Strengthened through Struggle

 

weightliftingI hate it when my kids hurt!

All moms hate it when their kids hurt. And the worst hurts are the ones we can do nothing about. All moms know the deep soul ache of watching a child suffer, desperately wishing we could take the pain on ourselves for them.

In the midst of painful storms, difficult hurts and big disappointments with our children, we find comfort in knowing “this happened for a reason.” There is hope in knowing there must be some purpose for the trials God allows in our lives. But what is the reason? What is that purpose? Especially when what comes is so not what we expected and so terribly difficult that, as Paul says, “we despair even of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

“No pain, no gain” is what athletes are told. To get faster and stronger, athletes train through pain, working their muscles to fatigue and even soreness. The not-so-technical explanation for this is that as muscles are strained with greater intensity, small tears are made in the muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, the muscle tissue grows stronger and able to work at higher levels. Over time, as muscles are worked, they grow bigger and stronger, able to do more work than before.

The scriptures tell us that this same principle is true with our hearts- with spiritual training. No pain, no gain. God uses trials to shape and sharpen us. And like a potter working his clay on the potter’s wheel, the pushing and prodding needed to transform the clod of clay into a beautiful vessel does not feel very good to the clay. So trials don’t feel very good to us, but some of the pain is soothed knowing there is a greater reason and purpose for the pain.

It is helpful to cast our struggling feelings against a backdrop of what we already know to be true. I find three things help me hold on through the hard.

  1. He is working all things together FOR US.

And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

We don’t need to see the good or know what it will be to trust God’s promise that that is what He is doing. He promises to work all things together- for those who love Him- for His purposes. As a weaver is working in different colors, textures and patterns, at times individual rows look quite ugly or out-of-place. But in the completed tapestry, all work together to produce a beautiful piece of art. We cannot see the completed work. We are only looking at this moment. But we can look at the Weaver and trust that He knows what He is doing.

  1. He is working IN US to make us more like His Son.

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:8

 The work God is doing in us – and in our children – is molding us into the image of His Son. And He promises to complete that work. He wants us to be like Christ – wise and strong, compassionate and overflowing with unconditional love.

  1. He is readying to work THROUGH US to bring others to His grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 The struggles we face are not just for our good, but also for the good of those we will better serve in the future. We will greater offer grace and compassion when we have experienced them so greatly. Our hearts are softened to others’ struggles, and we more readily give comfort when we’ve been comforted. It may be years before we see this come to pass, but God will surprise us at the heart connections we will make with people facing similar trials.

God, show your mighty hand working for us, in us and through us. Even more, we ask you to show our children your mighty hand working for them, in them and through them in a way they can understand. May our hearts be strengthened through the struggles. Show your grace in the hard place. Write our story – and their story – for your glory.

 

 

 

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If the LORD had not been on our side

WomanPraising

If the LORD had not been on our side- let Israel say- If the LORD had not been on our side.  Psalm 124:1-2

 Pause with me for a moment and consider what might have been, what could have happened, where we might have ended up- had God not been on our side. I can think about each member of our family- and imagine a completely different outcome in several of our most difficult situations- if the LORD had not been on our side.

It’s a little scary- well, actually, downright frightening- to imagine the pain and loss and tragedy the enemy may have wreaked in our lives- or we may have wreaked in our lives ourselves.

There are several scenarios the Psalmist considers:

“When men attacked us” (v.2)- The attacks of men take many forms- criticism, rejection, slander, or “anger flaring against us” (v. 3). Knowing the LORD is on our side, we are able to stand strong on truth, trusting that it is not men who define us but the God who created the universe. We are able to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16). And ultimately, we are able to find healing from the hurt, and freedom found in forgiveness. The attacks of men leave deep wounds- but God protects us from hopelessness and provides for healing and even reconciliation.

“The flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away” (v. 4-5)- The storms of this fallen world beat against us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, how often can we proclaim, “this could have been so much worse”? We see God sparing us from total ruin and disaster, even in the hardest circumstances.

