. I’m exhausted, he’s tired, it’s too hot outside and patience wears thin as whining rises high. Yes, on those days I just want to go be by myself in a room with some great air conditioning.

But that isn’t the whole story.

Other days, sometimes in the same day, are magical moments – pure childhood fun.

We take walks; he holds my hand. We set up the plastic pins to bowl in the kitchen alley, followed by eruptions of cheer. He cools off in the sprinkler, enjoying it for the first time this year and I sit back watching him marvel over the simple things.

Growing up I took those summers for granted, thinking I’d have them always. There is something unique about this season for a child. It is a time of transition, growing up, learning by play.

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Moms, the struggle is real and I’m not minimizing that, but I know I too often suck the joy out of each day with my complaining. We set the tone for our homes and if the kids see us short-tempered and even resentful, they’ll get the message.

Summertime is actually harder than the rest of the year, but its priceless time too. You and I have the opportunity to pour into their sponge-like minds and impressionable young hearts. Parents have the classroom 24/7 right now. What do you want them to learn from you in these few short months? What will they take away from this summer?

I’m finding that the reason this season is challenging stems from learning to daily die to self. Moms feel like they are constantly giving of themselves – making breakfast, picking up toys so we don’t break our necks, grocery shopping, sharpening our parenting skills, trying to make wise decisions on the fly.

I know you want to honor the Lord in how you raise your kids. I know you want them to love Jesus like you do. I know you hope your little ones (or maybe not so little anymore) will love God’s Word. And all of this begins with our example. The responsibility feels heavy, but also freeing as we live into the identity Christ gave us. Motherhood is our ministry; our families are the people we serve. Do they see Jesus in us? This summer, you have that time.

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All women, whether you have children of your own or not, have the joy of missional motherhood:

“Every Christian woman is called to the spiritual motherhood of making disciples of all nations.”

-Gloria Furman

We have a great opportunity during the summer months, when life is slower, and pockets of time are free. I hope you don’t get caught in a rut like I have recently of hurrying these next few weeks along. I don’t want to just meet my son’s outward needs of food and clothing, or just marking time. I want to get to his heart too. But you and I can’t do this alone. Ask the Lord to help you. Ask Him to provide strength each day. The most important thing we can teach the children in our care is to show them Jesus.

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Gloria Furman, author of Missional Motherhood, writes, “Jesus invites women to missional motherhood to follow His pattern, to trust His promises, and to nurture others by the power He provides.” The best sermon we can preach is the one lived out at home. There are a little over a dozen summers you have with your kids before they lose that valuable freedom. Use it well and enjoy the very good gift of childhood summers.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

6 Things Every Special Needs Parent Wishes You Knew

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“but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” -Romans 5:3-5

 

I hesitate to even write something like this because I can see how it would easily be interpreted as complaining. However, I think that sometimes when one can serve as the voice for many to be heard, it is beneficial for all. I have met other parents with special needs children and while our stories don’t look exactly alike, this list I think addresses issues most parents feel. Even parents with typically developing kids will identify on some points.

Children are a blessing from the Lord, and as we learn what struggles each of us face, “to walk in one’s shoes” so to speak, maybe there can be room in our hearts for patience, compassion, encouragement, and even prayer toward one another.

 

  1. We often feel overwhelmed mentally.

Feeling physically exhausted goes with the territory of any parent with small children. And you do sometimes feel like you will lose your ever lovin’ mind. But raising a special needs child is especially mentally taxing. There is a steep learning curve for parents to learn medical language for example. There are encounters with neonatologists, neurologists, audiologists, optometrists, GI specialists, geneticists, podiatrists, sleep specialists, along with his general pediatrician.

Then we learn the ropes (and jargon) for therapy with Early Intervention, the “experts” in Autism (or whatever the disability), speech, occupational, physical, and playgroups. We find out what our insurance will and will not cover, and then play phone tag with the insurance companies.

Parents with special needs children are later immersed into the world of education (and there’s a whole set of special terms to learn here as well). Obviously we want the best for our child, and I am personally grateful for the educational opportunities we have been given. But this also involves 2-3 hour long IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings with your child’s “team” to write out goals and services for him that are legally binding.

Sometimes when we don’t agree with the educational team about his placement or switching schools (again) there is push back. We are their advocates and sometimes that requires fighting “the system” to do what we feel is best for our child.

Most children with Autism have sleeping problems (as high as 80%). This affects not just the child, but also everyone else in the house. Parents are sleep deprived long past the newborn stage and are expected to function as if nothing is wrong.

 

  1. We worry about our child’s lack of development

We wonder if they will ever become independently functional. What will happen if one or both parents die? What will happen to her once she becomes an adult? Will I still be able to care for her?

Worrying about the future is fruitless because no one knows the future except God. But the fears still haunt us and for me it calls for daily trust in the One who designed my child.

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  1. It can feel very isolating

We can’t carry on the same conversations with other parents about our kids. While yours is playing tee-ball and learning about rockets, mine just learned to drink from an open cup without spilling. We celebrate in a big way those little milestones because it’s a small step toward progress for him.

