This week we have the privilege of reading and hearing wisdom from the messy kitchen and beautiful heart of Jeannie Hagopian. Jeannie, too, lost a dear friend to cancer several years ago and has walked the same road of grief many of us are walking now. Her wisdom and guidance over the past several months has been invaluable as she has given me permission to hurt, grieve, and make space for the mess and ache that death brings but to also hold hard to the Hand of God, trusting He will be faithful to lead us all down the path of hope and healing. She gives us wisdom and encouragement on the path of parenting this morning, and in all places in our lives that feel a bit messy, where we stop, look around, and say, “Here, Lord, life doesn’t look like I thought it would.”
Jeannie grew up in South Carolina with her sister, Margaret, who has done a few guest posts here on the blog! After college, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for a decade where she met and married Jesse. Jesse grew up on Cape Cod, and slowly they felt God calling them to leave D.C. and move to the Cape to be a part of a church planting situation there. They moved to the Cape 2 years ago and it’s been a hard transition in many ways, but their hearts are heavy with the need for the Gospel in the New England area and for Christians there to be encouraged. Jesse and Jeannie have 2 children, Margaret (7 years old) and David (5 years old), and a baby girl due early December.
You might be trying desperately to avoid the fact that life is messy. Or you might be so aware of how messy life is that you don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings.
Parenting (and the family nucleus) is at the heart of life; so, it should NOT surprise us then that parenting too is messy. It can feel like parenting just offers up constant contradictions and “forks in the road.”
- How do we provide structure while also being flexible to the unpredictable realities of life?
- How do we show the Gospel of Grace while also setting clear boundaries from an early age?
- How do we foster a sense of the priority of our family relationships while also reaching out to those who are most lonely and marginalized in our community?
- How do we prioritize teaching our children true and beautiful things while simultaneously exhibiting love in action and responding to the needs of others?
- When do we give a second chance or know when to kick the rebellious teenager out of the house when their choices are so destructive it could cost them their very lives?
- How much do we protect our children from evil and confusing messages?
- Do we spend over our grocery budget to exclusively buy organic chicken for our children or throw packs of the “buy one get one free” deal chicken in our cart and give more the child in a 3rd world country who needs a simple meal?
The questions and dilemmas and second guessing can go on relentlessly. And our current cultural moment, Google, and pressures are not helpful in our fight for balance (and sanity!). What’s right for one family will probably look very different for your own. There are guiding principles and then there’s the million of gray areas that we’ll find ourselves wading into each day as we raise our children.
Once again, life is messy and our decisions are rarely clear and come with perfect peace. I write this from the trenches of messy parenting. I’m not writing this post because my children are well-behaved and have proven any method “successful.” I have two strong willed children who are sinners in need of grace. We have read a lot of parenting books, we’re honest with other Christians about our struggles, we discipline our children, we have family devotionals when possible, we pray a lot. Sometimes our children are delightful additions to society and our home. But guess what? Our children have very defiant spirits; they have slammed doors in our faces and even spit on us, and most days I feel as if I am a broken record…”Don’t use that tone, stop hitting your brother, put your shoes on the first time I ask”…And I’ll think to myself, “This is not how I envisioned my parenting to be.”
If you fit in the category of “human”, then most of your relationships, endeavors, marriages, children, jobs, bank statements, homes and health are probably also NOT going quite as you had originally planned or hoped. I always come back to this C.S. Lewis quote, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuilt that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
So what is hurting you right now and not making any sense? Don’t try to compartmentalize, blame it on someone else, busy yourself, or offer up a quick solution. God has never promised to deliver us from these trials and messes. He also never offered quick solutions to His children. Because the reasons these trials are in our life right now are complicated, confusing and at times utterly unexplainable from our limited points of view. BUT He has promised to be with us. He has promised to protect our souls eternally if we are covered in Christ’s righteousness. He has promised us that these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This is messy but gloriously Hopeful. And as Susannah wrote in her beautiful post on True Hope: “The razor edge of hope is a hard place to walk. Actually, it’s an impossible place to walk, save for the anchor tied to our souls that firmly fixes us to God.”