Paul writes of these near-death trials:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:8-9

 We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 Continuing in Psalm 124, a third scenario is described like this:

“Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (v. 6-7)- A predator has captured it’s prey, ready to devour it. But the snare is broken, and the prey escapes. Our predator is Satan himself, and just when He was set to devour us, His snare was broken.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  1 Corinthians 15:55

 Praise the LORD!  The death and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, broke the snare of Satan’s grasp on humanity. He died and rose again, breaking the power of sin and death- setting us free to live in all the fullness of the abundant life He gives.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I would still be striving hard after the approval of man. I would be struggling to find significance and meaning in this world. I would be seeking after my own glory- trampling on others all along the way. And I truly don’t know what I would have done in the countless tragedies that we have faced. I fear I would be lost in the hopelessness and despair, totally unaware that God is working all things for my good.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I don’t think I would have many friends, and I know I would make a pretty awful wife and mother. And maybe more than anything, I would be stuck in the shallow perspective of living only for this world, unable to see the greater blessings of an eternal outlook.

Praise the LORD! God Himself has been on our side. Let us all resound as we consider the what-might-have-been’s. Let us cling to Him and trust in Him and seek His glory in all we do.

What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  Romans 8:31-37

Only a Mom

mothersdayflowers

On most days my first born little girl woke up happy. We would hear her in her crib just talking to herself and singing away, waiting for one of us to get up and start her day. But I remember one morning when I heard a different sound.  It wasn’t all the way to a cry, but it was definitely a sound of distress. As I approached the door, the smell announced that something was definitely wrong. And when I opened the door, there stood my fussing child absolutely covered in vomit- along with the crib, the wall, and the surrounding carpet. I’ll never forget her pitiful little voice telling me, “Mama, I had big burp!”

I will also never forget the great motherhood revelation I had that morning. As I looked on the mess, while taking in the awful smell, I had two thoughts. First, “Where’s my mom when I need her?” My mother can take on anything, and has rescued me from many of the messes I’ve faced in life. But she lives a thousand miles away. So my next thought was, “Do you realize there is no one else on the planet who can clean up this mess?” I could hear a voice prodding me on with the thought that only a mom could handle this mess, and I was the only mom this poor child had. I had to clean it up!

The revelation that morning has stuck with me- the great privilege and challenge that there is no one else on the planet who can be the mother of my children. That realization should guide my priorities and greatly impact how I choose to spend my days. Motherhood is one of my primary roles- a role that only I can play. Along with motherhood of course is my marriage, and also my other family relationships. Only I can be a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter. Secondary roles are those responsibilities that I have been called to, like my role with my job or at my church. It is an important role, but it is a role that another person could serve. (Someone else served it before me, and someone else will serve it after me). Keeping primary roles primary, and secondary roles secondary is the great challenge for all moms.

There has been a gradual, but major shift in our culture in the last 50 years devaluing the role of motherhood. Perhaps through the rise of feminism (when women demanded equality with men), or the legalizing of abortion (when motherhood became optional), motherhood no longer was held in such high regard. While progress has brought many more opportunities for women to be successful outside of the home, being successful inside the home has become progressively less important. I know this shift has impacted me, and my prayer is that I can strive to honor God first in my home, and second in the outside-of-home places He’s called me to serve. I’m the only mom my kiddos have, and that role has great value.

Motherhood is challenging, rewarding, confusing, fun and exhausting.

Motherhood is a great joy, yet brings great sorrows.

Motherhood is an adventure, always bringing something new.

Motherhood is a gift.

As we honor mothers this week, I am thankful for the woman who has served that primary role in my life. Only my mom has been there in my darkest moments and in my greatest joys. Only my mom has a sixth sense that tells her exactly when to call in a time of crisis. Only my mom would greatly love my husband and children, and encourage me to be the strong, loving mom for them that she has been to me.

May we greater value our roles as moms. May we see motherhood as the high calling which it is, with eternal rewards that far outweigh the messes we must clean along the way.  May we raise our little girls to look forward to and anticipate their roles as moms.  And may we pause at each day’s end to hear the voice, “Well done, good and faithful mom.”