I have to work at not feeling angry or cursed in isolation just because others “don’t get it”. Honestly, it isn’t their job to understand my situation although it would be nice. I have to remember that Jesus sees me and He has carried us through so far. When Christ lived on earth He was misunderstood and even rejected. The Lord sympathizes with my heart.

 

  1. We love our kids!

It pains us to see them struggle or not quite fit in but its just part of the deal. Other special needs parents I know Google like crazy, research like grad students, take their child to a renowned doctor states away, sit in a waiting room while their son has a 6 hour operation, inquire over the best therapy places in town, or special sports teams/activities and attend parent support groups.

These parents are warriors for their kids, utilizing all the resources available to them. All so they can give their kids their best chance to thrive.

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  1. We may not be great at relationships

This goes back to the isolation thing. It is very hard to connect with someone who looks at you as if you’re from a foreign land when you tell them about your day-to-day activities. And sometimes when we sense a lack of grace in how we raise our kids, we draw back. If you thought there wasn’t a manual for parenting a typical child, there definitely isn’t one for raising a special needs kid. It is a vast frontier of uncharted territory for us and we are doing the best we can just like you are.

I also just do not have the mental energy at this time right now. Even scheduling lunch with a friend outside the regular routine makes me want to hyperventilate.

Friends and family who stick by us understand if we don’t call enough or visit enough. There is already a load of guilt for not doing “all the things we should”.

We long for community and a support system, and some of us have it, but some are in a season of life where survival mode is the only option.

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  1. We connect differently with our kids

Like I said before, we love our children, but for me personally, communication is an obstacle. I understand (and interpret) what he says some of the time. My little guy is persistent though and will repeat the same word a few times hoping I’ll make sense of it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and we just move on both a little disheartened.

We tell our children we love them over and over, even if we never hear it back. We play their games, the habitual ones (spinning, anyone?), because we long to meet them where they are, so we step into their world.

It’s mind numbing for sure, but for that time he looks in my eyes, holds my hand, falls asleep on my chest, or squeals with delight? Well, that makes all of this totally worth it.

To the parent of a special needs child, you are doing a great job just for getting out of bed each day ready to take on the daily challenges and demands. Don’t give up on your baby.

To others who know of someone with a child who has special needs, show them grace. Understand that their lives function differently than the rest. Give them a hug or shoot them an email of prayer/encouragement. Parents need it!

Hopefully we can all take a step closer toward loving others right where they are, however messy or hard. It is in those moments the light of Jesus Christ is reflected back to the ones you reach out and serve. And isn’t that what we all want in the end? For the world to see Jesus in us, because He is the very best thing for every parent and every child and every person.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

when you need white space

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The day after Jesse’s 5th birthday party he got sick. The boy who always says “hi!” to everyone and never stops was quiet and lethargic. That’s how you know he doesn’t feel well. Jesse kept a hard, non-stop cough for a week and then I got it. Sickness has a way of forcing us out of our scheduled routine. We hunker down at home and don’t leave except to go to the doctor’s office or pharmacy.

To be honest I got a little stir crazy keeping him home from school, not doing anything while still trying to keep the little guy semi-entertained. Add to that not feeling well myself and I start to sputter. What do you do when the mama needs her mama?

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I craved some white space, a time out, but that would have to wait. As moms, we are used to putting ourselves last and for a little while that might be necessary for survival. But after the immediate needs of little ones subside there should be moments of self-care, even if it’s in the cracks, one hour here, five minutes there.

Once Jesse was well enough to head back to school I still floundered with how to nurture my own body back to health. Coughing and fatigue set in, but I was restless. My loving husband suggested a short walk, so I did.

There’s a huge, old tree across the street from our neighborhood. It’s branches fan up and out, hanging heavy under the weight of its years. I’m smitten. This tree declares God’s glory, as all creation does, and I have wanted to take a picture of the grandeur. I’d pull into the neighborhood, making a mental note to do so, tucking it away for another day.

Monday was different.

Slipping on my knock-off canvas Toms I wandered down the sidewalk, iPhone camera in hand. The sky blue of spring couldn’t have been more perfect. Breathing deep the thick scent of honeysuckle I gave thanks to the Lord for all of His goodness and grace – more days like this please.

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The white space for my brain and soul was carved in that ten-minute walk communing with the God of heaven and earth, delighting in the new day He had made. I snapped a couple of pictures of the well-lived tree attempting to capture exquisite beauty. It didn’t translate to the small phone screen. But I got what I came for anyway. He refreshed me, filling my lungs with sweet air and my thoughts with a high view of Him.

Mamas need to be taken care of too. I’m thankful to serve a tender God who knows that.

“He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart;

He gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11)

As God calls us to live out our days serving as mothers let us not forget that we have not been forgotten. He sees you, tired from the monotonous day in, day out cycle of raising the next generation. It’s hard stuff. But you are His and you, dear one, are being held. Even on the days we feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole nothing escapes His knowledge or control.

Rest in Him. He has never let you go. God takes care of His children as we tend to the ones He gave us.

 

Grace upon grace,

April