In your relationships and specifically your parenting, how are you doing at ultimately trusting Him? Yes, part of trusting is being faithful with what is set before you but it is also casting all your cares and anxieties into His care. Steadfast minds and perfect peace are ours when our whole beings are trusting (Isaiah 26:3.) How are you doing at encouraging your friends in their own messes to deal with their hearts before God before you immediately offer up advice or grumble alongside them? Are we just offering each other a sleep training book, natural home remedy, glass of wine, or listening ear while ignoring the deeper (and sometimes more awkward question to ask!) like, “What would it look like for you to know Him more and love Him more in the middle of this mess?”
“Like everything else God calls people to, God doesn’t call people to be parents because they are able….Why would a God of perfect wisdom ask inadequate people to do such an important job? The answer is so important to grasp. God calls unable people to do important things because ultimately what He’s working on is not your immediate success, but that you would come to know him, to love him, to rest in his grace, and to live for his glory.” Paul Tripp
To receive further encouragement on the messiness of life but the faithfulness of God, connect with Susannah this week on Facebook.
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This week, you and I have the privilege of hearing again from Margaret Austin. She shared a post with us in June entitled Motherhood as Ministry. If you missed it, make sure to click here to check it out. Today, she shares with us again from the trenches of motherhood, so if you are in a tough spot and need some encouragement, pull up a chair, and enjoy Margaret’s wisdom, wit, insight, and bold love. Just to give you a recap on who Margaret is and how we know each other, I met Margaret five years ago when she had just moved to Houston and was pregnant with her firstborn. Her husband, Thomas, played for the Houston Texans, but Houston was only blessed enough to have Margaret and Thomas here for a year before they moved again. In the past five years, they have moved ten times because of Thomas’ career in the NFL, and Margaret birthed three babies in that time period – Adam (4 years old), Isaiah (2 years old), and Hazel (4 months old). After watching and admiring Margaret, I’m pretty sure NFL wives are just as tough as their husbands! In the past year and a half, Thomas has transitioned from playing football in the NFL to coaching football at Clemson in South Carolina. Yet through all of the moving, transition, babies, and change, Margaret has remained…Margaret. She is beautiful, bold, never afraid to tell you like it really is, but never afraid, either, to obey the Lord and walk in obedience that path He has for her (even when it hurts). Over the past five years, Margaret has made God more real and beautiful to me, and I know she will do the same for you as she shares encouragement straight from her heart and straight from the trenches of toddlerhood.
Margaret Austin here again, writing to you from the youngest years of motherhood. It has taken me over 2 weeks to complete this post because every time I sit down, someone needs a snack, wakes from a nap, needs to nurse, cracks their tooth on their stick horse, or jumps from the coffee table onto the couch for the 1000th time. So when I say I understand how the little years are, I promise you, I understand.
Motherhood is tough. Especially motherhood in the younger years when everyone is in diapers and needs a hand, needs help, and needs Momma! Sometimes (or, let’s face it – all the time!) mothers of toddlers and newborns need direct and special encouragement from the Lord that the work they are doing is significant, does not go unnoticed, and will not be in vain, no matter how many times your two-year-old has thrown himself on the floor today and yelled, “Mine!” I can’t think of a better person to provide that encouragement than Margaret Austin. I met Margaret five years ago when she was pregnant with her firstborn, and it was instant love, connection, and admiration for this dear friend! In the past five years, Margaret and her husband, Thomas, have moved ten times because of Thomas’ career in the NFL, and Margaret birthed three babies in that time period – Adam (4 years old), Isaiah (2 years old), and Hazel (9 weeks old). After watching and admiring Margaret, I’m pretty sure NFL wives are just as tough as their husbands! In the past year and a half, Thomas has transitioned from playing football in the NFL to coaching football at Clemson in South Carolina. Yet through all of the moving, transition, babies, and change, Margaret has remained…Margaret. She is beautiful, bold, never afraid to tell you like it really is, but never afraid, either, to obey the Lord and walk in obedience that path He has for her (even when it hurts). Over the past five years, Margaret has made God more real and beautiful to me, and I know she will do the same for you as she shares encouragement straight from her heart and straight from the trenches of toddlerhood.