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive your reward. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians. 3:23-24

 

Hope Surrenders to God’s Whisper

Stillplace

Over the past two years, we have looked at hope- special hope- as it holds as an anchor for moms of children with many unique needs. We have seen that hope trusts and hope rejoices. And we have seen that hope surrenders- to God’s will, His way and His word. Now here we look at how hope allows us to surrender to His whisper. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

 You’ve heard that voice before. In a moment of fear or uncertainty, you heard it. Or in chaos or confusion, it’s been there. In the loud, it has reached you. God’s whisper.

His Spirit comes near in our times of need and gently instructs us on how we should go. He speaks quietly, but clearly, to our souls, and we can choose to listen and obey, or go our own way.  With our hope secure in God, we can surrender to His whisper, even when it seems to go directly against our gut feeling.

The LORD said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  1 Kings 19:11-12

 We sometimes look for God to come in the loud thunder of the wind, earthquake, or fire. Send me a sign, Lord! Yet, often He comes in a gentle whisper, speaking softly to our heart and mind to assure us of His presence and direct us in His peace.

Can we listen for that whisper- even in the loud we often find ourselves in? Crying kids, fighting kids, even just laughing kids, can be very loud- bringing on “mommy” headaches that can be excruciating. We know we have to keep our cool even the crazy, or else we will all lose it, right?

Susanna Wesley was the mother of famous preacher John Wesley in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She birthed 19 children of her own, though 9 of them died in childhood. She was responsible for managing the household and all of the children’s education. Talk about crazy!

Susanna is known for her very strong faith and commitment to God. In their small and crowded  home, she would make time to sit in her rocking chair and lift up her apron to cover her face. This was her “prayer closet” time, and all of the children knew to leave her alone for those important moments.

How can we follow this example? We can be committed to our quiet time with God, even in the chaos. We can intentionally listen for God’s whisper even in the noise. That may happen for just a moment in the bathroom (yes, you have the right to go to the bathroom by yourself!), in the shower or in your car once the kids are dropped off (you will be amazed at what you will hear if you’ll turn off the radio!).

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  John 11:27

 Jesus is the Good Shepherd, laying down His life to protect and provide for His sheep. We can hear His voice if we’ll listen above the noise of the other sheep. We can know His voice, as it is very different from the voice of the world or of Satan who wants to steal, kill and destroy.  He knows us, and we can follow Him.

Susanna Wesley was a woman full of wisdom, and thankfully, much of it has been passed down through the generations. One quote of hers that I find especially encouraging is this one:

“I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”

What little space has he placed me in? What small voice is He speaking to me with? Have I tried to make life more grandiose, glamorous and complicated? Have I surrendered to the whisper of His will, His Word, and His ways?

When I surrender, there is serenity.

When I pause, there is peace.

When I believe, I am blessed.

When I stop wrestling, I can rest.

 

Calf Muscles and a Reminder of Who’s in Charge

growing-boy2

Last night my husband was out of town, and my son asked if he could “have a sleepover.” At 5 foot, 5 inches tall and fourteen years old, he still loves sleeping in our bed when one of us is away. I love that!  Around 3:00am, I got up to let the dog out, and as I crawled back in bed, there was a very long, bony leg that had stretched over on to my side of the bed. That thing was hard! And big! As I grabbed ahold of his calf muscle to move the leg back to his side, I had a flashback that brought me to tears.

See, when Zach was about two weeks old, we flew to a family reunion. On that trip, I carried him in my front pack baby carrier (which, by the way, we had not had for baby daughters 1 and 2, but my goodness, did it come in handy for baby #3!). I very clearly remember wrapping my thumb and first finger around his teeny, tiny little calf muscle. My finger went around his leg and nearly as tight as it could get back to my thumb to encircle the calf. I asked God in that moment to help me always remember how little that leg was- and how little my son had begun.

The Lord was faithful to answer that prayer last night as my same thumb and first finger can no longer come even close to touching around that calf muscle. It is bigger and stronger, and runs faster and jumps higher.

And I have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now, of course, we have provided our son with food, clothing and shelter needed to grow. But I have not put any effort or resource into growing that calf muscle. God has just done it!

And isn’t it by God’s grace that we have provided the food, clothing and shelter anyway?

It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure. Philippians 2:19

 God is the Creator- and He is still faithfully working to shape my son into the man He made Him to be. He is working in him to grow him physically and spiritually and intellectually and emotionally. GOD is doing that, not me.

It is God who works in my son to will and act according to His good pleasure.

We as moms are pretty good “control freaks.” We are good at working hard to keep everything in control. We work to control our family’s schedule, our family’s meals, our family’s behavior and our family’s appearance. But we are also pretty good at forgetting who’s really in charge.

Last night as I held that giant leg, once so tiny in my fingers, I was reminded of who’s really in charge. God created my son just as he was born- fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-14). And God is still the One working in Him to grow Him exactly how He has ordained. He invites me to be a part of this process, but I need to remember that this child is not mine to grow. He is God’s.

Of course, not one of my children is perfect- from a human perspective. Each has their unique challenges and weaknesses, strengths and gifts. Their uniqueness-es serve only to more magnificently glorify the great creative Creator. My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They also serve as reminders of who is in control- and who is not.

How can we better remember that God is in charge- working His will in our children’s lives?

Reflect on the past and the progress that has been made. Think back on where you were a year ago, five years ago, or where you were when your child was born. How has he or she made progress- even if only small steps- in the last week, month and year? Look at old pictures and reminisce together. Most importantly, look for God’s touch, His presence, along this journey- and give Him great thanks and praise!

Ponder the possibilities and dream big for what is to come. You know better than anyone else what all is packed inside each of your children. Imagine where God is headed with that! Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Glance ahead to the beautiful unfolding of all God brought this chosen child here to be and do.

And pause to be thankful and content for what is. Still your heart from all the rush and stress daily living can often bring, and be thankful. Make a list of things you’re thankful for today- even the littlest things. Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

I’m so thankful God is in charge- and I am not. There is a deep peace that comes in the surrendering of my way, my control, my plan, to His. His is far better than I can imagine. He has wisdom and power and resources beyond all human knowing. And He is working all on our behalf- for our good and for His glory.

Take this scripture and fill in the name of your child- and remember God is working in him or her. (You can also try plugging in the name of your husband, or your frustrating coworker or family member, or anyone whom you need to remember is in God’s hand too).

It is God who works in ______to will and act according to His good purposes. Philippians 2:19

Let Moms Receive Their King

CrownonGround           

It’s become almost embarrassing. The first three notes of the first Christmas song rolled out as Advent begins never fail to send me straight to tears. Big tears. Sometimes almost to a full-on sob. It’s that time of year again.

It’s those songs again.

It’s the celebration of the arrival of my Savior again. And that’s what makes me cry- and keep on crying. He came for us.

Each year it seems a different lyric will really get to me. Usually it’s in the lines of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”- as that one has so much rich theology in it. But this week, it came to me in “Joy to the World.”

Joy to the World- the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king

Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing

Let earth receive her king.

In that, I seemed to hear, let Lori receive her king.  What would it look like for me to truly receive my king? There are several dictionary definitions for “receive”- all which seem to apply.

  1. To assimilate through the mind or senses
  2. To permit to enter- to admit
  3. To accept as authoritative, true or accurate- to believe
  4. To welcome, to greet

How can I assimilate through my mind the King of kings? Will I give Him permission to enter my heart and have admittance into my life? Will I accept Him as authoritative and true- will I believe? Is my heart open to welcome and greet Him upon His arrival?

As busy moms, so often caught in the urgency of daily living, struggling just to get by, we can take these next few weeks to prepare to receive the King again into our lives. Reflect afresh on the radical coming of this Great King- His quiet invasion to redeem our broken world.