Hi friends. Margaret Austin here, friend of Susannah. I got to know Susannah when my husband Thomas played for the Texans from 2011-2012. God placed Susannah and Jason in our lives at a time when we knew no one and desperately needed some friends! They had us over for a meal & we instantly loved them. I guess they loved us too because they let lonely me come over and spend the night quite often when Thomas was playing in away games, and we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them that year. Susannah was such a dear friend to me, especially as I had our first son while we were living in Houston. She let me tag along on playdates, bible studies, & swim lessons.
Thomas and I got to know Bernie better when we lived in Charlotte, NC as he resides just outside of Charlotte. After we moved to Clemson, South Carolina last year for my husband to coach football, Bernie flew down for lunch with a fellow Seed Company employee. He flew down for lunch again last week.
I’d been texting Susannah just a few days before to pray for my patience as a mother. I felt tired and discouraged and very, very impatient with my 2 active boys, my 7 week old daughter, and mostly impatient with myself. When Thomas drove up with Bernie and Kirk, I was having a rough day. In fact, I didn’t even make lunch for them this year–I was recycling a baby meal that someone brought over the night before! I was feeling weary of motherhood, trapped at home with a nursing infant, envious of my friends who seemed to have more freedom and less baby weight on their bodies. My boys seemed to spend the first half of our lunch disobeying and being disciplined. They finally went inside for naps, and I felt like I could breathe and focus on our lunch guests. I hadn’t had time to say much during lunch besides, “Sit on your bottom. Eat your food. Don’t touch your brother. NO, you can’t have your paci until you eat your vegetables. Stop poking the baby’s nostril.”
But Bernie (and the Holy Spirit) knew just what my tired soul needed. Bernie started talking and he didn’t come up for air for about 15 minutes. He began telling me he admired me?! What on earth would an 84 year old man who spent his life doing important work for the Lord have to admire about a worn out stay at home mom? Bernie told me that he wanted me to know that my work as a mother was important, that I had no idea how God would use my children in the coming years or how my work might come to fruition. He told me that he’d struggled when his family lived in the jungle with whether or not he was doing the right thing for his family, living in such extreme circumstances. He’d wanted a comfortable, 9-5 life at times. But he’d pressed on and continued because this was where he felt God calling him.
This was especially encouraging for me to hear as I often struggle with wishing my husband would be called to a 9-5 job rather than one that requires him to work extremely long hours for parts of the year. Often I question if this job is family friendly, if our kids will turn out alright with daddy gone so much during certain times of the year and they are stuck at home with a frazzled, selfish mommy. But Bernie reminded me that if we have been called by God, He will equip us and our work will be our ministry. “Full time ministry!” he said. “What is full time ministry and who came up with the phrase anyway?! All of life is full time ministry, no matter what God calls you to do professionally.”
By the time Bernie left, I had tears in my eyes and a very grateful heart. My husband was amazed at God’s timing, as he knew I needed a special dose of encouragement that afternoon. Bernie left me with a copy of a letter he’d recently written to his children regarding his wife’s painful illness, outlining what he was learning through it all. In the letter he wrote, “Is this really an ‘opportunity for great joy?’ If so how do we get that joy? The answer is to realize that joy is a choice, an opportunity. This disease wasn’t the opportunity we were looking for but for sure one God has given us. Joy is a choice that we can make…we can choose to surrender all we are and have to Him and trust Him completely. And we can choose joy even in troubled times.”
Bernie told me that he had been watching me over the years of our wild ride with football, and that he admired how my faith had fueled my works, and that my works would be in vain if not for Christ. Well Bernie, right back atcha. I pray I am faithfully staying the course if the Lord allows me to live until I am 84. Until then, I will leave you with the words of this song Bernie shared with me:
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.
Sometimes the sky looks dark with not a ray of light,
We’re tossed and driven on, no human help in sight;
But there is one in heav’n who knows our deepest care,
Let Jesus solve your problem – just go to Him in pray’r.
Life’s day will soon be o’er, all storms forever past,
We’ll cross the great divide, to glory, safe at last;
We’ll share the joys of heav’n – a harp, a home, a crown,
The tempter will be banished, we’ll lay our burden down.
When We See Christ, by Esther Kerr Rusthoi