Receive His peace. Isaiah’s prophecy called Him “Prince of Peace.” And it went on to say, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7). With His reign, Jesus offers His people peace. Under His rule, we can find rest. He longs for us to cease struggling and battling on our own, and instead, receive His peace, letting Him wage the wars for us. As Mary held her infant Son, she knew His peace. The world in turmoil surrounded them, but she knew peace. We too can know that peace as we behold our Prince of Peace.

Receive His freedom. “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” (Luke 4:18) Jesus came to bring freedom, yet so many of us live in bondage. We live shackled to our fears and failures, our issues and insecurities. We hang out in the prison cells whose locks Christ opened long ago. Twila Paris sings the line “Even we who call His name so often miss the treasure.” Yes, we who call His name often miss the treasure of the freedom He was sent to proclaim. When we receive Him as King, we must also receive the fullness of the freedom He provides for His children. Daughters of the King, our shackles have been released.

Receive His reign. If He is the King of me, I have to consciously choose to place Him on the throne of my life every day. I have to choose to live under His authority, and give Him charge of my daily decisions and circumstances. As the dictionary definition says, it is a decision to “accept as authoritative, true and accurate, and to believe.” It is a decision that begins with believing that He is a capable King, and that He is a good King. We know He is capable because He is the Creator of all. He has the authority to protect and to provide for that which He made. And we know He is a good King. His purposes are always for His glory and my good (and my good is always to draw back to His glory). We know He is good because He sent His Only Son- “He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16).

The line that follows after “Let earth receive her king” is a challenging one.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

How can I make room in my heart to receive the King? I think it starts with a good clearing out of pride- “I can do it by myself” and “I don’t need anyone to help me.” We need to clear out fear and trust this King with everything. And we need to clear out bitterness that often grows over time and settles into stay.

Will you receive your King this Christmas? Will you receive His peace and freedom? Will you give Him full reign over your life and the lives of your children?

To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.  John 1:12

As we receive Him, we are given the right to become His children.

We are daughters of the King.  Let heaven and nature sing!

Not What I Expected

pregnant-woman-outsideParenting has not been what I expected.

I expected that I would roll smoothly into this new role as a mother, and begin to flourish in my new life of caring for this precious newborn child. What I didn’t expect was to learn how self-centered I was, and to become aware of how much of my motivation was to make me, myself and I look good. I had to completely switch gears, and turn my focus onto this little one who needed constant care. She began to draw me away from thinking only of myself, and that has been harder on some days than on others.

I expected to be able to implement ideas from our multiple positive parenting classes and produce perfectly-behaved children. I naively expected these discipline formulas to work flawlessly as the children began to assert their own wills contrary to mine. What I didn’t expect is that each personality and each behavior challenge and each situation would be different, and would require a different set of words and actions in response from me. What I didn’t expect is that some times that would go well, and other times it would be a complete disaster. I had to learn to give my children and myself a lot more grace to grow, and I had to rely more fully on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (My favorite parenting verse is John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.)

I expected to bring a child into this world who would be healthy physically. What I didn’t expect is that she would be critically-ill and need major surgery just 8 days in. Or that her younger sister would have ongoing health and growth challenges. Or that their younger brother would need two sets of stitches in one week when he was only 2 years old. Or that their younger sister would need glasses. (And of course this list goes on…). No, I didn’t expect all the physical and mental health challenges we have faced. I didn’t anticipate how thankful we would be for health insurance. And as I pause to reflect on this, I guess I was not accounting for the fact that these four that I’ve been entrusted with were born into the same broken world that I was. And as much as I hate watching them hurt or struggle and face these difficulties in their lives, I know as God has been with me, so will He be with them to be the peace in the midst of the hard. As He is my Healer and Helper, I pray He will continue to be that even more for my children.

I expected that my husband, my parents, my friends and neighbors would always be there to support me on my motherhood journey, and that we would all be like-minded and share the same priorities. Since “it takes a village,” I looked forward to teaming up in harmony with the other adults in our world to raise these kids up right. What I didn’t expect was that we wouldn’t always agree on what is best for them, and things that are really important to me may not always be important to others. I can now testify to how much I’ve learned from others’ perspective, and also to how many times I’ve had to press in to hear God’s voice among the others to be faithful to what He has called me to do for my family.

And I also didn’t expect how much of this journey I would walk alone. Many times in raising my children I am the only adult around. And in those times I have to dig deeper to parent in a way that pleases God alone- my audience of One. Yes, wiping dirty bottoms, cleaning up vomit, caring for a sleepless child in the middle of the night, are all times my motivation and integrity are tested. Who will I be when no one is watching me? But, oh yes, there is someone watching me. God Himself is there- but also each of the four sets of eyes in my care are watching me too.

The expectations I had at the front end of motherhood were limited at best, and at times just flat out “off.” While some of those expectations were broken into disappointment, still many others have been surpassed with the surprise blessings that have come along the way. I didn’t expect that watching a child sleep (as newborns, and even now as teenagers) would bring such peace to my heart. I didn’t expect the full joy that would come wearing preschooler-made Mother’s Day jewelry. I didn’t expect the deep warmth of a child’s hug (and sometimes a slobbery kiss!). And I didn’t expect the relief and gratitude that comes with a doctor’s “We’re making progress.”

Watching each one grow, at their own pace, in their own strengths and challenges, physically and emotionally and spiritually, has been a great adventure. And true, it hasn’t been what I expected.

It has been so much more.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.  2 Corinthians 2:9

Strong Woman, Good Mom

MothersDayFlowersMother’s Day 2015. Today we celebrate moms. We celebrate our moms, our stepmoms, our grandmothers, and our mother-in-laws. We send cards and flowers to some, and share brunch with others.

And we celebrate the joy of getting to be moms. We are thankful for our husbands and the children who made us moms. We celebrate the privilege of getting to be the one that they call “Mom.”

This year more than ever before have I seen the need to celebrate moms- not just on this day, but on every day. So many moms I’ve met are needing encouragement. Visiting with women on international mission trips and sitting beside the baseball field, swimming pool, and dance studio here at home, I have talked with countless moms who are beat down, stressed out, overwhelmed, and just plain exhausted.  And while all of us are wrestling with the many daily tasks moms must take on, we are wrestling with even deeper questions of value and worth. Am I doing enough to help my child succeed? Am I helping my child make the right choices?  Am I spending our time and money the right way? Will my child be okay?

Being a mom is hard. It is hard physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. People sometimes compare parenting toddlers and parenting teenagers, as if one is easier than the other. While the demands and challenges may be different at different ages, it’s all very hard. And it’s hard everyday.

I think just admitting that to ourselves first, and then to others, can bring a great deal of relief and freedom. In Romania last summer, I met several groups of mothers of children with special needs. Each time I met with them, I would start out with the simple phrase, “I know it’s hard.”  It would amaze me what a difference that would make in the look on their faces. “And I know it’s hard everyday.” Their whole countenance would relax, and several would start to cry, when we admitted this is not easy, and no one does it perfectly, and acknowledged the daily challenge that rules their world.

We open ourselves to grace and to the strength God provides when we admit the task is bigger than we can handle on our own.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When I would finish meeting with these precious mothers, I would take hold of their hands, look them straight in the eye, and with the help of a translator, tell them simply, “You are a strong woman and a good mom.”

That’s what I wanted to resonate with them long after they went home that day. Those simple, true words of blessing that I prayed would counter the discouragement and despair they came in carrying. I pray today that I could share those words with other mothers in need of the same encouragement.

You are a strong woman. Just as God gave you the strength to bring your children into the world, so will He give you the strength to carry them through it for the time He’s given them to you.

You are strong physically- loads of laundry, bags of groceries, double strollers, and sleeping toddlers. Her arms are strong for the task. Proverbs 31:17

You are strong mentally- balancing checkbooks, calculating pre-algebra problems, dispensing medications, and following new recipes.

You are strong emotionally- managing anger, dealing with disappointment, working through sadness, and giving patience.

And you are strong spiritually- drawing near to God, leaning on the Holy Spirit, following Christ and resting in Him.

And you are a good mom. Good moms want the very best for their children, which of course every loving mother does. Good moms work hard with the resources they have to make the best life for their children. Good moms do the best they can in each day, and wake up again to try again the next day.

Good moms, however, are not perfect moms.

Good moms make mistakes, and give themselves grace when they do. They let their children make mistakes, and give the same grace to them.

Good moms know that God is taking care of them, as they take care of their children. And they trust God to be the perfect provider and protector for all of them.

Good moms know we are all on a journey, growing closer to Christ and to each other as we grow up in years. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

You are strong woman. You are a good mom. Who do you know needs to hear this today? Do you need to tell yourself this today? Let’s be moms that admit how hard our jobs are, and build one another up as we tackle this one hard day at a time. Let’s turn far away from comparing and criticizing and expecting perfection from others and from ourselves. Let’s trust God with our children, and lean on the strength, wisdom and joy He provides. Let’s serve Him as we serve them.

And let’s remember that the motherly love we have for our kids is meant to be only a small taste of the perfect Heavenly Father love God has for us. The love He had for us before we were mothers, the love He has for us as we mother, and the love He will have for us forever.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Colossians 3:12

We love because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19

Thick Skin and Tuning Out the World

MotherHoldingChild

You know the feeling.

You know the look of disdain from a person who could be offering help, but instead offers hurt.

You know the whisper that clearly is speaking harm when it is hope that is needed.

You know the directly spoken criticism, and the obvious cold stares. The lack of compassion and care.

People in this world can be downright brutal, especially to those caring for children with special needs. And sadly these people can be total strangers, or they can be those closest to us.

How can we respond to the hurt caused by others in a way that honors God? Is there a way we can respond to make the situation better, not worse, for all of us?

Put on thick skin

Putting on thick skin means not taking ugly stares or words so personally. It means not letting them get to you. Water off a duck’s back. (Or I like- “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”)

I have found the best way to deflect hurtful words is to cling to what I know is true. I can think about the other person- who is usually speaking out of ignorance- and try and offer them grace. Their judgements are usually lies- and according to scripture, lies come from Satan Himself. Our best defense then is to cling to Christ and put forth His truth, His word, over the situation. It also helps me to think that I’m probably not the only person this person is mean to- and that makes it their problem, not mine.

Tune out the world

We are called to be in this world, but not of this world. And this world can be a pretty scary place. The world is filled with pressure to be perfect, pressure to have and be more than we are. If our eyes and ears are tuned in to all of that, we get beat down and discouraged. Discontentment drowns our spirit, and we can’t see past our failures shortcomings. And even more dangerous, we can get to where can’t see past our child’s failures and shortcomings.

Tuning out the “big” world means treasuring the “little world” God has put me in. I like to say, “draw a circle around us” and find contentment again. Find thanksgiving again. Find peace again. When I tune out the world, I find that I love what God has placed in my little world.

You have assigned me my portion and my cup. You have made my lot secure. The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.  Psalm 16:5-6

Cling to Christ

Coming through Holy Week, and meditating on the week before Jesus’ crucifixion, I realized how much hate and cruelty Jesus withstood. They were brutal to Jesus too. What can we learn from how he handled pain so much worse than mine?

When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23

I love the words “He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” The dictionary says that to entrust means “to give someone the responsibility of doing something or caring for something else or someone else.” So if I entrust myself to God, then I am giving Him the responsibility of doing something or caring for me. It means I give over control of my care to Him and trust Him to protect and to provide for all my needs as He has promised.

When babies are scared, they turn and press their face into their mother, clinging to her for protection. I want to do the same- turning away from the scary world, pressing hard into Christ, and clinging to Him for my protection and provision.

Jesus did as He had taught His followers in Matthew 5:39, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” He also told His disciples that the world would reject them as they rejected Him. We can expect to get struck, and we can find the strength in Christ to turn our cheek the other way.

Shine!

The way we live out our lives is a constant example for others to see. The way we parent our children is also a constant example. And the way we handle stress- both from within our current circumstances and from the outside hurtful looks and words of others- can be a witness to many.

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.  1 Peter 3:15

Live such good lives among the pagans that though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.  1 Peter 2:12

So we can put on our thick skin and head out into the world, ready to tune out its hurt, cling to Christ, and shine for Him as we love the precious ones He’s given us.

Sick Kids, Sovereign God

sickchildIn my book, sick kids always trump ministry or work.

On the days when I have a child come up sick, I know that whatever I was thinking I was supposed to do that day, I wasn’t.

We recently served with a group of high school students on an intergenerational mission trip to Honduras. Mid-week, my 15-year-old daughter became very sick. We had to miss out on that morning of ministry and an afternoon with a very special outing, and we were both very disappointed.

Several of the wisdom-seeking young girls had asked among the adults that week the question we all long to have answered, “How can we know God’s will for our lives?” Whether in choosing a college, or finding a husband, these girls were on a quest to know how to know what God wants them to do. The day my daughter was sick made for a good example of how God often uses the circumstances He allows into our life each day to show us His good, pleasing and perfect plan. For that day, my child was sick, and I needed to forego my ministry service role and fulfill my nurturing caregiver role with her.

Early in my motherhood journey, my mother said to me, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” And I think it has also gone like this: “You’re only as well as your sickest child.” A given mom-trait is empathy, the ability to share someone else’s (especially our child’s) feelings. When our children are sick, our hearts are broken, and we would rather take their place suffering than watch them suffer through.

Having a sick child is exhausting physically and emotionally, but are we able to see God’s hand in it? Are we able to sense His presence on those hard days? Are we able to tap His power for strength beyond ourselves? Are we able to trust that He is sovereign even over our child’s illness, whether it be acute or chronic?

In my not-so-theologically-equipped mind, I struggle to put my mind around the sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to the very difficult trials that come into our lives. A sick child is clearly one of those. And though this may be over-simplified, the question it comes down to for me is this: “Is He on His throne as King of kings and Lord of all the earth? Or is He not?”

Years ago a local youth group had a terrible tragedy on a weekend retreat. A pickup truck filled with sleeping bags and duffle bags was heading from the church to the home where one group of students was to spend the night. The students followed behind on the freeway, and all saw right away when one sleeping bag flew out of the pickup truck onto the freeway ahead of them. Apparently, they pulled over, and one student went out on the freeway to pick up the sleeping bag. Then, very tragically, the student was struck by an oncoming vehicle and killed.

I heard the senior pastor trying to offer counsel for the students and parents the following morning. And while it would be very difficult to know how to comfort those in the face of such a tragedy, I didn’t feel like his words went in the right direction. Some of the words he spoke were, “God didn’t plan this. This was not in His will. This is not what God wanted to happen here last night.”

Again, in my simple mind, it sounded to me like he was suggesting that God had taken a short break from His throne while the accident occurred. Which brings that question again, “Is He on His throne, or is He not?”

Remember the childhood song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands?” It gives me a picture of God as sovereign Creator of the universe, holding all of creation, especially man whom He created in His image, in His strong hands. If we are held within His strong hands, then only what He allows to come into our lives can get through to us. Whether He is the source of the difficulty, or if our sin, other sinners or Satan are the source, God allows it to come to us for a specific purpose that we may or may not ever know. We can know for certain, though, that His purpose is always to draw us closer into Himself, and shape us closer into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Does God know when my child is going to be sick?

Yes- He is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows everything about everyone.

Is God able to make my child well?

Yes- He is omnipotent, all-powerful. Whether He does or not, He has the power to.

Is God here to help me through this hard?

Yes- He is omnipresent, ever-present. And He draws near to the brokenhearted.

The gospels tell of us several parents whose children were sick. Where did they turn? They turned to Jesus. One father cried out to Jesus with a very simple, yet honest and profound prayer. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

May we learn to trust God with our sick children. Whether our plan is interrupted for a day or for years, may He grant us greater faith to trust that He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent through it all.